July 21, 1863.
General R. E. Lee,
Commanding Army of Norther Virginia:
GENERAL: Yours of the 16th was duly received. The letter of the 7th, of which you send a copy, was, after much delay, also received.
No official account of the casualties in your army having been received, I have continued to hope that the reports exaggerated your loss. If, however, it be approximately as great as stated, it will, I suppose, involve reorganization. When companies have been reduced to squads and regiments to little more than companies, without any immediate prospect of recruiting them, it may be better to disband some, and enroll the men for such as are retained. If the law permitted, a better arrangement could be made by consolidation and selection of the officers; but this was discussed by the Congress and rejected. The number of brigades and divisions might be reduced by causing more regiments to be put in a brigade, and, where there is any prospect of filling up the companies, this would be the kinder proceeding, as maintaining names associated with gallant deeds, and saving officers from discharge because their hard service had swept away their commands.
In some instances I can readily imagine that the efficiency of a company, or even of a regiment, may have been destroyed by the loss of the commander and a few others on whom the discipline and confidence of the rest depended. There may be exceptional cases where the remnant could, if sent away, draw to it recruits which otherwise would go elsewhere. By such reflections I have been led to call your attention to the propriety of either adopting a general plan, or deciding each case on its merits, so as to avoid the embarrassment of applying any general rule where there are so many exceptions. Archer`s brigade, previously small, is reported as nearly annihilated. The Tennessee regiments have never been recruited, and it may be that, if too small to be valuable here, they could get men if sent to their former home in East Tennessee, and then return, or in the meantime be exchanged for another brigade. I mention the case not to express an opinion, but to illustrate my meaning as to exceptional conditions.
General J. R. Davis, who is here, quite feeble, with indications of typhoid fever, informs me that his brigade on the first and third days at Gettysburg lost so heavily that the whole force remaining was less than 500. Unlike the other, nothing could be gained in this case by returning home, but something might be from being sent to the rear to recruit and reorganize. Wounded officers and men, sick officers and men, as they return will add not only to the numbers but also to the proper reorganization consequent upon the loss of many of the best officers of the command.
General Beauregard regards it as necessary to act on the defensive, and has repulsed the assault of the enemy on Battery Wagner. The success of the enemy on the Mississippi will enable them to send as many troops as are needed, and unless the climate protects us, it is to be feared that their artillery and labor will at last give them the island and the best position for breaching Fort Sumter.
General Johnston is retreating on the east side of Pearl River, and I can only learn from him of such vague purposes as were unfolded when he held his army before Richmond. He seems to anticipate