• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.


 

footer

 

Abingdon, 28th Ap’l, 1862.

 

 

Genl. R. E. Lee;

 

 

Sir,

 

I learn from Coln. Wharton of the 51st. Reg’t. Va. Volunteers who has just returned from Richmond that, in a conversation with you, he learned there was censure attached to me for the furloughs given by my orders to the volunteers under my command who reenlisted to serve during the war. The Hon. Mr. Preston, representative in Congress from this District also informed me that he learned the same thing in a conversation with the Secretary of War.

 

            I cannot withhold the expression of my surprise at this for I had supposed, as I was acting in strict conformity to the law and under the express orders of the Secretary of War, I was hardly laying myself liable to censure or animadversion from anyone connected with the service. I cannot understand how anything could be more distinct and unequivocal than the order from the Dept. It was not for me to judge of the policy thus adopted by Congress and the Department; my duty was only to execute the orders I received.

 

            But there were additional reasons which promoted my action in this business;-- The men had undergone a service of unequaled severity for nine months – nothing could exceed their toil and exposure – Their recent sufferings at Fort Donnelson [sic] and in their retreat from it had impaired their strength and the surgeons reported the men unfit for the duty of a campaign. Besides this, I knew from reliable information I had procured, that there would be no attack, by the enemy, upon Chattanooga where I was stationed, until a period later than the expiration of the furloughs I granted. It will be borne in mind that I was placed in a separate command at Chattanooga, by Gen. Johnston with orders to report directly to the War Dep’t and to hold my troops for the protection of that part of the country and without any reference to any other line, or position, whatever. But, if I had felt called on to hold my forces ready to assist in the defence of Knoxville, my personal knowledge of both lines of approach to that place, -- one, from Kentucky, and one from Nashville,--satisfied me that the march of an enemy by either route would be impossible before the first of May.

 

            The exact period, therefore, which I chose to use under the orders of the Secretary of War to reenlist and give furloughs to the men, had arrived and, to my judgment, seemed propitious—if the policy itself could be justified. Superadded to these reasons, was another which had weight with me. The men, receiving their furloughs at that period of the spring, would spend a month at home during which time they could plant a little crop, sufficient at least to support their families during the ensuing season which must be one of great scarcity. And, lastly, I thought by exerting my personal influence, to reenlist that brigade for the war, I was rendering a service rather than inflicting an injury upon the country. I know them to be good troops, patient under suffering and fatigue; able for any exertion that men are capable of; well-disciplined; well-drilled; obeying with alacrity and cheerfulness all orders from their officers and performing in the same spirit every duty that pertained to them often tried under fire of the enemy, always their superiors in numbers, and always evincing cool and determined courage as well as extraordinary skill in the use of their weapons. To secure for the war the services of such a force, a large part of which is from the country surrendered to the enemy, I could not suppose would be construed into an offence either against the Department or the service.

 

            I trust, Genl. Lee, you will understand that I make these remarks with no desire to conciliate, every feeling against me in any quarter; it is merely due to truth and to the men heretofore under my command that I should say what I do. Against slander and injustice, I have long since ceased to offer even an explanation, knowing perfectly well that the only defence against calumny and unmerited censure, is to have a conscious feeling that they are undeserved.

 

            I have the honor to be, sir,

 

                        With high respect,

 

                                    Your ob’t serv’t

 

                                    John B. Floyd,

 

                                    Brig’d’r Genl. C. S. A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Virginia Sheffey Haller[1], transcript on file, duPont Library, Stratford Hall

 

 

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 January 14

 

Donor note, by Virginia Sheffey Haller: “Few houses built in the Old Dominion fifty or a hundred years ago possessed an “attic”! The great all-accommodating room which, to the children at least, was the crowning architectural glory of every home in our State, “befo’ de war”, was the garret, or “gyar’t”, as the servants called it! The way to it, as to the spider’s parlor, was “up a winding stair” dark and suggestive of ghosts and other horrors to minds stored with nursery and cabin fire tales of “Hants an’ spooks”. There were always queer noises behind the wainscoting, along the sloping ceilings and in grewsome corners sufficiently confirmatory of superstitious impressions; nevertheless, the most timid of us found the dear old garret a comfortable City of Refuge when the lower house was overflowing with guests, as was so frequently the case. ‘Company’, in those days, did not expect to see the children at all times and seasons as now they must do! No, when the clean aprons were not enough to uniform the entire troops of us, we were exiled with other superfluities to the upper regions and, though the door which had a most disagreeable, self-shutting habit at times, was never actually locked upon us, we were trained to consider the garret our appropriate sphere till someone was sent to call us down!

 

At other times, we revealed individually, there, among the books and papers banished from the library below, because of dilapidation; or, in bands of mixed color, played from morning till night with our rag, corn-shuck, squash, wooden or broken dolls—new wax and china being put away for special indulgence, --and had our “Lady-come-to-see” and other amateur theatrical entertainments in the elegant mansions into which the big room was usually divided, by general consent.

 

In our family, there were eleven white children—gradually reduced to seven, as the row of little hillocks in the family graveyard grew longer with the passing years!—then, for next-door neighbors, there were some young cousins and schoolmates who knew but little difference between our house and their own, so intimately were we together; still better than this, there were Margie, and Sophy, and Millie, and Tildy, and Gel’dine, or harmonious ages, from “the quarters”, always ready to enjoy with us the pleasures of our Garret, as we, with them, enjoyed “de cuppen, de branch an’ de barn yard”. It is difficult for memory to decide, now, whether the greater happiness was derived from in-, or out-door, sport; but, certainly, I remember that we had merry, merry times among the out-of-date and broken furniture and oddities of the garret-room!

 

What never-failing sources of amusement to us were those old trunks of all ages and sizes! There was the tiny one which we venerated as “almos’ a hundred tears old,” yet had never grown any larger with age and experience; it was about the size of a gentleman’s valise, or portmanteau, now, and its limited space would not have accommodated a modern belle’s gloves and laces; yet; with the assistance of a square bonnet-box and a hand-bag, it provided the entire outfit of an ancestress during a month’s visit to relatives well-known in Philadelphia society, a half century before our lives began! Next, was one scarcely larger, covered with calf-skin dressed with the red and white mottled hair left upon it and showing vividly between the many rows of brass-headed nails which fastened it to the wooden frame. But the most wonderful trunk of the collection was three-storied; three oblong black leather cases were stacked together and hinged at the back, but in front were fastened with queer little buckles, straps and locks, so that any compartment might be opened without unfastening the others. The top, or cover, was a large, flexible flap of black leather with metal tongues to fit into the locks in front and at the sides. The there were huge cases of later invention whose weather-beaten sides, broken locks and hinges told of much traveling to and fro in the world. Some of them were immovable because closely packed and strapped; and what child of us was bold enough to unlatch those fastenings, not to mention peeing into the dread interior! Indeed, by tacit consent, even the corner containing those trunks was left uninvaded by us, for we understood they contained “daid people’s clothes”, as the darkies told us, and wisely refrained from a closer investigation of their mysteries.

 

And some were overflowing with letters, letters, letters! For those bundles of papers, yellow, moth-eaten and so very unattractive in appearance, we had a feeling of subdued reverence, it is true knowing that they were penned by generations of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers and grandfathers, gone forever from the scenes of time, but we never cared to ascertain from them what was said and done by the actors of those past ages. When, however, the days of childhood were merged into riper years, mature judgment invested that old garret with even greater charms and not the least attractive of its contents, are those musty documents! Many ‘war papers’ have been added to them, giving chapters in the history of the ill-fated Confederacy and concerning those who lived—alas, many died, also!—upon her blood-soaked soil!

 

My mother, being a Preston, was related to the Floyds of Virginia, and not infrequently members of that branch of the family were with us. During the war, especially, we often welcomed ‘Cousin Sally’ who was the wife of John B. Floyd, ex-Governor of Virginia, ex-Secretary of War and, after the secession of Virginia, Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army; she was, also, the daughter of General Francis Preston of the war of 1812,--granddaughters of General William Campbell, Commander at King’s Mountain,--and grandniece of Patrick Henry. From such ancestry, she inherited decision of character; a strong, clear mind; a robust constitution and perfect fearlessness in regard to everything—except cats! The mere sight of one of these inoffensive creatures, or its presence in the room, even when not seen by her, was sufficient to throw her into great nervous distress! She was born with this antipathy and carried it through life with her; even when driving, or strolling through lanes and street for pleasure, she carried a number of small pebbles with which to drive from her path an approaching cat, however heedless of her it might appear, and her friends were always upon the alert to protect her from a view of, or contact with, these dreaded animals! Yet, through the war, she shared her husband’s hardships and camp-life in close proximity to the invading army and frequently with shot and shell whizzing around her! As the camp shifted east, or west, of us, we received stop-over visits from her and after one of these rests, she left with my mother a bundle of papers which, eventually, found lodgment in the trunk of old letters, afterwards inherited by me with the homestead garret.

 

General and Mrs. Floyd have passed from earth, childless, but the papers contain matter, perhaps, of public interest and from the package, I venture to select two which will give a glimpse, at least, into the kaleidoscope mysteries of military government, during troubled times. The first, a letter from Gen. Floyd to Gen. Lee, is perhaps but the rough draft, or first cooy which was forwarded to the Commander-in-chief. It is interlined, here and there where correction in wording seemed best, but it is in Gen. Floyd’s well-remembered, cramped and tremulous handwriting. The letter from General Lee, smoothly written, without blot or erasure, is just as received from that disciplined scholar and soldier.

 

 

                      

 

 



[1] Virginia Sheffey Haller was born 1850 August 17. She was the daughter of Judge James White Sheffey (1813-1876) and Eleanor Fairman (1812-1887). Virginia died 1928 May 30. She is buried in Sheffey Cemetery in Smyth County, Virginia.

 

 

Reference Shelf

Data Collections

About the Project

Website by Fresh Look Web Design
Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved