Tennessee, and the armies of Generals Edward Johnson, Heth, and Marshall will be cut off. The enemy is apparently advancing to your present position, and if your force is weakened so as to entail the loss of the line of the Rapidan it will carry with it the consequences above stated.
When the proposition was made to you to co-operate with a large part of your forces in the defense of the Peninsula or Norfolk, as the case might be, it was under the supposition that the enemy could not advance, which would therefore require in your present line, for the period during which you were expected to be absent, but little more than an army of observation. If such be the fact, then you will move with all the force you think it safe to withdraw. But as a mode of expressing to you the limit which it is intended to affix I will cite the remark of the President,that the loss of the Central road and communication with the valley at Stauton would be more injurious than the withdrawal from the Peninsula and the evacuation of Norfolk. You are aware that between your present position and Richmond there is no defensive line so strong as that you now hold, and this consideration give to that line as additional value.
The President is not at all reluctant to take the responsibility of any movement of the propriety of which he is confident, and it is only designed to ask of you that judgment which you better information enables you more safely to render. He desires you to exercise that judgment and give him the benefit of your views. In the mean time, if doubtful of the course to be pursued, he invites you to a full conference at this place, where the latest intelligence is collected.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
Richmond, Va., March 28, 1862.
Brigadier General R. E. COLSTON,
Commanding, &c., near Smithfield, Va.:
GENERAL: In order to enable you to carry out the instructions which you will receive from Major-General Huger in relation to the crossing of your brigade to the Peninsula to re-enforce General Magruder a boat will be sent to Stone House Wharf, on James River, and held subject to your order.
It is not intended that you shall cross the river until you have positive evidence that a demonstration is being made against General Magruder. The move on the Peninsula may be a feint and the real attack be on Norfolk.
You will do all in your power to keep yourself accurately advised of what transpires on the Peninsula, and should there be any positive indications of his moving in force in that direction you will cross, and report to General Magruder with all dispatch. Great care and judgment must be exercised to prevent being deceived as to the real intent of the enemy, and much rests on your discretion and decision.
Inform General Magruder of your position and ability to join him when actually necessary.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
(Copy sent to General Huger.)