On the Fringe of Fame, by Elizabeth Fleming Rhodes, Chapter 10

On the Fringe of Fame


Soldier of the Confederacy

RICHARD felt a great void in his homecoming, an irreplaceable loss. His gallant mother had died the previous year at the age of ninety. Living in Washington with her daughter Ann Matilda, she had been confined to her room for the final year and a half of her life because of a fall which had “disabled one of her limbs.” A long article in the National Intelligencer describing the “virtures and graces” of this “beloved and lamented” had been sent to Richard in far-off California.

Commencing with a statement that she had “received from nature a mind of great power, and from education all the advantages, useful and ornamental, which during her girlhood were accessible to young ladies in Philadelphia,” the eulogy praised her life and character using the following phrases: “buoyancy of spirit,” “cheerful temper,” “disposition to see the favorable rather than the unfavorable side of things,” “equanimity,” “general kindness,” “gaiety of spirit,” “solicitude for the welfare of others,” “resignation to her misfortune . . . fortified by her sense of religious duty,” “a devoted Christian, as well through the promptings of her heart as the teachings of her intellect.”

Then, in the spirit of that period, the editorial ended with the words, “And those around her dying bed could almost hear her repeating it with fervor when her spirit departed forever:

‘Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee’.”1

Richard and his brother Collins were named executors of their mother’s will, which she had signed in 1853, while “being weak in body but sound and disposing memory and understanding.” As Elizabeth had formerly made gifts of property to her sons, this will, at her sons’ request, divided the remaining estate between Cornelia McCrae and Ann Matilda Washington, giving Ann Matilda the house on Sixth Street N.W. an all the furniture as an additional gift to equalize her share. To Zaccheus Collins Lee was left a small tenement of land in Fairfax County where Richard’s slaves, Robert and Harriot Gannell, their children and grandchildren lived. Elizabeth’s final bequest was the great gift of manumission: “In consideration of the good conduct and fidelity of my negro man, Frank Madison, and my woman, Caroline, my only remaining slaves, I hereby emancipate them, and recommend them to the care and protection of my children.”2

A few months after Richard’s return his brother Zaccheus Collins Lee, a judge of the Superior Court of Baltimore, died, leaving his widow and two minor children, an additional grief and burden for the returning soldier.

In October 1860, Richard longed to be on the move again, although he had been united with Julia and the children for only a year. He asked for permission to visit Fort Smithy saying that it was “the most important border post upon our southwestern frontier.” This settlement on the Arkansas was where the stage coach routes from St. Louis and Memphis united before heading over the western desert to California. When permission was not granted, Richard asked to have his request withdrawn, “as after forty three years service I do not wish to be formally denied the only request that I have ever made for personal convenience connected with military duty,” adding, “I should never have made the application had I not have felt satisfied as to its propriety and expediency, as strictly in the line of my duties, and as in analogous cases, a courtesy frequently extended to officers of the Army.”3

Fort Smith was out of reach, but war clouds were gathering, and soon Richard would be on the move again—this time in a different army.

During the last decade warning signals had flashed by as the nation rushed recklessly along the single track towards disaster: California’s statehood held up by the wrangling over slavery in the territories, Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850, the conflict over the 1853 survey for a transcontinental railroad, the Kansas Nebraska Bill of 1854 and the Dred Scott Decision of 1857. The growing tension between free and slave labor had reached such proportions that the dismemberment of the Union was threatened.

It was difficult for Lee to look objectively at the “peculiar institution,” slavery. Because of his heritage, Richard did not feel that owning slaves was immoral. He and his family had always taken good care of their servants, Julia even keeping a sick slave child in her room to nurse day and night. They were fond of their slaves, many of their letters bearing affectionate messages and remembrances to them. Ownership of slaves was an obligation and a burden, sometimes a curse, as Elizabeth had written to Richard: “How dearly and fully you paid for the gift your Father made to you of Harriot and her children, a curse on you rather than a present.”

Richard Bland Lee. Major U.S.A.

Back in Washington for the 1860 election, Richard must have been aware of the violent feeling of fear and suspicion between North and South. The newly formed Republican party had grown in strength after the last election, when Richard’s old acquaintance, Fremont, had been backed by the abolitionists, only to be defeated by Buchanan. The Southern press had become a Cassandra of disaster, depicting the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, to be a repulsive and dangerous radical.

On December m, 1860, soon after Lincoln’s election, South Carolina had seceded from the Union, followed soon by Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, and on February 8, 1861, the Confederate States of America had, been formed, with Jefferson Davis named as provisional president.

After these states seceded, President Lincoln waited, eager to take back the “wayward daughters.” These were overtures and hope for compromise. Although some Northerners thought that it was a good riddance, Lincoln felt that the Union should be preserved at al cost.

