Part 1 out of 8
Prepared by Brett Fishburne (email@example.com)
Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son
Services in the United States Army
Captain Lee, of the Engineers, a hero to his child--The family
pets--Home from the Mexican War--Three years in Baltimore--
Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy--Lieutenant-
Colonel of Second Cavalry--Supresses "John Brown Raid" at Harper's
Ferry--Commands the Department of Taxes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
The Confederate General
Resigns from Colonelcy of First United States Cavalry--Motives for
this step--Chosen to command Virginia forces--Anxiety about his
wife, family, and possessions--Chief advisor to President Davis--
Battle of Manassas--Military operations in West Virginia--Letter
to State Governor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Letters to Wife and Daughters
From Camp on Sewell's Mountain--Quotation from Colonel Taylor's
book--From Professor Wm. P. Trent--From Mr. Davis's Memorial
Address--Defense of Southern ports--Christmas, 1861--The General
visits his father's grave--Commands, under the President, all the
armies of the Confederate States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Army Life of Robert the Younger
Volunteer in Rockbridge Artillery--"Four Years with General Lee"
quoted--Meeting between father and son--Personal characteristics
of the General--Death of his daughter Annie--His son Robert raised
from the ranks--the horses, "Grace Darling" and "Traveller"--
Fredricksburg--Freeing slaves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
The Army of Northern Virginia
The General's sympathy for his suffering soldiers--
Chancellorsville--Death of "Stonewall" Jackson--General Fitzhugh
Lee wounded and captured--Escape of his brother Robert--
Gettysburg--Religious revival--Infantry review--Unsatisfactory
commissariat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
The Winter of 1863-4
The Lee family in Richmond--The General's letters to them from
Camps Rappahannock and Rapidan--Death of Mrs. Fitzhugh Lee--
Preparations to meet General Grant--The Wilderness--Spottsylvania
Court House--Death of General Stuart--General Lee's illness . . . 112
Fronting the Army of the Potomac
Battle of Cold Harbour--Siege of Petersburg--The General intrusts
a mission to his son Robert--Battle of the Crater--Grant crosses
the James River--General Long's pen-picture of Lee--Knitting socks
for the soldiers--A Christmas dinner--Incidents of camp life . . . 128
Fort Fisher captured--Lee made Commander-in-Chief--Battle of Five
Forks--The General's farewell to his men--His reception in
Richmond after the surrender--President Davis hears the news--
Lee's visitors--His son Robert turns farmer . . . . . . . . . . . 144
A Private Citizen
Lee's conception of the part--His influence exerted toward the
restoration of Virginia--He visits old friends throughout the
country--Receives offers of positions--Compares notes with the
Union General Hunter--Longs for a country home--Finds one at
"Derwent," near Cartersville . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
President of Washington College
Patriotic motives for acceptance of trust--Condition of college--
The General's arrival at Lexington--He prepares for the removal of
his family to that city--Advice to Robert Junior--Trip to "Bremo"
on private canal-boat--Mrs. Lee's invalidism . . . . . . . . . . . 179
The Idol of the South
Photographs and autographs in demand--The General's interest in
young people--His happy home life--Labours at Washington College--
He gains financial aid for it--Worsley's translation of Homer
dedicated to him--Tributes from other English scholars . . . . . . 198
Lee's Opinion upon the Late War
His intention to write the history of his Virginia campaigns--
Called before a committee of Congress--Preaches patience and
silence in the South--Shuns controversy and publicity--Corresponds
with an Englishman, Herbert C. Saunders . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
The General writes to his sons--To his wife at Rockbridge Baths--
He joins her there about once a week--Distinguised and
undistinguished callers at his Lexington home--He advocates early
hours--His fondness for animals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
An Ideal Father
Letters to Mildred Lee--To Robert--To Fitzhugh--Interviewed by
Swinton, historian of the Army of the Potomac--Improvement in
grounds and buildings of Washington College--Punctuality a
prominent trait of its President--A strong supporter of the
Y.M.C.A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
An incident about "Traveller"--The General's love for children--
His friendship with Ex-President Davis--A ride with his daughter
to the Peaks of Otter--Mildred Lee's narrative--Mrs. Lee at the
White Sulphur Springs--The great attention paid her husband
there--His idea of life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 264
An Advisor of Young Men
Lee's policy as college president--His advice on agricultural
matters--His affection for his prospective daughter-in-law--
Fitzhugh's wedding--The General's ovation at Petersburg--his
personal interest in the students under his care . . . . . . . . . 280
The Reconstruction Period
The General believes in the enforcement of law and order--His
moral influence in the college--Playful humour shown in his
letters--His opinion of negro labour--Mr. Davis's trial--Letter to
Mrs. Fitzhugh Lee--Intercourse with Faculty . . . . . . . . . . . 299
Mrs. R. E. Lee
Goest to Warm Springs for rheumatism--Her daughter Mildred takes
typhoid there--Removes to Hot Springs--Her husband's devotion--
Visit of Fitzhugh and bride to Lexington--Miss Jones, a would-be
benefactor of Washington College--Fate of Washington relics
belonging to Mrs. Lee's family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 318
Lee's Letters to His Sons
The building of Robert's house--The General as a railroad
delegate--Lionised in Baltimore--Calls on President Grant--Visits
Alexandria--Declines to be interviewed--Interested in his
grandson--The Washington portraits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 339
The New Home in Lexington
Numerous guests--Further sojourns at different Baths--Death of the
General's brother, Smith Lee--Visits to "Ravensworth" and "The
White House"--Meetings with interesting people at White Sulphur
Springs--Death of Professor Preston . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 357
The General declines lucrative positions in New York and Atlanta--
He suffers from an obstinate cold--Local gossip--He is advised to
go South in the spring of 1870--Desires to visit his daughter
Annie's grave . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 376
The Southern Trip
Letters to Mrs. Lee from Richmond and Savannah--From Brandon--
Agnes Lee's account of her father's greetings from old friends and
old soldiers--Wilmington and Norfolk do him honour--Visits to
Fitzhugh and Robert in their homes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 388
A Round of Visits
Baltimore--Alexandria--A war-talk with Cousin Cassius Lee--
"Ravensworth"--Letter to Doctor Buckler declining invitation to
Europe--To General Cooper--To Mrs. Lee from the Hot Springs--Tired
of public places--Preference for country life . . . . . . . . . . 412
Letter to his wife--To Mr. Tagart--Obituary notice in "Personal
Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee"--Mrs. Lee's account of his
death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 431
Services in the United States Army
Captain Lee, of the Engineers, a hero to his child--The family pets--
Home from the Mexican War--Three years in Baltimore--Superintendent
of the West Point Military Academy--Lieutenant-Colonel of Second
Cavalry--Supresses "John Brown Raid" at Harper's Ferry--Commands the
Department of Taxes
The first vivid recollection I have of my father is his arrival at
Arlington, after his return from the Mexican War. I can remember
some events of which he seemed a part, when we lived at Fort Hamilton,
New York, about 1846, but they are more like dreams, very indistinct
and disconnected--naturally so, for I was at that time about three
years old. But the day of his return to Arlington, after an absence
of more than two years, I have always remembered. I had a frock or
blouse of some light wash material, probably cotton, a blue ground
dotted over with white diamond figures. Of this I was very proud,
and wanted to wear it on this important occasion. Eliza, my "mammy,"
objecting, we had a contest and I won. Clothed in this, my very
best, and with my hair freshly curled in long golden ringlets, I
went down into the larger hall where the whole household was assembled,
eagerly greeting my father, who had just arrived on horseback from
Washington, having missed in some way the carriage which had been
sent for him.
There was visiting us at this time Mrs. Lippitt, a friend of my
mother's, with her little boy, Armistead, about my age and size, also
with long curls. Whether he wore as handsome a suit as mine I cannot
remember, but he and I were left together in the background, feeling
rather frightened and awed. After a moment's greeting to those
surrounding him, my father pushed through the crowd, exclaiming:
"Where is my little boy?"
He then took up in his arms and kissed--not me, his own child in his
best frock with clean face and well-arranged curls--but my little
playmate, Armistead! I remember nothing more of any circumstances
connected with that time, save that I was shocked and humiliated. I
have no doubt that he was at once informed of his mistake and made
ample amends to me.
A letter from my father to his brother Captain S. S. Lee, United States
Nave, dated "Arlington, June 30, 1848," tells of his coming home:
"Here I am once again, my dear Smith, perfectly surrounded by Mary
and her precious children, who seem to devote themselves to staring
at the furrows in my face and the white hairs in my head. It is not
surprising that I am hardly recognisable to some of the young eyes
around me and perfectly unknown to the youngest. But some of the
older ones gaze with astonishment and wonder at me, and seem at a
loss to reconcile what they see and what was pictured in their
imaginations. I find them, too, much grown, and all well, and I have
much cause for thankfulness, and gratitude to that good God who has
once more united us."
My next recollection of my father is in Baltimore, while we were on
a visit to his sister, Mrs. Marshall, the wife of Judge Marshall. I
remember being down on the wharves, where my father had taken me to
see the landing of a mustang pony which he had gotten for me in
Mexico, and which had been shipped from Vera Cruz to Baltimore in a
sailing vessel. I was all eyes for the pony, and a very miserable,
sad-looking object he was. From his long voyage, cramped quarters
and unavoidable lack of grooming, he was rather a disappointment to
me, but I soon got over all that. As I grew older, and was able to
ride and appreciate him, he became the joy and pride of my life. I
was taught to ride on him by Jim Connally, the faithful Irish servant
of my father, who had been with him in Mexico. Jim used to tell me,
in his quizzical way, that he and "Santa Anna" (the pony's name) were
the first men on the walls of Chepultepec. This pony was pure white,
five years old and about fourteen hands high. For his inches, he
was as good a horse as I ever have seen. While we lived in Baltimore,
he and "Grace Darling," my father's favourite mare, were members of
Grace Darling was a chestnut of fine size and of great power, which
he had bought in Texas on his way out to Mexico, her owner having
died on the march out. She was with him during the entire campaign,
and was shot seven times; at least, as a little fellow I used to
brag about that number of bullets being in her, and since I could
point out the scars of each one, I presume it was so. My father was
very much attached to her and proud of her, always petting her and
talking to her in a loving way, when he rode her or went to see her
in her stall. Of her he wrote on his return home:
"I only arrived yesterday, after a long journey up the Mississippi,
which route I was induced to take, for the better accommodation of my
horse, as I wished to spare her as much annoyance and fatigue as
possible, she already having undergone so much suffering in my service.
