The Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee, For Children, In Easy Words
By Mary L. Williamson
A College President.
IN October, 1865, General Lee became President of Washington College, in Lexington, Virginia. Many other places of trust were offered him, but he chose to lead the young men of the South in the paths of peace and learning, as he had so nobly done in times of war.
General Lee rode on his war-horse, Traveler, from Powhatan county to Lexington in four days. As he drew rein in front of the village inn, an old soldier knew him, gave the military salute, and, placing one hand upon the bridle and the other upon the stirrup, stood and waited for him to dismount.
On October 2d, 1865, General Lee took the oath of office, before William White, Esq., justice of the peace. The General stood, dressed in a plain suit of gray, his arms folded, and his eyes calmly fixed upon Judge Brockenbrough, as he read the oath of office.
The great chief was now changed into a college president. “I have,” said he, “a task which I cannot forsake.” That task was not easy, for the college had lost much during the war and now had to be built up in every way.
WASHINGTON & LEE UNIVERSITY AND COLLEGE CHAPEL.
He went to work with great skill and energy, and soon all felt that a great man was leading them.
Some one has aptly said, “Suns seem larger when they set;” so it was with Lee. At this time of his life he appears nobler and grander than ever before. In his quiet study, away from the noise of the world, he gave his time and talents to the young men of his dear South. His earnest wish was to make Washington College a great seat of learning, and for this he worked and made wise plans.
In March, 1866, he went to Washington city to appear as a witness before the committee which was inquiring into the state of things in the South. This was his first visit to any of the cities since the war, and it caused much comment.
General Fitz. Lee tells us that the day after his return, he proposed a walk with one of his daughters, who said, in fun, that she did not admire the new hat which he was about to put on. “You do not like my hat?” said he; “why, there were a thousand people in Washington the other day admiring this hat.” This was the only time that he spoke of the crowds of people who sought him while in that city.
When his nephew, General Fitz. Lee, wrote to know what he thought of having the Southern dead moved from the field of Gettysburg, he said, “I am not in favor of moving the ashes of the dead unless for a worthy object, and I know of no fitter resting-place for a soldier than the field on which he so nobly laid down his life.”
It is sometimes asked if General Lee was content in the quiet of his home at Lexington. This is what he wrote to a friend:
“For my own part, I much enjoy the charms of civil life, and find, too late, that I have wasted the best years of my life.”
In his life as College President, duty was, as ever, his watchword. He knew each student by name, and just how well he studied.
Once, when asked how a certain young man was getting along, he said: “He is a very quiet and orderly young man, but he seems very careful not to injure the health of his father's son, Now, I do not want our young men to injure their health, but I want them to come as near it as possible.”
One of his friends relates that, even amidst this busy life at college, he found time to be the most polite gentleman in town. “How often have I seen him,” says this friend, “in the stores and shops of Lexington, talking pleasantly with each new comer; or, walking a mile through mud and snow to call on some humble family, who will hand it down as an event in their lives that they had a visit from General Lee!”
Seeing, during the first year, that the college chapel was not large enough, he at once began to plan for a new one. He chose the site for it in front of the other houses, so that it might be in full view. He then had the plan drawn under his own eye, and did not rest until it was finished and opened for the service of God.
In this chapel his body now rests, as I shall tell you hereafter.
Early in 1870, in the midst of these labors, his health began to fail. There was a flush upon his cheek, and an air of weariness about him which alarmed his friends. Rheumatism of the heart and other parts of the body had set in, and in March, 1870, he went south “to look upon other scenes and enjoy the breezes in the ‘land of sun and flowers.’ ” His daughter Agnes went with him.
On this trip he once more went to see his father's grave, on an island off the coast of Georgia, where, you remember, General Henry Lee was taken when so ill on board ship, and where he died.
They placed fresh flowers upon the grave, which they found in good order, though the house had been burnt and the island laid waste.
GRAVE OF LEE'S FATHER.
His health seemed better when again at home; but soon his step was slower, and the flush upon his cheek began to deepen. “A noble life was drawing to a close.”
On the morning of October 12, 1870, the news flashed over the wires that General Lee was dead. He had taken cold at a vestry meeting. The church was cold and damp, and a storm was raging outside. He grew chilly, and when he reached home was unable to speak.
Mrs. Lee wrote thus of his last hours:
“My husband came in while we were at tea, and I asked where he had been, as we had waited some time for him. He did not reply, but stood up as if to say grace. No words came from his lips, but with a sad smile he sat down in his chair.”
He could not speak! A bed was at once brought to the dining-room, and the doctors sent for. At first he grew better, but soon a change came for the worse.
He rarely spoke except when sleeping, and then his thoughts were with his much- loved soldiers on the “dreadful battlefields.” Among his last words were, “Tell Hill he must come up.”
Once when General Custis Lee said something about his getting well, he shook his head and pointed upward, When his doctor said, to cheer him, “How do you feel to-day, General?” General Lee said slowly, “I feel better.”
The doctor then said:
“You must make haste and get well. Traveler has been standing so long in the stable that he needs exercise.”
