Digital History
Letter from General Robert E. Lee to General Philip St. George Cocke
Digital History ID 418

Author:   Robert E. Lee


Lincoln was convinced that the Confederate states had seceded from the Union for the sole purpose of maintaining slavery. Like President Jackson before him, he considered the Union to be permanent, an agreement by the people and not just of the states. Further, he strongly agreed with the sentiments voiced by Daniel Webster (1782-1852), when that Whig Senator declared in 1830, "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable." Lincoln, too, believed that a strong Union provided the only firm safeguard for American liberties and republican institutions. By attacking Fort Sumter, the Confederacy had directly challeged federal authority. And so the war came.

Lincoln responded to the attack on Fort Sumter by calling on the states to provide 75,000 militia men for 90 days service. Twice that number volunteered. But the eight slave states still in the Union refused to furnish troops, and four--Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia--seceded.

One individual who felt especially torn by the decision to support the Union or join the Confederacy was Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) of Virginia. Lee was Winfield Scott's choice to serve as field commander of the Union army, but when a state convention voted to secede, he resigned from the U.S. army, announcing to his sister that he could not "raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children. Save in defense of my native state, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword." After joining the Confederate army, he predicted "that the country will have to pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation perhaps for national sins."


Establish your Head Quarters as necessary. Establish camps of instruction, and have you troops instructed in the use of their different arms. Make the necessary arrangements for their support. No bacon is to be had in Virginia. Consult with merchants in Alexandria as to the feasibility of obtaining bacon from Ohio, or Kentucky, if this is not practicable, beef & mutton must be your meat ration; the Valley of Virginia will naturally suggest itself to you as the point, from which this part of the ration can be obtained.

Let it be known that you intend to make no attack; but invasion of our soil will be considered as an act of war.

Very few officers of experience have as yet reported, as soon as possible some will be sent to you....

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