Richmond, Virginia, April 9, 1862, Nevill C. Blacklidge, Special Correspondent
At as press conference held in the War Department today, General Robert Edward Lee, was introduced by presidential press secretary, John A. Taliaferro. The General made the following statement to the press; he stressed that his opinions were shared by the War Council, and he has been in close consultation with both President Davis and General J. E. Johnston who is currently in command in the field near Yorktown. He will not be able to entertain questions today, due to the press of military communications.
“Thank you each one, members of the Fourth Estate for being here. I will not discuss the situation in West Tennessee at this time beyond expressing the sense of extreme loss shared by all of us in this Army and Nation in the loss of General Albert Sidney Johnston who fell in the front lines near Pittsburg Landing, some three days ago. We will discuss our strategy and assess our losses once the more written reports come to us. The telegraphic reports are that General Beauregard has withdrawn safely to his base of operations in Corinth, Mississippi after he inflicted heavy losses on the Federal forces.
“We now have authoritative news that General G. B. McClellan has transferred all of his army from the Manassas area to Fort Monroe. During the past nineteen days, those troops seen around Manassas were a ruse to cover the movement of his forces who plan to come by water and attack us from the southeast. At this time we consider both Norfolk and Richmond to be potential objectives of his attack. We will continue to guard Norfolk and protect routes to our north as there are Federal forces in the Valley in a rough line from Manassas to Culpeper who may soon attempt the link up with General McClellan. We have gallant men such as General T. J. Jackson, who will prevent this from happening.
“Newspapers from Washington and New York that have made their way to us report our forces around this region in excess of 100,000 heavily armed troops; let our enemies if they read the Richmond papers know this is a low estimate; they face us on our own soil; they have sown the wind, let them reap the whirlwind. Every man’s hand will be against at every turn and these conscripted factory worker have no concept of the disaster that awaits them.
“Even if the armies are evenly matched, we have the superiority of talent, experience, and patriotism, from the cream of West Point to horsemen that rival the cavaliers of old. We are supremely confident in facing General Mac, as his timidity and penchant for caution have been shown in the past six months of inactivity. To say he is on the move is a misnomer; his fear of our preparations will keep him occupied and entrenching most of the arable farmland in this state. The spring thaw and the variable depths of Virginia’s muddy roads are here to welcome him, the “Little Napoleon of the North”.
“There was another Napoleon once who underestimated the weather and his opponents on the field; we will soon hear if this Little Mac’s fine uniforms, his constant parades, and champagne dinners with pheasant have improved his military daring and thirst for combat. He is on the crawl, Mr. Lincoln calls it “the slows” and his nervousness is equal to the timid, when not blustering, railroad lawyer that is now Secretary of War in Lincoln’s kingdom, E. M. Stanton. Someone, perhaps the Chief Humorist and President of the Republic to the North, also called him the “King of Spades”. I tell you in six months or even three you will ask me why we ever feared this General would enter or even endanger Richmond.
“I have taken the following defensive actions; I am not afraid of telling them openly as Mr. Lincoln may read my published plans through his spectacles, as I read his plans through mine; we both read each week the “On to Richmond” headlines from New York and Philadelphia newspapers.
“1. General John B. Macgruder, Commanding the Army of the Peninsula at Yorktown is to disrupt any communication between the Federal Army now ashore at Old Point Comfort and those near Manassas. The force at Hampton Roads had General McClellan on one side and General Burnside on the other, but there has been no movement for a week.
2. There are to be armor-piercing shells provided to the fortress at Yorktown, and if the little ironclad, Monitor, ventures that far, it will be her last adventure. Any Federal ship coming to the York or James Rivers will be met with heavy opposition.
3. General J. E. Johnston has prepared for the contingency of any movement toward Yorktown or Richmond. The enemy will not be able to ascend the James River. I have informed General Theophilus Jones, commanding the Department of North Carolina, to be on the alert for movements south of Norfolk. I requested yesterday that the Secretary of the Navy detail the Merrimac to prevent any movements of the enemy between the James and the York Rivers.
4. To forestall any action near Yorktown, I have informed General Macgruder that should the enemy attempt to force a passage between these rivers, batteries should be placed in crucial positions. Thre is also the possibility of a landing near Williamsburg, to the rear of General Macgruder’s forces. Neither Yorktown or Williamsburg should be abandoned, but there should be patrols of all bridges and possible crossing points that the enemy might employ. In the case of a necessary withdrawal all wharves and bridges that would aid the enemy are to be destroyed to deny the enemy any safe landing areas.
5. General J. E. Johnston will as of April 12th be placed in command of all of the Department of Norfolk and Yorktown, to be designated the Army of Northern Virginia.”
Thank you for your time and attention.