The Confederacy, however, did not expect the North to fight for the preservation of the Union. The cotton states were confident that “cotton was king,” and that the industrial North would not be able to get along without their cotton, rice, tobacco and naval stores. The Southern ports had not been defended, and all had fallen peacefully to the Confederates except Fort Sumter arid Fort Pickens. Arbitrarily the Confederacy warned that the defense of these forts by the Federal Government would be considered an act of war; Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State, indirectly assured the Confederates that the forts would not be supplied without the Confederate States being informed, and that they would soon be evacuated. Consequently, when the hotheaded Southerners heard that Fort Sumter was about to receive secret reinforcements, they felt justified in firing on the fort.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard gave the order to fire, and Major Robert Anderson retaliated. How incongruous it seemed, brother officer firing against brother. Anderson was an old friend of Lee’s who had carefully preserved for almost thirty years one of his letters.4

The North was galvanized into action by this firing on the Stars and Stripes. War was declared, a war for the preservation of the Union. The neutral states would have to take a stand because Lincoln was calling far 75,000 volunteers, and each state was being asked to contribute a quota of men.

Believing in states’ rights and that secession was constitutional, Virginia, reluctantly, and with grief, was forced to ally herself with the more impetuous Southern states. She would not take up arms to coerce the Confederate states, a coercion which she felt was illegal. Therefore, on April 17, 1861, Virginia voted for secession, subject to a referendum to beheld May 23, 1861.

On April 23rd, Richard wrote to the Commissary General of Subsistence from his station at Baltimore.

Despairing of a reconstruction of the once glorious Union to whose service my early youth and matured manhood have been dedicated, with cherished hopes and profound, sorrow, in the wane of life, I have no alternative but to ask that I may be relieved from further duty in the Subsistence Department and to request that some Officer may be designated to recieve the public funds and property in my hands, preparatory to the tender of my resignation as an officer of the United States Army.5

Confusion and anxiety increased apace; a few days later Richard asked to have this letter of the 23rd withdrawn and requested a “short informal, temporary, leave of absence to enable me to locate my family, now residing in a very exposed part of Washington, to some retired place in the country.”6

Richard described the move from the hostile capital as being hectic.

With my broken up homeless, and impoverished family with such effects as they could cram into an omnibus, I passed the enemies’ lines and entered the land of my nativity having been robbed of four valuable servants by a detective who had been employed to watch my movements and dog my steps. 7

After settling his family in Virginia, Richard returned to Fort McHenry to be sure that the supplies for the next few months had been safely delivered, to close his books and to turnover the $4295.81 of public funds and property in his possession to the Subsistence Department. Finally, when his department was in order and his desk clear, he tendered his resignation to Major General Gibson . . . “with profound sorrow the necessity which compells [sic] me to this act, and with my prayers for your private and future happiness.”8

The die was cast, and not even poor health could deter him:

An invalid from severe attack of typhoid pneumonia, I hastened to Richmond, hoping to participate in the first battle fought upon the soil of Virginia. I reached Richmond the latter part of June, and tendered my services to the President in any capacity he might think proper to employ me.9

For two weeks, Richard waited in high expectation, only to have his hopes dashed by the offer of the “disparaging position of Lieut. Col. in the Subsistence department, the last place I would have selected from choice.” What rankled most was having to serve under an officer whom he “had formerly ranked by many years.” The Army of the Confederacy felt that it was a continuation of the old U.S. Army, under a different name, with the hierarchy going back to the War of 1812, and Richard strenuously objected to being out-ranked by Beauregard who was more than twenty years younger than he.

The name of Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard shimmered with fame and glamo[u]r. Descended from a proud French chevalier and Welsh ancestors, he had lived his earliest years in Louisiana, attended school in New York, and was graduated second in his West Point class. As an engineer, he had been on General Scott’s staff at the Siege of Vera Cruz. While Richard was being submerged in the routine problems of the Commissariat in St. Louis, Beauregard was breveted for Gallant Conduct at the Battle of Cerro Gordo and twice wounded and again breveted in the taking of Mexico City by way of Chapultapec (which approach he had advocated). Later he had been the chief engineer in charge of draining the site of New Orleans. He had been superintendent of West Point for five days before resigning to join the Confederacy. As a Confederate general he stepped into the role of idol of the deep South, and his mail during the war was flooded with bushels of letters from adoring Southern women.

July 4,1861, was an ironic day for Richard to be commissioned in the Army of the Potomac under General Beauregard, with his old fellow officers labelled enemy, and the stars and stripes a target for his gun. How utterly incongruous to be in a battle line at peaceful Manassas; just a few miles from his childhood home of Sully!

