That the Army of Northern Virginia did not decline in morale during the winter of 1863‑64 was due, first of all, to its previous record of victories. Soldiers who had triumphed at Second Manassas, at Fredericksburg, and at Chancellorsville refused to regard Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, and Rappahannock Bridge as anything more than a succession of unhappy accidents. Having beaten the enemy often, the men would not believe the Federals had so improved in generalship or in fighting prowess that they could defeat them except when circumstances, the elements, or the superiority of position gave the Army of the Potomac an unassailable advantage.
The adaptability of the individual contributed, in the second place, to the army's morale during the same shivering months. The majority of Lee's soldiers were country boys, many of them only one or two generations from the frontier and nearly all of them accustomed to a primitive life in which every man had to shift for himself. The regiments from the rural districts had shown their resourcefulness early in the war. Those from the cities had quickly "reverted to species" and by the third winter of the war were equally adept in the art of making themselves comfortable wherever they were thrown. The men's ingenuity increased in proportion to their hardships.
Still a third factor was the invincible good cheer of the troops. This probably had its origin in the isolated lives they had led prior to the war. Once the embarrassment of new association had worn off, contact with men from other states was stimulating. Only the most incurable pessimist failed to contribute his part to the merriment of camp, much after the manner of boys who were "showing off." The sternest experience was softened by their jokes, as in the case of the hot and hungry infantryman p241 who came upon a group of commissary officers, seated under a clump of trees and enjoying an ample dinner. The soldier, a North Carolinian, walked up to the fence that surrounded the grove, put his head through the palings, gazed longingly, and then remarked with fine satire, "I say, misters, did any of you ever hearn tell of the battle of Chancellorsville?"1 Of similar spirit was the sick, straggling Georgia private who was plodding through the woods one day in the fall of 1863, when he was overtaken by a North Carolina bandsman with a great bass drum. The soldiers had made life so miserable for the musicians that this sensitive votary of the Muse had left the road and was making his way quietly forward among the trees to escape the jibes at his music and his valor. He stalked past the Georgian without a word, only to be halted by a plaintive voice: "Mister, oh, mister!" Sympathetically the drummer turned. "What can I do for you?" he inquired. In the same voice, the soldier asked, "Won't you be so kind as to pick a tune on that ar' thing?"2 An army that ate the meat of mirth could keep its morale even on the rancid bacon and cornbread that often formed its only ration.
Religion was another factor in sustaining the spirit of the soldiers through the long, blusterous months on the Rapidan. The revivals begun the previous year were still sweeping through the camps. Nearly every brigade built itself a log chapel, into which, night after night, the men crowded to hear fervent preachers tell of an everlasting life that robbed the minié of its terror. That winter 15,000 men were converted, and many of them were fired with a faith that defied the battle.3
Lee himself was a force no less potent in preserving the morale of the army. His methods were as simple as they were effective. They reflected his own character and his interest in the welfare of the men entrusted to him, and in no sense did they bespeak any ordered, calculating analysis of what would or would not inspire soldiers. He rode frequently among the camps, alone or attended by only one or two staff officers. Sometimes the men would cheer him;4 more often they received him with a silence that was almost reverent. Yet they never hesitated to bring him their complaints, in the knowledge that he would always receive p242 them as friends in a common cause. During the Gettysburg campaign, as Lee stood by a road along which a column of half-exhausted men were marching under a singeing sun, a stout private broke ranks and approached him. Some of the staff turned the man back, but Lee told them to let him come to him. "What is it you want?" he said kindly. The soldier, who was perspiring in streams, answered quickly, "Please, General, I don't want much, but it's powerful wet marching this weather. I can't see for the water in my eyes. I came aside to this old hill to get a rag or something to wipe the sweat out of my eyes." Lee immediately took out his handkerchief and handed it to him. "Will this do?" he inquired. "Yes, my Lordy, that indeed!" the man exclaimed. "Well, then," Lee answer encouragingly, "take it with you, and back quick to ranks; no straggling this march, you know, my man." General Sorrel, who witnessed this typical incident, said in comment on it, "Lee's talk and manner with the soldier were inimitable in their encouraging kindness."5
John H. Worsham recalled that after the campaign of 1864 opened, Lee chanced again to be by the roadside, mounted on Traveller while some of his veterans were on the march. "As our column approached him," he wrote, "an old private stepped out of ranks and advanced to General Lee. They shook hands like acquaintances and entered into a lively conversation. As I moved on I looked back, and the old man had his gun in one hand and the other hand on Traveller's neck, still talking."6
