Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee to Gov. John Letcher, on Military and Naval Preparation for the Defense of Virginia

23 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 927-929

Richmond, Va., June 15,1861.

His Excellency John Letcher, Governor of Virginia:

Sir: Agreeably to your request, I submit a statement of the military and naval preparation for the defense of Virginia, from the period of her separation from the U. S. Government to the date of transfer of the military operations of the State to the Confederate Government. Arrangements were first made for the establishment of batteries to prevent the ascent of our enemy by hostile vessels. As soon as an examination was made for the selection of sites, their construction was begun and their armament and defense committed to the Virginia Navy. Preparations were also begun for receiving into the service of the State volunteer companies, and for organizing, arming, and equipping them. Mustering officers were appointed, rendezvous established, and provision made for their subsistence and shelter. The primary estimate of the number of troops, of all arms, required, based upon the points to be defended, amounted to fifty-one thousand men. The estimated quota of each portion of the State has been furnished, except from the western section. Arrangements were made for calling out the volunteers from the western section at the same time and in the same manner as from the eastern section, but as yet it has been feebly responded to.

Complete returns from the troops in the field have not, and, from the nature of things, cannot for some time be received; but, from the best source of information within our reach, the number of Virginia troops is about 35,000. This amount probably falls below the real number, for, referring to the report of the Colonel of Ordnance, it will be seen that he has issued 2,054 rifles and carbines and 41,004 muskets, in addition to pistols and sabers to the cavalry. Thirteen thousand arms have also been issued from Lexington, making a total of 56,658. Seven thousand of those from Lexington and several thousand from the arsenal at Richmond have been issued to troops from other States; but as many of the Virginia companies, supposed to be about 5,000 men, were armed and equipped when received into the service of the State, should the number of unarmed companies from other States not differ materially from the number of armed companies of the State, the number of Virginia troops in the field may be assumed to be about 40,000. When it is remembered that this body of men were called from a state of profound peace to one of unexpected war, you will have reason to commend the alacrity with which they left their homes and families and prepared themselves for the defense of the State. The assembling of men, however, was not the most difficult operation. Provision for their instruction, subsistence, equipment, clothing, shelter, and transportation in the field required more time and labor. Ammunition of every kind had to be manufactured. The carriages of the guns for river, land, and field service had to be made, with the necessary implements, caissons, battery wagons, &c. One hundred and fifteen guns for field service have thus been provided, from which twenty light batteries, of four guns each, have been furnished, with the requisite horses, harness, &c.

For the defense of James River, two batteries and two steamers have been provided, mounting, altogether, forty guns, ranging in caliber from 32-pounders to 8 and 9 inch columbiads. Arrangements are also in process for mounting sixty guns, of different weights, on the defenses around Richmond, and a naval battery of 6 to 12 pounder howitzers is in process of organization.

On York River three batteries have been constructed, mounting thirty guns, of caliber similar to the guns on James River.

Sites for batteries on the Potomac have also been selected, and arrangements were in progress for their construction; but the entire command of that river being in the possession of the United States Government, a larger force is required for their security than could be devoted to that purpose. The batteries at Aquia Greek have only been prepared. Twelve guns are in position there.

On the Rappahannock River a four-gun battery of 32 pounders and 8-inch columbiads has been erected.

Six batteries have been erected on the Elizabeth Eiver, to guard the approaches to Norfolk and the navy-yard. They mount eighty-five guns, 32-pounders and 8 and 9 inch columbiads.

To prevent the ascent of the Nansemond Eiver and the occupation of the railroad from Norfolk to Richmond, three batteries have been constructed on that river, which will mount nineteen guns.

The frigate United States has been prepared for a school-ship, provided with a deck battery of nineteen guns, 32-pounders and 9-inch columbiads, for harbor defense. The frigate Merrimac has been raised and is in the dry-dock, and arrangements are made for raising the Germantown and Plymouth.

In addition to the batteries described, other works have been constructed for their land defense, exceeding, in many instances, the works on the batteries themselves. An extensive line of field works has been erected for the security of Norfolk on the sides towards the bay. Redoubts for the same purpose have been constructed at Jamestown Island, Gloucester Point, Yorktown, and across the neck of land below Williamsburg. I have confined myself to a general narration of operations, and for the details refer you to the reports of several chiefs of staff.

Very respectfully, &c.,

R. E. LEE,
General, Commanding.



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