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    Lee reports to General Joseph E. Johnston

    Robert E. Lee Autograph Letter Signed. Two pages, 8.5" x 10.25", Richmond, May 12, 1862. Three weeks before Gen. Robert E. Lee became her most famous leader, the Army of Northern Virginia was under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Since April, Johnston had been moving the army farther south to defend the Confederate capital at Richmond. Here, Gen. Lee reports to his commander the maneuvers of his fellow generals, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Richard S. Ewell, Joseph R. Anderson, and Edward Johnson, and inquires as to the position near Richmond the army should concentrate, in full:

    "Your letter of 10 ½ P.M. 10 may '62 has just been rec'd. I must suppose that some of my letters to you have never arrived. The Army on the Rappahannock is located on the line on which you placed it. Genl. Jackson in the valley, Genl Ewell in the direction of Gordansville, & Genl J.R. Anderson Senior officer with the troops near Fredericksburg, in the vicinity of that city. Genl Jackson has moved to Genl Edward Johnson & Genl Ewell has been called by him to Swift Run Gap. Genl Anderson is in the Massaponax hills South of Fredericksburg. The enemy is in front of each of these divisions & reported to be in greater strength than either. That opposite Fredericksburg by last accounts from Genl Anderson approaches fifty thousand. Probably it is the whole of McDowells Column & I hope exaggerated. As our troops recede the enemy will naturally follow. Towards what point in the vicinity of Richmond do you desire them to concentrate? Genl Huger has left Norfolk & I presume the enemy is in it. Genl Holmes at Goldsboro. A brigade from Genls Holmes & Huger has been drawn into brigade to strengthen the army in the Rappahannock. It is in this way that Genl Anderson becomes the Commanding Genl at Fredericksburg. I will forward him any directions you may have for his guidance & for the other divisions in your Army. If Genl Anderson retires South of the junction of the Central & Freds. R.R. it will interrupt the R.R. Communication with Genls Jackson & Ewell & from the time of your letter it may be necessary for him to come nearer this city."

    Two weeks later, Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines and Gen. Gustavus W. Smith was appointed the new commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Smith would retain the position for one day as he was apparently suffering from a nervous breakdown. The following day, June 1, 1862, President Davis gave Lee command of the army, a position he would retain until his surrender at Appomattox Court House three years later.

    According to Douglas Freeman in his R.E. Lee: A Biography, the three weeks between the writing of this letter and his appointment as commander was becoming more challenging for Lee: "From the time Drewery's Bluff was first threatened, about May 12 [the day Lee wrote this letter], until the end of that month, Lee's position was increasingly difficult. Two games of chess, so to speak, were in progress under his eyes. Johnston was playing one, Jackson, the other. Over Johnston's game Lee had no control. Jackson's moves he had been directed to supervise, under Davis's verbal orders. Yet, Johnson, also, could direct Jackson. Lee had to advise the commander in the valley without knowing when Johnston would look up from his own board and tell Jackson what to do. The closer Johnston came to Richmond, the more certain it was that he would resume his command of Jackson's operations. So far as Lee's own sensibilities were concerned, it made no difference when Johnston again took charge of affairs in the valley. Lee would have been glad at any time to be relieved of responsibility where he lacked commensurate authority."

    Docketed on the verso. Folds are smoothed and show a hint of toning. Weakening and separation of the folds has been expertly repaired on the verso using archival tissue. Very light spots of foxing are scattered about.


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    Auction Dates
    June, 2015
    12th-13th Friday-Saturday
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