Yesterday at Years of Anguish (nearly 500 in attendance–thanks very much for coming), Gary Gallagher talked about Lee’s little-known response to the Emancipation Proclamation–pointing out how historians and readers both have largely ignored the document. We talked about this in a post a long time ago over at Fredericksburg Remembered, and so re-post it here:
The following appears in a letter from Robert E. Lee to James Seddon, January 10, 1863, urging a concerted effort to increase the size of Confederate armies in the face of the intensifying Union war effort.* In it, Lee offer commentary on the recently issued Emancipation Proclamation, whose consequences he characterizes darkly and vividly. Indeed, uses the Proclamation as an argument for redoubled recruiting and a renewed Confederate effort.
In view of the vast increase of the forces of the enemy, of the savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed, which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction, let every effort be made, every means be employed, to fill and maintain the ranks of our armies, until God, in his mercy, shall bless us with the establishment of our independence. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, R. E. Lee, General.
* O.R. Vol. 21, page 1086. The editors of the ORs incorrectly presumed that this passage refered to a series of orders issued in western Virginia the previous November by Union General Robert H. Milroy, commanding local citizens to pay for the damage done by Confederate raiders. Clearly, however, the narrow scope of Milroy’s orders (which related solely to the district in which he operated, and which were later repudiated by the federal government) does not comport with the broad commentary offered here by Lee. Moreover, the Official Records clearly show that on January 10, Lee was still in the process of investigating the nature of Milroy’s orders to confirm they had indeed been issued.