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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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



Ft. Monroe 28th Nov 1833


Dear Jack


I flatter myself it is entirely useless, or as Captain Fabius would more elegantly express it, it is surely a work of supererogation, to allude even in the remotest manner to any part of your last letter. Seeing that its contents must have as entirely passed from your recollection as from mine, I have more than once thought of telling you this before. But the tone of your last said too plainly that the muscles of your body were in a measure relaxed & to be comprehended, I must wait till they were braced by the cool weather. Therefore Jack I have comforted myself by practising, what you so strongly recommend, ‘Paciencia1 & what you say you have adopted as your motto, at least on Surveying, which however efficacious it may prove on the Savannah, does not so entirely answer on these more Northern, when a man is expecting letters from his Friends, I exhort you therefore to a contrary course in my case. And now I think of it I have a little news to relate. There are Eight companies ordered from here to Alabama. Aye, the Alabama, Captain Whitings, Gardners, Fraziers, Gatts, Mackays (In comd. of Ringgold2) Washingtons, Porters & Griswolds, Q. Mr. Dusenbury, Adjt. J. E. Johnston, Surgeons Berry and Heiskell3 under command of Major Heileman. This sweeps the Point Excepting Capt. Lyons Compy & a few of the Standards. Two ships are now in the Roads, arrived this morng to take them to Savannah, whence they will go to Augusta in S. Boats4 & march across to Ft. Mitchell. There are now coming to the wharf 71 Recruits, Bob Temple & Dr. Macomb, to fill out the compies. An officer has been sent to Phila. to hasten on some part of the new uniform for the men, So that they will go as fine as a Fiddle & astonish the natives with their brilliant Epaulettes, flowing Plumes, & bright stripes. The Band is also to accompany them & is to be used to entice the squatters into their own Country. Col Eustis is ordered to expidite their embarkation & will then have a furlough. I begg [sic] Genl. Macomb’s pardon, a leave of absence, for three months, to See after matters on his Estates. Mackay, I long to see you a Colonel. It would be So good for you my child, & as a recompense for his arduous duties. As you may suppose every one is in busy preparation, & the younger offrs in great glee, purchasing tin cups, flasks & what not, Burnishing their pumps & Gold chains, & parading their Blankets. Hope you know is a Goddess that lives in activity. I take it they calmly consider the matter in their Berths, they will not see the great pleasure of the Squatter Hunt. But the poor Ladies Jack, require all your sympathy. They are now all Niobes & will prove themselves Penelopes.5 Among them are Three Brides, & one of them not more than a week old. Besides some others, that are quite as pretty & of as tender feelings, some others again are more advanced, & their Husbands upon their return will be welcomed by one more, than they take leave of. What a picture Mackay for a Bachelor of your tender heart. I am to console them, & am in the right disposition to sympathize with them as Mrs. Lee & her little Lamb6 are at Arlington. The Miss Masons are well & as sweet as ever. I shall say to them this winter all kinds of things for you. Will you do me the same favour with Miss Mackays & Andersons, your Mother, Aunt, Sisters &c. It is needless to tell you that I have galloped this off in great haste. I will write by J E Johnston & my present object was to have you in the way when the troops arrived. There are two new comps ordered here, one from Boston, Capt. Anderson & one from N. London Capt. Thurston.


Believe me as ever,

R E Lee


Addressed to Lt. John Mackay

U.S. Artillery, Savannah, Georgia



Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 3, M2009.181, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall


Transcribed by Colin Woodward 2015 September 2. Revised 2018 April 30.


1. Spanish for “patience.”

2. Lee was likely referring to Samuel Ringgold (1796-1846), who graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1818. Ringgold commanded Company E of the 3d Artillery at Fort Monroe in this period, according to an 1833 October Fort Monroe Return from Military Post muster roll. Many of the officers listed in the discussion of the eight companies are on this muster sheet as well. Samuel Ringgold, who died at the Battle of Palo Alto in 1846, is the officer for whom Ringgold Barracks was named. 

3. Henry Lee Heiskell (1803-1855), a native of Virginia, who was Acting Surgeon General of the Army during the Mexican War.

4. Presumably he means steamboats.

5. Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus and wife of Amphion, a son of Zeus. Because she wept for her slaughtered children, Zeus turned her into a rock, which continued to shed tears. Penelope was the wife of Odysseus, who remained faithful to him despite his long absences from Troy.

6. Lee is referring to George Washington Custis Lee, born 1832 September 16 at Fort Monroe. Custis was the first child born to the Lees, who were married on 1831 June 30.

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