Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Jr.

CHAPTER III
LETTERS TO WIFE AND DAUGHTERS

FROM CAMP ON SEWELL’S MOUNTAIN—QUOTATION FROM COLONEL TAYLOR’S BOOK—FROM PROFESSOR WM. P. TRENT—FROM MR. DAVIS’S MEMORIAL ADDRESS—DEFENSE OF SOUTHERN PORTS—CHRISTMAS, 1861—THE GENERAL VISITS HIS FATHER’S GRAVE—COMMANDS, UNDER THE PRESIDENT, ALL THE ARMIES OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES

THE season being too far advanced to attempt any further movements away from our base of supplies, and the same reasons preventing any advance of the Federal forces, the campaign in this part of Virginia ended for the winter. In the Kanawha Valley, however, the enemy had been and were quite active. Large reinforcements under General Rosecrans were sent there to assist General Cox, the officer in command at that point. General Loring, leaving a sufficient force to watch the enemy at Cheat Mountain, moved the rest of his army to join the commands of Generals Floyd and Wise, who were opposing the advance of Cox. General Lee, about September 20th, reached General Floyd’s camp, and immediately proceeded to arrange the lines of defense. Shortly after his arrival there he wrote to my mother at the Hot Springs:

CAMP ON SEWELL’s MOUNTAIN,
September 26, 1881.

I have just received, dear Mary, your letters of the 17th and 19th instants, with one from Robert. I have but little time for writing to-night, and will, therefore, write to you. . . . Having now disposed of business matters, I will say how glad I am to hear from you, and to learn that you have reached the Hot in safety, with daughter and Rob. I pray that its healing waters may benefit you all. I am glad to hear of Charlotte and the girls, and hope all will go well with them. I infer you received my letter before leaving Valley Mountain, though you did not direct your letter “via Lewisburg, Greenbrier County,” and hence its delay. I told you of the death of Colonel Washington. I grieve for his loss, though trust him to the mercy of our Heavenly Father. May He have mercy on us all.

It is raining heavily. The men are all exposed on the mountain, with the enemy opposite to us. We are without tents, and for two nights I have lain buttoned up in my overcoat. To-day my tent came up and I am in it. Yet I fear I shall not sleep for thinking of the poor men. I wrote about socks for myself. I have no doubt the yarn ones you mention will be very acceptable to the men here or elsewhere. If you can send them here, I will distribute them to the most needy. Tell Rob I could not write to him for want of time. My heart is always with you and my children. May God guard and bless you all is the constant prayer of Your devoted husband,

R. E. LEE.

To my mother, still at the Hot Springs:

SEWELL’S MOUNTAIN, October 7, 1861.

I received, dear Mary, your letter by Doctor Quintard, with the cotton socks. Both were very acceptable, though the latter I have not yet tried. At the time of their reception the enemy was threatening an attack, which was continued till Saturday night, when under cover of darkness he suddenly withdrew. Your letter of the 2d, with the yarn socks, four pairs, was handed to me when I was preparing to follow, and I could not at the time attend to either. But I have since, and as I found Perry in desperate need, I bestowed a couple of pairs on him, as a present from you. The others I have put in my trunk and suppose they will fall to the lot of Meredith,[note 22] into the state of whose hose I have not yet inquired. Should any sick man require them first, he shall have them, but Meredith will have no one near to supply him but me, and will naturally expect that attention. I hope, dear Mary, you and daughter, as well as poor little Rob, have derived some benefit from the sanitary baths of the Hot. What does daughter intend to do during the winter? And, indeed, what do you? It is time you were determining. There is no prospect of your returning to Arlington. I think you had better select some comfortable place in the Carolinas or Georgia, and all board together. If Mildred goes to school at Raleigh, why not go there? It is a good opportunity to try a warmer climate for your rheumatism. If I thought our enemies would not make a vigorous move against Richmond, I would recommend to rent a house there. But under these circumstances I would not feel as if you were permanently located if there. I am ignorant where I shall be. In the field somewhere, I suspect, so I have little hope of being with you, though I hope to be able to see you. . . . I heard from Fitzhugh the other day. He is well, though his command is greatly reduced by sickness. I wished much to bring him with me; but there is too much cavalry on this line now, and I am dismounting them. I could not, therefore, order more. The weather is almost as bad here as in the mountains I left. There was a drenching rain yesterday, and as I had left my overcoat in camp I was thoroughly wet from head to foot. It has been raining ever since and is now coming down with a will. But I have my clothes out on the bushes and they will be well washed.

