Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

July 20, 1864


Lieut. Gen. R. S. Ewell,

Commanding, &c.:


General: I regret to learn from Captain Bryan that his boats and torpedoes were captured a few nights since by a gun-boat of the enemy. You may not be aware that signal stations have been located by the enemy at convenient points on the south bank of James River, from which they observe the opposite shore and signal to their gun-boats all that occurs of importance. Parties operating on the north bank should, therefore, be careful not to reveal their operations, and conceal themselves from their signal men as well as their steamers. Unless points can be found on the river below City Point where heavy guns could be placed able to contend with their iron-clads I fear little more can be accomplished than to annoy their transports. If any point could be found, and we could make arrangements at night by preparing working parties and previously conveying the guns, carriages, and platforms within easy reach, so that the guns could be put in positon before daylight, we might reasonably anticipate good results. This battery would have to be defended by an infantry force, sheltered by proper intrenchments. If such a point can be found and prepared, and troops for its defense cannot elsewhere be obtained, I must spare them from this army. It is the only way that I know by which we can seriously embarrass the communications of the enemy. Please give me your views on the subject as early as practicable.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R E Lee,



Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 40, Part 3, pp. 788-789

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 August 1