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    JEFFERSON DAVIS: CIVIL WAR-DATE AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED. being a telegraph communication on "The Southern Telegraph Companies" partly-printed form, directed to Gen. Robert E. Lee then in defense of Petersburg, Virginia. The document is completed entirely in Davis' hand in pencil, and dated July 8, 1864. Davis writes (in full):

    "To Genl. R.E. Lee, Petersburg, Va. Genl. Lee telegraphs delay on account of nonarrival of arms. In this town I hear the expedition is spoken of on the streets. Shall it proceed, under change of circumstances and possibility of notice being given to the enemy. If not stop it as you deem best.Jffn. Davis".

    Most interesting about this telegraph is that it mentions "Genl Lee", which is most likely cavalryman William Henry Fitzhugh Lee. Just four days from the date of this telegraph, General Early's troops moved on the outskirts of Washington in an attempt to draw Union forces out to fight and test the defenses of that city. The language of Davis' communiqué to Lee is tantalizing, in that it may relate to the planning of this daring maneuver in the days leading up to it.

    At the time this telegraph was sent, Grant's Federal army was preparing for a long-term siege of Petersburg, just a few miles from the Confederate capital at Richmond. In the middle of June, Grant's campaign against Richmond was over; the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864) and the Battle of Cold Harbor (June 3, 1864) had demonstrated to Grant the difficulty of smashing through Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. However, the situation for Lee was far from victorious. Though he was able to save his supply sources and keep open Richmond's communications north of the James, Lee had reduced his own army to just 28,000 infantry and two lean cavalry brigades. It was also the end of Lee's capacity to maneuver. Though he had achieved a stalemate against Grant's vast Army of the Potomac, he had been forced into static fortifications - which he greatly dreaded. Lee once told C.S.A. General Jubal Early that once his army was placed in the position to withstand a siege, "it will be a mere question of time". But Lee was severely handicapped: his troop numbers were scarcely more than half of his opponent; he had no prospect of any large reinforcements; his artillery was inferior in weight of metal and in range to that of the enemy; and the mounts of his cavalry could not endure hard service and could not be replaced when worn out. Only Lee's resolve and the courage of his gallant men in battle kept the hopes of the Confederacy alive. He told C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis: "...General Grant will concentrate all the troops here he can raise, from every section of the United States...The enemy has a strong position, and is able to deal us more injury than from any other point he has ever taken. Still we must try and defeat him..." It was Lee's hope that Grant would attack, but, to his disappointment, Grant did not.

    The siege of Petersburg began, in effect, on June 19th - the day after Lee reached the city; it was the start of the lengthy Petersburg Campaign, the longest sustained operation of the Civil War. For a full ten months, the Union Army of the Potomac besieged the vital railroad center of Petersburg, located 20 miles south of Richmond, the Confederate capital. The battlefront was twenty-six miles in length; it was necessary for Lee to hold the whole of the line at all times to prevent the Federals from seizing ground that would force the Confederate army back into the defense of Richmond. Lee also had to keep open the railroads on which he was dependent for supplies. Over the ten months of the campaign, Grant's forces slowly extended their lines westward, stretching the thinning ranks of the Confederate army and threatening the vital southern rail lines into the city. Time was on Grant's side.

    Condition: Archival reinforcement to upper edge on the verso; overall, in fine condition with some minor toning to the edges.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2007
    1st Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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