• 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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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.


 

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                                                                                                City of Mexico 4 March 1848

My darling Rose

                                    Your long & affectionate letter of the 14 Jany from Annapolis, was brought me by the train that arrived on the 1st Inst: from Vera Cruz. It has given me great pleasure & I have read it over & over. I regret your having lost the Command of the fine Steamer Mississippi, but on Sis-Nanies[1] Account & the boys, I rejoice at your return home. Your present Station too, though it Separates you from many of your friends, it is only by a few hours, & from its importance & advantages I consider highly favourable. It is healthy Surrounded by a genteel population, & furnishes you with a good school for your boys. I hope too it gives you an increase of pay. I am the only loser. What Shall I do, if I ever return to the District. Not to find you, or my dear Sis-Nanie, My beautiful Matie gone too, Alexandria will appear to me a desert. I fear it will make me desert my church and take up with one of those Washington innovations. It is terrible to think of. Your letter gave me the latest accounts from Arlington. I am glad to hear they are all so well & that the younger branches are growing So finely. I have been aware that Custis was shooting up to manhood, & that it was time for him to be directing his studies towards the course of life he was to pursue.[2] Finding after getting into this city, that the prospect of my shortly returning home, was not flattering, I wrote to his mother & himself on the Subject. To my regret the Same mail that brought your letter, brought me one from May, Saying that he had expressed a repugnance to entering any of the Colleges I had proposed, & a great wish to go to West Point. I would never advise any young man to enter the Army. He is cut off from all hope of preferment. He performs all the tedium & drudgery of the Service, & no matter how well he may have performed his duties & prepared himself for the Service, as Soon as the opportunity occurs for which he has been preparing, waiting & laboring, a Sett of worthless, ignorant, political aspirants or roués, are put over his head, who in spite of themselves, he has to lug on his Shoulders to victory. Such are some of the heroics this war & their own pens have made. Still a boy has much at Stake in the choice of a profession & deserves to be heard. I have given my advice & if he adheres to the predilection he has expressed, I suppose I must consent. But how I can get him the appointment to West Point I do not know. I am very glad Mary has gone to Mrs. Wilmers. I hope she will See the necessity of abandoning her little fancies, which might be confirmed into habits if longer indulged. I think I Should have preferred Mrs. Mercers, because it is in the Country & her constitution might have been Strengthened & benefitted. She will leave any where if she has the opportunity & I believe the facilities at Mrs. Mercers, are very good. But while So young perhaps it is as well she Should be near her Mother & Grd Mother. I had heard of Eilbecks marriage. The Genl & Mrs. Mason must be very Solitary at Clermont,[3] without any of their children. I should have thought that the departure of Miss Tease & Barlow would have caused them to move into town. I hope Carter has not involved himself by his purchase of an Estate. He is so happy now, that I suppose he is more Sanguine than ever. He wrote me that you spent a day with him on your return home. I hope our new Sister will respond to his wishes for a boy. Did you give her a hint as you came along? All your friends here are well. Huger[4] had expected to have returned to the U.S. by the next train, his presence on the ordnance board having been desired by the chief of his Bureau. Genl Scott had given his assent, but our new Commander, Gen. Butler,[5] has revoked it. Turnbull,[6] Major Kirby,[7] Hammond and a few others go out. Rhett[8] is very well and fat. Buchanan (Robt)[9] is acting Asst. Inspector Genl. Johnstons Regt: has been ordered to Toluca.[10] Robt: Forsyth[11] of course goes with him. They are both very well. Frank Taylor[12] is living in the palace near me. His Battery being quartered in the building. He is a good officer & one of the best fellows in the world. One of your Comrades, Passd Midshipman Perry,[13] is on the Staff of Gen. Patterson.[14] He is of the rough diamond Sort. Your Commendations upon the Conduct of the army, in this war, has filled me with pleasure. They justly deserve it. There was no danger too great for them to Seek & no labour too Severe for them to undertake. The fall of a comrad [sic] did not retard a Single Step, but all pressed forward to their work. Better Soldiers never died on any field. Nor has the Navy been behind them in their duties. They have risked every exposure & every disease, have served on land with as much alacrity as on Shipboard, Have captured every fort they could reach, & now hold the whole coast closely blockaded. They have only lacked the opportunities, afforded to the Army. I think our Country may well be prov’d of the conduct of both arms of Service. As to myself, your brotherly feelings have made