March 29 1878
My dear Taylor
I have been pressed down with work so that I have not noted the passage of the two months since getting your letter.
The point made in the Post is a good one so far as it says there is an apparent gap in the telegrams or notes of what Gen. Lee did in those months to warn and urge the government. There is such a gap but it is very hard to fill – except by a controversial sort of writing – which you would not care to enter into. His frequent & fruitless visits to Richmond. His groaning
on his return to Petersburg &c You remember that paper containing the petition of a Miller in Bedford signed by a number of Citizens to have his furlough extended which came back with Mr Davis’ signature, Secretary Breckinridge’s & finally General Lee’s thus “Col Taylor give him five days” and the account he gave us of how it was presented by John Goode in the midst of a Council which the Genl the President & Mr. Breckinridge were holding.
The telegram at Petersburg that Sunday from Mr Davis in reply to Gen Lee’s announcement of the impending evacuation rendered necessary by our disasters. I did not see. I rode up and dismounted as you handed it to him by the Cedar trees near the old Stainback property. (Hills Winter Headquarters) He read it and began to tear it up. saying ‘I am sure I gave him sufficient notice’ or ‘have given’.
The telegrams after I wrote by his order to Gen Ewell in the latter part of February sending a copy of the Congressional law about burning tobacco and after Gen Lee’s own letter to Secretary Breckinridge requesting the removal of Archives &c to Lynchburg. I remember well. President Davis first sent this in cipher.
“Rumours said to be based on orders given by you create panic and obstruct necessary legislation. Come over I wish to have your views on the matter.”
That I think is his telegram verbatim.
General Lee answered very briefly also in cipher. In this answer I think it probable there was a first sentence speaking of the difficulty of leaving Petersburg. But I do not remember it. The main sentence was this
“Send me the volumes and I will send you my views.”
To this Mr Davis made a most angry reply not in cipher of which I remember these two sentences verbatim –
“Rest assured I will never ask your views in answer to volumes. Your counsels are no longer wanted in this matter.”
On receiving this Gen Lee ordered his horse, rode over to Swift Creek and went on the train to Richmond. After that day nothing was done about the tobacco, or the removal of the Archives. General Lee returned deeply depressed, and I do not think he ever told any one anything of his interview with the President on that occasion. I remember however one night when he was groaning about the difficulties & danger attending the holding of the Long line with his small force, I unwisely ventured to ask him why he did not abandon it. He turned on me sharply and said that to do so would be to be a traitor to his government, or strong words to that effect.
Don’t mind the critics. Your book is a most valuable contribution to the memories of the man, and will always be sought and relied on by the truth seeking and the caring historian.
Yours most truly
Chas S Venable
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 8, M2009.425
Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 July 20