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    Facing the ultimate destruction of the Shenandoah Valley by Union General Philip H. Sheridan, Robert E. Lee expresses his frustration with independent commands: "they are worthless for the general service, and not of much value for that into which they enter. Their object is not so much to do duty as to be near their homes"

    Exceptional Civil War-dated Letter Signed to Maj. General John Cabell Breckenridge, 2 pages, 8.25" x 10.25", "Hd Qrs Army N Va", Oct. 26, 1864, informing him that the supposed benefits of independent commands are outweighed by their accompanying disadvantages. He writes, in large part: "The subject of authorizing the raising of companies in those districts not accessible to our enrolling officers, has been much considered, and we have had a good deal of experience of its effects. I have been induced by the evils attending it to request the Department to revoke all such authorizations, except in Ky & parts of Tenn, and to refuse to grant others. It has been found that such commands cause desertions from our regular armies to such an extent, of men from the districts where these independent commands are raised, for the purpose of getting near their homes, that the loss is not compensated by the advantage. The best regulated independent commands contain many deserters of this kind in spite of all the efforts that have been made to prevent it. My experience is that men enlisted for service in a particular locality are worthless for the general service, and not of much value for that into which they enter. Their object is not so much to do duty as to be near their homes. the qualifications you suggest that they should be enlisted only for general service, I regard as indispensable to granting such authority, but it would be found that few men could be obtained under such terms and those who might enlist would consider that they had some kind of right to remain where the command is raised. they invariably desert or prove worthless when transferred to another locality. I cannot therefore recommend the granting of the authority to raise such commands in Virginia & Tennessee. As to Ky, the case is different somewhat, and the Department has authorized various persons to recruit in that state. I have no doubt that the privilege has been abused as you say, and I have recommended to the Secretary to revoke the authority in such cases as you will designate as unsuitable, and either to authorize you to send officers of your selection in Ky for the purpose, or to empower only such as you may recommend..."

    The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of summer and fall 1864 marked the end of Confederate rule in Virginia. It was Union Major General Sheridan's major victories there which brought President Lincoln his much needed and timely successes. In early October, the Union cavalry systematically destroyed everything in their path, including civilian property. This three day period, Oct. 6-8, 1864, would become known as "The Burning". Some resistance was provided by Confederate General Jubal A, Early, first launching an attack driving Federal forces northward, and then through a brilliant surprise attack at dawn on Oct. 19th crushing two-thirds of the Union infantry. Nevertheless, Sheridan's superior forces were able to rally and counter-attack routing the Confederates at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Sheridan's forces would go on to inflict four major defeats on Early, ultimately marking the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. Lee's only hope for the Confederacy lay in conscription and in the substitution of disabled soldiers and blacks for the still able-bodied soldiers on detail. Lee had been hopeful that replacements from farmers who had harvested their crops would help swell Confederate ranks, but by the end of October, at the time this letter is written, he accepted the futility and considered only conscription into the army as a solution. Unfortunately, conscripts were few.

    An excellent letter filled with Lee's military insight and experience as he faces unavoidable defeat. The "R" in Lee's signature is light, the result of a faulty nib as the remainder is quite bold; overall the letter is in near fine condition with dark and legible text.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2007
    24th-25th Sunday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 5
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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