Headquarters, January 2, 1864


His Excellency Jefferson Davis,

President of the Confederate States:

Mr. President: The time is at hand when, if an attempt can be made to capture the enemy’s forces at New Berne, it should be done. I can now spare troops for the purpose, which will not be the case as spring approaches. If I have been correctly informed, a brigade from this army, with Barton’s brigade (Pickett’s division), now near Kinston, will be sufficient, if the attack can be secretly and suddenly made. New Berne is defended on the land side by a line of intrenchments from the Neuse to the Trent. A redoubt near the Trent protects that flank, while three or four gun-boats are relied upon to defend the flank on the Neuse. The garrison has been so long unmolested, and experiences such a feeling of security, that it is represented as careless. The gun-boats are small and indifferent, and do not keep up a head of steam. A bold party could descend the Neuse in boats at night, capture the gun-boats, and drive the enemy by their aid from the works on that side of the river, while a force should attack them in front. A large amount of provisions and other supplies are said to be at New Berne, which are much wanted for this army, besides much that is reported in the country that will thus be made accessible to us. The gun-boats, aided by the iron-clads building on the Neuse and Roanoke, would clear the waters of the enemy and capture their transports, which could be used for transportation. I have not heard what progress is making in the completion of the iron-clads, or when they will be ready for service. A bold naval officer will be required for the boat expedition, with suitable men and officers to man the boats and serve the gun-boats when captured. Can they be had?

I have sent General Early, with two brigades of infantry and two of cavalry, under Fitz. Lee, to Hardy and Hampshire Counties to endeavor to get out some cattle that are reported within the enemy’s lines, but the weather has been so unfavorable that I fear he will not meet with much success. The heavy rain-storm will swell all the streams beyond fording, and the cold weather and snow in the mountains will present other obstacles. Many of the infantry are without shoes, and the cavalry worn down by the pursuit of Averell. We are now issuing to the troops a fourth of a pound of salt meat, and have only three days’ supply at that rate. Two droves of cattle from the West that were reported to be for this army have, I am told, been directed to Richmond. I can learn of no supply of meat on the road to the army, and fear I shall be unable to obtain it in the field.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee,





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol. 33, p. 1061

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2021 October 27