Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter V: The Army of Northern Virginia: Against Meade in Virginia

The Document

On August 23d, from the camp near Orange Court House, General Lee writes to Mrs. Lee:

"...My camp is near Mr. Erasmus Taylor's house, who has been very kind in contributing to our comfort. His wife sends us every day, buttermilk, loaf bread, ice, and such vegetables as she has. I cannot get her to desist, thought I have made two special visits to that effect. All the brides have come on a visit to the army: Mrs. Ewell, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Heth, etc. General Meade's army is north of the Rappahannock along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. He is very quiet...."

"September 4, 1863.

"...You see I am still here. When I wrote last, the indications were that the enemy would move against us any day; but this past week he has been very quiet, and seems at present to continue so. I was out looking at him yesterday, from Clarke's Mountain. He has spread himself over a large surface and looks immense...."

And on September 18th, from the same camp:

"...The enemy state that they have heard of a great reduction in our forces here, and are now going to drive us back to Richmond. I trust they will not succeed; but our hope and our refuge is in our merciful Father in Heaven...."

On October 9th, the Army of Northern Virginia was put in motion, and wa pushed around Meade's right. Meade was gradually forced back to a position near the old battlefield at Manassas. Although we had hard marching, much skirmishing, and several severe fights between the cavalry of both armies, nothing permanent was accomplished, and in about ten days we were back on our old lines. In a letter of October 19, 1863, to his wife, my father says:

"...I have returned to the Rappahannock. I did not pursue with the main army beyond Bristoe or Broad Run. Our advance went as far as Bull Run, where the enemy was entrenched, extending his right as far as 'Chantilly,' in the yard of which he was building a redoubt. I could have thrown him farther back, but saw no chance of bringing him to battle, and it would only have served to fatigue our troops by advancing farther. I should certainly have endeavored to throw them north of the Potomac; but thousands were barefooted, thousands with fragments of shoes, and all without overcoats, blankets, or warm clothing. I could not bear to expose them to certain suffering and an uncertain issue...."

On October 25th, from "Camp Rappahannock," he writes again to my mother:

"...I moved yesterday into a nice pine thicket, and Perry is to-day engaged in constructing a chimney in front of my tent, which will make it warm and comfortable. I have no idea when Fitzhugh [his son, Major General Fitzhugh Lee] will be exchanged. The Federal authorities still resist all exchanges, because they think it is to our interest to make them. Any desire expressed on our part for the exchange of any individual magnifies the difficulty, as they at once think some great benefit is to result to us from it. His detention is very grievous to me, and, besides, I want his services. I am glad you have some socks for the army. Send them to me. They will come safely. Tell the girls [his daughters] to send all they can. I wish they could make some shoes, too. We have thousands of barefooted men. There is no news. General Meade, I believe, is repairing the railroad, and I presume will come on again. If I could only get some shoes and clothes for the men, I would save him the trouble...."

Unsatisfactory commissariat

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee, http://www.historyofwar.org/sources/acw/lee_letters/chapter05i, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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