HDQRS. ARMY; OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, July 17, 1863.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:
SIR: With a view of carrying into effect the act of Congress, approved March 20, 1863, providing for the organization of engineer troops, I authorized the formation of pioneer companies in each division, and assigned to duty with these companies the engineer officers designated by the Engineer Bureau at Richmond. These companies are of great use to the divisions, both on the march and on the field of battle, in constructing and repairing bridges and roads, demolishing fences, filling up ditches, &c., to afford easy progress and facilitate the formation of the troops.
But in execution of General Orders, Numbers 66, Adjutant and Inspector General's Office, current series, it is proposed, I understand, to unite these companies into a regimental organization, which will withdraw them from service in the division from which they have been formed, and limit their operations to the legitimate duties of engineer troops. A regiment of engineer troops would be very desirable to serve with this army, but, from my experience of the past campaigns, I do not think that the duties specially assigned to such troops would authorize the withdrawal of so large a body of the best men from the ranks of the army at this time. Our ranks are very much diminished, and some of the brigades will be no larger than the proposed regiment of engineer troops. I have, therefore, thought proper to suspend the execution of General Orders, Numbers 66, in this army for the present, and inclosed send you a copy of the order issued to that effect, * which I hope will be approved by the Department.
If these companies are withdrawn from the divisions, new pioneer companies will have to be formed, as you will see from what I have said that it is necessary to have a company habitually operating with each division.
After these companies are formed into a regiment, they must be detached, and it might be impracticable to get their aid at times when it will be necessary, and, in addition, their duties will be distinct and separate. Though armed, and no doubt a fine body of men, they will not be as efficient in battle as if in their original companies and regiments, and our fighting power will be, in my opinion, diminished exactly by their numbers, I had hoped, and still think, that a number of men of foreign allegiance, or otherwise exempt from the operation of the conscript act, might be obtained outside of the army, who will be willing to enter a select corps of this kind, and will join companies of infantry, with the view of their selection to the engineer companies. In this way I think a large body of engineer troops might be formed, and this I earnestly recommend to the Department.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
BUNKER HILL, July 17, 1863. (Received at Dublin, July 18.)
Major General SAMUEL JONES, via Winchester:
I desire your progress down the Valley, and your whereabouts, that I may give you directions.
R. E. LEE,
*See Special Orders, Numbers 176, p. 1020.