Richmond, Va., April 9, 1862


Major-General J. B. Magruder,

Commanding, &c., Yorktown:

General: Colonel Carter reported to me yesterday, in conformity to orders from you. I find that my letter of 26th March was not sufficiently explicit. I intended to call your attention to the possibility of the enemy’s forcing a passage by the batteries on the York and James Rivers, below your lines at Yorktown, and effecting a landing in your rear above your lines at Yorktown and Williamsburg. It was not my intention to advise an abandonment of the Williamsburg lines, even should you be compelled to fall back from Yorktown, unless the movements of the enemy by water should place him in the rear of the former as well as the latter position. In that event you would be compelled to place the Chickahominy between you and the enemy. At what point you can cross that river will depend on the course of the enemy. Should you find it necessary to fall back, the public roads leading up the Peninsula along the north side of the Chickahominy and the present bridges over the upper part of that river are considered the best, and in this connection I would suggest that those roads and bridges be put in good order for use. I did not intend to advise the passage of the lower Chickahominy, in the contingency named, except in the event of your march by the upper route along the north side of that river being prevented by the enemy. Should such a state of things occur, you would be compelled to cross the river lower down, and I advised on that account an examination of the lower crossings and of the roads leading to them with a view to putting them in good condition, and also that you make the best preparation you can to enable your army to pass at these crossings, if necessary.

In case the enemy succeed in passing your lower river batteries so as to threaten your line of march across the Chickahominy, as above indicated, I further advise that you should take measures to keep the road open as long as might be necessary to enable you to withdraw. For this purpose I advise that you should prepare to destroy such wharves on the York and James Rivers in the rear of your present lines as the enemy would be likely to use for landing their troops. Of course it would not be necessary to extend these preparations to other wharves higher up the rivers than those which the enemy would probably employ for that purpose, nor would it be necessary to destroy any wharves until in your judgement the danger becomes imminent.

I further advise, with the same object of keeping open your line of march across the Chickahominy, that you should prepare to make such display of force in front of the landings which the enemy may approach as will retard their advance from the rivers to the interior of the country in your rear. The object of all the precautions advised by me is to secure and keep open the best practicable route by which you can retire behind Chickahominy in the event of the enemy’s getting in the rear of your lines at Williamsburg in the manner indicated and forcing you to withdraw behind that river.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

RE Lee

General, Commanding




Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 3, Part 3, pp. 433-434

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 July 23