Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son
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
My father remained quietly in Richmond with my mother and sisters.
He was now a private citizen for the first time in his life. As he
had always been a good soldier, so now he became a good citizen. My
father's advice to all his old officers and men was to submit to the
authority of the land and to stay at home, now that their native States
needed them more than ever. His advice and example had great influence
with all. In a letter to Colonel Walter Taylor [his old A. A. G.],
he speaks on this point:
"...I am sorry to hear that our returned soldiers cannot obtain
employment. Tell them they must all set to work, and if they cannot
do what they prefer, do what they can. Virginia wants all their aid,
all their support, and the presence of all her sons to sustain and
recuperate her. They must therefore put themselves in a position to
take part in her government, and not be deterred by obstacles in their
way. There is much to be done which they only can do...."
And in a letter, a month later, to an officer asking his opinion about
a decree of the Emperor of
Mexico encouraging the emigration from
the South to that country:
"...I do not know how far their emigration to another land will conduce
to their prosperity. Although prospects may not now be cheering, I
have entertained the opinion that, unless prevented by circumstances
or necessity, it would be better for them and the country if they
remained at their homes and shared the fate of their respective
Again, in a letter to Governor Letcher [the "War Governor" of Virginia]:
"...The duty of its citizens, then, appears to me too plain to admit
of doubt. All should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects
of the war and to restore the blessing of peace. They should remain,
if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling, qualify
themselves to vote and elect to the State and general legislatures
wise and patriotic men, who will devote their abilities to the interests
of the country and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably
recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have
endeavoured to practise it myself...."
Also in a letter of still later date, to Captain Josiah Tatnall, of
the Confederate States Navy, he thus emphasises the same sentiment:
"...I believe it to be the duty of every one to unite in the restoration
of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony. These
considerations governed be in the counsels I gave to others, and
induced me on the 13th of June to make application to be included in
the terms of the amnesty proclamation...."
These letters and many more show plainly his conception of what was
right for all to do at this time. I have heard him repeatedly give
similar advice to relatives and friends and to strangers who sought
it. The following letters to General Grant and to
show how he gave to the people of the South an example of quiet
submission to the government of the country:
"Richmond, Virginia, June 13, 1865.
"Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant, Commanding the
"Armies of the United States.
"General: Upon reading the President's proclamation of the 29th ult.,
I came to Richmond to ascertain what was proper or required of me to
do, when I learned that, with others, the was to be indicted for treason
by the grand jury at
Norfolk. I had supposed that the officers and
men of the Army of Northern Virginia were, by the terms of their
surrender, protected by the United States Government from molestation
so long as they conformed to its conditions. I am ready to meet any
charges that may be preferred against me, and do not wish to avoid
trail; but, if I am correct as to the protection granted by my parole,
and am not to be prosecuted, I desire to comply with the provision
of the President's proclamation, and, therefore, inclose the required
application, which I request, in that event, may be acted on. I am
with great respect,
"Your obedient servant, R. E. Lee."
"Richmond, Virginia, June 13, 1865.
Andrew Johnson, President of the United States.
"Sir: Being excluded from the provisions of the amnesty and pardon
contained in the proclamation of the 29th ult., I hereby apply for
the benefits and full restoration of all rights as privileges extended
to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Military Academy
at West Point in June, 1829; resigned from the United States Army,
1861; was a general in the Confederate Army, and included in
the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, April 9, 1865. I
have the honour to be, very respectfully,
"Your obedient servant, R. E. Lee."
Of this latter letter, my brother, Custis Lee, writes me:
"When General Lee requested me to make a copy of this letter, he
remarked it was but right for him to set an example of making a formal
submission to the civil authorities, and that he thought, by do doing,
he might possibly be in a better position to be of use to the
Confederates who were not protected by military paroles, especially
Colonel Charles Marshall [a grandson of Chief Justice Marshall, and
Lee's military secretary] says:
"...He (General Lee) set to work to use his great influence to reconcile
the people of the South to the hard consequences of their defeat, to
inspire them with hope, to lead them to accept, freely and frankly,
the government that had been established by the result of the war,
and thus relieve them from the military rule.... The advice and example
of General Lee did more to incline the scale in favour of a frank and
manly adoption of that course of conduct which tended to the restoration
of peace and harmony than all the Federal garrisons in all the military
My father was at this time anxious to secure for himself and family
a house somewhere in the country. He had always had a desire to be
the owner of a small farm, where he could end his days in peace and
quiet. The life in Richmond was not suited to him. He wanted quiet
and rest, but could not get it there, for people were too attentive
to him. So in the first days of June he mounted old Traveller and,
unattended, rode down to "Pampatike"--some twenty-five miles--to pay
a visit of several days to his relations there. This is an old Carter
property, belonging then and now to Colonel Thomas H. Carter, who, but
lately returned from Appomattox Court House, was living there with his
wife and children. Colonel Carter, whose father was a first cousin
of General Lee's, entered the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring
of 1861, as captain of the "King William Battery," rose grade by grade
by his skill and gallantry, and surrendered in the spring of 1865, as
Colonel and Chief of Artillery of his corps at that time. He was
highly esteemed and much beloved by my father, and our families had
been intimate for a long time.
