General Lee, by Fitzhugh Lee, Chapter 2

General Lee

CHAPTER II.
BIRTH.—CAREER AS OFFICER OF ENGINEERS, UNITED STATES ARMY.

SEVENTY-FIVE years after the birth of Washington, Robert Edward, the fourth son of General Henry Lee and Anne Hill Carter, was born at Stratford, Westmoreland County, Virginia, on the 19th of January, 1807. If he inherited much from a long and illustrious line of paternal ancestors, he no less fell heir to the strong characteristics of his mother’s family, one of the oldest and best in Virginia. The unselfishness, generosity, purity, and faithfulness of the Virginia Carters are widely known, and they have always been “true to all occasions true.” In his mother was personified all the gentle and sweet traits of a noble woman. Her whole life was admirable, and her love for her children beyond all other thoughts. To her watchful care they were early confided by the long absence and death of her distinguished husband.

Robert was four years old when his father removed the family to Alexandria, six when he visited the West Indies for his health, and eleven when he died. If he was early trained in the way he should go, his mother trained him. If he was “always good,” as his father wrote, she labored to keep him so. If his principles were sound and his life a success, to her, more than to any other, should the praise be given. This lovely woman, as stated, was the daughter of Charles Carter, of Shirley, who resided in his grand old mansion on the banks of the James River, some twenty miles below Richmond, then, as now, the seat of an open, profuse, and refined hospitality, and still in the possession of the Carters. Mrs. Henry Lee’s mother was Anne Moore, and her grandmother a daughter of Alexander Spottswood, the soldier who fought with Marlborough at Blenheim, and was afterward sent to Virginia as governor in 1710, and whose descent can be traced in a direct line from King Robert the Bruce, of Scotland.

Robert Edward Lee could look back on long lines of paternal and maternal ancestors, but it is doubtful whether he ever exercised the privilege; in a letter to his wife, written in front of Petersburg, February, 1865, he says: “I have received your note. I am very much obliged to Mr. —— for the trouble he has taken in relation to the Lee genealogy. I have no desire to have it published, and do not think it would afford sufficient interest beyond the immediate family to compensate for the expense. I think the money had better be applied to relieving the poor. . . .”

He felt a natural pride in their achievements, but no one knew better than he that in a republic, and in a great war, a man’s ancestry could not help him, but that place and promotion depended upon individual merit. His lineage has been traced because the descent of a celebrated man excites attention, just as it is interesting to discover the source of a noble river whose blessings to commerce can not be measured. In consequence of the absence of the elder brothers, the ill health of one sister, and the youth of another, to Robert’s care, in a measure, his mother was committed. After his father’s departure to the tropics she watched over his daily life with tender solicitude, and he was, she said, both a daughter and a son to her. With filial devotion to her comfort his hours out of school were given. He waited on her, nursed her when sick, drove with her, obeyed her every wish, and this reciprocal love was a goodly picture in old Alexandria to those who saw mother and son in those days. As Robert grew in years he grew in grace; he was like the young tree whose roots, firmly imbedded in the earth, hold it straight from the hour it was first planted till it develops into majestic proportions. With the fostering care of such a mother the son must go straight, for she had planted him in the soil of truth, morality, and religion, so that his boyhood was marked by everything that produces nobility of character in manhood. The handsome boy was studious and sedate, was popular with other boys, stood high in the estimation of his teachers, and his early inspiration was good, for his first thoughts were directed upon lofty subjects by an excellent mother.

His birthplace and that of Washington were not only in the same county but only a short distance apart. The landscape of that section of Virginia was the first that greeted the eyes of each. The Potomac River, in all its grandeur and beauty, flowed past Stratford as well as Pope’s Creek. Alexandria afterward became his town, as it had before been the town of Washington. The married life of the two was respectively passed at Mount Vernon and Arlington, the same river rolling at their feet, while the old town stood dignified and historic between the mansions proudly connecting the name and fame of their occupants.

Robert went first to the Alexandria Academy, being under the tuition of Mr. Leary, who was ever after his firm friend. Later he attended the famous school of Mr. Benjamin Hallowell, in Alexandria, whose house, still standing, is yet conducted as a popular school. Ben. Hallowell was a Quaker of the Quakers. His school stood high; so did he as a teacher. “Brimstone Castle” the boys called it, on account of its color. Mr. Hallowell says that young Lee was an exemplary student, perfectly observant and respectful, and those who knew him, either in the charm of the domestic circle or amid the roar of battle, knew that good old Mr. Hallowell’s opinion must have been correct.

The time had now arrived to select a profession, and to the army his inclination pointed—a direction which probably resulted from a son’s desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, especially when that father had been so distinguished in the profession. He was now a modest, manly youth, in his eighteenth year, who resolved to take care of himself and relieve his mother to that extent. His father’s career had reflected credit upon his country; could he not hope to do the same? Sydney Smith Lee, his next oldest brother, had already entered the navy, and was supporting himself; so he decided to go in the army. The application for an appointment to the United States Military Academy was successful, and in 1825 his name was entered upon the rolls of that celebrated institution. He had now four years of hard study, vigorous drill, and was absorbing strategy and tactics to be useful to him in after-years. His excellent habits and close attention to all duties did not desert him; he received no demerits; was a cadet officer in his class, and during his last year held the post of honor in the aspirations of cadet life—the adjutancy of the corps. He graduated second in a class of forty-six, and was commissioned second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. It is interesting to notice that his eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, also entered the Military Academy twenty-one years after his father, was also the cadet adjutant, graduated first in his class, and was assigned to the Engineer Corps. During his whole course at West Point Robert was a model cadet, his clothes looked nice and new, his cross-belts, collar, and summer trousers were as white as the driven snow mounting guard upon the mountain top, and his brass breast and waist plates were mirrors to reflect the image of the inspector. He conscientiously performed his tours of guard duty, whether the noncommissioned officer of the guard was approaching his post or sleeping in his quarters. He never “ran the sentinel post,” did not go off the limits to the “Benny Havens” of his day, or put “dummies” in his bed, to deceive the officer in charge as he made his inspection after taps, and at the parades stood steady in line. It was a pleasure for the inspecting officer to look down the barrel of his gun, it was bright and clean, and its stock was rubbed so as to almost resemble polished mahogany.

Cadet Lee in 1829 became Lieutenant Lee of the Engineer Corps of the United States Army. The cadets who graduate in each class with first honors are assigned to it, and its ranks are kept full of first-class material; its members are composed of students who obey the regulations, are proficient in their studies, and receive few demerits. From this scientific corps distinguished men and great soldiers have issued, and to be an officer of the United States Engineer Corps is a passport everywhere.

A short time previous to the late war a number of officers of the different arms of service were assembled in one of the rooms at West Point. The conversation turned, as it often did, upon the relative merits of the different arms of services, each officer contending for his own branch; finally an officer of infantry, who afterward became a distinguished major general in the army of the United States, said: “You gentlemen who graduate at the head of your respective classes are of opinion that you are the most talented, and possibly will make the best soldiers and most intelligent officers of the army; you will find, however, that should war actually take place between the Northern and Southern States, and you get in a tight place on the field of battle, you can not work yourself out with equations.” All of which is very true. A courier has been known to tell his superior officer how to extricate his troops in a perilous position under fire, because he had more military perception, though less education and engineering skill.

Great soldiers, like poets, are born, not made. Military training, discipline, the study of strategy, and grand tactics are powerful re-enforcements to natural genius. All the army commanders from 1861 to 1865, on either side, were West Point graduates; but many West Pointers were indifferent officers; on the other hand, others climbed high on Fame’s military ladder who never attended a military school. Generals Logan and Terry on the Northern, and Generals Forrest and Gordon on the Southern side, were distinguished examples; but if to their soldierly qualifications a military education had been added, their ascent to distinction would have been greatly facilitated.

Lieutenant Lee entered upon the usual life of a young officer of engineers; his chosen profession had his earnest attention, and every effort was made to acquire information. He knew his studies at West Point were only the foundation upon which to build the life edifice. Without continued application to the principles of engineering and study he could not hope to rise above the ordinary level of the military graduate. So his army career began with the fixed determination to put aside daily pleasures of life where they conflicted with daily hours of duty. Officers in this branch of the service had pleasant stations, necessarily near or in the cities. Fortifications for the defense of harbors, forts for the protection of seaports, streams whose currents made bars at wrong places, and other similar works must receive the attention of the engineer. His location was therefore near the centers of civilization. Cavalry and infantry graduates of West Point were ordered to posts where the sun goes down behind the western hills; guarding long lines of frontier, scouting, and fighting hostile tribes of Indians were their particular duties. The temptations incident to city life did not lie so much in their course as in the path of the engineer. The pleasures and fascinations of social life everywhere surrounded him. As soon as he unbuckled sword belt there was but a step to take to get into the gay world. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that sometimes the engineer drank wine when it was red, and did not seek his quarters till the sun had gilded with its first glance the spires of the neighboring church. The artillery officer enjoyed with his comrades his mess table; the infantry officer occasionally had moistened lips from a canteen of frontier fire water; while the “bold dragoon who scorned all care” rode far and sometimes drank deep.

Lee was naturally exposed to an engineer’s temptations, but was careful and abstemious. He went much in the society of ladies—always most congenial to him. His conversation was bright, his wit refined and pleasant. Cement, mortar, lime, curves, tangents, and straight professional lines disappeared then. He enjoyed a dress parade of this kind, was happy in the drawing-room in the evening, and happy in his work on the parapet next day. He was in love from boyhood. Fate brought him to the feet of one who, by birth, education, position, and family tradition, was best suited to be his life companion. Mary Custis, the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, of Arlington, and Robert E. Lee, were married on the 30th of June, 1831, only two years after he had poses, shot him dead. The whole number of blacks taken and killed did not amount to the number of whites murdered by them.”

From that point he was ordered to Washington and made assistant to the chief engineer, an agreeable change, for it brought him near the home of his wife. A fine horse carried him every morning from Arlington to his Washington office and back every evening. He loved his chosen profession, and was rising rapidly in it. Now he could combine equestrianism with engineering, and he was happy, and must have been sometimes merry, for his late lamented military secretary, General Long, narrates an incident of his inviting Captain Macomb, a brother officer, to get behind him on horseback one evening on his return to Arlington. Macomb accepted the invitation, and the two gayly rode along the great public avenue in Washington, passing by the President’s house, bowing to Cabinet officers, and behaving in rather a hilarious way generally. It is difficult for a soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia to picture his commanding general in a scene such as has been described.

Five years after leaving his Alma Mater he was promoted from second to first lieutenant of engineers, and in two years more reached a captaincy. In 1835 he was made assistant astronomer of the commission appointed to lay the boundary line between Ohio and Michigan. Two years afterward he bade adieu to Arlington to obey an order to proceed to St. Louis to make estimates, prepare plans, and devise means to prevent the “Great Father of Waters” from leaving his legitimate channel and overrunning property upon which he had no claims, for the Mississippi had threatened to leave the St. Louis side and become a flowing citizen of Illinois. In the performance of this duty he came prominently into notice again; he was so active, so indefatigable, and worked so intelligently and successfully, that the system of river improvements first introduced there is to this day followed. Some of the citizens of that section did not understand his methods, and threatened to drive him and his working parties away, and at one time actually brought cannon to accomplish their purpose. They did not comprehend the labors of this quiet, methodical engineer, or understand the reason why piles were driven and cofferdams made at acute angles to the shore; nor did they understand that the flow of the waters being retarded in these angles, sediment was deposited, land made, and the river, in consequence, forced back and confined to its channels on the St. Louis side.

While thus professionally engaged it occurred to him that he would like to possess a seal with the family’s Coat of Arms, and he writes to an Alexandria cousin about it:

ST. LOUIS, August 20, 1838.

MY DEAR CASSIUS AND COUSIN: I believe I once spoke to you on the subject of getting for me the Crest, Coat of Arms, etc., of the Lee family, and which, sure enough, you never did. My object in making the request is for the purpose of having a seal cut with the impression of said Coat, which I think is due from a man of my large family to his posterity, and which I have thought, perhaps foolishly enough, might as well be right as wrong. If, therefore, you can assist me in this laudable enterprise I shall be much obliged, and by enveloping it securely, directed to me at this place, arid sending it either by mail or some safe hand to the Engineer Office, Washington City, without any word or further direction, it will come safely to hand. I once saw in the hands of Cousin Edmund, for the only time in my life, our family tree, and as I begin in my old age to feel a little curiosity relative to my forefathers, their origin, whereabouts, etc., any information you can give me will increase the obligation.

So sit down one of these hot evenings and write it off for me, or at any rate the substance, and tell my Cousin Phillippa not to let you forget it. I wish you would at the same time undeceive her on a certain point, for, as I understand, she is laboring under a grievous error.

Tell her that it is the farthest from my wish to detract from any of the little Lees, but as to her little boy being equal to Mr. Rooney,[1] it is a thing not even to be supposed, much less believed, although we live in a credulous country, where people stick at nothing from a coon story to a sea serpent. You must remember us particularly to her, to Uncle Edmund, Cousins Sally, Hannah, and all the Lloyds.

I believe I can tell you nothing here that would interest you, except that we are all well, although my dame has been a little complaining for a day or two. The elections are all over, the “Vanities” have carried the day in the State, although the Whigs in this district carried their entire ticket, and you will have the pleasure of hearing the great expunger again thunder from his place in the Senate against banks, bribery, and corruption. While on the river I can not help being on the lookout for that stream of gold that was to ascend the Mississippi, tied up in silk-net purses! It would be a pretty sight, but the tide has not yet made up here. Let me know whether you can enlighten me on the point in question. And believe me,

Yours very truly,
R. E. LEE.

C. F. LEE, ESQ., Alexandria, Virginia.

And to Mrs. Lee he writes:

ST. LOUIS, September 4, 1840.

A few evenings since, feeling lonesome, as the saying is, and out of sorts, I got on a horse and took a ride. On returning through the lower part of the town, I saw a number of little girls all dressed up in their white frocks and pantalets, their hair plaited and tied up with ribbons, running and chasing each other in all directions. I counted twenty-three nearly the same size. As I drew up my horse to admire the spectacle a man appeared at the door with the twenty-fourth in his arms. “My friend,” said I, “are all these your children?” “Yes,” he said, “and there are nine more in the house, and this is the youngest.” Upon further inquiry, however, I found that they were only temporarily his, and that they were invited to a party at his house. He said, however, he had been admiring them before I came up, and just wished that he had a million of dollars and that they were all his in reality. I do not think the eldest exceeded seven or eight years old. It was the prettiest sight I have seen in the West, and perhaps in my life. . . .

On the completion of his great services here he was sent to New York and stationed at Fort Hamilton to perfect the defenses of the splendid harbor of that great city. A letter to his wife from that point gives a glimpse of the humor which constantly found vent in his private life. He writes:

FORT HAMILTON, NEW YORK, January 14, 1846.

This week I have been closely occupied here. I have kept “Jim” and “Miss Leary” (his servants) constantly moving, cleaning up, and fear I will wear them down. I do not know whether it was your departure or my somber phiz which brought Miss Leary out Sunday in a full suit of mourning. A black alpaca trimmed with crape and a thick row of jet buttons on each sleeve, from the shoulder to the wrist, and three rows on the skirt, diverging from the waist to the hem; it was, however, surmounted by a dashing cap with gay ribbons.

He was now a captain of engineers, and his mettle was soon to be tried in the fiery furnace of war, for his country and the Republic of Mexico were daily growing more angry with each other. Mexico, from 1519, when Hernando Cortez marched through the causeway leading into its Capital City to the present period, has been an object of much interest to other countries. Commencing with the Indian Emperor Montezuma’s costly presents to Cortez, the land has been associated with inexhaustible supplies of gold and silver. The Spanish commander, from his quarters near the temple of the Aztec god of war, dreamed of infinite wealth for himself, his soldiers, and his country.

A fascinating interest in Mexico has always kept pace with the progress and growth of the contiguous American Republic. Upon the final overthrow of the Mexicans by the Spaniards, the adjoining sections were settled by the latter, and a permanent location was made in Texas, at San Antonio de Bexar, in 1692. France, in selling to the United States Louisiana, claimed the boundary line to be the River Rio Grande del Norte, and assigned this boundary claim to the United States. It was, however, relinquished by the American Republic to Spain, in a treaty made with that country in 1812. When Mexico, in 1820, threw off the Spanish yoke, she obtained at the same time the domain of Texas. Afterward Stephen F. Austin obtained from the Mexican Government large tracts of land in Texas and established colonies on them. Citizens of the United States were naturally attracted there, and as they grew in numbers wanted a government similar in form to the one they had left. Stephen Austin was sent to Santa Anna, then Emperor of Mexico, with petitions praying for a separate state organization, and to be no longer united with Cohahuila, the neighboring Mexican province. Austin’s petition, it seems, was more than Santa Anna could stand, and he threw him into prison and kept him there over a year. The American Texans, some ten thousand in number, were indignant, and determined to resist the Mexican Emperor’s authority. A war ensued, and the redoubtable Santa Anna was finally overthrown and captured at the battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836. Texas was later an applicant for membership to the union of American States. Her independence had been acknowledged by Great Britain, the United States, and other Powers; but Bustamente, who succeeded Santa Anna, repealed the treaty Mexico had with Texas and declared war. In the United States opinion was divided between annexation and war. President Van Buren, a citizen of New York, would not entertain annexation, while a successor—John Tyler, of Virginia—favored it. A treaty made to carry out the provisions of annexation was rejected by the Senate. In 1844 it became a party question, and by the election of James K. Polk, of Tennessee, who was in favor of it, over Henry Clay, of Kentucky, whose adherents were opposed to it, the people of the United States practically decided in favor of annexation. It was then natural and proper that the United States Government should look closely after the interests of her new possessions, and to General Zachary Taylor they were confided. A Virginian by birth, he was appointed a lieutenant in the Seventh Infantry, United States Army, in 1808, being one of the new regiments authorized by Congress, upon the recommendation of President Thomas Jefferson. He became conspicuous in the Indian contests, and was especially famous after winning the battle of Okeechobee in the Seminole War. Promoted to be a brigadier general in 1837, three years thereafter he was assigned to the command of the Southern Division of the Western Department. He was in place, therefore, to defend Texas against the Mexicans, to insist on the Rio Grande boundary line, and to prevent Mexican authority from being extended to the River Nueces, which was claimed as the proper line. He was the right man in the right place, and when Arista, the Mexican general, crossed the Rio Grande with six thousand men, near Fort Brown, Taylor, being in the vicinity, promptly attacked with two thousand men and defeated him, assumed the offensive, crossed the Rio Grande, and war with Mexico became an accomplished fact. Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Matamoras, Monterey, and Buena Vista are the stars in the military crown on the brow of “Old Rough and Ready,” as he was called. Calm, silent. stern, possessed of military genius, this soldier at once became a favorite with the American people, and for his services was afterward elected to be the twelfth President of the United States. When Mexico’s capital was decided to be the objective point of the campaign, Taylor’s base of operations was too distant and his line of communication too long. It was thought advisable to select as the base of future operations Vera Cruz. General Winfield Scott, then commander in chief of the United States Army, was assigned to the command of the army to be concentrated for its reduction. The new army commander, Scott, was born near Petersburg, Va., in June, 1786, and was sixty-one years old when he began the siege of Vera Cruz on the 19th of March, 1847. He was an alumnus of William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Va., and a lawyer for two years before he was appointed to a lieutenancy in the artillery of the United States Army. His services in the war of 1812, and especially in the battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, had made him famous. With a grand physique and imposing presence in full uniform, he was a splendid specimen of the American soldier. Being in command of the whole army, and in active charge of the army of invasion, his requests for the best officers, as well as ordnance, quartermasters’ and commissaries’ supplies, were promptly acceded to. A war with a foreign country was highly exciting and new to most of the army and navy officers, so that applications for service in Mexico rapidly rained upon the War Department, and the Secretary of War had no difficulty in sending to Mexico the most capable officers.

