March 2, 1862
My Precious Annie:
It has been a long time since I have written to you, but you have been constantly in my thoughts. I think of you all, separately & collectively, in the busy hours of the day & the silent hours of the night, & the recollection of each & every one whiles away the long nights, in which my anxious thoughts drive away sleep. But I always feel that you & Agnes at those times are sound & happy that is immaterial to either where the blockaders are or what their progress is in the river. I hope you are well, & as happy as you can be in these perilous times to our country. They look dark at present, & it is plain we have not suffered enough, labored enough, repented enough, to deserve success. But they will brighten after awhile, & I trust that a merciful God will arouse us to a sense of our danger, bless our honest efforts, & drive back our enemies to their homes. Our people have not been earnest enough, have thought too much of themselves & their ease, & instead of turning out to a man, have been content to nurse themselves & their dimes, & leave the protection of themselves & families to others. To satisfy their consciences, they have been clamorous in criticising what others have done, & endeavoured to prove that they ought to do nothing. This is not the way to accomplish our independence. I have been doing all I can, with our small means & slow workmen, to defend the cities & coast here. Against ordinary numbers we are pretty strong, but against the hosts our enemies seem able to bring everywhere, there is no calculation. But if our men will stand to their work, we shall give them trouble & damage them yet. They have worked their way across the marshes, with their dredges, under cover of their gunboats, to the Savannah River, above Fort Pulaski. I presume they will endeavor to reduce the fort & thus open the way for their heavier vessels up the river. But we have an interior line they must force before reaching the city. It is on this line we are working, slowly to my anxious mind, but as fast as I can drive them. I believe I mentioned to your mother that Mrs. William H. Stiles is here on a visit to her mother. I see them occasionally & they are as kind as they can be. Mrs. [Stiles] has undertaken to repair my shirts & necessity has compelled me to accept her offer, which I am ashamed to do, both on account of the trouble to her & the exhibition of my rags. But pride must have a fall. Her sisters & niece had offered before, but my pride objected. See how foolish I am. Mr. Edward Stiles is here on a leave of absence. His regiment is near Yorktown. He has seen his mother & sisters who are in the interior of G[eorgia] & who are well. The young people say here Miss Sidney is engaged to her cousin Dr. William Elliott. I know not how it is, but the doctor is a very clever gentleman, stands well in the army, in which he is an Assistant Surgeon. He was with the troops at Port Royal & remained with some wounded, three days after our troops left the island of Hilton Head, & got them off. He is the son of Dr. Ralph Elliott, who married Miss Margaret Mackay, sister of Mrs. Ben & William H. Stiles. His sister Carrie is in town, a sweet young lady. I believe I have nothing else to say, except to send love to everybody. Give much to your mother, Charlotte, Agnes, Mary, & the boys, among whom is included my grandson. I received a letter from Precious Life [Mildred] the other day. She is well but in a starving condition from her own account poor child, yet fattening. I hope it is not as bad as that, but you must tell her not to be too particular in her diet, but to eat everything before her. It is not necessary for young ladies to become etherial to grow wise. She moans after Tom [her cat, left at Arlington] & knows he is alive & that his precious heart will break if he does not see her soon. I shall have to get Genl Johnston to send in a flag of truce & make inquiries. I hope you girls are learning to be useful & have entered into domestic manufactures. Take separate departments & prepare fabric, or it will end in destitution. Has my poor little Agnes recovered her neuralgia. I will write to her as soon as I can. I hope her disease is not catching. Goodbye my dear child. May God bless you & our poor country.
Your devoted father
R. E. Lee
Source: The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, edited by Clifford Dowdey and Louis Manarin, pp. 121-123.
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 February 26