Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Jr.
A PRIVATE CITIZEN
LEE'S CONCEPTION OF THE PART—HIS INFLUENCE EXERTED TOWARD THE RESTORATION OF VIRGINIA—HE VISITS OLD FRIENDS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY—RECEIVES OFFERS OF POSITIONS—COMPARES NOTES WITH THE UNION GENERAL HUNTER—LONGS FOR A COUNTRY HOME—FINDS ONE AT "DERWENT," NEAR CARTERSVILLE.
MY father remained quietly in Richmond with my mother and sisters.
He was now a private citizen for the first time in his life. As he had always been a good soldier, so now he became a good citizen. My father's advice to all his old officers and men was to submit to the authority of the land and to stay at home, now that their native States needed them more than ever. His advice and example had great influence with all. In a letter to Colonel Walter Taylor,[note 45] he speaks on this point:
. . . I am sorry to hear that our returned soldiers cannot obtain employment. Tell them they must all set to work, and if they cannot do what they prefer, do what they can. Virginia wants all their aid, all their support, and the presence of all her sons to sustain and recuperate her. They must therefore put themselves in a position to take part in her government, and not be deterred by obstacles in their way. There is much to be done which they only can do. . . .
And in a letter, a month later, to an officer asking his opinion about a decree of the Emperor of Mexico encouraging the emigration from the South to that country:
. . . I do not know how far their emigration to another land will conduce to their prosperity. Although prospects may not now be cheering, I have entertained the opinion that, unless prevented by circumstances or necessity, it would be better for them and the country if they remained at their homes and shared the fate of their respective States. . . .
Again, in a letter to Governor Letcher:[note 46]
. . . The duty of its citizens, then, appears to me too plain to admit of doubt. All should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of the war and to restore the blessing of peace. They should remain, if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling, qualify themselves to vote and elect to the State and general legislatures wise and patriotic men, who will devote their abilities to the interests of the country and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have endeavoured to practise it myself. . . .
Also in a letter of still later date, to Captain Josiah Tatnall, of the Confederate States Navy, he thus emphasises the same sentiment:
. . . I believe it to be the duty of every one to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony. These considerations governed be in the counsels I gave to others, and induced me on the 13th of June to make application to be included in the terms of the amnesty proclamation. . . .
These letters and many more show plainly his conception of what was right for all to do at this time. I have heard him repeatedly give similar advice to relatives and friends and to strangers who sought it. The following letters to General Grant and to President Johnson show how he gave to the people of the South an example of quiet submission to the government of the country:
RICHMOND, Virginia, June 13, 1865.
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT,
Commanding the Armies of the United States.
General: Upon reading the President's proclamation of the 29th ult., I came to Richmond to ascertain what was proper or required of me to do, when I learned that, with others, I was to be indicted for treason by the grand jury at Norfolk. I had supposed that the officers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia were, by the terms of their surrender, protected by the United States Government from molestation so long as they conformed to its conditions. I am ready to meet any charges that may be preferred against me, and do not wish to avoid trail; but, if I am correct as to the protection granted by my parole, and am not to be prosecuted, I desire to comply with the provision of the President's proclamation, and, therefore, inclose the required application, which I request, in that event, may be acted on. I am with great respect, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
RICHMOND, Virginia, June 13, 1865.
HIS EXCELLENCY ANDREW JOHNSON,
President of the United States.
Sir: Being excluded from the provisions of the amnesty and pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th ult., I hereby apply for the benefits and full restoration of all rights as privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Military Academy at West Point in June, 1829; resigned from the United States Army, April, 1861; was a general in the Confederate Army, and included in the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, April 9, 1865. I have the honour to be, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
Of this latter letter, my brother, Custis Lee, writes me:
When General Lee requested me to make a copy of this letter, he remarked it was but right for him to set an example of making a formal submission to the civil authorities, and that he thought, by do doing, he might possibly be in a better position to be of use to the Confederates who were not protected by military paroles, especially Mr. Davis.
Colonel Charles Marshall[note 47] says:
. . . He (General Lee) set to work to use his great influence to reconcile the people of the South to the hard consequences of their defeat, to inspire them with hope, to lead them to accept, freely and frankly, the government that had been established by the result of the war, and thus relieve them from the military rule. . . . The advice and example of General Lee did more to incline the scale in favour of a frank and manly adoption of that course of conduct which tended to the restoration of peace and harmony than all the Federal garrisons in all the military districts.
