One hundred and fifty years ago, Winter still held the nation in its grip, but all knew that Spring was coming, and with Spring an inevitable push by Grant against Lee to end the War. In a letter of February 22, 1865 to Longstreet, Lee considers the options of the Army of Northern Virginia in the coming campaign. Like a master chess player who is losing a game, all the moves are clear to Lee, but a path to victory for the Confederacy is not. At best Lee can contemplate his Army either striking Grant or Sherman’s army but leaving unsaid what Longstreet already knew: that either Grant or Sherman’s forces were strong enough to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia in open battle. Here is the text of Lee’s letter:
HEAD-QUARTERS CONFEDERATE STATES ARMIES,
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL J. LONGSTREET,
Commanding, etc. :
GENERAL, Your letter of the 14th instant is received. It arrived during my absence in Richmond, and has not been over looked. I agree with you entirely in believing that if we had gold we could get sufficient supplies for our army, but the great difficulty is to obtain the gold. It is not in the coffers of the government or the banks, but is principally hoarded by individuals throughout the country, and is inaccessible to us. I hope, under the reorganization of the commissary department, if we can maintain possession of our communications, that the army will be better supplied than heretofore, and that we can accumulate some provisions ahead. As regards the concentration of our troops near the capital, the effect would be to produce a like concentration of the enemy, and an increase of our difficulties in obtaining food and forage. But this, whether for good or evil, is now being accomplished by the enemy, who seems to be forcing Generals Beauregard and Bragg in this direction. If Sherman marches his army to Richmond, as General Beauregard reports it is his intention to do, and General Schofield is able to unite with him, we shall have to abandon our position on the James River, as lamentable as it is on every account. The want of supplies alone would force us to withdraw when the enemy reaches the Roanoke. Our line is so long, extending nearly from the Chickahominy to the Nottoway, and the enemy is so close upon us, that if we are obliged to withdraw we cannot concentrate all our troops nearer than some point on the line of railroad between Richmond and Danville. Should a necessity, therefore, arise, I propose to concentrate at or near Burkeville. The route for the troops north of James River would have to be through Richmond, on the road to Amelia Court- House, the cavalry passing up the north branch of the river, and crossing at some point above Richmond. Pickett’s division would take the route through Chester field Court-House, crossing the Apponiattox at Goode’s Bridge. With the army concentrated at or near Burkeville, our communications north and south would be by that railroad, and west by the Southside Railroad. We might also seize the opportunity of striking at Grant, should he pursue us rapidly, or at Sherman, before they could unite. I wish you to consider this subject, and give me your views. I desire you also to make every preparation to take the field at a moment’s notice, and to accumulate all the supplies you can. General Grant seems to be preparing to move out by his left flank. He is accumulating near Hatcher’s Run depots of supplies, and apparently concentrating a strong force in that quarter. Yesterday and to-day trains have passed from his right to his left loaded with troops, which may be the body of eight thousand which you report having left Signal Hill yesterday. I cannot tell whether it is his intention to maintain his position until his other columns approach nearer, or to anticipate any movement by us which he might suppose would then become necessary. I wish you would watch closely his movements on the north side of the river, and try and ascertain whether he is diminishing his force. If he makes the move which appearances now indicate, he may draw out his whole force, abandoning his lines of defence, or hold them, partially and move with the remainder of his troops.
I should like very much to confer with you on these subjects, but I fear it will be impossible for me to go north of James River, and I do not know that it will be convenient for you to come here.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE
P.S. Can you not return Pickett’s brigade to him in order that I may withdraw Grimes’s brigade from his line, its division having been ordered to our right ?
R. E. L.