Battlefield letter from General Lee written during the Union’s push for the Confederate capital, ordering Pickett to attack after A. P. Hill’s apparent success during the Siege of Petersburg
Civil War-dated ALS signed “R. E. Lee, Gen.,” one page, 8 x 6.75, August 19, 1864. Addressed from “H’dqrs’ in Henrico County, Virginia, a handwritten letter dispatched by General Robert E. Lee to General Charles W. Field, in part: “Your note of 8 P.M. just rec’d. If you find that the enemy…has retired or reduced his force, I desire you to send Pickett’s three regts to him + Wilson’s two regts to him, without further orders — A dispatch from Genl Beauregard just rec’d and says 'Hill attacked the enemy this afternoon + met with a brilliant success. Details have not yet been officially stated.’” In fine condition.
This incredible wartime letter dates to Grant's Overland Campaign and the Union’s continued Siege of Petersburg, a vital supply center for the Confederate capital of Richmond and a strategic crossroads and junction for five railroads. Written on the night of August 19th, the letter concerns two concurrent battles: the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, the location of Major Generals George E. Pickett and Charles W. Field, the latter the letter’s recipient, and the Battle of Globe Tavern, the subject of a report recently received from Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard. The message relayed news of a counterattack led by Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill, whose Third Corps repelled a Union assault on the Weldon Railroad the day prior. The account, conveyed to Lee as “a brilliant success,” was short-lived, as Union troops regained their foothold and, by the morning of the 21st, forced a Confederate retreat that left several miles of the Weldon railroad in the grips of the Union army, subsequently gaining the Federals their first victory during the siege of Petersburg. Surviving battlefield letters from Lee are immensely rare and coveted by Civil War collectors, with this example’s mention of major Confederate figures like George Pickett, A. P. Hill, and P. G. T. Beauregard elevating it is a truly singular specimen, one further augmented by its pristine condition and bold penmanship.