I do not know that I expressed the idea that a forward movement would be a diversion in favor of Charleston, but I had it in my mind. I will send orders to General Whiting to prepare himself to re-enforce you, say 4,000 men. This, with the cavalry and what you have, ought to run your force up to 14,000 or 15,000 men. At least this is my calculation. With this force I think you could cut the railroad behind New Berne and probably force the enemy out to fight. From here, though, it looks as if most of the cavalry could operate to greater advantage on the north side of the river, so that we can forage at the same time that the forces are displayed in front of the enemy's works. General Whiting might bring you 5,000 men, I should think, but I cannot promise so many until I am better posted. If there is a chance of doing anything we should not be idle. We are much more likely to succeed by operating ourselves than by lying still to await the enemy's time for thorough preparation before he moves upon us. I have been confined with a terribly sore throat since I have been here, but hope to be out in a few days more, when I shall make a visit to your headquarters. In the mean time please make your preparations quietly for a forward movement. Cannot you persuade the good people in charge of the railroads to work a little more and with more system, in order that freight, & c., can be brought through promptly? Our people have been so accustomed to have all kinds of labor at their hands that they seem at a loss for resources when emergencies arise. "Where there is a will there is a way" of overcoming all human obstacles. It is left for us to find it out. All suggestions are thankfully received, and as I know that all of your ideas are good you need not hesitate about expressing them.
I remain, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Petersburg, Va., March 1, 1863.
General R. E. LEE,
GENERAL: Your letter of the 28th is received. I shall keep you advised of matters here that you may, by comparing notes, satisfy yourself of the enemy's position, & c. I shall be guided by the information that I may receive from you of the enemy's movements more than by what I hear here, for the present at all events. The force now here I think quite sufficient to overcome that of the enemy at any time that I may be able to meet him, and shall act accordingly until I find that he is moving additional troops from your front. I do not think, however, that he will withdraw any force that he now holds in your front, but may possibly send back the force now at Newport News. Deserters, however, report that this force is intended to operate in North Carolina.
I remain, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
P. S. - I have parties on each bank of the river to watch the force at Newport News.