Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

May 7, 1863

His Excellency Jefferson Davis,

President of the Confederate States:


Mr. President: I hardly think it necessary to state to Your Excellency that unless we can increase the cavalry attached to this army we shall constantly be subject to aggressive expeditions of the enemy similar to those experienced in the last ten days. Their cavalry force is very large, and no doubt organized for the very purpose to which it has recently been applied. Every expedition will augment their boldness and increase their means of doing us harm, as they will become better acquainted with the country and more familiar with its roads.

General Longstreet informs me that there are only five regiments of cavalry south of James River within his department, and he thinks four regiments at least are necessary there. He has, therefore, only ordered up one regiment to General Stuart. I fear the three regiments ordered from Western Virginia will be a long time reaching here, nor can we expect those from Georgia and Alabama, if ordered, to arrive before July.

You can see, then, how difficult it will be to keep up our railroad communications and prevent the inroads of the enemy’s cavalry. If I could get two good divisions of cavalry, I should feel as if we ought to resist the three of the enemy. I beg Your Excellency will consider this matter, and see if it is not possible to augment our cavalry arm to the extent proposed as speedily as practicable. The disparity between our infantry force and that of the enemy is too large to reasonably expect success. The strength of the enemy seems to be greater than I had estimated, as, from various sources, it is stated they crossed the Rappahannock with 120,000 men. Our effective strength with which we marched out to meet him, according to the last returns, did not reach 40,000. If these estimates are correct, you will see that the force opposed to us was three to our one. This disparity of numbers is corroborated by the extent of our loss, which is always in proportion to the inequality of forces engaged. I fear that our loss in killed and wounded will approximate 10,000 men in the different engagements.

I bring these facts to Your Excellency’s notice now that you may take such means as in your judgment seem beat to increase the strength of the army. This can be done, in my opinion, by bringing troops from the departments of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. No more can be needed there this summer than enough to maintain the water batteries. Nor do I think that more will be required at Wilmington than are sufficient for this purpose. If they are kept in their present positions in these departments, they will perish of disease. I know there will be difficulties raised to their withdrawal. But it will be better to order General Beauregard in with all the forces which can be spared, and to put him in command here, than to keep them there inactive and this army inefficient from paucity of numbers.

There are many things about which, I would like to consult Your Excellency, and I should be delighted, if your health and convenience suited, if you could visit the army. I could get you a comfortable room in the vicinity of my headquarters, and I know you would be content with out camp fare. Should this, however, be inconvenient, I will endeavor to go to Richmond, though I feel my presence here now is essential.

Hoping that your health is entirely restored, and that you will be attended with every success and happiness,

I am, with great esteem, your obedient servant,

R E Lee



Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol 25, Part 2, pp. 782-783


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 May 9