General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 11

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier


IMMEDIATELY after the second battle of Manassas, General Lee led his troops into Maryland. The country looked on with the perfect confidence which it always felt in its great leader. By the 7th of September, the whole army was on the Maryland side of the Potomac. Western Maryland was loyal to the Union; hence it was necessary that the soldiers should be under strict orders to respect private property, and severe punishment was threatened to those who attempted to pillage or destroy. They paid for whatever was wanted, with Confederate money. They had no other, and the venders seemed willing to receive it. Compensation was made for the fence-rails which the troops were sometimes tempted to burn; and they were required to treat persons of Union principles with consideration. The Northern soldiers were amazed; they had, true to the maxim that “all thing are fair in war,” just devastated the bright fields of Virginia, burned houses and barns, destroyed furniture aid things most precious to the people, with impunity. Now, they saw soldiers obeying their General, who governed by no worldly law, but by the rule of Christians—“Do unto others as you would they should do unto you.” “It must have been a. proud moment for General Lee,” says McCabe, in his “Life of General Lee,” “when he saw this; for he mist have known that his troops were influenced as much by their love for him, as by their sense of right and justice.” He published an address to the people of Maryland, inviting them to join him; but few came to his standard. The people of Eastern and Southern Maryland were friendly to the South, but the Federal army lay between them and the Confederates. Baltimore, too, was filled with Southern sympathizers, but he could not get to them, nor they to him, so that the troops were at first bitterly disappointed. Then came the capture of Harper’s Ferry by General Jackson; the battles of South Mountain and Sharpsburg, fought with such valor on both sides, and with such losses to both. General Lee, then finding that nothing more could be effected by remaining, withdrew across the Potomac at once. McCabe quotes the New York Tribune, to show the feeling of disappointment evinced by the North, when the masterly withdrawal of the Southern commander became known. “He leaves us,” it said, “the débris of his late camps, two disabled pieces of cannon, a few hundred of his stragglers, perhaps two thousand of his wounded, and as many more of his unburied dead. Not a sound field-piece, caisson, ambulance, or wagon; not a box of stores, or pound of ammunition. He takes with him the supplies gathered in .Maryland, and the rich spoils of Harper’s Ferry.”

The troops were withdrawn to the vicinity of Winchester for rest, of which they were much in need. There they enjoyed the bracing mountain air, with all the freedom, fun, and frolic incident to camp-life. General Lee’s care now was to have them supplied with shoes and other quartermaster’s stores necessary for their comfort. The stragglers came back, and in the course of two weeks the army was increased by the arrival of about thirty thousand fresh troops.

In October, we find General Lee moving his troops to prevent another. “On to Richmond,” and on the 13th of December a mighty pitched battle was fought at Fredericksburg, The Federal force was in overwhelming numbers under General Burnside, who superseded the brave, but unfortunate McClellan. This battle was a most decided Confederate success, and the great Federal army was kept at bay on the north side of the Rappahannock during the winter of 1862–63.

Lee now reigned supreme in the confidence and hearts of both soldiers and people from the Potomac to the Gulf of Mexico, and yet he seemed “clothed with humility.” How mightily did the grace of God reign in his heart, when, as it were, from the very pinnacle of fame, he bowed his head humbly before Him, giving Him the glory, and praising Him for having given victory to his country, and praying for His guidance that he might guide others. “In the hour of victory,” says one of his staff officers, “he was grand, imposing, awe-inspiring, yet self-forgetful and humble.” We are at a loss whether to admire more his humility in victory or his dignity in defeat. His great nature, purified by grace, made him the “praise of the whole earth;” yet, feeling his own sinfulness, in his deep humility, he expressed himself, a short time before his death, as feeling utterly unworthy to enter into the “rest prepared for the people of God.”

His headquarters during this victorious winter differed in no particular from the quarters of the private soldiers. It was a tent pitched in the woods near Hamilton’s Crossings, surrounded by the tents of the staff officers. There was no appearance of a body-guard, with the exception of an orderly who always waited to summon couriers to carry dispatches. No one would have known that this unpretending group of tents was the army headquarters. His tent contained nothing but what was indispensable; no article of luxury was there. The General covered himself with the ordinary army blanket; and many men and officers, whose warm-hearted friends would supply luxuries to them, fared better than he. The heart of the South was open to him; and though its citizens were very poor, yet they were self-denying, and boxes filled with luxuries of all sorts were sent to him; but he generally sent them to the hospitals around, to contribute to the comfort of the sick and wounded. Thus did he set an example to his officers, of enduring hardship for the sake of the cause, and of self-denial for the good of others; he was too good a Christian in war as in peace to be self-indulgent, though he was ever cheerful and social.

We have seen him after the war was over, at watering-places, in attendance upon his sick wife, the observed of all observers, followed, caressed, courted; dressed in his plain, but neatly-fitting suit of gray cloth, and spotless linen. He was perhaps the most quiet and unostentatious man at the place. He entered freely into society, and seemed to enjoy it, particularly that of the ladies; but he never forgot or neglected those who came for the healing of the waters; to them he was always benevolently, soothingly attentive, having a kind word for all. From a religious service he was never absent, and was ever a most devout and zealous worshipper.

During the war, while the army was near Richmond, where his family lived, he would frequently ride into the city at night; and no one would know that he was nearer than the camp, until sunrise would bring the early worshippers together, to ask God’s blessing on their country, then would the stately form and venerable head (for anxiety and exposure had now turned his dark locks gray) of General Lee be invariably found among them. He was never missing from the morning prayer-meeting, if in the city; and when his official business for which he came would be over, or if he had come to spend the Sabbath with his family and to attend the services of the sanctuary, and the day of rest had passed away, he would depart as quietly and unostentatiously as lie came. Not unfrequently, when the inquiry was made, “Is General Lee still in the city?” the answer would be, “No; he must have gone, as he was not at prayer-meeting this morning.”

