No food, no horses, no reinforcement! As that dread spectre of ultimate defeat shaped itself, Lee did not content himself with reorganizing his army. Daily, as he sought to find provisions to keep his men from starvation, he wrestled with his strategic problem. Early was still in the Shenandoah Valley, guarding the Virginia Central with a few shivering cadres and under orders to create the impression, if he could, that his command was formidable.1 Beauregard was seeking to muster a sufficient force to dispute Sheridan's advance up the coast. Bragg had some 6500 effectives in eastern North Carolina.2 These were the only troops of any consequence left in the South Atlantic states, except for the Army of Northern Virginia.
To dispose of Bragg and of Beauregard so that he could concentrate all his strength against the ragged divisions that defied him in front of Petersburg, Grant moved with swift assurance. He followed the strategy of partition. Having halved the Confederacy by seizing the line of the Mississippi and capturing Vicksburg, Grant had then divided the eastern half of the revolutionary states by sending Sherman through Georgia to the sea. Now, with only South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to be subdued, he brought from Tennessee some of the troops that had wrecked Hood at Nashville. These he united with Terry's troops below Wilmington, placed the whole under Major General John M. Schofield3 and directed him to advance westward against Lee's lines of communication along the seaboard from Weldon. If this operation were successful, Virginia would be severed from the Carolinas; and if Sherman moved northward, joined Schofield, p2 and marched with him to reinforce Grant, Lee would face three armies. By January 29 this danger had so far developed that Lee frankly warned the President. In case Grant were appreciably reinforced, he said, "I do not see how in our present position he can be prevented from enveloping Richmond."4
There was at the time only one ray of light — the possibility of a negotiated peace. Francis P. Blair, Sr., had been in Richmond on January 12 on his own initiative, in the hope that a settlement might be affected, and out of that visit had developed a proposal for the dispatch of a peace delegation to Washington. Three leading Southerners, Vice-President Stephens, Judge J. A. Campbell, and Senator R. M. T. Hunter, had gone to the Federal lines on the 29th and, after some parleys, had proceeded to Hampton Roads. There they conferred unofficially with President Lincoln. The whole South hung on the meeting, which, however, ended on the day it began, with no apparent possibility of an understanding.5 The hopes of many were dashed, and the resolute saw in Mr. Lincoln's uncompromising stand a warning that the war would have to be fought to the finish; but there were some who hoped that out of the conference a tangible basis of peace might still develop. General Lee had watched the pourparlers, of course, with profound interest, but there is little evidence that he expected agreement. Knowing as he did the desperate plight of his army, the growing confidence of the North and the illimitable resources at the command of President Lincoln, it is hardly probable that he expected the Union to offer any other terms than surrender.
On the very day that the disappointed Southern commissioners came back to Richmond, General Lee had to confess to President Davis that he could not send reinforcements to Beauregard, and that Beauregard, with such resources as he could muster, would have to make an effort to defeat Sherman "wherever he can be struck to most advantage."6 A little later, after he had seen the suffering of his hungry men during the operations of February p3 5‑7 around Hatcher's Run, he again put the Secretary of War on notice: "You must not be surprised if calamity befalls us."7 Long conference with Mr. Davis and the secretary on February 13‑16 disclosed no way of averting that calamity.8
Lee had always refrained from discussions with politicians on subjects that affected his military duties, but he now thought the situation so desperate that he determined to see Senator R. M. T. Hunter, a personal friend and one of the commissioners who had conferred with Mr. Lincoln in Hampton Roads. Visiting Hunter one evening, he talked with him nearly all night of the outlook for peace. If Hunter thought there was any prospect of peace, otherwise than by surrender, it was Hunter's duty, Lee said, to propose it. The senator had what seemed to him the best of reasons for not doing so, and he explained them. He had been to the President, he confided, and had told him that if peace be had on any terms short of surrender, he should seek it. Davis had refused, and, as Hunter believed, had circulated a report that the senator had lost all hope of Southern victory and was in despair. Until this incident was cleared up, Hunter insisted, he would confer no more with the President. Lee repeated his suggestion and