The force of the enemy, by a few prisoners captured yesterday and civilians on the road, is put down from 17,000 to 20,000. Some went as high as 22,000. General Floyd thinks 18,000. I do not think it exceeds 9,000 or 10,000, though it exceeds ours. I wish he had attacked us, as I believe he would have been repulsed with great loss. His plan was to attack us at all points at the same time. The rumbling of his wheels, etc., was heard by our pickets, but as that was customary at night in the moving and placing of his cannon, the officer of the day to whom it was reported paid no particular attention to it, supposing it to be a preparation for attack in the morning. When day appeared, the bird had flown, and the misfortune was that the reduced condition of our horses for want of provender, exposure to cold rains in these mountains, and want of provisions for the men prevented the vigorous pursuit and following up that was proper. We can only get up provisions from day to day—which paralyses our operations.

I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies cannot keep pace with the expectations of the editors of papers. I know they can regulate matters satisfactorily to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do and would be happy to see them have full swing. I hope something will be done to please them. Give much love to the children and everybody, and believe me. Always yours,

R. E. LEE.

Colonel Taylor, in his “Four Years with General Lee,” says:

We had now reached the latter days of October. The lateness of the season and the condition of the roads precluded the idea of earnest, aggressive operations, and the campaign in western Virginia was virtually concluded.

Judged from its results, it must be confessed that this series of operations was a failure. At its conclusion, a large portion of the State was in possession of the Federals, including the rich valleys of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, and so remained until the close of the war. For this, however, General Lee cannot reasonably be held accountable. Disaster had befallen the Confederate arms, and the worst had been accomplished before he had reached the theatre of operations; the Alleghanies there constituted the dividing line between the hostile forces, and in this network of mountains, sterile and rendered absolutely impracticable by a prolonged season of rain, Nature had provided an insurmountable barrier to operations in this transmontane country. . . . It was doubtless because of similar embarrassments that the Federal general retired, in the face of inferior numbers, to a point near his base of supplies.

Professor William P. Trent, in his “Robert E. Lee,” after describing briefly the movements of the contending armies, writes:

There was, then, nothing to do but to acknowledge the campaign a failure. The Confederate Government withdrew its troops and sent them elsewhere. Lee, whom the press abused and even former friends began to regard as overrated, was assigned to command the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; and her western counties were lost to the Old Dominion forever. It must have been a crushing blow to Lee at the time, but he bore it uncomplainingly. . . . And when all is said, no commander, however great, can succeed against bad roads, bad weather, sickness of troops, lack of judgement and harmony among subordinates, and a strong, alert enemy. Yet this is what Lee was expected to do.

Mr. Davis, in an address before a memorial meeting at Richmond in 1870, speaking of General Lee in this campaign, said:

He came back, carrying the heavy weight of defeat, and unappreciated by the people whom he served, for they could not know, as I knew, that, if his plans and orders had been carried out, the result would have been victory rather than retreat. You did not know it; for I should not have known it had he not breathed it in my ear only at my earnest request, and begging that nothing be said about it. The clamour which then arose followed him when he went to South Carolina, so that it became necessary on his departure to write a letter to the Governor of that State, telling him what manner of man he was. Yet, through all this, with a magnanimity rarely equalled, he stood in silence, without defending himself or allowing others to defend him, for he was unwilling to offend any one who was wearing a sword and striking blows for the Confederacy.

After returning to Richmond, my father resumed his position as advisor and counsellor to Mr. Davis. From there he writes to my mother, who had left the Hot Springs and gone on to “Shirley,” on James River:

RICHMOND, November 5, 1861.

My Dear Mary: I received last night your letter of the 2d, and would have answered it at once, but was detained with the Secretary till after 11 P.M. I fear now I may miss the mail. Saturday evening I tried to get down to you to spend Sunday, but could find no government boat going down, and the passenger boats all go in the morning. I then went to the stable and got out my horse, but it was near night then and I was ignorant both of the road and distance and I gave it up. I was obliged to be here Monday, and as it would have consumed all Sunday to go and come, I have remained for better times. The President said I could not go to-day, so I must see what can be done to-morrow. I will come, however, wherever you are, either Shirley or the White House, as soon as possible, and if not sooner, Saturday at all events. . . . I am, as ever, Yours,

R. E. LEE.

The day after this letter was written, my father was ordered to South Carolina for the purpose of directing and supervising the construction of a line of defense along the southern coast. I give here several letters to members of his family which tell of his duties and manner of life:

SAVANNAH, November 18, 1861.