Lee was as simple with the farmers of the countryside as he was with his soldiers. On one of the advances of the army, a farmer rode up to a bivouac where Lee was sitting and addressed him as "colonel," not guessing his identity. Lee put him at his ease and chatted with him for some time. At length the planter told the "colonel" that he had come to the army in the hope of seeing General Lee and wondered if it was possible for him to do so. "I am General Lee," his host replied, "and I am most happy to have met you."7 While he was on the Rappahannock, a soldier called at Lee's tent, with his wife. Lee invited the couple in and soon learned all about them by friendly questions. "She was from Abbeville district, S. C.," he enthusiastically wrote Mrs. p243Lee that night. "Said she had not seen her husband for more than two years, and, as he had written to her for clothes, she herself thought she would bring them on. It was the first time she had travelled by railroad, but she got along very well by herself. She brought an entire suit of her own manufacture for her husband. She spun the yarn and made the clothes herself. She clad her three children in the same way, and had on a beautiful pair of gloves she had made for herself. Her children she had left with her sister. . . . She was very pleasing in her address and modest in her manner, and was clad in a nice, new alpaca. I am certain she could not have made that. . . . She, in fact, was an admirable woman. Said she was willing to give up everything she had in the world to attain our independence, and the only complaint she made of the conduct of our enemies was their arming our servants against us. Her greatest difficulty was to procure shoes. She made them for herself and children of cloth with leather soles. She sat with me about ten minutes and took her leave — another mark of sense — and made no request for herself or husband."8
With the courtesy he showed this woman, he welcomed all visitors, humble in station or exalted in rank. Only those who came to appeal from the verdict of courts-martial and those who importuned him for promotion found access to him difficult. If an officer wrote him in protest at the elevation of some one else, or in complaint of his failure to receive recognition, Lee would turn the paper over to one of his staff with the request, " 'Suage him, Colonel; 'suage him." If he could avoid it without discourtesy, he would not grant an interview to such an officer. Once, after a man with a grievance had insisted on seeing him, Lee came out of his quarters with flushed face and exclaimed to Colonel Venable, "Why did you permit that man to come to my tent and make me show my temper?"9
Lee's respect for the individuality of his men extended to their wants and their duties. He was quick to defend them against discrimination and against imposition. The sutlers who set themselves up at Orange Courthouse during the winter were, in the main, a grasping lot, and they became so exorbitant in their p244 charges that the men rose against them and plundered their wares. In plaintive indignation the sutlers hurried to General Lee to ask protection for the future. He heard their protests with his wonted patience and ended by putting this question to them: "You think that the boys treated you badly?" The sutlers were of one mind: "Outrageously, General," they insisted, "outrageously." Lee looked at them: "Had you not, then, better set up shop somewhere else?" They did.10 On the other hand, he investigated every just grievance, and when a prisoner complained to him that the soldiers had abused and taunted him, Lee was instant in his reproof.11
The spiritual needs of his men he supplied, also, as best he could. Some of his generals, less religious in nature than he, fell into the habit of making Sunday a time for reviews and festivities. Two of the chaplains came to Lee and tactfully asked that military duties on the Sabbath Day be reduced to the necessary minimum. Lee made no promises but let the conversation drift to the progress of the revivals. One of the clergymen noted that as they told of what was happening, "we saw his eye brighten and his whole countenance glow with pleasure."12 When the ministers rose to leave, the spokesman stated, "I think it right that I should say to you, General, that the chaplains of this army have a deep interest in your welfare, and that some of the most fervent prayers we offer are in your behalf." Lee flushed, and tears came into his eyes. He choked for a moment and then, with the directness that would have been cant in a soul less simple than his, he replied, "Please thank them for that, sir. I warmly appreciate it. And I can only say that I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation, and need all the prayers they can offer for me."13 The next day he issued a general order for the better observance of the Sabbath.14 He went regularly to church,15 and not infrequently, when his duties did not press too heavily, he attended the chaplains' meetings.16
TITLE PAGE AND MRS. LEE'S INSCRIPTION IN GENERAL LEE'S PRAYER-BOOK
This book was used from 1846 until 1864 and then exchanged because the type was too small for him to read it easily. The most worn page in the book, marked by a small strip of paper, is that containing the Psalter for the thirtieth day — "Blessed be the Lord my strength: who teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight." (Psalm 144).
