Lee Under Tremendous Strain; Nine-Month Union Recruits Get Little Respect

April 12, 1863/2013
Volume 4, Issue 15 (131 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Under Tremendous Strain, Robert E. Lee Writes to His Family, Suggests New Confederate Strategy

April 12, 1863. “Lee was beginning to show the strain physically. To his daughter Agnes, who had been hoping to visit him, he wrote that ‘the only place I am to be found is in camp, and I am so cross now that I am not worth seeing anywhere.’ He [wrote his wife on March 3, 1863] that he felt ‘almost worn out’ and feared that ‘I may be unable in the approaching campaign to go through the work before me,’ and shortly after this, [on March 9], he wrote: ‘As for my health, I suppose I shall never be better. Old age and sorrow is wearing me away, and constant anxiety & labor, day and night, leaves me but little repose.’  . . .

Robert E. Lee, 1864, courtesy Library of Congress

Robert E. Lee, 1864, courtesy Library of Congress

“The wry humor with which he talked of his symptoms shows clearly that his real concern was not the state of his own health. He seemed this winter to be approaching a new concept of Confederate strategy, as if he began to feel that final victory would be won by a dogged endurance based on superior spiritual resources; and here, typically, he was thinking about the flaws in his opponent’s armor. Handicapped as they were in all material things, the Confederates might yet wear the Yankees out by greater dedication to the cause. On April 19 General Lee explored this thought in a letter to Mrs. Lee:

“‘I do not think our enemies are so confident of success as they used to be. If we can baffle them in their various designs this year & our own people are true to their cause & not so devoted to themselves & their own aggrandisement, I think our success will be certain. We will have to suffer & must suffer to the end. But it will all come right. This year I hope will establish our supplies on a firmer basis. On every other point we are strong. If successful this year, next fall there will be a great change in public opinion at the north. The Republicans will be destroyed. I think the friends of peace will become so strong that the next administration will go in on that basis. We have only therefore to resist manfully.'”


Bruce Catton, Never Call Retreat, 101-102.

The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, Dowdey and Manarin, eds., 400, 413.

Union Recruits Who Enlisted Later in the War for Only Nine Months Get Little Respect

On April 19, 1863, the same day that General Lee wrote his wife, Lt. Joseph Spafford of the Sixteenth Vermont Infantry, wrote to his sister from Virginia:

Lt. Joseph Spafford, courtesy Vermont Historical Society

Lt. Joseph Spafford, courtesy Vermont Historical Society

“. . . I notice that all the three years men, & in fact many who are neither 3 years or 9 mos. men, but have staid at home, seem to have a kind of a spite against the 9 mos. men. . . . The 3 years men say they have no patriotism, were bought; call them the Pick Nic party etc. Even many at home think this Brigade is good for nothing & blame them because they have not been in a fight every other day since they left Vt. etc. I suppose they would be perfectly satisfied if half of us could manage to get killed before our time is over; they seem to think that as long as we recd large bountys for coming here, we have not any right to come home alive, etc. etc. All I have to say is that so far we have gone wherever we have been ordered & that hereafter we shall go where we are ordered. . . . I notice the Tribune speaks of the ‘9 month beauties, who brought neither health nor patriotism with them into the army’ etc. — I think if this Brigade were placed alongside the 1st Vt Brigade we would fight each other like dogs & cats. . . .

– Both entries submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director  


A War of the People: Vermont Civil War Letters, Jeffrey D. Marshall, ed., pp. 149-159.


Full transcript of Lt. Joseph Spafford letter to his sister.

Joseph Spafford Papers, 1859-1864, Vermont Historical Society

Joseph Spafford Correspondence, The University of Vermont Libraries,  Center for Digital Initiatives

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1863

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