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Letters of R. E. Lee.

His sympathy for his starving and Shoeless men.

Pathetic appeals to the Confederate Government for provisions and clothing.

May 24, 1890.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
I do not know of anything that could possibly be of more absorbing interest to the Army of Northern Virginia than the deep, heartfelt, anxious solicitude of General Lee for the forces under his command; and I do not know where this is so abundantly and so beautifully portrayed as in the letters of General Lee to President Davis, to the Secretary of War, to the Quartermaster and Commissary-General, to the various Generals under him, and to every other person to whom he could by any possibility appeal.

The letters will be found in full in Long's Life of Lee. I have extracted from them only such portions as related to the destitute condition of his men and the agony which it occasioned him. They ought to know it. They ought to know that he witnessed it; that it wrung his heart, and that he did everything that he could do to remedy it. They ought to know, and the world ought to know, that the great master-mind of the war, that ought only to have been concerned about strategy, was engaged chiefly in thoughts about the deplorable condition of his men, ‘thousands of whom are without shoes,’ ‘thousands of whom are bare-footed,’ ‘nearly all without overcoats, blankets, or warm clothing,’ who was always ‘less uneasy about holding our position than about our ability to procure supplies for the army,’ to whom the sublimest spectacle of the war which he witnessed was ‘the cheerfulness and alacrity exhibited by this army [336] in the pursuit of the enemy under all the trials and privations to which it is exposed.’

The dates and the address of the letters are given, so that we may see when, where, and to whom they were written. They are as follows:

Alexandria and Leesburg road, near Dranesville, September 3, 1862.
His Excellency, President Davis.
The army is poorly equipped for the invasion of an enemy's territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men are poorly provided with shoes, clothes, and in thousands of instances are destitute of shoes. ... If the Quartermaster's Department can furnish any shoes it would be the greatest relief. We have entered upon September, and the nights are becoming cool.

Two miles from Frederick, Md., September 7, 1862.
His Excellency, President Davis:
I shall endeavor to purchase horses, clothing, shoes, and medical stores for our present use, and you will see the facility that would arise from being provided with the means of paying for them.

Report of the capture of Harper's Ferry and operations in Maryland.

‘Although not properly equipped for invasion, lacking much of the material of war and feeble in transportation, the troops poorly provided with clothing, and thousands of them destitute of shoes, it was yet believed to be strong enough to detain the enemy upon the northern frontier until the approach of winter should render his advance into Virginia difficult if not impossible.’ * * * * * * ‘The arduous service in which our troops had been engaged, their great privations of rest and food, and the long marches without shoes over mountain roads had greatly reduced our ranks before the action (Antietam) began.’ [337]

Hagerstown, Md., September 12, 1862.
His Excellency, President Davis:
A thousand pair of shoes and some clothing were obtained in Fredericktown, two hundred and fifty pair in Williamsport, and about four hundred in this city. These were not sufficient to cover the bare feet of the army.

headquarters Department of Northern Virginia, December 2, 1862.
Honorable Secretary of War:
Sir.—I have the honor to report to you that there is still a great want of shoes in the army, between 2,000 and 3,000 men being at present barefooted. Many have lost their shoes in the long marches over rough roads recently made, and the number forwarded was insufficient to meet the necessities of the troops. * * * * *

Bunker Hill, July 16, 1863.
Mr. President,—The army is encamped around this place, where we shall rest to-day. The men are in good health and spirits, but want shoes and clothing badly, * * * * and also horseshoes, for want of which nearly half of our cavalry is unserviceable.

headquarters Army of Northern Virginia, October 19, 1863.
Brigadier-General A. R. Lawton, Quartermaster General:
* * * * * The want of supplies of shoes, clothing, overcoats, and blankets is very great. Nothing but my unwillingness to expose the men to the hardships that would have resulted from moving them into Loudoun in their present condition induced me to return to the Rappahannock. But I was adverse to marching them over the rough roads of that region, at a season, too, when frosts are certain and snows are probable, unless they were better provided for [338] encountering them without suffering. I should otherwise have endeavored to detain General Meade near the Potomac if I could not throw him to the north side.

