The Richmond Strategy Conference

General Robert E. Lee had been summoned from his Army of Northern Virginia to meet with President Jefferson Davis at the Confederate capital of Richmond to discuss military strategy. Lee had proposed resuming the offensive, and he notified his corps commanders to begin mobilizing at the end of August. Lee planned to move north, cross the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers, draw Federal Major-General George G. Meade out onto open ground, and “crush his army while in the present condition.”

Lieutenant-General James Longstreet, commanding the First Corps in Lee’s army, disagreed with his commander’s proposal. Longstreet wrote, “I do not know that we can reasonably hope to accomplish much here by offensive operations, unless you are strong enough to cross the Potomac” and invade the North once again. Longstreet added, “If we advance to meet the enemy on this side (of the Potomac),” Meade “will, in all probability, go into one of his many fortified positions; these we cannot afford to attack.”

Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet | Image Credit: Wikipedia

But instead of staying on the defensive on all fronts, Longstreet wrote, “I know but little of the condition of our affairs in the West, but am inclined to the opinion that our best opportunity for great results is in Tennessee. If we could hold the defensive here with two corps and send the others to operate in Tennessee with that army, I think that we could accomplish more than by an advance from here.”  

Major-General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland was closing in on Chattanooga, but Longstreet believed that one corps from Lee’s army could reinforce the Confederates there and help “destroy Rosecrans’s army.” Davis had considered transferring part of Lee’s army to another military theater before the Gettysburg campaign, but Lee persuaded him to keep his army intact so he could invade the North. But now that Federals had captured Knoxville and were threatening Chattanooga, Davis would not be persuaded a second time.

It was agreed that Longstreet would lead two of his three divisions to reinforce General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Major-General George Pickett’s division, still recovering from Gettysburg, would stay behind. Lee also agreed to detach two brigades to help bolster the tenuous Confederate defenses at Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.  

Davis suggested that Lee go west with Longstreet and replace Bragg as army commander. But Lee demurred because Bragg’s knowledge of the mountainous terrain around Chattanooga was too valuable to replace. Lee, whose offensive was indefinitely postponed, returned to his Orange Court House headquarters to arrange for transferring part of his army.  


  • Cozzens, Peter, This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press (Kindle Edition), 1994.
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes. Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee. Scribner, (Kindle Edition), 2008.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.

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