added that if he himself were to propose peace negotiations publicly, it would be equivalent to surrender. Hunter agreed, but argued that if Lee thought the "chance for success desperate," he should so advise the President. "To this," Hunter wrote, Lee "made no reply. In the whole of this conversation he never said to me he thought the chances were over; but the tone and tenor of his remarks made that impression on my mind. He spoke of a recent affair in which the Confederates had repelled very gallantly an attempt of the Federals to break his line. The next day, as he rode along . . . one of the soldiers thrust forth his bare feet and say, "General, I have no shoes.' Another would declare, as he passed, 'I am hungry; I haven't enough to p4 eat.' These and other circumstances betraying the utmost destitution he repeated with a melancholy air and tone which I shall never forget."9
While the administration refused to face the dread reality, Schofield became a menace. Sheridan was on the march. He entered Columbia, S. C., on February 17 and forced the evacuation of Charleston that night. Lee watched him with eyes that saw all too plainly what his advance boded. He wrote on February 19: "It is necessary to bring out all our strength, and, I fear, to unite our armies, as separately they do not seem able to make head against the enemy. . . . I fear it may be necessary to abandon our cities, and preparations should be made for that contingency."10 The expedients of desperation were tried. Longstreet took advantage of a conference with the Federal General Ord to propose a conference between Lee and Grant in the hope that formal negotiations would eventuate.11 Richmond was frantic with excitement; at headquarters hope fluctuated from day to day.12 Lee repeated that the unhindered advance of Sherman would mean the severance of communications with the South and would force the evacuation of Richmond.13
General Bragg, in North Carolina, was so discredited by previous failure in the field that he could not rally the people of that state. General Beauregard, retreating from Charleston, was in ill-health.14 He found that the militia of South Carolina would not cross the state line and that they consisted only of men between fifty and sixty and boys under seventeen, who were soon exhausted on the march.15 There was the direst need of a co-ordination of these forces under some man who had the military confidence of the Carolinas. Lee knew that Johnston held the p5 good opinion of the people and was, perhaps, the only man who could bring out the last reserves, if even he could enlist them. Mr. Davis had not put Johnston at Lee's disposal and, indeed, had not acted on a joint resolution of Congress requesting him to restore Johnston to command of the Army of Tennessee.16 Instead, Davis had written, though he had not sent Congress, a memorandum of some 4500 words in which he explained why he did not have confidence in Johnston as an independent field commander.17 This would have kept Lee from acting in anything less than a final, overwhelming emergency, but now he decided to put the necessities of the South above the opinion of the President. Tactfully arguing that if Beauregard should be incapacitated he would have no one to take his place, Lee on February 21 asked the Secretary of War to order Johnston to report to him for assignment to duty.18 This was promptly done, as Mr. Davis explained, "in the hope that General Johnston's soldierly qualities may be made serviceable to his country when acting under General Lee's orders, and that in his new position those defects which I found manifested by him when serving as an independent commander will be remedied by the control of the general-in‑chief."19
On February 22 Lee placed Johnston in general charge of operations in the Carolinas, with instructions to collect the scattered troops in those states and to attack Sherman on the march, before he could form junction with Schofield.20 If this proved an impossibility, than Johnston must join Lee or Lee must join Johnston, for it was accepted by all that Lee could not attempt to remain near Richmond once Sherman reached Roanoke River, the next strong defensive line south of the Appomattox.21
Johnston speedily found that his army was suffering heavily from desertion. Instead of having 29,000, as estimated, he could p6 count only about 15,000 effectives.22 There was little likelihood that he could break away and get to Virginia, and still less that he could be subsisted on arrival.23 By the harsh logic of elimination, Lee must prepare to leave the Richmond front and to move toward Danville to unite his army with Johnston's. Their one hope would be to strike Sherman, to destroy him, and then together to face Grant. As early as February 21 Lee had been planning to organize a base at Burkeville, the junction of the Southside and the Richmond and Danville Railroads.24 Before the end of the month the plan of a movement to Johnston was uppermost in Lee's mind.