I landed her at Wheeling and left her to come over with Jim."
Santa Anna was found lying cold and dead in the park at Arlington one
morning in the winter of '60-'61. Grace Darling was taken in the
spring of '62 from the White House [My brother's place on the Pamunkey
River, where the mare had been sent for save keeping."] by some
Federal quartermaster, when McClellan occupied that place as his base
of supplies during his attack on Richmond. When we lived in Baltimore,
I was greatly struck one day by hearing two ladies who were visiting
"Everybody and everything--his family, his friends, his horse, and
his dog--loves Colonel Lee."
The dog referred to was a black-and-tan terrier named "Spec," very
bright and intelligent and really a member of the family, respected
and beloved by ourselves and well known to all who knew us. My father
picked up his mother in the "Narrows" while crossing from Fort Hamilton
to the fortifications opposite on Staten Island. She had doubtless
fallen overboard from some passing vessel and had drifted out of
sight before her absence had been discovered. He rescued her and
took her home, where she was welcomed by his children an made much of.
She was a handsome little thing, with cropped ears and a short tail.
My father named her "Dart." She was a fine ratter, and with the
assistance of a Maltese cat, also a member of the family, the many
rats which infested the house and stables were driven away or destroyed.
She and the cat were fed out of the same plate, but Dart was not
allowed to begin the meal until the cat had finished.
Spec was born at Fort Hamilton and was the joy of us children, our pet
and companion. My father would not allow his tail and ears to be
cropped. When he grew up, he accompanied us everywhere and was in
the habit of going into church with the family. As some of the little
ones allowed their devotions to be disturbed by Spec's presence, my
father determined to leave him at home on those occasions. So the
next Sunday morning, he was sent up to the front room of the second
story. After the family had left for church he contented himself for
awhile looking out of the window, which was open, it being summer time.
Presently impatience overcame his judgement and he jumped to the ground,
landed safely notwithstanding the distance, joined the family just as
they reached the church, and went in with them as usual, much to the
joy of the children. After that he was allowed to go to church whenever
he wished. My father was very fond of him, and loved to talk to him
and about him as if he were really one of us. In a letter to my mother,
dated Fort Hamilton, January 18, 1846, when she and her children were
on a visit to Arlington, he thus speaks of him:
"...I am very solitary, and my only company is my dogs and cats. But
'Spec' has become so jealous now that he will hardly let me look at
the cats. He seems to be afraid that I am going off from him, and
never lets me stir without him. Lies down in the office from eight
to four without moving, and turns himself before the fire as the side
from it becomes cold. I catch him sometimes sitting up looking at me
so intently that I am for a moment startled..."
In a letter from Mexico written a year later--December 25, '46, to my
mother, he says:
"...Can't you cure poor 'Spec.' Cheer him up--take him to walk with
you and tell the children to cheer him up..."
In another letter from Mexico to his eldest boy, just after the capture
of Vera Cruz, he sends this message to Spec....
"Tell him I wish he was here with me. He would have been of great
service in telling me when I was coming upon the Mexicans. When I
was reconnoitering around Vera Cruz, their dogs frequently told me by
barking when I was approaching them too nearly...."
When he returned to Arlington from Mexico, Spec was the first to
recognise him, and the extravagance of his demonstrations of delight
left no doubt that he knew at once his kind master and loving friend,
though he had been absent three years. Sometime during our residence
in Baltimore, Spec disappeared, and we never knew his fate.
From that early time I began to be impressed with my father's character,
as compared with other men. Every member of the household respected,
revered and loved him as a matter of course, but it began to dawn on
me that every one else with whom I was thrown held him high in their
regard. At forty-five years of age he was active, strong, and as
handsome as he had ever been. I never remember his being ill. I
presume he was indisposed at times; but no impressions of that kind
remain. He was always bright and gay with us little folk, romping,
playing, and joking with us. With the older children, he was just
as companionable, and the have seen him join my elder brothers and their
friends when they would try their powers at a high jump put up in
our yard. The two younger children he petted a great deal, and our
greatest treat was to get into his bed in the morning and lie close
to him, listening while he talked to us in his bright, entertaining
way. This custom we kept up until I was ten years old and over.
Although he was so joyous and familiar with us, he was very firm on
all proper occasions, never indulged us in anything that was not good
for us, and exacted the most implicit obedience. I always knew that
it was impossible to disobey my father. I felt it in me, I never
thought why, but was perfectly sure when he gave an order that it had
to be obeyed. My mother I could sometimes circumvent, and at times
took liberties with her orders, construing them to suit myself; but
exact obedience to every mandate of my father was part of my life and
being at that time. He was very fond of having his hands tickled,
and, what was still more curious, it pleased and delighted him to
take off his slippers and place his feet in our laps in order to
have them tickled. Often, as little things, after romping all day,
the enforced sitting would be too much for us, and our drowsiness
would soon show itself in continued nods. Then, to arouse, us, he
had a way of stirring us up with his foot--laughing heartily at and
with us. He would often tell us the most delightful stories, and
then there was no nodding. Sometimes, however, our interest in his
wonderful tales became so engrossing that we would forget to do our
duty--when he would declare, "No tickling, no story!" When we were a
little older, our elder sister told us one winter the ever-delightful
"Lady of the Lake." Of course, she told it in prose and arranged it
to suit our mental capacity. Our father was generally in his corner
by the fire, most probably with a foot in either the lap of myself or
youngest sister--the tickling going on briskly--and would come in at
different points of the tale and repeat line after line of the poem--
much to our disapproval--but to his great enjoyment.
In January, 1849, Captain Lee was one of a board of army officers
appointed to examine the coasts of Florida and its defenses and to
recommend locations for new fortifications. In April he was assigned
to the duty of the construction of Fort Carroll, in the Patapsco River
below Baltimore. He was there, I think, for three years, and lived
in a house on Madison Street, three doors above Biddle. I used to
go down with him to the Fort quite often. We went to the wharf in
a "bus," and there we were met by a boat with two oarsmen, who rowed
us down to Sollers Point, where I was generally left under the care
of the people who lived there, while my father went over to the Fort,
a short distance out in the river. These days were happy ones for
me. The wharves, the shipping, the river, the boat and oarsmen, and
the country dinner we had at the house at Sollers Point, all made a
strong impression on me; but above all I remember my father, his
gentle, loving care of me, his bright talk, his stories, his maxims
and teachings. I was very proud of him and of the evident respect
for and trust in him every one showed. These impressions, obtained
at that time, have never left me. He was a great favourite in
Baltimore, as he was everywhere, especially with ladies and little
children. When he and my mother went out in the evening to some
entertainment, we were often allowed to sit up and see them off; my
father, as I remember, always in full uniform, always ready and waiting
for my mother, who was generally late. He would chide her gently,
in a playful way and with a bright smile. He would then bid us good-
bye, and I would go to sleep with this beautiful picture in my mind,
the golden epaulets and all--chiefly the epaulets.
In Baltimore, I went to my first school, that of a Mr. Rollins on
Mulberry Street, and I remember how interested my father was in my
studies, my failures, and my little triumphs. Indeed, he was so
always, as long as I was at school and college, and I only wish that
all of the kind, sensible, useful letters he wrote me had been
My memory as to the move from Baltimore, which occurred in 1852, is
very dim. I think the family went to Arlington to remain until my
father had arranged for our removal to the new home at West Point.
My recollection of my father as Superintendent of the West Point
Military Academy is much more distinct. He lived in the house which
is still occupied by the Superintendent. It was built of stone,
large and roomy, with gardens, stables, and pasture lots. We, the
two youngest children, enjoyed it all. "Grace Darling" and "Santa
Anna" were there with us, and many a fine ride did I have with my father
in the afternoons, when, released from his office, he would mount his
old mare and, with Santa Anna carrying me by his side, take a five or
ten-mile trot. Though the pony cantered delightfully, he would make
me keep him in a trot, saying playfully that the hammering sustained
was good for me. We rode the dragoon-seat, no posting, and until I
became accustomed to it I used to be very tired by the time I got back.
My father was the most punctual man I ever knew. He was always ready
for family prayers, for meals, and met every engagement, social or
business, at the moment. He expected all of us to be the same, and
taught us the use and necessity of forming such habits for the
convenience of all concerned. I never knew him late for Sunday service
at the Post Chapel. He used to appear some minutes before the rest
of us, in uniform, jokingly rallying my mother for being late, and for
forgetting something at the last moment. When he could wait no longer
for her, he would say that he was off and would march along to church
by himself, or with any of the children who were ready. There he sat
very straight--well up the middle aisle--and, as I remember, always
became very sleepy, and sometimes even took a little nap during the
sermon. At that time, this drowsiness of my father's was something
awful to me, inexplicable. I know it was very hard for me to keep
awake, and frequently I did not; but why he, who to my mind could do
everything right, without any effort, should sometimes be overcome,
I could not understand, and did not try to do so.
It was against the rules that the cadets should go beyond certain limits
without permission. Of course they did go sometimes, and when caught
were given quite a number of "demerits." My father was riding out
one afternoon with me, and, while rounding a turn in the mountain road
with a deep woody ravine on one side, we came suddenly upon three
cadets far beyond the limits. They immediately leaped over a low wall
on the side of the road and disappeared from our view.
We rode on for a minute in silence; then my father said: "Did you know
those young men? But no; if you did, don't say so. I wish boys would
do what was right, it would be so much easier for all parties!"
He knew he would have to report them, but, not being sure of who they
were, I presume he wished to give them the benefit of the doubt. At
any rate, I never heard any more about it. One of the three asked me
the next day if my father had recognised them, and I told him what
By this time I had become old enough to have a room to myself, and,
to encourage me in being useful and practical, my father made me attend
to it, just as the cadets had to do with their quarters in barracks
and in camp. He at first even went through the form of inspecting it,
to see if I had performed my duty properly, and I think I enjoyed this
until the novelty wore off. However, I was kept at it, becoming in
time very proficient, and the knowledge so acquired has been of great
use to me all through life.
My father always encouraged me in every healthy outdoor exercise and
sport. He taught me to ride, constantly giving me minute instructions,
with the reasons for them. He gave me my first sled, and sometimes
used to come out where we boys were coasting to look on. He gave me
my first pair of skates, and placed me in the care of a trustworthy
person, inquiring regularly how I progressed. It was the same with
swimming, which he was very anxious I should learn in a proper manner.
Professor Bailey had a son about my age, now himself a professor at
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, who became my great chum.
