May 16 1863.
Major General D. H. HILL,
Commanding Department of North Carolina:
GENERAL: In reply to your letter of the 14th instant, I will state that the extent of the re-enforcements you can sent to the Army of Northern Virginia must necessarily depend upon the strength of the enemy in your front.
The plan you propose of exchanging your full for its reduced brigades I fear will add but little to its real strength. It would increase it numerically but weaken it intrinsically by taking away tried troops under experienced officers and replacing them with fresh men and uninstructed commanders. I should therefore have more to feed but less to depend on.
I can exchange Daniel's brigade with one of those you propose, but cannot designate which until I return to camp, as I am not sufficiently acquainted with their condition to make the selection. You can therefore put Daniel in motion at once. Ransom and Cooke I consider as belonging to the Army of Northern Virginia and have relied upon their return.
As far as I am able to judge, the plan of the enemy is to concentrate as large a force as possible to operate in Virginia. Whether he will unite the whole under General Hooker on the Rappahannock or operate with different columns I cannot say, but from the information I receive he is withdrawing troops from South Carolina and the country south of James River.
It is of course our best policy to do the same and to endeavor to repel his advance into Virginia. If he weakens his force in North Carolina I think you will be able, by using all your local troops, such portion of your regular cavalry and regular brigades as may be necessary, to repulse and restrain his marauding expeditions and protect the railroads and the farming interests of the country you now hold. Every man not required for this purpose I desire you to send to me and rely upon good judgment to proportion the means to the object in view.
I think it now too late for any important expedition to be undertaken by the enemy in the Carolinas. They will, I think, place themselves on the defensive in those States, endeavor to deceive us by threatening our communications, &c., and send their available troops where they can operate to more advantage. I have no fear that they will be able to mislead you.
I hope you will be able to collect and secure for the use of the army all the provisions and forage in the districts in which you are operating.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,