Lee, Robert E. (1807-1870, USMA 1829). Contemporaneous copy of war-date letter, 4pp, approx. 16 x 10 in., "Head Quarters, A[rmy] N[orthern] V[irginia]." January 11, 1865. Addressed to Virginia Senator Andrew Hunter. In this letter, General Lee shares his opinion on the use of African American troops in the Confederate Military. It is one of only four wartime copies (headed "Copy" at top left) of the original letter, now lost, known to exist.
Though Lee would "prefer. . . to rely upon our white population to preserve the ratio between our forces and those of the enemy," he fears this would prove "overtaxing" to Confederate troops. He elaborates further: "Should the war continue under existing circumstances, the enemy may in course of time penetrate our country, and get access to a large part of our negro population. It is his avowed policy to convert the able bodied men among them into soldiers, and emancipate all. . . His people will thus add to his numbers, and at the same time destroy slavery in a manner most pernicious to the welfare of our people."
Given these conditions, Lee writes that he is of the "opinion. . . that we should employ them without delay. I believe that with proper regulation, they can be made efficient soldiers." He outlines some regulatory measures for the use of African American troops, noting: "But it is certain that the best foundation upon which the fidelity of any army can rest. . . is the personal interest of the soldier in the issue of the contest. Such an interest we can give our negroes, by granting immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully. . .We should not expect slaves to fight for prospective freedom, when they can secure it at once by going to the enemy."
Lee believes that this plan would "greatly increase our Military strength," while simultaneously depriving the Union forces of "the aid they now derive from black troops." Regardless of the path forward, however, he concludes by saying that "whatever measures are to be adopted should be adopted at once. Every day's delay increases the difficulty. . . & action may be deferred until it is too late."
Toning and some splitting at creases.
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