My father was at this time anxious to secure for himself and family a house somewhere in the country. He had always had a desire to be the owner of a small farm, where he could end his days in peace and quiet. The life in Richmond was not suited to him. He wanted quiet and rest, but could not get it there, for people were too attentive to him. So in the first days of June he mounted old Traveller and, unattended, rode down to "Pampatike"—some twenty-five miles—to pay a visit of several days to his relations there. This is an old Carter property, belonging then and now to Colonel Thomas H. Carter, who, but lately returned from Appomattox Court House, was living there with his wife and children. Colonel Carter, whose father was a first cousin of General Lee's, entered the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1861, as captain of the "King William Battery," rose grade by grade by his skill and gallantry, and surrendered in the spring of 1865, as Colonel and Chief of Artillery of his corps at that time. He was highly esteemed and much beloved by my father, and our families had been intimate for a long time.
"Pampatike" is a large, old-fashioned plantation, lying along the Pamunkey River, between the Piping Tree and New Castle ferries. Part of the house is very old, and, from time to time, as more rooms were needed, additions have been made, giving the whole a very quaint and picturesque appearance. At the old-fashioned dinner hour of three o'clock, my father, mounted on Traveller, unannounced, unexpected, and alone, rode up to the door. The horse and rider were at once recognised by Colonel Carter, and he was gladly welcomed by his kinsfolk. I am sure the days passed here were the happiest he had spent for many years. He was very weary of town, of the incessant unrest incident to his position, of the crowds of persons of all sorts and conditions striving to see him; so one can imagine the joy of master and horse when, after a hot ride of over twenty miles, they reached this quiet resting-place. My father, Colonel Carter tells me, enjoyed every moment of his stay. There were three children in the house, the two youngest little girls of five and three years old. These were his special delight, and he followed them around, talking baby-talk to them and getting them to talk to him. Every morning before he was up they went into his room, at his special request, to pay him a visit. Another great pleasure was to watch Traveller enjoy himself. He had him turned out on the lawn, where the June grass was very fine, abundant, and at its prime, and would allow no corn to be fed to him, saying he had had plenty of that during the last four years, and that the grass and the liberty were what he needed. He talked to Colonel Carter much about Mexico, its people and climate; also about the old families living in that neighbourhood and elsewhere in the State, with whom both Colonel Carter and himself were connected; but he said very little about the recent war, and only in answer to some direct question.
About six miles from "Pampatike," on the same river and close to its banks, is "Chericoke," another old Virginia homestead, which had belonged to the Braxtons for generations, and, at that time, was the home of Corbin Braxton's widow. General Lee was invited to dine there, and to meet him my brother, cousin and I, from the White House, were asked, besides General Rosser, who was staying in the neighbourhood, and several others. This old Virginia house had long been noted for its lavish hospitality and bountiful table. Mrs. Braxton had never realised that the war should make any change in this respect, and her table was still spread in those days of desolation as it had been before the war, when there was plenty in the land. So we sat down to a repast composed of all the good things for which that country was famous. John and I did not seem to think there was too much in sight—at any rate, it did not daunt us, and we did our best to lessen the quantity, consuming, I think, our share and more! We had been for so many years in the habit of being hungry that it was not strange we continued to be so awhile yet. But my father took a different view of the abundance displayed, and, during his drive back, said to Colonel Carter:
Thomas, there was enough dinner to-day for twenty people. All this will now have to be changed; you cannot afford it; we shall have to practise economy.
In talking with Colonel Carter about the situation of farmers at that time in the South, and of their prospects for the future, he urged him to get rid of the negroes left on the farm—some ninety-odd in number, principally women and children, with a few old men—saying the government would provide for them, and advised him to secure white labour. The Colonel told him he had to use, for immediate needs, such force as he had, being unable at that time to get whites. Whereupon General Lee remarked:
I have always observed that wherever you find the negro, everything is going down around him, and wherever you find a white man, you see everything around him improving.
He was thinking strongly of taking a house in the country for himself and family, and asked the Colonel whether he could not suggest some part of the State that might suit him. Colonel Carter mentioned Clarke County as representing the natural-grass section of Virginia, and Gloucester County the salt-water. My father unhesitatingly pronounced in favour of the grass-growing country. He told Mrs. Carter how pleased he was to hear that she had received her husband in tears when he returned from the surrender, as showing the true spirit, for, though glad to see him, she wept because he could fight no more for the cause. The day after this dinner he had to turn his back on those dear friends and their sweet home.
When Traveller was brought up to the door for him to mount, he walked all around him, looking carefully at the horse, saddle, and bridle. Apparently the blanket was not arranged to suit him, for he held the bridle while "Uncle Henry" took off the saddle. Then he took off the blanket himself, spread it out on the grass, and, folding it to suit his own idea of fitness, carefully placed it on Traveller's back, and superintended closely the putting on and girthing of the saddle. This being done, he bade everybody good-bye, and, mounting his horse, rode away homeward—to Richmond. After crossing the Pamunkey at Newcastle ferry, he rode into "Ingleside," about a mile from the river, the lovely home of Mrs. Mary Braxton. Here he dismounted and paid his respects to the mistress of the house and her daughters, who were also cousins. That afternoon he reached Richmond, returning by the same road he had travelled coming out. After his visit, which he had enjoyed so much, he began looking about more than ever to find a country home.
The house he was occupying in Richmond belonged to Mr. John Stewart, of "Brook Hill," who was noted for his devotion to the cause of the South and his kindness to all those who had suffered in the conflict. My brother Custis had rented it at the time he was appointed on Mr. Davis's staff. A mess had been established there by my brother and several other officers on duty in Richmond. In time, my mother and sister had been made members of it, and it had been the headquarters of all of the family during the war, when in town. My father was desirous of making some settlement with his landlord for its long use, but before he could take the final steps my mother received the following note from Mr. Stewart:
. . . I am not presuming on your good opinion, when I feel that you will believe me, first, that you and yours are heartily welcome to the house as long as your convenience leads you to stay in Richmond; and, next, that you owe me nothing, but, if you insist on paying, that the payment must be in Confederate currency, for which alone it was rented to your son. You do not know how much gratification it is, and will afford me and my whole family during the remainder of our lives, to reflect that we have been brought into contact, and to know and to appreciate you and all that are dear to you.
My father had been offered, since the surrender, houses, lands, and money, as well as positions as president of business associations and chartered corporations.
"An English nobleman," Long says, "desired him to accept a mansion and an estate commensurate with his individual merits and the greatness of an historic family."
He replied: "I am deeply grateful; I cannot desert my native State in the hour of her adversity. I must abide her fortunes, and share her fate."
Until his death, he was constantly in receipt of such offers, all of which he thought proper to decline. He wrote to General Long:
I am looking for some little, quiet home in the woods, where I can procure shelter and my daily bread, if permitted by the victor. I wish to get Mrs. Lee out of the city as soon as practical.
It so happened that nearly exactly what he was looking for was just then offered to him. Mrs. Elizabeth Randolph Cocke, of Cumberland County, a granddaughter of Edmund Randolph, had on her estate a small cottage which, with the land attached, she placed at his disposal. The retired situation of this little home, and the cordial way in which Mrs. Cocke insisted on his coming, induced my father to accept her invitation.
Captain Edmund Randolph Cocke[note 48] writes me the following:
OAKLEY, Virginia, October 25, 1896.
My mother, whose sympathies for everybody and everything connected with our cause were the greatest and most enlarged of any one I ever knew, thought it might be agreeable and acceptable to General Lee to have a retired placed in which to rest. Having this little house unoccupied, she invited him to accept it as a home as long as he might find it pleasant to himself. The General came up with your mother and sisters about the last of June, General Custis Lee having preceded them a day or two on Traveller. At that time our mode of travel was on the canal by horse-packet: leaving Richmond at a little before sunset, the boat reached Pemberton, our landing, about sunrise. General Custis and I went down to meet them, and we all reached home in time for breakfast. That night on the boat the Captain had had the most comfortable bed put up that he could command, which was offered to your father. But he preferred to sleep on deck, which he did, with his military cloak thrown over him. No doubt that was the last night he ever spent under the open sky. After a week spent here, General Lee removed, with his family, to "Derwent." There he spent several months of quiet and rest, only interrupted by the calls of those who came in all honesty and sincerity to pay their respects to him. Old soldiers, citizens, men and women, all came without parade or ceremony. During this time he rode on Traveller daily, taking sometimes long trips—once I recall, going to his brother's, Mr. Carter Lee's, about twenty miles, and at another time to Bremo, about thirty miles. During the month of August he was visited by Judge Brockenborough, of Lexington, who, as Rector of the Board of Trustees of Washington College, tendered him, on behalf of the Board, the presidency of the college. After considering the matter for several weeks, he decided to accept this position.