From the original in the possession of Dr. Churchill G. Chamberlayne.
p245 His regard for his men was, of course, known to them, and when coupled with their respect for him as a soldier, it produced in them something akin to the idolatry of youth for greatness. After one of his battles, Lee met a soldier who was coming from the front with a shattered right arm. "I grieve for you, my poor fellow," Lee said, "can I do anything for you?" The soldier answered, "Yes, sir, you can shake hands with me, General, if you will consent to take my left hand." Lee grasped his powder-stained hand warmly — with an admiration he made no effort to conceal.17
Late in the winter a scout arrived at headquarters with newspapers and reports of a heavy eastward movement of troop trains along the Baltimore and Ohio. The scout, who was only a boy in years, had ridden one horse to death in order to reach Lee speedily and was close to collapse. Lee listened to him and left for a moment to issue an order. When he returned, he found that the boy had toppled over from his camp-stool and had fallen half on the General's cot, in the deep sleep of exhaustion. Lee covered him, walked out of the tent, tied the flap and left him alone until his cramped position caused him to awaken, two hours later. Then the General supplied him with food and saw to it that he received proper care.18 Incidents of this sort became known to the army and explain why it was that in March, 1864, when he was in Richmond, the men who were waiting at the transportation office heard of his presence in the city and with many a "God-bless-him," inquired where they could see him.19 But perhaps the best tribute to him was paid one night when some of the infantry were discussing the Origin of Species, which had then been published less than four years. Darwinism had its warm advocates, but one soldier refused to accept the arguments. "Well, boys," he said, "the rest of us may have developed from monkeys; but I tell you none less than God could have made such a man as 'Marse Robert.' "20
The material wants of the men who gave him this measure of p246 admiration could not be supplied that winter. Some of the worst wear-and‑tear in clothing and footgear had been offset by September, 1863,21 but as the fall advanced and the weather grew worse, the depletion of Confederate credits abroad and the capture of several ships loaded with quartermaster stores resulted in such a shortage that shoes were worn out faster than they could be replaced.22 There were thousands of barefooted men in the army before the end of October.23 After a period of extremely cold weather in January,24 only fifty men in one regiment were decently shod, and a brigade sent out on picket duty had to leave behind it several hundred men who could not march because of the condition of their shoes.25 Lee sought to save every hide he could, and to remedy the shortage he undertook to have shoes made in the army, but with indifferent success.26 He kept the women of his family and all their acquaintances busy knitting warm socks, especially for the men whose homes were within the enemy's lines.27 It was characteristic of Lee, however, to withhold his requisitions during a part of the winter, in order that Longstreet's troops in the mountains might get shoes.28 As for blankets, they were to be had only by importation, as the South produced none.29
Worse even than the shortage of shoes and blankets was the lack of food for the men. As early as June, 1863, Commissary General Northrop had served warning that the meat supply in the South would not last until the new bacon came in.30 In July he had notified Lee that he would be compelled to recommend a reduction in the ration,31 and in his annual report for 1863 he stated that there would not be enough meat in the country during the next twelve months for the people and the army. As the civilians would insist on having meat, he added bitterly that the troops "must bear the brunt of hunger as well as of arms."32 By December, 1863, the government had only twenty-five days' supply of beef and bacon east of the Mississippi and had no reserve p247 whatsoever in Virginia.33 In January the shortage of cereals was almost as acute.34 Davis contrived to get •90,000 pounds of meat when it seemed that the army must go without fats,35 but the daily ration had to be cut to •four ounces of bacon or salt pork, with only •one pint of corn meal per man.36 For two days during the winter the men went without any food.37 One hungry soldier anonymously sent Lee his meat ration, carefully placed between two chips, and wrote sadly that though he had been born a gentleman, hunger had forced him to steal.38 Another man in the ranks wrote Lee asking if he knew of the want to which the army had been reduced. He added that if the General was aware of conditions, the men would realize there was reason for the shortage. Lee did not answer directly, but the next day he issued an order explaining the situation and exhorting the troops to endure as their forefathers had in the Revolution.39 The soldiers responded to his appeal loyally and complained little, but as they surveyed their scant allowance of unbolted meal, they started a grim joke which lingered in the army until Appomattox — that the opposing forces were the "Fed and the Cornfed."40 There were weeks, of course, during which the rations of some of the units were ample,41 but the periods of want were so frequent and so prolonged that Lee had to inform the administration in the most sombre terms that ruin was threatened if the army was not rationed. On January 22, 1864, he wrote the Secretary of War, "Unless there is a change, I fear the army cannot be kept effective, and probably cannot be kept together."42 As late as April 12, when the opening of the campaign waited only on the final preparations of the enemy across the Rapidan, Lee told the President, "I cannot see how we can operate with our present supplies."43
The reasons for this struggle with starvation were numerous. The Southern states prior to 1861 had been heavy importers of p248 pork. After the commencement of the dark conflict, the government was slow to contract for adequate supplies of meat from abroad. The management of the commissary had been negligent and inefficient. The railroads were inadequate to the demands made on their worn equipment and tracks.44 Serious as were these conditions, it was not Lee's nature to content himself with explaining to the administration their inevitable consequences. Through the whole of the winter, he strove himself to correct these conditions. The subsistence of the troops became his first and greatest concern.