Richard barely had time to take over the duties of the Subsistence Department before he found himself in the middle of the First Battle of Bull Run. On July 21st, West Point classmates Beauregard and Irvin McDowell opposed each other with untrained men wearing such a conglomeration of uniforms, grays, blues, red pantalooned zuaves, that it was difficult to distinguish either army.

Beauregard was as famous for his rhetoric as he was for his courage. His report of the battle was written in the style of a Southern Iliad and gives us a sample of the elan of this first battle of a long and terrible war.

Beauregard describes the setting.

Lewis house, Henry house a hundred feet above the level of Bull Run at the bridge . . . gentle slopes which are furrowed by ravines of irregular directions and length and studded with clumps and patches of young pines and oaks. . . . From the open ground of this plateau the view embraces a wide expanse of woods and gently undulating open country of broad grass and grain fields in all directions.

Classmates and old friends opposed each other: General Beauregard, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, Richard Stoddert Ewell, Jubal Anderson Early, Thomas Jonathan Jackson and James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart faced Ambrose Everett Burnside, Daniel Tyler, Erasmus Keyes and. William Tecumseh Sherman (who, like many, was experiencing his first battle).

The fire was withering on both sides. . . . Heavy losses had now been sustained on our side both in numbers and in the personal worth of the slain. . . . The slaughter for the moment was deplorable, and has filled many a Southern home with lifelong sorrow. . . . Continuous roll of musketry and the sustained din of the artillery. . . .

General Johnston impressively and gallantly charged to the front. . . .

General Beauregard personally incited the troops.

I reminded them that we fought for our homes, our firesides, and for the independence of our country. I urged them to the resolution of victory or death on that field. These sentiments were loudly, eagerly cheered wheresoever proclaimed, and I then felt reassured of the unconquerable spirit of that army, which would enable us to wrench victory from the host then threatening us with destruction.

Oh, my country! I would readily have sacrificed my life and those of all the brave men around me to save your honor and to maintain your independence from the degrading yoke which those ruthless invaders had come to impose and render perpetual. . . .

Two companies of Stuart’s Cavalry . . . made a dashing charge down the Brentsville and Sudley road . . . the press of the enemy was heavy.

This part of the day was rich with deeds of individual coolness and duntless conduct, as well as well directed embodied resolution and bravery, but fraught with loss to the service of the country of lives of inestimable preciousness at this juncture. . . . The brave Bee was mortally wounded . . . Col. F. J. Thomas . . . slain.

3:30 P.M. It was a truly magnificent, though redoubtable spectacle as they threw forward in fine style.

The attacking force marched forward in step by brigades, in double lines, captains in front and other officers in the rear to prevent straggling. As the brigades advanced, they stopped periodically to fire and reload until both armies were dose enough to bayonet or dub with their muskets, or until a line was force to give way.

General Jackson . . . able, fearless soldier and sagacious commander. . . . His prompt, timely arrival before the plateau of the Henry house, and his judicious disposition of his troops, contributed much to the success of the day. Although painfully wounded in the hand, he remained on the field to &end of the battle.

The rout had now become general and complete.

The enemy gave way and fled in wild disorder in every direction. . . . a scene the President of the Confederacy had the high satisfaction of witnessing, as he arrived upon the field at that exultant moment.

President Davis was not the only spectator. The battle had started out as a show for throngs of Washington civilian picnickers who had watched from the sidelines until the Union forces began to withdraw. Suddenly panicked, the foolish spectators clogged the road and narrow bridges with their buggies and wagons, causing a hopeless traffic jam. The orderly retreat of the Federal army became a hysterical chaos, as army and civilians fled to Washington. War was no longer fun.

Stuart and his cavalry . . . had also taken up the pursuit . . . but soon, cumbered by prisoners who thronged his way, was unable to attack the mass of the fast fleeing, frantic Federalists. . . . An Army which had fought as ours on that day, against uncommon odds, under a July sun, most of the time without water and without food except a hastily-snatched scanty meal at dawn, was not in condition for the toil of an eager, effective pursuit of an enemy immediately after the battle.

On the following day an unusually heavy and unintermitting fall of rain intervened to obstruct our advance . . . the want of a cavalry force of sufficient numbers made an efficient pursuit a military impossibility.

