use all the power with which the Department could vest them to obtain requisite supplies. To make these instructions more emphatic they were embodied in a special order given to each. I inclose a copy, and hope my action may have the approval of your judgment.* Unfortunately the floods have extended to the James River Canal, so that for some days we must be cut off from any supplies from the productive valley of the James. I inclose, likewise, a copy of a letter addressed to me by the Commissary-General, in view of the order issued to him You will perceive he urges earnestly your personal interposition in the matter as more efficacious than any action of the Department. I fully appreciate the just influence which your lightest word would have on the feelings and action of our people, and therefore, especially as it is urged by the Commissary-General, in justice to himself, submit the letter for your consideration. At the same time I do not wish to be understood as myself urging on you any action of the legality or expediency of which you may have doubts, or which you may think more appropriately pertains to my duties. I do not apprehend any such effects, but in all sincerity, if odium is to be incurred or animadversions aroused by necessary action under the present exigencies, I would, for the good of the cause, greatly prefer they should be directed against, myself, rather than the trusted commander of our leading army.
Very truly, yours,
JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War.
BUREAU OF SUBSISTENCE,
Richmond, January 12, 1865.
SIR: The telegram of General Lee that the country is exhausted within reach of his army, and that he has but two days' rations, and that the only reliance is on the railroads, is given in reply to your direction that he should impress for the instant necessities of his army. General Lee's control extends over a wide department, and officers sent by him with a few lines from him of the state of the case would throughout his department stimulate the people, and voluntary they would contribute. The action you propose as a substitute would be less effective, is liable to opposition except from the good, and so far from shielding General Lee from odium, will throw it on him, while it has neither the sanction of law nor the force to effect your measures. Furthermore, in Virginia it may be yielded to; in North Carolina, equally liable to military calls, the people, under the stimulus of the resolutions of the legislature, might resist, and the onus of your action fall on the willing.
Permit me to urge that never can there occur a more critical moment or occasion in which General Lee's popularity or hold on the confidence of the people [sic], or can find a more fitting opportunity for testing its efficiency in saving the cause. I make this remark because of yours, that you prefer to incur odium yourself than risk impairing that hold on the people which you think General Lee has, and which you think a mainstay of the cause. I am willing to do what I can, but I urge that General Lee act also.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
L. B. NORTHROP,
Commissary-General of Subsistence.
*See paragraphs XLI and XlII, p. 1041.