From the 8 December 1875 issue of The New York Times.



A picture of Christmas scenes at Arlington House, nearly a quarter of a century ago, is very satisfactorily given in a letter from Gen. (then a brevet Colonel) Lee, addressed to his eldest son, Custis, now the President of Washington and Lee University. The letter, lost in the vicissitudes of the war, has never before been in print. At the time of its writing Col. Lee was on duty as engineer officer in charge of the defensive works in Baltimore Harbor, a position which he held in the interval between his return from the Mexican War and his appointment in 1852 to be Superintendent at West Point. In these years the family circle was often united at Arlington, the home of his wife, where her father, George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of the first President, was then still living, and in the enjoyment of health. There are, of course, many details not given in the letter which would have made our realization of the Christmas scenes more complete, as there are a few which, forming part of a family letter, are immaterial, but we are afforded a charming sketch in the narrative of the father to his absent son, and now that the Christmas cheer is no longer spread at Arlington we may look back to its enjoyment beyond the chasm of the war with especial interest. The letter says:

ARLINGTON, 28th December, 1851

We came on last Wednesday morning. It was a bitter cold day, and we were kept waiting an hour in the depot at Baltimore for the cars, which were detained by the snow and frost in the rails. We found your* grandfather at the Washington depot, Daniel and the old carriage and horses, and young Daniel on the colt Mildred. Your mother, grandfather, Mary Eliza, the little people, and the baggage I thought load enough for the carriage, so Rooneyߤ and I took our feet in our hands and walked over. We looked for the Anne Chase, in which to get a lift to Roop’s Hill, but congratulated ourselves afterward that we missed her, for she only overtook us after we had passed Jackson City, and was scarcely out of sight when we turned up the Washington turnpike. The snow impeded the carriage as well as us, and we reached here shortly after it. The children were delighted at getting back, and passed the evening in devising pleasures for the morrow. They were in upon us before day on Christmas morning, to overhaul their stockings. Mildren thinks she drew the prize in the shape of a beautiful new doll; Angelina’sߥ infirmities were so great that she was left in Baltimore; and this new treasure was entirely unexpected. The cakes, candies, books, &c., were overlooked in the caresses she bestowed upon her, and she was scarcely out of her arms all day. Rooney got among his gifts a nice pair of boots, which he particularly wanted, and the girls, I hope, were equally pleased with their presents, books, and trinkets.

Your mother, Mary, Rooney, and I went in to church, and Rooney and the twins skated back on the canal, (Rooney having taken his skates along for the purpose), and we filled his place in the carriage with Miss Sarah Stuart, one of M.’s comrades. Minny Lloyd was detained at home to assist her mother at dinner, but your Aunt Maria brought her and Miss Lucretia Fitzhugh out the next day, and, Wallace Stiles and his brother arriving at the same time, we had quite a table full.

The young people have been quite assiduous in their attentions to each other, as their amusements have been necessarily indoors, but the beaux have successfully maintained their reserve so far, notwithstanding the captivating advances of the belles. The first day they tried skating, but the ice was soft and rough, and it was abandoned in despair. They have not moved out of the house since. To-day the twins were obliged to leave us, and when the carriage came to the door Minny Lloyd and Sarah Stuart reluctantly confessed that their mammas ordered them to return in the first carriage. We have only, therefore, Wallace and Edward Stiles and Miss Lucretia Fitzhugh in addition to our family circle.

I need not describe to you our amusements: you have witnessed them so often; nor the turkey, cold ham, plum-pudding, mince pies, &c., at dinner. I hope you will enjoy them again, or some equally as good.

The weather has been bitter cold. I do not recollect such weather, (I can only judge by my feelings), since the Winter of 1835. I have not been to Washington yet, but will endeavor to get over to-morrow. I am writing this to mail then. The family have retired, but I know I should be charged with much love from every individual, were they aware of my writing, so I wil give it without bidding. May you have many happy years, all bringing you an increase of virtue and wisdom, all witnessing your prosperity in this life, all bringing you nearer everlasting happiness hereafter! May God in His great mercy grant me this my constant prayer.

I had received no letter from you when I left Baltimore, nor shall I get any till I return, which will be, it nothing happens, to-morrow a week, 5th January, 1852. You will then be in the midst of your examination. I shall be very anxious about you. Give me the earliest intelligence of your standing, and stand up before them boldly, manfully; do your best and I shall be satisfied.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

R. E. LEE.


* The venerable George Washington Parke Custis.

ߤ A younger son, known by this pet name in the family.

ߥ “Angelina” was evidently a doll, thus superseded by a newer and more comely favorite, on whom “infirmities” had not fallen.