[CIVIL WAR]. LEE, Robert Edward (1807-1870), General, CSA. Autograph letter signed ("R E Lee") to General P.G.T. Beauregard, Drewry's Bluff, VA, "1 1/3 PM", 16 June 1864. 1 page, oblong small 4to, light blue stationery, remnants of tape in margin, two small irregular holes at center.
GRANT GIVES LEE THE SLIP ON THE PENINSULA
An important letter which reflects a rare instance when Lee found himself unable to determine what his enemy's next move would be, a dilemma which nearly cost him Petersburg and Richmond in the summer of 1864. On the morning of June 13, the Army of Northern Virginia discovered that the Union entrenchments which faced them at Cold Harbor had been abandoned during the night. For two days Lee kept his army in place, not knowing what Grant was planning but showing no hurry to find out: "he waited around his headquarterswith a lack of urgency he had never before shown over determining the enemy's intentions" (Dowdey, Cliffor. Lee. Boston, 1965. p. 477). On the 15th, General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding forces at Bermuda Hundred, became aware that a Union corps had crossed to the south side of the James River.
On the morning of June 16th, Lee received a telegram from Beauregard informing him that the Bermuda Hundred lines had been abandoned. Beauregard gave very few details and simply asked Lee to send his troops to fill the now unoccupied lines in order to preserve their communications. Lee, knowing little about the situation, immediately began preparations to retake the Bermuda Hundred lines. He was still uncertain, however, of the position of Grant's main force and grew concerned that perhaps the Union army had managed to cross the James and was now threatening Petersburg. Here, in a letter written during the early afternoon of the 16th while the situation was still unknown and in doubt, Lee informs Beauregard that the Bermuda Hundred lines may have been lost and asks if there is any word of Grant's movement: "Your dispatch of 11:30 just recd. I fear the withdrawal of your pickets has lost your lines in front of Bermuda Hundred. Genl. Anderson thinks they are occupied. He was pushing back enemy skirmishers at 12 P.M. I have directed they be repossessed if practicable & advantageous. What force have you in your front? Have you heard of Grant's Crossing the James River?"
Ultimately, a persistent fight by the Confederate division of George Pickett managed to regain the trenches at Bermuda Hundred and plug the breech that had been opened by Beauregard's movement. In a gallant holding effort, Beauregard was able to prevent Petersburg from falling giving Lee time to shift his army to meet Grant's new threat on the south side of the James River. (See also Lot 212.)