In the afternoon of the 30th of March, after having turned over the command to General Echols
, I rode to Marion
in Smythe County
and was taken that night with a cold and cough so violent as to produce hemorrhage
from the lungs, and prostrate me for several days in a very dangerous condition.
While I was in this situation, a heavy cavalry force under Stoneman
, from Thomas
' army in Tennessee
, moved through North Carolina
to the east, and a part of it came into Virginia
from the main column, and struck the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad at New River
east of Wytheville
; whence, after destroying the bridge, it moved east, cutting off all communication with Richmond
, and then crossed over into North Carolina
As soon as I was in a condition to be moved, I was carried on the railroad to Wytheville
, and was proceeding thence to my home, in an ambulance under charge of a surgeon, when I received, most unexpectedly, the news of the surrender of General Lee
Under the disheartening influence of the sad tidings I had received, I proceeded to my journey's end, and I subsequently received a letter from General Lee
, dated on the 30th of March, explaining the reasons for relieving me from command.
This letter, written on the very day of the commencement of the attack on General Lee
's lines, which resulted in the evacuation of Richmond
, and just ten days before the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, has a historical interest; for it shows that Lee
, even at that late day, was anxiously and earnestly contemplating the continuation of the struggle with unabated vigor, and a full determination to make available every element of success.
Immediately after the battle of Cedar Creek
, I had written a letter to General Lee
, stating my willingness to be relieved from command, if he deemed it necessary for the public interests, and I should have been content with the course pursued towards me, had his letter not contained the expressions of personal confidence in me that it does; for I knew that in everything he did as commander of our armies, General Lee
was actuated solely by an earnest and ardent desire for the success of the cause of his country.
As to those among my countrymen who judged me harshly, I have not a word of reproach.
When there was so much at stake, it was not unnatural that persons entirely ignorant of the facts, and forming their opinions from the many false reports set afloat in a time of terrible war and public suffering, should pass erroneous and severe judgments on those commanders who met with reverses.
I was not embraced in the terms of General Lee
's surrender or that of General Johnston
, and, as the order relieving me from command had also relieved me from all embarrassment as to the troops which had been under me, as soon as I was in a condition to travel, I started on horseback for the Trans-Mississippi Department to join the army of General Kirby Smith
, should it hold out; with the hope of at least meeting an honorable death while fighting under the flag of my country.
Before I reached that Department, Smith
's army had also been surrendered, and, without giving a parole, after a long, weary and dangerous ride from Virginia
, through the states of North Carolina
, South Carolina
, and Texas
, I finally succeeded in leaving the country.
General,--My telegram will have informed you that I deem a change of commanders in your Department necessary; but it is due to your zealous and patriotic services that I should explain the reasons that prompted my action.
The situation of affairs is such that we can neglect no means calculated to develop the resources we possess to the greatest extent, and make them as efficient as possible.
To this end, it is essential that we should have the cheerful and hearty support of the people, and the full confidence of the soldiers, without which our efforts would be embarrassed and our means of resistance weakened.
I have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that you cannot command the united and willing co-operation which is so essential to success.
Your reverses in the Valley
, of which the public and the army judge chiefly by the results, have, I fear, impaired your influence both with the people and the soldiers, and would add greatly
to the difficulties which will, under any circumstances, attend our military operations in S. W. Virginia
While my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause is unimpaired, I have nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current of opinion, without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service.
I therefore felt constrained to endeavor to find a commander who would be more likely to develop the strength and resources of the country, and inspire the soldiers with confidence; and to accomplish this purpose, I thought it proper to yield my own opinion, and to defer to that of those to whom alone we can look for support.
I am sure that you will understand and appreciate my motives, and no one will be more ready than yourself to acquiesce in any measures which the interests of the country may seem to require, regardless of all personal considerations.
Thanking you for the fidelity and energy with which you have always supported my efforts, and for the courage and devotion you have ever manifested in the service of the country,
I am, very respectfully and truly Your ob't servant, R. E. Lee, General