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Lee to Longstreet



Hdqrs 17 Feby ‘64



I recd by the hands of Col: Sorrel your letters of the 2nd & 3rd Inst: I have delayed my reply hoping to obtain certain information bearing upon the question presented, but it has not been recd. the execution of your proposition is attended with many difficulties, which I fear do not See how they Can be overcome. It is stated in the papers that Genl Sherman with a large force has driven our troops from Jackson & is moving upon Morton1 with the supposed design of striking at Mobile. I have seen no official account, but if this is true, S. D. Lee with all his Cavy will have full occupation & cannot at present advance into Ken[tucky]. If Johnston’s army Could be transported by R. R. to this dept: without stopping the supplies upon which we depend, its withdrawal would open to the enemy the road to the Atlantic. In that event it Could reinforce you but slightly until troops began to arrive, & not then unless provisions Could first be accumulated on your line. Picketts division forms the principal protection of the Eastern border of Va: & N.C. & I have recently been obliged to reinforce it with three brigades from this army. These are the difficulties as they at present stand. At this season when forage has to be transported, as well as subce, the obstacles to an advance are enhanced. I have been trying to accumulate depots of provisions & forage, but have not succeeded. I Can get 1,500 saddles & bridles, but only about 500 horses, unless I take from the Arty & wagon trains. This number Constitutes our reserve, which will be wanted after the first battle, & is too small to be of practical advantage. The war dept has had in contemplation a reorganization of the forces in W Va:, & I think it probable Genl Breckinridge will be sent there. You do not state what amt: of supplies can be had in the Section of country you are now in, & from the statement of the QrMr that he has been obliged to send you corn, I fear we could not support a large number of animals in that region. I notified Genl Elzey some time since that I desired Genl Pickett to join you in the spring, and wished him to get back his troops from Charleston. I will endeavour to get to Genl Buckner his brigade from Dalton, but fear it may be required there. Until the enemy gives indications of his intentions it is difficult to say what is best to be done, unless we could ourselves take the initiative, which if possible should be done. Now that the adjournment of Cong is at hand I hope that the Dept will be able to make some definite arrangement. I do not Know the strength of the enemy in Tenn. The 4th and 11th Corps were said to have been united & the 23rd much reduced. The 9th (Burnside’s old corps) was originally large. The entire force may be too strong for you to make the movement you propose, even if other things rendered it practicable, unless you could divide & crush it. After getting into the country, without a sufficient Cavy force, you could not collect sufficient horses to mount your Corps. When mounted you could avoid any Infy force & overwhelm any Cavy force that could be brought against you, & draw the enemy from Johnston’s front, so that he Could follow you. The Cavy of this army is much reduced, & I have dispersed it as far as prudent, for the purpose of recruiting. I hope you have recd sufficient shoes. I relinquished for a time all that could be procured, that you might be provided. I am very glad that your operations so far have been attended with success. Could your Cavy have made the movements designed, the enemy would have been seriously injured. I see that the R. R. between Knoxville & Chattanooga is opened. This will give the enemy great advantages, which I hope in some way you will be able to counteract. Could you project a movement in connection with Genl Johnston to drive him from Tenn?

With great respect, your obt servt,

R E Lee





1. Morton, Mississippi, roughly 40 miles to the east of Jackson. The transcription in The War of the Rebellion has it transcribed as “Newton.”




Source: Checked against original letter, Helen M. Taylor Papers, Mss1 T2144 a 192-195, Section 6, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2019 April 26