The Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee, For Children, In Easy Words
By Mary L. Williamson

A Cavalry Officer.

AFTER being three years at West Point, Captain Lee was sent to Texas as Lieutenant-Colonel (kûrnel) of the Second Regiment of Cavalry. Cavalrymen are soldiers who fight on horseback and who carry sabers, and pistols, and short guns, called carbines.

Colonel Lee did not wish to leave the Engineer Corps, as he had become very fond of the work, and had won a high rank in it; but, as he had been promoted to a higher place, he thought it best to take it. When at West Point, he had been a fine horseman. He was still fond of horses and liked to see them fed and well taken care of. Though now forty-six years of age, he still had a firm seat in the saddle and rode well. His regiment was sent to the new State of Texas, where his duty was to watch the Indians and keep them from killing the whites.


I have no doubt that Colonel Lee enjoyed riding over the vast plains of Texas, but life in the forts was not very pleasant to such a man as Lee. The forts were in the midst of dreary plains, and there were only a few men at each post. The scouting parties were led by lieutenants, and the higher officers would remain at the forts to see that all went right. Such a lonely life did not suit our hero, but he made the best of it.

Near his first post, Camp Cooper, was an Indian Reserve, where the Indians would come to be fed by the Government. When it was cold and food was scarce, they would come in; but when the grass grew in the spring and the game was fat, they would go off and become wild and savage enough to kill those who had been kind to them.

Catumseh, a Comanche chief, was at the Reserve when Lee was at Camp Cooper. Lee thought it would be better to visit him and tell him that he would trust him as a friend so long as he behaved; but if he did not behave he would take him for a foe. Catumseh was not much pleased with Lee’s speech, but gave an ugly grunt and said that, as he had six wives, he was a “big Indian.” Lee had better “get more wives before he talked.” This visit did not do much good. Catumseh was no doubt taking the measure of Lee’s scalp, while Lee was displeased with the sly and filthy savage.

The Comanche Indians were then the fiercest tribe in that region. They ate raw meat, slept on the ground, and were great thieves and murderers. They were fine horsemen, and moved swiftly from place to place on their ponies.

In June, 1856, Lee was sent with four companies of his regiment on an expedition against the Comanches, but they could not be found. The wily savages had fled to their desert retreats, where foot of pale face had never trod.

From Camp Cooper he writes to Mrs. Lee:

“My Fourth-of-July was spent after a march of thirty miles in one of the branches of the Bra´zos, under my blanket, which rested on four sticks driven in the ground, as a sun-shade. The sun was fiery hot, the air like a furnace, and the water salt; still my love for my country was as great, my faith in her future as true, as they would have been under better circumstances.”

The change of weather in Texas is sometimes very great.

In another letter, he tells his wife about a cold wind or norther. “I came here in a cold norther, and though I pitched my tent in the most sheltered place I could find, I found this morning, when getting up, my bucket of water, which was close by my bed, so hard frozen that I had to break the ice before I could pour the water into the basin.”

While Colonel Lee rode with his troopers from fort to fort, a dreadful disease broke out among them. Many died, but Colonel Lee did not catch the disease, though he lived among his men and ran great risks. In these sad times, his thoughts were ever with his dear ones at home.

In a letter dated Camp Cooper, June 9, 1857, he tells about the sickness of the troopers:

“The great heat has made much sickness among the men. The children, too, have suffered. A bright little boy died from it a few days since. He was the only child, and his parents were much grieved at his loss * * *. For the first time in my life, I read the service of our Church over the grave to a large number of soldiers.” A few days after, he again read the service over a little boy who had died with the disease.

In a long letter from Fort Brown, Texas, December, 1856, he says:

“I thought of you and wished to be with you.” He wrote again: “Though absent, my heart will be in the midst of you; I can do nothing but love and pray for you all. My daily walks are alone, up and down the banks of the river, and my chief pleasure comes from my own thoughts, and from the sight of the flowers and animals I meet with here.”

In the midst of this wild, lonely life he was ever true to his faith in Christ, which he had professed after the Mexican war.

There was at Arlington a large yellow cat, called Tom Tita. All the family were fond of him, and Colonel Lee among the rest. This led him to write home about the cats he saw in his travels. He told once of a cat called by his mistress Jim Nooks. He was a great pet, but at last died from eating too much. He had coffee and cream for breakfast, pound cake for lunch, turtle and oysters for dinner, buttered toast and Mexican rats, taken raw, for supper. He was very handsome, but his “beauty could not save him.” The kindness of his mistress was his ruin.


Again he told his little girl about a cat which was dressed up. He had two holes bored in each ear, and in each wore bows of pink and blue ribbon. He was snow-white and wore a gold chain on his neck. His tail and feet were tipped with black, and his eyes of green were truly cat-like.