The coming of the blustery days of March found about 50,000 men under Lee's immediate command.25 It was a pitiful army with which to face such crushing odds — so pitiful that when Longstreet reported that he believed Grant would confer with Lee on a peace plan, the consent of the President was procured26 and a letter was dispatched to Grant on March 2, proposing an interview.27 Lee had no great expectations of a favorable answer. He wrote the President: "I . . . hope that some good may result, but I must confess that I am not sanguine. My belief is that he will consent to no terms, unless coupled with the condition of our return to the Union. Whether this will be acceptable to our people yet awhile I cannot say. Was there a suggestion in that "yet p7 awhile" that reunion was inevitable and, so far as he was concerned, not unacceptable as an alternative to the bloody finish of a hopeless war?28
Whatever hope he may have cherished of a favorable reception of his proposal was probably destroyed the day he wrote Grant. For on that same 2d of March, Sheridan attacked and overwhelmed the remnant of Early's little force at Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley. The Shenandoah Valley was irredeemably lost, and Sheridan was free to join Grant with his powerful mounted divisions.29
This news shook Lee to the depths. He wrestled with his conscience and his sense of duty. What should he do? His obligation to his government and to those half-frozen soldiers who must soon be overwhelmed in the trenches if the war went on — which came first? Long he debated it, on the night of March 3, pacing the floor of his quarters at Edge Hill. Longstreet and Hill were both distant. He could not discuss his problem with them, but he must unburden himself. With whom should he talk?
In desperation, though the hour was late and the night was blighting in its chill, he sent for John B. Gordon, who by this time was one of his most trusted lieutenants. It was 2 o'clock when Gordon arrived. "In [Lee's] room," Gordon wrote, many years later, "was a long table covered with recent reports from every part of the army. . . . He motioned me to a chair on one side of the table, and seated himself opposite me. . . . He opened the conference by directing me to read the reports from the different commands as he should hand them to me, and to carefully note every important fact contained in them. The revelation was startling. Every report was bad enough, and all the distressing facts combined were sufficient, it seemed to me, to destroy all cohesive power and lead to the inevitable disintegration of any other army that was ever marshalled. . . . Some of the officers had gone outside the formal official statement as to the numbers of the sick, to tell in plain, terse, and forceful words of depleted strength, emaciation, and decreased power of endurance among those who appeared on the rolls as fit for duty. Cases were given, p8 and not a few, where good men, faithful, tried and devoted, gave evidence of temporary insanity and indifference to orders or to the consequences of disobedience. . . . When I had finished the inspection of this array of serious fact, General Lee began his own analysis of the situation."30 Of his 50,000 men, only 35,000 were fit for duty; Grant must have 150,000; Thomas was sending 30,000 east. "From the Valley," said Lee, "General Grant can and will bring upon us nearly 20,000, against whom I can opposite scarcely a vedette." Schofield and Sherman between them probably had 80,000; Johnston could only count on 13,000 to 15,000. Adding all the Union forces together, there would soon be in the seaboard states 280,000 Federal troops, to whom the Confederacy could oppose only 65,000.
"This estimate ended," Gordon wrote, "the commander rose, and with one hand resting upon the depressing reports, he stood contemplating them for a moment, and then gravely walked to and fro across the room. . . . He again took his seat facing me at the table and asked me to state frankly what I thought under these conditions it was best to do — or what duty to the army and our people required of us. Looking at me intently, he awaited my answer."
"General," said Gordon, "it seems to me there are but three courses, and I name them in the order in which I think they should be tried:
"First, make terms with the enemy, the best we can get.
"Second, if that is not practicable, the best thing to do is to retreat — abandon Richmond and Petersburg, unite by rapid marches with General Johnston in North Carolina, and strike Sherman before Grant can join him; or,
"Lastly, we must fight and without delay."
"Is that your opinion?" Lee asked.
