Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Jr.
THE GENERAL WRITES TO HIS SONS—TO HIS WIFE AT ROCKBRIDGE BATHS—HE JOINS HER THERE ABOUT ONCE A WEEK—DISTINGUISHED AND UNDISTINGUISHED CALLERS AT HIS LEXINGTON HOME—HE ADVOCATES EARLY HOURS—HIS FONDNESS FOR ANIMALS
I HAD before this time gone to my farm in King William County and started out in life as a farmer. As there was nothing but the land and a few old buildings left, for several years I had a very up-hill time. My father encouraged, advised me, and gave me material aid. His letters to me at this time will show the interest he took in my welfare. In one written March 16, 1866, after advising me as to steps to be taken in repairing an old mill on the place, he writes:
I am clear for your doing everything to improve your property and make it remunerative as far as you can. You know my objections to incurring debt. I cannot overcome it. . . . I hope you will overcome your chills, and by next winter you must patch up your house, and get a sweet wife. You will be more comfortable, and not so lonesome. Let her bring a cow and a churn. That will be all you will want. . . . Give my love to Fitzhugh. I wish he were regularly established. He cannot afford to be idle. He will be miserable.
My brother Fitzhugh, here referred to, was negotiating to rent his farm, the White House, to some so-called English capitalists, and had not as yet established himself. In another letter to me, of May 26, 1866, my father says:
In another letter, of June 13th, after telling me of the visit of a cousin of my mother's and how much gratification it was to have her with them, he regrets that he son, who brought his mother up to Lexington, had to hurry home on account of having left his wife and little son:
. . . I will state, at the outset, that I desire you to consider Romancoke with its appurtenances your own; to do with as you consider most to your interest; to sell, farm, or let; subject, however, to the conditions imposed by your grandfather's will, as construed by the decree of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, which declares, "If the legacies are not paid off by the personal property, hires of slaves, rents, and sale of the real estate, charged with their payment, at the end of five years, the portion unpaid remains a charge upon the White House and Romancoke until paid. The devisees take their estates cum onere."
The result of the war having deprived the estates of the benefit of the hire of the slaves and the sale of Smith's Island, and the personal property having all been swept off by the Federal armies, there is nothing left but the land of the two estates named. A court might make some deduction from the amount of the legacies to be paid in consideration of these circumstances, and I should think it would be fair to do so. But of that I cannot say. Now, with this understanding, make your own arrangements to suit yourself, and as you may determine most conducive to your interests. In confirming your action, as the executor or your grandfather, I must, however, take such measures as may be necessary to carry out the purpose of his will. . . . If you are determined to hold the estate, I think you ought to make it profitable. As to the means of doing so, you must decide for yourself. I am unable to do it for you, and might lead you astray. Therefore, while always willing to give you any advice in my power, in whatever you do you must feel that the whole responsibility rests with you. . . . I wish, my dear son, I could be of some advantage to you, but I can only give you my love and earnest prayers, and commit you to the keeping of that God who never forgets those who serve Him. May He watch over and preserve you. Your affectionate father,
R. E. LEE.
. . . When you have such pleasing spurs in your flanks, I hope you may be on the fair road to prosperity. All unite in love to you and Fitzhugh. Ask the latter if George has yet found a horse to trade with the gray. We miss him very much,[note 62] and want to see you as badly. You may judge how poorly we are off. The examination has commenced at Washington College. Three days are over successfully, and I hope to finish in twelve more. —— has been up in two subjects, and not got thrown. He has two more. But, in the meantime, I am much occupied, and will be confined all day. I have no time for letters of affection, so must tell you good-bye. Most affectionately,
R. E. LEE.
This was the first final examination at Washington College since my father became its president. He worked very hard, and was kept busy attending to all the details and the putting into practice of several new methods and systems he had introduced.
