Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son
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
1861--The General visits his father's
grave--Commands, under the President, all the armies of the Confederate
The season being too far advanced to attempt any further movements
away from our base of supplies, and the same reasons preventing any
advance of the Federal forces, the campaign in this part of Virginia
ended for the winter. In the Kanawha Valley, however, the enemy had
been and were quite active. Large reinforcements under General
Rosecrans were sent there to assist General Cox, the officer in command
at that point. General Loring, leaving a sufficient force to watch
the enemy at Cheat Mountain, moved the rest of his army to join the
commands of Generals Floyd and Wise, who were opposing the advance of
Cox. General Lee, about September 20th, reached General Floyd's camp,
and immediately proceeded to arrange the lines of defense. Shortly
after his arrival there he wrote to my mother at the Hot Springs:
"Camp on Sewell's Mountain,
"September 26, 1881.
"I have just received, dear Mary, your letter of the 17th and 19th
instants, with one from Robert. I have but little time for writing
to-night, and will, therefore, write to you.... Having now disposed
of business matters, I will say how glad I am to hear from you, and
to learn that you have reached the Hot in safety, with daughter and
Rob. I pray that its healing waters may benefit you all. I am glad
to hear of Charlotte and the girls, and hope all will go well with
them. I infer you received my letter before leaving Valley Mountain,
though you did not direct your letter 'via Lewisburg, Greenbrier
County,' and hence its delay. I told you of the death of Colonel
Washington. I grieve for his loss, though trust him to the mercy of
our Heavenly Father. May He have mercy on us all.
"It is raining heavily. The men are all exposed on the mountain, with
the enemy opposite to us. We are without tents, and for two nights I
have lain buttoned up in my overcoat. To-day my tent came up and I
am in it. Yet I fear I shall not sleep for thinking of the poor men.
I wrote about socks for myself. I have no doubt the yarn ones you
mention will be very acceptable to the men here or elsewhere. If you
can send them here, I will distribute them to the most needy. Tell
Rob I could not write to him for want of time. My heart is always
with you and my children. May God guard and bless you all is the
constant prayer of
"Your devoted husband,
"R. E. Lee."
To my mother, still at the Hot Springs:
"Sewell's Mountain, October 7, 1861.
"I received, dear Mary, your letter by Doctor Quintard, with the cotton
socks. Both were very acceptable, though the latter I have not yet
tried. At the time of their reception the enemy was threatening an
attack, which was continued till Saturday night, when under cover of
darkness we suddenly withdrew. Your letter of the 2d, with the yarn
socks, four pairs, was handed to me when I was preparing to follow,
and I could not at the time attend to either. But I have since, and
as I found Perry in desperate need, I bestowed a couple of pairs on
him, as a present from you. the others I have put in my trunk and
suppose they will fall to the lot of Meredith [His cook--a servant from
the White House], into the state of whose hose I have not yet inquired.
Should any sick man require them first, he shall have them, but Meredith
will have no one near to supply him but me, and will naturally expect
that attention. I hope, dear Mary, you and daughter, as well as poor
little Rob, have derived some benefit from the sanitary baths of the
Hot. What does daughter intend to do during the winter? And, indeed,
what do you? It is time you were determining. There is no prospect
of your returning to Arlington. I think you had better select some
comfortable place in the Carolinas or Georgia, and all board together.
If Mildred goes to school at Raleigh, why not go there? It is a good
opportunity to try a warmer climate for your rheumatism. If I thought
our enemies would not make a vigorous move against Richmond, I would
recommend to rent a house there. But under these circumstances I
would not feel as if you were permanently located if there. I am
ignorant where I shall be. In the field somewhere, I suspect, so I
have little hope of being with you, though I hope to be able to see
you.... I heard from Fitzhugh the other day. He is well, though his
command is greatly reduced by sickness. I wished much to bring him
with me; but there is too much cavalry on this line now, and I am
dismounting them. I could not, therefore, order more. The weather
is almost as bas here as in the mountains I left. There was a drenching
rain yesterday, and as I had left my overcoat in camp I was thoroughly
wet from head to foot. It has been raining ever since and is now
coming down with a will. But I have my clothes out on the bushes and
they will be well washed.