Engineers are as necessary to an army as sails are to a ship; they locate lines of battle, select positions for the artillery, make reconnaissances, and upon their reports the movements of the army are based. They draw topographical maps, construct roads and bridges, and guide troops in battle to positions they had previously reconnoitred. Scott soon drew to him from this branch of the service Totten, J. L. Smith, R. E. Lee, Beauregard, McClellan, Foster, Tower, Stevens, G. W. Smith, and others, and at once placed Captain Lee on his personal staff. This officer, when Scott was assembling the army at Tampico, for the purpose of investing and capturing Vera Cruz, was with General Wool, who had been assigned the duty of invading Mexico from the north, while Taylor advanced from Matamoras, and General Kearny from New Mexico.

In a letter to Mrs. Lee, dated Rio Grande, October 11, 1846, Captain Lee says: “We have met with no resistance yet. The Mexicans who were guarding the passage retired on our approach. There has been a great whetting of knives, grinding of swords, and sharpening of bayonets ever since we reached the river.”

It seems on the eve of active operations Captain Lee’s thoughts were ever returning to his family and home. In a letter to his two eldest sons (one thirteen and the other nine years of age), written from Camp near Saltillo, December 24, 1846, he says: “I hope good Santa Claus will fill my Rob’s stocking to-night; that Mildred’s, Agnes’s, and Anna’s may break down with good things. I do not know what he may have for you and Mary (his daughter), but if he only leaves for you one half of what I wish, you will want for nothing. I have frequently thought if I had one of you on each side of me riding on ponies, such as I could get you, I would be comparatively happy.”

The little fellows had been writing to their father asking about his horses and the ponies in Mexico, etc. In reply he tells them “the Mexicans raise a large quantity of ponies, donkeys, and mules, and most of their corn, etc., is carried on the backs of these animals. These little donkeys will carry two hundred pounds on their backs, and the mules will carry three hundred on long journeys over the mountains. The ponies are used for riding and cost from ten to fifty dollars, according to their size and quality. I have three horses. Creole is my pet; she is a golden dun, active as a deer, and carries me over all the ditches and gullies that I have met with; nor has she ever yet hesitated at anything I have put her at; she is full-blooded and considered the prettiest thing in the army; though young, she has so far stood the campaign as well as any horses of the division.” He then tells them about his other two—a dark bay, deep-chested, sturdy, and strong, that his servant Jim rides, and says that Jim has named him after himself; he goes on to say that he has ridden them all very hard, sometimes fifty or sixty miles a day.

He was still at Saltillo the next day: it was Christmas, and he had arranged a campaign in his own heart, which would result in his taking advantage of the holiday to write a letter to his wife. He tells Mrs. Lee that he had put aside that Christmas day to write to her, but just after breakfast orders were received to prepare for battle, intelligence having reached General Wool that the Mexican army was coming. “The troops stood to their arms and I lay on the grass with my sorrel mare saddled by my side and telescope directed to the pass of the mountain through which the road approached. The Mexicans, however, did not make their appearance. Many regrets were expressed at Santa Anna’s having spoiled our Christmas dinner for which ample preparation had been made. The little roasters remained tied to the tent pins wondering at their deferred fate, and the headless turkeys retained their plumage unscathed. Finding the enemy did not come, preparations were again made for dinner. We have had many happy Christmases together. It is the first time we have been entirely separated at this holy time since our marriage. I hope it does not interfere with your happiness, surrounded as you are by father, mother, children, and dear friends. I therefore trust you are well and happy, and that this is the last time I shall be absent from you during my life. May God preserve and bless you till then and forever after is my constant prayer.”

The American commander promptly availed himself of the talents of the engineer and summoned Lee to his side, and in the memorable campaign which followed, Lee was his military adviser and possessed his entire confidence. The high estimation and cordial friendship which the army commander ever thereafter displayed for his subordinate was born at Vera Cruz.

The city of Vera Cruz was surrounded by a wall and strengthened by forts, the castle of San Juan de Ulua, its fortress, was defended by four hundred guns and five thousand men under General Morales. The soldierly genius of Scott at once told him there were but two ways to capture the city—either by storming or by the scientific principles of regular siege approaches. In his “Little Cabinet,” as he called it (it appears he was even then thinking of a future presidency)—consisting of Colonel Totten, Chief Engineer; Lieutenant-Colonel Hitchcock, Acting Inspector General; Captain R. E. Lee, Engineer; First-Lieutenant Henry L. Scott, Acting Adjutant General—these questions were taken up. A deathbed discussion could hardly have been more solemn, the army commander tells us. To his Cabinet he said: “We, of course, gentlemen, must take the city and castle before the return of the vomito, and then escape by pushing the contest into the healthy interior.” He was “strongly inclined to attempt to capture the place by laying siege to it, not by storming it.” The first method, in his opinion, “could be accomplished with moderate loss on his side. The second method would, no doubt,” said Scott, “be equally successful, but at the cost of immense slaughter on both sides, including non-combatants, Mexicans, and children, because the assault would have to be made in the dark, and the assailants dare not lose time in taking or guarding prisoners without incurring the certainty of becoming captives themselves, until all the strongholds of the place had been captured.” The council determined upon a siege. In two weeks the army and navy were ready to open fire, and one week’s bombardment resulted in the capitulation of Vera Cruz, and the adjacent forts on the 29th of March, 1847. In the preparatory two weeks Lee spent nights and days in incessant labor, and his enterprise, endurance, energy, and intelligent arrangement of all the necessary details of the siege were most conspicuous, and to him has been ascribed much credit for the victory.

At Vera Cruz Captain Lee met his brother, Lieutenant Sydney Smith Lee, of the United States Navy, and the soldier and sailor fought together. In a letter written from Vera Cruz at the time, after describing a battery which had been placed in position by him, Captain Lee adds: “The first day this battery opened, Smith served one of the guns. I had constructed the battery, and was there to direct its fire. No matter where I turned, my eyes reverted to him, and I stood by his gun whenever I was not wanted elsewhere. Oh! I felt awfully, and am at a loss what I should have done had he been cut down before me. I thank God that he was saved. He preserved his usual cheerfulness, and I could see his white teeth through all the smoke and din of the fire. I had placed three 32- and three 68-pound guns in position. . . . Their fire was terrific, and the shells thrown from our battery were constant and regular discharges, so beautiful in their flight and so destructive in their fall. It was awful! My heart bled for the inhabitants. The soldiers I did not care so much for, but it was terrible to think of the women and children. . . . I heard from Smith to-day; he is quite well, and recovered from his fatigue.”

And to his naval brother he writes on March 27, 1847, when it seems he wanted some liquors, in all probability for his guests, as his own abstemiousness was well known:

MY DEAR SMITH: I tried to see you the night you went on board, but failed. I was too thankful you were saved through that hot fire. I felt awful at the thought of your being shot down before me. I can’t get time to see you, nor have I time to attend to anything for myself. There is a French bark anchored by your fleet, and detained at Anton Lizard—or was—from Bordeaux. She has some wines, etc. Can you, through any of your comrades, get me a box or two of claret, one of brandy, and four colored shirts. The latter are seventy-five cents each (I have two of them), and the brandy thirty-seven and a half cents per bottle. God bless and preserve you. Your battery (naval) has smashed that side of the town. I have been around the walls to examine. The Quartet Battery has been silenced. I grieve for the fine fellows that were killed there.

Very affectionately your brother,
R. E. LEE.

P.S.—Can you buy me a good telescope from the fleet? I have lost mine and am woefully at a loss.

Before leaving for the interior with the army. Captain Lee sought his brother to say good-by. In one of his letters he writes: “Went on board the Mississippi, and passed the night with Smith. I had scarcely been able to see him before, and wished, ere commencing work, to have one night with him. He was very well, but what a place is a ship to enjoy the company of one’s brother!”

When Scott set out, on the 12th of April, from Vera Cruz, to join his advanced divisions under Patterson and Twiggs, in front of the heights of Cerro Gordo, Lee accompanied him. It was the reconnoissance of this officer at the head of the pioneers which found a possible route for the troops and their light batteries, by which the Mexican left could be turned. Santa Anna, who commanded the Mexican army, said he did not believe a goat could have come from that direction. In his final report Scott thus speaks: “The reconnoissance, begun by Lieutenant Beauregard, was continued by Captain Lee, of the engineers, and a road made along one of the slopes over chasms—out of the enemy’s view though reached by his fire—was discovered, till, arriving at the Mexican lines, further reconnoissance became impossible without an action. I am compelled to make special mention of Captain R. E. Lee, Engineer. This officer greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Vera Cruz; was indefatigable during these operations in reconnoissances, as daring as laborious, and of the utmost value. Nor was he less conspicuous in planning batteries and in conducting columns from stations under the heavy fire of the enemy.” General Lee thus describes the battle of Cerro Gordo:

Peyote, April 25, 1847.—The advance of the American troops, under Generals Patterson and Twiggs, were encamped at the Plano del Rio, and three miles to their front Santa Anna and his army were intrenched in the pass of Cerro Gordo, which was remarkably strong. The right of the Mexican line rested on the river at a perpendicular rock, unscalable by man or beast, and their left on impassable ravines; the main road was defended by field works containing thirty-five cannon; in their rear was the mountain of Cerro Gordo, surrounded by intrenchments in which were cannon and crowned by a tower overlooking all—it was around this army that it was intended to lead our troops. I reconnoitered the ground in the direction of the ravines on their left, and passed around the enemy’s rear. On the 16th a party was set to work in cutting out the road, on the 17th I led General Twiggs’s division in the rear of a hill in front of Cerro Gordo, and in the afternoon, when it became necessary to drive them from the hill where we intended to construct a battery at night, the first intimation of our presence or intentions were known. During all that night we were at work in constructing the battery, getting up the guns, ammunition, etc., and they in strengthening their defenses on Cerro Gordo. Soon after sunrise our batteries opened, and I started with a column to turn their left and to get on the Jalapa road. Notwithstanding their efforts to prevent us in this, we were perfectly successful, and the working party, following our footsteps, cut out the road for the artillery. In the mean time our storming party had reached the crest of Cerro Gordo, and, seeing their whole left turned and the position of our soldiers on the Jalapa road, they broke and fled. Those in the pass laid down their arms. General Pillow’s attack on their right failed. All their cannon, arms, ammunition, and most of their men fell into our hands. The papers can not tell you what a horrible sight a field of battle is, nor will I, owing to my accompanying General Twiggs’s division in the pursuit, and being since constantly in the advance. I believe all our friends are safe. I think I wrote you that my friend Joe Johnston[2] was wounded the day before I arrived at the Piano del Rio while reconnoitering. He was wounded in the arm and about the groin; both balls are out, and he was doing well and was quite comfortable when I left; the latter wound was alone troublesome. Captain Mason, of the rifles, was badly wounded in the leg, and General Shields was wounded in the chest; I have heard contradictory reports that he was doing well and that he was dead. I hope the former. Jalapa is the most beautiful country I have seen in Mexico, and will compare with any I have seen elsewhere. I wish it was in the United States, and that I was located with you and the children around me in one of its rich, bright valleys. I can conceive nothing more beautiful in the way of landscape or mountain scenery. We ascended upward of four thousand feet that morning, and whenever we looked back the rich valley below was glittering in the morning sun and the light morning clouds flitting around us. On reaching the top, the valley appeared at intervals between the clouds which were below us, and high over all towered Orizaba, with its silver cap of snow. The castle or fort of Perote is one of the best finished that I have ever seen—very strong, with high, thick walls, bastioned fronts, and deep, wide ditch. It is defective in construction and is very spacious, covers twenty-five acres, and although there is within its walls nearly three thousand troops, it is not yet full. Within the fort is a beautiful chapel, in one corner of which is the tomb of Guadalupe Victoria. There are various skulls, images, etc., in the sanctuaries. This morning I attended the Episcopal service within the fort. It was held on the parade. The minister was a Mr. McCarty, the chaplain of the Second Brigade, First Division. Many officers and soldiers were grouped around. I endeavored to give thanks to our heavenly Father for all his mercies to me, for his preservation of me through all the dangers I have passed, and all the blessings which he has bestowed upon me, for I know I fall far short of my obligations. We move out to-morrow toward Pueblo. The First Brigade—Duncan’s battery, light infantry and cavalry—form the advance, I accompany the advance. General Worth will remain a day or two with the remainder of his division till the Second Division, under General Twiggs, shall arrive, General Scott is still at Jalapa, Major Smith with him. I have with me Lieutenants Mason, Tower, and the Engineer Company. In advance, all is uncertain and the accounts contradictory. We must trust to an overruling Providence, by whom we will be governed for the best, and to our own resources.”

