Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

January 4, 1864


General Samuel Cooper,

Adjutant and Inspector General, C.S. Army:

General: I have received a report from Colonel Willis, commanding Georgia regiment, of his operations up to the 31st ultimo. Colonel Willis was sent by me through the counties of Rappahannock, Page, Madison, and Greene to arrest deserters and stragglers from this army, some of whom have been secreted there a year or more. He has executed his work thoroughly and has arrested about 200. He is now in Rockingham, moving southward. He states, from his observation—

The enrolling and conscript officers are generally disposed to lack energy and neglect their duty, and also that the system of details at furnaces, &c., authorized by the Government, is greatly abused, and many exempts, as tanners, blacksmiths, shoemakers, &c., violate openly the condition of the law upon which their exemption is based. Moreover, it is useless for me to arrest citizens for knowingly and voluntarily harboring deserters. I made several such arrests, when the proof was indubitable, and the provost-marshal was compelled to release them. Under these circumstances I have ceased to arrest them.

I have no doubt if I could send parties to sweep through every county of the State similar results and evidences of inefficiency and abuse would be obtained. You may recollect that last fall I sent an officer with a regiment to certain counties in North Carolina, where I still have a party operating. These detachments weaken the army, and I have only resorted to them when in despair of otherwise mitigating the evil.

My object in sending you the within extract from Colonel Willis is to see if more energy and efficiency cannot be infused into the operations of the enrolling officers. They ought also to see that the exempts do not abuse the conditions upon which their exemption is based.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 33, p. 1063

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2021 November 8