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A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America/Letter from General Lee

< A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America




"Hd.-Qrs., C. S. Armies,
"30th March, 1865.

"Lt.-General J. A. Early, Franklin Co., Va.

"General,—My telegram will have informed you that I deem a change of Commanders in your Department necessary; but it is due to your zealous and patriotic services that I should explain the reasons that prompted my action. The situation of affairs is such that we can neglect no means calculated to develop the resources we possess to the greatest extent, and make them as efficient as possible. To this end, it is essential that we should have the cheerful and hearty support of the people, and the full confidence of the soldiers, without which our efforts would be embarrassed and our means of resistance weakened. I have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that you cannot command the united and willing co-operation which is so essential to success. Your reverses in the Valley, of which the public and the army judge chiefly by the results, have, I fear, impaired your influence both with the people and the soldiers, and would add greatly to the difficulties which will, under any circumstances, attend our military operations in S. W. Virginia. While my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause is unimpaired, I have nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current of opinion, without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service. I therefore felt constrained to endeavor to find a commander who would be more likely to develop the strength and resources of the country, and inspire the soldiers with confidence; and, to accomplish this purpose, I thought it proper to yield my own opinion, and to defer to that of those to whom alone we can look for support.

I am sure that you will understand and appreciate my motives, and no one will be more ready than yourself to acquiesce in any measures which the interests of the country may seem to require, regardless of all personal considerations.

Thanking you for the fidelity and energy with which you have always supported my efforts, and for the courage and devotion you have ever manifested in the service of the country,

I am, very respectfully and truly,
Your ob't serv't,
R. E. LEE, Gen'l."

Since the foregoing narrative was written, I have seen, in a newspaper published in the United States, the following communication:—

"Hd.-Qrs., Battalion U.S. Infantry,

"Camp near Lynchburg, Va.,

"Feb. 7, 1866.

"C. W. Button, Esq., Editor Lynchburg Virginian.

" Sir,—I have received a communication from the War Department, Adjutant-General's Office, relative to a newspaper slip, containing a copy of General Lee's letter to General Early, on removing him from command. The letter is dated Headquarters C. S. Armies, March 30, addressed to Lieut.-Gen. Early, Franklin C. H., Virginia, and is said to be in your possession, it having appeared in your paper. The Secretary of War considers that the original letter properly belongs to the Archive office.

"I am directed by Major-General Terry, commanding this Department, to procure said letter, and I therefore call your attention to the matter, and request that you deliver to me the original letter in your possession, in compliance with my instructions.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brevet Major and Captain 11th U. S. Infantry,
Commanding Post."

This demand for General Lee's private letter to me, and the attempt to enforce it by military power, show how wide has been the departure from the original principles of the United States Government, and to what petty and contemptible measures that Government, as at present administered, resorts in domineering over a disarmed and helpless people. I have the pleasure of informing the Hon. Secretary of War, and the keeper of the "Archive Office," that the original letter is in my possession, beyond the reach of provost marshals and agents of the Freedmen's Bureau, or even Holt with his Bureau of Military Justice and his suborners of perjury.