Ninety days ago, George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac sat within earshot of Richmond’s tolling church bells. Now, by early September, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia camped within a day’s march of Washington City’s defenses. Lee and his Confederates stood at the peak of an incredible military turnaround, fresh off defeating two separate Union armies.
Lee held the initiative of the war in the Eastern Theater firmly in his grasp, and he had the United States Army by the throat, only able to react to whatever Lee did. With that in mind, and after weighing his other options, Lee settled on a bold plan: to invade the North.
Headquarters Alexandria and Leesburg Road,
Near Dranesville, September 3, 1862.
His Excellency President Davis,
Mr. President: The present seems to be the most propitious time since the commencement of the war of the Confederate Army to enter Maryland. The two grand armies of the United States that have been operating in Virginia, though now united, are much weakened and demoralized. Their new levies, of which I understand 60,000 men have already been posted in Washington, are not yet organized, and will take some time to prepare for the field. If it is ever desired to give material aid to Maryland and afford her an opportunity of throwing off the oppression to which she is now subject, this would seem the most favorable.
After the enemy had disappeared from the vicinity of Fairfax Court-House, and taken the road to Alexandria, and Washington, I did not think it would be advantageous to follow him farther. I had no intention of attacking him in his fortifications, and am not prepared to invest them. If I possessed the necessary munitions, I should be unable to supply provisions for the troops. I therefore determined, while threatening the approaches to Washington, to draw the troops into Loudoun, where forage and some provisions can be obtained, menace their possession of the Shenandoah Valley, and, if found practicable to cross into Maryland. The purpose, if discovered will have the effect of carrying the enemy north of the Potomac, and, if prevented, will not result in much evil.
The army is not properly equipped for an invasion of an enemy’s territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men are poorly provided with clothes, and in thousands of instances are destitute of shoes. Still, we cannot afford to be idle, and though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipments, must endeavor to harass if we cannot destroy them. I am aware that the movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider success impossible, and shall endeavor to guard it from loss. As long as the army of the enemy are employed on this frontier I have no fears for the safety to Richmond, yet I earnestly recommend that advantage be taken of this period of comparative safety to place its defense, both by land and water, in the most perfect condition. A respectable, force can be collected to defend its approaches by land, and the steamer Richmond, I hope, is now ready to clear the river of hostile vessels.
Should General Bragg find it impracticable to operate to advantage on his present frontier, his army, after leaving sufficient garrisons, could be advantageously employed in opposing the overwhelming numbers which it seems to be the intention of the enemy now to concentrate in Virginia.
I have already been told by prisoners that some of Buell’s cavalry have been joined to General Pope’s army, and have reason to believe that the whole of McClellan’s, the larger portion of Burnside’s and Cox’s, and a portion of Hunter’s, are united to it.
What occasions me most concern is the fear of getting out of ammunition. I beg you will instruct the Ordnance Department to spare no pains in manufacturing a sufficient amount of the best kind, and to be particular, in preparing that for the artillery, to provide three times as much of the long-range ammunition as of that for smooth-bore or short-range guns. The points to which I desire the ammunition to be forwarded will be made known to the Department in time. If the Quartermaster’s Department can furnish any shoes, it would be the greatest relief. We have entered upon September, and the nights are becoming cool.
I have the honor to be, with high respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,