Chapter IV

 

This Site:

Civil War

Civil War Overview

Civil War 1861

Civil War 1862

Civil War 1863

Civil War 1864

Civil War 1865

Civil War Battles

Confederate Generals

Union Generals

Confederate History

Robert E. Lee

Civil War Medicine

Lincoln Assassination

Slavery

Site Search

Civil War Links

 

Civil War Art

Revolutionary War

Mexican War

Republic of Texas

Indians

Winslow Homer

Thomas Nast

Mathew Brady

Western Art

Civil War Gifts

Robert E. Lee Portrait

  Up | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Chapter XIII | Chapter XIV | Chapter XV | Chapter XVI | Chapter XVII | Chapter XVIII | Chapter XVIV | Chapter XX | Chapter XXI | Chapter XXII | Chapter XXIII | Chapter XXIV

Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son


Chapter IV
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

Like all the students at the university, I was wild to go into the
army, and wrote my father that I was afraid the war would be over
before I had a chance to serve.  His reply was that I need have no
fear of that contingency, that I must study hard and fit myself to
be useful to my country when I was old enough to be of real service
to her; so, very properly, I was not allowed to have my wish then.
In a letter to my mother written April, '61, he says:

"I wrote to Robert that I could not consent to take boys from their
schools and young men from their colleges and put them in the ranks
at the beginning of a war, when they are not wanted and when there
are men enough for that purpose.  The war may last ten years.  Where
are our ranks to be filled from then?  I was willing for his company
to continue at their studies, to keep up its organisation, and to
perfect themselves in their military exercises, and to perform duty
at the college; but NOT to be called into the field.  I therefore
wished him to remain.  If the exercises at the college are suspended,
he can then come home...."

But in the spring of '62 he allowed me to volunteer, and I having
selected the company I wished to join, the Rockbridge Artillery, he
gave his approval, and wrote me to come to Richmond, where he would
give me my outfit.  He was just as sweet and loving to me then as in
the old days.  I had seen so little of him during the last six years
that I stood somewhat in awe of him.  I soon found, however, that I
had no cause for such a feeling.  He took great pains in getting what
was necessary for me.  The baggage of a private in a Confederate battery
was not extensive.  How little was needed my father, even at that time,
did not know, for though he was very careful in providing me with the
least amount he thought necessary, I soon found by experience that
he had given me a great deal too much.  It was characteristic of his
consideration for others and the unselfishness of his nature, that
at this time, when weighed down, harassed and burdened by the cares
incident to bringing the untrained forces of the Confederacy into the
field, and preparing them for a struggle the seriousness of which he
knew better than any one, he should give his time and attention to
the minute details of fitting out his youngest son as a private soldier.
I think it worthy of note that the son of the commanding general
enlisting as a private in his army was not thought to be anything
remarkable or unusual.  Neither my mother, my family, my friends nor
myself expected any other course, and I do not suppose it ever occurred
to my father to think of giving me an office, which he could easily
have done.  I know it never occurred to me, nor did I ever hear, at
that time or afterwards, from anyone, that I might have been entitled
to better rank than that of a private because of my father's prominence
in Virginia and in the Confederacy.  With the good advice to be obedient
to all authority, to do my duty in everything, great or small, he bade
me good-bye, and sent me off to the Valley of Virginia, where the
command in which I was about to enlist were serving under "Stonewall
Jackson."

Of my father's military duties at this time, Colonel Taylor, in his
"Four Years with General Lee," says:

"Exercising a constant supervision over the condition of affairs at
each important point, thoroughly informed as to the resources and
necessities of the several commanders of armies in the field, as well
as of the dangers which respectively threatened them, he was enabled
to give them wise counsel, to offer them valuable suggestions, and
to respond to their demands for assistance and support to such extent
as the limited resources of the government would permit.  It was in
great measure due to his advice and encouragement that General Magruder
so stoutly and so gallantly held his lines on the Peninsula against
General McClellan until troops could be sent to his relief from General
Johnston's army.  I recollect a telegraphic despatch received by
General Lee from General Magruder, in which he stated that a council
of war which he had convened had unanimously determined that his army
should retreat, in reply to which General Lee urged him to maintain
his lines, and to make as bold a front as possible, and encouraged
him with the prospect of being reinforced.  No better illustration of
the nature and importance of the duty performed by General Lee, while
in this position, can be given than the following letter--one of a
number of similar import--written by him to General Jackson, the
'rough' or original draft of which is still in my possession:

                "'Headquarters, Richmond, Virginia, April 29, 1862.

"'Major-General T. J. Jackson, commanding, etc., Swift Run Gap,
Virginia.

"'General:  I have had the honour to receive your letter of yesterday's
date.  From the reports that reach me that are entitled to credit,
the force of the enemy opposite Fredericksburg is represented as too
large to admit of any diminution whatever of our army in that vicinity
at present, as it might not only invite an attack on Richmond, but
jeopard the safety of the army in the Peninsula.  I regret, therefore,
that your request to have five thousand men sent from that army to
reinforce you cannot be complied with.  Can you not draw enough from
the command of General Edward Johnson to warrant you in attacking
Banks?  The last return received from that army show a present force
of upward of thirty-five hundred, which, it is hoped, has since
increased by recruits and returned furloughs.  As he does not appear
to be pressed, it is suggested that a portion of his force might be
temporarily removed from its present position and made available for
the movement in question.  A decisive and successful blow at Banks's
column would be fraught with the happiest results, and I deeply regret
my inability to send you the reinforcements you ask.  If, however, you
think the combined forces of Generals Ewell and Johnson, with your
own, inadequate for the move, General Ewell might, with the assistance
of General Anderson's army near Fredericksburg, strike at McDowell's
army between that city and Acquia, with much promise of success;
provided you feel sufficiently strong alone to hold Banks in check.

                "'Very truly yours,

                             "'R. E. Lee.'

"The reader will observe that this letter bears the date 'April 29,
1862.'  On May 5th or 6th, General Jackson formed a junction between
his own command and that of General Edward Johnson; on May 8th, he
defeated Milroy at McDowell.  Soon thereafter, the command of General
Ewell was united to that already under Jackson, and on the 25th of
the same month Banks was defeated and put to flight.  Other incidents
might be cited to illustrate this branch of the important service
rendered at this period by General Lee.  The line of earthworks around
the city of Richmond, and other preparations for resisting an attack,
testified to the immense care and labour bestowed upon the defense
of the capital, so seriously threatened by the army of General
McClellan
."

On May 31st, the battle of Seven Pines was fought, and General Joseph
E. Johnston
, commanding the Confederate Army, was severely wounded.
The next day, by order of the President, General Lee took command
of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The day after the battle of Cold Harbor, during the "Seven Days"
fighting around Richmond, was the first time I met my father after I
had joined General Jackson.  The tremendous work Stonewall's men had
performed, including the rapid march from the Valley of Virginia, the
short rations, the bad water, and the great heat, had begun to tell
upon us, and I was pretty well worn out.  On this particular morning,
my battery had not moved from its bivouac ground of the previous night,
but was parked in an open field all ready, waiting orders.  Most of
the men were lying down, many sleeping, myself among the latter number.
To get some shade and to be out of the way, I had crawled under a
caisson, and was busy making up many lost hours of rest.  Suddenly
I was rudely awakened by a comrade, prodding me with a sponge-staff
as I had failed to be aroused by his call, and was told to get up and
come out, that some one wished to see me.  Half awake, I staggered
out, and found myself face to face with General Lee and his staff.
Their fresh uniforms, bright equipments and well-groomed horses
contrasted so forcibly with the war-worn appearance of our command
that I was completely dazed.  It took me a moment or two to realise
what it all meant, but when I saw my father's loving eyes and smile
it became clear to me that he had ridden by to see if I was safe and
to ask how I was getting along.  I remember well how curiously those
with him gazed at me, and I am sure that it must have struck them as
very odd that such a dirty, ragged, unkempt youth could have been the
son of this grand-looking victorious commander.

I was introduced recently to a gentleman, now living in Washington,
who, when he found out my name, said he had met me once before and
that it was on this occasion.  At that time he was a member of the
Tenth Virginia Infantry, Jackson's Division, and was camped near our
battery.  Seeing General Lee and staff approach, he, with others, drew
near to have a look at them, and thus witnessed the meeting between
father and son.  He also said that he had often told of this incident
as illustrating the peculiar composition of our army.

After McClellan's change of base to Harrison's Landing on James River,
the army lay inactive around Richmond.  I had a short furlough on
account of sickness, and saw my father; also my mother and sisters,
who were then living in Richmond.  He was the same loving father to
us all, as kind and thoughtful of my mother, who as an invalid, and
of us, his children, as if our comfort and happiness were all he had
to care for.  His great victory did not elate him, so far as one could
see.  In a letter of July 9th, to my mother, he says:

"...I have returned to my old quarters and am filled with gratitude
to our Heavenly Father for all the mercies He has extended to us.
Our success has not been so great or complete as we could have desired,
but God knows what is best for us.  Our enemy met with a heavy loss,
from which it must take him some time to recover, before he can
recommence his operations...."

The honourable Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederate
States
, says of General Lee:

"What I had seen General lee to be at first--child-like in simplicity
and unselfish in his character--he remained, unspoiled by praise and
by success."

He was the same in victory or defeat, always calm and contained.
Jackson, having had a short rest, was now moved up to Gordonsville.
I rejoined my command and went with him, supplied with new clothes
and a fresh stock of health.  In a letter to his three daughters who
were in North Carolina, dated Richmond, July 18, 1862, he writes
describing my condition:

"Rob came out to see me one afternoon.  He had been much worn down by
his marching and fighting, and had gone to his mamma to get a little
rest.  He was thin but well, but, not being able to get a clean shirt,
has not gone to see Miss Norvell.  He has rejoined his company and
gone off with General Jackson, as good as new again, I hope, inasmuch
as your mother thought, by means of a bath and a profusion of soap,
she had cleansed the outward man considerably, and replenished his
lost wardrobe."

From Gordonsville we were moved on to Orange County, and then commenced
that series of manoeuvres by the Army of Northern Virginia, beginning
with the battle of Cedar Mountain and ending with second Manassas.

When I again saw my father, he rode at the head of Longstreet's men
on the field of Manassas, and we of Jackson's corps, hard pressed for
two days, welcomed him and the divisions which followed him with great
cheers.  Two rifle-guns from our battery had been detached and sent
to join Longstreet's advance artillery, under General Stephen D. Lee,
moving into action on our right.  I was "Number 1" at one of these
guns.  We advanced rapidly, from hill to hill, firing as fast as we
could, trying to keep ahead of our gallant comrades, just arrived.
As we were ordered to cease firing from the last position we took,
and the breathless cannoneers were leaning on their guns, General
Lee and staff galloped up, and from this point of vantage scanned
the movements of the enemy and of our forces.  The general reined in
"Traveller" close by my gun, not fifteen feet from me.  I looked at
them all some few minutes, and then went up and spoke to Captain Mason
of the staff, who had not the slightest idea who I was.  When he found
me out he was greatly amused, and introduced me to several others whom
I already knew.  My appearance was even less prepossessing that when
I had met my father at Cold Harbour, for I had been marching night
and day for four days, with no opportunity to wash myself or my clothes;
my face and hands were blackened with powder-sweat, and the few garments
I had on were ragged and stained with the red soil of that section.
When the General, after a moment or two, dropped his glass to his side,
and turned to his staff, Captain Mason said:

"General, here is some one who wants to speak to you."

The General, seeing a much-begrimed artillery-man, sponge-staff in
hand, said:

"Well, my many, what can I do for you?"  I replied:

"Why, General, don't you know me?" and he, of course, at once recognised
me, and was very much amused at my appearance and most glad to see
that I was safe and well.

We, of the ranks, used to have our opinions on all subjects.  The
armies, their generals, and their manoeuvres were freely discussed.
If there was one point on which the entire army was unanimous--I speak
of the rank and file--it was that we were not in the least afraid of
General Pope, but were perfectly sure of whipping him whenever we
could meet him.  The passages I quote here from two of General Lee's
letters indicate that this feeling may possibly have extended to our
officers.  In a letter to my mother, from near Richmond, dated July 28,
1862, he says:

"...When you write to Rob, tell him to catch Pope for me, and also
bring in his cousin, Louis Marshall, who, I am told, is on his staff.
I could forgive the latter's fighting against us, but not his joining
Pope."

And again:

"...Johnny Lee [his nephew] saw Louis Marshall after Jackson's last
battle, who asked him kindly after his old uncle, and said his mother
was well.  Johnny said Louis looked wretched himself.  I am sorry he
is in such bad company, but I suppose he could not help it."

As one of the Army of Northern Virginia, I occasionally saw the
commander-in-chief, on the march, or passed the headquarters close
enough to recognise him and members of his staff, but as a private
soldier in Jackson's corps did not have much time, during that campaign,
for visiting, and until the battle of Sharpsburg I had no opportunity
of speaking to him.  On that occasion our battery had been severely
handled, losing many men and horses.  Having three guns disabled, we
were ordered to withdraw, and while moving back we passed General Lee
and several of his staff, grouped on a little knoll near the road.
Having no definite orders where to go, our captain, seeing the
commanding general, halted us and rode over to get some instructions.
Some others and myself went along to see and hear.  General Lee was
dismounted with some of his staff around him, a courier holding his
horse.  Captain Poague, commanding our battery, the Rockbridge
Artillery, saluted, reported our condition, and asked for instructions.
The General, listening patiently looked at us--his eyes passing over
me without any sign of recognition--and then ordered Captain Poague
to take the most serviceable horses and men, man the uninjured gun, send
the disabled part of his command back to refit, and report to the front
for duty.  As Poague turned to go, I went up to speak to my father.
When he found out who I was, he congratulated me on being well and
unhurt.  I then said:

"General, are you going to send us in again?"

"Yes, my son," he replied, with a smile; "you all must do what you can
to help drive these people back."

This meeting between General Lee and his son has been told very often
and in many different ways, but the above is what I remember of the
circumstances.

He was much on foot during this part of the campaign, and moved about
either in an ambulance or on horseback, with a courier leading his
horse.  The accident which temporarily disabled him happened before
he left Virginia.  He had dismounted, and was sitting on a fallen log,
with the bridle reins hung over his arm.  Traveller, becoming frightened
at something, suddenly dashed away, threw him violently to the ground,
spraining both hands and breaking a small bone in one of them.  A
letter written some weeks afterward to my mother alludes to this
meeting with his son, and to the condition of his hands:

"...I have not laid eyes on Rob since I saw him in the battle of
Sharpsburg--going in with a single gun of his for the second time, after
his company had been withdrawn in consequence of three of its guns
having been disabled.  Custis has seen him and says he is very well,
and apparently happy and content.  My hands are improving slowly,
and, with my left hand, I am able to dress and undress myself, which
is a great comfort.  My right is becoming of some assistance, too,
thought it is still swollen and sometimes painful.  The bandages have
been removed.  I am now able to sign my name.  It has been six weeks
to-day since I was injured, and I have at last discarded the sling."

