General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 1

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier


ROBERT EDWARD LEE, our Christian soldier and brave leader to many victories, “was born at Stratford, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on the 19th of January, 1807.” This entry is found in the family Bible in his mother’s handwriting. His family, of Norman descent, is traced by himself, in his sketch of his father’s life, to Launcelot Lee of Loudon, in France, who accompanied William the Conqueror to England. After the battle of Hastings, he, with other followers, was rewarded by the Conqueror with lands wrested from the Saxons. All that we know is, that his estate was in Essex, England. From that time his name is found, ever and anon, in English annals, and always in honorable connection.

Thus, we next find Lionel Lee accompanying King Richard the Lion-hearted, in the year 1192, in his third Crusade to rescue the Holy Land from the followers of Mohammed. There, his career was marked by gallantry, and at the siege of Acre he received a solid proof of the approbation of his king. On his return to England, he was made first Earl of Litchfield, and was presented by the king with the estate of Ditchley—which name, centuries afterwards, his descendants gave to an estate in Northumberland County, Virginia.

In 1542, Richard Lee accompanied the Earl of Surry in his unfortunate expedition across the Scottish border. Two of the family are found about the same time to have so distinguished themselves as to have their banners suspended in St, George’s Chapel, in Windsor Castle, with the Lee coat of arms about them. These incidents show that the blood of our hero was as valiant as it was virtuous, and the motto which accompanied the coat of arms of his ancestors, “Non incantus futuri,” seems, says one of his biographers, to have been descriptive of one of the traits of their great descendant.

In the reign of Charles the First, we find the family of Lee in Shropshire, and of the cavalier stock. Then it was that Richard Lee, described as a gentleman of many accomplishments, determined to come to the New World, of which he had heard such marvellous accounts. Bishop Meade, in his book on the “Old Churches and Families of Virginia,” says of him, “He was a man of good stature, comely visage, enterprising genius, a sound head, vigorous spirit, and generous nature. When he got to Virginia, which was at that time very little cultivated, he was so much pleased with the country that he made large settlements with the servants he brought over.” He returned again and again to England, but finally settled between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, in the country known as the Northern Neck of Virginia. He was for a long time Secretary of the Commonwealth, under Sir William Berkeley, Governor, and is said to have exercised much influence upon the Colony in that great revolution which made Cromwell supreme in England. He died in Virginia, leaving one son, Richard, who remained in this country, and was distinguished as a man of much learning. Henry, the fifth son of this Richard Lee, was the ancestor of General R. E. Lee. He married a Miss Bland, and their third son, Henry, married a Miss Grymes, and became the father of General Henry Lee, of the old Revolution, known as “Light Horse Harry,” because he so successfully led the cavalry against Tarleton and Cornwallis in the Southern campaign. He (Light Horse Harry) first married his cousin Matilda, a lady, it is said, of great beauty, whom her husband lovingly called the “divine Matilda.” She was daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee, of Stratford, where, after the Revolution, he resided with his father-in-law; and by this marriage he became possessed of this family residence. His first wife having died, he married, on the 18th of June, 1793, Anne Hill Carter, a daughter of Charles Carter, Esq., of Shirley, on James River, a gentleman of wealth and high position, who was renowned for his benevolence; which trait seems to have been inherited by his grandson to a remarkable degree. Robert Edward Lee was the second son of this marriage.

The stately old mansion, Stratford, was originally built by the first Richard Lee who came to this country; it was afterwards destroyed by fire while the residence of his grandson Thomas, who was the fourth son of the learned Richard. He at once determined to rebuild it. He was a member of the King’s Council, and so much was he esteemed both in the Colonies and in England, that the Government and merchants immediately contributed to defray the expense of reconstructing it; and it is said that Queen Caroline, the wife of George the Second, united largely in tile subscription from her private purse. The immense stricture soon arose, at a cost of about eighty thousand dollars. It still stands in Westmoreland County, on a picturesque bluff overlooking the Potomac, with its thick walls of English brick, its immense hall, its antique corridors, its wide saloon, its pavilions, balustrades, and clusters of chimneys, its extensive lawn, with ancient oaks, forest poplars, cedars, and maples, with the occasional Lombardy poplar, which has doubtless, with its towering and pointed top, attracted many a weary traveller to the refined hospitalities of Stratford; but alas! alas! it has long ago passed from the ownership of the Lees. The chamber in which Robert E. Lee was born was the same ill which his renowned relatives Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee first saw the light. Within five miles of Stratford stood “Pope’s Creek,” the birthplace of Washington.

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