What could he do to get food for the men? First of all, as he saw it, the improvement of the railroads and the better use of their rolling stock were essential. At the beginning of the war, the railways had thought they would inevitably be ruined and they had encouraged their operatives to enlist in order to save expenses. Many of them had neglected maintenance and none of them had been able to replace worn-out equipment.45 Some of the more progressive lines had purchased a few necessities in Europe, and had brought them in through the blockade, but they had received scanty encouragement from the government, which, however, had refused to take over the operation of the railways.46 As a result of all this, the lines deteriorated during the winter of 1863‑64, while the demands on them increased steadily, chiefly because the exhaustion of grain in Virginia and North Carolina necessitated the hauling of corn from Georgia to feed the men and horses of Lee's army.47 By the end of 1863, the Virginia Central Railroad, which was Lee's supply line from Richmond, was so close to a breakdown that when it handled troops it could not deliver provisions or forage.48 In January, 1864, when Lee moved Hoke's brigade to North Carolina, for the New Berne expedition, he had to dispatch the regiments on separate days in the freight cars that had delivered supplies.49 In February, Lee was forced to p249 march Battle's brigade to the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad and transport the men thence to Hanover Junction because the Virginia Central was unable to move them.50 By March, the Virginia Central had but eight locomotives in working order.51 The next month, Longstreet's corps could only be brought back from Bristol at the rate of 1500 a day.52 Tracks were as bad as the equipment, for no new rails were being rolled in the Confederacy.53 To complete the railroad from Greensboro, N. C., to Danville, Va., so that Lee might not be cut off from the South in case the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad was broken by the enemy, the Confederacy actually had to take up the rails on the York River Railroad and on •six miles of the Charlottesville and Statesville Railroad and replace them on the new line.54 Lee had long foreseen the danger of the collapse of the railways. One of his first orders after assuming command in March, 1862, had been designed to straighten out a railroad tangle,55 and now, with the crisis at hand, he conserved his rail transportation with the utmost care. He had previously urged the officials of the Virginia Central Railroad to improve their line,56 and he made it mandatory that all cars be unloaded and returned promptly.57 On occasion, he did not hesitate to employ the troops around Richmond in repair work on the railroads.58 He agreed, if necessary, to release car builders from the ranks, though he believed ship carpenters could be utilized for this purpose.59 Likewise he joined most earnestly with Northrop in urging that passenger trains be withdrawn from service,60 in order that the lines should be used only for moving troops and supplies; and he went even further in advocating the evacuation of non-combatants and prisoners from Richmond, where they had to be fed, in part, with transported supplies.61 In the same spirit, Lee endeavored to prevent p250 the wastage of provisions en route to the army.62 Thanks to this co-operation, the energetic administration of a new quartermaster-general, A. R. Lawton, a former brigadier in the Army of Northern Virginia, kept the wheels turning and prevented the collapse that would otherwise have occurred. In March, 1864, Lawton was able to report that the creaking lines were hauling more than at almost any other period of the war, though it was admittedly a "forced march."63
Knowing that the railroads, under the best possible management, could not be relied upon to bring a sufficiency of supplies to the army, Lee's second method of providing food for his men was through raids into western and southwestern Virginia.64 Many hogs and cattle were procured in this way. At one time, raids became so necessary that Lee was prepared to undertake them in almost any quarter where supplies were to be had in a quantity to justify them.65 Besides these measures, Lee advocated and prevailed upon the War Department to approve a system of trading with the enemy;66 he sent off most of the cavalry into country where it could subsist itself;67 he protested against the practice whereby officers were allowed to purchase food at the various army-posts for their families;68 he issued strict orders to protect cultivated enclosures;69 he granted furloughs at the rate of sixteen for each one hundred men, in order that they might not have to be fed at the front, but he was restrained in doing this by the knowledge that if too many furloughs were issued, the railroad trains would be overcrowded.70 At his own headquarters, he set an example of the utmost frugality. All luxuries that were sent by admirers he dispatched forthwith to the