My Dear Mary: This is the first moment I have had to write to you, and now am waiting the call to breakfast, on my way to Brunswick, Fernandina, etc. This is my second visit to Savannah. Night before last, I returned to Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, from Charleston, where I have placed my headquarters, and last night came here, arriving after midnight. I received in Charleston your letter from Shirley. It was a grievous disappointment to me not to have seen you, but better times will come, I hope. . . . You probably have seen the operations of the enemy’s fleet. Since their first attack they have been quiescent apparently, confining themselves to Hilton Head, where they are apparently fortifying.

I have no time for more. Love to all. Yours very affectionately and truly,

R. E. LEE.

CHARLESTON, November 15, 1861.

My Precious Daughter: I have received your letter forwarded to Richmond by Mr. Powell, and I also got, while in the West, the letter sent by B. Turner. I can write but seldom, but your letters always give me great pleasure. I am glad you had such a pleasant visit to “Kinloch.” I have passed a great many pleasant days there myself in my young days. Now you must labour at your books and gain knowledge and wisdom. Do not mind what Rob says. I have a beautiful white beard. It is much admired. At least, much remarked on. You know I have told you not to believe what the young men tell you. I was unable to see your poor mother when in Richmond. Before I could get down I was sent off here. Another forlorn hope expedition. Worse than West Virginia. . . . I have much to do in this country. I have been to Savannah and have to go again. The enemy is quiet after his conquest of Port Royal Harbor and his whole fleet is lying there. May God guard and protect you, my dear child, prays your Affectionate father,

R. E. LEE.

The above letter was written to his youngest daughter Mildred, who was at school in Winchester, Virginia. Two of my sisters were in King George County, Virginia, at “Clydale,” the summer home of Dr. Richard Stuart, with whose family we had been a long time intimate. From there they had driven to “Stratford,” in Westmoreland County, about thirty miles distant, where my father was born. They had written him of this trip, and this is his reply:

SAVANNAH, November 22, 1861.

My Darling Daughters: I have just received your joint letter of October 24th from “Clydale.” It was very cheering to me, and the affection and sympathy you expressed were very grateful to my feelings. I wish indeed I could see you, be with you, and never again part from you. God only can give me that happiness. I pray for it night and day. But my prayers I know are not worthy to be heard. I received your former letter in western Virginia, but had no opportunity to reply to it. I enjoyed it, nevertheless. I am glad you do not wait to hear from me, as that would deprive me of the pleasure of hearing from you often. I am so pressed with business. I am much pleased at your description of Stratford and your visit. It is endeared to me by many recollections, and it has been always a great desire of my life to be able to purchase it. Now that we have no other home, and the one we so loved has been foully polluted, the desire is stronger with me than ever. The horse-chestnut you mention in the garden was planted by my mother. I am sorry the vault is so dilapidated. You did not mention the spring, on of the objects of my earliest recollections. I am very glad, my precious Agnes, that you have become so early a riser. It is a good habit, and in these times for mighty works advantage should be taken of every hour. I much regretted being obliged to come from Richmond without seeing your poor mother. . . . This is my second visit to Savannah. I have been down the coast to Amelia Island to examine the defenses. They are poor indeed, and I have laid off work enough to employ our people a month. I hope our enemy will be polite enough to wait for us. It is difficult to get our people to realise their position. . . . Good-bye, my dear daughters. Your affectionate father,

R. E. LEE.

To his daughter Annie:

COOSAWHATCHIE, South Carolina, December 8, 1861.