I took my first lesson in the water with him, under the direction and
supervision of his father. My father inquired constantly how I was
getting along, and made me describe exactly my method and stroke,
explaining to me what he considered the best way to swim, and the
I went to day-school at West Point, and had always a sympathetic helper
in my father. often he would come into the room where I studied at
night, and, sitting down by me, would show me how to overcome a hard
sentence in my Latin reader or a difficult sum in arithmetic, not by
giving me the translation of the troublesome sentence or the answer
to the sum, but by showing me, step by step, the way to the right
solutions. He was very patient, very loving, very good to me, and
I remember trying my best to please him in my studies. When I was
able to bring home a good report from my teacher, he was greatly
pleased, and showed it in his eye and voice, but he always insisted
that I should get the "maximum," that he would never be perfectly
satisfied with less. That I did sometimes win it, deservedly, I know
was due to his judicious and wise method of exciting my ambition and
perseverance. I have endeavoured to show how fond my father was of
his children, and as the best picture I can offer of his loving, tender
devotion to us all, I give here a letter from him written about this
time to one of his daughters who was staying with our grandmother,
Mrs. Custis, at Arlington:
"West Point, February 25, 1853
"My Precious Annie: I take advantage of your gracious permission to
write to you, and there is no telling how far my feelings might carry
men were I not limited by the conveyance furnished by the Mim's [His
pet name for my mother] letter, which lies before me, and which must,
the Mim says so, go in this morning's mail. But my limited time does
not diminish my affection for you, Annie, nor prevent my thinking of
you and wishing for you. I long to see you through the dilatory nights.
At dawn when I rise, and all day, my thoughts revert to you in
expressions that you cannot hear or I repeat. I hope you will always
appear to me as you are now painted on my heart, and that you will
endeavor to improve and so conduct yourself as to make you happy and
me joyful all our lives. Diligent and earnest attention to ALL your
duties can only accomplish this. I am told you are growing very tall,
and I hope very straight. I do not know what the Cadets will say if
the Superintendent's CHILDREN do not practice what he demands of them.
They will naturally say he had better attend to his own before he
corrects other people's children, and as he permits his to stoop it
is hard he will not allow them. You and Agnes [His third daughter]
must not, therefore, bring me into discredit with my young friends,
or give them reason to think that I require more of them than of my
own. I presume your mother has told all about us, our neighbors, and
our affairs. And indeed she may have done that and not said much
either, so far as I know. But we are all well and have much to be
grateful for. To-morrow we anticipate the pleasure of your brother's
[His son, Custis] company, which is always a source of pleasure to us.
It is the only time we see him, except when the Corps come under my
view at some of their exercises, when my eye is sure to distinguish
him among his comrades and follow him over the plain. Give much love
to your dear grandmother, grandfather, Agnes, Miss Sue, Lucretia, and
all friends, including the servants. Write sometimes, and think always
R. E. Lee."
In a letter to my mother written many years previous to this time, he
"I pray God to watch over and direct our efforts in guarding our dear
little son....Oh, what pleasure I lose in being separated from my
children! Nothing can compensate me for that...."
In another letter of about the same time:
"You do not know how much I have missed you and the children, my dear
Mary. To be alone in a crowd is very solitary. In the woods, I feel
sympathy with the trees and birds, in whose company I take delight,
but experience no pleasure in a strange crowd. I hope you are all
well and will continue so, and, therefore, must again urge you to be
very prudent and careful of those dear children. If I could only get
a squeeze at that little fellow, turning up his sweet mouth to 'keese
baba!' You must not let him run wild in my absence, and will have to
exercise firm authority over all of them. This will not require
severity or even strictness, but constant attention and an unwavering
course. Mildness and forbearance will strengthen their affection for
you, while it will maintain your control over them."
In a letter to one of his sons he writes as follows:
"I cannot go to bed, my dear son, without writing you a few lines, to
thank you for your letter, which gave me great pleasure....You and
Custis must take great care of your kind mother and dear sisters when
your father is dead. To do that you must learn to be good. Be true,
kind and generous, and pray earnestly to God to enable you to keep
His Commandments 'and walk in the same all the days of your life.' I
hope to come on soon to see that little baby you have got to show me.
You must give her a kiss for me, and one to all the children, to your
mother, and grandmother"
The expression of such sentiments as these was common to my father all
through his life, and to show that it was all children, and not his
own little folk alone that charmed and fascinated him, I quote from
a letter to my mother:
"...I saw a number of little girls all dressed up in their white frocks
and pantalets, their hair plaited and tied up with ribbons, running
and chasing each other in all directions. I counted twenty-three
nearly the same size. As I drew up my horse to admire the spectacle,
a man appeared at the door with the twenty-fourth in his arms.
"'My friend,' said I, 'are all these your children?'
"'Yes,' he said, 'and there are nine more in the house, and this is
"Upon further inquiry, however, I found that they were only temporarily
his, and that they were invited to a party at his house. He said,
however, he had been admiring them before I came up, and just wished
that he had a million of dollars, and that they were all his in reality.
I do not think the eldest exceeded seven or eight years old. It was
the prettiest sight I have seen in the west, and, perhaps, in my
As Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point my father had
to entertain a good deal, and I remember well how handsome and grand
he looked in uniform, how genial and bright, how considerate of
everybody's comfort of mind and body. He was always a great favourite
with the ladies, especially the young ones. His fine presence, his
gentle, courteous manners and kindly smile put them at once at ease
Among the cadets at this time were my eldest brother, Custis, who
graduated first in his class in 1854, and my father's nephew, Fitz.
Lee, a third classman, besides other relatives and friends. Saturday
being a half-holiday for the cadets, it was the custom for all social
events in which they were to take part to be placed on that afternoon
or evening. Nearly every Saturday a number of these young men were
invited to our house to tea, or supper, for it was a good, substantial
meal. The misery of some of these lads, owing to embarrassment,
possibly from awe of the Superintendent, was pitiable and evident
even to me, a boy of ten or eleven years old. But as soon as my father
got command, as it were, of the situation, one could see how quickly
most of them were put at their ease. He would address himself to
the task of making them feel comfortable and at home, and his genial
manner and pleasant ways at once succeeded.
In the spring of '53 my grandmother, Mrs. Custis, died. This was the
first death in our immediate family. She was very dear to us, and
was admired, esteemed and loved by all who had ever known her. Bishop
Meade, of Virginia, writes of her:
"Mrs. Mary Custis, of Arlington, the wife of Mr. Washington Custis,
grandson of Mrs. General Washington was the daughter of Mr. William
Fitzhugh, of Chatham. Scarcely is there a Christian lady in our
land more honoured than she was, and none more loved and esteemed.
For good sense, prudence, sincerity, benevolence, unaffected piety,
disinterested zeal in every good work, deep humarity and retiring
modesty--for all the virtues which adorn the wife, the mother, and
the friend--I never knew her superior."
In a letter written to my mother soon after this sad event my father
"May God give you strength to enable you to bear and say, 'His will be
done.' She has gone from all trouble, care and sorrow to a holy
immortality, there to rejoice and praise forever the God and Saviour
she so long and truly served. Let that be our comfort and that our
consolation. May our death be like hers, and may we meet in happiness
In another letter about the same time he writes:
"She was to me all that a mother could be, and I yield to none in
admiration for her character, love for her virtues, and veneration for
At this time, my father's family and friends persuaded him to allow
R. S. Weir, Professor of Painting and Drawing at the Academy, to paint
his portrait. As far as I remember, there was only one sitting, and
the artist had to finish it from memory or from the glimpses he
obtained as his subject in the regular course of their daily lives at
"The Point." This picture shows my father in the undress uniform of
a Colonel of Engineers [His appointment of Superintendent of the
Military Academy carried with it the temporary rank of Colonel of
Engineers], and many think it a very good likeness. To me, the
expression of strength peculiar to his face is wanting, and the mouth
fails to portray that sweetness of disposition so characteristic of
his countenance. Still, it was like him at that time. My father never
could bear to have his picture taken, and there are no likenesses of
him that really give his sweet expression. Sitting for a picture was
such a serious business with him that he never could "look pleasant."
In 1855 my father was appointed to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the
Second Cavalry, one of the two regiments just raised. He left West
Point to enter upon his new duties, and his family went to Arlington
to live. During the fall and winter of 1855 and '56, the Second Cavalry
was recruited and organised at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, under the
direction of Colonel Lee, and in the following spring was marched to
western Texas, where it was assigned the duty of protecting the settlers
in that wild country.
I did not see my father again until he came to my mother at Arlington
after the death of her father, G. W. P. Custis, in October 1857. He
took charge of my mother's estate after her father's death, and
commenced at once to put it in order--not an easy task, as it consisted
of several plantations and many negroes. I was at a boarding-school,
after the family returned to Arlington, and saw my father only during
the holidays, if he happened to be at home. He was always fond of
farming, and took great interest in the improvements he immediately
began at Arlington relating to the cultivation of the farm, to the
buildings, roads, fences, fields, and stock, so that in a very short
time the appearance of everything on the estate was improved. He often
said that he longed for the time when he could have a farm of his
own, where he could end his days in quiet and peace, interested in
the care and improvement of his own land. This idea was always with
him. In a letter to his son, written in July, '65, referring to some
proposed indictments of prominent Confederates, he says:
"...As soon as I can ascertain their intention toward me, if not
prevented, I shall endeavour to procure some humble, but quiet abode
for your mother and sisters, where I hope they can be happy. As I
before said, I want to get in some grass country where the natural
product of the land will do much for my subsistence...."
Again in a letter to his son, dated October, 1865, after he had accepted
the presidency of Washington College, Lexington, Virginia:
"I should have selected a more quiet life and a more retired abode than
Lexington. I should have preferred a small farm, where I could have
earned my daily bread."
About this time I was given a gun of my own and was allowed to go
shooting by myself. My father, to give me an incentive, offered a
reward for every crow-scalp I could bring him, and, in order that I
might get to work at once, advanced a small sum with which to buy powder
and shot, this sum to be returned to him out of the first scalps
obtained. My industry and zeal were great, my hopes high, and by good
luck I did succeed in bagging two crows about the second time I went
out. I showed them with great pride to my father, intimating that I
should shortly be able to return him his loan, and that he must be
prepared to hand over to me very soon further rewards for my skill.
His eyes twinkled, and his smile showed that he had strong doubts of
my making an income by killing crows, and he was right, for I never
killed another, though I tried hard and long.
I saw but little of my father after we left West Point. He went to
Texas, as I have stated, in '55 and remained until the fall of '57,
the time of my grandfather's death. He was then at Arlington about
a year. Returning to his regiment, he remained in Texas until the
autumn of '59, when he came again to Arlington, having applied for
leave in order to finish the settling of my grandfather's estate.
During this visit he was selected by the Secretary of War to suppress
the famous "John Brown Raid," and was sent to Harper's Ferry in command
of the United States troops.
From his memorandum book the following entries were taken:
"October 17, 1859. Received orders from the Secretary of War in person,
to repair in evening train to Harper's Ferry.
"Reached Harper's Ferry at 11 P.M.... Posted marines in the United
States Armory. Waited until daylight, as a number of citizens were
held as hostages, whose lives were threatened. Tuesday about sunrise,
with twelve marines, under Lieutenant Green, broke in the door of the
engine-house, secured the insurgents, and relieved the prisoners
unhurt. All the insurgents killed or mortally wounded, but four,
John Brown, Stevens, Coppie, and Shields."
Brown was tried and convicted and sentenced to be hanged on December 2,
1859. Colonel Lee writes as follows to his wife:
"Harper's Ferry, December 1, 1859.
"I arrived here, dearest Mary, yesterday about noon, with four companies
from Fort Monroe, and was busy all the evening and night getting
accommodation for the men, etc., and posting sentinels and piquets to
insure timely notice of the approach of the enemy. The night has
passed off quietly. The feelings of the community seem to be calmed
down, and I have been received with every kindness. Mr. Fry is among
the officers from Old Point. There are several young men, former
acquaintances of ours, as cadets, Mr. Bingham of Custis's class, Sam
Cooper, etc., but the senior officers I never met before, except
Captain Howe, the friend of our Cousin Harriet R---.
"I presume we are fixed her till after the 16th. To-morrow will
probably be the last of Captain Brown. There will be less interest
for the others, but still I think the troops will not be withdrawn
till they are similarly disposed of.
"Custis will have informed you that I had to go to Baltimore the evening
I left you, to make arrangements for the transportation of the
troops.... This morning I was introduced to Mrs. Brown, who, with a
Mrs. Tyndall and a Mr. And Mrs. McKim, all from Philadelphia, had come
on to have a last interview with her husband. As it is a matter over
which I have no control I referred them to General Taliaferro [General
William B. Taliaferro, commanding Virginia troops at Harper's Ferry].
"You must write to me at this place. I hope you are all well. Give
love to everybody. Tell Smith [Sydney Smith Lee, of the United States
Navy, his brother] that no charming women have insisted on taking care
of me as they are always doing of him--I am left to my own resources.
I will write you again soon, and will always be truly and affectionately
"Mrs. M. C. Lee. R. E. Lee"
In February, 1860, he was ordered to take command of the Department
of Texas. There he remained a year. The first months after his arrival
were spent in the vain pursuit of the famous brigand, Cortinez, who
was continually stealing across the Rio Grande, burning the homes,
driving off the stock of the ranchmen, and then retreating into Mexico.
The summer months he spent in San Antonio, and while there interested
himself with the good people of that town in building an Episcopal
church, to which he contributed largely.
The Confederate General
Resigns from Colonelcy of First United States Cavalry--Motives for this
step--Chosen to command Virginia forces--Anxiety about his wife, family,
and possessions--Chief advisor to President Davis--Battle of Manassas--
Military operations in West Virginia--Letter to State Governor
In February, 1861, after the secession of Texas, my father was ordered
to report to General Scott, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States
Army. He immediately relinquished the command of his regiment, and
departed from Fort Mason, Texas, for Washington. He reached Arlington
March 1st. April 17th, Virginia seceded. On the 18th Colonel Lee had
a long interview with General Scott. On April 20th he tendered his
resignation of his commission in the United States Army. The same day
he wrote to General Scott the following letter:
"Arlington, Virginia, April 20, 1861.
"General: Since my interview with you on the 18th inst. I have felt
that I ought no longer to retain my commission in the Army. I therefore
tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for
acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle
it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted
the best years of my life, and all the ability I possessed.
"During the whole of that time--more than a quarter of a century--I
have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors and a most
cordial friendship from my comrades. To no one, General, have I been
as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness and consideration,
and it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation. I
shall carry tot he grave the most grateful recollections of your kind
consideration, and your name and fame shall always be dear to me.
"Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw
"Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continuance of
your happiness and prosperity, and believe me most truly yours,
"R. E. Lee"
His resignation was written the same day.
"Arlington, Washington City P.O., April 20, 1861.
"Honourable Simon Cameron, Secretary of War.
"Sir: I have the honour to tender the resignation of my command as
Colonel of the First Regiment of Cavalry.
"Very respectfully your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee,
"Colonel First Cavalry."
To show further his great feeling in thus having to leave the army
with which he had been associated for so long, I give two more letters,
one to his sister, Mrs. Anne Marshall, of Baltimore, the other to his
brother, Captain Sydney Smith Lee, of the United States Navy:
"Arlington, Virginia, April 20, 1861.
"My Dear Sister: I am grieved at my inability to see you.... I have
been waiting for a 'more convenient season,' which has brought to many
before me deep and lasting regret. Now we are in a state of war which
will yield to nothing. The whole South is in a state of revolution,
into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though
I recognise no necessity for this state of things, and would have
forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or
supposed, yet in my own person I had to meet the question whether I
should take part against my native State.
"With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty
of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to
raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have
therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of
my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may
never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword. I
know you will blame me; but you must think as kindly of me as you can,
and believe that I have endeavoured to do what I thought right.
"To show you the feeling and struggle it has cost me, I send you a
copy of my letter of resignation. I have no time for more. May God
guard and protect you and yours, and shower upon you everlasting
blessings, is the prayer of your devoted brother, R. E. Lee."
"Arlington, Virginia, April 20, 1860.
"My Dear Brother Smith: The question which was the subject of my
earnest consultation with you on the 18th inst. has in my own mind
been decided. After the most anxious inquiry as to the correct course
for me to pursue, I concluded to resign, and sent in my resignation
this morning. I wished to wait till the Ordinance of secession should
be acted on by the people of Virginia; but war seems to have commenced,
and I am liable at any time to be ordered on duty which I could not
conscientiously perform. To save me from such a position, and to
prevent the necessity of resigning under orders, I had to act at once,
and before I could see you again on the subject, as I had wished. I
am now a private citizen, and have no other ambition than to remain
at home. Save in defense of my native State, I have no desire ever
again to draw my sword. I send you my warmest love.
"Your affectionate brother,
"R. E. Lee."
I will give here one of my father's letters, written after the war,
in which is his account of his resignation from the United States
"Lexington, Virginia, February 25, 1868.
"Honourable Reverdy Johnson,
"United States Senate, Washington, D. C.
"My Dear Sir: My attention has been called to the official report of
the debate in the Senate of the United States, on the 19th instant,
in which you did my the kindness to doubt the correctness of the
statement made by the Honourable Simon Cameron, in regard to myself.
I desire that you may feel certain of my conduct on the occasion
referred to, so far as my individual statement can make you. I never
intimated to any one that I desired the command of the United States
Army; nor did I ever have a conversation with but one gentleman, Mr.
Francis Preston Blair, on the subject, which was at his invitation,
and, as I understood, at the instance of President Lincoln. After
listening to his remarks, I declined the offer that he made me, to
take command of the army that was to be brought into the field; stating,
as candidly and courteously as I could, that, though opposed to
secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of
the Southern States. I went directly from the interview with Mr. Blair
to the office of General Scott; told him of the proposition that had
been made to me, and my decision. Upon reflection after returning
to my home, I concluded that I ought no longer to retain the commission
I held in the United States Army, and on the second morning thereafter
I forwarded my resignation to General Scott. At the time, I hoped
that peace would have been preserved; that some way would have been
found to save the country from the calamities of war; and I then had
no other intention than to pass the remainder of my life as a private
citizen. Two days afterward, upon the invitation of the Governor of
Virginia, I repaired to Richmond; found that the Convention then in
session had passed the ordinance withdrawing the State from the Union;
and accepted the commission of commander of its forces, which was
"These are the ample facts of the case, and they show that Mr. Cameron
has been misinformed.
"I am with great respect,
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
My father reached Richmond April 22, 1861. The next day he was
introduced to the Virginia Convention, and offered by them the command
of the military forces of his State. In his reply to Mr. John Janney,
the President, who spoke for the Convention, he said:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: Deeply impressed
with the solemnity of the occasion on which I appear before you, and
profoundly grateful for the honour conferred upon me, I accept the
position your partiality has assigned me, though I would greatly have
preferred your choice should have fallen on one more capable.
"Trusting to Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my
fellow citizens, I will devote myself to the defense and service of
my native State, in whose behalf alone would I have ever drawn my
On April 26th, from Richmond, he wrote to his wife:
"...I am very anxious about you. You have to move and make arrangements
to go to some point of safety, which you must select. The Mount Vernon
plate and pictures ought to be secured. Keep quiet while you remain
and in your preparation. War is inevitable, and there is no telling
when it will burst around you. Virginia, yesterday, I understand,
joined the Confederate States. What policy they may adopt I cannot
conjecture. May God bless and preserve you, and have mercy upon all
our people, is the constant prayer of your affectionate husband,
"R. E. Lee."
On April 30th:
"On going to my room last night I found my trunk and sword there, and
opening them this morning discovered the package of letters and was
very glad to learn you were all well and as yet peaceful. I fear
the latter state will not continue long.... I think therefore you
had better prepare all things for removal, that is, the plate,
pictures, etc., and be prepared at any moment. Where to go is the
difficulty. When the war commences no place will be exempt, in my
opinion, and indeed all the avenues into the State will be the scenes
of military operations.
"There is no prospect or intention of the Government to propose a truce.
Do not be deceived by it.... May God preserve you all and bring peace
to our distracted country."
Again to my mother at Arlington:
"Richmond, May 2, 1861.
"My dear Mary: I received last night your letter of the 1st, with
contents. It gave me great pleasure to learn that you are all well
and in peace. You know how pleased I should be to have you and my
dear daughters with me. That I fear can not be. There is no place
that I can expect to be but in the field, and there is no rest for
me to look to. but I want you to be in a place of safety.... We
have only to be resigned to God's will and pleasure, and do all we
can for our protection.... I have just received Custis's letter of
the 30th, inclosing the acceptance of my resignation. It is stated
that it will take effect April 25th. I resigned on the 20th, and
wished it to take effect that day. I cannot consent to its running
on further, and he must receive no pay, if they tender it, beyond
that day, but return the whole, if need be...."
