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


A Confederate General.

IN this little book I cannot tell all that happened during the Civil War, but only as much as will relate to our hero, General Lee.

There were now two governments—one at the North; the other at the South. Mr. Abraham Lincoln was President of the North, or Federals, while Mr. Jefferson Davis was the President of the South, or Confederates. The first thought of the North was to defend Washington, their capital city; while the South was just as busy taking care of Richmond, and getting arms and troops ready for war.

In this war, brother fought against brother, and friend against friend. It was a time of great trouble all over the land. At the North, one hundred thousand men were enlisted in three days. At the South, the feeling was more intense. Men rushed to arms from all parts of the country.

You must notice that from the first of the war, the South was much poorer in the number of men and arms than the North. There were at the North eighteen millions of whites; while at the South, there were only six millions. Through all the South, there could be found only fifteen thousand new rifles and about one hundred thousand old muskets.

The Federals wore a uniform of blue, while the Confederates were clad in gray; hence they were sometimes called “the blue” and “the gray.”

The first blood which flowed in this war was shed in Baltimore. The Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, as it was passing through the city on its way south, was attacked by a band of men who loved the South and could not bear to see them marching on to fight their brethren. In the fierce street fight which followed, several men were killed. This happened on April the 19th, 1861.


The first gun of the war was fired at half-past four o’clock April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter, in South Carolina. This fort was taken by the Confederates after a fight of thirty-four hours, in which no one was hurt on either side.

During the first months of the war, General Lee was kept in Richmond to send Virginia men, who came to fight for the South, to the places where they were most needed. All around Richmond were camps, where men were trained for war. The largest of these camps was called “Camp Lee,” after our hero. But in July, 1861, Leo was sent to Western Virginia, and was, for the first time, commander of troops in the field.

Just then, there were heavy rains and a great deal of sickness among the men of his small army, so that he was not able to attack the enemy, as he had planned.

After some time, it was thought best to give up Western Virginia, and General Lee went back to Richmond, where he stayed only a short time. In November, 1861, he was sent south to build a line of forts along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. In four months’ time he did much to show his skill as an engineer.

But a large Northern army, under General McClellan, was at the gates of Richmond, and Lee was sent for to take charge of all the armies of the South. Very soon, a battle was fought at Seven Pines, May 31st, which stopped General McClellan’s “On to Richmond.” In that battle General Johnston, the commanding general, was badly wounded, and General Lee was put in his place. Lee was swift to plan and as swift to act. His task was hard. The hosts of the North were at the gates of Richmond. The folks on the house-tops could see their camp-fires and hear the roar of their cannon. Lee at once began to make earth-works, and to place his men for battle. Every day, now, a fine-looking man, clad in a neat gray uniform, might be seen riding along the line.

He wished to know what was going on in the camp of the foe, and now the right man came forward. His name was J. E. B. Stuart, best known as Jeb Stuart. He led his brave troopers quite around the army of the North and found out all that Lee wished to know. He was ever after this, until his death, the “eyes and ears” of Lee.

“Stonewall” Jackson now came from the Valley with his brave men, and Lee at once began the “Seven Days’ Battle.” Stuart was “the eyes and ears” of Lee, and Jackson was his “right arm,” as you will learn before you get through with this little book.

For seven days the battle went on, and at last the Army of the Potomac, under General McClellan, was forced back to the James river, and Richmond was saved from the foe by the skill of Lee and the valor of his men.

Lee now marched north towards Washington City, and in August, 1862, met the army of General Pope and fought the Second Battle of Manassas. Lee had made a bold plan to put the army of Pope to flight. He sent Stonewall Jackson fifty-six miles around to the rear of Pope, while he (Lee) kept him in check in front.

Jackson’s men marched so fast that they were called “foot cavalry.” They ate apples and green corn as they marched along, for they had no time to stop. Only one man among them knew where they were going. Little cared they, for Stonewall Jackson led the way.

On the evening of the second day, Jackson, with twenty thousand men, was between Pope and Washington city. Lee was in front of Pope with the rest of the army.

General Jackson fell upon Manassas Junction and took three hundred prisoners and many car-loads of food and clothes. After the men had eaten what food they wanted, they burned the rest and moved away.

Jackson found a good position from which to fight, and when Pope’s men came up was ready for them. They fought all day, and when the powder and shot gave out the Southern men fought with stones.

All this time Lee, with most of the men, was coming round to help Jackson. How eagerly Jackson looked for help! He had only twenty thousand men against three times that many. At last Lee came up, and the battle was won (August 30th). Many brave men were killed on both sides, but Lee was the victor. In three months’ time he had driven the foe from Richmond, and was now in front of Washington with his army.

He now sent General Jackson to Harper’s Ferry, where he took as prisoners twelve thousand men of the North, September 15th. Jackson then hurried back to Lee, who had crossed the Potomac and gone over into Maryland, on September 5, 1862.


