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Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

 Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee


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The year 1865 had now commenced. The strength of that thin gray line,drawn out to less than one thousand men to the mile, which had repulsedevery attempt of the enemy to break through it, was daily becomingless. The capture of Fort Fisher, our last open port, January 15th,cut off all supplies and munitions from the outside world. Shermanhad reached Savannah in December, from which point he was ready tounite with Grant at any time. From General Lee's letters, officialand private, one gets a clear view of the desperateness of his position.He had been made commander-in-chief of all the military forces in theConfederate States on February 6th. In his order issued on acceptingthis command he says:

"...Deeply impressed with the difficulties and responsibilities ofthe position, and humbly invoking the guidance of Almighty God, I relyfor success upon the courage and fortitude of the army, sustained bythe patriotism and firmness of the people, confident that their unitedefforts under the blessing of Heaven will secure peace andindependence...."

General Beauregard, who had so ably defended Petersburg when it wasfirst attacked, and who had assisted so materially in its subsequentdefense, had been sent to gather troops to try to check Sherman'sadvance through the Carolinas. But Beauregard's health was now verybad, and it was feared he would have to abandon the field. In aletter to the Secretary of War, dated February 21, 1865, my fathersays:

"...In the event of the necessity of abandoning our position on JamesRiver, I shall endeavour to unite the corps of the army aboutBurkeville [junction of Southside and Danville Railroad], so as toretain communication with the North and South as long as practicable,and also with the West, I should think Lynchburg, or some point west,the most advantageous place to which to remove stores from Richmond.This, however, is a most difficult point at this time to decide, andthe place may have to be changed by circumstances. It was my intentionin my former letter to apply for General Joseph E. Johnston, that Imight assign him to duty, should circumstances permit. I have hadno official report of the condition of General Beauregard's health.It is stated from many sources to be bad. If he should break downentirely, it might be fatal. In that event, I should have no onewith whom to supply his place. I therefore respectfully request GeneralJohnston may be ordered to report to me, and that I may be informedwhere he is."

In a letter to the Secretary of War, written the next day:

"...But you may expect Sheridan to move up the Valley, and Stonemanfrom Knoxville, as Sherman draws near Roanoke. What then will becomeof those sections of the country? I know of no other troops thatcould be given to Beauregard. Bragg will be forced back by Schofield,I fear, and, until I abandon James River, nothing can be sent fromthis army. Grant, I think, is now preparing to draw out by his leftwith the intent of enveloping me. He may wait till his other columnsapproach nearer, or he may be preparing to anticipate my withdrawal.I cannot tell yet.... Everything of value should be removed fromRichmond. It is of the first importance to save all powder. Thecavalry and artillery of the army are still scattered for want ofprovender, and our supply and ammunition trains, which out to bewith the army in case of sudden movement, are absent collectingprovisions and forage--some in western Virginia and some in NorthCarolina. You will see to what straits we are reduced; but I trustto work out."

On the same day, in a letter to my mother, he writes:

"...After sending my note this morning, I received from the expressoffice a back of socks. You will have to send down your offerings assoon as you can, and bring your work to a close, for I think GeneralGrant will move against us soon--within a week, if nothing prevents--and no man can tell what may be the result; but trusting to a mercifulGod, who does not always give the battle to the strong, I pray we maynot be overwhelmed. I shall, however, endeavour to do my duty andfight to the last. Should it be necessary to abandon our positionto prevent being surrounded, what will you do? You must consider thequestion, and make up your mind. It is a fearful condition, and wemust rely for guidance and protection upon a kind Providence...."

About this time, I saw my father for the last time until after thesurrender. We had been ordered up to the army from our camp nearlyforty miles away, reaching the vicinity of Petersburg the morning ofthe attack of General Gordon on Fort Stedman, on March 25th. Mybrother and I had ridden ahead of the division to report its presence,when we met the General riding Traveller, almost alone, back from thatpart of the lines opposite the fort. Since then I have often recalledthe sadness of his face, its careworn expression. When he caughtsight of his two sons, a bright smile at once lit up his countenance,and he showed very plainly his pleasure at seeing us. He thanked mybrother for responding so promptly to his call upon him, and regrettedthat events had so shaped themselves that the division would not thenbe needed, as he had hoped it would be.

No good results followed Gordon's gallant attack. His supports didnot come up a the proper time, and our losses were very heavy, mostlyprisoners. Two days after this, Sheridan, with ten thousand mountedmen, joined Grant, having marched from the Valley of Virginia viaStaunton and Charlottesville. On the 28th, everything being ready,General Grant commenced to turn our right, and having more than threemen to our one, he had no difficult task. On that very day my fatherwrote to my mother:

"...I have received your note with a bag of socks. I return the bagand receipt. The count is all right this time. I have put in thebag General Scott's autobiography, which I thought you might liketo read. The General, of course, stands out prominently, and doesnot hide his light under a bushel, but he appears the bold, sagacious,truthful man that he is. I inclose a note from little Agnes. I shallbe very glad to see her to-morrow, but cannot recommend pleasuretrips now...."



Comments:

  1. Votaxe

    Very, very

  2. Ardolf

    If, too, will be your way. Be what you want.

  3. Webb

    What interesting phrase

  4. Kingsley

    It is simply matchless topic

  5. Adel

    This matter of your hands!

  6. Manfried

    It seems to me, you were mistaken



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