"Pampatike" is a large, old-fashioned plantation, lying along the
Pamunkey River, between the Piping Tree and New Castle ferries. Part
of the house is very old, and, from time to time, as more rooms were
needed, additions have been made, giving the whole a very quaint and
picturesque appearance. At the old-fashioned dinner hour of three
o'clock, my father, mounted on Traveller, unannounced, unexpected, and
alone, rode up to the door. The horse and rider were at once recognised
by Colonel Carter, and he was gladly welcomed by his kinsfolk. I am
sure the days passed here were the happiest he had spent for many years.
He was very weary of town, of the incessant unrest incident to his
position, of the crowds of persons of all sorts and conditions striving
to see him; so one can imagine the joy of master and horse when, after
a hot ride of over twenty miles, they reached this quiet resting-place.
My father, Colonel Carter tells me, enjoyed every moment of his stay.
There were three children in the house, the two youngest little girls
of five and three years old. These were his special delight, and he
followed them around, talking baby-talk to them and getting them to
talk to him. Every morning before he was up they went into his room,
at his special request, to pay him a visit. Another great pleasure
was to watch Traveller enjoy himself. He had him turned out on the
lawn, where the June grass was very fine, abundant, and at its prime,
and would allow no cord to be fed to him, saying he had had plenty
of that during the last four years, and that the grass and the liberty
were what he needed. He talked to Colonel Carter much about Mexico,
its people and climate; also about the old families living in that
neighbourhood and elsewhere in the State, with whom both Colonel
Carter and himself were connected; but he said very little about the
recent war, and only in answer to some direct question.
About six miles from "Pampatike," on the same river and close to its
banks, is "Chericoke," another old Virginia homestead, which had
belonged to the Braxtons for generations, and, at that time, was the
home of Corbin Braxton's widow. General Lee was invited to dine there,
and to meet him my brother, cousin, and I, from the White House, were
asked, besides General Rosser, who was staying in the neighbourhood,
and several others. This old Virginia house had long been noted for
its lavish hospitality and bountiful table. Mrs. Braxton had never
realised that the war should make any change in this respect, and
her table was still spread in those days of desolation as it had been
before the war, when there was plenty in the land. So we sat down to
a repast composed of all the good things for which that country was
famous. John and I did not seem to think there was too much in sight--
at any rate, it did not daunt us, and we did our best to lessen the
quantity, consuming, I think, our share and more! We had been for
so many years in the habit of being hungry that it was not strange
we continued to be so awhile yet. But my father took a different view
of the abundance displayed, and, during his drive back, said to Colonel
"Thomas, there was enough dinner to-day for twenty people. All this
will now have to be changed; you cannot afford it; we shall have to
In talking with Colonel Carter about the situation of farmers at that
time in the South, and of their prospects for the future, he urged
him to get rid of the negroes left on the farm--some ninety-odd in
number, principally women and children, with a few old men--saying
the government would provide for them, and advised him to secure white
labour. The Colonel told him he had to use, for immediate needs, such
force as he had, being unable at that time to get whites. Whereupon
General Lee remarked:
"I have always observed that wherever you find the negro, everything
is going down around him, and wherever you find a white man, you see
everything around him improving."
He was thinking strongly of taking a house in the country for himself
and family, and asked the Colonel whether he could not suggest some
part of the State that might suit him. Colonel Carter mentioned Clarke
County as representing the natural-grass section of Virginia, and
Gloucester County the salt-water. My father unhesitatingly pronounced
in favour of the grass-growing country. He told Mrs. Carter how pleased
he was to hear that she had received her husband in tears when he
returned from the surrender, as showing the true spirit, for, though
glad to see him, she wept because he could fight no more for the cause.
The day after this dinner he had to turn his back on those dear friends
and their sweet home.
When Traveller was brought up to the door for him to mount, he walked
all around him, looking carefully at the horse, saddle, and bridle.
Apparently the blanket was not arranged to suit him, for he held the
bridle while "Uncle Henry" took off the saddle. Then he took off
the blanket himself, spread it out on the grass, and, folding it to
suit his own idea of fitness, carefully placed it on Traveller's back,
and superintended closely the putting on and girthing of the saddle.
This being done, he bade everybody good-bye, and, mounting his horse,
rode away homeward--to Richmond. After crossing the Pamunkey at
Newcastle ferry, he rode into "Ingleside," about a mile from the river,
the lovely home of Mrs. Mary Braxton. Here he dismounted and paid his
respects to the mistress of the house and her daughters, who were also
cousins. That afternoon he reached Richmond, returning by the same
road he had travelled coming out. After his visit, which he had
enjoyed so much, he began looking about more than ever to find a country
The house he was occupying in Richmond belonged to Mr. John Stewart,
of "Brook Hill," who was noted for his devotion to the cause of the
South and his kindness to all those who had suffered in the conflict.
My brother Custis had rented it at the time he was appointed on Mr.
Davis's staff. A mess had been established there by my brother and
several other officers on duty in Richmond. In time, my mother and
sister had been made members of it, and it had been the headquarters
of all of the family during the war, when in town. My father was
desirous of making some settlement with his landlord for its long
use, but before he could take the final steps my mother received the
following note from Mr. Stewart:
"...I am not presuming on your good opinion, when I feel that you will
believe me, first, that you and yours are heartily welcome to the house
as long as your convenience leads you to stay in Richmond; and, next,
that you owe me nothing, but, if you insist on paying, that the payment
must be in Confederate currency, for which along it was rented to your
son. You do not know how much gratification it is, and will afford
me and my whole family during the remainder of our lives, to reflect
that we have been brought into contact, and to know and to appreciate
you and all that are dear to you."
My father had been offered, since the surrender, houses lands, and
money, as well as positions as president of business associations
and chartered corporations.
"An English nobleman," Long says, "desired him to accept a mansion and
an estate commensurate with his individual merits and the greatness
of an historic family."
He replied: "I am deeply grateful; I cannot desert my native State in
the hour of her adversity. I must abide her fortunes, and share her
Until his death, he was constantly in receipt of such offers, all of
which he thought proper to decline. He wrote to General Long:
"I am looking for some little, quiet home in the woods, where I can
procure shelter and my daily bread, if permitted by the victor. I
wish to get Mrs. Lee out of the city as soon as practical."
It so happened that nearly exactly what he was looking for was just
then offered to him. Mrs. Elizabeth Randolph Cocke, of Cumberland
County, a granddaughter of Edmund Randolph, had on her estate a small
cottage which, with the land attached, she placed at his disposal.
The retired situation of this little home, and the cordial way in
which Mrs. Cocke insisted on his coming, induced my father to accept
Captain Edmund Randolph Cocke [Mrs. Cocke's second son who lived with
his mother at Oakland] writes me the following:
"Oakland, Virginia, October 25, 1896.
"My mother, whose sympathies for everybody and everything connected
with our cause were the greatest and most enlarged of any one I ever
knew, thought it might be agreeable and acceptable to General Lee to
have a retired placed in which to rest. Having this little house
unoccupied, she invited him to accept it as a home as long as he might
find it pleasant to himself. The General came up with your mother
and sisters about the last of June, General Custis Lee having preceded
them a day or two on Traveller. At that time our mode of travel was
on the canal by horse-packet: leaving Richmond at a little before
sunset, the boat reached Pemberton, our landing, about sunrise.
General Custis and I went down to meet them, and we all reached home
in time for breakfast. That night on the boat the Captain had had
the most comfortable bed put up that he could command, which was offered
to your father. But he preferred to sleep on deck, which he did, with
his military cloak thrown over him. No doubt that was the last night
he ever spent under the open sky. After a week spent here, General
Lee removed, with his family, to "Derwent." There he spent several
months of quiet and rest, only interrupted by the calls of those who
came in all honesty and sincerity to pay their respects to him. Old
soldiers, citizens, men and women, all came without parade or ceremony.
During this time he rode on Traveller daily, taking sometimes long
trips--once I recall, going to his brother's, Mr. Carter Lee's, about
twenty miles, and at another time to Bremo, about thirty miles. During
the month of August he was visited by Judge Brockenborough, of
Lexington, who, as Rector of the Board of Trustees of Washington
College, tendered him, on behalf of the Board, the presidency of the
college. After considering the matter for several weeks, he decided
to accept this position.
"...During that summer he was a regular attendant at the various
churches in our neighbourhood, whenever there was a service. I never
heard your father discuss public matters at all, nor did he express
his opinion of public men. On one occasion, I did hear him condemn
with great severity the
Secretary of War, Stanton. This was at the
time Mrs. Surratt was condemned and executed. At another time I heard
him speak harshly of General Hunter, who had written to him to get his
approval of his movements, during the Valley Campaign, against General
Early. With these exceptions, I never heard him speak of public men
In this connection I quote the Rev. J. Wm. Jones in his "Personal
Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee":
"Not long after the close of the war, General Lee received a letter
from General David Hunger, of the Federal Army, in which he begged
information on two points:
"1. His (Hunter's) campaign in the summer of 1864 was undertaken on
information received at the War Department in Washington that General
Lee was about to detach forty thousand picked troops to send General
Johnston. Did not his (Hunter's) movements prevent this, and relieve
Sherman to that extent?
"2. When he (Hunter) found it necessary to retreat from before
Lynchburg, did not he adopt the most feasible line of retreat?
"General Lee wrote a very courteous reply, in which he said:
"'The information upon which your campaign was undertaken was erroneous.
I had NO TROOPS to spare General Johnston and no intention of sending
him any--CERTAINLY NOT FORTY THOUSAND, AS THAT WOULD HAVE TAKEN ABOUT
ALL I HAD.
"'As to the second point--I would say that I am not advised as to the
motives which induced you to adopt the line of retreat which you took,
and am not, perhaps competent to judge of the question, BUT I CERTAINLY
EXPECTED YOU TO RETREAT BY WAY OF THE
SHENANDOAH VALLEY [the emphasis
is Dr. Jones's], and was gratified at the time that you preferred the
route through the mountains of the Ohio--leaving the valley open for
General Early's advance into Maryland.'"
Before leaving Richmond, my father wrote the following letter to
Colonel Ordway, then Provost Marshal:
"Richmond, Virginia, June 21, 1865.
"Lt.-Col. Albert Ordway, Provost Marshal, Department of Virginia.
"Colonel: I propose establishing my family next week in Cumberland
County, Virginia, near Cartersville, on the James River canal. On
announcing my intention to General Patrick, when he was on duty in
Richmond, he stated that no passport for the purpose was necessary.
Should there have been any change in the orders of the Department
rendering passports necessary, I request that I may be furnished
with them. My son, G. W. Custis Lee, a paroled prisoner with myself,
will accompany me. Very respectfully your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
The latter part of June, my father, mother, brother Custis, and sisters
went to "Derwent," the name of the little place which was to be his
home for that summer. They went by canal-boat from Richmond to
Cartersville, and then had a drive of about six miles. Mrs. Cocke
lived at "Oakland," two miles away, and her generous heart was made
glad by the opportunity of supplying my father and his family with
every comfort that it was possible to get at the time. In his letters
to me, still at the White House busy with our corn, he gives a
description of the surroundings:
"...We are all well, and established in a comfortable but small house,
in a grove of oaks, belonging to Mr. Thomas Cocke [Mrs. Cocke's eldest
son]. It contains four rooms, and there is a house in the yard which
when fitted up will give us another. Only your mother, Agnes, and
Mildred are with me. Custis, who has had a return of his attack...is
at Mrs. Cocke's house, about two miles off--is convalescent, I hope.
I have been nowhere as yet. The weather has been excessively hot,
but this morning there is an agreeable change, with some rain. The
country here is poor but healthy, and we are at a long distance from
you all. I can do nothing until I learn what decision in my case is
made in Washington. All unite with me in much love.
"Very truly, your father,
"R. E. Lee."
The "case" referred to here was the indictment in June by a grand
jury in Norfolk, Virginia, of Mr. Davis, General Lee, and others,
for treason or something like it.
The Hon. Reverdy Johnson offered his professional services to my
father in this case, but there was no trial, as a letter from General
Grant to the authorities insisted that the parole given by him to the
officers and soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia should be
respected. The following letter explains itself:
"Near Cartersville, Virginia, July 27, 1865.
"Hon. Reverdy Johnson, Baltimore, Md.
"My Dear Sir: I very much regret that I did not see you on your recent
visit to Richmond, that I might have thanked you for the interest you
have shown in my behalf, and you great kindness in offering me your
professional services in the indictment which I now understand is
pending against me. I am very glad, however, that you had an
opportunity of reading a copy of General Grant's letter of the 20th
inst. to me, which I left with Mr. Macfarland for that purpose, and
also that he might show it to other officers of the Army of Northern
Virginia in my condition. I did not wish to give it greater publicity
without the assent of General Grant, supposing that, if he desired it
made public, he would take steps to have it done. Should he consent
to your request to have it published, I, of course, have no objection.
But should he not, I request that you only use it in the manner I have
above indicated. Again offering you my warmest thanks for your sympathy
and consideration for my welfare, I am, with great respect,
"Your obedient Servant,
"R. E. Lee."
In another letter to me he tells of his visit to his brother Charles
Carter Lee in Powhatan County, which was an easy ride from "Derwent."
He was very fond of making these little excursion, and Traveller,
that summer, was in constant use:
"Near Cartersville, July 22, 1865.
"My Dear Rob: I have just returned from a visit to your Uncle Carter,
and, among my letters, find one from some of your comrades to you,
which I inclose. I was happy to discover from the direction that it
was intended for you and not for me. I find Agnes quite sick, and
have sent for the doctor, as I do not know what to do for her. Poor
little thing! she seems quite prostrated. Custis, I am told, is
better. He is still at Mrs. Cocke's. The rest of us are well. I
saw several of your comrades, Cockes, Kennons and Gilliams, who inquired
after you all. Give my love to F. and Johnny, in which all here unite,
and believe me most truly and affectionately
"Your father, R. E. Lee.
"Robert E. Lee."
In another letter he gives an account of a trip that he and Traveller
had taken across the river into Albemarle County:
"Near Cartersville, August 21, 1865.
"My Dear Bertus: I received only a few days ago your letter of the
12th. I am very sorry to hear of your afflictions, but hope you have
shaken off all of them. You must keep your eyes open, you precious
boy, and not run against noxious vines and fevers. I have just returned
from a visit to Fluvanna. I rode up the gray and extended my
peregrinations into Albemarle, but no further than the Green Mountain
neighbourhood. I made short rides, stopping every evening with some
friend, and had a very pleasant time. I commended you to all the young
ladies on the road, but did not know I was extolling a poisoned beau!
You must go up and see Miss Francis Galt. Tell Fitzhugh I wrote to
him before I went away. I am glad to hear that your corn is so fine,
and that you are making preparations to put in a good crop of wheat.
I wish I had a little farm somewhere, to be at work too. Custis is
paying a visit to his friend, Captain Watkins, in Powhatan. He came
up for him last Saturday, and bore him off. He has got quite well
now, and I hope will continue so. Agnes is also well, though still
feeble and thin. Your mother, Life, and myself as usual. We have
not heard for some time from daughter. A report has reached us of
her being at Mr. Burwell's. Miss Mary Cocke and her brother John
paid us a short visit from Saturday to Monday, and several of our
neighbors have been over to spend the day. We have a quiet time,
which is delightful to me, but I fear not so exhilarating to the
girls. I missed Uncle Carter's visit. He and his Robert rode up on
a pair of colts while I was in Fluvanna, and spent several days. I
wish we were nearer you boys. I want to see you very much, but do
not know when that can be. I hope Johnny is well. I have heard
nothing from his father since we parted in Richmond, but hear that
Fitz has gone to see his mother. All here send their best love to
you, and I pray that every happiness may attend you.
"Your devoted father,
"R. E. Lee.
"Robert E. Lee."
"Bertus" was a contraction of Robertus, my father's pet name for me
as a child. My afflictions were "poison-oak," chills, and fever.
The letter to my brother Fitzhugh, here referred to, I also give:
"Near Cartersville, Cumberland County, Virginia, July 29, 1865.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I was very glad to receive, by the last packet
from Richmond, your letter of the 22d. We had all been quite anxious
to hear from you, and were much gratified to learn that you were all
well, and doing well. It is very cheering to me to hear of your good
prospects for corn and your cheerful prospects for the future. God
grant they may be realised, which, I am sure, they will be, if you
will unite sound judgement to your usual energy in your operations.
As to the indictments, I hope you, at last, may not be prosecuted. I
see no other reason for it than for prosecuting ALL who ever engaged
in the war. I think, however, we may expect procrastination in measures
of relief, denunciatory threats, etc. We must be patient, and let them
take their course. 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....
Our neighbours are very kind, and do everything in the world to promote
our comfort. If Agnes is well enough, I propose to ride up to 'Bremo'
next week. I wish I was near enough to see you. Give much love to
Rob and Johnny, the Carters and Braxtons. All here unite in love and
best wishes for you all.
"Most affectionately, your father,
"R. E. Lee."