My Precious Annie: I have taken the only quiet time I have been able to find on this holy day to thank you for your letter of the 29th ulto. One of the miseries of war is that there is no Sabbath, and the current of work and strife has no cessation. How can we be pardoned for all our offenses! I am glad that you have joined your mamma again and that some of you are together at last. It would be a great happiness to me were you all at some quiet place, remote from the vicissitudes of war, where I could consider you safe. You must have had a pleasant time at “Clydale.” I hope indeed that “Cedar Grove” may be saved from the ruin and pillage that other places have received at the hands of our enemies, who are pursuing the same course here as the have practised elsewhere. Unfortunately, too, the numerous deep estuaries, all accessible to their ships, expose the multitude of islands to their predatory excursions, and what they leave is finished by the negroes whose masters have deserted their plantations, subject to visitations of the enemy. I am afraid Cousin Julia will not be able to defend her home if attacked by the vandals, for they have little respect for anybody, and if they catch the Doctor[note 23] they will certainly send him to Fort Warren or La Fayette. I fear, too, the Yankees will bear off their pretty daughters. I am very glad you visited “Chatham.”[note 24] I was there many years ago, when it was the residence of Judge Coulter, and some of the avenues of poplar, so dear to your grandmama, still existed. I presume they have all gone now. The letter that you and Agnes wrote from “Clydale” I replied to and sent to that place. You know I never have any news. I am trying to get a force to make headway on our defenses, but it comes in very slow. The people do not seem to realise that there is a war.

It is very warm here, if that is news, and as an evidence I inclose some violets I plucked in the yard of a deserted house I occupy. I wish I could see you and give them in person. . . . Good-bye, my precious child. Give much love to everybody, and believe me, Your affectionate father,

R. E. LEE.

From the same place, on December 2d, he writes to my mother:

I received last night, dear Mary, your letter of the 12th, and am delighted to learn that you are all well and so many of you are together. I am much pleased that Fitzhugh has an opportunity to be with you all and will not be so far removed from his home in his new field of action. I hope to see him at the head of a find regiment and that he will be able to do good service in the cause of his country. If Mary and Rob get to you Christmas, you will have quite a family party, especially if Fitzhugh is not obliged to leave his home and sweet wife before that time. I shall think of you all on that holy day more intensely than usual, and shall pray to the great God of Heaven to shower His blessings upon you in this world, and to unite you all in His courts in the world to come. With a grateful heart I thank Him for His preservation thus far, and trust to His mercy and kindness for the future. Oh, that I were more worthy, more thankful for all He has done and continues to do for me! Perry and Meredith[note 25] send their respects to all. . . . Truly and affectionately,

R. E. LEE.

From the same place, on Christmas Day, he writes to my mother:

I cannot let this day of grateful rejoicing pass, dear Mary, without some communication with you. I am thankful for the many among the past that I have passed with you, and the remembrance of them fills me with pleasure. For those on which we have been separated we must not repine. If it will make us more resigned and better prepared for what is in store for us, we should rejoice. Now we must be content with the many blessings we receive. If we can only become sensible of our transgressions, so as to be fully penitent and forgiven, that this heavy punishment under which we labour may with justice be removed from us and the whole nation, what a gracious consummation of all that we have endured it will be!

I hope you had a pleasant visit to Richmond. . . . If you were to see this place, I think you would have it, too. I am here but little myself. The days I am not here I visit some point exposed to the enemy, and after our dinner at early candle-light, am engaged in writing till eleven or twelve o’clock at night. . . . As to our old home, if not destroyed, it will be difficult ever to be recognised. Even if the enemy had wished to preserve it, it would almost have been impossible. With the number of troops encamped around it, the change of officers, etc., the want of fuel, shelter, etc., and all the dire necessities of war, it is vain to think of its being in a habitable condition. I fear, too, books, furniture, and the relics of Mount Vernon will be gone. It is better to make up our minds to a general loss. They cannot take away the remembrance of the spot, and the memories of those that to us rendered it sacred. That will remain to us as long as life will last, and that we can preserve. In the absence of a home, I wish I could purchase “Stratford.” That is the only other place that I could go to, now accessible to us, that would inspire me with feelings of pleasure and local love. You and the girls could remain there in quiet. It is a poor place, but we could make enough cornbread and bacon for our support, and the girls could weave us clothes. I wonder if it is for sale and at how much. Ask Fitzhugh to try to find out, when he gets to Fredericksburg. You must not build your hopes on peace on account of the United States going into a war with England.[note 26] She will be very loath to do that, notwithstanding the bluster of the Northern papers. Her rulers are not entirely mad, and if they find England is in earnest, and that war or a restitution of their captives must be the consequence, they will adopt the latter. We must make up our minds to fight our battles and win our independence alone. No one will help us. We require no extraneous aid, if true to ourselves. But we must be patient. It is not a light achievement and cannot be accomplished at once. . . . I wrote a few days since, giving you all the news, and have now therefore nothing to relate. The enemy is still quiet and increasing in strength. We grow in size slowly but are working hard. I have had a day of labour instead of rest, and have written intervals to some of the children. I hope they are with you, and inclose my letters. . . . Affectionately and truly,

R. E. LEE.

In the next letter to my mother he describes a visit to the grave of his father at Dungeness, on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Dungeness was presented to General Nathaniel Green by the State of Georgia for services rendered her in the Revolution. General Henry Lee, returning from the West Indies, where he had been for some months on account of his health, landed there, and in a few days died, March 15, 1818. He was most kindly cared for by the daughter of his old commander, and was buried there in the garden of Dungeness. At the time of my father’s visit the place belonged to a great-nephew of General Green, Mr. Nightingale.

COOSAWHATCHIE, South Carolina, January 18, 1862.

On my return, day before yesterday, from Florida, dear Mary, I received your letter of the 1st inst. I am very glad to find that you had a pleasant family meeting Christmas, and that it was so large. I am truly grateful for all the mercies we enjoy, notwithstanding the miseries of war, and join heartily in the wish that the next year may find us at peace with all the world. I am delighted to hear that our little grandson[note 27] is improving so fast and is becoming such a perfect gentleman. May his path be strewn with flowers and his life with happiness. I am very glad to hear also that his dear papa is promoted. It will be gratifying to him and increase, I hope, his means of usefulness. Robert wrote me he saw him on his way through Charlottesville with his squadron, and that he was well. While at Fernandina I went over to Cumberland Island and walked up to “Dungeness,” the former residence of General Green. It was my first visit to the house, and I had the gratification at length of visiting my father’s grave. He died there, you may recollect, on his way from the West Indies, and was interred in one corner of the family cemetery. The spot is marked by a plain marble slab, with his name, age, and date of his death. Mrs. Green is also buried there, and her daughter, Mrs. Shaw, and her husband. The place is at present owned by Mr. Nightingale, nephew of Mrs. Shaw, who married a daughter of Mr. James King. The family have moved into the interior of Georgia, leaving only a few servants and a white gardener on the place. The garden was beautiful, inclosed by the finest hedge I have ever seen. It was of the wild olive, which, in Mrs. Shaw’s lifetime, during my tour of duty in Savannah in early life, was so productive, had been destroyed by an insect that has proved fatal to the orange on the coast of Georgia and Florida. There was a fine grove of olives, from which, I learn, Mr. Nightingale procures oil. The garden was filled with roses and beautiful vines, the names of which I do not know. Among them was the tomato-vine in full bearing, with the ripe fruit on it. There has yet been no frost in that region of country this winter. I went in the dining-room and parlour, in which the furniture still remained. . . . The house has never been finished, but is a fine, large one and beautifully located. A magnificent grove of live-oaks envelops the road from the landing to the house. . . . Love to everybody and God bless you all. Truly and faithfully yours,

R. E. LEE.

From the same place there is another letter to my mother:

COOSAWHATCHIE, South Carolina, January 28, 1862.

I have just returned from Charleston, and received your letter of the 14th, dear Mary. . . . I was called to Charleston by the appearance off the bar of a fleet of vessels the true character and intent of which could not be discerned during the continuance of the storm which obscured the view. Saturday, however, all doubt was dispelled, and from the beach on Sullivan’s Island the preparations for sinking them were plainly seen. Twenty-one were visible the first day of my arrival, but at the end of the storm, Saturday, only seventeen were seen. Five of these were vessels of war: what became of the other four is not known. The twelve old merchantmen were being stripped of their spars, masts, etc., and by sunset seven were prepared apparently for sinking across the mouth of the Maffitt Channel. They were placed in a line about two hundred yards apart, about four miles from Fort Moultrie. They will do but little harm to the channel, I think, but may deter vessels from running out at night for fear of getting on them. There now seem to be indications of a movement against Savannah. The enemy’s gunboats are pushing up the creek to cut off communication between the city and Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island. Unless I have better news, I must go there to-day. There are so many points of attack, and so little means to meet them on the water, that there is but little rest. . . . Perry and Meredith are well and send regards to everybody. . . . Very truly and sincerely yours,

R. E. LEE.

It was most important that the defenses of Charleston and Savannah should be made as strong as possible. The difficulties in the way were many and great, but General Lee’s perseverance overcame most of them. The result was that neither of those cities fell till the close of the war, and a region of country was preserved to the Confederacy necessary for the feeding of its armies. Of course all of this was not accomplished by my father alone in the four months he was there; but the plans of defense he laid down were successfully followed.

While in Savannah, he writes to my mother:

SAVANNAH, February 8, 1862.

I wrote to you, dear Mary, the day I left Coosawhatchie for this place. I have been here ever since, endeavouring to push forward the work for the defense of the city, which has lagged terribly and which ought to have been finished. But it is difficult to arouse ourselves from ease and comfort to labour and self-denial.

Guns are scarce, as well as ammunition, and I shall have to break up batteries on the coast to provide, I fear, for this city. Our enemies are endeavouring to work their way through the creeks that traverse the impassable and soft marshes stretching along the interior of the coast and communicating with the sounds and sea, through which the Savannah flows, and thus avoid the entrance of the river commanded by Fort Pulaski. Their boats require only seven feet of water to float them, and the tide rises seven feet, so that at high water they can work their way and rest on the mud at low. They are also provided with dredges and appliances for removing obstructions through the creeks in question, which cannot be guarded by batteries. I hope, however, we shall be able to stop them, and I daily pray to the Giver of all victories to enable us to do so. . . . I trust you are all well and doing well, and wish I could do anything to promote either. I have more here than I can do, and more, I fear, than I can well accomplish. It is so very hard to get anything done, and while all wish well and mean well, it is so different to get them to act energetically and promptly. . . . The news from Kentucky and Tennessee is not favourable, but we must make up our minds to meet with reverses and overcome them. I hope God will at last crown our efforts with success. But the contest must be long and severe, and the whole country has to go through much suffering. It is necessary we should be humbled and taught to be less boastful, less selfish, and more devoted to right and justice to all the world. . . . Always yours,

R. E. LEE.

To my mother:

SAVANNAH, February 23, 1862.

I have been wishing, dear Mary, to write to you for more than a week, but every day and every hour seem so taken up that I have found it impossible. . . . The news from Tennessee and North Carolina is not all cheering, and disasters seem to be thickening around us. It calls for renewed energies and redoubled strength on our part, and, I hope, will produce it. I fear our soldiers have not realised the necessity for the endurance and labour they are called upon to undergo, and that it is better to sacrifice themselves than our cause. God, I hope, will shield us and give us success. Here the enemy is progressing slowly in his designs, and does not seem prepared, or to have determined when or where to make his attack. His gunboats are pushing up all the creeks and marshes of the Savannah, and have attained a position so near the river as to shell the steamers navigating it. None have as yet been struck. I am engaged in constructing a line of defense at Fort Jackson which, if time permits and guns can be obtained, I hope will keep them out. They can bring such overwhelming force in all their movements that it has the effect to demoralise our new troops. The accounts given in the papers of the quantity of cotton shipped to New York are, of course, exaggerated. It is cotton in the seed and dirt, and has to be ginned and cleaned after its arrival. It is said that the negroes are employed in picking and collecting it, and are paid a certain amount. But all these things are gathered from rumour, and can only be believed as they appear probable, which this seems to be. . . . I went yesterday to church, being the day appointed for fasting and prayer. I wish I could have passed it more devoutly. The bishop (Elliott) gave a most beautiful prayer for the President, which I hope may be heard and answered. . . . Here the yellow jasmine, red-bud, orange-tree, etc., perfume the whole woods, and the japonicas and azaleas cover the garden. Perry and Meredith are well. May God bless and keep you always is the constant prayer of your husband,

R. E. LEE.

To his daughter Annie:

SAVANNAH, March 2, 1862.

