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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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


 

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Richmond 4 Nov 1875

 

Dear General:

 

Thank you for your kind letter. In cheerfully complying with your request and enclosing to you General Early’s letter. I state to you frankly the wound it inflicted on my feelings.

General Early well knows that the statue commissions at their last hurried meeting has failed to arrange the inauguration ceremonies, had expressly charged me with that whole labor and responsibility and had then adjourned to meet no more before the 26th of October. He was bound to know that the negroes could not have been admitted into the procession without my consenting to it and being responsible for it. His opposition to their admission could not have been seriously based on any such idea as that their 15th amendment banners and Lincoln portraits were really going to be flaunted in our faces. For not only did the negroes themselves indignantly resist the suggestion that they were capable of showing anything in the procession that would be offensive to the white people, but they showed from the beginning that they were as incapable of giving such an insult on that day as we were of submitting to it. Moreover, General Heth’s published order expressly said that no political emblems and no devices of any sort which might be offensive to any portion of the people would be allowed in the procession. And I am assured that after all this was known and understood by everybody, General Early continued to renounce the admission of the negroes as bitterly as he had done before. I feel very certain, therefore, that it was not any fear of having offensive banners and portraits flaunted in his face, but it was his antipathy to having the negroes in the procession on any terms that causes him to denounce whomsoever might be responsible for putting them there. His letter most offensively characterized any and everybody who was responsible for the plan to include the negroes in the procession. He was bound to know that such a plan could not exist without my being its responsible author. His denunciations were levelled at whatever person might turn out to be such author. I considered and still consider them as intended for myself. His course while here last week confirmed my conviction that they were intended for me alone for it in effect reaffirmed the interpretation he knew I gave his letter. More intolerable and insulting denunciations of a man’s motives could not have been written. What were they?

On the last page of his letter he characterized the plan of admitting the negroes “as an indelible disgrace and indignity to the memory of Jackson and an insult to all confederates who have any respect for themselves left.” What motives but the basest of all possible motives could prompt an act. What man but the vilest of all unhung wretches could be guilty of an act which is “an indelible disgrace” and “an insult to all confederates who have any respect for themselves left? It was my act and my motives that General Early thus insultingly characterizes, for now after being written to by me and informed that the act he denounced was mine – being informed that I regard his bitter reproaches as a direct arraignment of my action and motives – he remains dumb and apparently acquiesces in the construction which he knows I give his language. Again, you will find I am made to appear, by one of the inuendos of the letter, as making political capital out of our celebration and converting it into “electioneering carnival.” I can’t trust myself to comment on the insufferable indignities I have thus received at the hands of General Early. My indignation and wrath have known no bounds since I got his letter and my blood boils as I write about it. He knows my hands were tied when he thus cruelly insulted me. He has no provocation or cause thus to turn upon me. He has habitually received courtesy, hospitality and marked deference at my hands.

But one of the most utterly unfounded and offensive of his complaints is that I have gone back on him and that I was bound by some pledge to him to keep the negroes out of the procession! I emphatically deny the truth of that complaint. When General Early was last at my house and when this subject was discussed, Doctor Hoge was present and I am glad to know he distinctly recollects what I had to say to General Early on the matter of allowing the negroes in the procession. He well remembers my then saying, with my customary emphasis, that for myself I was in favor of having them in the procession, that I said it would in my opinion be an appropriate and striking tribute to the great confederate for the negroes to unite in honors to his name. I did also say, in view of the opposition of some to admitting the negroes and in order to avoid all trouble about the matter, that I apprehended no difficulty in making the negroes satisfied to stay out of the procession, for I had influence with them through their preachers and leaders, and while I made no pledge and bound myself neither to General Early nor to anybody else. I did express my then intention, in the event of an application from the negroes, to ease them off—to have a kindly conference with their head men and get them to withdraw the application. I formed and expressed this intention out of sheer deference to General Early’s prejudices. I expressed it afterward to General Heth and told him whenever the negroes applied to him to send them to me. But when the application did come, it came in such imposing shape, it was so different from what I had anticipated, that it was evident it would be unjust and wrong to reject it, while it would have the worst effect both here and abroad to rebuff the appeal of the negroes. In this conclusion of mine all our best confederates and citizens here concurred. Mrs. Jackson concurred. And I ordered the negroes to be admitted. Am I to be told that I had bound myself to General Early –that I had surrendered my freedom of mind, my independence of action, to his will? What does he mean by my going back on him? If I had even changed my opinions and purposes out and out after he left here, wasn’t I as free as he, and didn’t I have a right to change as often as I pleased? Am I any property or vassal of his, so bound and responsible to him for my action and my opinions, that I am to be accused of treachery and breach of faith, of taking a short cut on him, of “capturing” him, of going back on him, whenever I do as I please instead of doing as he pleases? It seems to me General Early has acted all through this matter as if he thought he was my especial God Almighty? He has with violent intolerance resented my dissent from his views. After having impressed me with the idea that he was my friend, he writes me a most insulting letter – a letter of insufferable arrogance and offensiveness – then treats my comparatively mild reply as a great outrage to himself – and comes down here and talks to many gentleman about me and my action in a way calculated to damage me most deeply. I forbear to say what I feel, and what a great many others feel, under the unprovoked and cruel wrongs he has put upon me.

I want to set one small matter right. When I wrote to General Early, in my anxiety to assume every particle of the responsibility for the plan of the procession and in the sense of being solely responsible for what was published on that subject. I said I was the author of General Heth’s card. In that I did General Heth injustice. He himself had written the most important and forcible portion of that card, and I added on a good deal of matter of my own but incorporating and retaining word for word what he had written.

I have, with very great inconvenience to myself (for I am extremely busy) made these explanation in deference to yourself alone.

Very truly yours,

J. L. Kemper

General Fitzhugh Lee

 

 

 

Source: Digital photograph of original letter, Fitzhugh Lee Papers, Earl Swem Library Special Collections, College of William and Mary

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 November 16

 

         

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