Gordon reiterated his views and deferentially asked if he might inquire how Lee appraised the outlook.
"Certainly, General," Lee answered. "You have the right to ask my opinion. I agree with you fully."
A long discussion followed, in which Lee explained that he did not feel that he, as a soldier, had the right to urge political action p9 on the government. He did not tell Gordon that he had already written Grant, for that was a confidential matter between himself and the President, but at length, as Gordon argued that he should advocate peace negotiations, Lee said he would go to see the President the next day, which, as a matter of fact, he had already planned to do.31
Journeying to the capital the next morning, Lee doubtless reviewed with the President the possibilities of negotiating peace, but the discussion was probably cut short by the receipt of Grant's reply to Lee's letter of March 2. In this answer Grant declined a meeting. "I would state," said he, "that I have no authority to accede to your proposition for a conference on the subject proposed. Such authority is vested in the President of the United States alone."32 Lee might have been willing to negotiate on the basis of a restoration of the Union, but if he canvassed this aspect of the subject with the President, he discovered quickly that Mr. Davis was determined to have the Confederacy go down in defeat rather than accept any terms that did not recognize Southern independence.
The conversation then turned to the dark necessity of evacuating Petersburg and Richmond. The chief executive faced this dread event with unshaken courage and, when Lee explained that he saw no alternative, Mr. Davis asked why Lee delayed: If the move had to be made, why should it not be undertaken forthwith? Lee replied that the condition of his animals was so reduced that they could not haul the wagon-train until the wet and muddy roads had dried somewhat.33
Then the two debated the best strategy of the inevitable retreat. Hood had proposed that the Army of Northern Virginia make for middle Tennessee, and Davis had forwarded Hood's letter to p10 Lee for his criticism. Believing this course impracticable, Lee outlined the plan he was already formulating for a march to Johnston, a quick blow at Sherman and then an attack on Grant. To accomplish this, he went on, it would be necessary to build up a week's reserve of food in Richmond, to accumulate depots of supplies along the Southside and the Richmond and Danville Railroads, and to issue more corn to the horses even if this depleted the scant stock the quartermaster general had on hand.34
This gloomiest of all the interviews between Lee and the Confederate President occurred on Saturday. The next day Lee worshipped at Saint Paul's church for the last time during the war,35 and then, bidding Mrs. Lee farewell, he returned to Petersburg. Gordon, of course, was anxious to know the outcome of the conference, but he found his chief under no delusions. Lee explained to the Georgian what had happened. "He said, nothing could be done at Richmond," Gordon subsequently recorded. "The Congress did not seem to appreciate the situation. Of President Davis he spoke in terms of strong eulogy: of the strength of his convictions, of his devotedness, of his remarkable faith in the possibility of still winning our independence, and of his unconquerable will power. The nearest approach to complaint or criticism were the words: 'You know that the President is very pertinacious in opinion and purpose.' "36
"What, then, is to be done, General?" Gordon inquired.
Lee could only answer that they must fight.37
In preparing to fight, Lee had to balance one time-element against another. He could not wait long, because Sheridan would soon join Grant, and when that happened, the overpowering Federal cavalry could be employed to break Lee's communications with the South and to prevent their restoration.38 On the other hand, the horses had to be conditioned, and the depots must be prepared, as Lee had told the President, so that the movement to join Johnston could be undertaken. The new commissary general went vigorously to work building up the reserve that Lee needed. St. John estimated that 500 tons of commissary supplies had to be delivered daily in or near Richmond to subsist the army and to collect the special reserve of seven days' rations, which General p11 Lee wished to be held subject to the order of his commissary. St. John affirmed that this delivery could be made if the military lines then occupied by the army could be held, and he did his utmost to make good his statement. "The condition of the railroads was only too well known," St. John said in his final report. His assistant added: "The means of transportation were constantly inadequate." Yet they contrived to improve the army ration, to fill sizeable depots at Lynchburg, Danville and Greensboro, and to lay down in Richmond most of the special store General Lee desired. Perhaps, in doing this, St. John drew on the last food stuffs that could be purchased with depreciated Confederate money, but he made the immediate outlook for provisions better than it had been for weeks.39 While the commissaries were working to supply the army for a move, the general plan of a junction with the forces of North Carolina was examined in every light and the alternatives were debated.40 By March 9 Lee concluded that no "marked success" could be expected from Johnston's army.41 Two days later Johnston wrote frankly that if the Federal forces in North Carolina were united, he could not prevent their march into Virginia. With this bad news Johnston coupled a suggestion: Instead of Lee's moving southward and giving battle with combined forces, would it be practicable for Lee "to hold one of the inner lines of Richmond with one part of your army, and meet Sherman with the other, returning to Richmond after fighting"?42 Longstreet had made a somewhat similar proposal in p12 February. It had then been left in abeyance.43 Now, in the light of the information from Johnston, Lee began to canvass further the possibility of detaching part of his forces to assist his old comrade in crushing Sherman.