And in another letter to his eldest son, dated same day and place, he writes: “I thought of you, my dear Custis, on the 18th in the battle, and wondered, when the musket balls and grape were whistling over my head in a perfect shower, where I could put you if with me to be safe. I was truly thankful that you were at school, I hope learning to be good and wise. You have no idea what a horrible sight a battlefield is.” The writer then describes to him the battle of Cerro Gordo, and tells him about the dead and dying Mexicans; how he had them carried to a house by the roadside, where they were attended by Mexican surgeons; of his finding by the side of a hut a little Mexican boy who had been a bugler or drummer, with his arm terribly shattered, and how a large Mexican soldier, in the last agonies of death, had fallen on him; how he was attracted to the scene by the grief of a little girl; how he had the dying Mexican taken off the boy, and how grateful the little girl was. “Her large black eyes,” he said, “were streaming with tears, her hands crossed over her breast; her hair in one long plait behind reached her waist, her shoulders and arms bare, and without stockings or shoes. Her plaintive tone of ‘Mille gracias, Signor,’ as I had the dying man lifted off the boy and both carried to the hospital, still lingers in my ear. After I had broken a way through the chaparral and turned toward Cerro Gordo I mounted Creole, who stepped over the dead men with such care as if she feared to hurt them, but when I started with the dragoons in the pursuit, she was as fierce as possible, and I could hardly hold her.”

From Cerro Gordo to the capital of Mexico, Captain Lee at every point increased the reputation he was acquiring. At Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec he was constantly in the saddle, performing with alacrity and courage the duties of a trusted staff officer, “Before the battle of Contreras,” wrote one of the most distinguished soldiers of that war, “General Scott’s troops had become separated in the field of Pedrigal, and it was necessary to communicate instruction to those on the other side of this barrier of rocks and lava. General Scott says in his report that he had sent seven officers since about sundown to communicate instructions; they had all returned without getting through, but the gallant and indefatigable Captain Lee, of the engineers, who has been constantly with the operating forces, is just in from Shields, Smith, Cadwalader, etc. . . .”

Subsequently Scott, while giving testimony before a court of inquiry, said: “Captain Lee, of the engineers, came to me from Contreras with a message from Brigadier-General Smith. I think about the same time (midnight) he, having passed over the difficult ground by daylight, found it just possible to return on foot and alone to St. Augustine in the dark, the greatest feat of physical and moral courage performed by any individual to my knowledge, pending the campaign.”

His deeds of personal daring, his scientific counsels, his coup d’ œil of the battlefield, his close personal reconnoissances under the scorching rays of a tropical sun, amid the lightning’s flash or thunder’s roar, did much to mold the key which unlocked the gates of the Golden City. The reports of his commander are filled with commendations of his bravery: “That he was as famous for felicitous execution as for science and daring”; that at “Chapultepec Captain Lee was constantly conspicuous, bearing important orders” from him, “till he fainted from a wound and the loss of two nights’ sleep at the batteries.” This veteran general, in referring afterward to this campaign, was heard to say “that his success in Mexico was largely due to the skill, valor, and undaunted courage of Robert E. Lee,” and that he was “the greatest military genius in America, the best soldier that he ever saw in the field, and that if opportunity offered, he would show himself the foremost captain of his time.”

It is certain that Captain Lee came from this Mexican campaign crowned with honors and covered with brevets for gallant and meritorious conduct. In a brief six months’ campaign he had demonstrated in a wonderful manner his qualities as a soldier. He was then forty years old. Brevet major, brevet lieutenant colonel, and brevet colonel followed each other in rapid succession. An examination of his career in Mexico will show that the flanks of the hostile army were his favorite points of reconnoissance. If they could be successfully turned, victory would save human life; a reference to his campaigns, when he afterward became an army commander, will show that the flanks of his enemy were still objects of his greatest attention.

The Mexican campaign was finished, and the Peace Treaty occupied the front rank of importance. In a letter to his wife, dated City of Mexico, February 8, 1848, Captain Lee says: “You will doubtless hear many speculations about peace. The boundary is said to be the Rio Grande, giving us Texas, New Mexico, California, for which we pay twenty million dollars—five millions to be reserved for liquidation of claims of her citizens. These are certainly not hard terms for Mexico, considering how the fortune of war has been against her. For myself, I would not exact now more than I would have taken before the commencement of hostilities, as I should wish nothing but what was just, and that I would have sooner or later. I can readily see that the terms said to be offered on the part of Mexico may not prove satisfactory to a large part of our country, who would think it right to exact everything that power and might could require. Some would sacrifice everything under the hope that the proposition of Messrs. Clay, Calhoun, etc., would be acted upon, and save what they term the national honor. Believing that peace would be for the advantage of both countries, I hope that some terms, just to one and not dishonorable to the other, may be agreed on, and that speedily.”

And again, five days later: “If any early session of the Mexican Congress can be obtained, I have still hopes that the treaty will be ratified, though I think the speeches and resolutions of some of our leading men, and probably by this time some action of Congress, may so confuse the Mexican mind in reference to her future course as to encourage the recusant members to absent themselves so as to defeat it. I think it is late on our part to stop now to demonstrate who are the first aggressors. It is certain we are the conquerors in a regular war, and by the laws of nations are entitled to dictate the terms of peace. We have fought well and fought fairly. We hold and can continue to hold their country, and have a right to exact compensation for the expenses of a war continued, if not provoked, by ignorance and vanity on the part of Mexico. It is true we bullied her. For that I am ashamed, for she was the weaker party, but we have since, by way of set-off, drubbed her handsomely and in a manner no man might be ashamed of. They begin to be aware how entirely they are beaten, and are willing to acknowledge it. The treaty gives us all the land we want; the amount we pay is a trifle, and is the cheapest way of ending the war. How it will all end I can not say, but will trust to a kind Providence, who will, I believe, order all things for the best.”

The brighter the deeds of the soldier and statesman, the greater the opportunity for the shaft of the critic. General Scott’s behavior to a subordinate drew upon him a court of inquiry. In a letter to his wife, dated City of Mexico, March 15, 1848, he says: “The members of the court to sit on General Scott have arrived, and begin proceedings to-day. I fear nothing for General Scott, if the whole truth be known, though the whole country will have suffered by his suspension. The prospects of peace seem to be brightening, and all may yet be well.”

Naturally, when the objective point in a campaign has been reached, and the swords go to the scabbards and the guns are stacked, the distribution of the rewards for meritorious services are of much interest to the friends of those who perform them. Mr. Custis, of Arlington, was properly concerned about the claims to honorable official mention of his son-in-law, and wrote to him on the subject, and the reply he received was eminently characteristic of that modest officer:

CITY OF MEXICO, APRIL 8, 1848.

I hope my friends will give themselves no annoyance on my account, or any concern about the distribution of favors, I know how those things are awarded at Washington, and how the President will be besieged by clamorous claimants. I do not wish to be numbered among them. Such as he can conscientiously bestow, I shall gratefully receive, and have no doubt that those will exceed my deserts. It is a singular coincidence that in 1836 Santa Anna, as he passed through Fredericktown, Md., should have found General Scott before the court of inquiry clapped upon him by General Jackson. Our present President thought perhaps he ought to afford the gratification to the same individual to see Scott before another court in presence of the troops he commanded. I hope, however, all will terminate in good. The discontent in the army at this state of things is great.