"The force of the enemy, by a few prisoners captured yesterday and
civilians on the road, is put down from 17,000 to 20,000. Some went
as high as 22,000. General Floyd thinks 18,000. I do not think it
exceeds 9,000 or 10,000, though it exceeds ours. I wish he had
attacked us, as I believe he would have been repulsed with great loss.
His plan was to attack us at all points at the same time. The rumbling
of his wheels, etc., was heard by our pickets, but as that was customary
at night in the moving and placing of his cannon, the officer of the
day to whom it was reported paid no particular attention to it,
supposing it to be a preparation for attack in the morning. When day
appeared, the bird had flown, and the misfortune was that the reduced
condition of our horses for want of provender, exposure to cold rains
in these mountains, and want of provisions for the men prevented the
vigorous pursuit and following up that was proper. We can only get
up provisions from day to day--which paralyses our operations.
"I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep
pace with the expectations of the editors of papers. I know they
can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish
they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than
I do and would be happy to see them have full swing. I hope something
will be done to please them. Give much love to the children and
everybody, and believe me.
"R. E. Lee."
Colonel Taylor, in his "Four Years with General Lee," says:
"We had now reached the latter days of October. The lateness of the
season and the condition of the roads precluded the idea of earnest,
aggressive operations, and the campaign in western Virginia was
"Judged from its results, it must be confessed that this series of
operations was a failure. At its conclusion, a large portion of the
State was in possession of the Federals, including the rich valleys
of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, and so remained until the close of
the war. For this, however, General Lee cannot reasonably be held
accountable. Disaster had befallen the Confederate arms, and the worst
had been accomplished before he had reached the theatre of operations;
the Alleghanies there constituted the dividing line between the hostile
forces, and in this network of mountains, sterile and rendered
absolutely impracticable by a prolonged season of rain, Nature had
provided an insurmountable barrier to operations in this transmontane
country.... It was doubtless because of similar embarrassments that
the Federal general retired, in the face of inferior numbers, to a
point near his base of supplies."
Professor William P. Trent, in his "Robert E. Lee," after describing
briefly the movements of the contending armies, writes:
"There was, then, nothing to do but to acknowledge the campaign a
failure. The Confederate Government withdrew its troops and sent them
elsewhere. Lee, whom the press abused and even former friends began
to regard as overrated, was assigned to command the Department of South
Carolina, Georgia, and
Florida; and her western counties were lost to
the Old Dominion forever. It must have been a crushing blow to Lee at
the time, but he bore it uncomplainingly.... And when all is said, no
commander, however great, can succeed against bad roads, bad weather,
sickness of troops, lack of judgement and harmony among subordinates,
and a strong, alert enemy. Yet this is what Lee was expected to do."
Mr. Davis, in an address before a memorial meeting at Richmond in 1870,
speaking of General Lee in this campaign, said:
"He came back, carrying the heavy weight of defeat, and unappreciated
by the people whom he served, for they could not know, as I knew, that,
if his plans and orders had been carried out, the result would have
been victory rather than retreat. You did not know it; for I should
not have known it had he not breathed it in my ear only at my earnest
request, and begging that nothing be said about it. The clamour which
then arose followed him when he went to South Carolina, so that it
became necessary on his departure to write a letter to the Governor
of that State, telling him what manner of man he was. Yet, through
all this, with a magnanimity rarely equalled, he stood in silence,
without defending himself or allowing others to defend him, for he
was unwilling to offend any one who was wearing a sword and striking
blows for the
After returning to Richmond, my father resumed his position as advisor
and counsellor to Mr. Davis. From there he writes to my mother, who
had left the Hot Springs and gone on to "Shirley," on James River:
"Richmond, November 5, 1861.
"My Dear Mary: I received last night your letter of the 2d, and would
have answered it at once, but was detained with the Secretary till
after 11 P. M. I fear now I may miss the mail. Saturday evening I
tried to get down to you to spend Sunday, but could find no government
boat going down, and the passenger boats all go in the morning. I
then went to the stable and got out my horse, but it was near night
then and I was ignorant both of the road and distance and I gave it
up. I was obliged to be here Monday, and as it would have consumed
all Sunday to go and come, I have remained for better times. The
President said I could not go to-day, so I must see what can be done
to-morrow. I will come, however, wherever you are, either Shirley
or the White House, as soon as possible, and if not sooner, Saturday
at all events.... I am, as ever, Yours,
"R. E. Lee."
The day after this letter was written, my father was ordered to South
Carolina for the purpose of directing and supervising the construction
of a line of defense along the southern coast. I give here several
letters to members of his family which tell of his duties and manner
"Savannah, November 18, 1861.
"My Dear Mary: This is the first moment I have had to write to you,
and now am waiting the call to breakfast, on my way to Brunswick,
Fernandina, etc. This is my second visit to
Savannah. Night before
last, I returned to Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, from
where I have placed my headquarters, and last night came here, arriving
after midnight. I received in Charleston your letter from Shirley.
It was a grievous disappointment to me not to have seen you, but better
times will come, I hope.... You probably have seen the operations of
the enemy's fleet. Since their first attack they have been quiescent
apparently, confining themselves to
Hilton Head, where they are
"I have no time for more. Love to all.
"Yours very affectionately and truly,
"R. E. Lee."
"Charleston, November 15, 1861.
"My Precious Daughter: I have received your letter forwarded to
Richmond by Mr. Powell, and I also got, while in the West, the letter
sent by B. Turner. I can write but seldom, but your letters always
give me great pleasure. I am glad you had such a pleasant visit to
'Kinloch.' I have passed a great many pleasant days there myself in
my young days. Now you must labour at your books and gain knowledge
and wisdom. Do not mind what Rob says. I have a beautiful white beard.
It is much admired. At least, much remarked on. You know I have told
you not to believe what the young men tell you. I was unable to see
your poor mother when in Richmond. Before I could get down I was
sent off here. Another forlorn hope expedition. Worse than West
Virginia.... I have much to do in this country. I have been to
Savannah and have to go again. The enemy is quiet after his conquest
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
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
some communication with you. I am thankful for the many among the
past that I have passed with you, and the remembrance of them fills
me with pleasure. For those on which we have been separated we must
not repine. Now we must be content with the many blessings we receive.
If we can only become sensible of our transgressions, so as to be fully
penitent and forgiven, that this heavy punishment under which we labour
may with justice be removed from us and the whole nation, what a
gracious consummation of all that we have endured it will be!
"I hope you had a pleasant visit to Richmond.... If you were to see
this place, I think you would have it, too. I am here but little
myself. The days I am not here I visit some point exposed to the
enemy, and after our dinner at early candle-light, am engaged in
writing till eleven or twelve o'clock at night.... AS to our old home,
if not destroyed, it will be difficult ever to be recognised. Even
if the enemy had wished to preserve it, it would almost have been
impossible. With the number of troops encamped around it, the change
of officers, etc., the want of fuel, shelter, etc., and all the dire
necessities of war, it is vain to think of its being in a habitable
condition. I fear, too, books, furniture, and the relics of Mount
Vernon will be gone. It is better to make up our minds to a general
loss. They cannot take away the remembrance of the spot, and the
memories of those that to us rendered it sacred. That will remain
to us as long as life will last, and that we can preserve. In the
absence of a home, I wish I could purchase 'Stratford.' That is the
only other place that I could go to, now accessible to us, that would
inspire me with feelings of pleasure and local love. You and the
girls could remain there in quiet. It is a poor place, but we could
make enough cornbread and bacon for our support, and the girls could
weave us clothes. I wonder if it is for sale and at how much. Ask
Fitzhugh to try to find out, when he gets to
Fredericksburg. You must
not build your hopes on peace on account of the United States going
into a war with England [on account of the
Trent affair]. She will
be very loath to do that, notwithstanding the bluster of the Northern
papers. Her rulers are not entirely mad, and if they find England is
in earnest, and that war or a restitution of their captives must be
the consequence, they will adopt the latter. We must make up our minds
to fight our battles and win our independence alone. No one will help
us. We require no extraneous aid, if true to ourselves. But we must
be patient. It is not a light achievement and cannot be accomplished
at once.... I wrote a few days since, giving you all the news, and
have now therefore nothing to relate. The enemy is still quiet and
increasing in strength. We grow in size slowly but are working hard.
I have had a day of labour instead of rest, and have written intervals
to some of the children. I hope they are with you, and inclose my
"Affectionately and truly,
"R. E. Lee."
In the next letter to my mother he describes a visit to the grave of
his father at Dungeness, on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Dungeness was
presented to General Nathaniel Green by the State of Georgia for
services rendered her in the Revolution. General Henry Lee, returning
from the West Indies, where he had been for some months on account
of his health, landed there, and in a few days died, March 15, 1818.