In particular, Lee had General Gordon make a study of the Federal centre around Petersburg, in order to ascertain whether the lines could be broken. When Gordon reported that this was feasible,44 in the vicinity of the Federal Fort Stedman, Lee proceeded to work out a new plan. He was unwilling to risk a general offensive against the odds he faced in fortified positions, because he felt that he should conserve his strength for the open campaign, but he believed that if Gordon could penetrate the Federal lines after an assault by about half the army, one of two things would happen. Either General Grant would have to abandon the left of his line, or, what was more likely, he would have to shorten his front. This would make it possible for Lee to hold him with fewer men. Then, when Sherman was near enough to be reached quickly, Lee could detach picked troops to Johnston, effect a junction with that officer's little army and give battle to Sherman. If Sherman were beaten, Lee could then bring back his united forces to meet Grant. If Gordon did not succeed in breaking through the Federal lines, Lee would be in no worse plight for executing his previous general plan of joining Johnston with all his forces. For it was plainer than ever by this time that the Army of Northern Virginia would have to leave the Richmond defenses it if quietly awaited Sherman's approach to unite his army with Grant's.45
p13 Manifestly, the success of this revised plan was highly contingent. Everything depended on breaking the Federal front and on forcing Grant to shorten his line. But if this could be done the plan in obvious respects was an improvement on Longstreet's and on Johnston's. It involved less risk to Richmond, it did not demand the impossible in the way of supplies, and it took into account, as Johnston had not, the very definite limitations on the mobility of the army, both by road and by rail.
Lengthening March days brought no relief of any sort. Sheridan spread destruction over a wide area as he moved to rejoin Grant. Johnston's army proved to be weaker than the most pessimistic estimates.46 Then, ominously, on March 23 Johnston reported that Schofield and Sherman had met at Goldsboro.47 That town was equidistant •120 miles from Lee and from Greensboro, his main base of supplies in western North Carolina, and was only •110 miles from the nearest point on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. "Sherman's course," Johnston telegraphed, "cannot be hindered by the small force I have. I can do no more than annoy him. I respectfully suggest that it is no longer a question whether you leave your present position; you have only to decide where to meet Sherman. I will be near him."48 The dreadful hour was drawing on. Sheridan, Lee believed, had already joined the Army of the Potomac. Grant was visibly preparing to attack on the Confederate right and to deprive Lee of the initiative. The Confederate commander could wait no longer, even for his horses to gain strength or for the heavy roads to dry. That night he gave his final approval to the plan for the attack on Fort Stedman.
2 O. R., 47, part 1, p1077.
4 Lee's Dispatches, 330. Lee believed at the time that the troops from Tennessee were moving to reinforce Grant directly, but in the same letter, considering the possibility that they might be intended for Sherman, he said, "Reinforcement to Sherman would be almost as bad in its consequences as to Grant."
5 O. R., 46, part 2, pp505 ff. contains the correspondence; the literature on the Hampton Roads Conference, as it was called, is large. It was on Feb. 5 that Mr. Davis notified the Confederate Congress of the outcome (O. R., 46, part 2, p446).
6 Lee to Davis, MS., Feb. 4, 1865, Duke Univ. MSS.
7 O. R., 46, part 2, 1210. In further correspondence with the War Department, during February and early in March, Lee usually included some "if" in referring to the probable evacuation of the line he had held since June, but he spoke once of reinforcements that could not be sent Bragg in North Carolina "until I abandon James River" (O. R., 46, part 2, 1247.). And once he told the secretary he did not consider "the abandonment of our present position as necessarily fatal to our success," provided sufficient supplies were forthcoming.
8 For this visit, see 2 R. W. C. D., 422, Taylor MSS., Feb. 14, 1865. There is no record of the subjects of discussion.
9 4 S. H. S. P., 308‑9.
10 O. R., 47, part 1, p1044.
11 Longstreet, 558‑87, 647‑49.
12 Cf. Taylor MSS., Feb. 16, 1865: "My faith in this old army is unshaken"; ibid., Feb. 20, 1865: "They are trying to corner this old army. Like a brave old lion brought to bay at last, it is determined to resist to the death and if die it must, to die game. But we have not yet quite made up our minds to die, and if God will help us, we will yet prove equal to the emergency. . . . We are to have many hard knocks — we are to experience much that is dispiriting, but if our men are true — and I really think that most of them are — we will make our way safely, successfully, through the dark clouds that now surround us."
20 O. R., 47, part 2, pp1247, 1248, 1256‑57. For some of the circumstances of Johnston's appointment, and for Johnston's fine pledge to serve under Lee, see Mrs. D. Giraud Wright: A Southern Girl in 1861, pp240‑41.
21 Lee to Breckinridge, Feb. 22: "The want of supplies alone would force us to withdraw when the enemy reaches the Roanoke" (O. R., 46, part 2, p1250). Lee to "a friend," July 27, 1868: "As regards the movements of General Sherman, it was easy to see that unless they were interrupted, I should be compelled to abandon the defence of Richmond; and with a view of arresting his progress I so weakened my force by sending reinforcements to South and North Carolina, that I had not sufficient men to man the lines. Had they not been broken, I should have abandoned them as soon as General Sherman reached the Roanoke" (21 Galaxy, 324).
22 O. R., 47, part 1, pp1053, 1055, 1058.
25 This estimate, which is somewhat higher than most Southern writers have allowed, is based on the returns of Feb. 27-March 1, including Ewell's command in the department of Richmond (O. R., 46, part 1, pp388‑90 and ibid., 46, part 2, p1274). The total was then 56,518 present for duty. Deduction of 6834 has been made as follows: Desertions, 2000; March casualties, 500; losses and prisoners in the assault on Fort Stedman, 3500; captured on the picket lines, March 25, 834. That leaves 49,718. This figure checks with Lee's statement that if, in effect, Grant and Sherman together had 160,000 men and Johnston brought 10,000 into Virginia, the Federals would outnumber the combined forces by 100,000 (Lee's Dispatches, 345). Again, the total paroles at Appomattox were 28,231. Allowing for the 6800 deductions already made, and for 11,000 prisoners at Five Forks, Sayler's Creek, etc., this yields a total of 46,000, with casualties not counted and the escape of a part of the cavalry left out of account. The forces supplementing approximately 36,000 muskets were: artillery around 5000, cavalry about 6500, and miscellaneous units of sailors, marines, and heavy artillery, say, 2000. Taylor's estimate of infantry strength, 33,000 (Four Years, 187), was remarkably close considering the paucity of materials with which he worked in 1877. At no time after Jan. 1, 1865, did Lee have present for duty more than 67,000, including those in the Valley (O. R., 46, part 2, p1112; ibid., part 3, p1331).
26 Probably when Lee was in Richmond on Feb. 26‑28, for which visit see Taylor MSS., Feb. 28, 1865.
28 Lee to Davis, MS., March 2, 1865, Duke Univ. MSS.
30 Gordon, 385‑88.
31 Gordon, 387 ff.; Lee to Davis, MS., March 2, 1865, Duke Univ. MSS. The chronology given in the text seems best to fit the confused facts. Gordon made no reference to the proposal parley with Grant and would almost certainly have remembered so important a matter if Lee had mentioned it. Gordon said (op. cit., 385) that the interview occurred "during the first week in March." It must have been after March 2, for Lee told Gordon of the probable movement of 20,000 men from Sheridan, which he would hardly have reckoned upon if he had not already received intelligence of Early's defeat. Lee was in Richmond March 4‑5 (2 R. W. C. D., 439; W. A. Wash: Camp, Field and Prison Life, 316; Taylor MSS., March 5, 1865). If Gordon was correct in saying that Lee went to Richmond the day after this interview, then the two were together on the evening of March 3. There is no record of any subsequent visit by Lee to Richmond early in March.
33 2 Davis, 648.
34 2 Davis, 648‑49.
35 Wash, op. cit., 316.
36 Gordon, 393.
39 St. John's own adverse opinion of the management of the commissary bureau was greatly changed by personal observation. Some of the finest men in the service, he said, were among its officers. They were contending under extreme disadvantage with the nearly crushing embarrassment of an insufficient supply of purchasing funds and very difficult transportation. Otherwise the record would have been very different." See St. John's and Williams's reports, Lee MSS. — L; St. John in 2 Davis, 669‑70.
40 Secretary Seddon had resigned, in ill health and despair, effective Feb. 6, 1865, and General John C. Breckinridge had succeeded him. The new head of the War Department had proposed, on Feb. 21, that the Appalachian area be stripped temporarily of troops, who should be used to reinforce Johnston so that he could destroy Sherman. "Something of this sort must be done," wrote Breckinridge, "or the situation is lost" (O. R., 46, 2, 1245). Lee had to put this proposal aside as desirable, but impracticable, because the troops that Breckinridge would have employed were scattered for lack of subsistence and could not be concentrated in time. Even if they could have been brought together before Sherman reached the line of Lee's communications, their withdrawal would expose to the enemy the districts they had occupied (O. R., 46, 2, 1250). This letter is a very good example of Lee's condensed, clear argument on a military question. This argument was rendered conclusive by the defeat of Early's command, which would have been the chief reinforcement of Johnston.
43 Longstreet first suggested that Johnston be brought to Richmond (O. R., 46, part 2, p1233) and when told that more troops could not be subsisted there (O. R., 46, 2, 1250), he urged on Feb. 25 that local defense troops be used to hold the left of the Richmond line and that his corps be sent to strengthen the right. If Grant moved then, he could be met. If Grant did not move, part of the Confederate forces could be detached to support the army in North Carolina. Should that be followed by an attack on the Richmond front, Petersburg could be abandoned and Richmond and the line of the Appomattox be held. But, said Longstreet, he did not believe Grant would attack when he learned that Lee had sent troops to North Carolina. Rather was it likely that Grant would forthwith reinforce Sherman, lest he lose both Sherman and Richmond (O. R., 46, 2, 1253, 1258).
44 Gordon, 397, and the same authority quoted in 2 Davis, 650. Gordon gave March 10 as the date of his interview, but his chronology was not very precise. The exact sequence of events in the development of the plan cannot be established absolutely.
45 This is Lee's own explanation, which was not known until its publication in 1915 in Lee's Dispatches, 342 ff. It is plain from General Gordon's report in the Lee MSS., from his statement to President Davis (2 Davis, 650), and from his Reminiscences, p403, that he either was not told the full plan of his chief or else forgot some of the details. (p13)The student of Lee's campaigns will find it interesting to see how variously, in books written prior to the publication of Lee's confidential report to Mr. Davis, the biographers of Lee speculated on the reasons for the attack on Stedman.
46 O. R., 47, part 1, p1054.
47 O. R., 47, part 1, p1055.
48 O. R., 47, part 1, p1055.
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