• The Lees of Virginia
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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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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 editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



Richmond, Va.             The Sentinel    Monday Morning, December 19, 1864


We have received the following from a source entitled to know, in reference to the letter1 imputed to General Lee, which lately appeared in this paper, into which it had been copied from a United States print. It seems that it was a Yankee forgery. In this characteristic act, the Yankees, while illustrating their own depravity, paid the only tribute of which they were capable to General Lee’s worth. They knew that to give vrai-semblance [sic] and credibility to the fraud, it was necessary to fill the letter with elevated sentiments, borrowed where they could find them. The defects of style they took care to guard against, by pleading haste of compensation. We are not often deceived by forgeries of this sort, whether in the manufactured correspondence which is a part of the “enterprise” of Northern journalism, or in the clumsy imitations which are occasionally ventured upon by such Confederate newspapers as are willing to copy after such teachers. A glance usually suffices to detect the trick. But in the instance to which we are now referring, in common with many other Confederate journals, we were imposed upon. The following puts the fraud at rest:

“I have read the published letter, said to have been written by Gen. R. E. Lee. There is nothing about it can be recognized as genuine by any one familiar with his style. He never dated any of his letters Arlington House. In April, ‘52, he never had belonged  to any regiment and could not, therefore, have been about to search for it in New Mexico. He was transferred to the cavalry in ‘55, and had previously been in the Engineer Corps. In the spring of ‘52, he was engaged in the construction of the Fort at Sollers Point Flats, and preparing to go to West Point, as Superintendent of the Military academy there. He has never been to New Mexico. This plain statement of facts is made to furnish another example of the mendacity of our enemies, and how they publish things that are utterly false. There seems to have been no object in this publication but to amuse the people. So far, it is a harmless deception, yet the cause of truth needs this refutation.”




Source: Photocopy of typescript copy, DeButts-Ely Collection of Lee Papers, Library of Congress

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 November 7     



1.                            Richmond WhigFriday Morning, Dec. 2, 1864


The original of the following letter from General Lee to his son was found at Arlington House and is interesting as illustrating a phase in his character.


Arlington House, April 5, 1852

My dear Son: I am just in the act of leaving home for New Mexico. My fine old regiment has been ordered to that distant region, and I must hasten to see that they are properly taken care of. I have but little to add in reply to your letters of March 26, 27 and 28.

Your letters breathe a true spirit of frankness; they have given myself and your mother great pleasure. You must study to be frank with the world; frankness is the child of honesty and courage. Say what you mean to do on every occasion, and take it for granted you mean to do right. If a friend asks a favor, you should grant it, if it is reasonable; if not, tell him plainly why you cannot; you will wrong him and wrong yourself by equivocation of any kind. Never do a wrong thing to make a friend or keep one; the man who requires you to do so, is dearly purchased at a sacrifice. Deal kindly, but firmly with all your all your classmates; you will find it a policy which wears best—above all, do not appear to others what you are not—if you have any fault to find with anyone, tell him, not others, of what you complain; there is no more dangerous experiment than that of undertaking to be one thing before a man’s face and another behind his back. We should live, act, and say nothing to the injury of anyone. It is not only best as a matter of principle, but it is the path to peace and honor.

In regard to duty; let me, in conclusion of this hasty letter, inform you that nearly a hundred years ago there was a day of remarkable gloom and darkness—still known as the dark day—a day when the light of the sun was slowly extinguished, as if by an eclipse. The Legislature of Connecticut was in session, and as its members saw the unexpected and unaccountable darkness coming on they shared in the general awe and terror. It was supposed by many that the last day—the day of judgment—had come. Some one, in the consternation of the hour, moved an adjournment—then there arose an old Puritan legislator, Davenport, of Stamford, who said, that if the last day had come, he desired to be found at his place doing his duty, and therefore, moved that candles be brought in so that the House could proceed with its duty. There was quietness in that man’s mind—the quietness of heavenly wisdom—an inflexible willingness to obey present duty. Duty, then, is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things like the old Puritan. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less. Never let me and mother wear one grey hair for any lack of duty on your part.

Your affectionate father,

R E Lee      



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