The toll: Confederate losses. “The killed outright numbered 369, the wounded 1,483. . . . The actual loss of the enemy will never be known . . . many parts of the field were thick with their corpses.”10

After the excitement of the battle, Richard settled down to solve the old subsistence problems, now aggravated by the exigencies of war. Every day brought questions for him to decide. Could he provide rations for elusive companies on the move? Would it be efficacious to issue fresh beef, five days a week, to troops who had been accustomed to “live habitually, at home, on cured meats or bacon?” Could he furnish hard bread rather than flour, “which in the most part can only be converted in the field into inferior bread?” “Could he devise a better financial arrangement to insure a more efficient supply and to prevent the possible recurrence of the disastrous deficiency of subsistence which has recently been inflicted on the Army of the Potomac?”11

Richard, unexpectantly, received a reprieve from these chores on August 10th, when he was ordered to report to the Commissary General in Richmond. Although he left the Army of the Potomac with a heartwarming letter from General Beauregard,12 he was sure hat his new orders implied criticism; consequently he wrote to General J. E. Johnston to inquire what he had done to cause dissatisfaction. The busy general immediately took time to write a long letter which soothed Lee’s ruffled feelings with phrases such as: “Let me add that I was rejoiced to find you here at the head of your department and that I regretted your removal very much.”13

Although his spirits had improved, Richard’s health began to suffer. The strain of battle had taken too much from his sixty-four-year-old body, and he had to apply for leave in October, incapacitated by a severe inflammation of the lungs and a painful “affection of the hip and shoulder occasioned by exposure and old wounds renewed in action.”14 Feeling better by December, he requested “appropriate duties,” explaining later:

I did not intend to be understood as asking any personal accommodation or consideration, inconsistent with the interests of the service, but to be placed in a position where my services would most conduce to the interests of the Government. It is a source of deep regret that for the second time in my life, I have been disabled by casualties and sickness. . . .15

This sick leave was spent at Buckland,16 a family plantation in Prince William County, not far from Bull Run. Here he nursed his health, surrounded by his wife and younger children, every aware of the enemy forces slowly gathering. McClellan was preparing for a crushing blow which he hoped would annihilate the Confederacy, but he seemed almost immobile in his deliberateness. The blockade, however, was beginning to tighten, and on March 8th Richard heard about the gallant battle between the ironclads and mourned the defeat of the Virginia by the Monitor at Hampton Roads.

Although no special job tailored to a semi-invalid had materialized by February, Richard reported himself sufficiently restored to health to resume duty; in fact, he felt so robust that he presented himself as a candidate for the rank of Brigadier General: “Influenced only by a desire to be placed in a position where my best energies and efforts can be devoted to the cause of the Confederate States.17 For references he listed a galaxy of Generals: Cooper, Johnston, Robert E. Lee and Beauregard. Since the generalship was not proffered, he reported again to Beauregard on April 3rd, as Chief of Commissariat at Jackson, Tennessee.

The capture of Fort Donelson by Grant, on February 15, 1862, had forced General A. S. Johnston to retreat from Nashville to the Memphis and Chattanooga Railroad, where he had established a strong defense with General Beauregard at Corinth. Consequently, Richard soon found himself transferred to Corinth; here, he served as Chief of Subsistence for the Army of the Mississippi, taking his orders from General Johnston for the three days before Johnston was killed at Shiloh, then from Beauregard again, and finally from General Braxton Bragg.

From the peace of Buckland, Richard was plunged into chaos on April 6th, a tragic day of wild endeavor and crushing fatigue. Johnston and Beauregard advanced on Grant and Sherman, successfully capturing the key position at Shiloh Church, confident of victory until the mortally wounded Johnston was borne off the field. That night was long and anxious, a night of relentless hammering rain which soaked men and equipment to the core and swelled the muddy Tennessee River under the bluffs of Pittsburgh Landing where the Union Troops were huddled for shelter. April 7th brought ten hours of fierce, exhausting battle, forcing Beauregard to retreat to Corinth, but leaving Grant’s army too weary to follow. It was a Union victory, at the terrible price of 13,000 Union and 11,000 Confederate dead. Shiloh—to Richard the name would always bring a picture of a vast field of carnage, of acres of young bodies moldering under the broken limbs of flowering peach trees and the terrifying, plunging sensation of having his horse shot dead under him.18

After Shiloh, Richard’s life continued to be a nightmare: there were daily emergencies, problems of provisioning, of moving supplies, or foraging a hungry countryside while the sword of famine, which meant defeat, hung daily over his head.

Columbus and Granada, Mississippi, had been created “Grand Depots” for the supplies of the Subsistence Department, and the district north of Corinth had to “be gleaned of all subsistence not necessary for the support of the inhabitants.19 Hospitals for the wounded at Ocoleano, Holly Springs, Oxford, and Jackson had to be supplied, and other civilians had to be fed, such as Negro workers at the forts at Vicksburg and the employees of the Ordnance works at Columbus.