He was most kindly cared for by the daughter of his old commander,
and was buried there in the garden of Dungeness. At the time of my
father's visit the place belonged to a great-nephew of General Green,
"Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, January 18, 1862.
"On my return, day before yesterday, from Florida, dear Mary, I received
your letter of the 1st inst. I am very glad to find that you had a
pleasant family meeting Christmas, and that it was so large. I am
truly grateful for all the mercies we enjoy, notwithstanding the
miseries of war, and join heartily in the wish that the next year may
find us at peace with all the world. I am delighted to hear that our
little grandson [his first grandchild--son of my brother Fitzhugh. He
died in 1863] is improving so fast and is becoming such a perfect
gentleman. May his path be strewn with flowers and his life with
happiness. I am very glad to hear also that his dear papa is promoted.
It will be gratifying to him and increase, I hope, his means of
usefulness. Robert wrote me he saw him on his way through
Charlottesville with his squadron, and that he was well. While at
Fernandina I went over to Cumberland Island and walked up to
'Dungeness,' the former residence of General Green. It was my first
visit to the house, and I had the gratification at length of visiting
my father's grave. He died there, you may recollect, on his way from
the West Indies, and was interred in one corner of the family cemetery.
The spot is marked by a plain marble slab, with his name, age, and her
daughter, Mrs. Shaw, and her husband. The place is at present owned
by Mr. Nightingale, nephew of Mrs. Shaw, who married a daughter of
Mr. James King. The family have moved into the interior of Georgia,
leaving only a few servants and a white gardener on the place. The
garden was beautiful, inclosed by the finest hedge I have ever seen.
It was of the wild olive, which, in Mrs. Shaw's lifetime, during my
tour of duty in Savannah in early life, was so productive, had been
destroyed by an insect that has proved fatal to the orange on the coast
of Georgia and Florida. There was a fine grove of olives, from which,
I learn, Mr. Nightingale procures oil. The garden was filled with roses
and beautiful vines, the names of which I do not know. Among them
was the tomato-vine in full bearing, with the ripe fruit on it. There
has yet been no frost in that region of country this winter. I went
in the dining-room and parlour, in which the furniture still
remained.... The house has never been finished, but is a fine, large
one and beautifully located. A magnificent grove of live-oaks envelops
the road from the landing to the house.... Love to everybody and God
bless you all.
"Truly and faithfully yours,
"R. E. Lee."
From the same place there is another letter to my mother:
"Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, January 28, 1862.
"I have just returned from Charleston, and received your letter of
the 14th, dear Mary.... I was called to Charleston by the appearance
off the bar of a fleet of vessels the true character and intent of
which could not be discerned during the continuance of the storm which
obscured the view. Saturday, however, all doubt was dispelled, and
from the beach on Sullivan's Island the preparations for sinking them
were plainly seen. Twenty-one were visible the first day of my arrival,
but at the end of the storm, Saturday, only seventeen were seen. Five
of these were vessels of war: what became of the other four is not
known. The twelve old merchantmen were being stripped of their spars,
masts, etc., and by sunset seven were prepared apparently for sinking
across the mouth of the Maffitt Channel. they were placed in a line
about two hundred yards apart, about four miles from Fort Moultrie.
They will do but little harm to the channel, I think, but may deter
vessels from running out at night for fear of getting on them. There
now seem to be indications of a movement against Savannah. The enemy's
gunboats are pushing up the creek to cut off communication between
the city and
Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island. Unless I have better
news, I must go there to-day. There are so many points of attack,
and so little means to meet them on the water, that there is but little
rest.... Perry and Meredith are well and send regards to everybody....
"Very truly and sincerely yours,
"R. E. Lee."
It was most important that the defenses of Charleston and Savannah
should be made as strong as possible. The difficulties in the way
were many and great, but General Lee's perseverance overcame most of
them. The result was that neither of those cities fell till the
close of the war, and a region of country was preserved to the
Confederacy necessary for the feeding of its armies. Of course all
of this was not accomplished by my father alone in the four months
he was there; but the plans of defense he laid down were successfully
While in Savannah, he writes to my mother:
"Savannah, February 8, 1862.
"I wrote to you, dear Mary, the day I left Coosawhatchie for this place.