Captain Lee was a great observer of Nature: he loved the country, the bright foliage of trees, the running waters, and flowery grasses. His beautiful mare carried him to all points outside of the city. To Mrs. Lee he writes:

CITY OF MEXICO, April 12, 1848.

I rode out a few days since for the first time to the “Church of Our Lady of Remedies.” It is situated on a hill at the termination of the mountains west of the city, and is said to be the spot to which Cortez retreated after being driven from the city on the memorable “noche triste.” I saw the cedar tree at Popotla, some miles nearer the city, in which it is said he passed a portion of that night. The trees of the “noche triste”—so called from their blooming about the period of that event—were in full bloom. The flower is a round ellipsoid, and of the most magnificent scarlet color. The Holy Image was standing on a large silver maguey plant, with a rich crown on her head. There were no votaries at her shrine, which was truly magnificent, but near the entrance of the church, on either side, were the offerings of those whom she had relieved. They consisted of representations in wax of those parts of the human body that she cured of the diseases with which they had been afflicted.

The inactive life was growing burdensome. The strains of “Home, sweet home” were falling on the ears of the Americans, and their hearts were beating in anticipation of meeting once more relatives and friends. In a letter, dated City of Mexico, May 21, 1848, he writes to his naval brother, Sydney Smith Lee:

MY DEAR ROSE (he calls him by a pet name): I have a little good news to tell you this evening and as little time to tell it in. The mail from Quereton last night brought letters from reliable persons, one of whom I saw, stating that on the evening of the 15th inst. a vote was taken in the Chamber of Deputies on the general passage of the Treaty of Peace and carried in the affirmative by forty-eight votes to thirty-six. That it would come up on the 19th on its final passage, and, after being passed, be sent to the Senate, where it would undoubtedly pass by an unusual majority and probably by the 24th. So certain was its passage through the Senate considered, that the President, Pena y Pena, had determined, as soon as it had finally passed the Deputies, to write our Commissioners to Quereton to be ready to make the interchange, etc. This morning at 10 A.M. a special express arrived from Quereton with the intelligence of the final passage by the Chamber of Deputies of the Treaty, with all the modifications of our Senate, by a vote of fifty-one to thirty-five. It therefore only wants the confirmation of the Senate, of which those who ought to know, say there is no doubt. We all feel quite exhilarated at the prospect of getting home, when I shall again see you and my dear Sis Nannie. Where will you be this summer? I have heard that the Commissioners start for Quereton to-morrow. I know not whether it is true. General Smith will probably leave here for Vera Cruz on the 24th or 25th to make arrangements for the embarkation of troops. As soon as it is certain that we march out, and I make the necessary arrangements for the engineer transportation, etc., I shall endeavor to be off. I shall therefore leave everything till I see you. Several, of your naval boys are here who will be obliged to “cut out.” Love to Sis Nannie and the boys. Rhett Buchanan and all friends are well.

Very truly and affectionately,
R. E. LEE.

Again: “Mr. Gardner and Mr. Trist depart to-morrow. I had hoped that after the President had adopted Mr. Trist’s treaty, and the Senate confirmed it, they would have paid him the poor compliment of allowing him to finish it, as some compensation for all the abuse they had heaped upon him; but, I presume, it is perfectly fair, having made use of his labors and taken from him all he had earned, that he should be kicked off as General Scott has been, whose skill and science, having crushed the enemy and conquered a peace, can now be dismissed and turned out as an old horse to die.”

In Scott’s army in Mexico at that time were many subordinate officers fighting under a common flag, who were destined to become familiar to the public fourteen years afterward by the skill and courage with which they fought each other. Their swords, then drawn for victory against a common foe, were to be pointed against each other’s breasts, and those who had slept beneath the same blanket, drank from the same canteen, and formed those ties of steel which are strongest when pledged amid common dangers around a common mess table, were to be marshaled under the banners of opposing armies. Ulysses S. Grant was then twenty-five years old, a lieutenant of the Fourth Infantry, self-reliant, brave, and fertile in resources. He fought with old “Zach” at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and at Monterey; was at Vera Cruz, and in all the battles which followed until the Mexican capital was entered. George Gordon Meade was an officer of topographical engineers, first on the staff of General Taylor and afterward on the staff of General Patterson at Vera Cruz. There too was George B. McClellan, twenty-one years old, as an engineer officer, who received brevets as first lieutenant and captain for his bravery in battle. Irvin McDowell, who afterward became first commander of the Army of the Potomac, was aid-de-camp to General John E. Wool. George H. Thomas was second lieutenant, Third Artillery, and was brevetted three times for gallantry; Joseph Hooker was assistant adjutant general on the staff of General Purcifor F. Smith; Gideon L. Pillow was brevetted three times. Ambrose E. Burnside joined the army on its march, with some recruits. Winfield Scott Hancock was there as second lieutenant, Sixth Infantry, twenty-three years of age, and was brevetted for his conduct at Contreras and Churubusco. There too was Albert Sidney Johnston of the First (Texas) Rifles and afterward inspector general of Butler’s division; so also Joseph E. Johnston, lieutenant colonel of voltigeurs, wounded twice and brevetted three times. Braxton Bragg was present as a captain of a light battery in the Third Artillery, the first man to plant the regimental colors on the rampart of Chapultepec; and there too was Thomas Jonathan Jackson, twenty-three years old, second lieutenant of Magruder’s light battery of artillery. Young in years and rank, he gave early evidence of those qualities of a soldier for which he became distinguished under the name of Stonewall Jackson. Magruder, his captain, commended him highly in his report, writing that, “if devotion, industry, talent, and gallantry are the highest qualities of a soldier, then Lieutenant Jackson is entitled to the distinction which their possession confers.” In the army also was Longstreet, lieutenant of infantry, twenty-six years old, brevetted twice and wounded at Chapultepec; and Magruder, known among his comrades as “Prince John,” from courtly manners; distinguished appearance, and fine conversational powers, who commanded a light battery in Pillow’s division, was twice brevetted and wounded at Chapultepec. John Sedgwick was with the army, first lieutenant of artillery, a classmate of Bragg and Early and Hooker, twice brevetted; and so was Richard S. Ewell, a typical dragoon; Ambrose P. Hill, only twenty-one years old, second lieutenant of the First Artillery; and Daniel H. Hill, Jubal Early, and many others who afterward became famous. Little did these young fellows, who marched, bivouacked, fought, and bled side by side on the burning sands of old Mexico, imagine that in less than two decades McDowell would be training his guns on Johnston and Beauregard at first Manassas, while McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and Grant would each in turn test the prowess of Lee; nor did their old commander, Scott, dream he was training these young men in practical strategy, grand tactics, and the science of war, in order that they might direct the information thus acquired against each other.

