HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, February 26, 1863.
His Excellency JEFFERSON DAVIS,
President of the Confederate States:
Mr. PRESIDENT: I was very glad to learn by your letter of the 18th that your health had been re-established, and that you were again able to take the open air. I hope now you will soon regain your strength, and be long preserved to the Republic.
I have for some time been doubtful of the intentions of the enemy. His movements could be accounted for on several suppositions. The weather for the last eight or ten days has been so unfavorable for observation that it has prevented the scouts from acquiring information. I have only learned positively of three army corps of the enemy having descended the Potomac. Some troops have been set up the river, probably Sigel's corps, but reports are contradictory on that subject. Slocum's division is at Dumfries. Three thousand infantry are reported at Centreville; three regiments of cavalry at Chantilly, scouting as high as Upperville and Paris, and probably connecting with Milroy at Winchester. Franklin's former grand division, detached to Newport News, is probably intended for Burnside, and I see it announced in Northern papers that he is to repair immediately to his new command, without stating where. I think the scene of his operations will be south of James River.
The army of General Hooker is now located along the line of railroad from Falmouth to Aquia. The infantry formerly thrown out on its flanks has been drawn in and retired toward the Potomac. A line of cavalry on either flank, in proximity to the railroad, extends from river to river. I believe for the present the purpose of crossing the Rappahannock is abandoned, and that the late storms or other causes have suspended the movements recently in progress. The disposition I have described may be intended to continue the remainder of the winter, or until their conscript law becomes operative.
Around Falmouth there is apparently a large force. During the late storm their pickets on the Upper Rappahannock were withdrawn, and, not being able to hear from the outlying scouts, I directed a reconnoitering party of Wickham's cavalry to cross at the United States Mine Ford, to descend the left bank of the river, and ascertain its meaning. The river was at swimming stage. Within about 5 miles of the ford the enemy's cavalry was found in too great force to drive in. Captain [Robert] Randolph, of the Black Horse Company, having reported his inability to penetrate their lines farther north, General Fitz. Lee was ordered with his brigade from Culpeper, to break through their outposts and ascertain what was occurring. He yesterday penetrated their lines 5 miles in rear of Falmouth, found the enemy in strong force, fell upon their camps, and brought off about 150 prisoners, killing 36, and losing 6 of his own men. I have received no official report, but this is the account given by a lieutenant, who left him at Hartwood Church, on his return to the Rappahannock, which he probably recrossed last night.
General W. H. F. Lee reports that he engaged two gunboats near Tappahannock, that had ascended the river, and drove them off with a Napoleon and Blakely gun, without loss to us.
General Imboden reports that Captains [John H.] McNeill and [George W.] Stump, of his cavalry, with 23 men, attacked a supply train of the enemy on the evening of the 16th, on the Northwestern turnpike, 5 miles west of Romney, guarded by 150 infantry and cavalry. After a brisk skirmish, the guard was driven off, 72 taken pris-