Correspondence from Jefferson Davis to General Robert E. Lee - April 1, 1865
RICHMOND, VA., April 1, 1865.
General R. E. LEE, Commanding Armies, &c.:
SIR: I have been laboring, without much progress, to advance the raising of negro troops. You must judge how far you can consistently detach officers to recruit. I called for the recommendations made by you, and so few names were presented that I infer you do not find it desirable to rely on officers sent to recruit for their own commands; therefore have directed that orders be given to the commanders of Reserves in the several States to employ their officers to recruit negroes. If there be an officer or soldier to whose command the masters would prefer to intrust, and the slaves would prefer to go, he can be appointed when the company or battalion reaches its destination. I have prepared a circular letter to the governors of the States invoking their aid, as well by appeals to the owners as by recommendations to the legislatures, to make the most liberal provisions for those who volunteer to fight for the safety and independence of the State.
I have asked often, but without satisfactory reply, how many of the exchanged prisoners have joined the army. Your force should have been increased from that source 8,000 or 10,000 men. The desire to confer with you would have caused me to go to Petersburg before this date but for the pressure which recent events have put upon me, and the operations in your vicinity prevented me from inviting you to come here.
To-day the Secretary of War presents propositions from the proprietors of the Tredegar Works which impress me very unfavorably. We will endeavor to keep them at work, though it must be on a reduced scale. There is also a difficulty in getting iron, even for shot and shell, but hope this may, for the present, be overcome by taking some from the navy, which, under the altered circumstances, may be spared. Last night we had rumors of a general engagement on your right. Your silence in regard to it leads to the conclusion that it was unwarranted. General Holmes returned immediately to General Johnston. I could only reply in general terms to the message he brought me, and as there was a supposed misunderstanding on your part of the views of General Johnston, I advised him to go on and see you. The reports, especially those of newspaper correspondents, had encouraged me to hope for a better condition and prospect in North Carolina than was presented in the statements which General Holmes was directed to make to me. The arrival of the men left behind on the march from Mississippi will, I hope, improve the tone, as well as increase the military power there. The question is often asked of me "Will we hold Richmond?" to which my only answer is, "If we call; it is purely a question of milltary power." The distrust is increasing, and embarrasses in many ways.
SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.