That summer he took my mother to the Rockbridge Baths, about eleven miles from Lexington, to give her the benefit of the waters, which, he hoped, might give her some relief from the continual pain she suffered. She did derive benefit, but, unfortunately, had a fall which seriously impeded the improvement. In reply to a note from my mother telling him of her misfortune and asking him to send her some medicines, he writes the following note:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, August 10, 1866.
My Dear Mary: On receiving your note, yesterday, I had only time to get the arnica and send it by the stage. I am very sorry that you received such a fall, and fear it must have been a heavy shock to you. I am, however, very thankful that you escaped greater injury, and hope it is no worse than you describe. I will endeavour to get down to see you to-morrow evening, and trust I may find you somewhat relieved from its effects. We are pretty well here. Many people are out of town, and I have not seen those who are in. Love to the girls. Truly and affectionately yours,
R. E. LEE.
MRS. M. C. LEE.
My father was still very busy with his college work, and, after establishing her there, spent most of the time in Lexington, riding Traveller over to see her whenever he could get a spare day. Among the few letters preserved of those written to her at this time, I have a note of July 16th:
My Dear Mary: I am glad to see by your letter of yesterday that you are recovering so well from your fall. I hope you may soon be well again. . . . Caroline[note 63] got back this morning. Left her daughter better. Says there is a very good girl in Lynchburg, from General Cocke's estate, anxious to live with us. I shall have more conversation with her [Caroline], and, if satisfied, will write for her, by the boat to-night. Her father is in Lynchburg, and anxious for her to come. . . . Tell Mrs. Cabell I am sorry to have missed seeing her. Where is Katie? I wish she would send her to see me. I will endeavour to find some one to carry this to you. Love to all. Very affectionately and truly yours,
R. E. LEE.
The mails in those days were not very direct, and private messenger was often the surest and speediest method of letter-carriage. In the absence of my mother, my father was trying to better the staff of servants. Their inefficiency was the drawback to our comfort then, as it is now. Often the recommendation of some was only the name of the estate from which they came. A few days later, my father writes again:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, July 20, 1866.
My Dear Mary: I was glad to receive your note this morning, and wish it could have reported a marked improvement in your health. But that, I trust, will come in time. It has been impossible for me to return to you this week, and, indeed, I do not see how I can absent myself at all. I shall endeavour to go to the Baths Monday, and hope during the week you may be able to determine whether it would be more advantageous for you to remain there or go further, as I shall have to return here as soon as I can. I can accomplish nothing while absent. Custis has determined to accompany Mr. Harris to the White Sulphur Monday, and the girls seem indifferent about leaving home. They ask, properly, what is to become of it? Mr. Pierre Chouteau, son of Julia Gratiot and Charles Chouteau, will hand you this. He will remain over Sunday at the Baths, and can tell you all about St. Louis. I send such letters as have come for you. I have no news. The heat seems to extend everywhere, but it will be cool enough after a time. We are as usual, except that "Aunt" Caroline[note 64] seems more overcome, and Harriet[note 65] indulges in lighter attire. I fear Mrs. Myers had an awful time. The Elliotts do not seem in haste to leave town. They are waiting for a cool day to go to the Natural Bridge, and do not seem to have decided whether to go to the Baths or Alum Springs. We had an arrival last night from the latter place—General Colquit and daughters. They return to-morrow. The girls will write of domestic matters. I received a letter from Rob at Romancoke. He is still taking cholagogue, but well. Nothing of interest has occurred. Affectionately yours,
R. E. LEE.
Cholagogue was a fever-and-argue remedy of which I partook largely at that time. After this letter, my sisters joined my mother at the Baths, my father still spending most of his time in Lexington, but riding over to see them whenever he could. He was very busy repairing some of the old buildings of the college and arranging his work for the next session. Here is another short note to my mother:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, August 2, 1866.
My Dear Mary: Mr. Campbell has just informed me that Cousins George and Eleanor Goldsborough are with you. Tell them they must not go till I can get to the Baths. I think the waters of the latter will do them as much good as anything they can try, and the sight of them will do me great benefit. I find here much to do, but will endeavour to be with you to-morrow evening or Saturday morning. Custis has just come, but finding me occupied with builders, shook hands, got his dinner, and left for the Institute. So I do not know where he is from or where he will go next. Our neighbours are generally well, and inquire for you. Colonel Reid better. Tell the girls, if I find them improving, I will bring them something. Remember me to Cousins George and Eleanor and all the ladies. I have about a bushel of letters to answer and other things to do. Very affectionately,
R. E. LEE.
On one of his visits to my mother, he took advantage of the comparative quiet and rest there and wrote me a long letter, which I give her in full:
ROCKBRIDGE BATHS, July 28, 1866.
My Dear Robert: I was very glad to see from your letter of the 2d the progress you are making in your farm. I hope things may move prosperously with you, but you must not expect this result without corresponding attention and labour. I should like very much to visit you, but it will be impossible. I have little time for anything but my business. I am here with your mother, waiting to see the effects of these waters upon her disease, before proceeding to the Warm Springs. She is pleased with the bath, which she finds very agreeable, and it has reduced the swelling in her feet and ankles, from which she has been suffering for a long time, and, in fact, from her account, entirely removed it. This is a great relief in itself, and, I hope, may be followed by greater. I do not think she moves with more facility, though I think she walks [on her crutches] oftener and longer than heretofore, and probably with more confidence. She has been here too short a time to pronounce positively as to the effects of the water, and will have to remain three or four weeks before we determine whether she will go further. I am unwilling for her to lose the whole summer here unless it promises some advantage, and, after the middle of next week, unless some marked change takes place, shall take her to the Warm Springs. Custis has gone to the White Sulphur, but expects to be in Richmond on August 6th to meet Fitzhugh, with the view of going to the Warrenton White Sulphur Springs in North Carolina, to witness the erection of a monument over dear Annie, which the kind people of that country have prepared for the purpose. My attendance on your mother, which is necessary, prevents my being present. Agnes and Mildred are here. I think the baths have been beneficial to them already, though they have not been here a week. I will leave them to describe the place and visitors. I applied the dressing of salt to the old meadow at Arlington with the view of renovating the grass. I believe it is equally good for corn. It was refuse salt—Liverpool—which I bought cheaply in Alexandria from the sacks having decayed and broken, but I cannot recollect exactly how much I applied to the acre. I think it was about two or three bushels to the acre. You had better consult some work on farming as to the quantity. I would advise you to apply manure of some kind to all your land. I believe there is nothing better or cheaper for you to begin with than shell lime. I would prefer cultivating less land manured in some way than a large amount unassisted. We are always delighted to hear from you, and I trust with care you may escape the chills. The incentives I spoke of were a sweet wife and child. God bless you, my dear son. Most affectionately,
R. E. LEE.
My mother continued to improve so much that she did not go that summer to the Warm Springs. My father spent most of his time in Lexington, but rode over to the Baths about once a week. There was nothing he enjoyed more than a good long ride on Traveller. It rested him from the cares and worries incident to his duties, and gave him renewed energy for his work. He was often seen that summer along the eleven miles of mountain road between Lexington and the Baths. He made himself acquainted with the people living near it, talked to them about their affairs, encouraged and advised them, and always had a cheery greeting and a pleasant word for them. The little children along his route soon became acquainted with the gray horse and his stately rider. College reopened the last of September and by October he had his wife and daughters with him again. He write to me on October 18th, trying to help me in my agricultural perplexities:
. . . Am glad to hear that you are well and progressing favourably. Your Uncle Smith says, in a letter just received in which he writes of his difficulties and drawbacks, "I must tell you that if you desire to succeed in any matter relating to agriculture you must personally superintend and see to everything." Perhaps your experience coincides with his.