headquarters Army of Northern Virginia, October 19, 1863.
Honorable James A. Seddon, Secretary of War.
If General Meade is disposed to remain quiet where he is, it was my intention, provided the army could be supplied with clothing, again to advance and threaten his position. Nothing could prevent my continuing in his front but the destitute condition of the men, thousands of whom are barefooted, a greater number partially shod, and nearly all without overcoats, blankets, or warm clothing. I think the sublimest sight of the war was the cheerfulness and alacrity exhibited by this army in pursuit of the enemy under all the trials and privations to which it is exposed.

headquarters Army of Northern Virginia, December 22, 1863.
Major-General J. A. Early
* * * * Of course you will not take what is necessary for the subsistence of the people, but leave enough for that, and secure all the rest of the articles named, and any others—such as shoes, horseshoes, horseshoe-nails, that you can get.

headquarters, January 2, 1864.
His Excellency, Jefferson Davis:
Many of the infantry are without shoes, and the cavalry worn down by their pursuit of Averell. We are now issuing to the troops a fourth of a pound of salt meat, and have only three days supply at that rate.


Camp Orange Courthouse, January 16, 1864.
Lieutenant-General J. Longstreet:
* * * * * * * * * * You know how exhausted the country is between here and the Potomac; there is nothing for man or horse.

Headquarters Army, January 18, 1864.
Brigadier-General A. R. Lawton, Quartermaster-General:
General,—The want of shoes and blankets in this army continues to cause much suffering and to impair its efficiency. In one regiment I am informed that there are only fifty men with serviceable shoes, and a brigade that recently went on picket was compelled to leave several hundred men in camp who were unable to bear the exposure of duty, being destitute of shoes and blankets.

headquarters, January 20, 1864.
His Excellency, Jefferson Davis:
* * * * * Nearly all of his (Fitz Lee's) men were frostbitten, some badly; many injured by the falling of their horses.

headquarters, April 16, 1864.
General Braxton Bragg:
* * * * * I cannot even draw to me the cavalry or artillery of the army, and the season has arrived when I may be attacked any day. The scarcity of our supplies gives me the greatest uneasiness.

headquarters, April 12, 1864.
Mr. President,—My anxiety on the subject of provisions for this army is so great that I cannot refrain from expressing it to your Excellency. I connot see how we can operate with our present supplies. [340] Any derangement in their arrival or disaster to the railroad would render it impossible for me to keep the army together and might force a retreat into North Carolina. There is nothing to be had in this section for men or animals. We have rations for the troops to-day and to-morrow.

headquarters, June 26, 1864.
His Excellency, President Davis.
* * * * * * I am less uneasy about holding our position than about our ability to procure supplies for the army.

headquarters, October 21, 1864.
Honorable Secretary of War.
* * * * * We now get bacon for our troops only once in four days, and the Commissary Department informed Colonel Cole, chief C. S. of the army, that we must rely on cattle.


headquarters, January 11, 1865.
Honorable J. A. Seddon:
There is nothing within reach of this army to be impressed. The country is swept clean; our only reliance is upon the railroads. We have but two days supplies.

headquarters, February 8, 1865.
Honorable James A. Seddon:
* * * * I regret to Le obliged to state under these circumstances, 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, exposed to battle, cold, hail, [341] and sleet. I have directed Colonel Cole, chief commissary, who reports that he has not a pound of meat at his disposal, to visit Richmond and see if nothing can be done. 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 William H. F. Lee's division forty miles Sunday night to get him in position. Taking these facts in connection with the paucity of our numbers you must not be surprised if calamity befalls us.

headquarters, February 22, 1865.
Hononrable J. C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War:
* * * * * The troops in the Valley are scattered far subsistence, nor can they be concentrated for the want of it. * * *

The cavalry and artillery of the army are still scattered for want of provender, and our supply and ammunition trains, which ought to be with the army in case of a sudden movement, are absent collecting provisions and forage — some in West Virginia and some in North Carolina. You see to what straits we are reduced.

headquarters Petersburg, March 17, 1865.
Honorable John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War:
* * * * * * * I have had this morning to send General William H. F. Lee's division back to Stony Creek, whence I called it in the last few days, because I cannot provide it with forage. I regret to have to report these difficulties, but think you ought to be apprised of them in order, if there is any remedy, it should be applied.

There being no remedy Appomattox came, where General Lee said: Then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousands deaths.

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