Locating and purchasing twenty days’ rations for 50,000 men, providing sub-depots with 150,000 rations each, provisioning an army of undetermined size, at unknown locations, was an arduous chore. Richard had a staff of agents scattered over Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas to ferret out provisions. Sometimes word came down the chain of command of the discovery of two or three barrels of whiskey waiting to be purchased for the Army or Medical Corps, or of molasses and sugar, which could be purchased at a comparatively low price in Memphis to exchange for salt meats and bacon with the planters of Mississippi. One day, a civilian brought in nine head of cattle taken from the enemy, which Richard purchased for full value. Another time, he had to arrange far the purchase and transportation of a herd of 18,000 steers from Calcasien Parish in Louisiana. This involved innumerable people, including the commanding officers at Memphis and Vicksburg, who had to be alerted to provide steamboat and railroad facilities for this cattle trek from the far side of the wide Mississippi River.20 (As a further complication, Farragut’s fleet of wooden gunboats was working its way up the Mississippi toward Vicksburg, threatening to sever the South in half.)

By April 30,1862, a definite peril was felt: Richard received a telegram from the Commissary General in Richmond reducing the ration “to half a pound of Bacon or Pork and one pound of Beef and not exceeding one and a half pound of Flour and Corn Meal.”11 Richard then planned a detailed modification of the rations, which met with General Beauregard’s approval: 20 oz. of flour or cornmeal per day, 10 oz. of pork or bacon two days in seven, fresh beef five days in seven, eight; quarts of beans or peas for 100 rations, three pounds of coffee per 100 rations and similar limitations on lard, bread, rice, rye, sugar, molasses, vinegar, soap, and candles. Supplies were running dangerously low by May 5th and memos to this effect were an added irritant:

The General Commanding wishes your attention called to the fact that there were but about three days subsistence for this Army on the day of the Enemy’s demonstration in the front. The General wishes all possible measures taken to secure in Depot always at least ten days rations for an Army of sixty-five thousand men.22

This was easier said than done, as Richard soon discovered the frustrating fact that his agents, operating under a fixed price range set by the War Department, were in unfair competition with the Quartermaster Corps. In exasperation Richard wrote to his commanding officer, pointing out that he could not provide for the Army as a whole if the individual commands bought up the supplies at a higher price than he was permitted to pay.23

As if the unfair competition of the Quartermaster were not enough, Richard found that the Generals were purloining his cattle. One day 40 head of cattle “upon crossing the lines of General Bragg . . . were taken by his order.” Later 70 beeves, which Richard was going to distribute to the different armies, were forcibly pilfered by General Van Dorn’s order, and another 15, being brought in by some of his other agents, were similarly stolen. Richard complained bitterly to Headquarters and was far from pacified by the excuse that General Bragg’s appropriation of the cattle was “necessary for the wants of the Army and to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy.”24

By May 28th defeat and evacuation seemed imminent as Richard read Beauregard’s discouraging orders:

So soon as the troops shall have drawn all the rations ordered, 3 days cooked and 3 days in wagons you will send off (today) to Guntown or elsewhere all the surplus here and make preparations to burn at a moments notice all that cannot be carried off.25

(Included in this evacuation message was a cryptic personal comment to Richard. “I send you a telegram from the War Department for your remarks (as short as possible) before I answer it. I think I will silence them forever.”)

The Army’s Headquarters had been moved to Tupelo. On June 12th Lee was ordered to “remove all supplies from all the Miss. Central R. Rod. to Tupelo, Columbus, Macon, Gainesville, Demopolis, Meridian, Enterprise, Selma and Montgomery and to distribute the supplies for 75,000 or 80,000 men in varying amounts: Columbus to have twenty days rations always on hand, Meridian only three days.” He was also directed to “have continuously on hand at Granada 10 d’s supplies for 5000 men until the place shall have been abandoned by Genl. Bragg’s command.”26

Transportation and the railroads in particular were a perpetual headache. Most of the Southern railroads had breaks in their lines, necessitating carting of freight from one station to another (Chattanooga, the vital junction of the Richmond-Knoxville Memphis-Chattanooga Railroads being one of the many examples). In spite of this, the Confederate government seemed reluctant to take over the railroads in order to build the essential missing links. At times train service was discontinued, and Richard was hard put to it to supply a Kentucky Cavalry Regiment of about seven hundred men near Tuscumbra, as the trains to that area had been withdrawn.