. . . During that summer he was a regular attendant at the various churches in our neighbourhood, whenever there was a service. I never heard your father discuss public matters at all, nor did he express his opinion of public men. On one occasion, I did hear him condemn with great severity the Secretary of War, Stanton. This was at the time Mrs. Surratt was condemned and executed. At another time I heard him speak harshly of General Hunter, who had written to him to get his approval of his movements, during the Valley Campaign, against General Early. With these exceptions, I never heard him speak of public men or measures.
In this connection I quote the Rev. J. Wm. Jones in his "Personal Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee":
Not long after the close of the war, General Lee received a letter from General David Hunter, of the Federal Army, in which he begged information on two points:
1. His (Hunter's) campaign in the summer of 1864 was undertaken on information received at the War Department in Washington that General Lee was about to detach forty thousand picked troops to send General Johnston. Did not his (Hunter's) movements prevent this, and relieve Sherman to that extent?
2. When he (Hunter) found it necessary to retreat from before Lynchburg, did not he adopt the most feasible line of retreat?
General Lee wrote a very courteous reply, in which he said:
The information upon which your campaign was undertaken was erroneous. I had no troops to spare General Johnston and no intention of sending him any—certainly not forty thousand, as that would have taken about all I had.
As to the second point—I would say that I am not advised as to the motives which induced you to adopt the line of retreat which you took, and am not, perhaps competent to judge of the question, but I certainly expected you to retreat by way of the Shenandoah Valley,[note 49] and was gratified at the time that you preferred the route through the mountains of the Ohio—leaving the valley open for General Early's advance into Maryland.
Before leaving Richmond, my father wrote the following letter to Colonel Ordway, then Provost Marshal:
RICHMOND, Virginia, June 21, 1865.
LT.-COL. ALBERT ORDWAY,
Provost Marshal, Department of Virginia.
Colonel: I propose establishing my family next week in Cumberland County, Virginia, near Cartersville, on the James River canal. On announcing my intention to General Patrick, when he was on duty in Richmond, he stated that no passport for the purpose was necessary. Should there have been any change in the orders of the Department rendering passports necessary, I request that I may be furnished with them. My son, G. W. Custis Lee, a paroled prisoner with myself, will accompany me. Very respectfully your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
The latter part of June, my father, mother, brother Custis, and sisters went to "Derwent," the name of the little place which was to be his home for that summer. They went by canal-boat from Richmond to Cartersville, and then had a drive of about six miles. Mrs. Cocke lived at "Oakley," two miles away, and her generous heart was made glad by the opportunity of supplying my father and his family with every comfort that it was possible to get at the time. In his letters to me, still at the White House busy with our corn, he gives a description of the surroundings:
. . . We are all well, and established in a comfortable but small house, in a grove of oaks, belonging to Mr. Thomas Cocke.[note 50] It contains four rooms, and there is a house in the yard which when fitted up will give us another. Only your mother, Agnes, and Mildred are with me. Custis, who has had a return of his attack . . . is at Mrs. Cocke's house, about two miles off—is convalescent, I hope. I have been nowhere as yet. The weather has been excessively hot, but this morning there is an agreeable change, with some rain. The country here is poor but healthy, and we are at a long distance from you all. I can do nothing until I learn what decision in my case is made in Washington. All unite with me in much love. Very truly, your father,
R. E. LEE.
The "case" referred to here was the indictment in June by a grand jury in Norfolk, Virginia, of Mr. Davis, General Lee, and others, for treason or something like it.
The Hon. Reverdy Johnson offered his professional services to my father in this case, but there was no trial, as a letter from General Grant to the authorities insisted that the parole given by him to the officers and soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia should be respected. The following letter explains itself:
NEAR CARTERSVILLE, Virginia, July 27, 1865.
HON. REVERDY JOHNSON, Baltimore, Md.
My Dear Sir: I very much regret that I did not see you on your recent visit to Richmond, that I might have thanked you for the interest you have shown in my behalf, and you great kindness in offering me your professional services in the indictment which I now understand is pending against me. I am very glad, however, that you had an opportunity of reading a copy of General Grant's letter of the 20th inst. to me, which I left with Mr. Macfarland for that purpose, and also that he might show it to other officers of the Army of Northern Virginia in my condition. I did not wish to give it greater publicity without the assent of General Grant, supposing that, if he desired it made public, he would take steps to have it done. Should he consent to your request to have it published, I, of course, have no objection. But should he not, I request that you only use it in the manner I have above indicated. Again offering you my warmest thanks for your sympathy and consideration for my welfare, I am, with great respect, Your obedient Servant,
R. E. LEE.
In another letter to me he tells of his visit to his brother Charles Carter Lee in Powhatan County, which was an easy ride from "Derwent." He was very fond of making these little excursion, and Traveller, that summer, was in constant use:
NEAR CARTERSVILLE, July 22, 1865.