From another letter to my mother, dated May 8th:
"...I grieve at the necessity that drives you from your home. I can
appreciate your feelings on the occasion, and pray that you may receive
comfort and strength in the difficulties that surround you. When I
reflect upon the calamity impending over the country, my own sorrows
sink into insignificance.... Be content and resigned to God's will.
I shall be able to write seldom. Write to me, as you letters will be
my greatest comfort. I send a check for $500; it is all I have in
bank. Pay the children's school expenses...."
To my mother, still at Arlington:
"Richmond, May 11, 1861.
"I have received your letter of the 9th from Arlington. I had supposed
you were at Ravensworth.... I am glad to hear that you are at peace,
and enjoying the sweet weather and beautiful flowers. You had better
complete your arrangements and retire further from the scene of war.
It may burst upon you at any time. It is sad to think of the
devastation, if not ruin, it may bring upon a spot so endeared to us.
But God's will be done. We must be resigned. May He guard and keep
you all, is my constant prayer."
All this time my father was very hard at work organising and equipping
the volunteers who were pouring into Richmond from the Southern States,
but he was in constant correspondence with my mother, helping her all
he could in her arrangements for leaving her home. His letters show
that he thought of everything, even the least, and he gave the most
particular directions about his family, their effects, the servants,
the horses, the farm, pictures, plate, and furniture. Being called
to Norfolk suddenly, before going he wrote to my mother:
"Richmond, May 16, 1861.
"My Dear Mary: I am called down to Norfolk and leave this afternoon.
I expect to return Friday, but may be delayed. I write to advise
you of my absence, in case you should not receive answers to any
letters that may arrive. I have not heard from you since I last
wrote; nor have I anything to relate. I heard from my dear little
Rob, who had an attack of chills and fever. He hoped to escape the
next paroxysm.... I witnessed the opening of the convention [The
Episcopal Convention of the Diocese of Virginia] yesterday, and
heard the good Bishop's [Bishop Meade, of Virginia] sermon, being
the 50th anniversary of his ministry. It was a most impressive scene,
and more than once I felt the tears coming down my cheek. It was
from the text, 'and Pharoh said unto Jacob, how old art thou?' It
was full of humility and self-reproach. I saw Mr. Walker, Bishop
Johns, Bishop Atkinson, etc. I have not been able to attend any
other services, and presume the session will not be prolonged. I
suppose it may be considered a small attendance. Should Custis
arrive during my absence, I will leave word for him to take my room
at the Spotswood till my return. Smith [His brother, S. S. Lee,
C. S. N.] is well and enjoys a ride in the afternoon with Mrs.
Stannard. The charming women, you know, always find him out. Give
much love to Cousin Anna, Nannie, and dear daughters. When Rob leaves
the University take him with you.
"Truly and affectionately, R. E. Lee."
By this time my mother and all the family had left Arlington. My
brother, Custis, had joined my father in Richmond, the girls had
gone to Fauquier county, to visit relatives, and my mother to
Ravensworth, about ten miles from Arlington towards Fairfax Court
House, where her aunt, Mrs. A. M. Fitzhugh, lived. Always considerate
of the happiness and comfort of others, my father feared that his
wife's presence at Ravensworth might possibly bring annoyance to
"Cousin Anna," as he called our aunt, and he wrote to my mother,
urging her not to remain there. He sympathised with her in having
to leave her home, which she never saw again.
"Richmond, May 25, 1861.
"I have been trying, dearest Mary, ever since the receipt of your
letter by Custis, to write to you. I sympathise deeply in your feelings
at leaving your dear home. I have experienced them myself, and they
are constantly revived. I fear we have not been grateful enough for
the happiness there within our reach, and our Heavenly Father has found
it necessary to deprive us of what He has given us. I acknowledge
my ingratitude, my transgressions, and my unworthiness, and submit
with resignation to what he thinks proper to inflict upon me. We must
trust all then to him, and I do not think it prudent or right for you
to return there, while the United States troops occupy that country.
I have gone over all this ground before, and have just written Cousin
Anna on the subject.
"While writing, I received a telegram from Cousin John Goldsborough [a
cousin of Mrs. Fitzhugh], urging your departure 'South.' I suppose
he is impressed with the risk of your present position, and in addition
to the possibility, or probability, of personal annoyance to yourself,
I fear your presence may provoke annoyance in Cousin Anna. But unless
Cousin Anna goes with you, I shall be distressed about her being there
alone. If the girls went to 'Kinloch' or 'Eastern View,' you and
Cousin Anna might take care of yourselves, because you could get in
the carriage and go off in an emergency. But I really am afraid that
you may prove more harm than comfort to her. Mr. Wm. C. Rives has
just been in to say that if you and Cousin Anna will go to his house,
he will be very glad for you to stay as long as you please. That
his son has a commodious house just opposite his, unoccupied, partially
furnished; that you could, if you prefer, take that, bring up servants
and what you desire, and remain there as independent as at home....
I must now leave the matter to you, and pray that God may guard you.
I have no time for more. I know and feel the discomfort of your
position, but it cannot be helped, and we must bear our trials like
Christians.... If you and Cousin Anna choose to come here, you know
how happy we shall be to see you. I shall take the field as soon
now as I can....
"Ever yours truly and devotedly,
"R. E. Lee"
Three days later he was at Manassas, only a short distance from
Ravensworth, and he sent her this short note:
"Manassas, May 28, 1861.
"I reached here, dearest Mary, this afternoon. I am very much occupied
in examining matters, and have to go out to look over the ground.
Cousin John tempts me strongly to go down, but I never visit for
many reasons. If for no other, to prevent compromising the house,
for my visit would certainly be known.
"I have written to you fully and to Cousin Anna. I am decidedly of
the opinion that it would be better for you to leave, on your account
and Cousin Anna's. My only objection is the leaving of Cousin Anna
alone, if she will not go with you. If you prefer Richmond, go with
Nannie. Otherwise, go to the upper country, as John indicates. I
fear I cannot be with you anywhere. I do not think Richmond will be
I may as well say here, that "Cousin Anna" never did leave "Ravensworth"
during the war. She remained there, with only a few faithful servants,
and managed to escape any serious molestation. "Nannie" was Mrs.
S. S. Lee, who shortly after this time went to Richmond.
On May 25th, my father was transferred, with all the Virginia troops,
to the Confederate States Army. He ceased to be a Major-General, and
became a Brigadier. No higher rank having been created as yet in the
Confederate service. Later, when the rank was created, he was made
a full general.
By the end of May, to quote from General Long,
"Lee had organised, equipped, and sent to the field more than thirty
thousand men, and various regiments were in a forward state of
When the Confederate government moved from Montgomery to Richmond,
and President Davis took charge of all military movements, my father
was kept near him as his constant and trusted adviser. His experience
as an engineer was of great service to the young Confederacy, and he
was called upon often for advice for the location of batteries and
troops on our different defensive lines. In a letter to my mother
he speaks of one of these trips to the waters east of Richmond.
"Richmond, June 9, 1861.
"...I have just returned from a visit to the batteries and troops on
James and York rivers, etc., where I was some days. I called a few
hours at the White House. Saw Charlotte and Annie. Fitzhugh was
away, but got out of the cars as I got in. Our little boy looked
very sweet and seemed glad to kiss me good-bye. Charlotte said she
was going to prepare to leave for the summer, but had not determined
where to go. I could only see some of the servants about the house
and the stables. They were all well.... You may be aware that the
Confederate Government is established here. Yesterday I turned over
to it the command of the military and naval forces of the State, in
accordance with the proclamation of the Government and the agreement
between the State and the Confederate States. I do not know what my
position will be. I should like to retire to private life, if I
could be with you and the children, but if I can be of any service
to the State or her cause I must continue. Mr. Davis and all his
Cabinet are here.... Good-bye. Give much love to kind friends.
May God guard and bless you, them, and our suffering country, and
enable me to perform my duty. I think of you constantly. Write me
what you will do. Direct here.
"R. E. Lee."
To my mother, who was now in Fauquier County, staying at "Kinloch,"
Mr. Edward Turner's home, he writes on June 24th, from Richmond:
"...Your future arrangements are the source of much anxiety to me.
No one can say what is in the future, nor is it wise to anticipate
evil. But it is well to prepare for what may reasonably happen and
be provided for the worst. There is no saying when you can return
to your home or what may be its condition when you do return. What,
then, can you do in the meantime? To remain with friends may be
incumbent, and where can you go?... My movements are very uncertain,
and I wish to take the field as soon as certain arrangements can be
made. I may go at any moment, and to any point where it may be
necessary.... Many of our old friends are dropping in. E. P. Alexander
is here, Jimmy Hill, Alston, Jenifer, etc., and I hear that my old
colonel, A. S. Johnston, is crossing the plains from California....
"As ever, R. E. Lee."
I again quote from a letter to my mother, dated Richmond, July 12, 1861:
"...I am very anxious to get into the field, but am detained by matters
beyond my control. I have never heard of the appointment, to which
you allude, of Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate States Army,
nor have I any expectation or wish for it. President Davis holds
that position. Since the transfer of the military operations in
Virginia to the authorities of the Confederate States, I have only
occupied the position of a general in that service, with the duties
devolved on me by the President. I have been labouring to prepare
and get into the field the Virginia troops, and to strengthen, by
those from the other States, the threatened commands of Johnston,
Beauregard, Huger, Garnett, etc. Where I shall go I do not know, as
that will depend upon President Davis. As usual in getting through
with a thing, I have broken down a little and had to take my bed last
evening, but am at my office this morning and hope will soon be right
again.... My young friend Mr. Vest has just returned from a search
in the city for 'Dixie,' and says he has visited every place in
Richmond without finding it. I suppose it is exhausted. Always yours,
"R. E. Lee."
"The booksellers say 'Dixie' is not to be had in Virginia. R. E. L."