I hope your wheat will reimburse you for your labour and guano. I think you are right in improving your land. You will gain by cultivating less and cultivating that well, and I would endeavour to manure every crop—as to the kind of manure which will be the most profitable, you must experiment. Lime acts finely on your land and is more lasting than guano. If you can, get shells to burn on your land, or, if not, shell lime from Baltimore. I think you would thereby more certainly and more cheaply restore your fields. I hope your sale of ship-timber may place you in funds to make experiments. You will have to attend to your contractors. They will generally bear great attention, and then circumvent you. . . . I hope I shall see you this winter, when we can talk over the matter. We are pretty well. Your mother is better by her visit to the Baths. Mildred talks of going to the Eastern Shore of Maryland next month, and I fear will be absent from us all winter. I must refer you to your sisters for all news. They are great letter-writers, and their correspondence extends over the globe. Miss Etta Seldon is with us. All our summer visitors have gone, and some who, I hoped, would have visited us have not come. . . . Good-bye, my dear son. God bless you. . . . Your affectionate father,
R. E. LEE.
ROBERT E. LEE, JR.
My uncle, Smith Lee, was farming on the Potomac, and was constantly sending me messages of condolence through my father. Our experiences were the same as all others starting to farm under the new order of things. My father was very hospitable, and it delighted him to have his relatives and friends come and see him. So many kindnesses had been shown to himself and family for the last five years that he greatly enjoyed this, his first opportunity of greeting in his own home those who had so often offered my mother and sisters the shelter of theirs. The country around Lexington was most beautiful, and the climate in the summer and autumn all that could be desired. So, at those seasons, whenever he was at home, there was generally some one visiting him, nearly always relatives or old and dear friends. He entertained very simply, made every one feel at home, and was always considerate and careful of the amusement and welfare of his guests.
People came from all over the world to Lexington to see him. Amongst the visitors from afar were the Marquis of Lorne and the Hon. Mr. Cooper, who were on a tour through the United States. They came to Lexington to see General Lee. When they called at the house there happened to be no servant at hand, and my father, meeting them at the door, received their cards. Not having on his glasses, he could not read the names, but ushered the strangers into the parlour, and presented them to Mrs. Lee, without calling their names. My mother thought the tall, slender youth was a new student, and entered into conversation with him as such. Struck by his delicate appearance, she cautioned him against the harsh winter climate of the mountains, and urged him to be careful of his health. On this, Mr. Cooper explained who his companion was, and there was much amusement over the mistake.
The professors and students of the two institutions of learning were constant visitors, especially in the evenings, when young men came to see the girls. If his daughters had guests, my father usually sat with my mother in the dining-room adjoining the drawing-room. When the clock struck ten he would rise and close the shutters carefully and slowly, and, if that hint was not taken, he would simply say "Good night, young gentlemen." The effect was immediate and lasting, and his wishes in that matter, finally becoming generally known, were always respected. Captain W., who had very soon found out the General's views as to the time of leaving, was told on one occasion that General Lee had praised him very much.
"Do you know why?" said the Captain. "It is because I have never been caught in the parlour at ten o'clock. I came very near it least night, but got into the porch before the General shut the first blind. That's the reason he calls me ‘a fine young man.’ "
A young friend who was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute called on my sisters one evening, and remarked, just for something to say:
"Do you know this is the first civilian's house I have entered in Lexington."
My father was in the room in the room in his gray Confederate coat, shorn of the buttons; also my two brothers, Custis and Fitzhugh, both of whom had been generals in the Confederate Army; so there was quite a laugh over the term civilian. I have already mentioned how particular my father was about answering all letters. It was a great tax on his time, and some of them must have been a trial to his temper. The following will explain itself:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, September 5, 1866.
A. J. REQUIER, 81 Cedar St., New York.
My Dear Sir: I am very much obliged to you for your kind letter of the 22d ult. So many articles formerly belonging to me are scattered over the country that I fear I have not time to devote to their recovery. I know no one in Buffalo whom I could ask to reclaim the Bible in question. If the lady who has it will use it, as I hope she will, she will herself seek to restore it to the rightful owner. I will, therefore, leave the decision of the question to her and her conscience. I have read with great pleasure the poem you sent me, and thank you sincerely for your interest in my behalf. With great respect, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
Here is another one of many of a similar character:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, September 26, 1866.
MR. E. A. POLLARD,
104 West Baltimore St., Baltimore, Md.
Dear Sir: I return you my thanks for the compliment paid me by your proposition to write a history of my life. It is a hazardous undertaking to publish the life of any one while living, and there are but few who would desire to read a true history of themselves. Independently of the few national events with which mine has been connected, it presents little to interest the general reader, nor do I know where to refer you for the necessary materials. All my private, as well as public, records have been destroyed or lost, except what is to be found in published documents, and I know of nothing available for the purpose. Should you, therefore, determine to undertake the work, you must rely upon yourself, as my time is so fully occupied that I am unable to promise you any assistance. Very respectfully,
R. E. LEE.
This autumn my sister Mildred paid a visit to our cousins, Mr. and Mrs. George Goldsborough, living at "Ashby," near Easton, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She remained away there and elsewhere for several months. My father's letters to her, many of which have been preserved, are most interesting. They show very plainly many beautiful phases of his noble character and disposition:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, December 21, 1866.
My Precious Life: I was very glad to receive your letter of the 15th inst., and to learn that you were well and happy. May you be always as much so as is consistent with your welfare here and hereafter, is my daily prayer. I was much pleased, too, that, while enjoying the kindness of your friends, we were not forgotten. Experience will teach you that, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, you will never receive such a love as is felt for you by your father and mother. That lives through absence, difficulties, and times. Your own feelings will teach you how it should be returned and appreciated. I want to see you very much, and miss you at every turn, yet am glad of this opportunity for you to be with those who, I know, will do all in their power to give you pleasure. I hope you will also find time to read and improve your mind. Read history, works of truth, not novels and romances. Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, and, when summoned away, to leave without regret. Your friends here inquire constantly after you, and wish for your return. Mrs. White and Mrs. McElwee particularly regret your absence, and the former sends especial thanks for your letter of remembrance. We get on in our usual way. Agnes takes good care of us, and is very thoughtful and attentive. She has not great velocity, but is systematic and quiet. After to-day, the mornings will begin to lengthen a little, and her trials to lessen. It is very cold, the ground is covered with six inches of snow, and the mountains, as far as the eye can reach in every direction, elevate their white crests as monuments of winter. This is the night for the supper for the repairs to the Episcopal church. Your mother and sisters are busy with their contributions. It is to take place at the hotel, and your brother, cousins, and father are to attend. On Monday night (24th), the supper for the Presbyterian church is to be held at their lecture-room. They are to have music and every attraction. I hope both may be productive of good. But you know the Episcopalians are few in numbers and light in purse, and must be resigned to small returns. . . . I must leave to your sisters a description of these feasts, and also an account of the operation of the Reading Club. As far as I can judge, it is a great institution for the discussion of apples and chestnuts, but is quite innocent of the pleasures of literature. It, however, brings the young people together, and promotes sociability and conversation. Our feline companions are flourishing. Young Baxter is growing in gracefulness and favour, and gives cat-like evidences of future worth. He possesses the fashionable colour of "moonlight on the water," apparently a dingy hue of the kitchen, and is strictly aristocratic in appearance and conduct. Tom, surnamed "The Nipper," from the manner in which he slaughters our enemies, the rats and the mice, is admired for his gravity and sobriety, as well as for his strict attention to the pursuits of his race. They both feel your absence sorely. Traveller and Custis are both well, and pursue their usual dignified gait and habits, and are not led away by the frivolous entertainments of lectures and concerts. All send united love, and all wish for your return. Remember me most kindly to Cousins Eleanor and George, John, Mary, Ida, and all at "Myrtle Grove," and to other kind friends when you meet them. Mrs. Grady carried yesterday to Mr. Charles Kerr, in Baltimore, a small package for you. Be careful of your health, and do not eat more than half the plum-puddings Cousin Eleanor has prepared for Xmas. I am glad to hear that you are fattening, and I hope you will reach 125 lbs. Think always of your father, who loves you dearly.
R. E. LEE.
P.S., 22d.—Rob arrived last night with "Lucy Long." He thinks it too bad you are away. He has not seen you for two years.
R. E. LEE.
"Baxter" and "Tom, the Nipper" were Mildred's pets. All of us had a fondness for cats, inherited from my mother and her father, Mr. Custis. My father was very fond of them in his way and in their place, and was kind to them and considerate of their feelings. My mother told of his hearing one of the house-pets, possibly Baxter or the Nipper, crying and lamenting under his window one stormy night. The General got out of bed, opened the window, and called pussy to come in. The window was so high that the animal could not jump up to it. My father then stepped softly across the room, took one of my mother's crutches, and held it so far out of the window that he became wet from falling rain; but he persuaded the cat to climb up along the crutch, and into the window, before he thought of dry clothing fo himself. "Lucy Long" was my father's mare, which had been lost or stolen at the end of the war, and which I had just brought back to him. I will give in the following letter his account of her:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, September 4, 1866.
DR. C. S. GARNETT.
Dear Sir: I am much obliged to you for your letter of the 23d ult. and the information it contained. The mare about which my son wrote you was bred by Mr. Stephen Dandridge, of "The Bower," Berkeley County, Virginia, and was purchased from him for me by General J. E. B. Stuart in the fall of 1862—after the return of the army from Maryland. She is nine or ten years old, about fifteen hands high, square built, sorrel (not chestnut) colour, has a fast walk, easy pace, and short canter. When I parted with her she had a full long mane and tail. I rode her in conjunction with my gray horse from the fall of '62 to the spring of '64, when she was sent back for refreshment; and it was in recalling her in the spring of '65 from Mr. Hairston's, in Henry County, that she got into Major Paxton's stables of public horses and went to Danville with them. I think she might be recognised by any member of the Army of Northern Virginia, in Essex, unless much changed. I now recollect no distinctive marks about her except a blaze in her forehead and white hind-legs. My son, General W. H. F. Lee, residing at the White House, in New Kent, might recognise her, and also my son Robert, who resides near West Point, in King William. Captain Hopkins, to whom you refer in your letter, is dead, but Major Paxton, who had general charge of the public stables, and to whom I referred you letter, has sent me the accompanying affidavits of two of the men employed by him. Should their evidence not be satisfactory, he will procure statements from some of the officers, which probably may be more definite. I should be obliged to you, if the mare in question is the one I am seeking for, that you would take steps to recover her, as I am desirous of reclaiming her in consideration of the donor, General Stuart. Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
It was proved to the satisfaction of all parties that the mare in question was "Lucy Long," and my father reimbursed the man who had bought her from some one who had no right to her. She was brought to my place and I recognised her at once. She stayed with me until I was ready to pay my Christmas visit to Lexington. She then was put on the train and sent to Staunton, where I met her. I found there Colonel William Allen, a professor of Washington College, who had a buggy and no horse, and as I had a horse and no buggy, we joined forces and I drove him over to Lexington, "Lucy Long" carrying us with great ease to herself and comfort to us. My father was glad to get her, as he was very fond of her. When he heard how she came over, he was really shocked, as he thought she had never been broken to harness. She lived to be thirty-three years old, and was then chloroformed, because my brother thought she had ceased to enjoy life. For the last ten years of her life she was boarded out in the country, where she did nothing but rest, and until about a year before her death she seemed in good health and spirits.
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