1862: “Our People Are Opposed To Work”

Headquarters near Richmond

June 5, 1862

After much reflection I think if it was possible to reinforce Jackson strongly, it would change the character of the war. This can only be done by the troops in Georgia, South Carolina & North Carolina. Jackson could in that event cross Maryland into Pennsylvania. It would call the enemy from our Southern coast & liberate those states. If these states will give up their troops I think it can be done.

McClellan will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover his heavy guns, & we cannot get at him without storming his works, which with our new troops is extremely hazardous.

You witnessed the experiment Saturday. It will require 100,000 men to resist the regular siege of Richmond, which perhaps would only prolong not save it. I am preparing a line that I can hold with part of our faces in front, while with the rest I will endeavour to make a diversion to bring McClellan out. He sticks under his batteries & is working day & night. He is obliged to adhere to the railroad unless he can reach James River to provision his army. I am endeavouring to block his progress on the railroad & have written up to see if I can get made an iron battery on trucks with a heavy gun, to sweep the country in our front.

The enemy cannot move his heavy guns except on the railroad. You have seen nothing like the roads on the Chickahominy bottom. 

Our people are opposed to work. Our troops, officers, community & press. All ridicule & resist it. It is the very means by which McClellan has & is advancing. Why should we leave to him the whole advantage of labour? Combined with valour, fortitude & boldness, of which we have our fair proportion, it should lead us to success. What carried the Roman soldiers into all countries, but this happy combination? The evidence of their labour lasts to this day. There is nothing so military as labour, & nothing so important to an army as to save the lives of its soldiers…

Our position requires you should know everything & you must excuse my troubling you. The firing in our front has ceased. I believe it was the enemy’s shell practice. Col Long [illegible] went down early this morning to keep me advised, but as I hear nothing from them I assume it is unimportant.

Very respy [respectfully] & truly

R.E. Lee

Robert E. Lee to Jefferson Davis, June 5, 1862

Traveller and General Lee (1866)

Calmly Scrambling & Strategizing

Robert E. Lee started commanding the Confederate army defending Richmond after General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded. Prior to that, Lee’s Civil War command experience was limited; a not-so-successful campaign in western Virginia, overseeing coastal defenses, and serving as military adviser to Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

Lee wrote this letter just a few days after he took command of the army. His correspondence to the president reveals some calm scrambling in the strategic game of defending Richmond. Should “Stonewall” Jackson be sent on the offensive? How could Lee effectively defend the capital? And – the wild card – what would McClellan really do?

If the ancient Romans built roads and worked for their victories, why couldn’t the Confederates? Lee wondered.

Don’t Want To Work

Lee makes an interesting observation. His soldiers didn’t want to work. They weren’t keen on the idea of building defenses, roads or other necessities for defense or military movements. In fact, when Lee had the soldier digging trenches to defend Richmond, he earned the nicknames “King of Spades” and “Granny Lee.”

He felt that work and preparation would actually save lives and wanted to find a way to force or motivate his men toward these efforts. It was the Southern stubbornness combined with a Civil War soldier “ideal” which often was something like “fight, no work.” Seriously, some Southerners brought their slaves with them when they joined the army…so the slaves could do the camp chores, leaving their masters to experience war with some extra leisure time.

Historical Musings

Ultimately, we know that Jackson didn’t get sent north. He would be called to Richmond later in the month and help (or hinder?) the Seven Days Battles. However, it’s interesting to me that Lee was already thinking about a northern invasion and “offensive is the best defense” strategy.

Lee would have his chance to try those plans later in 1862 and 1863, just not during the defense of Richmond in June 1862.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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