My Precious Annie: It has been a long time since I have written to you, but you have been constantly in my thoughts. I think of you all, separately and collectively, in the busy hours of the day and the silent hours of the night, and the recollection of each and every one whiles away the long night, in which my anxious thoughts drive away sleep. But I always feel that you and Agnes at those times are sound asleep, and that is immaterial to either where the blockaders are or what their progress is in the river. I hope you are all well, and as happy as you can be in these perilous times to our country. They look dark at present, and it is plain we have not suffered enough, laboured enough, repented enough, to deserve success. But they will brighten after awhile, and I trust that a merciful God will arouse us to a sense of our danger, bless our honest efforts, and drive back our enemies to their homes. Our people have not been earnest enough, have thought too much of themselves and their ease, and instead of turning out to a man, have been content to nurse themselves and their dimes, and leave the protection of themselves and families to others. To satisfy their consciences, they have been clamorous in criticising what others have done, and endeavoured to prove that they ought to do nothing. This is not the way to accomplish our independence. I have been doing all I can with our small means and slow workmen to defend the cities and coast here. Against ordinary numbers we are pretty strong, but against the hosts our enemies seem able to bring everywhere there is no calculating. But if our men will stand to their work, we shall give them trouble and damage them yet. They have worked their way across the marshes, with their dredges, under cover of their gunboats, to the Savannah River, about Fort Pulaski. I presume they will endeavour to reduce the fort and thus open a way for their vessels up the river. But we have an interior line they must force before reaching the city. It is on this line we are working, slowly to my anxious mind, but as fast as I can drive them. . . . Good-bye, my dear child. May God bless you and our poor country. Your devoted father,

R. E. LEE.

Soon after this letter was written my father was recalled to Richmond, “and was assigned on the 13th of March, under the direction of the President, to the conduct of the military operations of all the armies of the Confederate States.”[note 28] My mother was still at the White House, my brother’s place on the Pamunkey, and there my father wrote to her:

RICHMOND, March 14, 1862.

My Dear Mary: I have been trying all the week to write to you, but have not been able. I have been placed on duty here to conduct operations under the direction of the President. It will give me great pleasure to do anything I can to relieve him and serve the country, but I do not see either advantage or pleasure in my duties. But I will not complain, but do my best. I do not see at present either that it will enable me to see much more of you. In the present condition of affairs no one can foresee what may happen, nor in my judgement is it advisable for any one to make arrangements with a view to permanency or pleasure. We must all do what promises the most usefulness. The presence of some one at the White House is necessary as long as practicable. How long it will be practicable for you an Charlotte to remain there I cannot say. The enemy is pushing us back in all directions, and how far he will be successful depends much upon our efforts and the mercy of Providence. I shall, in all human probability, soon have to take the field, so for the present I think things had better remain as they are. Write me your views. If you think it best for you to come to Richmond I can soon make arrangements for your comfort and shall be very glad of your company and presence. We have experienced a great affliction both in our private and public relations. Our good and noble Bishop Meade died last night. He was very anxious to see you, sent you his love and kindest remembrances, and had I known in time yesterday I should have sent expressly for you to come up. But I did not know of his wish or condition till after the departure of the cars yesterday. Between 6 and 7 P.M. yesterday he sent for me, said he wished to bid me good-bye, and to give me his blessing, which he did in the most affecting manner. Called me Robert and reverted to the time I used to say the catechism to him. He invoked the blessing of God upon me and the country. He spoke with difficulty and pain, but was perfectly calm and clear. His hand was then cold and pulseless, yet he shook mine warmly. “I ne’er shall look upon his like again.” He died during the night. I presume the papers of to-morrow will tell you all. . . . Very truly and sincerely,

R. E. LEE.

The next day he again writes to my mother.

RICHMOND, March 15, 1861.

My Dear Mary: I wrote you yesterday by mail. On returning to my quarters last night after 11 P.M. Custis informed me Robert had arrived and had made up his mind to go into the army. He stayed at the Spottswood, and this morning I went with him to get his overcoat, blankets, etc. There is great difficulty in procuring what is good. They all have to be made, and he has gone to the office of the adjutant-general of Virginia to engage in the service. God grant it may be for his good as He has permitted it. I must be resigned. I told him of the exemption granted by the Secretary of War to the professors and students of the university, but he expressed no desire to take advantage of it. It would be useless for him to go, if he did not improve himself, nor would I wish him to go merely for exemption. As I have done all in the matter that seems proper and right, I must now leave the rest in the hands of our merciful God. I hope our son will do his duty and make a good soldier. . . . I had expected yesterday to go to North Carolina this morning, but the President changed his mind. I should like to go to see you to-morrow, but in the present condition of things do not feel that I ought to be absent. . . . I may have to go to North Carolina or Norfolk yet. New Berne, N.C., has fallen into the hands of the enemy. In Arkansas our troops under Van Dorn have had a hard battle, but nothing decisive gained. Four generals killed—McIntosh, McCullogh, Herbert, and Slack. General Price wounded. Loss on both sides said to be heavy. . . . Very truly yours,

R. E. LEE.

Return to Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee