HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, November 17, 1863-6.30 p.m.
Hon. GEORGE W. RANDOLPH,
Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:
SIR: Your letter of the 14th has been received.* I am very glad to learn of your purpose to send to Texas to purchase horses for the cavalry. The future supply of subsistence for the army is to me a source of great anxiety. I have endeavored all in mu power to economize that now exists, and to provide for our future wants. While in the valley, the complain from the officers of an insufficient quantity of food for the troops became so general that, after consultation with the chief commissary of the army, I determined to increase the ration of flour to 1 1/8 pounds and of beef to 1 1/4 pounds. It was stated that one great cause of straggling from the ranks was the insufficiency of the ration to appease the hunger of the men. At that time we were using the flour ground from the wheat in the valley, and collecting a quantity of meat on the hoof. No other part of the rain could be furnished to the men, except salt, nor could the men increase their fare by the purchase of bread, vegetables,&c. Their whole ration consisted of bread and meat. From my examination into the matter, I do not think this allowance is too great, and compliance are even now received that the bread ration is too small. The same condition of things now exists. The daily diet of the men is bread and meat, without any addition of vegetables,&c., and, in view of the labor before them, I do not think it can be reduced to advantage. If this amount cannot be furnished, necessity will oblige its reduction; but if it can, I recommend it be continued.
We have received in the last new days about 5,000 pairs of shoes, and clothing and blankets in proportion, which has added very much to the comfort of this army. There are still about 2,000 men barefooted, and about 3,000 more whose shoes are in such a condition that they will not last than another march.
Since my letter of this morning, our scouts north of the Rappahannock report that three brigades of the enemy were advancing upon Fredericksburg, and that their advance last night had reached the Spotted Tavern. A division of Longstreet's corps will move at early dawn in the direction of Chesterfield, and the rest will follow, if the report is confirmed. As a force of the enemy, estimated at from 10,000 to 20,000 is reported to be at Aldie, and another force at Thoroughfare Gap, watching the outlets of the Blue Ridge, I do not know whether this movement on Fredericksburg is intended as a feint or a real advance upon Richmond. In the latter event, before it can move from Fredericksburg, I think this whole army will be in position.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
What has been done, if anything, in the matter of sending to Texas for horses?
G. W. R.[RANDOLPH.]
Make extract of what concerns commissary and quartermaster supplies, and refer them to the respective officers.
G. W. R.[RANDOLPH.]
*See Series, I, Vol. XIX, Part II, p.716.