March 8, 1863.
General ISAAC R. TRIMBLE:
MY DEAR GENERAL: I am much obliged to you for your suggestions, presented in your letters of February and March. I know the pleasure experienced in shaping campaigns, battles, according to our wishes, and have enjoyed the ease with which obstacles to their accomplishment (in effigy) can be overcome. The movements you suggest in both letters have been at various times studied, canvassed with those who would be engaged in their execution, but no practicable solution of the difficulties to be overcome has yet been reasonably reached. The weather, roads, streams, provisions, transportation, &c., are all powerful elements in the calculation, as you know. What the future may do for us, I will still hope, but the present time is unpropitious, in my judgment. The idea of securing the provisions, wagons, guns of the enemy, is truly tempting, and the desire has haunted me since December. Personally I would run any risk for their attainment, but I cannot jeopardize this army.
I consider it impossible to throw a trestle bridge over the Rappahannock below the Rapidan, with a view to a surprise. Our first appearance at any point would be the signal for the concentration of their army, and their superior artillery would render its accomplishment impossible without great loss of life. A bridge might be thrown over the Rapidan above Germanna Mills, and has been contemplated. Our movements might be concealed until we crossed the Rappahannock, but the distance from there to Aquia is great; no forage in the country; everything would have to be hauled. The route by Orange and Alexandria Railroad is the most feasible. The bridge is passable at Rappahannock Station. We must talk about it some time.
I hope you are getting strong, and that you have good tidings from all your friends.
R. E. LEE,
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF WESTERN VIRGINIA,
Dublin, March 8, 1863.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War:
SIR: Captain McNeill handed me to-day your letter of the 6th instant. I agree with you in thinking that a cavalry force of 600 or 700 men, properly equipped and provided, may be more likely to succeed by a sudden dash in the accomplishment of the work desired than would a larger force, unless large enough to overcome all the force that would probably be attracted to the point by the knowledge that a large expedition was moving for the purpose you have in view, and if we attempt to send a large force on the expedition, it would be difficult, if not impracticable, to conceal our movements from the enemy. You know the condition of my cavalry, and that I cannot send a cavalry expedition at present to the point indicated, and I will not be able to do so until the grass is sufficiently grown to support the horses. In the meantime, if Generals W. E. Jones and Imboden and Captain McNeill can start an expedition with a reasonable expectation of its succeeding in accomplishing the work desired, I think it decidedly desirable that it should be undertaken.