hospitals, and as protests were made against this, he replied simply, "I am content to share the rations of my men."71 When a plain meal was finished he would sometimes say to Major Taylor, "Well, we are p251 just as well off as if we had feasted on the best in the land; our hunger is appeased, and I am satisfied."72 A simple vegetable dinner drew forth his warmest praise when he was visiting,73 and his own mid-day fare was usually cabbage boiled in salt water.74 Once when he had guests, he ordered middling bacon with the cabbage, but when the diners sat down, the meat was so scant that all of them politely declined it. The next day, recalling that meat had not been eaten, he bade his steward bring it — only to be met with the confession that there had been no bacon at headquarters and that what he had seen the previous day had been borrowed and had been duly returned to its owner, untouched.75 On the rare occasions when food was abundant and Lee's table was graced with a piece of beef, or with a joint of mutton, which was one of his favorite dishes, he would always remark, if urged to have a second helping, "I would really enjoy another piece, but I have had my allowance."76
All that could be devised to relieve the scarcity of food, Lee undertook diligently — except one thing: He would not resort to indiscriminate impressment of the little that the people in the war zone had for their own subsistence; and in refusing to do this, he had a long, pointed correspondence with the commissary general.77
The shortage that Lee sought to ease by these measures extended equally to the feed for the horses. At the end of August, 1863, promises had been made that the army would be supplied with •3000 bushels of corn a day,78 but before the middle of November, the amount had fallen off so heavily that Lee feared unless more was forthcoming many animals would be lost during the winter.79 Ere long the daily supply declined to •1000 bushels a day80 and the hay and fodder were relatively even less. Instead p252 of •ten pounds of corn and ten of long forage per diem, the horses often got only five pounds of corn and nothing besides. Sometimes only a little hay or unthreshed wheat or dry straw was available. The horses would eat the bark off trees, would gnaw through the trunks of the smaller forest growth and would devour empty bags, scraps of papers and all the small débris of camp.81 Lee's love of animals and his dependence on his transport for the execution of his plans alike prompted him to take such drastic relief measures as were in his power. All the forage in a large area was reserved for the army;82 boards of officers were sent out in search of communities where the mounts could be kept alive;83 most of the artillery was retired to the line of the Virginia Central Railroad;84 the cavalry were scattered for miles beyond either flank;85 detached cavalry forces were moved to more distant points in order that they might not consume forage within hauling distance of the army;86 the farmers, by Lee's orders, were not allowed to retain more than six months' supply of corn for their animals.87 Once, when he saw that the saddles of a cavalry command had slipped after the animals had climbed a long hill, he personally had them readjusted and, at the end of the march, sent for the officers and gave them a practical lecture on the care of the horses' backs.88
There was no misreading the ominous meaning of the slow starvation of the horses. All the apprehension that Lee had felt the previous winter over the prospective exhaustion of the horse-supply was now sharpened, because it was conceded that if the horses died they could not be replaced. As early as July, 1863, the quartermaster general had advised that 8000 to 10,000 animals were absolutely necessary to replace those killed or worn out,89 but they could not be found east of the Mississippi. General Pendleton fostered a system of infirmaries90 and saved many horses that would otherwise have died. The loss through hunger p253 and disease was heavy, nonetheless.91 Butler's brigade, which had received 2000 horses in a year, could not mount 500 men in February, yet could not be spared from the front to recruit either men or animals.92 Longstreet had been unable to take all his batteries with him to Georgia for lack of horses to pull the guns,93 and when the spring approached, General Bragg had to recommend that Lee's artillery be reduced for the same reason. "I have never found it too large in battle," Lee replied, though he expressed his willingness to weaken that arm if it should develop that the horses could not be provided.94 Half of the animals in Stuart's horse artillery were reported to have died during the winter, and a reduction in the number of his batteries seemed inevitable.95 Five days before the opening of Grant's offensive, May 4, 1864, Lee reported that he was unable to get the troops together for want of forage.96
To the burden of maintaining the army's morale and of finding food for its personnel and horses was added, all winter long, the labor of recruiting the ranks for the coming campaign. Lee accepted as final the statement of President Davis after Gettysburg that he saw no means of raising the army to the strength it had possessed before that battle.97 The General saw his forces reduced by the departure of Longstreet's corps, then raised to around 48,000 men during the months from October through December by the return of the wounded, and then diminished again by furloughs and detachments to around 35,000 at the middle of February.98 When conditions were at the worst, the absentees from the Second Corps alone numbered 11,610, including prisoners of war.99
p254 Lee's chief hope of building up his army to effective fighting strength lay, of course, in procuring the return of the detached units, but he deferred any attempt to this end until March, because of the shortage of supplies.100 His next hope was in a sterner policy of conscription that would bring into the ranks those who were still evading military duty. The second conscription act, which had been approved by the President September 27, 1862, just after the Maryland expedition, had raised the age limit of compulsory military service from thirty-five to forty-five years;101 but this law had been much weakened by exemptions subsequently voted,102 and its enforcement had led to a "dual system" under which General Gideon Pillow had undertaken what might be termed "enforced volunteering" for Bragg's army at the same time that the regular conscription officers were scouring the land.103 By the winter of 1863‑64, it was manifest that a more drastic statute and more vigorous enforcement were necessary. Lee threw all his influence on the side of universal compulsory service. "The law," he wrote the President, "should not open to the charge of partiality, and I do not know how this can be accomplished, without embracing the whole population capable of bearing arms, with the most limited exemptions, avoiding anything that would look like a distinction of classes. The exemptions of persons of particular and necessary avocations had better be made as far as possible by authority of the department rather than by special enactment."104 He was equally insistent that the law and the practice should be changed to make it impossible for a man subject to conscription to join some easy command and then to claim, tacitly at least, that he could not be sent to the armies that were seeing hard service. Instances of this sort had occurred when some of General Samuel Jones's troops had been dispatched to Lee after the Gettysburg campaign. Desertions among these men had been heavy because they had regarded their call to the front as a breach of implied contract. The same reasoning by soldiers in the ranks had weakened Imboden's command. In South Carolina, it was notorious that very large cavalry p255 regiments had been recruited with privates of this mind, while the volunteer regiments from that state had been depleted by gallant fighting to mere cadres.105
These conditions were corrected to some extent by the third conscription act, approved on February 17, 1864, which lowered the age-limit to seventeen and raised it to fifty years, with the proviso that the oldest and youngest recruits should be organized for state defense.106 Much stronger regulations concerning exemptions and disability were put into effect the next month.107 Substitution was barred by another statute, and those who had hired substitutes were made liable to conscription.108 There was hope that these measures would bring substantial reinforcements to the army, as it was estimated that 126,000 white men between eighteen and fifty-five years were still available in the South.109
Having done his utmost through official channels to have the law made more effective, Lee had to rely, for the rest, on careful administration of the army to increase its combatant strength. His steps to this end, falling into two general categories, showed much resourcefulness and exhibited the inflexible resolution he had displayed in so many other matters, to spare no effort to win Southern independence. His first measures, which took a wide diversity of form, were designed to prevent the wastage of troops he had. He exercised great vigilance in declining to issue furloughs, except in accordance with the general policy he had laid down to send numbers of his men home in order to relieve the pressure on the commissary. Furloughs were refused to members of the Georgia legislature, who were commissioned officers in the army.110 When war-worn Florida, Alabama and Texas troops sought permission to visit their native states and to recruit, he declined unequivocally, unless acceptable units, with the same number of men, were sent him in advance.111 He refused extensions of leave in individual cases, even at the instance of such persuasive young friends as the brilliant Miss Belle Stewart of Brook Hill.112
p256 The policy of keeping down wastage from the ranks Lee applied, in the same way, to all details for detached duty, especially to those that placed soldiers near their homes, where they would be disposed to employ kinsmen as assistants.113 He declined to detail men because their families had need of them, or because there were many brothers of the same family in the army. "It is impossible," he said, "to equalize the burdens of this war; some must suffer more than others."114 He stopped promotion to the rank of junior second lieutenant soon after the Gettysburg campaign.115 During the winter he sent examining boards of surgeons to the hospitals to bring back malingerers and able-bodied men acting as stewards.116 He prevailed upon Congress to prohibit the formation of new companies of partisan rangers, because these were being recruited secretly from the infantry. When the law became operative, he was disposed to except only Mosby's command from its provisions.117 Similarly, he protested against a proposal to organize a company of horse-artillery from within the enemy's lines, for use in southwest Virginia, on the ground that this would simply mean taking men from existing commands.118 As a deterrent to men who sought easy posts, as well as to those who lost hope and courage, he had to maintain a stern policy toward deserters. Wherever possible he saved them from the death penalty, but he refused to deal with any of them until they had returned to the army.119 Occasionally, he sent out parties to recover deserters.120
Direct recruitment and re-enlistment were Lee's second method of internal administration for the maintenance of his armed p257 strength. Taking care not to interfere with the regular work of conscription, he offered a thirty-day furlough to every private soldier who procured an able-bodied recruit — as great a stimulus as could have been applied.121 Every voluntary re-enlistment for the war by commands whose time had expired under the law, he commended in general orders.122 General Hoke and his brigade were retained in North Carolina for a time on recruiting duty;123 General Imboden was named as chief enrolling officer for a large district, under the conscription law, while discharging his other duties;124 days were spent in efforts to recruit the cavalry, especially the South Carolina regiments.125 Everywhere that Lee could find a recruit, he sought to bring him into the ranks. Even the guards at Camp Lee in Richmond were called up, and their places were taken by boys and old men.126 The only exception he made was in the case of the cadets at the Virginia Military Institute. He declined their tender of service with the statement that he wished them to guard the "western frontier" and would call them if needed — a measure of precaution that ere the campaign was well under way saved the day at New Market.127 Every soldier in the camps and every dweller in the war zone knew how Lee was searching for men. In the Cole home, which Lee often visited, the little boy of the household, sitting on his knee, announced that he intended to raise a company. Who, asked Lee — it was a familiar question in his mind — who were to be in the company? "I haven't thought of that yet," the lad replied, "will you be one?" "Yes," said Lee, "I'll be glad to."128
Labor was ceaseless in keeping up the spirit of the men, in finding food for them, in saving the horses from starvation, and in trying to fill the ranks. No campaign wore on Lee with greater severity than did the cruel winter of 1863‑64. Every resource of mind, all his physical energy, and all the character he had built up through his years of self-control he threw into the struggle to keep his army in condition to fight. Reviewing some of his p258 correspondence, his son wrote, "One can see from these letters of my father how deeply he felt for the sufferings of his soldiers, and how his plans were hindered by inadequate supplies of food and clothing. I heard him constantly allude to these troubles; indeed, they seemed never absent from his mind."129 He knew that success depended on calling out the full resources of the country.130 Determined to do his utmost to that end, he did not permit himself to think what might happen if the country was unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices. That he left to God. Submissive, though determined, he did not quail, even when he read that Lincoln had called for 700,000 new troops in March. Seven hundred thousand . . . and the Army of Northern Virginia could not hope to muster 65,000 when Meade crossed the Rapidan!
1 La Bree 320.
2 Grayjackets, 221.
3 Jones, L. and L., 298; Gordon, 230.
4 Cooke, 276‑77.
5 Sorrel, 178.
6 Worsham, 300.
7 Jones, 235.
8 Lee to Mrs. Lee, Nov. 1, 1863, R. E. Lee, Jr., 112‑13.
9 Venable in 4 B. and L., 240.
10 Land We Love, 163.
11 W. W. Chamberlaine, 86.
12 Jones: Christ in the Camp, 49.
13 Jones: Christ in the Camp, 50.
15 Cf. W. W. Scott in 6 William and Mary Quarterly, 280; Taylor MSS., February 1864.
16 Taylor MSS., March 20, 27, 1864. For a letter from Lee to Reverend Moses D. Hoge, acknowledging a Bible that the minister had brought in through the blockade, see P. H. Hoge: M. D. Hoge, 196.