Often freight cars were tied up because they were used as storehouses or because no personnel could be found to unload them. Richard wrote in exasperation in June, beseeching the military commanders to take measures for loading and unloading the railroad cars to avoid the great exposure of provisions to the sun; delays often lasted for several days. He added that such measures would remove “a pretext on the part of the Rail Road agents for delays generally caused by their own delinquencies.”27 The railroad situation was critical, and Richard explained, “The absence of rice and other minor articles arises from losses sustained in transition from Corinth to this place [Tupelo]. As soon as the Rail Road facilities are available these articles will be replaced to a limited extent.”28

The job of providing subsistence had become very acute. Without consulting Richard, General Beauregard decided that additional help was needed and added to the Commissariat a Memphis businessman who knew the local picture.29 Richard resented the addition of this civilian and felt that he was being supplanted. Weary and hurt, he asked to be relieved from his “position environed by uncommon difficulties and embarrassments.” His orders of June 25th bore the following commendation from General Bragg, “A veteran of forty years, he leaves behind him a justly grateful remembrance of services rendered with that zeal that springs from a long trained sense of duty, quickened by an ardent patriotism.”30

This commendation was worth its weight in gold because tall, awkward Braxton Bragg was noted for his quarrels and had as many personal enemies as hairs in his luxuriant beard.

Richard returned to a happier, more relaxed Richmond. The capital was feeling the bliss of reprieve, for it had been miraculously saved from the invasion of McClellan’s 100,000 by Robert E. Lee’s brilliant strategy and Stonewall Jackson’s execution of Lee’s orders. The Seven Days Battle had increased Confederate optimism. Although New Orleans had been lost, the possession of Vicksburg enabled the Confederacy to maintain contact with the far west, and Confederate strength at Chattanooga safeguarded the railroad communication in the southwestern states. For another year the South would enjoy the security of these two vital points. The future did not seem so black.

Infected by the general optimism, Richard again applied for the position of Inspector General, attaching letters of commendation from General Bragg and General Beauregard to his application.31 Beauregard’s letter seemed to be especially encouraging, as he had written that he would like to have Richard command one of his brigades.

As Richard plodded on his round of inspections in North Carolina, he began to suspect that he had enemies at the Capital. He made several trips to Richmond to see the President but “found his time so occupied” and “his health so infirm” that he was always turned away from the Presidential doorstep. Consequently in July 1863, he resorted to sending the President his autobiographical sketch with the following explanation:

The object of this communication is not to create discussion, not to invite controversy with any agent or officer of the Government which I have ever studiously avoided. Not to seek undue preferment, which I have never solicited, not with the expectation of being assigned to duty commensurate with former services, which at my time of life I neither expect nor desire. But Sir to defend my reputation, and to relieve your mind from disparaging influences, which seem to have lost me your confidence and to have marked me especially as an object of your displeasure.

Officially my duties have always been performed deferentially, and to the best of my abilities. Politically I have been your warm supporter, as a zealous and able advocate of Southern Rights. Personally I have entertained toward you friendly and respectful feelings. Therefore I am at a loss even to conjecture the causes which operate against me in a manner as wounding to my feelings as prejudicial to my reputation and prestige as an officer.32

Richard’s optimism was ill founded. Jefferson Davis was a man few people got to know well, an enigma to most. His career had oscillated between military and political for years. He was eleven years younger than Richard and had graduated from West Point with poor marks. After helping to capture Black Hawk in the Black Hawk War, he had resigned from the Army in 1835 to become a Mississippi cotton planter. Secretly engaged to the daughter of Richard’s cousin, Zachary Taylor, he had finally worn down opposition to the marriage, only to have his bride die of malaria three months after the wedding. After a taste of politics as U.S. Congressman, he had distinguished himself in the Mexican War, where he served under his former father-in-law, General Taylor. Later he served as U.S. Senator when Taylor was president. His defeat as State-Rights Democratic candidate for governor of Mississippi had not held him back, and 1853–57 found him back in Washington as Secretary of War, when his refusal to approve the San Francisco storeroom had so exasperated Richard.

Although Davis seemed as unresponsive as ever, Richard sent him a final plea, requesting an additional grade of rank: “with permission to retain my present rank in the regular Army, to fall back on under the approaching infirmities of age as the only support of a large and impoverished family.”

The letter ended with: “I am with much respct, and if I may be permitted to add, as I have ever been truly your friend politically and personally.”33

This political and personal friendship seemed to be one-sided and bore no fruit. Jefferson Davis believed in his own infallibility and was always infuriated by opposition or criticism. Probably his opposition to Richard dated back to the request for the San Francisco storeroom. Richard was assigned to inspection duty in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida with no increase in rank, and his rank and pay would remain the same until the Army and the Confederacy were no more.

Here he would serve again under Beauregard, who had fallen out of favor. Davis had been angered by suggestions and criticism made by Beauregard and had succeeded in removing the General from command of the Western Department, shelving him to the inferior responsibility of the coastal defense of South Carolina and Georgia. Beauregard’s correspondence seethed with his hatred of Davis: he seemed to despise his president more than the Yankees.

