<br /> Lee Letter: a050

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Robert E. Lee
Recipient: John F. Lee

My dear Cousin John

I believe it is conceded that you & Collins are the strong limbs of Law in the great family tree of the Lees. In the paternal division between you, of the civil & military, to you as the Judge Advocate Genl of the Army, belong the latter, & to him as the U.S. Dis. Judge the former. I have no desire to pluck a single leaf from the branch of either, but my judicial character, since my transfer to the Cavy, has risen to such a distressing height, that I fear it will be secured to nothing by perpetual motion. But it is the way with our Countrymen, when they get a good thing to make it too common. The great Giles Porter case has not yet come under your notice. You may not therefore know, that I occupy the unenviable position of one of the judges & jurors. I have come from the Northern to the Southern extremity of Texas & have travelled over 900 miles of wilderness, to be present. That occupied but one month. How pleasantly does it compare with the two subsequent of endurance & intricacy, October & November. Since the 2nd Oct: we have been almost daily engaged in listening to the merits, or demerits of the case, & yet I see no end to the discussion. On the 6th Inst: all the witnesses present for the defense were exhausted, when the Court was petitioned to await the arrival of those absent. Among the latter is Lt Gill who was Post Adjt during a portion of the time embraced in the charges & who is considered essential to the defence. He was summoned in August last, but had left the Post on sick leave. The summoned in August last, but had left the Post on sick leave. The summons was forwd but he has not been heard from. How long the Court will wait It is impossible for me to say: & in order to improve the time as far as possible, & gain information that may be beneficial to me hereafter, I wish to have some conversation with you. Aware of the paucity of my legal knowledge & experience, I am not surprized at my differing in opinion with my colabourers; & feeling conscious of the knowledge between right & wrong, I am willing to trust to the direct road to truth & justice, & set perhaps too little value on the more intricate but legal course. It is in this that I desire your aid. My law library small as it is, is too weighty to carry on horseback & the reading of authorities is so different, that it is difficult to come to me understanding. You will therefore have to publish a short & concise work, prescribing rules for the uniform government & practice of courts martial in our service, & if possible get the requisite legislation on the subject. In the mean time I wish you to enlighten me on one point. The cross examination of a witness gives rise generally to much question. How far can that be carried. Is the extent allowed one party, open to the other & had the prosecution after it is closed, the privilege of cross-examining witnesses for the defense, relative to the facts of the charge, the evidence given by previous witnesses, as well as himself? The principle laid down by such authorities as I have access to, particularly Kennedy, I think simple & safe, viz: that a witness on cross-examination might be interrogated respecting facts stated in the charge, or the evidence previously given by himself, or other witnesses: the motives by which he was governed in giving his evidence & his interest in the cause. It has been decided by the Supreme Court I believe in some civil cases, that a witness must be cross-examined only on the evidence that he has given, & if the opposite party wishes to interrogate him on other matters, he must be called anew, & examined directly or in chief. But in Civil Courts witnesses are called & and recalled at pleasure & ad infinitum. Whereas in Military Courts this is not practiced & I think unnecessary, & a greater latitude is therefore given to the X examination, to elicit the whole truth. . . .

Very truly &c

R E Lee


Transcribed in Francis Raymond Adams, Jr., An Annotated Edition of the Personal Letters of Robert E. Lee, April, 1855 – April, 1861, pp. 227 – 30. Addressed to “Major Jno: F. Lee, Judge Advocate Genl Washington City, D.C.”