The General made no reply, but shook his head and closed his eyes. Once or twice he put aside his medicine, saying, “It is no use.”
On October 10th, about midnight, he was seized with a chill and his pulse became feeble and rapid. The next day he was seen to be sinking. He knew those around him, but was not able to speak. Soon after nine o'clock on the morning of the 12th, he closed his eyes on earthly things and his pure soul took its flight to God.
It was thought that the strain and hardships of war, with sorrow for the “Lost Cause” and the griefs of his friends, had caused his death. Yet, to those who saw his calmness in all the trials of life, it did not seem true that his great soul had been worn away by them.
The college chapel was chosen by Mrs. Lee as a burial place for her husband, and one-and-a-half o'clock P. M. on the 13th of October was the time fixed on for moving the remains to the chapel, where they were to lie in state until Saturday, the 15th of October, the day for the burial.
At the hour named, a long procession, with Professor J. J. White as chief marshal, was formed. Old soldiers formed an escort of honor. Just after the escort came the hearse, preceded by the clergy and twelve pall-bearers. In rear of the hearse, Traveler, the iron-gray war-horse of General Lee, was led by two old soldiers. Then followed a long line of students, cadets and people.
The body was borne to the college chapel and laid in state upon the dais, the people passing slowly by, that each one might look upon the face of the dead. The body was clad in a simple suit of black and lay in a coffin, strewed by loving hands with rare, pale flowers. The chapel was then placed in charge of the guard of honor. This guard of students kept watch by the coffin day and night.
On the 14th, a funeral service was held in the chapel; and on the 15th of October, as I have said, the body was borne to the tomb. The flag of Virginia hung at half- mast above the college and a deep gloom rested upon all.
As the procession moved off, the bells of the town began to toll, and the Virginia Military Institute battery fired minute-guns. All was simple and without display. Not a flag was to be seen along the line. The Rev. J. William Jones tells us as follows:
“The old soldiers wore their citizen's dress, with black ribbon in the lapel of their coats; and Traveler, with trappings of mourning on his saddle, was again led by two old soldiers. The Virginia Military Institute was very beautifully draped, and from its turrets hung at half-mast, and draped in mourning, the flags of all the States of the late Southern Confederacy.
“When the procession reached the Institute, it passed the corps of cadets drawn up in line, and a guard of honor presented arms as the hearse went by. When it reached the chapel, where a large throng had gathered, the students and cadets, about six hundred and fifty strong, marched into the left door and aisle past the remains and out by the right aisle and door to their proper place.
“The rest of the line then filed in, the family, with Drs. Barton and Madison, and Colonels W. H. Taylor and C. S. Venable, members of General Lee's staff during the war, were seated just in front of the pulpit, and the clergy and the Faculties of the College and Institute had places on the platform.
“The coffin was again covered with flowers and evergreens.
“Then the Rev. Dr. Pendleton, the. dear friend of General Lee, his Chief of Artillery during the war, and his rector the past five years, read the beautiful burial service of the Episcopal Church. There was no sermon, and nothing said besides the simple service, as General Lee had wished.
“When the body had been placed in the vault, the chaplain read the concluding service from the bank on the southern side of the chapel, and then the grand old hymn, ‘How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,’ was sung by the people.
“The vault is of brick and just reaches the floor of the library. Upon the white marble are these words:
“ ‘Robert Edward Lee,
Born January 19, 1807;
Died October 12, 1870.’ ”
The white marble top has now been replaced by the beautiful recumbent statue by Valentine, a Virginia sculptor.
All the South mourned for Lee. Bells were tolled in cities and villages, and meetings were held to express the grief of the people.
RECUMBENT STATUE OF LEE.
This is what a little girl wrote to Mrs. Lee:
“I have heard of General Lee, your husband, and of all his great and noble deeds during the war. I have also heard lately of his death. I have read in the papers that collections are being made for the Lee monument. I have asked my mother to let me send some money that I earned myself. I made some of the money by keeping the door shut last winter, and the rest I made by digging up grass in the garden. I send you all I have. I wish it was more. I am nine now.
Many noble men and women also wrote to Mrs. Lee, and money was given, until now there are two beautiful statues of General Lee—one in Lexington, where he is buried, and the other in Richmond, the city he fought so hard to save.
Virginia mourned for her noble son. The State Legislature passed a bill making January 19th, the birthday of Robert E. Lee, a legal holiday.
On that day, all over the South, meetings are held in memory of him, speeches are made by great men, and children recite poems which honor his name and deeds.
Perhaps no man has ever lived, so great, so good, so unselfish as Lee. Duty was the key-note of his life. In the midst of his greatness he was humble, simple and gentle. He loved little children wherever he met them.
“One day, during the war, a number of little girls were rolling hoops on the sidewalks in Richmond, when General Lee came riding towards them. They stopped playing to gaze at so great a man. To their surprise, he threw his rein to his courier, dismounted, and kissed every one of them. Then mounting, he rode away, with a sunny smile of childhood in his heart and plans of great battles in his mind.”