The memory of Winfield Scott has not been securely embalmed in the hearts of the people of the Southern States, because he was a Virginian who did not resign his commission in the United States Army and tender his sword to his native State in 1861. It should be remembered, however, that for over half a century he had fought for the flag and worn the uniform of the army of the United States, and had been permanently partially disabled by wounds. Before his Mexican campaign he had served with distinction from where the Northern lakes are bound in icy fetters, to Florida, the land of sun and flowers, in a great degree losing touch with the citizens of States. In fifty-three years of continuous army service he had developed into a sort of national military machine, and when war began between the States of the North and those of the South he was seventy-five years old. Neither the Indian “Black Hawk,” with his Sacs and Foxes, the Seminoles, the Mexicans, nor the unhappy condition of his own land, greatly disturbed him, for already his vision was fixed “across the river,” and his tent was being erected upon the eternal camping ground. Naturally, he wanted to go to his grave wrapped in the folds of the starry flag he had so long defended. In the North his decision was highly applauded; in the South opinion was divided. In the estimation of some, he should have returned to his mother Commonwealth, for, under their construction of our forms of Government, his first allegiance was due to her. Others, however, heartily concurred in his decision to remain in the North, because “he might have been in the way.” The solemn game of war can only be played by active participants, and when a soldier becomes inactive his place is in the rear rank. The aged warrior was consigned to a back seat by the Federal War Department, and quietly waited the summons of the trumpet of the Angel of Death. It is true Scott was pompous and vain of a splendid physical appearance, and had a full appreciation of the high and distinguished position he had attained, but he was a soldier of undoubted military capacity. The people nicknamed him “Fuss and Feathers,” because, in gaudy uniform, he sometimes made the atmosphere blue around him and imparted to it a smell of sulphur when things did not go exactly to suit him. He was a disciple of the doctrine of Epicurus so far as it related to the organ of taste. When he indulged in “a hasty plate of soup” it was unavoidable, and he has been known to raise a storm because the guest at his table would cut lettuce instead of rolling the leaf around his fork so as not to bruise it. The old soldier is resting quietly now where the “Hudson’s silvery sands roll ’mid the hills afar,” and if he lacked to some degree personal popularity, was without magnetic influence, and did not possess that power which Carnot calls the “Glory of the soldier and the strength of armies,” he is remembered by the whole country as a courteous and chivalric gentleman and as a great commander of true military genius.

His unswerving friendship for Robert E. Lee and his never-failing belief in his military ability was demonstrated by his recommendation that he should be his successor, and which doubtless prompted the United States Government to offer to Brevet-Colonel Lee the position of commander in chief of their armies in 1861.

“Peace hath her victories no less than war.” A treaty was ratified between the United States and Mexico which was received with joy by the inhabitants of both countries, and was most heartily welcomed by the Americans in Mexico. Captain Lee was once more at home, bearing with him the plaudits of the army and the high appreciation of its commander. He wrote from Arlington, June 30, 1848, to his brother of the navy:

Here I am once again, my dear Smith, perfectly surrounded by Mary and her precious children, who seem to devote themselves to staring at the furrows in my face and the white hairs in my head. It is not surprising that I am hardly recognizable to some of the young eyes around me and perfectly unknown to the youngest, but some of the older ones gaze with astonishment and wonder at me, and seem at a loss to reconcile what they see and what was pictured in their imaginations. I find them too much grown, and all well, and I have much cause for thankfulness and gratitude to that good God who has once more united us. I was greeted on my arrival by your kind letter, which was the next thing to seeing you in person. I wish I could say when I shall be able to visit you, but I as yet know nothing of the intention of the Department concerning me, and can not now tell what my movements will be. Mary has recently returned from a visit to poor Anne,[3] and gives a pitiable account of her distress. You may have heard of her having hurt her left hand; she is now consequently without the use of either, and can not even feed herself. She has suffered so much that it is not wonderful her spirits should be depressed. She sent many injunctions that I must come to her before even unpacking my trunk, and I think of running over there for a day after the Fourth of July, if practicable. You say I must let you know when I am ready to receive visits. Now! Have you any desire to see the celebration, etc., of the Fourth of July? Bring Sis Nannie and the little ones; I long to see you all; I only arrived yesterday, after a long journey up the Mississippi, which route I was induced to take for the better accommodation of my horse, as I wished to spare her as much annoyance and fatigue as possible, she already having undergone so much suffering in my service. I landed her at Wheeling and left her to come over with Jim. I have seen but few of our friends as yet, but hear they are all well. Cousin Anna is at Ravensworth. I met Mrs. John Mason yesterday as I passed through W. All her people are well. I hear that that pretty Rhett, hearing of my arrival, ran off yesterday evening to take refuge with you. Never mind, there is another person coming from Mexico from whom she can not hide herself. Tell her with my regrets that I brought muchas cosas from her young rifleman, who is as bright and handsome as ever. No, Sis Nannie, your sister was not here when I arrived. Are you satisfied? She had gone to Alexandria to learn the news and do a little shopping, but I have laid violent hands on her now. An opportunity has just offered to the Post-office and I have scribbled off this to assure you of my love and remembrance. With much love to Sis Nannie and the children, and kind regards to Mrs. R. and Misses V. and C., I remain,

Affectionately your brother,
R. E. LEE.

After the Treaty of Peace with Mexico, Lee was assigned to the important duty of constructing works for the defense of the harbor of Baltimore, and was so occupied until 1852, when he was made Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, from whose walls he had emerged as a cadet twenty-three years before. At West Point he was employed for three years in watching over the drill, discipline, and studies of cadets, who were one day to become officers of the army. The detail was a complimentary one, and the office of superintendent at that time, by law, could only be filled by engineer officers. His accustomed ability was displayed in these new duties, and the Academy received great benefit from a sagacious administration of its affairs. While so engaged, Mrs. Lee’s mother—Mrs. Custis—died. She was a perfect type of the Christian woman: soft in manner, kind in heart, affectionate in nature, and refined and ladylike in everything. From West Point, April 27, 1853, Captain Lee writes to his wife: “May God give you strength to enable you to bear and say, ‘His will be done.’ She has gone from all trouble, care, and sorrow, to a holy immortality, there to rejoice and praise forever the God and Saviour she so long and truly served. Let that be our comfort and that our consolation. May our death be like hers, and may we meet in happiness in heaven.” And later, on the 10th of May, he says: “She was to me all that a mother could be, and I yield to none in admiration for her character, love for her virtues, and veneration for her memory.”

[Notes]

[1] A pet name for his son, William H. F. Lee.—EDITOR.

[2] Afterward the distinguished commander.

[3] His sister, Mrs. Marshall.

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