My Dear Rob: I have just returned from a visit to your Uncle Carter, and, among my letters, find one from some of your comrades to you, which I inclose. I was happy to discover from the direction that it was intended for you and not for me. I find Agnes quite sick, and have sent for the doctor, as I do not know what to do for her. Poor little thing! she seems quite prostrated. Custis, I am told, is better. He is still at Mrs. Cocke's. The rest of us are well. I saw several of your comrades, Cockes, Kennons and Gilliams, who inquired after you all. Give my love to F. and Johnny, in which all here unite, and believe me most truly and affectionately Your father,
R. E. LEE.
Robert E. Lee.
In another letter he gives an account of a trip that he and Traveller had taken across the river into Albemarle County:
NEAR CARTERSVILLE, August 21, 1865.
My Dear Bertus: I received only a few days ago your letter of the 12th. I am very sorry to hear of your afflictions, but hope you have shaken off all of them. You must keep your eyes open, you precious boy, and not run against noxious vines and fevers. I have just returned from a visit to Fluvanna. I rode up the gray and extended my peregrinations into Albemarle, but no further than the Green Mountain neighbourhood. I made short rides, stopping every evening with some friend, and had a very pleasant time. I commended you to all the young ladies on the road, but did not know I was extolling a poisoned beau! You must go up and see Miss Francis Galt. Tell Fitzhugh I wrote to him before I went away. I am glad to hear that your corn is so fine, and that you are making preparations to put in a good crop of wheat. I wish I had a little farm somewhere, to be at work too. Custis is paying a visit to his friend, Captain Watkins, in Powhatan. He came up for him last Saturday, and bore him off. He has got quite well now, and I hope will continue so. Agnes is also well, though still feeble and thin. Your mother, Life, and myself as usual. We have not heard for some time from daughter. A report has reached us of her being at Mr. Burwell's. Miss Mary Cocke and her brother John paid us a short visit from Saturday to Monday, and several of our neighbors have been over to spend the day. We have a quiet time, which is delightful to me, but I fear not so exhilarating to the girls. I missed Uncle Carter's visit. He and his Robert rode up on a pair of colts while I was in Fluvanna, and spent several days. I wish we were nearer you boys. I want to see you very much, but do not know when that can be. I hope Johnny is well. I have heard nothing from his father since we parted in Richmond, but hear that Fitz has gone to see his mother. All here send their best love to you, and I pray that every happiness may attend you. Your devoted father,
R. E. LEE.
Robert E. Lee.
"Bertus" was a contraction of Robertus, my father's pet name for me as a child. My afflictions were "poison-oak," chills, and fever. The letter to my brother Fitzhugh, here referred to, I also give:
NEAR CARTERSVILLE, Cumberland County, Virginia,
July 29, 1865.
My Dear Fitzhugh: I was very glad to receive, by the last packet from Richmond, your letter of the 22d. We had all been quite anxious to hear from you, and were much gratified to learn that you were all well, and doing well. It is very cheering to me to hear of your good prospects for corn and your cheerful prospects for the future. God grant they may be realised, which, I am sure, they will be, if you will unite sound judgement to your usual energy in your operations. As to the indictments, I hope you, at least, may not be prosecuted. I see no other reason for it than for prosecuting all who ever engaged in the war. I think, however, we may expect procrastination in measures of relief, denunciatory threats, etc. We must be patient, and let them take their course. As soon as I can ascertain their intention toward me, if not prevented, I shall endeavour to procure some humble, but quiet, abode for your mother and sisters, where I hope they can be happy. As I before said, I want to get in some grass country, where the natural product of the land will do much for my subsistence. . . . Our neighbours are very kind, and do everything in the world to promote our comfort. If Agnes is well enough, I propose to ride up to "Bremo" next week. I wish I was near enough to see you. Give much love to Rob and Johnny, the Carters and Braxtons. All here unite in love and best wishes for you all. Most affectionately, your father,
R. E. LEE.
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