In the summer of 1857, he was made Colonel (kûr&´nel) of his regiment. The next fall his father-in-law, Mr. Custis, died, and Colonel Lee went home for a short time. Mr. Custis left Arlington and the rest of his land to Mrs. Lee, and he also willed that at the end of five years all of his slaves should be set free. He had chosen Colonel Lee to see that his will was carried out.

Colonel Lee stayed as long as he could with his lonely wife, and then went back to his post in Texas. It must have been far from easy for him to go back to the wild, hard life on the plains. There were then no railroads. The United States mail was carried on mules, by armed soldiers who rode in a gallop from place to place. Often they were slain by the Indians, who would scalp them and leave their bodies to be found by the troopers as they chased the savages back to their retreats.

Two years more were spent in Texas, when, in October, 1859, we find him again at home, and taking part in a great tragedy.

A man, named John Brown, made a plan to set free the negro slaves who were then in the South, and to kill all the whites. This plot did not succeed, and John Brown and his men took refuge in the Round House at Harper’s Ferry. Colonel Lee, who was then at home on a furlough, was ordered to take a band of soldiers and capture these bold men. He went at once to Harper’s Ferry and quickly took them prisoners. They were then tried and hung for treason.


Just here, I must tell you that the slaves were blacks, or negroes, who had first been brought to this country from Africa, in 1619, by the Dutch, and sold to the Virginia planters. At first, the planters bought them out of pity, as they were badly treated by the Dutch. But after a time it was found that the negroes worked well in the corn and tobacco fields, and that they made money for their masters.

Many men at the North were sea-going men, and they soon found out that, by sailing over the ocean to Africa and catching the blacks, they could sell them at a great profit to themselves. This they did, and men both at the North and South bought them, though, even then, there were some people at the South who thought it wrong to buy and sell human beings.

In the State of Georgia it was for a time against the law to hold negro slaves.

After a while, it was found that the climate at the North was too cold for the negro to thrive. It did not pay the men at the North to keep them, and so they were sold to the Southern planters.

In the South, the climate was hot, like that of their native Africa, so they did well in that sunny land.

In 1808, it was made unlawful to bring any more slaves from Africa to the United States. The people at the South were glad that the trade in slaves was stopped, but the Northern traders were of course sorry that they could make no more money in that way.

When the negroes were first brought from Africa, they were heathen savages; but, after a few years, they learned the speech and customs of the whites; and, more than all, the worship of the true God. In thinking of this, we have to admit that slavery must have been permitted by the Lord in order to bring a heathen people out of darkness into the light of the Gospel.

There were now four millions of negroes in the South. There was great love between the blacks and their masters, as we have seen when John Brown tried to get the former to rise up and slay the whites. For years, there had been a feeling in the North that it was wrong to own slaves, and some of the people began to hate the South and to try to crush it.

The South felt that they owned the slaves under the law, or Constitution of the United States, and that they ought to be let alone. They also claimed that the slaves, as a class, were better treated than any other working people in the world. They, moreover, said that the Southern States had a perfect right to go out of the Union, if they wished, and set up a government for themselves. This the North denied; and thus they quarreled about the rights of States, and slavery, and other things, until they began to think of war.

In a short time after the John Brown Raid, Colonel Lee was back at his post in Texas, but he was much troubled at the state of his dear country. He loved the Union and had lived nearly all his life in its service; but he knew that Virginia was in the right, and that he could not fight against his native State.

So, when the war came, he left the United States Army to tight for Virginia and the South.

He was offered the chief command of the United States Army if he would remain in the “Union” service. He knew that if he went with the South he would lose his rank, and also his lovely home—Arlington, but “ ‘none of these things moved him’; his only wish was to know, that he might walk the path of duty.

He said to Mr. Blair, who came to offer him the command of the army: “If I owned the four millions of slaves in the South, I would give them all up to save the Union, but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native State?” So, when Mr. Lincoln called for troops to send against the South, Lee turned his back upon “wealth, rank, and all that a great power could give him, and offered his stainless sword to his native State.” His great soul was wrung with grief, but he obeyed the call of duty.

He went at once to Richmond, and was made Major-General of the Virginia troops. His three sons also joined the Confederate army.

General Lee was now fifty-four years old. He had been thirty-two years in the service of the United States.

The great “Civil War” now began. The eleven Southern States which had left the “Union” were now called “The Confederate States of America”; Mr. Jefferson Davis was made President of them, and Richmond in Virginia was made the capital city.


Sā´bers, swords with broad blades.
Furlough (fûr´lō), a leave of absence.
Trea´son (trŭ´zon), the act of being false to one’s country.
Promō´ted, raised to a higher rank.
Rĕg´iment, a body of troops under a colonel.
Trăg´ēedy, an action in which the life of a person is taken.

What do you know about—

Colonel Lee’s life in Texas?
The Comanche Indians?
The negroes?

John Brown?
The wish of Lee?

What he deemed his duty?

The great “Civil War”?


Return to The Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee, For Children, In Easy Words