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  • 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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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 curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



264 Street Washington DC

July 13 1861


Dearest Cousin Mary

Although I have not the most remote idea how you will get this letter, I feel that I must write and tell you, much that I know you will like to hear.

You will be astonished to hear that I am in Washington – Ever since your letter, telling me that you had left my things at Arlington, dear cousin Mary, I have felt the greatest anxiety about them

The table draw in my room contained papers of importance & all my letters. I could not bear to think of these things falling into the hands of strangers & so, for weeks & months, I have been thinking of making a visit to Washington, for the purpose of securing them. Finally, I was enabled to make my arrangements to do so, & came on about a week or ten days ago. I wrote immediately to Col. Townsend to ask a permit from Gen. Scott, to visit A. (How strange it seems!) I received a very kind little note from my old friend the Col. & a full permit to visit the place & do whatever I might wish, giving directions to Lieut. Kingsbury1 to facilitate me in every way in his power. Not liking to go alone through the encampments, I asked my friends, Mr. & Mrs. Campbell, to accompany me. We went in a hack & crossed in a ferry boat, from Georgetown.

The culvert was guarded & so was the gate opposite the farm gate & we had to stop & show our permit. There is a large encampment just below the Cedar Park & tents & soldiers along the road side & interspersed everywhere. I was blinded with tears & choaked with sorrow as I tried to gaze on scenes once so familiar. Now, so strangely distorted.

The carriage was directed by the sentinel to halt at Selina’s house2 by the side of it. Some of the officers, having seen Mr. Campbell & heard our errand, came up & I believe Mr Campbell introduced them, but as I said, my eyes were bedimmed with tears & my heart full of sorrow, so that I hardly know what I did. I think I bowed, but passed on as quickly as I could with Selina, who with the carpet bag I had brought, led the way to the house, through the tents & soldiers.

The poor House looked so desolate, I went to my room & when the dr was shut, gave way to the most bitter lamentations. I thought so much of you all & of what your sorrow would be, to see things as they now are. Oh! Who in their wildest dreams, could have conjectured all this last summer. It was but one year ago that we were all there, so happy & so peaceful.

I took a trunk over & filled it with my things, but of course, had to leave many. Finding dear Annie’s portfolio & some other letters & things in the draws, I brought them away.

I asked Selina for the poor little Puss & she said she had not seen him since you left. On opening the garret door, however, I heard a mournful mewing & calling Pussy he timidly came up & rubbed his little head against my dress in the most affectionate way.

I took him up, covered him with tears & kisses. Oh! how many fond associations of the past did that poor little cat bring up. He looked so pitiful there in his lonely garret home, but, I suppose his instincts teach him not to leave it. I took most of the things out of my large wooden chest, dear cousin Mary & filled it with papers, that I found about the garret—old letters I mean. I could not bear the idea of their being read by the people into whose heads they may eventually fall. I wish the capacity of my box admitted of my stowing away more. It distressed me not to be able to take away everything, especially all the papers & small things, but, I did the best I could. I have written a note to Col. Lyon asking him to send my box over as soon as he could do so conveniently. He told Mr. Campbell that he felt a great deal of sympathy for the family & was doing all he could to preserve things as he found them &c&c.

He is Col. of the 8th New York Volunteers, a very fine regiment they say, most of them being very respectable men. I saw some of the servants. Poor old Daniel looked very feeble & seemed to be suffering from shortness of breath. I should not think he could live very long. Nurse was as usual full of complaints. Selina looked dolorous, poor Ephraim too. All asked after you all with interest. On Saturday, Uncle Ephraim called at Col. Alberts. When I heard he was here, it seemed so naturel I began to think of a note from you. How hard it is to realize the change!

He was dressed in a full suit of white & looked quite military in his aspect. I asked how the servants were getting on. He said tolerably well. He sold the produce of the garden, as you had directed him and got with it the tea & sugar &c &c & divided it among the old servants. He said he did the best he could & should never let the family be demeaned. When he was going away he said he hoped things would all come around again & that both sides might be united again. You see he is a union man poor uncle Ephraim!

Dear, dear Cousin Mary how can I express to you all the deep sympathy I feel for you. Give my warmest love to all my cousins & tell them how much I love them & how I long to hear from them. I have written long letters both to Annie & Agnes & to yourself. I hope you have received them.

Do write and tell me all about yourselves & how I can get letters

[end of letter]    




Source: Photocopied letter, Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51c 306, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond                                                            


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 July 6




1. Lt. George W. Kinsbury, 16th Vermont regiment.

2. Selina Gray, an African American woman who was put in charge of Arlington after the Lee family left their home.

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