I have been here ever since, endeavouring to push forward the work
for the defense of the city, which has lagged terribly and which ought
to have been finished. But it is difficult to arouse ourselves from
ease and comfort to labour and self-denial.
"Guns are scarce, as well as ammunition, and I shall have to break up
batteries on the coast to provide, I fear, for this city. Our enemies
are endeavouring to work their way through the creeks that traverse
the impassable marshes stretching along the interior of the coast
and communicating with the sounds and sea, through which the Savannah
flows, and thus avoid the entrance of the river commanded by
Pulaski. Their boats require only seven feet of water to float them,
and the tide rises seven feet, so that at high water they can work
their way and rest on the mud at low. They are also provided with
dredges and appliancances for removing obstructions through the creeks
in question, which cannot be guarded by batteries. I hope, however,
we shall be able to stop them, and I daily pray to the Giver of all
victories to enable us to do so.... I trust you are all well and doing
well, and wish I could do anything to promote either. I have more here
than I can do, and more, I fear, than I can well accomplish. It is
so very hard to get anything done, and while all wish well and mean
well, it is so different to get them to act energetically and
promptly.... The news from Kentucky and Tennessee is not favourable,
but we must make up our minds to meet with reverses and overcome them.
I hope God will at last crown our efforts with success. But the contest
must be long and severe, and the whole country has to go through much
suffering. It is necessary we should be humbled and taught to be less
boastful, less selfish, and more devoted to right and justice to all
the world.... Always yours,
"R. E. Lee."
To my mother:
"Savannah, February 23, 1862.
"I have been wishing, dear Mary, to write to you for more than a week,
but every day and every hour seem so taken up that I have found it
impossible.... The news from Tennessee and North Carolina is not all
cheering, and disasters seem to be thickening around us. It calls
for renewed energies and redoubled strength on our part, and, I hope,
will produce it. I fear our soldiers have not realised the necessity
for the endurance and labour they are called upon to undergo, and that
it is better to sacrifice themselves than our cause. God, I hope,
will shield us and give us success. Here the enemy is progressing
slowly in his designs, and does not seem prepared, or to have determined
when or where to make his attack. His gunboats are pushing up all the
creeks and marshes of the Savannah, and have attained a position so
near the river as to shell the steamers navigating it. None have as
yet been struck. I am engaged in constructing a line of defense at
Fort Jackson which, if time permits and guns can be obtained, I hope
will keep them out. They can bring such overwhelming force in all
their movements that it has the effect to demoralise our new troops.
The accounts given in the papers of the quantity of cotton shipped to
New York are, of course, exaggerated. It is cotton in the seed and
dirt, and has to be ginned and cleaned after its arrival. It is
said that the negroes are employed in picking and collecting it, and
are paid a certain amount. But all these things are gathered from
rumour, and can only be believed as they appear probable, which this
seems to be.... I went yesterday to church, being the day appointed
for fasting and prayer. I wish I could have passed it more devoutly.
The bishop (Elliott) gave a most beautiful prayer for the President,
which I hope may be heard and answered.... Here the yellow jasmine,
red-bud, orange-tree, etc., perfume the whole woods, and the japonicas
and azaleas cover the garden. Perry and Meredith are well. May God
bless and keep you always is the constant prayer of your husband,
"R. E. Lee."
To his daughter Annie:
"Savannah, March 2, 1862.
"My Precious Annie: It has been a long time since I have written to
you, but you have been constantly in my thoughts. I think of you all,
separately and collectively, in the busy hours of the day and the
silent hours of the night, and the recollection of each and every one
whiles away the long night, in which my anxious thoughts drive away
sleep. But I always feel that you and Agnes at those times are sound
asleep, and that is immaterial to either where the blockaders are or
what their progress is in the river. I hope you are all well, and as
happy as you can be in these perilous times to our country. They look
dark at present, and it is plain we have not suffered enough, laboured
enough, repented enough, to deserve success. But they will brighten
after awhile, and I trust that a merciful God will arouse us to a sense
of our danger, bless our honest efforts, and drive back our enemies
to their homes. Our people have not been earnest enough, have thought
too much of themselves and their ease, and instead of turning out
to a man, have been content to nurse themselves and their dimes, and
leave the protection of themselves and families to others. To satisfy
their consciences, they have been clamorous in criticising what others
have done, and endeavoured to prove that they ought to do nothing.