In his letter to President Davis, Richard had mentioned that his army pay was the only support of a large and impoverished family. Unfortunately, the remuneration was becoming less adequate by the day. The Confederate dollar had commenced its skid down the inflation slide, and by the end of the war would be worth only 1.6 cents. Richard’s salary of $185 a month plus $81 for forage for two horses34 was stretched to its extremity to support Julia and their three unmarried daughters. Fortunately, the boys were on their own. The eldest son, Richard Bland III was in business. Julian, twenty-one at the beginning of the war, had enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private and would advance to the rank of captain. The two youngest sons, Gus and Robert, served in the Confederate Navy and Army respectively, and the end of the war would find them veterans at the ages of nineteen and sixteen years.

Richard moved his family to Tarboro, North Carolina, as he had to report to this town and to Warrenton for monthly orders. Here, in August 1864, twenty-three-year-old Myra married a native of France, Charles Napoleon Civalier of Bordeaux. This, however, wag not the only “foreign” marriage, for on March 16, 1865, about a month before the end of the war, Richard Bland III married a half-English “Yankee,#&8221; Mary Alice Butt, in the city of New York.

The war was seen through a glass darkly: even close to the end, the outcome seemed obscured to the governments in Washington and Richmond. Richard avidly read the newspaper accounts and talked to fellow officers who had survived the victories and defeats that seesawed unpredictably: the Confederate victory of the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862; the defeat at Antietam, which was followed by the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862; his cousin Robert’s victory at Fredericksburg in December 1862; the surrender of Vicksburg to Grant in July 1863; the Confederate victory of Chancellorsville which was saddened by the loss of Jackson; the defeat at Gettysburg in July 1863; the fall of Chattanooga in September 1863; and Sherman’s march to the sea.

The war moved on through the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864 and Sheridan’s devastation of the Shenandoah Valley in October. Richard’s first cousin, Edmund Jennings Lee II lost his residence and a house belonging to his wife at Shepher[d]stown, West Virginia, “burnt by the order of that famous general of the Northern Army who was so valiant and efficient in this line of service” (as his son, Edmund phrased it a generation later).35 The death toll was mounting; the flower of Southern manhood lay maimed or dead. Richard and Julia apprehensively waited for news about their sons and other relatives until the surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

Although the extended Lee family had lost one fourth of the seventy-six members wearing uniform, all of Richard’s immediate family had been spared. There was much to be thankful for that April of 1865.



1. Articles from the National Intelligencer, now in the files of the Society of the Lees in Virginia.

2. Will of Elizabeth Collins Lee, probated in the District of Columbia, March 18, 1859.

3. Lee, R. B. Letter to Major General Cooper, October 10, 1860, National Archives.

4. Lee, R. B. Letter to Robert Anderson, November 27, 1831, Anderson Papers, Library of Congress.

This letter, so carefully saved, said nothing more important than: “On my arrival at Washington a few days since I had the pleasure to receive your letter from Louisville. It is needless to say that I lost no time in urging a request, having for its tendency the agreeable arrangement you proposed” . . ., ending with the postscript, “I expect to be at Louisville next month when I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you.”

5. Lee, R. B. Letter to Commanding General April 23, 1861, National Archives.

6. Lee, R. B. Letter to Commanding General Subsistence April 28, 1861, National Archives.

7. Lee, R. B. Autobiographical Sketch, op. cit.

8. Lee, R. B. Letter to Major General George Gibson, May 7, 1861, National Archives.

9. Lee, R. B. Autobiographical Sketch, op. cit.

10. Beauregard, G. T. Report of Bull Run Campaign, Manassas, August 26 (October 14) 1861, National Archives.

11. Jordan, Thomas, to R. B. Lee, August 3, 1861, July 19, 1861, National Archives.

12. Beauregard, G. T. Letter to R. B. Lee, August 25, 1861, Library of Congress.

I cannot permit you to quit the Army of the Potomac without an expression of my sense of your high capacity as a Staff Official and the zeal with which you discharged the duties of Chief of Subsistence for this force during the time you have been connected with it—a period of peculiar embarrassments, labor and perplexities for one in your position.

Your long and intimate knowledge of the subsistence requirements of troops, your educated foresight and your labors however fruitless in some respects to prevent the Army from wanting food have impressed me so highly as to have made me desire that you should continue in a sphere in which you have been satisfactory but the authorities have otherwise directed, and it only remains for me to thank you for what you have achieved and to wish you the most agreeable official and personal relations in the future.

