Confidential    Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia,

December 8, 1862


His Excellency Jefferson Davis,

Richmond, Va.:

Mr. President: A scout, who has been absent for several weeks, returned last night. He has visited the cities from Washington to New York, inclusive. The former city he left on the night of the 2d instant, coming through Stafford County. He reports vast preparations for our suppression, and the expression of great confidence on the part of the North. Re-enforcements are still coming to General Burnside’s army. Two regiments left Alexandria while he was there, and four were waiting for transportation to Aquia Creek. Three regiments of cavalry were also marching by land, and a large pontoon train was moving through Dumfries while he was in that vicinity. He visited Staten Island, where the troops said to be for Banks’ expedition were assembled. He thought there were about 7,000 troops there, though it was stated that the expedition consisted of about 35,000. He was shown at Brooklyn navy-yard some iron-clad steamers, said to be preparing for the expedition, and among them was the Monitor. From all that he saw and heard, he is convinced that the expedition is not for Texas. If he is correct in the opinion that they are preparing iron-clad vessels for the expedition, it certainly cannot be intended for Texas, and the report has been circulated to conceal its real object.

I noticed in some of the intercepted private correspondence of the enemy, that many stated they had signed a paper to accompany Banks’ expedition to Texas. Not supposing that he would be assigned to a command of much importance, I attached some credit to these letters. I see from the Northern papers that his troops are principally from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, and must be new, nor am I aware that he has with him any officer of prominence in their army. I also see it stated that his troops embarked in sea-going vessels, and I believe the fleet of steamers now in Hampton Roads is part of that expedition. It would seem that they are not intended to operate in that quarter, or they would not be conveyed in steamers of that character.

A telegram of the 30th ultimo from Fortress Monroe states that the ocean steamers with troops still remain there; that they are drilled on shore daily, and reports rough weather. It would seem, therefore, that they are destined for some other port.

The indications, from the Northern papers, are that the expedition is intended to operate in the Southwest; it may be in the Mississippi River, or against Mobile.

The scout above referred to was told in Washington, by a person in the Coast Survey Office, that it was intended for Brunswick Harbor, with the design of taking Mobile in reverse; and another person told him that it was intended for James River. He is of opinion that Burnside’s army is intended to force a passage to Richmond by this route, and he heard great anxiety expressed at his delay.

The impression seemed general at the North that if Richmond was taken the war would be ended, and every effort would be made this winter to accomplish that object.

Burnside’s army is represented by him to be 220,000 strong, and increasing.

It is difficult to say, from this statement, what is the actual plan of the enemy; but I think that Burnside’s army is much magnified, and that Banks’ expedition is probably designed for some point south of James River. The monitor and four other iron-clad boats are now in Hampton Roads, and they are probably intended to operate in those waters.

If the troops in North Carolina and around Richmond can keep back attacks directed from south of the river, this army, if not able to resist General Burnside’s advance, can retire upon the capital, and then operate as circumstances may dictate; but if the operations of the enemy south of James River cannot be resisted, it had better at once approach nearer Richmond. In this latter event I would leave a covering force here to embarrass General Burnside’s advance.

General Greary, on the 4th instant, entered Winchester; but evacuated it in less than an hour, as he stated, for prudential reasons, and retired to Harper’s Ferry. Our troops there hold their old positions. One of my objects in destroying the railroads in that region was to prevent the occupation of Winchester by the enemy, this winter at least.

I am reluctant to trouble Your Excellency with my wants; but unless the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad is more energetically operated, it will be impossible to supply this army with provisions, and oblige its retirement to Hanover Junction.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, Your Excellency’s obedient servant,

R E Lee





Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 21, pp. 1053-1054

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 January 29