As Robert E. Lee continued to prepare for the 1864 campaign season, one of the many issues he had to deal with was the issue of so-called "partisan rangers." These small groups of irregular cavalry operated behind Union lines to harass and gather intelligence. Unfortunately, these groups tended to have poor discipline and negatively effected the discipline of other troops. They also had a bad habit of raiding loyal Southerners as often as they did Union troops. A new law gave Lee the option of inducting partisan ranger bands into regular service. Of all the partisan ranger groups operating near the Army of Northern Virginia, the only one Lee considered keeping in being was John Singleton Mosby's.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 1, 1864.
General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.:
GENERAL: Your circular of March 23 with reference to partisan rangers has been received. The organizations of partisan rangers serving with this army are the Fourth and Fifth North Carolina Cavalry (Fifty-ninth and Sixty-third Regiments), now absent in North Carolina; Lieutenant-Colonel Mosby's battalion, serving in Fauquier; Captain Kincheloe's company, serving in Prince William; Captain McNeill's company and Major Gilmor's battalion and Major O'Ferrall's battalion, serving in the Valley Department. Of these, the Fourth and Fifth North Carolina Regiments have been serving as regular cavalry, and will come under act Numbers 19, published in General Orders, Numbers 29, Adjutant and Inspector General's Office, current series, being continued in their present organizations as regular cavalry. I am making an effort to have Colonel Mosby's battalion mustered into the regular service. If this cannot be done I recommend that this battalion be retained as partisans for the present. Lieutenant-Colonel Mosby has done excellent service, and from the reports of citizens and others I am inclined to believe that he is strict in discipline and a protection to the country in which he operates. Gilmor's battalion I have already recommended to be disbanded and the companies brought under section 2 of act Numbers 19. I renew the recommendation, and recommend the same course to be pursued with Kincheloe's company, O'Ferrall's battalion, and McNeill's company. Experience has convinced me that it is almost impossible, under the best officers even, to have discipline in these bands of partisan rangers, or to prevent them from becoming an injury instead of a benefit to the service, and even where this is accomplished the system gives license to many deserters and marauders, who assume to belong to these authorized companies and commit depredations on friend and foe alike. Another great objection to them is the bad effect upon the discipline of the army from the constant desire of the men to leave their commands, and enjoy the great license allowed in these bands. With the single exception mentioned. I hope the order will be issued at once disbanding the companies and battalions serving in this department.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,