Headquarters, Near Chancellorsville, Va., May 2, 1863


His Excellency Jefferson Davis, Richmond, Va.:


Mr. President: I find the enemy in a strong position at Chancellorsville and in large force; his communications extend to the Rapidan, at Germanna and Ely’s Fords, and to the Rappahannock, at United States Mine Ford. He seems determined to make the fight here, and, from what I learn from General Early, has sent up troops from his position opposite Fredericksburg. Anticipating such a movement on his part, I directed General Early last evening, if it occurred, to leave a guard at his position, and join me with the rest of the forces. I have repeated the orders this morning.

It is plain that if the enemy is too strong for me here, I shall have to fall back, and Fredericksburg must be abandoned. If successful here, Fredericksburg will be saved and our communications retained. I may be forced back to the Orange and Alexandria or the Virginia Central road, but in either case I will be in position to contest the enemy’s advance upon Richmond. I have no expectations that any re-enforcements from Longstreet or North Carolina will join me in time to aid in the contest at this point, but they may be in time for a subsequent occasion.

We succeeded yesterday in driving the enemy from in front of our position at Tabernacle Church, on all the roads back to Chancellorsville, where he concentrated in a position remarkably favorable for him. We were unable last evening to dislodge him. I am now swinging around to my left to come up in his rear.

I learn from prisoners taken that Heintzelman’s troops from Washington are here, and the enemy seems to have concentrated his strength for this effort. If I had with me all my command, and could keep it supplied with provisions and forage, I should feel easy, but, as far as I can judge, the advantage of numbers and position is greatly in favor of the enemy.

I have received a dispatch from General Imboden, dated April 28. On the 26th he had penetrated the country midway between Philippi and Buckhannon. General Mulligan, who occupied Philippi, and General Roberts, who occupied Buckhannon, both fled, burning their stores.

I have had no report from General W. E. Jones, but General Imboden states, upon reliable authority, that he has been entirely successful in destroying the railroad as far as Rowlesburg.

General Imboden was to advance on the day of his report to Grafton and Clarksburg, of both of which he hoped to be in possession within three days. His horses have been much reduced by hard work, bad roads, and scant forage. His men are in excellent condition.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee,




Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 25, Part II, p. 765.


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 May 2