Again, if the operations of the impressment law, in its full extent, are to be limited to those portions of the Confederacy where armies are situated, it would bear very unequally on the States and the people. Nor will the emplyment of the impressing power in all its stringency in the regions already harassed and stripped by large armies serve to obtain adequate supplies. I would therefore, suggest, if this necessity exists with regard to the supply of our different armies, and if it is impossible to subsist them longer by purchase from the citizens, that it will be better for the Departmnet to give the requisite authority to the agents of the Subsistence Bureau in all the States than for the commander of a praticular army to increase the burdens of a country already much exhausted by the continuce presence of that army.
I think every effort should be made to render equal the action of the impressment law, and so to fix the proportion of the produce to be taken from each farmer as to make its operations gentle and regular, and not dependent upon the will or caprice of the impressing agent.
If the Department, however, wishes me to issue the order requested by Colonel Northrop, I will do so.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
WAR DEPARTMENT, C. S.,
Richmond, Va., November 20, 1863.
General R. E. LEE, Commanding:
GENERAL: I am not prepared to command the resort to military impressment recommended to your consideration by the Commissary-General; first, because I do not consider myself warranted in controlling the discretion which is imposed by law on commanders in the field, under circumstances of exigency which can only be fully known to themselves, of relieving their army by the summary process of umlimited impressment; and, secondly, because, while not free from serious anxiety about our future prospects ofsubsistence, I do not accord with the Commissary-General in the extent or immediate pressure of the dearth of provisions. Colonel Northrop does not seem to have fully explained to you why he made the application in the manner he did, direct to you. The impressment law, as you may have observed, gives the power of impressment to the Department for the purpose of accumulating supplies for the army, but limits it merely to the surplus of production, requiring that a sufficiency for the reasonable support of the holder, his family, or employes should be exempted.
The construction of the Department, in conformity with the spirit if not the letter of this restriction, exempts supplies which may have been purchased, as well as those raised for private consumption, and likewise, to secure provisions for consumers in the cities who are not able to make such permanent provision, allows exemption of products for subsistence in transitu to market. This restriction, thus interpreted, in the apprehension of the Commissary-General, with the scant supplies, as the supposes, really existing in the country, renders it impracticable for him to accumulate supplies sufficient for the support of the army.