HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
December 11, 1864.
HON. JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War, Richmond.
SIR: I have been informed by General Stevens that you have consented to the retention of our present negro force until Christmas. This will prove to be some relief, but not sufficient for our wants. My original request was for 5,000 laborers: 2,200 is the greatest number which ever reported, and those in small bodies at different intervals. The period for which they were first called was thirty days, and subsequently extended to sixty days. A large number of them have deserted, many not serving the first thirty days. Since the expiration of this period the desertions have greatly increased. I cannot state the present strength of the force, but think it cannot exceed 1,200. I consequently have not been able to accomplish half I desired. In our present extended line, requiring the troops to be always on duty and prepared for any movements of the enemy, I cannot use them, as formerly, for any work requiring them to leave their trenches. This is the reason why a laboring force is necessary, and unless I can get it for the completion of interior lines of defense, construction of roads, and other work necessary to the existence of an army, I shall be unable to hold my position. Of the negroes called for under the act of February 17, 1864, I have not yet received enough to replace the white teamsters in the army. In fact, we have not received more than sufficient to supply teamsters for the Third Corps and a portion of one division. Not one has yet been received for laboring purposes, and to any inquiries on the subject I get no satisfactory reply. I beg, therefore, to call your attention to this matter, which I deem of the greatest importance, and request that prompt measures may be taken to supply this demand.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
SOURCE: John William Jones, Life and Letters of Robert Edward Lee: Soldier and Man, p. 345