Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

September 20, 1862


Sir: Since my last letter to you of the 18th, finding the enemy indisposed to make an attack on that day, and our position being a bad one to hold with the river in rear, I determined to cross the army to the Virginia side. This was done at night successfully, nothing being left behind, unless it may have been some disabled guns or broken-down wagons, and the morning of the 19th found us satisfactorily over on the south bank of the Potomac, near Shepherdstown, when the army was immediately put in motion towards Williamsport. Before crossing the river, in order to threaten the enemy on his right and rear and make him apprehensive for his communications, I sent the cavalry forward to Williamsport, which they successfully occupied. At night the infantry sharpshooters, left, in conjunction with General Pendleton’s artillery, to hold the ford below Shepherdstown, gave back, and the enemy’s cavalry took possession of that town, and, from General Pendleton’s report after midnight, I fear much of his reserve artillery has been captured. I am now obliged to return to Shepherdstown, with the intention of driving the enemy back if not in position with his whole army; but, if in full force, I think an attack would be inadvisable, and I shall make other dispositions.

I am, with high respect, your obedient servant,

R E Lee




Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 1, p. 142

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 September 16