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Civil War Trust

Robert E. Lee to Jefferson Davis

July 31, 1863
Robert E. Lee

The following letter written by Robert E. Lee to Confederate President Jefferson Davis discusses the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg and the public's reaction to the loss. 

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Camp   Culpeper, Virginia
July 31, 1863

Mr. President

Your note of the 27 [sic] enclosing a slip from the Charleston Mercury relative to the battle of Gettysburg is received.   I much regret its general censure upon the operations of the army, as it is calculated to do us no good either at home or abroad.   But I am prepared for similar criticism & as far as I am concerned the remarks fall harmless.   I am particularly sorry however that from partial information & mere assumption of facts that injustice should be done any officer, & that occasion should be taken to asperse your conduct, who of all others are most free of blame.   I do not fear that your position in the confidence of the people, can be injured by such attacks, & I hope the official reports will protect the reputation of every officer.   These cannot be made at once, & in the meantime as you state much falsehood may be promulgated.   But truth is mighty & will eventually prevail.   As regards the article in question I think it contains its own contradiction.   Although charging Heth with the failure of the battle, it expressly states he was absent wounded.   The object of the writer & publisher is evidently to cast discredit upon the operations of the Government & those connected with it & thus gratify feelings more to be pitied than to be envied.   To take notice of such attacks would I think do more harm than good, & would be just what is desired.   The delay that will necessarily occur in receiving official reports has induced me to make for the information of the Department a brief outline of operations of the army, in which however I have been unable to state the conduct of troops or officers.   It is sufficient to show what was done & what was not done.   No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me, nor should it be censured for the unreasonable expectations of the public.   I am alone to blame, in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess & valor.   It however in my opinion achieved under the guidance of the Most High a general success, though it did not win a victory.   I thought at the time that the latter was practicable.   I still think if all things could have worked together it would have been accomplished.   But with the knowledge I then had, & in the circumstances I was then placed, I do not know what better course I could have pursued.   With my present knowledge, & could I have foreseen that the attack on the last day would have failed to drive the enemy from his position, I should certainly have tried some other course.   What the ultimate result would have been is not so clear to me.   Our loss has been heavy, that of the enemy's proportionally so.   His crippled condition enabled us to retire from the country comparatively unmolested.   The unexpected state of the Potomac was our only embarrassment.   I will not trespass upon Your Excellency's time more.   With prayers for your health & happiness, & the recognition by your grateful country of your great services

I remain truly & sincerely yours,

R. E. Lee

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