13. Johnston, J. E. Letter to R. B. Lee, September 20, 1861 (R.B.L.F. Collection).

Hd. Qr. near Fairfax Station
Sep. 20th 1861

Col. R. B. Lee C.S.A.
My dear Colonel

I have just received your letter of the 11th instant and read it, I assure you, with great surprise. I have known you for more than twenty-five years, and during all that time looked upon you with high official and personal respect—I cannot, therefore, well comprehend why you inquire if anything I have written was intended to reflect in any manner upon your official conduct while on duty with me in this army.

With my last letter referring to the Commissariat while you were at the head of that department here were enclosed papers showing, as I thought, that you were perfectly competent to provide the army—with no other aid from Richmond than found.

Let me add that I rejoiced to find you here at the head of your department and that I regretted your removal very much.

I have never written anything intended to be construed into reflection upon the manner in which you discharged your duties in this army—nor implying on your part want of zeal or efficiency. But have ever thought and spoken of you as an officer of high capacity and merit.

Very truly your friend
J. W. Johnston

14. Lee, R. B. Letter December 15, 1861, National Archives. R. B. Lee writes that he has just recovered from his illness.

15. Le, R. B. Letter to Adjutant General Cooper, January 1, 1862, National Archives.

16. Buckland was later brought by Richard’s son, Dick, and remained in his family until about 1935.

17. Lee, R. B. Letter to Adjutant General March 5, 1862. National Archives.

18. According to family tradition.

19. Adjutant General Jordan, Letter to R. B. Lee, April 9, 1862, Library of Congress.

20. Adjutant General to R. B. Lee. Letters April 19, 1862, Library of Congress.

April 16, 1862, Library of Congress, April 12, 1862, National Archives, April 14, 1862, National Archives.

21. Brigadier General Jordan to R. B. Lee, April 30, 1862, National Archives.

22. Commanding General to Lee, May 5, 1862, Library of Congress.

23. Lee, R. B. to Brigadier General Jordan, June 2, 1862, National Archives.

24. Ibid.

25. General Beauregard to Lee, May 28, 1862, Library of Congress.

26. General Beauregard to Lee, June 12, 1862, Library of Congress.

27. Lee, R. B. Letter June 13,1862, National Archives.

28. Lee, R. B. Letter to Adjutant General Jordan, June 2, 1862, National Archives.

Adjutant Chief of Staff George William Brent to Lee, June 2, 1862, Library of Congress.

29. Headquarters, Tupelo, Letter to R. B. Lee, June 9, 1862, Library of Congress. Letter informs R. B. Lee that Memphis gentleman Major Wicks is given to him as his assistant to help procure cattle and meal because he knows the area.

General Beauregard. Letter to R. B. Lee, December 3, 1863 (R.B.L.F. Collection).

The army under my command was in great need of subsistence, the procurement and accumulation of which to any substantial amount each day became more difficult under a system of supply over which you and myself had but a constantly hampered control. The situation was one which gave me extreme anxiety and constant concern, especially the supply of meat. I was induced to believe that material benefit was to be derived by placing the more active duties of your office in the hands of someone of known energy, large business capacity and extensive acquaintance with the resources of the country, and influence with the local business men and capitalists of the region—from representations made to me, I was led further to believe that Capt. Wicks of Memphis combined the necessary qualifications; hence on the 3rd day of June, I applied for him, with the intention of availing myself of your long experience and knowledge of the details of the Commissariat, and of the Subsistence wants of an army, as an Inspector of the operations of the Subsistence Dept. That is, to free you from laborious local duties which consumed so much of your time unprofitabley, and to relieve you from complications and embarrassments in your relations with your Chief of Bureau, or, in other words: my plan and expectation were to divide the duties of the Chief of Subsistence of the Department—yours thereafter to be those of an Inspector to ascertain and indicate the wants of the troops in all possible contingencies. . . . I did not ask that you should be relieved from my command—I simply wished by the introduction of an additional officer, to enlarge and assure my means of subsisting my command by his local knowledge of the resources of my country. . . .

30. General Orders No. 80. June 25, 1862.

31. General Beauregard to Lee, R. B. July 15, 1862, Library of Congress. Also General Beauregard. Letter to R. B. Lee, December 3, 1863 (R.B.L.F. Collection).

I can heartily concur in General Bragg’s recommendation for your promotion to the grade of Brigadier General and assignment to a command commensurate with your military training and aspirations. I should have been pleased to have you assigned to a command under me at the time.

32. Lee, R. B, Letter to Jefferson Davis, July 1863 (R.B.L.F. Collection).

Lee, R. B. Letter to Jefferson Davis, September 25, 1863, National Archives.

Lee, R. B. Pay voucher, September 1–20, 1863, National Archves.

Lee, Edmund Jennings, M.D., Lee of Virginia, op. cit., p. 468.

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