A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.
BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language."
"Human virtue should be equal to human calamity." LEE. 1876
LEE'S LAST CAMPAIGNS AND LAST DAYS.
XVII. Lee returns to Richmond
General Lee, on the day following the capitulation of his army, issued an address to his old soldiers, which they received and read with very deep emotion. The address was in these words:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
_April_ 10, 1865.
After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but, feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged.
You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection. With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
R.E. LEE, _General_.
The painful arrangements connected with the capitulation were on this day concluded; and General Lee prepared to set out on his return to Richmond--like his men, a "paroled prisoner of the Army of Northern Virginia." The parting between him and his soldiers was pathetic. He exchanged with all near him a close pressure of the hand, uttered a few simple words of farewell, and, mounting his iron-gray, "Traveller," who had passed through all the fighting of the campaign unharmed, rode slowly in the direction of Richmond. He was escorted by a detachment of Federal cavalry, preceded only by a guidon; and the party, including the officers who accompanied him, consisted of about twenty-five horsemen. The _cortege_ was followed by several wagons carrying the private effects of himself and his companions, and by the well-known old black open vehicle which he had occasionally used during the campaigns of the preceding year, when indisposition prevented him from mounting his horse. In this vehicle it had been his custom to carry stores for the wounded--it had never been used for articles contributing to his personal convenience.
General Lee's demeanor on his way to Richmond was entirely composed, and his thoughts seemed much more occupied by the unfortunate condition of the poor people, at whose houses he stopped, than by his own situation. When he found that all along his route the impoverished people had cooked provisions in readiness for him, and were looking anxiously for him, with every indication of love and admiration, he said to one of his officers: "These good people are kind--too kind. Their hearts are as full as when we began our first campaigns in
1861. They do too much--more than they are able to do--for us."
His soldierly habits remained unchanged, and he seemed unwilling to indulge in any luxuries or comforts which could not be shared by the gentlemen accompanying him At a house which he reached just as night came, a poor woman had prepared an excellent bed for him, but, with a courteous shake of the head, he spread his blanket, and slept upon the floor. Stopping on the next day at the house of his brother, Charles Carter Lee, in Powhatan, he spent the evening in conversation; but, when bedtime came, left the house, in spite of the fact that it had begun to rain, and, crossing the road into the woods, took up his quarters for the night on the hard planks of his old black vehicle. On the route he exhibited great solicitude about a small quantity of oats which he had brought with him, in one of the wagons, for his old companion, "Traveller," mentioning it more than once, and appearing anxious lest it should be lost or used by some one.
[Illustration: LEE'S ENTRY INTO RICHMOND AFTER THE SURRENDER.]
The party came in sight of Richmond at last, and, two or three miles from the city, General Lee rode ahead of his escort, accompanied only by a few officers, and, crossing the pontoon bridge below the ruins of Mayo's bridge, which had been destroyed when the Confederate forces retreated, entered the capital. The spectacle which met his eyes at this moment must have been exceedingly painful. In the great conflagration which had taken place on the morning of the 3d of April, a large portion of the city had been burned; and, as General Lee rode up Main Street, formerly so handsome and attractive, he saw on either hand only masses of blackened ruins. As he rode slowly through the opening between these masses of _debris_, he was recognized by the few persons who were on the street, and instantly the intelligence of his presence spread through the city. The inhabitants hastened from their houses and flocked to welcome him, saluting him with cheers and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. He seemed desirous, however, of avoiding this ovation, and, returning the greeting by simply raising his hat, rode on and reached his house on Franklin Street, where, respecting his desire for privacy under circumstances so painful, his admirers did not intrude upon him.
We have presented this brief narrative of the incidents attending General Lee's return to his home after the surrender, to show with what simplicity and good sense he accepted his trying situation. A small amount of diplomacy--sending forward one of his officers to announce his intended arrival; stopping for a few moments as he ascended Main Street; making an address to the citizens who first recognized him, and thus affording time for a crowd to assemble--these proceedings on the part of General Lee would have resulted in an ovation such as a vanquished commander never before received at the hands of any people. Nothing, however, was less desired by General Lee than this tumultuous reception. The native modesty of the man not only shrunk from such an ovation; he avoided it for another reason--the pretext it would probably afford to the Federal authorities to proceed to harsh measures against the unfortunate persons who took part in it. In accordance with these sentiments, General Lee had not announced his coming, had not stopped as he rode through the city; and now, shutting himself up in his house, signified his desire to avoid a public reception, and to be left in privacy.
This policy he is well known to have pursued from that time to the end of his life. He uniformly declined, with great courtesy, but firmly, invitations to attend public gatherings of any description, where his presence might arouse passions or occasion discussions connected with the great contest in which he had been the leader of the South. A mind less firm and noble would doubtless have yielded to this great temptation. It is sweet to the soldier, who has been overwhelmed and has yielded up his sword, to feel that the love and admiration of a people still follow him; and to have the consolation of receiving public evidences of this unchanged devotion. That this love of the Southern people for Lee deeply touched him, there can be no doubt; but it did not blind him to his duty as the representative individual of the South. Feeling that nothing was now left the Southern people but an honest acceptance of the situation, and a cessation, as far as possible, of all rancor toward the North, he refused to encourage sentiments of hostility between the two sections, and did all in his power to restore amicable feeling. "I am very glad to learn," he said in a note to the present writer, "that your life of General Jackson is of the character you describe. I think all topics or questions calculated to excite angry discussion or hostile feelings should be avoided." These few words convey a distinct idea of General Lee's views and feelings. He had fought to the best of his ability for Southern independence of the North; the South had failed in the struggle, and it was now, in his opinion, the duty of every good citizen to frankly acquiesce in the result, and endeavor to avoid all that kept open the bleeding wounds of the country.
His military career had placed him, in the estimation of the first men of his time, among the greatest soldiers of history; but the dignity and moderation of the course pursued by him, from the end of the war to the time of his death, will probably remain, in the opinion of both his friends and enemies, the noblest illustration of the character of the man.