At Sharpsburg sometimes called Antietam (Ante´tam), he again met the fresh army of McClellan and fought one of the most bloody battles of the war. Lee had only half as many men as McClellan, but when, after the battle, Lee thought it best to return to Virginia, McClellan did not follow him. Lee led his army back to Virginia without the loss of a gun or a wagon, and they rested near Winchester, Virginia.

General Lee, in his tent near Winchester, heard of the death of his daughter Annie. She had been his dearest child, and his grief at her death was great; but he wrote thus to Mrs. Lee:

“But God in this, as in all things, has mingled mercy with the blow by selecting the one best prepared to go. May you join me in saying ‘His will be done!’ ”

It was now McClellan’s turn to attack Lee, but he was slow to move—so slow that Mr. Lincoln sent him word “to cross the Potomac and give battle to the foe, and drive him south.” But still he did not move, and Lee, who was also wanting to move, sent Jeb Stuart over into Maryland to find out what McClellan was doing. That gallant man again went around the whole Northern army, and came back safe to Lee, having found out what Lee wished to know.

The Northern army now came back to Virginia and Lee moved to Fredericksburg, a town on the Rappahannock river.

Burnside was now put at the head of the Northern army in the place of General McClellan, whom Mr. Lincoln accused of being too slow.

Lee placed his men on the heights above the river, on the south side, while Burnside’s hosts were on Stafford Heights and the plains below.

At daylight on December 13, 1862, the battle began, and was fought bravely by both sides. But Burnside’s men had little chance, since Lee’s men from above poured the shot and shell so fast that they could not move forward.

The noise of this battle was terrible, as there were three hundred cannon roaring at once.

Cooke, a great writer, tells us that as Burnside’s guns were tired directly at the town, the houses were soon on fire and a dense cloud of smoke hung over its roofs and steeples. Soon the red flames leaped up high above the smoke and the people were driven from their homes. Hundreds of women and children were seen wandering along the frozen roads, not knowing where to go.

General Lee stood upon a ridge which is now called “Lee’s Hill,” and watched this painful scene. For a long time he stood silent, and then, in his deep, grave voice, said these words, which were the most bitter that he was ever known to utter: “These people delight to destroy the weak, and those who can make no defence; it just suits them.”

When the day was done, Lee was again victor.


In less than six months Lee had fought four great battles—all victorious to his arms, except that of Sharpsburg, which was neither a victory nor defeat. The Southern army was now full of hope and courage. At the battle of Fredericksburg, Lee had only sixty thousand men, while Burnside’s army numbered over one hundred thousand. In this battle Lee lost five thousand men, while twelve thousand of Burnside’s men lay stark and cold upon the bloody field.

Lee grieved over the loss of his brave men, and for the good people of Fredericksburg who had lost their homes by fire during the fight. He now waited day after day for Burnside to attack, but in vain. At length Lee went into winter quarters in a tent at the edge of an old pine field near Fredericksburg, and began to get ready for fight when the spring came. It was at this time that among a number of fowls given to Lee, was a fine hen which began the egg business before her head came off, and Bryan, Lee’s servant, saved her for the egg which he found each day in the General’s tent. Lee would leave the door of the tent open for the hen to go in and out. She roosted and rode in the wagon, and was an eye-witness of the battle of Chancellorsville. She was also at the battle of Gettysburg; but when orders were given to fall back, the hen could not be found. At last, they saw her perched on top of the wagon, ready to go back to her native State.


In 1864, when food began to get scarce and Bryan was in sore need for something nice for guests, he killed the good old hen unknown to her master. At dinner, General Lee thought it a very fine fowl, not dreaming that Bryan had killed his pet.

It was now time for Lee to carry out the will of old Mr. Custis and set free his slaves. Many of them had been carried off by the Northern men, but now he wrote out the deed and set them free by law. He wrote thus of them to Mrs. Lee:

“They are all entitled to their freedom, and I wish them to have it. Those that have been carried away I hope are free and happy.”

He had set free his own slaves years before.

Lee had proved so great a leader that the people of the South began to look to him with great love and hope.

During these battles, of which I have told you, one-half of the Southern men were in rags, and many were without shoes. Yet shoeless, hatless, ragged and starving, they followed Lee and fought his battles. Their pet name for him was “Marse Robert.” They knew that their great chief cared for them, and would not send them into danger if he could help it; and it was no fault of his if their food was scant and poor. They learned to love and trust him. “Marse Robert says so,” was their battle-cry.

Prĕs´ident, the head of a free people.
Mẽr´cy, kindness.
Găl´lant, brave ; daring in fight.
Vĭc´tor, one who wins.
Posĭ´tion, place.

Tell about—

The two governments.
The first blood shed.
The first gun fired.
“Camp Lee.”
Where General Lee was first sent.
The “On to Richmond.”
Jeb Stuart. “Stonewall” Jackson.
The Second Battle of Manassas.
Sharpsburg. Fredericksburg.
The will of Mr. Custis.
The soldiers’ love for Lee.

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