Lee’s Winter Headquarters E-38

Historical Marker Text
During the winter of 1862-1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee maintained his headquarters in a small clearing in the woods in this vicinity. The camp contained only a few tents and nothing but a flag to indicate it was Lee’s headquarters. By mid-February the Army of Northern Virginia showed signs of scurvy and malnutrition, so Lee sent Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and a few other divisions to southeastern Virginia to gather supplies and counter Union forces. Lee remained at the site until late March 1863, when a serious throat infection forced him to take shelter at the nearby Thomas Yerby’s house. [2002]

Extended Research
After the Fredericksburg Campaign ended December 16, 1962, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia established winter camp outside Fredericksburg, while their enemy, the Army of the Potomac, settled in across the Rappahannock River. The small camp where Lee and his staff officers set up was in a clearing in the woods that were along the Mine Road to Hamilton’s Crossing. The only indication that the gathering of tents composed the army headquarters was a flag outside of one (Freeman 485).

portrait-of-robert-e-lee.jpgLee did not believe that he should have the privilege of sleeping quarters in a house, no how many offers he received from civilians, when all his men had to camp in their tents. The tent he used, called a “house-tent,” was no different than those used by the soldiers (Cooke 204-05). The commander-in-chief had no personal luxuries in his tent, but only necessary objects. In addition to his camping equipment he had a military desk and a small stove (Freeman 485). Even when grateful citizens sent him tempting delicacies such as hams, turkeys, and wine, he regularly redirected them to nearby hospitals for the benefit of the sick within (Cooke 205). The general had an admirably selfless and necessarily strong character, significant in pulling his troops through the harsh and trying winter.

Neither horses nor men had a sufficient amount to eat. The shortage of foraging and feed for the cavalry’s and artillery’s horses was extreme, threatening to leave the army weak and blind without the functions of those vital units. When Lee sent the divisions of Major Generals George E. Pickett and John B. Hood to Richmond, he even suggested that the frail artillery horses be taken through the country to forage while the guns be sent ahead by train (Freeman 492).

As bad as it was for the horses, the men’s hunger was even worse. Supplies were being delivered to the Rappahannock from Richmond irregularly and inefficiently, by way of a single-track railroad (Freeman 493). Provisions were scant, resulting in miniscule rations, despite Lee’s appeals to Richmond for more. Unfortunately, the commissary general to whom he wrote spent more time arguing the correctness of his own methods than trying to reverse the inefficiency which contributed to the hunger of Confederate troops. Due to the lack of food, it is not surprising that scurvy appeared in the camp, and at the first signs of spring soldiers were sent into the woods to gather edible greens.

Once Lee sent Lieutenant General James Longstreet south of the James River in late February, he had a difficult choice to make. There was a known large store of provisions in eastern North Carolina, especially including a great amount of much-needed bacon, which Longstreet might get with army wagons. Yet if he did so, he could neither face the Union troops he had been sent toward nor reinforce Lee in the event of a Union offensive on the Rappahannock. In this critical time of considerations, Lee fell ill. At the end of March he developed a serious throat infection, and on March 30 he was removed from camp to the nearby Thomas Yerby house to receive medical care. His health improved by mid-April, anticipation and risk increased, and Lee concluded that under the current conditions the supplies from North Carolina were more vital to his army than its full strength for defense against the Union (Freeman 500-505). Even with Longstreet’s absence during the ensuing Battle of Chancellorsville, the Army of Northern Virginia overcame the odds and triumphed through superior tactics and generalship.

Photo Credit
“Portrait of Robert E. Lee,” Civilwarphotos.net. (accessed April 6, 2008).

For Further Reference
Bradford, Gamaliel. Lee the American. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004.

Cooke, John Esten. Robert E. Lee. New York: G. W. Dillingham Co., 1899.

Eicher, David J. Robert E. Lee: A Life Portrait. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Pub., 2002.

Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943.

_____. R. E. Lee: A Biography. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934.

Sutherland, Daniel E. Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville: The Dare Mark Campaign. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

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