General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 14

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier

CHAPTER XIV.
GENERAL LEE’S DISINTERESTEDNESS AND SELF-DENIAL.

IT was in November, 1863, that the City Council of Richmond determined to present General Lee with a handsome residence in that city. A large sum for the purpose was raised; but, unfortunately, the plan got into the newspapers, and was seen by General Lee, who immediately addressed the following note to the

PRESIDENT OF THE CITY COUNCIL, Richmond, Va.

Sir:—My attention has been directed to a resolution reported in the newspapers as having been introduced into the body over which you preside, having for its object the purchase, by the city of Richmond, of a house for the use of my family. I assure you, sir, that no want of appreciation of the honor conferred upon me by this resolution, or insensibility to the kind feelings which prompted it, induces me to ask, as I most respectfully do, that no farther proceedings be taken with reference to the subject. The horse is not necessary to the use of my family, and my own duties will prevent my residence in Richmond. I should, therefore, be compelled to decline the generous offer, and trust that whatever means the City Council may have to spare for this purpose may be devoted to the relief of the families of our soldiers in the field, who are more in want of assistance and more deserving of it than myself.

I have the honor to be, most respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
ROBERT E. LEE.

Nothing could have been more disinterested than this refusal of a home for his family, who were now living in a rented house, dependent on his pay as General in the Confederate service; but he was firm in his refusal, preferring that the families of the soldiers should be cared for. Poor fellows! they needed all the assistance that could be given them, and their General was more than willing to deny himself for their good.

It was at this time of privation that General Lee issued the following order to his suffering troops:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGNIA,
January 22, 1864.

GENERAL ORDER, NO. 7.

The Commanding General considers it due to the army to state that the temporary reduction of rations has been caused by circumstances beyond the control of those charged with its support. Its welfare and comfort are the objects of his constant and earnest solicitude, and no effort has been spared to provide for its wants. It is hoped that the exertions now being made will render the necessity of short duration; but the history of the army has shown that the country can require no sacrifice too great for its patriotic devotion.

Soldiers! You tread with no unequal steps the road by which your fathers marched through suffering, privation, and blood to independence! Continue to emulate in the future, as you have in the past, their valor in arms, their patient endurance of hardships, their high resolve to be free, which no trial could shake, no bribe seduce, no danger appall; and be assured that the just God who crowned their efforts with success, will, in His own good time, send down His blessings upon yours.

R. E. LEE, General.

It is related of him by a member of his staff, showing his habits of abstemiousness and self-denial, that frequently, when a particularly nice piece of beef or mutton, which he always enjoyed, was on the table, and he was asked to partake further, he would invariably decline, saying, “I should really enjoy another piece, but I have had my allowance.” His forgetfulness of self had always been a conspicuous trait in his character, which readily accounts for the love borne him by all of every rank with whom he associated.

From letters addressed by a lady to Mrs. Lee after her husband’s death, we make the following extracts:

“During the war, when General Lee’s thoughtful consideration for the comfort of others, even at the cost of his own,—when his habitual self-denial was the theme of every tongue,—with a very natural pride, I often told of the first time I had ever seen your husband. It was shortly before the war with Mexico, when he was Captain Lee, and attending a meeting of engineers at Newport. Doctor —— and myself were spending the summer there. My husband met with Captain Lee at an evening party, and came home charmed with having made his acquaintance. We left Newport the day after. There had been a great disaster recently to one of the steamboats on the Sound; besides, the navigation of it was considered dangerous. I had heard quite enough to make a sick woman anxious and nervous, and when the boat from Boston arrived, my consternation was complete. Instead of one of the large steamers commonly used on the Sound, it proved to be the Curtis Peck, a small river-boat which I had seen in Virginia on the James River. To add to my dismay, it was late in the evening, and a fog rapidly advancing, an element of danger in rounding Point Judith. The boat was filled to its utmost capacity. Besides the passengers from Boston and Newport, a large number of soldiers were on board, from Fort Adams, to be sent to some other station. The ladies’ apartment was on deck; and as I stood at the door, looking at the numbers within and without, I felt utterly disconsolate. My husband soon approached with Captain Lee, to whom I was introduced. Need I tell you that he had then reached that type of manly beauty which captivated every eye, and that the highest charm of his splendid face was something superior to the mere perfection of his noble features? He soon realized how intensely anxious I was; indeed, the solicitude was felt by all on board. Never can I forget the tender way in which he tried to allay my fears. To divert my mind, he talked of many things; and to this day I can recall the tones of his voice, and the tenderness not to be described, as he spoke of his wife and little children at Arlington. We were soon nearly out to sea; it had been rough in the bay, and Dr. —— was suffering so much from sea-sickness that he left the cabin, which was literally packed with human beings, and came upon deck for fresh air. The soldiers had procured a very comfortable sleeping-place on deck for their Captain. Before I had been introduced, he entreated my husband to take possession of it. As he persisted most positively in refusing to accept the kind offer, the Captain turned to me and begged me to use my influence, saying everything he could to convince us that it would be no sacrifice to himself, and ended by declaring that, if no one else would occupy the place, he should not—a determination in which he was inflexible, as we found the next morning that he had induced a young officer, also suffering from sea-sickness, to accept his kindness, and he had himself walked the deck all night. The manner in which the offer was made has never been effaced from our minds; and we have often rejoiced that our first insight into his character presented to us the germ of that unselfishness which afterwards expanded into such noble proportions, as to constitute one of his claims to the admiration of mankind.”

Another letter from this lady speaks of him as she knew him a few months before his death. They were then both visitors at the Hot Springs.

“It was obvious,” she writes, “that the General felt he had a mission to perform, which he did with all his might. There were many instances made known to my husband, in the exercise of his profession, in which this humble Christian was plainly striving to lead sinners to Christ,—in a word, to do all the good he could to all classes. There was not a servant or a child at the Springs that did not receive some kind word or token; and even the Irish laborers on the road, and in the fields around, looked for his daily greeting. Into every sick-room his influence penetrated. Among the guests was a wretched man, debased by intemperance, confined to his bed—an object of interest to no one but his physician. He was discovered by General Lee; and the Doctor said that he never loved and revered him more than when he detected his earnest and persistent efforts to raise this poor creature from the depths of degradation into which he had sunk. It was evidently not mere moral elevation at which he aimed, for in his simple and unpretending way he invariably presented the claims of the blessed Redeemer.

“I shall never forget the last visit he made to our cottage on that memorable Sabbath evening, conversing on subjects best suited to the sacred day, telling us, among other things, of his interest in colonization, in which you so deeply sympathized. He spoke of your persistent efforts to teach your slaves; and added, that when any of the servants expressed a willingness or desire to make Liberia their home, he always encouraged the inclination, provided the individuals were suitable subjects for emigration; especially felt it his duty to prepare them for the contemplated change from a home where their wants were supplied by others, to one where they would be compelled to provide for themselves; and before they were allowed to go he had them instructed in some trade suitable to their capacity. He then gave us an example of a young man who wished to go who had a talent for shoemaking, which had been encouraged by your giving him the children’s shoes to mend. He first sent him to Baltimore, to be apprenticed to one of the best shoemakers in the city, to perfect him in his trade, and then to Liberia, with his wife and children, provided with all that was necessary to make him comfortable in their new home. He added that the man had prospered from the first, constantly wrote of his well-being and happiness, of the children born there, all named after members of the family; and that during the war he had manifested the deepest interest and concern in all that related personally to his former master and family.”

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