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  This webpage reproduces an appendix to Volume IV of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p507  Appendix IV-1

The End of the Last Valley Campaign

After his defeat at Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Early was forced to flee the field, and, with difficulty, escaped to eastern Virginia. He visited Lee's headquarters about March 16,​1 and there received orders to return to his district and to reorganize what troops he could collect. As there was then no threat of any Federal advance into the Valley, which Sheridan had stripped and had left, Lee ordered what remained of Rosser's division of cavalry to join him for the spring campaign.​2 Before Early could reach the Valley, word came on March 21 that the Federals in east Tennessee were preparing for a raid on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which, at Lynchburg, joined the Southside Railroad and brought Lee a considerable volume of supplies from the rich counties of southwest Virginia. General Lee's first purpose was to prevent this raid by dispatching cavalry against the Federal line of communications between Chattanooga and Nashville, and he called upon General Johnston to ascertain if this could be done.​3 If the Federal advance could not be prevented, he had to devise a way of meeting it. And that meant he must attempt a levy en masse to support the negligible organized units in the threatened district, which Lee even then was planning to reduce by one brigade of cavalry.​4 Was Early the commander to inspire the old men to come out, the leader to prevail on mothers to let their fourteen-year‑old boys take the field? He had, Lee thought, "great intelligence, good judgment, and undoubted bravery," but his reverses in the lower Valley and his defeat at Waynesboro, Lee felt, had shaken the confidence of the troops and of the people. "If this feeling does exist," General Lee wrote the Secretary of War, who had formerly commanded in southwest Virginia, "a change of commanders would be advantageous, and so high an opinion have p508  I of General Early's integrity of purpose and devotion to his country, that should such be the case, I believe he would be the first to propose it." Would General Breckinridge give him his advice?​5 This was written on March 28, when Lee was watching the ominous movement of troops toward his right. The next day Lee had news that 4000 Federal cavalry were on a raid against southwest Virginia. He was impelled to act at once,​6 without waiting for an answer from Breckinridge, so he relieved Early, put in temporary command the senior officer on the ground and cast about for a successor. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hood occurred to mind or possibly was suggested by Breckinridge, but Lee feared that officer's physical condition, "and other considerations" which he did not specify, might "diminish his usefulness in that department." Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard might be the man.​7

But Lee would not dismiss a loyal lieutenant with a formal order and a short dispatch. In his telegram to General Early​8 he said: "I will address you a letter to your house in Franklin County, to which you can return and await further orders," and the next day, March 30, though he needed every moment for the tasks on his own front, he took the time to write to Early in his own hand a lengthy and friendly letter, as considerate as ever was addressed to a soldier whom disaster had overtaken. Lee explained how essential it was to have the full support of the people and of the soldiers, and he told how he had reluctantly concluded that Early could not command the co-operation "essential to success," because of the reverses in the Valley, of which, he added tactfully, "the public and the army judge chiefly by the results." He went on: "While my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause is unimpaired, I have nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current of opinion, without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service. I therefore felt constrained to endeavor to find a commander who would be more likely to develop the strength and resources of the country, and inspire the soldiers with confidence; and, to accomplish this purpose, I thought it proper to yield my own opinion, and to defer to that of those to whom alone we can look for support. I am sure that you will understand and appreciate my motives, and no one will be more ready than yourself to acquiesce in any measures which the interests of the country may seem to require, regardless of all personal considerations. Thanking you for the fidelity and energy with which you have always supported my efforts, and for the courage and devotion you have ever  p509  manifested in the service, I am, very respectfully and truly, your obedient servant."​9

It was consideration in no sense unappreciated. General Early cherished the letter as his chiefest treasure, published it as an appendix to his useful Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence, defied the attempt of overzealous officials to take the original from him after the war on the ground that it was the property of the Federal Government, and included its text again in the Autobiographical Sketch and Narrative of the War, which was left in manuscript at the time of his death. He was one of General Lee's most faithful defenders, served as president of the Southern Historical Society, wrote a number of papers of Gettysburg, delivered an admirable memorial address on his old commander, and was active in planning a monument to him in Richmond.

The Author's Notes:

1 Early, 466. In O. R., 46, part 3, p1317 the time of his arrival in Richmond is given as the night of March 14‑15.

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2 Early, 466.

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3 O. R., 49, part 2, p113. Actually, as Johnston advised Lee (ibid., 1141), the troops that might be used for this purpose were in the district of Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, not in Johnston's.

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4 O. R., 46, part 3, p1358.

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5 O. R., 49,º part 2, p1166.

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6 O. R., 46, part 3, p1362 and O. R., 49, part 2, p1171.

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7 O. R., 49, part 2, p1171.

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8 O. R., 49, part 2, p1171.

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9 Early, 468‑69.

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Page updated: 26 Jan 15