Headquarters Valley District,

January 11, 1864


General R. E. Lee:

General: During the time that I have been in the valley I have had ample opportunity of judging of the efficiency and usefulness of the many irregular bodies of troops which occupy this country and known as partisans, &c., and am prompted by no other feeling than a desire to serve my country to inform you that they are a nuisance and an evil to the service. Without discipline, order, or organization, they roam broadcast over the country, a band of thieves, stealing, pillaging, plundering, and doing every manner of mischief and crime. They are a terror to the citizens and an injury to the cause. They never fight; can’t be made to fight. Their leaders are generally brave; but few of the men are good soldiers, and have engaged in this business for the sake of gain. The effect upon the service is bad, and I think, if possible, it should be corrected. It is bad because:

First. It keeps men out of the service whose bayonet or saber should be counted on the field of battle when the life or death of our country is the issue.

Second. They cause great dissatisfaction in the ranks from the fact that these irregular troops are allowed so much latitude, so many privileges. They sleep in houses and turn out in the cold only when it is announced by their chief that they are to go upon a plundering expedition.

Third. It renders other troops dissatisfied; hence encourages desertion.

It is almost impossible for one to manage the different companies of my brigade that are from Loudoun, Fauquier, Fairfax, &c., the region occupied by Mosby. They see these men living at their ease and enjoying the comforts of home, allowed to possess all that they capture, and their duties mere pastime pleasures compared with their own arduous ones; and it is a natural consequence in the nature of man that he should become dissatisfied under these circumstances. Patriotism fails in a long and tedious war like this to sustain the ponderous burdens which bear heavily and cruelly upon the heart and soul of man. Men are actuated by selfish motives, and those who were first to volunteer in the beginning are now the most eager in the search for a “soft place.” This is melancholy, but it is nevertheless true, and it can only be, in my opinion, remedied by placing all men on the same footing who are of the same rank. If it is necessary for troops to operate within the lines of the enemy, then require the commanding officer to keep them in an organized condition to rendezvous within our lines, and move upon the enemy when opportunity is offered.

Major Mosby is of inestimable service to the Yankee army in keeping their men from straggling. He is a gallant officer, and is one that I have a great respect for; yet the interest I feel in my own command and the good of the service coerces me to bring this matter before you, in order that this partisan system, which I think is a bad one, may be corrected. Major-General Early can give useful information concerning the evils of these organizations. If he cannot, Maj. General Fitz. Lee certainly can, from his experience with them in the valley within the last few weeks.

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

Thomas L. Rosser,

Brigadier-General, Commanding        



[First indorsement.]

Headquarters Cavalry Corps,

January 18, 1864.

Respectfully forwarded.

Major Mosby’s command is the only efficient band of rangers I know of, and he usually operates with only one fourth of his nominal strength. Such organizations, as a rule, are detrimental to the best interests of the army at large.

J. E. B. Stuart,

Major General


[Second indorsement.]

Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

January 22, 1864

Respectfully forwarded, for the information of the War Department.

As far as my knowledge and expertise extends, there is much truth in the statement of General Rosser. I recommend that the law authorizing these partisan corps be abolished. The evils resulting from their organization more than counterbalance the good they accomplish.

R. E. Lee,



[Third indorsement.]

January 30, 1864

Respectfully referred to Hon. Mr. Miles, chairman of Military Committee.

Please examine and return the papers to the Department.

J. A. Campbell,

Assistant Secretary of War





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 33, pp. 1081-1082

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2021 November 21