Prepared by Brett Fishburne (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 our family.
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 us saying:
“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 preserved.
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 had occurred.
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 reasons therefor.
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 of your
Affectionate father, R. E. Lee.”
In a letter to my mother written many years previous to this time, he says:
“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 the youngest.’
“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 life….”
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 with him.
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 says:
“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 Heaven.”
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 her memory.”
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 yours,
“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 my sword.
“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 Army:
“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 tendered me.
“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 sword.”
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 permanent.
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 preparation.”
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 Virginia:
“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 prayer of
“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 campaign.
“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 large….
“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 forced….
“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 good wishes,
“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 States
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 virtually concluded.
“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 of life:
“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 apparently fortifying.
“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