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‘ [399] went off in bands, taking arms and ammunition, and I regret to say that the greatest number of desertions have occurred among the North Carolina troops, who have fought as gallantly as any soldiers in the army. . . . I shall do all in my power to arrest this evil, but I am convinced, as already stated to you, that it proceeds from the discouraging sentiment out of the army, which, unless it can be changed, will bring us to calamity.’

One cause of these desertions was the suffering among the troops from lack of food. On the 8th of January, Lee wrote to the rebel government that the entire right wing of his army had been in line for three days and nights, in the most inclement weather of the season. ‘Under these circumstances,’ he said, ‘heightened by assaults and fire of the enemy, some of the men had been without meat for three days, and all were suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing. Colonel Cole, chief commissary, reports that he has not a pound of meat at his disposal. If some change is not made, and the commissary department reorganized, I apprehend dire results. The physical strength of the men, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment. Our cavalry has to be dispersed for want of forage. Fitz Lee's and Lomax's divisions are scattered because supplies cannot be transported where their services are required. I had to bring Fitz Lee's division sixty miles Sunday night, to get them in position. Taking these facts in connection with the paucity of our numbers, you must not be surprised if calamity befalls us.’

At this juncture the rebels made another attempt to avert the blow which they felt was about to fall. They had already, a month before, dispatched

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