On July 21st occurred the battle of Manassas. In a letter to my mother
written on the 27th, my father says:
"...That indeed was a glorious victory and has lightened the pressure
upon our front amazingly. Do not grieve for the brave dead. Sorrow
for those they left behind--friends, relatives, and families. The
former are at rest. The latter must suffer. The battle will be
repeated there in greater force. I hope God will again smile on us
and strengthen our hearts and arms. I wished to partake in the former
struggle, and am mortified at my absence, but the President thought
it more important I should be here. I could not have done as well as
has been done, but I could have helped, and taken part in the struggle
for my home and neighbourhood. So the work is done I care not by whom
it is done. I leave to-morrow for the Northwest Army. I wished to
go before, as I wrote you, and was all prepared, but the indications
were so evident of the coming battle, and in the uncertainty of the
result, the President forbade my departure. Now it is necessary and
he consents. I cannot say for how long, but will write you.... I
inclose you a letter from Markie [Miss Martha Custis Williams--second
cousin of my mother, afterward Mrs. Admiral Carter, U.S.N.]. Write
to her if you can and thank her for her letter to me. I have not
time. My whole time is occupied, and all my thoughts and strength
are given to the cause to which my life, be it long or short, will be
devoted. Tell her not to mind the reports she sees in the papers.
They are made to injure and occasion distrust. Those that know me
will not believe them. Those that do not will not care for them. I
laugh at them. Give love to all, and for yourself accept the constant
prayers and love of truly yours,
"R. E. Lee."
It was thought best at this time to send General Lee to take command
of military operations in West Virginia. The ordinary difficulties
of a campaign in this country of mountains and bad roads were greatly
increased by incessant rains, sickness of all kinds amongst the new
troops, and the hostility of many of the inhabitants of the Southern
cause. My father's letters, which I will give here, tell of his trials
and troubles, and describe at the same time the beauty of the scenery
and some of the military movements.
About August 1st he started for his new command, and he writes to my
mother on his arrival at Huntersville, Pocahontas County, now West
"Huntersville, August 4, 1861.
"I reached here yesterday, dearest Mary, to visit this portion of the
army. The day after my arrival at Staunton, I set off for Monterey,
where the army of General Garnett's command is stationed. Two regiments
and a field-battery occupy the Alleghany Mountains in advance, about
thirty miles, and this division guards the road to Staunton. The
division here guards the road leading to the Warm Springs to Milboro
and Covington. Two regiments are advanced about twenty-eight miles
to Middle Mountain. Fitzhugh [Major W. H. F. Lee--General Lee's second
son] with his squadron is between that point and this. I have not seen
him. I understand he is well. South of here again is another column
of our enemies, making their way up the Kanawha Valley, and, from
General Wise's report, are not far from Lewisburgh. Their object seems
to be to get possession of the Virginia Central Railroad and the
Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. By the first they can approach
Richmond; by the last interrupt our reinforcements from the South.
The points from which we can be attacked are numerous, and their means
are unlimited. So we must always be on the alert. My uneasiness on
these points brought me out here. It is so difficult to get our
people, unaccustomed to the necessities of war, to comprehend and
promptly execute the measures required for the occasion. General
Jackson of Georgia commands on the Monterey line, General Loring on
this line, and General Wise, supported by General Floyd, on the Kanawha
line. The soldiers everywhere are sick. The measles are prevalent
throughout the whole army, and you know that disease leaves unpleasant
results, attacks on the lungs, typhoid, etc., especially in camp, where
accommodations for the sick are poor. I travelled from Staunton on
horseback. A part of the road, as far as Buffalo Gap, I passed over
in the summer of 1840, on my return to St. Louis, after bringing you
home. If any one had then told me that the next time I travelled
that road would have been on my present errand, I should have supposed
him insane. I enjoyed the mountains, as I rode along. The views are
magnificent--the valleys so beautiful, the scenery so peaceful.
What a glorious world Almighty God has given us. How thankless and
ungrateful we are, and how we labour to mar his gifts. I hope you
received my letters from Richmond. Give love to daughter and Mildred.
I did not see Rob as I passed through Charlottesville. He was at
the University and I could not stop."
A few days later there is another letter:
"Camp at Valley Mountain, August 9, 1861.
"I have been here, dear Mary, three days, coming from Monterey to
Huntersville and thence here. We are on the dividing ridge looking
north down the Tygart's river valley, whose waters flow into the
Monongahela and South towards the Elk River and Greenbriar, flowing
into the Kanawha. In the valley north of us lie Huttonsville and
Beverly, occupied by our invaders, and the Rich Mountains west, the
scene of our former disaster, and the Cheat Mountains east, their
present stronghold, are in full view.
"The mountains are beautiful, fertile to the tops, covered with the
richest sward of bluegrass and white clover, the inclosed fields
waving with the natural growth of timothy. The inhabitants are few
and population sparse. This is a magnificent grazing country, and all
it needs is labour to clear the mountain-sides of its great growth of
timber. There surely is no lack of moisture at this time. It has
rained, I believe, some portion of every day since I left Staunton.
Now it is pouring, and the wind, having veered around to every point
of the compass, has settled down to the northeast. What that portends
in these regions I do not know. Colonel Washington [John Augustin
Washington, great-nephew of General Washington, and Mt. Vernon's last
owner bearing that name], Captain Taylor, and myself are in one tent,
which as yet protects us. I have enjoyed the company of Fitzhugh
since I have been here. He is very well and very active, and as yet
the war has not reduced him much. He dined with me yesterday and
preserves his fine appetite. To-day he is out reconnoitering and has
the full benefit of this rain. I fear he is without his overcoat, as
I do not recollect seeing it on his saddle. I told you he had been
promoted to a major in cavalry, and is the commanding cavalry officer
on this line at present. He is as sanguine, cheerful, and hearty as
ever. I sent him some corn-meal this morning and he sent me some
butter--a mutual interchange of good things. There are but few of your
acquaintances in this army. I find here in the ranks of one company
Henry Tiffany. The company is composed principally of Baltimoreans--
George Lemmon and Douglas Mercer are in it. It is a very find company,
well drilled and well instructed. I find that our friend, J. J.
Reynolds, of West Point memory, is in command of the troops immediately
in front of us. He is a brigadier-general. You may recollect him as
the Assistant Professor of Philosophy, and lived in the cottage beyond
the west gate, with his little, pale-faced wife, a great friend of
Lawrence and Markie. He resigned on being relieved from West Point,
and was made professor of some college in the West. Fitzhugh was the
bearer of a flag the other day, and he recognised him. He was very
polite and made inquiries of us all. I am told they feel very safe
and are very confident of success. Their numbers are said to be large,
ranging from 12,000 to 30,000, but it is impossible for me to get
correct information either as to their strength or position. Our
citizens beyond this are all on their side. Our movements seem to be
rapidly communicated to them, while theirs come to us slowly and
indistinctly. I have two regiments here, with others coming up. I
think we shall shut up this road to the Central Railroad which they
strongly threaten. Our supplies come up slowly. We have plenty of
beef and can get some bread. I hope you are well and are content.
I have heard nothing of you or the children since I left Richmond.
You must write there.... The men are suffering from the measles, etc.,
as elsewhere, but are cheerful and light-hearted. The atmosphere,
when it is not raining, is delightful. You must give much love to
daughter and 'Life' [Pet names for his two daughters, Mary and Mildred].
I want to see you all very much, but I know not when that can be. May
God guard and protect you all. In Him alone is our hope. Remember
me to Ned [M. Edward Carter Turner, of Kinloch, my father's cousin]
and all at 'Kinloch' and Avenel [The house of the Berbeleys, in
Fauquier County]. Send word to Miss Lou Washington [Eldest daughter
of John Augustin Washington] that her father is sitting on his blanket
sewing the strap on his haversack. I think she out to be here to do
it. Always yours,
"R. E. Lee."
In a letter to his two daughters who were in Richmond, he writes:
"Valley Mountain, August 29, 1861.
"My Precious Daughters: I have just received your letters of the 24th
and am rejoiced to hear that you are well and enjoying the company of
your friends.... It rains here all the time, literally. There has
not been sunshine enough since my arrival to dry my clothes. Perry
[his servant--had been in the dining-room at Arlington] is my washerman,
and socks and towels suffer. But the worst of the rain is that the
ground has become so saturated with water that the constant travel on
the roads has made them almost impassable, so that I cannot get up
sufficient supplies for the troops to move. It is raining now. Has
been all day, last night, day before, and day before that, etc., etc.
But we must be patient. It is quite cool, too. I have on all my
winter clothes and am writing in my overcoat. All the clouds seem
to concentrate over this ridge of mountains, and by whatever wind they
are driven, give us rain. The mountains are magnificent. The sugar-
maples are beginning to turn already, and the grass is luxuriant.
"'Richmond' [His horse] has not been accustomed to such fare or such
treatment. But he gets along tolerably, complains some, and has not
much superfluous flesh. There has been much sickness among the men--
measles, etc.--and the weather has been unfavourable. I hope their
attacks are nearly over, and that they will come out with the sun.
Our party has kept well.... Although we may be too weak to break
through the lines, I feel well satisfied that the enemy cannot at
present reach Richmond by either of these routes, leading to Staunton,
Milborough or Covington. He must find some other way.... God Bless
you, my children, and preserve you from all harm is the constant
"Your devoted father,
"R. E. Lee."
On account of rheumatism, my mother was anxious to go to the Hot Springs
in Bath County. She was now staying at "Audley," Clarke County,
Virginia, with Mrs. Lorenzo Lewis, who had just sent her six sons into
the army. Bath County was not very far from the seat of war in western
Virginia, and my father was asked as to the safety of the Hot Springs
from occupation by the enemy. He writes as follows to my mother:
"Valley Mountain, September 1, 1861.
"I have received, dearest Mary, your letter of August 18th from Audley,
and am very glad to get news of your whereabouts.... I am very glad
you are enabled to see so many of your friends. I hope you have found
all well in your tour, and am very glad that our cousin Esther bears
the separation from all her sons so bravely. I have no doubt they
will do good service in our Southern cause, and wish they could be
placed according to their fancies.... I fear you have postponed your
visit to the Hot too late. It must be quite cold there now, judging
from the temperature here, and it has been raining in these mountains
since July 24th.... I see Fitzhugh quite often, though he is encamped
four miles from me. He is very well and not at all harmed by the
"We have a great deal of sickness among the soldiers, and now those
on the sick-list would form an army. The measles is still among them,
though I hope it is dying out. But it is a disease which though light
in childhood is severe in manhood, and prepares the system for other
attacks. The constant cold rains, with no shelter but tents, have
aggravated it. All these drawbacks, with impassable roads, have
paralysed our efforts. Still I think you will be safe at the Hot, for
the present. We are right up to the enemy on three lines, and in the
Kanawha he has been pushed beyond the Gauley.... My poor little Rob
I never hear from scarcely. He is busy, I suppose, and knows not
where to direct....
"With much affection,
"R. E. Lee."
From the same camp, to my mother, on September 9th:
"...I hope from the tone of your letter that you feel better, and
wish I could see you and be with you. I trust we may meet this fall
somewhere, if only for a little time. I have written to Robert telling
him if, after considering what I have previously said to him on the
subject of his joining the company he desires under Major Ross, he
still thinks it best for him to do so, I will not withhold my consent.
It seems he will be eighteen; I thought seventeen. I am unable to
judge for him and he must decide for himself. In reply to a recent
letter from him to me on the same subject, I said to him all I could.
I pray God to bring him to the right conclusion.... For military news,
I must refer you to the papers. You will see there more than ever
occurs, and what does occur the relation must be taken with some
allowance. Do not believe anything you see about me. There has been
no battle, only skirmishing with the outposts, and nothing done of
any moment. The weather is still unfavourable to us. The roads, or
rather tracks of mud, are almost impassable and the number of sick
"Truly and devotedly yours,
"R. E. Lee."
My mother was at the Hot Springs--I had taken her there and was with
her. I don't now remember why, but it was decided that I should return
to the University of Virginia, which opened October 1st, and continue
my course there. While at the Springs my mother received this letter
from my father:
"Valley Mount, September 17, 1861.
"I received, dear Mary, your letter of the 5th by Beverly Turner [A
son of Mr. Edward Turner, of 'Kinloch'], who is a nice young soldier.
I am pained to see find young men like him, of education and standing,
from all the old and respectable families in the State, serving in
the ranks. I hope in time they will receive their reward. I met him
as I was returning from an expedition to the enemy's works, which I
had hoped to have surprised on the morning of the 12th, both at Cheat
Mountain and on Valley River. All the attacking parties with great
labour had reached their destination, over mountains considered
impassable to bodies of troops, notwithstanding a heavy storm that
set in the day before and raged all night, in which they had to stand
up till daylight. Their arms were then unserviceable, and they in
poor condition for a fierce assault against artillery and superior
numbers. After waiting till 10 o'clock for the assault on Cheat
Mountain, which did not take place, and which was to have been the
signal for the rest, they were withdrawn, and, after waiting three
days in front of the enemy, hoping he would come out of his trenches,
we returned to our position at this place. I can not tell you my
regret and mortification at the untoward events that caused the failure
of the plan. I had taken every precaution to ensure success and counted
on it. but the Ruler of the Universe willed otherwise and sent a storm
to disconcert a well-laid plan, and to destroy my hopes. We are no
worse off now than before, except the disclosure of our plan, against
which they will guard. We met with one heavy loss which grieves me
deeply: Colonel Washington accompanied Fitzhugh on a reconnoitering
expedition, and I fear they were carried away by their zeal and
approached the enemy's pickets. The first they knew was a volley from
a concealed party within a few yards of them. Their balls passed
through the Colonel's body, then struck Fitzhugh's horse, and the
horse of one of the men was killed. Fitzhugh mounted the Colonel's
horse and brought him off. I am much grieved. He was always anxious
to go on these expeditions. This was the first day I assented. Since
I had been thrown into such intimate relations with him, I had learned
to appreciate him very highly. Morning and evening have I seen him
on his knees praying to his Maker.
"'The righteous perisheth and no man layeth it to heart, and merciful
men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away
from the evil to come.' May God have mercy on us all! I suppose you
are at the Hot Springs and will direct to you there. Our poor sick,
I know, suffer much. They bring it on themselves by not doing what
they are told. They are worse than children, for the latter can be
"R. E. Lee."
On the same day he wrote the Governor of Virginia:
"Valley Mountain, September 17, 1861.
"My Dear Governor: I received your very kind note of the 5th instant,
just as I was about to accompany General Loring's command on an
expedition to the enemy's works in front, or I would have before
thanked you for the interest you take in my welfare, and your too
flattering expressions of my ability. Indeed, you overrate me much,
and I feel humbled when I weigh myself by your standard. I am, however,
very grateful for your confidence, and I can answer for my sincerity
in the earnest endeavour I make to advance the cause I have so much
at heart, though conscious of the slow progress I make. I was very
sanguine of taking the enemy's works on last Thursday morning. I had
considered the subject well. With great effort the troops intended
for the surprise had reached their destination, having traversed twenty
miles of steep, rugged mountain paths; and the last day through a
terrible storm, which lasted all night, and in which they had to stand
drenched to the skin in cold rain. Still, their spirits were good.
When morning broke, I could see the enemy's tents on Valley River, at
the point on the Huttonsville road just below me. It was a tempting
sight. We waited for the attack on Cheat Mountain, which was to be
the signal. Till 10 A. M. the men were cleaning their unserviceable
arms. But the signal did not come. All chance for a surprise was
gone. The provisions of the men had been destroyed the preceding day
by the storm. They had nothing to eat that morning, could not hold
out another day, and were obliged to be withdrawn. The party sent to
Cheat Mountain to take that in rear had also to be withdrawn. The
attack to come off the east side failed from the difficulties in the
way; the opportunity was lost, and our plan discovered. It is a
grievous disappointment to me, I assure you. but for the rain-storm,
I have no doubt it would have succeeded. This, Governor, is for your
own eye. Please do not speak of it; we must try again. Our greatest
loss is the death of my dear friend, Colonel Washington. He and my
son were reconnoitering the front of the enemy. They came unawares
upon a concealed party, who fired upon them within twenty yards, and
the Colonel fell pierced by three balls. My son's horse received
three shots, but he escaped on the Colonel's horse. His zeal for the
cause to which he had devoted himself carried him, I fear, too far.
We took some seventy prisoners, and killed some twenty-five or thirty
of the enemy. Our loss was small besides what I have mentioned. Our
greatest difficulty is the roads. It has been raining in these
mountains about six weeks. It is impossible to get along. It is that
which has paralysed all our efforts. With sincere thanks for your
"I am very truly yours,
"R. E. Lee.
"His Excellency, Governor John Letcher."
Letters to Wife and Daughters
From Camp on Sewell's Mountain--Quotation from Colonel Taylor's book--
From Professor Wm. P. Trent--From Mr. Davis's Memorial Address--Defense
of Southern ports--Christmas, 1861--The General visits his father's
grave--Commands, under the President, all the armies of the Confederate
The season being too far advanced to attempt any further movements
away from our base of supplies, and the same reasons preventing any
advance of the Federal forces, the campaign in this part of Virginia
ended for the winter. In the Kanawha Valley, however, the enemy had
been and were quite active. Large reinforcements under General
Rosecrans were sent there to assist General Cox, the officer in command
at that point. General Loring, leaving a sufficient force to watch
the enemy at Cheat Mountain, moved the rest of his army to join the
commands of Generals Floyd and Wise, who were opposing the advance of
Cox. General Lee, about September 20th, reached General Floyd's camp,
and immediately proceeded to arrange the lines of defense. Shortly
after his arrival there he wrote to my mother at the Hot Springs:
"Camp on Sewell's Mountain,
"September 26, 1881.
"I have just received, dear Mary, your letter of the 17th and 19th
instants, with one from Robert. I have but little time for writing
to-night, and will, therefore, write to you.... Having now disposed
of business matters, I will say how glad I am to hear from you, and
to learn that you have reached the Hot in safety, with daughter and
Rob. I pray that its healing waters may benefit you all. I am glad
to hear of Charlotte and the girls, and hope all will go well with
them. I infer you received my letter before leaving Valley Mountain,
though you did not direct your letter 'via Lewisburg, Greenbrier
County,' and hence its delay. I told you of the death of Colonel
Washington. I grieve for his loss, though trust him to the mercy of
our Heavenly Father. May He have mercy on us all.
"It is raining heavily. The men are all exposed on the mountain, with
the enemy opposite to us. We are without tents, and for two nights I
have lain buttoned up in my overcoat. To-day my tent came up and I
am in it. Yet I fear I shall not sleep for thinking of the poor men.
I wrote about socks for myself. I have no doubt the yarn ones you
mention will be very acceptable to the men here or elsewhere. If you
can send them here, I will distribute them to the most needy. Tell
Rob I could not write to him for want of time. My heart is always
with you and my children. May God guard and bless you all is the
constant prayer of
"Your devoted husband,
"R. E. Lee."
To my mother, still at the Hot Springs:
"Sewell's Mountain, October 7, 1861.
"I received, dear Mary, your letter by Doctor Quintard, with the cotton
socks. Both were very acceptable, though the latter I have not yet
tried. At the time of their reception the enemy was threatening an
attack, which was continued till Saturday night, when under cover of
darkness we suddenly withdrew. Your letter of the 2d, with the yarn
socks, four pairs, was handed to me when I was preparing to follow,
and I could not at the time attend to either. But I have since, and
as I found Perry in desperate need, I bestowed a couple of pairs on
him, as a present from you. the others I have put in my trunk and
suppose they will fall to the lot of Meredith [His cook--a servant from
the White House], into the state of whose hose I have not yet inquired.
Should any sick man require them first, he shall have them, but Meredith
will have no one near to supply him but me, and will naturally expect
that attention. I hope, dear Mary, you and daughter, as well as poor
little Rob, have derived some benefit from the sanitary baths of the
Hot. What does daughter intend to do during the winter? And, indeed,
what do you? It is time you were determining. There is no prospect
of your returning to Arlington. I think you had better select some
comfortable place in the Carolinas or Georgia, and all board together.
If Mildred goes to school at Raleigh, why not go there? It is a good
opportunity to try a warmer climate for your rheumatism. If I thought
our enemies would not make a vigorous move against Richmond, I would
recommend to rent a house there. But under these circumstances I
would not feel as if you were permanently located if there. I am
ignorant where I shall be. In the field somewhere, I suspect, so I
have little hope of being with you, though I hope to be able to see
you.... I heard from Fitzhugh the other day. He is well, though his
command is greatly reduced by sickness. I wished much to bring him
with me; but there is too much cavalry on this line now, and I am
dismounting them. I could not, therefore, order more. The weather
is almost as bas here as in the mountains I left. There was a drenching
rain yesterday, and as I had left my overcoat in camp I was thoroughly
wet from head to foot. It has been raining ever since and is now
coming down with a will. But I have my clothes out on the bushes and
they will be well washed.
"The force of the enemy, by a few prisoners captured yesterday and
civilians on the road, is put down from 17,000 to 20,000. Some went
as high as 22,000. General Floyd thinks 18,000. I do not think it
exceeds 9,000 or 10,000, though it exceeds ours. I wish he had
attacked us, as I believe he would have been repulsed with great loss.