This is not the way to accomplish our independence. I have been doing
all I can with our small means and slow workmen to defend the cities
and coast here. Against ordinary numbers we are pretty strong, but
against the hosts our enemies seem able to bring everywhere there is
no calculating. But if our men will stand to their work, we shall
give them trouble and damage them yet. They have worked their way
across the marshes, with their dredges, under cover of their gunboats,
Savannah River, about
Fort Pulaski. I presume they will
endeavour to reduce the fort and thus open a way for their vessels up
the river. But we have an interior line they must force before reaching
the city. It is on this line we are working, slowly to my anxious
mind, but as fast as I can drive them.... Good-bye, my dear child.
May God bless you and our poor country.
"Your devoted father,
"R. E. Lee."
Soon after this letter was written my father was recalled to Richmond,
"and was assigned on the 13th of March, under the direction of the
President, to the conduct of the military operations of all the armies
Confederate States" ["Four Years with General Lee"]. My mother
was still at the White House, my brother's place on the Pamunkey,
and there my father wrote to her:
"Richmond, March 14, 1862.
"My Dear Mary: I have been trying all the week to write to you, but
have not been able. I have been placed on duty here to conduct
operations under the direction of the President. It will give me great
pleasure to do anything I can to relieve him and serve the country,
but I do not see either advantage or pleasure in my duties. But I
will not complain, but do my best. I do not see at present either
that it will enable me to see much more of you. In the present
condition of affairs no one can foresee what may happen, nor in my
judgement is it advisable for any one to make arrangements with a
view to permanency or pleasure. The presence of some one at the
White House is necessary as long as practicable. How long it will
be practicable for you an Charlotte to remain there I cannot say.
The enemy is pushing us back in all directions, and how far he will
be successful depends much upon our efforts and the mercy of Providence.
I shall, in all human probability, soon have to take the field, so
for the present I think things had better remain as they are. Write
me your views. If you think it best for you to come to Richmond I
can soon make arrangements for your comfort and shall be very glad
of your company and presence. We have experienced a great affliction
both in our private and public relations. Our good and noble Bishop
Meade died last night. He was very anxious to see you, sent you his
love and kindest remembrances, and had I known in time yesterday I
should have sent expressly for you to come up. But I did not know
of his wish or condition till after the departure of the cars yesterday.
Between 6 and 7 P. M. yesterday he sent for me, said he wished to
bid me good-bye, and to give me his blessing, which he did in the
most affecting manner. Called me Robert and reverted to the time
I used to say the catechism to him. He invoked the blessing of God
upon me and the country. He spoke with difficulty and pain, but was
perfectly calm and clear. His hand was then cold and pulseless, yet
he shook mine warmly. 'I ne'er shall look upon his like again.' He
died during the night. I presume the papers of to-morrow will tell
"Very truly and sincerely,
"R. E. Lee."
The next day he again writes to my mother.
"Richmond, March 15, 1861.
"My Dear Mary: I wrote you yesterday by mail. On returning to my
quarters last night after 11 P. M. Custis informed me Robert had
arrived and had made up his mind to go into the army. He stayed at
the Spottswood, and this morning I went with him to get his overcoat,
blankets, etc. There is great difficulty in procuring what is good.
They all have to be made, and he has gone to the office of the adjutant-
general of Virginia to engage in the service. God grant it may be
for his good as He has permitted it. I must be resigned. I told him
of the exemption granted by the Secretary of War to the professors
and students of the university, but he expressed no desire to take
advantage of it. It would be useless for him to go, if he did not
improve himself, nor would I wish him to go merely for exemption. As
I have done all in the matter that seems proper and right, I must now
leave the rest in the hands of our merciful God. I hope our son will
do his duty and make a good soldier.... I had expected yesterday to
go to North Carolina this morning, but the President changed his mind.
I should like to go to see you to-morrow, but in the present condition
of things do not feel that I ought to be absent.... I may have to
go to North Carolina or
Norfolk yet. New Berne, N. C., has fallen
into the hands of the enemy. In Arkansas our troops under Van Dorn
have had a hard battle, but nothing decisive gained. Four generals
killed--McIntosh, McCullogh, Herbert, and Slack.
General Price wounded.
Loss on both sides said to be heavy....
"Very truly yours,
"R. E. Lee."