This reminds me of an anecdote of a lady, who, passing a group of rough-looking soldiers waiting at the Transportation Office, said to them,

“Gentlemen, whom do you suppose I have seen this morning?”

In answer to their inquiring looks, she replied, “General Lee.”

“General Lee!” they exclaimed. “We did not know he was in town. God bless him!”

“Where do you suppose I saw him so early?”

“Where, Madam, where?”

“At prayer-meeting; down upon his knees praying for you and for the country.”

In an instant they seemed subdued; tears started to the eyes of these hardy, sunburnt veterans. Some were utterly silent, while others exclaimed, “God bless him!” “God bless his old soul!” The lady walked on, but was followed by several to know where he was to be seen. One 1in.d never seen him at all, and wanted to see him monstrous bad.” Others had seen him often, but wanted to see him again, “just to look at him.” They were told to go to Franklin. Street; but they could not leave the Transportation Office, as they were waiting their “turn” for transportation tickets; and they probably did not get the much-desired sight of their venerated General.

That General Lee was a man of much prayer and great faith, none could doubt who knew his exemplary life; but probably few of his most intimate friends fully understood the depth of his feelings on this subject. He was a man of great reserve, and only his actions, and an occasional outburst of feeling, showed the whole-souled follower of the Saviour. There can be no doubt but that faith in God’s providence, and reliance on the Almighty arm, were the foundations of all his actions, and the secret springs of his supreme composure under all trials. Good men have said that when they visited him, and conversed with him on the subject of religion, they would leave him with their hearts burning within them.

When the Rev. J. Wm. Jones and another chaplain went, in 1863, to consult him in reference to the better observance of the Sabbath in the army, he says that the “General’s countenance glowed with pleasure, and his eye brightened; and, as in his simple, feeling words he expressed his delight, we forgot the great warrior, and only remembered that we were communing with an humble, earnest Christian.”

When he was informed that the chaplains prayed for him, tears started to his eyes, as he replied, “I sincerely thank you for that; and can only say that I am a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone, and need all the prayers you can offer for me.”

The day after this interview, he issued an earnest general order, enjoining on the officers and men the observance of the Sabbath; urging them to attend public worship in their camps, and forbidding the performance of official duties, unless essential to the subsistence or safety of the army. He always attended public worship, if it were in his power to do so; and often the earnestness of the preacher would make his eye kindle and his face glow.” He frequently attended the meetings of the chaplains, took a warm interest in their proceeding’s, and uniformly exhibited an ardent desire for the promotion of religion in the army.

When General Meade came over to Mine Run, and the Southern army marched out to meet him, Lee was riding along the line of battle in the woods, when he came upon a party of soldiers holding a prayer-meeting on the eve of battle. Such. a spectacle was not unusual in the army then, and afterwards; some of these rough fighters were men of profound piety. On this occasion, the scene before him seems to have excited deep emotion in General Lee. He stopped, dismounted; the staff officers attending him did the same. He uncovered his head, and stood in an attitude of profound attention and respect, while the earnest prayer proceeded in the midst of the thunder of artillery and explosion of the enemy’s shell.

The early spring of 1863 found General Lee still on the south of Fredericksburg. While he watched the Federal army with an eagle eye, he prepared his own to meet it. Can we doubt that this man of God prayed much to the Ruler of all events to direct and guide his steps? The country looked on with anxiety to the opening of the spring campaign.

General Hooker, who had superseded Burnside, now led the Federal hosts. He had proved himself a most accomplished corps commander; and now the United States looked to him with confidence to overcome the comparatively small army which opposed him, and to nuke his “On to Richmond” quick work.

During the month of April he was preparing for the great campaign. His cavalry made many efforts to unmask Lee’s position and learn his strength; but Gen. Stuart was equally vigilant in guarding the fords of the Rappahannock, and preventing its crossing.

On the 30th of April, however, the main force of the Federals, under personal command of Hooker, crossed the river, and now commenced concentrating about Chancellorsville. Lee’s force seemed scattered; and, it is said, there was some excuse for Hooker’s expressions of joy when he saw his own immense force collecting. He is said to have exclaimed, “The rebel army is the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac. They may as well pack up their haversacks and make for Richmond, and I shall be after them.” But the Southern army was steadily moving forward, with the hope of victory stamped on every brow.

Then followed the battle of Chancellorsville, which was fought and won by the South. But while the air was rent with the shouts of victory, one message of sorrow came over the wires which made the Confederacy pause in its delirium of joy—General Jackson was wounded! Every countenance grew pale with apprehension; yet no one believed he would die. The idea could not for a moment be borne—no one expressed it. All hearts turned to God for help; prayers for his recovery were on every lip. The language of every heart was, “Surely God will not take him away from us in our great necessity.” But the fiat had gone forth; and God removed him from the evil to come.

The day of victory closed, and at ten o’clock at night he was shot in the arm by a brigade of his own men. He was returning to his lines with his escort, without giving warning, and the fatal shot was fired by men who had been ordered to look out for Federal cavalry. The mistake was made in the mistiness of moonlight; and the whole escort, with the exception of two men, were killed, wounded, or dismounted. When he had been carried to the rear, his situation was immediately communicated to Gen. Lee, who exclaimed, with deep feeling, “Thank God it is no worse! God be praised he is still alive! Any victory is a dear one, which deprives us of the services of General Jackson, even for a time.”

Later in the day, when he heard of the amputation of his left arm, he wrote to him the following note, full of sympathy, which proved most comforting to the wounded hero:

GENERAL:—I have just received your note informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at the occurrence. Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good of the country, to have been disabled in your stud. I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy.

R. E. LEE, General.

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