He Awaits Grant’s 1864 Campaign, "The time is now near at hand when every good man should be at his post”.
The spring and summer of 1863 had seen the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, the former so favorable and the latter so unfavorable to Confederate hopes. The year’s campaigning in Virginia culminated in late November 1863, when Union General George Meade attempted to strike the right flank of the Confederates south of...
The spring and summer of 1863 had seen the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, the former so favorable and the latter so unfavorable to Confederate hopes. The year’s campaigning in Virginia culminated in late November 1863, when Union General George Meade attempted to strike the right flank of the Confederates south of the Rapidan River at Mine Run. Skirmishing was heavy, but a major attack did not materialize. Meade concluded that the Confederate line was too strong to attack and retired during the night of December 1-2. Both sides had suffered staggering losses in the year’s battles, losses that the Union could reasonably make up but that the undermanned Confederates would be hard-pressed to recoup.
The great armies went into winter quarters. President Lincoln appointed U.S. Grant General-in-Chief of the Union Army in March 1864, and Grant promptly began planning a campaign for the spring that he intended to be decisive. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia went into camp along the Rapidan, awaiting Grant’s next move. On his mind by late March was his desperate need for manpower, particularly experienced troops, to counter the immiment Yankee invasion (that would, in fact, take place in April). Thus, in receipt of a request for a furlough from one of his men, he couched his refusal to the man’s wife in terms that defined the duty and patriotism of the Confederate soldier and his family.
Letter Signed, “Hd. Qrs. Army N. Va.”, March 21, 1864, to soldier’s wife Bettie Land in South Carolina. “…I regret that the exigencies of the service will not allow me to comply with your request. The time is now near at hand when every good man should be at his post, and I hope that your husband’s affairs can be arranged without his personal attendance. If he and his fellow soldiers will display, as I doubt not they will, the patriotic spirit that animates yourself, I trust the day is not far distant when they may all return to the homes which it is now their first duty to defend.” The letter is penned in the hand of Col. Charles Marshall who served as Lee’s aide de camp. At the bottom of the letter is affixed the transmittal cover, addressed to the lady, with Marshall’s notation and signature at top: “From Gen. R.E. Lee, by C. Marshall Maj. & ADC”. It is age-toned and has slight damage affecting just a few words of text .
During the war, it was very unusual for Lee to write this directly on the patriotic spirit of the Confederate people. Here he shows his concern for the future while at the same time displays the optimism that characterized him until the war’s end.
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