your estimate too highly my Small Services, & though praise from one I love So dearly is very Sweet, truth compels me to disclaim it. I did nothing more, than what others in my place would have done much better. The great cause of our success was in our leader. It was his Stout heart, that cast us on the shore of Vera Cruz; his bold Self reliance that forced us through the Pass of Cerro Gordo: His indomitable Courage, that amid all the doubts & difficulties that Surrounded us at Puebla, pressed us forward to this Capital & finally brought us within its gates. While others who croaked all the way from Brazos, advised delay at Puebla, finding themselves at last contrary to their expectations comfortably quartered within the city, find fault with the way they came there. With all their after knowledge I will defy them to have done better. I agree with you in your opinion of these dissensions in camp. They have clouded a bright campaign. It is a contest in which neither party has anything to gain & the Army much to lose, & might to have been avoided. The whole matter will soon be before the court, and if it is seen that there has been harshness & intemperance of language on one Side, it will be evident that there has been insubordination on the other. It is difficult for a Genl to maintain discipline in an Army composed as this is, in a foreign country, where the temptations to disorders are So great, & the chance of detection So slight. He requires every Support & Confidence from his Govt: at home. If he abuses his trust or authority, it is then time to hold him to account. But to decide the matter before an ex-parte Statement of favourites, to suspend a Successful Genl in Command of an Army in the heart of an enemy Country, to try the judge in place of the accused, is to upset all discipline, to jeopardize the safety of the Army and honour of the Country, & violate justice. I trust however that all will work well in the end. I had Strong hopes of peace on the basis of the project of the treaty Submitted by the Mexican Govt: of which you have learned through the papers. Had Congress promptly granted the means for prosecuting the war, asked by the President, I believe the treaty is acceptable to our Country, would have been ratified by the Mexican Congress. But the discussions in Congress & Speeches of Some of our leading men, are calculated So to confuse the public mind here, that it may encourage them to delay & procrastinate, in the hope that the plan of withdrawing the Army, an indemnity &c may be adopted. These other difficulties that I have spoken of, especially the recall of Genl Scott, may prove unfavourable. It is rather late in the day now to discuss the origin of the war. (That ought to have been understood before we engaged in it.) It may have been foreclosed by the act of either party or the force of circumstances. Let the pedants in diplomacy determine. It is certain that we are the Victors in a regular war continued, if not brought on, by their foolish obstinacy & ignorance, and they are whipped in a manner of which women might be ashamed. We have the right by the laws of war of dictating the terms of peace & requiring indemnity for our losses & expenses. Rather than forego that right, except through a spirit of magnanimity to a crushed foe, I would fight them ten years. But I would be generous in exercising it. But I think I must have tired you with Army & Mexican Matters. Having nothing interesting to relate, I have indulged in a disclosure of opinions, which I need not remind you are intended only for yourself. I know it is unbecoming in me to criticize the acts & conduct of my Superiors. You must remember me very affectionately to my dear Sis-Nanie. Tell her not to forget her brother. He hopes Someday to See her again. Give much love to the boys. I could write them a chapter on my horses & ponies, but must defer the description till I See them. I hope they are all well. That God may guard & prosper you all, is my constant prayer. I am much obliged to you for your offer to attend to any to any [sic] matters for me. I have nothing you know but my little family matters. I have put every thing in the hands of that good Mama, who will probably have to under take it Sooner or later. I know you will give her all counsel & assistance. I have written to her to invest any surplus cash she may have in the most advantageous way. I must now bid you goodnight. Drawing all day indisposes me to write at night. Both eyes & hands rebel. We get papers here so irregularly & when they come in such cords, that I have not patience to wade through them. The editors here extract matters of interest. It would be useless for you to trouble yourself to Send me the papers. Mary has made the Same offer. If however, when you came across anything of importance you would cut it out & enclose it in a letter for it might reach me earlier than otherwise. I hope you will be promoted this winter. I am sure you have deserved it long ago. Has he not Sis-Nanie [?] I hear that Sis-Nanie is so much in love with you now that she cannot bear you out of her Sight. What has got into the little lady? She must see in you a stronger resemblance to her brother Robert I think. It is to bad for Mildred to have run off to Europe. I recd. a letter from Childe by the last train I presume he has embarked before this. Remember me to all friends & believe me always you aff. Brother, R E Lee

 

Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Oversize Documents, M2009.208, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall

 

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2015 October 28

 

[1] Anna Maria Mason Lee, wife of Sidney Smith Lee, and mother of General Fitzhugh Lee. She was born 1811 February 26 in Fairfax County, Virginia. She married Sidney Lee in 1834. She died in 1898.

[2] Custis was interested in attending West Point, but, then only sixteen, was not allowed in when he first attempted to gain entry. In 1850, however, he began his first year there.

[3] “Clermont,” in Fairfax County, was the home of General John Mason (1766-1849), a son of Founding Father George Mason.

[4] Benjamin Huger was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1805. After a long career in the United States army, he joined the Confederacy, serving in Virginia as well as the Trans-Mississippi. After the war, he worked as a farmer in North Carolina. He died in Charleston in 1877.

[5] William Orlando Butler was a politician, soldier, and poet. He was born in 1791 in Kentucky. A veteran of the War of 1812, he was appointed to command the 1st Volunteer Division in the Army of Occupation during the Mexican War. He was second in command to Zachary Taylor during the battle of Monterrey, where he was wounded. On 1848 February 18, he succeeded Winfield Scott as commander of the U.S. army in Mexico City. In 1848, he ran as a vice presidential candidate with Lewis Cass, the Democratic nominee for president. Butler supported the Union during the Civil War. He died in 1880 in Kentucky.

[6] Col. William Turnbull (1800-1857). Turnbull assisted Lee with the making of military maps as general Scott’s army marched on Mexico City. He entered the war as a major but he was promoted to colonel for his service at various battles.

[7] Lee apparently means Edmund Kirby Smith (1824-1893), who served in the Mexican War and later won fame as Confederate commander of the Trans-Mississippi region during the Civil War.

[8] Lee may be referring to Thomas Grimke Rhett (1821-1878), who fought in the Mexican War. He was brevetted captain in 1847 for gallant conduct. After the war, he worked as a paymaster at Fort Bliss, Texas, from 1858-1861. He also served on the staffs of Beauregard and Johnston in the East. He was wounded at Seven Pines and later served in the Trans-Mississippi. He is buried in Baltimore.

[9] Robert C. Buchanan (1811-1878), graduated from West Point in 1830. He was a captain of infantry and fought at Palo Alto and Monterrey.

[10] Toluca, roughly 40 miles west-southwest of Mexico City.

[11] Robert Forsyth was a lieutenant during the Mexican War. He later served as a colonel in an Alabama regiment during the Civil War.

[12] Francis Taylor (1805-1858) graduated from West Point in 1825. He fought in the Seminole War and served as an artilleryman with Stonewall Jackson during the Mexican War.

[13] Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858), who coordinated with General Patterson during the attack on Veracruz. Perry commanded the USS Mississippi, which Lee referred to earlier in the letter.

[14]General Robert Patterson (1792-1881), who saw action at Veracruz and Cerro Gordo. He departed the army after his defeat at Bull Run in 1861.

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