Washington and Lee University

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

The Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee.


CHAPTER I.
Birth and Youth.

ROBERT EDWARD LEE was born at Stratford, Westmoreland county, Virginia, on the 19th of January, 1807.

His father, General Henry Lee, had been a great chief in Washington's army. They sometimes call him “Light-Horse Harry Lee.” While with Washington, he was ever in front of the foe, and his troopers were what they always should be—the eyes and ears of the army.

After the war he was Governor of Virginia, and then a member of Congress. It was he who said in a speech made before Congress after the death of Washington, that he was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” He also said, “Virginia is my country; her will I obey, however sad the fate to which it may subject me.”

The long line of Lees may be traced back to Launcelot Lee, of Loudon, in France, who went with William the Conqueror upon his expedition to England; and when Harold had been slain upon the bloody field of Hastings, Launcelot was given by William the Conqueror an estate in Essex. From that time the name of Lee is ever an honorable one in the history of England.

In the time of the first Charles, Richard Lee came to the New World and found a home in Virginia. He was a man of good stature, sound sense, and kind heart. From him the noble stock of Virginia Lees began. He was the great-great-grandfather of Robert, who was much like him in many ways.

Robert's mother was Anne Hill Carter, who came from one of the best families of Virginia. She was a good and noble woman, who lived only to train her children in the right way.

Stratford, the house in which Robert was born, is a fine old mansion, built in the shape of the letter H, and stands not far from the banks of the Potomac River and near the birthplace of Washington. Upon the roof were summer houses, where the band played, while the young folks walked in the grounds below, and enjoyed the cool air from the river and the sweet music of the band.

STRATFORD.

He had two brothers and two sisters. His brothers were named Charles Carter and Sidney Smith, and his sisters Anne and Mildred.

When Robert was but four years of age his father moved to Alexandria, a city not very far from the Stratford House, where he could send his boys to better schools. But he was not able to stay with them and bring them up to manhood. Shortly after he had moved to Alexandria, he was hurt in Baltimore by a mob of bad men, and he was never well again.

When Robert was six years old, his father went to the West Indies for his health. While there he wrote kind letters to his son, Charles Carter Lee, and spoke with much love of all. Once he said, “Tell me of Anne. Has she grown tall? Robert was always good.” He wished to know, also, if his sons rode and shot well, saying that a Virginian's sons should be taught to ride, shoot, and tell the truth.

When he had been there five years, and only grew worse, he made up his mind to return home. But he grew so ill that he was put ashore on Cumberland Island at the home of a friend. He soon gave up all hope of life. At times his pain was so great that he would drive his servants and every one else out of the room. At length an old woman, who had been Mrs. Greene's best maid, was sent to nurse him. The first thing General Lee did when she came into the room was to hurl his boot at her head. Without a word, she picked up the boot and threw it back at him. A smile passed over the old chief's face as he saw how brave she was, and from that time to the day of his death none but Mom Sarah could wait on him. Two months after the sick soldier landed he was dead. His body was laid to rest amid the cedars and flowers of the South, and it has never been moved to Virginia.

MOM SARAH.

At this time Robert was only eleven years old. If he was a good boy, it was his mother who kept him so, for he never knew a father's care. His mother once said to a friend, “How can I spare Robert! He is both a son and a daughter to me.”

About that time the girls and other boys were away from home, and she had no one but Robert to care for her. He took the keys and “kept house” for her when she was sick, and also saw to all of her outdoor work. He would run home from school to ride out with her, so that she might enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. When she would complain of the cold or draughts, he would pull out a great jackknife and stuff the cracks with paper, for the coach was an old one.

So he grew up by her side, a good and noble boy. At first he went to school to a Mr. Leary, who was ever his firm friend. Then he went to the school of Mr. Benjamin H. Hallowell, who always spoke of him as a fine young man.

Robert was fond of hunting, and would sometimes follow the hounds all day. In this way he gained that great strength which was never known to fail him in after life.

The old home, in Alexandria, where his mother had lived, was always a sacred place to him. Years after, one of his friends saw him looking sadly over the fence of the garden where he used to play. “I am looking,” he said, “to see if the old snow-ball trees are still here. I should be sorry to miss them.”

When he was eighteen years old, he went to West Point to learn to be a soldier. He was there four years, and in that time never got a bad mark or demerit. His clothes always looked neat and clean, and his gun bright. In short, he kept the rules of the school and studied so well that he came out second in his class.

When he came home from West Point, he found his mother's old coachman, Nat, very ill. He took him at once to the South and nursed him with great care. But the spring-time saw the good old slave laid in the grave by the hand of his kind young master.

UNCLE NAT.

Not very long after, his dear mother grew quite ill. He sat by her bedside day and night, and gave her all her food and medicine with his own hand. But his great care and love could not save her. He was soon bereft of her to whom he used to say he “owed everything.”

Some one has said, “Much has been written of what the world owes to ‘Mary, the mother of Washington’; but it owes scarcely less to ‘Anne, the mother of Lee.’ ”


Gĕn´-er-al, the head of an army.
Ex´-pe-dĭ´-tion, a voyage; a trip, with an aim in view.
Stătŭ´-ure, height.
Dråughts (dråfts), currents of air.

Tell what you remember about—

Robert's father.
Robert's mother.
The situation of his home.
Robert's kindness to his mother.
His life at West Point.


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