17 Jones, 319.
18 George Baylor: Bull Run to Bull Run, 331 ff. Baylor thought this occurred just before the Mine Run campaign, but the reference to the troop trains shows it was subsequent thereto.
19 Mrs. McGuire, 256.
20 Jones, 319.
21 Sorrel, 180.
23 R. E. Lee, Jr., 111.
24 Welch, 85.
27 Jones, L. and L., 300.
37 Dame, loc. cit.
38 3 B. and L., 240; White, 334.
40 David Macrae: The American at Home (cited hereafter as Macrae), 1, 191. R. E. Lee, Jr., 118.
41 Taylor MSS., Feb. 23, 1863.
44 McCabe, 432 ff.; E. A. Pollard: The Lost Cause, 480‑89.
54 O. R., 32, part 2, 1864; Eva Swatner: "The Military Railroads During the Civil War," in The Military Engineer, July-August, 1929, p314. For a history of the Greensboro-Danville road, see Ramsdell, loc. cit., 801. The line was opened May 20, 1864.
57 Cf. Lawton to Lee, Feb. 17, 1864: "I sincerely wish they [all the commanding generals] could be as seriously impressed as you are with the injury . . . sustained [by delays in unloading cars]" (O. R., 32, part 2, p762).
67 R. E. Lee, Jr., 118.
71 White, 334.
72 Taylor's Four Years, 222.
73 6 W. and M. Quarterly, 281.
74 Marginalia, 233.
75 McCabe, 434‑35.
76 Mason, 225.
77 O. R., 29, part 2, pp837, 838, 843, 844, 862, 1064‑65, 1087‑88, 1113‑14, 1128; IV O. R., 3, 198‑99, 249; 2 R. W. C. D., 147. The want of food in the districts south of the Rappahannock had been so grave as early as the autumn of 1863, that Lee had urged Governor Letcher to assist the people with public funds (O. R., 29, part 2, pp823‑24).
80 McCabe, 432.
81 E. L. Wells: Hampton and His Cavalry in '64 (cited hereafter as Wells), pp99‑101.
84 Long, 317.
88 Rosser, loc. cit., 12.
95 R. E. Lee to J. E. B. Stuart, April 23, 1864; H. B. McClellan MSS.
96 Jones, L. and L., 305.
98 The reports are not complete, but the following are the totals of officers and men present for duty at intervals during the winter: Oct. 20, 37,052 (O. R., 29, part 1, p405); Oct. 30, 49,502 (O. R., 29, part 2, p811); Nov. 20, 48,586 (O. R., 29, part 1, p823); Dec. 10, 49,580 (O. R., 29, part 2, p866); Dec. 20, 48,991 (O. R., 29, part 2, p884); Dec. 31, 49,127 (O. R., 29, part 2, p898); Jan. 10, 1864, 46,908 (O. R., 33, 1075); Jan. 31, 38,614 (O. R., 33, 1135); Feb. 10, 33,991, excluding the artillery of the Second Corps and the troops in the Valley district (O. R., 33, 1157); Feb. 20, 41,395 (O. R., 33, 1191); March 10, 39,634 (O. R., 33, 1216); March 20, 47,405 (O. R., 33, 1233‑34); April 10, 52,952 (O. R., 33, 1271); April 20, 54,344 (O. R., 33, 1297‑98).
103 A. B. Moore: Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy, 191 ff.
112 R. E. Lee to Miss Belle Stewart, Feb. 27, 1864, Bryan MSS. Lee wrote of the application Miss Stewart made for a young friend: "I cannot extend the leave of absence . . . without interfering with the regular furloughs to others. We can only grant a (p256)limited number of leaves of absence, and a man must return before another can receive one. You see therefore the disappointment that would be created by interrupting the established rules." For examples of the manner in which the men waited for furloughs during the winter of 1863‑64, see diary of Captain R. E. Park in 26 S. H. S. P., pp28‑30.
118 O. R., 33, 1120. To illustrate the seriousness of this situation, Lee told the Secretary of War that he had received the resignation of a captain who retired because only two of the thirty-four men on his roll were present for duty. Fourteen had deserted and three had left to join other commands. Among those who had done this was a lieutenant, absent without leave.
126 2 R. W. C. D., 187.
128 C. C. Cole to the writer, Dec. 12, 1932.
129 R. E. Lee, Jr., 111.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Robert E. Lee
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 1 Oct 13