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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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



Fort Mason, Texas

22 Jany 1861

My dear Markie

Your long kind letter of the 28th July was duly recd. I have wished frequently to thank you for it, but have not known when a letter would find you. At the time you wrote you did not seem entirely decided whether you would go to St Cathernes or to Boston, to remain any length of time, & when I knew that you were at St Catherines, the time had arrived for your departure, & so it has been at all the other points you have visited. Letters travel slowly in this Country, & before you hear of events in the “States” the opportunity for taking advantage of them has passed.

So it has happened in this case, & now not knowing where you are, & unwilling to delay longer my acknowledgements of your affectionate Consideration in writing to me & telling me of things that gave me much pleasure I shall enclose this in my letters to Arlington, hoping it may in that way reach you.

I was very glad to hear that you had enjoyed your visit to Arlington & had in a measure prolonged it by forming one of the party to St Catherenes. I hope its sainted waters has caused some amelioration of the attacks of your old enemy, & that the new scenes & fresh ideas of the countries you have visited may have entirely put it to flight & called forth the trustful energies of your character for the duties of life. I am unable to form an opinion as to the advantages of the course of study you propose to yourself. Of that you are the best judge. There is scarcely anything that is right that we cannot hope to accomplish by labour & perserverance. But the first must be earnest, & the second unremitting. In your case I hope the exercise of both may be agreable & refreshing. The object, to become useful & independent, is certainly praiseworthy, but I cannot think necessary, as you can form yourself an agreeable home any where. As you have determined on it however I hope you may succeed, even beyond your most sanguine expectations. Could your progress keep pace with my wishes, your advancement & works would equal the most renowned masters of the art, & the love of your friends would be exceeded by their admiration. That such may be your career & that your happiness may go hand in hand with your merit, my poor prayers will never be wanting to accomplish.

I hope you have seen Lolo often since his return & receive good news from orton.1 My letters from home frequently mention him, & in one of the last it was stated that he & Custis were looking forward to captaincies in the army of the Southern Republic! The subject recalls my grief at the condition of our country. God alone can save us from our folly, selfishness & short sightedness. The last accounts seem to shew that we have barely escaped anarchy to be plunged into civil war. What will be the result I cannot conjecture. I only see that a fearful calamity is upon us, & fear that the country will have to pass through for its sins a fiery ordeal. I am unable to realize that our people will destroy a government inaugurated by the blood & wisdom of our patriot fathers, that has given us peace & prosperity at home, power & security abroad, & under which we have acquired a colossal strength unequalled in the history of mankind. I wish to live under no other government, & there is no sacrifice I am not ready to make for the preservation of the Union save that of honour. If a disruption takes place, I shall go back in sorrow to my people & share the misery of my native state, & save in her defence there will be one soldier less in the world than now. I wish for no other flag than the “Star spangled banner,” & no other air than “Hail Columbia.” I still hope that the wisdom & patriotism of the nation will yet save it.

I am so remote from the scene of events & receive such excited & exaggerated accounts of the opinions & acts of our statesmen, that I am at a loss what to think. I believe that the South justly complains of the aggressions of the North, & I have believed that the north would cheerfully redress the grievances complained of. I see no cause of disunion, strife & civil war & I pray it may be averted.

My own troubles, anxieties & sorrows sink into insignificance when I contemplate the sufferings present & prospective of the nation. Yet I am very desirous to be near those who claim my protection, & who may need my assistance. Nothing prevents my endeavouring to do so, but the necessity of my presence with the Regiment. There is no other field officer with it, & the presence of the officers may do much to quiet the apprehensions of the men, who are impatient under the present prospect of affairs, & absence of pay. We must all endeavour to do our whole duty however far we know we fall short of it.

There is nothing here of interest to tell you. Last evg Lt Lowe the Adjt of the Regiment returned with his bride.2 She is from St Louis & a fine looking woman. They encamped last night in their primitive quarters, & took breakfast with me this morg. What is your Conception of a bridal breakfast in the Comanche country? The most important accompaniment is a fine appetite. The lady’s I am sorry to say was timid, her swain’s bold & soldierly, & he attacked the beef steak, hashed turkey & boiled eggs fearlessly. They dine to day with their left hand neighbour & come to me again tomorrow. Mr John Shaaf left us about ten days since on a long furlough. It is the first time he has visited his friends since he graduated. He carried a wife & daughter with him. The former of a years standing & the latter of a few months. She was a miss Key of Louisville & I hope will be agreable to his friends.3 He married her in Texas. I believe you are not acquainted with the other officers near me. Mr Jenifer is at the adjoining Post to me. I may have to go father up the Country. I hope your Uncle Aunt & Cousin are well. Please present to them my regards & remember me to Lawrence & orton when you write. And now I will bid you farewell. May every happiness attend you is the prayer of your affectionate.


R E Lee




1. Laurence Albert Williams (1833-1879) and William Orton Williams (1839-1863), Markie's brothers.

2. William Warren Lowe (1831-1898) was born in Greencastle in Putnam County, Indiana. He fought for the Union during the Civil War, rising to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. He served in the 5th Iowa cavalry regiment and took part in the Fort Donelson and other campaigns in the western theater. He died in Oamaha, Nebraska, where he is buried. Lowe married Sallie Havens Lowe (1838-1919), a native of Brooklyn, New York. She dies in St. Louis but is buried with her husband in Propsect Hill Cemetery in Omaha.

3. John T. Shaaf (1830-1877) was born in Washington, D.C. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1851. During the Civil War, he served in the 1st Louisiana heavy artillery.  He married Helen Key, a native of Kentucky in July of 1859 in Calhoun, Texas. Shaaf died in July of 1877 in New York City.     



Source: Transcribed from digital copy of original letter, Letters of Robert E. Lee to Martha Custis Williams, 1844-1870, Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 September 20       

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