After the army recrossed the Potomac into Virginia, we were camped for
some time in the vicinity of Winchester.  One beautiful afternoon in
October, a courier from headquarters rode up to our camp, found me
out, and handed me a note from my father.  It told me of the death
of my sister Annie.  As I have lost this letter to me, I quote from
one to my mother about the same time.  It was dated October 26, 1862:

"...I cannot express the anguish I feel at the death of our sweet Annie.
To know that I shall never see her again on earth, that her place in
our circle, which I always hoped one day to enjoy, is forever vacant,
is agonising in the extreme.  But God in this, as in all things, has
mingled mercy with the blow, in selecting that one best prepared to
leave us.  May you be able to join me in saying 'His will be done!'
...I know how much you will grieve and how much she will be mourned.
I wish I could give you any comfort, but beyond our hope in the great
mercy of God, and the belief that he takes her at the time and place
when it is best for her to go, there is none.  May that same mercy
be extended to us all, and may we be prepared for His summons."

In a letter to my sister Mary, one month later, from "Camp near
Fredericksburg":

"...The death of my dear Annie was, indeed, to me a bitter pang, but
'the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away:  blessed be the name of
the Lord.'  In the quiet hours of the night, when there is nothing
to lighten the full weight of my grief, I feel as if I should be
overwhelmed.  I have always counted, if God should spare me a few days
after this Civil War has ended, that I should have her with me, but
year after year my hopes go out, and I must be resigned...."

To this daughter whose loss grieved him so he was specially devoted.
She died in North Carolina, at the Warren White Sulphur Springs.  At
the close of the war, the citizens of the county erected over her grave
a handsome monument.  General lee was invited to be present at the
ceremonies of the unveiling.  In his reply, he says:

"...I have always cherished the intention of visiting the tomb of her
who never gave me aught but pleasure;...  Though absent in person, my
heart will be with you, and my sorrow and devotions will be mingled
with yours....  I inclose, according to your request, the date of my
daughter's birth and the inscription proposed for the monument over
her tomb.  The latter are the last lines of the hymn which she asked
for just before her death."

A visitor to her grave, some years after the war, thus describes it:

"In the beautiful and quiet graveyard near the Springs a plain shaft
of native granite marks the grave of this beloved daughter.  On one
side is cut in the stone, 'Annie C. Lee, daughter of General R. E. Lee
and Mary C. Lee'--and on the opposite--'Born at Arlington, June 18,
1839, and died at White Sulphur Springs, Warren County, North Carolina,
Oct. 20, 1862.'  On another side are the lines selected by her father,


"'Perfect and true are all His ways
Whom heaven adores and earth obeys.'"


That autumn I was offered the position of Lt. and A. D. C. on the staff
of my brother, W. H. F. Lee, just promoted from the colonelcy of the
9th Virginia Cavalry to the command of a brigade in the same arm of
the service.  My father had told me when I joined the army to do my
whole duty faithfully, not to be rash about volunteering for any service
out of my regular line, and always to accept promotion.  After
consulting him, it was decided that I should take the position offered,
and he presented me with a horse and one of his swords.  My promotion
necessitated my having an honourable discharge as a private, from the
ranks, and this I obtained in the proper way from General "Stonewall"
Jackson, commanding the corps of which my company was a part, and was
thus introduced for the first time to that remarkable man.  Having
served in his command since my enlistment, I had been seeing him daily.
"Old Jack," at a distance, was as familiar to me as one of the battery
guns, but I had never met him, and felt much awe at being ushered into
his presence.  This feeling, however, was groundless, for he was
seemingly so much embarrassed by the interview that I really felt sorry
for him before he dismissed me with my discharge papers, properly made
out and signed.

I had received a letter from my father telling me to come to him as
soon as I had gotten my discharge from my company, so I proceeded at
once to his headquarters, which were situated near Orange Court House,
on a wooded hill just east of the village.  I found there the horse
which he gave me.  She was a daughter of his mare, "Grace Darling,"
and, though not so handsome as her mother, she inherited many of her
good qualities and carried me well until the end of the war and for
thirteen years afterward.  She was four years old, a solid bay, and
never failed me a single day during three years' hard work.  The General
was on the point of moving his headquarters down to Fredericksburg,
some of the army having already gone forward to that city.  I think
the camp was struck the day after I arrived, and as the General's hands
were not yet entirely well, he allowed me, as a great favour, to ride
his horse "Traveller."  Amongst the soldiers this horse was as well
known as was his master.  He was a handsome iron-gray with black
points--mane and tail very dark--sixteen hands high, and five years
old.  He was born near the White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and
attracted the notice of my father when he was in that part of the
State in 1861.  He was never known to tire, and, though quiet and
sensible in general and afraid of nothing, yet if not regularly
exercised, he fretted a good deal especially in a crowd of horses.
But there can be no better description of this famous horse than the
one given by his master.  It was dictated to his daughter Agnes at
Lexington, Virginia, after the war, in response to some artist who
had asked for a description, and was corrected in his own handwriting:

"If I were an artist like you I would draw a true picture of Traveller--
representing his fine proportions, muscular figure, deep chest and
short back, strong haunches, flat legs, small head, broad forehead,
delicate ears, quick eye, small feet, and black mane and tail.  Such
a picture would inspire a poet, whose genius could then depict his
worth and describe his endurance of toil, hunger, thirst, heat, cold,
and the dangers and sufferings through which he passed.  He could
dilate upon his sagacity and affection, and his invariable response
to every wish of his rider.  He might even imagine his thoughts, through
the long night marches and days of battle through which he has passed.
But I am no artist; I can only say he is a Confederate gray.  I
purchased him in the mountains of Virginia in the autumn of 1861, and
he has been my patient follower ever since--to Georgia, the Carolinas,
and back to Virginia.  He carried me through the Seven Days battle
around Richmond, the second Manassas, at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg,
the last day at Chancellorsville, to Pennsylvania, at Gettysburg, and
back to the Rappahannock.  From the commencement of the campaign in
1864 at Orange, till its close around Petersburg, the saddle was
scarcely off his back, as he passed through the fire of the Wilderness,
Spottsylvania, Cold Harbour, and across the James River.  He was almost
in daily requisition in the winter of 1864-65 on the long line of
defenses from Chickahominy, north of Richmond, to Hatcher's Run, south
of the Appomattox.  In the campaign of 1865, he bore me from Petersburg
to the final days at Appomattox Court House.  You must know the comfort
he is to me in my present retirement.  He is well supplied with
equipments.  Two sets have been sent to him from England, one from
the ladies of Baltimore, and one was made for him in Richmond; but I
think his favourite is the American saddle from St. Louis.  Of all
his companions in toil, 'Richmond,' 'Brown Roan,' 'Ajax,' and quiet
'Lucy Long,' he is the only one that retained his vigour.  The first
two expired under their onerous burden, and the last two failed.  You
can, I am sure, from what I have said, paint his portrait."

The general had the strongest affection for Traveller, which he showed
on all occasions, and his allowing me to ride him on this long march
was a great compliment.  Possibly he wanted to give me a good hammering
before he turned me over to the cavalry.  During my soldier life, so
far, I had been on foot, having backed nothing more lively than a
tired artillery horse; so I mounted with some misgivings, though I
was very proud of my steed.  My misgivings were fully realised, for
Traveller would not walk a step.  He took a short, high trot--a buck-
trot, as compared with a buck-jump--and kept it up to Fredericksburg,
some thirty miles.  Though young, strong, and tough, I was glad when
the journey ended.  This was my first introduction to the cavalry
service.  I think I am safe in saying that I could have walked the
distance with much less discomfort and fatigue.  My father having thus
given me a horse and presented me with one of his swords, also supplied
my purse so that I could get myself an outfit suitable to my new
position, and he sent me on to join my command, stationed not far away
on the Rappahannock, southward from Fredericksburg.

As an officer in the cavalry on the staff, I had more frequent
opportunities of seeing my father than as a private in the artillery.
In the course of duty, I was sometimes sent to him to report the
condition of affairs at the front, or on the flank of the army, and
I also, occasionally, paid him a visit.  At these times, he would
take me into his tent, talk to me about my mother and sisters, about
my horse and myself, or the people and the country where my command
happened to be stationed.  I think my presence was very grateful to
him, and he seemed to brighten up when I came.  I remember, he always
took it as a matter of course that I must be hungry (and I was for
three years), so he invariably made his mess-steward, Bryan, give me
something to eat, if I did not have time to wait for the regular meal.
His headquarters at this time, just before the battle of Fredericksburg
and after, were at a point on the road between Fredericksburg and
Hamilton's Crossing, selected on account of its accessibility.
Notwithstanding there was near-by a good house vacant, he lived in his
tents.  His quarters were very unpretentious, consisting of three or
four "wall-tents" and several more common ones.  They were pitched on
the edge of an old pine field, near a grove of forest trees from which
he drew his supply of fire-wood, while the pines helped to shelter
his tents and horses from the cold winds.  Though from the outside
they were rather dismal, especially through the dreary winter time,
within they were cheerful, and the surroundings as neat and comfortable
as possible under the circumstances.

On November 24, 1862, in a letter to his daughter Mary, he writes:

"...General Burnside's whole army is apparently opposite Fredericksburg
and stretches from the Rappahannock to the Potomac.  What his intentions
are he has not yet disclosed.  I am sorry he is in position to oppress
our friends and citizens of the Northern Neck.  He threatens to bombard
Fredericksburg, and the noble spirit displayed by its citizens,
particularly the women and children, has elicited my highest admiration.
They have been abandoning their homes, night and day, during all this
inclement weather, cheerfully and uncomplainingly, with only such
assistance as our wagons and ambulances could afford, women, girls,
children, trudging through the mud and bivouacking in the open fields."

How the battle of Fredericksburg was fought and won all the world has
heard, and I shall not attempt to describe it.  On December 11th, the
day Burnside commenced his attack, General Lee wrote to my mother:

"...The enemy, after bombarding the town of Fredericksburg, setting
fire to many houses and knocking down nearly all those along the river,
crossed over a large force about dark, and now occupies the town.  We
hold the hills commanding it, and hope we shall be able to damage him
yet.  His position and heavy guns command the town entirely."

On December 16th, in another letter to my mother, he tells of the
recrossing of the Federals:

"I had supposed they were just preparing for battle, and was saving
our men for the conflict.  Their hosts crown the hill and plain beyond
the river, and their numbers to me are unknown.  Still I felt the
confidence we could stand the shock, and was anxious for the blow that
is to fall on some point, and was prepared to meet it here.  Yesterday
evening I had my suspicions that they might return during the night,
but could not believe they would relinquish their hopes after all their
boasting and preparation, and when I say that the latter is equal to
the former you will have some idea of the magnitude.  This morning they
were all safe on the north side of the Rappahannock.  They went as they
came--in the night.  They suffered heavily as far as the battle went,
but it did not go far enough to satisfy me.  Our loss was comparatively
slight, and I think will not exceed two thousand.  The contest will
have now to be renewed, but on what field I cannot say."

I did not see my father at any time during the fighting.  some days
after it was all over, I saw him, as calm and composed as if nothing
unusual had happened, and he never referred to his great victory, except
to deplore the loss of his brave officers and soldiers or the sufferings
of the sick and wounded.  He repeatedly referred to the hardships so
bravely endured by the inhabitants of Fredericksburg, who had been
obliged to flee from the town, the women and children, the old and the
feeble, whose sufferings cut him to the heart.  On Christmas Day he
writes to his youngest daughter, Mildred, who was at school in North
Carolina:

"...I cannot tell you how I long to see you when a little quiet occurs.
My thoughts revert to you, your sisters, and your mother; my heart
aches for our reunion.  Your brothers I see occasionally.  This morning
Fitzhugh rode by with his young aide-de-camp (Rob) at the head of
his brigade, on his way up the Rappahannock.  You must study hard,
gain knowledge, and learn your duty to God and your neighbour:  that
is the great object of life.  I have no news, confined constantly to
camp, and my thoughts occupied with its necessities and duties.  I am,
however, happy in the knowledge that General Burnside and army will
not eat their promised Christmas dinner in Richmond to-day."

On the next day he writes as follows to his daughter Agnes, who was
with her mother in Richmond:

                           "Camp Fredericksburg, December 26, 1862.

"My Precious Little Agnes:  I have not heard of you for a long time.
I wish you were with me, for always solitary, I am sometimes weary,
and long for the reunion of my family once again.  But I will not
speak of myself, but of you....  I have seen the ladies in this vicinity
only when flying from the enemy, and it caused me acute grief to
witness their exposure and suffering.  But a more noble spirit was
never displayed anywhere.  The faces of old and young were wreathed
with smiles, and glowed with happiness at their sacrifices for the good
of their country.  Many have lost EVERYTHING.  What the fire and shells
of the enemy spared, their pillagers destroyed.  But God will shelter
them, I know.  So much heroism will not be unregarded.  I can only
hold oral communication with your sister [His daughter Mary, in King
George county, within the lines of the enemy], and have forbidden the
scouts to bring any writing, and have taken some back that I had
given them for her.  If caught, it would compromise them.  They only
convey messages.  I learn in that way she is well.

                   "Your devoted father,

                          "R. E. Lee."

I give another letter he wrote on Christmas Day, besides the one
quoted above, to his daughter, Mildred.  It was written to his wife,
and is interesting as giving an insight into his private feelings
and views regarding this great victory:

"...I will commence this holy day by writing to you.  My heart is filled
with gratitude to Almighty God for His unspeakable mercies with which
He has blessed us in this day, for those He has granted us from the
beginning of life, and particularly for those He has vouchsafed us
during the past year.  What should have become of us without His
crowning help and protection?  Oh, if our people would only recognise
it and cease from vain self-boasting and adulation, how strong would
be my belief in final success and happiness to our country!  But what
a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends,
and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world;
to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbours, and
to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world!  I pray that, on
this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better
thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace.
Our army was never in such good health and condition since I have been
attached to it.  I believe they share with me my disappointment that
the enemy did not renew the combat on the 13th.  I was holding back
all day and husbanding our strength and ammunition for the great
struggle, for which I thought I was preparing.  Had I divined that was
to have been his only effort, he would have had more of it.  My heart
bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men."

One marked characteristic of my father was his habit of attending to
all business matters promptly.  He was never idle, and what he had to
do he performed with care and precision.  Mr. Custis, my grandfather,
had made him executor of his will, wherein it was directed that all
the slaves belonging to the estate should be set free after the
expiration of so many years.  The time had now arrived, and
notwithstanding the exacting duties of his position, the care of his
suffering soldiers, and his anxiety about their future, immediate and
distant, he proceeded according to the law of the land to carry out
the provisions of the will, and had delivered to every one of the
servants, where it was possible, their manumission papers.  From his
letters written at this time I give a few extracts bearing on this
subject:

"...As regards the liberation of the people, I wish to progress in it
as far as I can.  Those hired in Richmond can still find employment
there if they choose.  Those in the country can do the same or remain
on the farms.  I hope they will all do well and behave themselves.  I
should like, if I could, to attend to their wants and see them placed
to the best advantage.  But that is impossible.  All that choose can
leave the State before the war closes....

"...I executed the deed of manumission sent me by Mr. Caskie, and
returned it to him.  I perceived that John Sawyer and James's names,
among the Arlington people, had been omitted, and inserted them.  I
fear there are others among the White House lot which I did not
discover.  As to the attacks of the Northern papers, I do not mind them,
and do not think it wise to make the publication you suggest.  If all
the names of the people at Arlington and on the Pamunkey are not
embraced in this deed I have executed, I should like a supplementary
deed to be drawn up, containing all those omitted.  They are entitled
to their freedom and I wish to give it to them.  Those that have been
carried away, I hope are free and happy; I cannot get their papers to
them, and they do not require them.  I will give them if they ever call
for them.  It will be useless to ask their restitution to manumit
them...."

 

 

site stats

 

Site Copyright 2003-2014 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,

contact: paul@sonofthesouth.net

privacy policy

Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.