On this day 150 years ago, General Robert E. Lee wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis to update him on the situation at the front. In this letter Lee examined the possible direction of the various Union offensives and how he thought they might be countered. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Lee contemplated attacking the Army of the Potomac on the Rappahannock River line to try and cripple the Union advance before it even got started.
HEADQUARTERS, April 15, 1864.
MR. PRESIDENT: The reports of the scouts are still conflicting as to the character of the re-enforcements to the Army of the Potomac and the composition of that at Annapolis under General Burnside. I think it probable that the Eighth Corps, which embraces the troops who have heretofore guarded the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the intrenchments around Washington, Alexandria, &c., have been moved up to the Rappahannock and that an equivalent has been sent to Annapolis from General Meade.
Lieutenant-Colonel Mosby states that the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, consolidated, have also been sent to General Burnside. Bur whatever doubt there may be on these points, I think it certain that the enemy is organizing a large army on the Rappahannock, and another at Annapolis, and that the former is intended to move directly on Richmond, while the latter is intended to take it in flank or rear. I think we may also reasonably suppose that the Federal troops that have so long besieged Charleston will, with a portion of their iron-clad steamers be transferred to the James River. I consider that the suspension of the attack on that city was virtually declared when General Gillmore transferred his operations to the Saint John's River. It can only be continued during the summer months by the fleet. The expedition of the enemy up Red River has so diminished his forces about New Orleans and Mobile that I think no attack upon the latter city need be apprehended soon, especially as we have reason to hope that he will return from his expedition in a shattered condition. I have thought, therefore, that General Johnston might draw something from Mobile during the summer to strengthen his hands, and that General Beauregard with a portion of his troops might move into North Carolina to oppose General Burnside should he resume his old position in that State, or be ready to advance to the James River should that route be taken. I do not know what benefit General Buckner can accomplish; but if he can only hold Bristol, I think he had better be called for a season to Richmond. We shall have to glean troops from every quarter to oppose the apparent combination of the enemy. If Richmond could be held secure against the attack from the east, I would propose that I draw Longstreet to me and move right against the enemy on the Rappahannock. Should God give us a crowning victory there, all their plans would be dissipated and their troops now collecting on the waters of the Chesapeake would be recalled to the defense of Washington. But to make this move I must have provisions and forage. I am not yet able to call to me the cavalry or artillery. If I am obliged to retire from this line, either by a flank movement of the enemy or the want of supplies, great injury will befall us. I have ventured to throw out these suggestions to Your Excellency in order that in surveying the whole field of operations you may consider all the circumstances bearing on the question. Should you determine it is better to divide this army and fall back toward Richmond I am ready to do so. I, however, see no better plan for the defense of Richmond than that I have proposed.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.