His plan was to attack us at all points at the same time. The rumbling
of his wheels, etc., was heard by our pickets, but as that was customary
at night in the moving and placing of his cannon, the officer of the
day to whom it was reported paid no particular attention to it,
supposing it to be a preparation for attack in the morning. When day
appeared, the bird had flown, and the misfortune was that the reduced
condition of our horses for want of provender, exposure to cold rains
in these mountains, and want of provisions for the men prevented the
vigorous pursuit and following up that was proper. We can only get
up provisions from day to day--which paralyses our operations.
"I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep
pace with the expectations of the editors of papers. I know they
can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish
they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than
I do and would be happy to see them have full swing. I hope something
will be done to please them. Give much love to the children and
everybody, and believe me.
"R. E. Lee."
Colonel Taylor, in his "Four Years with General Lee," says:
"We had now reached the latter days of October. The lateness of the
season and the condition of the roads precluded the idea of earnest,
aggressive operations, and the campaign in western Virginia was
"Judged from its results, it must be confessed that this series of
operations was a failure. At its conclusion, a large portion of the
State was in possession of the Federals, including the rich valleys
of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, and so remained until the close of
the war. For this, however, General Lee cannot reasonably be held
accountable. Disaster had befallen the Confederate arms, and the worst
had been accomplished before he had reached the theatre of operations;
the Alleghanies there constituted the dividing line between the hostile
forces, and in this network of mountains, sterile and rendered
absolutely impracticable by a prolonged season of rain, Nature had
provided an insurmountable barrier to operations in this transmontane
country.... It was doubtless because of similar embarrassments that
the Federal general retired, in the face of inferior numbers, to a
point near his base of supplies."
Professor William P. Trent, in his "Robert E. Lee," after describing
briefly the movements of the contending armies, writes:
"There was, then, nothing to do but to acknowledge the campaign a
failure. The Confederate Government withdrew its troops and sent them
elsewhere. Lee, whom the press abused and even former friends began
to regard as overrated, was assigned to command the Department of South
Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; and her western counties were lost to
the Old Dominion forever. It must have been a crushing blow to Lee at
the time, but he bore it uncomplainingly.... And when all is said, no
commander, however great, can succeed against bad roads, bad weather,
sickness of troops, lack of judgement and harmony among subordinates,
and a strong, alert enemy. Yet this is what Lee was expected to do."
Mr. Davis, in an address before a memorial meeting at Richmond in 1870,
speaking of General Lee in this campaign, said:
"He came back, carrying the heavy weight of defeat, and unappreciated
by the people whom he served, for they could not know, as I knew, that,
if his plans and orders had been carried out, the result would have
been victory rather than retreat. You did not know it; for I should
not have known it had he not breathed it in my ear only at my earnest
request, and begging that nothing be said about it. The clamour which
then arose followed him when he went to South Carolina, so that it
became necessary on his departure to write a letter to the Governor
of that State, telling him what manner of man he was. Yet, through
all this, with a magnanimity rarely equalled, he stood in silence,
without defending himself or allowing others to defend him, for he
was unwilling to offend any one who was wearing a sword and striking
blows for the Confederacy."
After returning to Richmond, my father resumed his position as advisor
and counsellor to Mr. Davis. From there he writes to my mother, who
had left the Hot Springs and gone on to "Shirley," on James River:
"Richmond, November 5, 1861.
"My Dear Mary: I received last night your letter of the 2d, and would
have answered it at once, but was detained with the Secretary till
after 11 P. M. I fear now I may miss the mail. Saturday evening I
tried to get down to you to spend Sunday, but could find no government
boat going down, and the passenger boats all go in the morning. I
then went to the stable and got out my horse, but it was near night
then and I was ignorant both of the road and distance and I gave it
up. I was obliged to be here Monday, and as it would have consumed
all Sunday to go and come, I have remained for better times. The
President said I could not go to-day, so I must see what can be done
to-morrow. I will come, however, wherever you are, either Shirley
or the White House, as soon as possible, and if not sooner, Saturday
at all events.... I am, as ever, Yours,
"R. E. Lee."
The day after this letter was written, my father was ordered to South
Carolina for the purpose of directing and supervising the construction
of a line of defense along the southern coast. I give here several
letters to members of his family which tell of his duties and manner
"Savannah, November 18, 1861.
"My Dear Mary: This is the first moment I have had to write to you,
and now am waiting the call to breakfast, on my way to Brunswick,
Fernandina, etc. This is my second visit to Savannah. Night before
last, I returned to Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, from Charleston,
where I have placed my headquarters, and last night came here, arriving
after midnight. I received in Charleston your letter from Shirley.
It was a grievous disappointment to me not to have seen you, but better
times will come, I hope.... You probably have seen the operations of
the enemy's fleet. Since their first attack they have been quiescent
apparently, confining themselves to Hilton Head, where they are
"I have no time for more. Love to all.
"Yours very affectionately and truly,
"R. E. Lee."
"Charleston, November 15, 1861.
"My Precious Daughter: I have received your letter forwarded to
Richmond by Mr. Powell, and I also got, while in the West, the letter
sent by B. Turner. I can write but seldom, but your letters always
give me great pleasure. I am glad you had such a pleasant visit to
'Kinloch.' I have passed a great many pleasant days there myself in
my young days. Now you must labour at your books and gain knowledge
and wisdom. Do not mind what Rob says. I have a beautiful white beard.
It is much admired. At least, much remarked on. You know I have told
you not to believe what the young men tell you. I was unable to see
your poor mother when in Richmond. Before I could get down I was
sent off here. Another forlorn hope expedition. Worse than West
Virginia.... I have much to do in this country. I have been to
Savannah and have to go again. The enemy is quiet after his conquest
of Port Royal Harbor and his whole fleet is lying there. May God guard
and protect you, my dear child, prays your
"R. E. Lee."
The above letter was written to his youngest daughter Mildred, who was
at school in Winchester, Virginia. Two of my sisters were in King
George County, Virginia, at "Clydale," the summer home of Dr. Richard
Stuart, with whose family we had been a long time intimate. From
there they had driven to "Stratford," in Westmoreland County, about
thirty miles distant, where my father was born. They had written him
of this trip, and this is his reply:
"Savannah, November 22, 1861.
"My Darling Daughters: I have just received your joint letter of
October 24th from 'Clydale.' It was very cheering to me, and the
affection and sympathy you expressed were very grateful to my feelings.
I wish indeed I could see you, be with you, and never again part from
you. God only can give me that happiness. I pray for it night and
day. But my prayers I know are not worthy to be heard. I received
your former letter in western Virginia, but had no opportunity to
reply to it. I enjoyed it, nevertheless. I am glad you do not wait
to hear from me, as that would deprive me of the pleasure of hearing
from you often. I am so pressed with business. I am much pleased at
your description of Stratford and your visit. It is endeared to me
by many recollections, and it has been always a great desire of my
life to be able to purchase it. Now that we have no other home, and
the one we so loved has been foully polluted, the desire is stronger
with me than ever. The horse-chestnut you mention in the garden was
planted by my mother. I am sorry the vault is so dilapidated. You
did not mention the spring, on of the objects of my earliest
recollections. I am very glad, my precious Agnes, that you have become
so early a riser. It is a good habit, and in these times for mighty
works advantage should be taken of every hour. I much regretted
being obliged to come from Richmond without seeing your poor mother....
This is my second visit to Savannah. I have been down the coast to
Amelia Island to examine the defenses. They are poor indeed, and I
have laid off work enough to employ our people a month. I hope our
enemy will be polite enough to wait for us. It is difficult to get
our people to realise their position.... Good-bye, my dear daughters.
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee."
To his daughter Annie:
"Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, December 8, 1861.
"My Precious Annie: I have taken the only quiet time I have been
able to find on this holy day to thank you for your letter of the 29th
ulto. One of the miseries of war is that there is no Sabbath, and
the current of work and strife has no cessation. How can we be pardoned
for all our offenses! I am glad that you have joined your mamma again
and that some of you are together at last. It would be a great
happiness to me were you all at some quiet place, remote from the
vicissitudes of war, where I could consider you safe. You must have
had a pleasant time at 'Clydale.' I hope indeed that 'Cedar Grove'
may be saved from the ruin and pillage that other places have received
at the hands of our enemies, who are pursuing the same course here as
the have practised elsewhere. Unfortunately, too, the numerous deep
estuaries, all accessible to their ships, expose the multitude of
islands to their predatory excursions, and what they leave is finished
by the negroes whose masters have deserted their plantations, subject
to visitations of the enemy. I am afraid Cousin Julia [Mrs. Richard
Stuart] will not be able to defend her home if attacked by the vandals,
for they have little respect for anybody, and if they catch the Doctor
[Doctor Richard Stuart] they will certainly send him to Fort Warren
or La Fayette. I fear, too, the Yankees will bear off their pretty
daughters. I am very glad you visited 'Chatham' [the home of the
Fitzhughs, where my grandmother Custis was born]. I was there many
years ago, when it was the residence of Judge Coulter, and some of
the avenues of poplar, so dear to your grandmama, still existed. I
presume they have all gone now. The letter that you and Agnes wrote
from 'Clydale' I replied to and sent to that place. You know I never
have any news. I am trying to get a force to make headway on our
defenses, but it comes in very slow. The people do not seem to realise
that there is a war.
"It is very warm here, if that is news, and as an evidence I inclose
some violets I plucked in the yard of a deserted house I occupy. I
wish I could see you and give them in person.... Good-bye, my precious
child. Give much love to everybody, and believe me,
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee."
From the same place, on December 2d, he writes to my mother:
"I received last night, dear Mary, your letter of the 12th, and am
delighted to learn that you are all well and so many of you are
together. I am much pleased that Fitzhugh has an opportunity to be
with you all and will not be so far removed from his home in his new
field of action. I hope to see him at the head of a find regiment
and that he will be able to do good service in the cause of his country.
If Mary and Rob get to you Christmas, you will have quite a family
party, especially if Fitzhugh is not obliged to leave his home and
sweet wife before that time. I shall think of you all on that holy
day more intensely than usual, and shall pray to the great God of
Heaven to shower His blessings upon you in this world, and to unite
you all in His courts in the world to come. With a grateful heart I
thank Him for His preservation thus far, and trust to His mercy and
kindness for the future. Oh, that I were more worthy, more thankful
for all He has done and continues to do for me! Perry and Meredith
[his two coloured servants] send their respects to all....
"Truly and affectionately,
"R. E. Lee."
From the same place, on Christmas Day, he writes to my mother:
"I cannot let this day of grateful rejoicing pass, dear Mary, without