“While in Petersburg, in the winter of 1864, he went to preaching one day at a crowded church, and saw a little girl, dressed in faded garments, standing just inside the door and looking for a seat. ‘Come with me, my little lady,’ said the great soldier, ‘and you shall sit by me.’ Thus the great chief and poor child sat side by side.”
Once when riding in the mountains with one of his daughters, they came upon a group of children who ran at the sight of him. General Lee called them back and asked:
“Why are you running away? Are you afraid of me?”
“Oh! no, sir; but we are not dressed nice enough to see you.”
“Why, who do you think I am?”
“You are General Lee. We know you by your picture.”
So great was the love of the people for Lee that, after the war, almost every home had some picture of the great chief.
General Lee knew all the children in Lexington whom he met in his walks and rides, and it was charming to see their joy when he would meet them.
Once, when calling upon the widow of General A. P. Hill, her little girl met him at the door and held out her puppy which she had named after our hero. “O, General Lee,” she cried, “here is ‘Bobby Lee’; do kiss him.” The great man made believe to kiss him and the child was delighted.
In one of the Sunday-schools of Lexington a prize was offered to the child who should bring in the most pupils.
A little boy of five went for his friend. General Lee, to get him to go to his school. When told that General Lee went to another school, he said with a deep sigh, “I am very sorry. I wish he could go to our school, and be my new scholar.”
General Lee thought it quite funny, and said kindly;
“Ah! C——, we must all try to be good Christians—that is the great thing. I can't go to your school to be your new scholar to-day. But I am very glad you asked me. It shows that you are zealous in a good cause, and I hope that you will ever be so as you grow up. And I do not want you to think that I am too old to go to Sunday- school. No one is ever too old to study the truths of the Bible.”
When he died, all the schools of Lexington were closed, and the children wept with the grown people when they heard that their kind friend was dead.
A gentleman tells this story, which is quite in keeping with General Lee's way of pleasing children:—
“When my little girl, about four years old, heard of General Lee's death, she said to me, ‘Father, I can never forget General Lee.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ ‘Because, when Maggie and I were playing at the gate the other day, and General Lee was riding by, he stopped and took off his hat and bowed to us and said, “Young ladies, don't you think this is the prettiest horse you ever saw?” And we said it was a very pretty horse. “Oh, no,” he said; “I want to know whether Traveler is not the very prettiest horse you ever saw in your life.” And when we looked at him, and saw how white and gay he was, we said, “Yes.” Then he laughed and said, “Well, if you think he is so pretty, I will just let you kiss him”; and then he rode off smiling, and I don't believe I can ever forget that.’ ”
GENERAL LEE ON TRAVELER.
Another gentleman, who was clerk of the faculty at Washington College, says that General Lee was very careful about little things. One day the clerk wrote a letter to some one at General Lee's request, in which he used the term “our students.” When General Lee looked at it, he said that he did not like the phrase “our students.” He said that we had no property rights in the young men, and he thought it best to say, “the students, not “our students.” The clerk struck out with his pen the word “our” and wrote “the.” He then brought the letter to General Lee. “This will not answer,” said he. “I want you to write the letter over.” So the clerk had to make a fresh copy.
One day General Lee directed him to go to the Mess Hall and measure for a stovepipe. “Set the stove in its place on its legs,” he said, “and measure the height to a point opposite the flue-hole, and then the space from the joint to the wall.” The man returned with the measure. “Did you set the stove on its legs?” asked the General. The clerk replied no; that the legs were packed up inside the stove, and that he simply allowed for the legs. “But I told you to put the stove on its legs and then measure. Go back and do as you were told,” said the General, who was always kind but meant to be obeyed.
The same gentleman remembers this amusing incident:—
One day they saw a gentleman coming up the lawn, and wondered who he was. General Lee shook hands with him as though he knew him, and chatted for some time. He tried in vain to remember his name. In the meantime Rev. J. William Jones, whose month it was to lead the services in the chapel, came up and whispered to General Lee to introduce the strange clergyman to him, so that he might ask him to conduct the services in his place. But General Lee, with his own ready tact, said: “Mr. Jones, it is time for service; you had better go in the chapel.”
After service, when he could do so without being heard, General Lee asked Mr. Jones to find out the stranger's name. He had met him in the Mexican war but could not recall his name. Mr. Jones did so, and General Lee, standing near, heard it, and then, without making it known that he had forgotten his friend of the Mexican war, introduced him to those who were near. He could not think of hurting the clergyman's feelings by letting him know that he had been forgotten.
General Lee was always careful not to injure what belonged to others.
“A Southern Girl” tells this story of him:
“When in Maryland, he gave strict orders that no harm should be done to property, and was once seen to get down from his horse and put up a fence-rail that his men had thrown down.”
This story of General Lee went the rounds of the Southern newspapers in 1864:—
“On the train to Petersburg, one very cold morning, a young soldier, with his arm in a sling, was making great efforts to put on his overcoat. In the midst of his trouble, an officer rose from his seat, went to him and kindly helped him, drawing the coat gently over the wounded arm, and then with a few kind words went back to his seat.
“Now, the officer was not clad in a fine uniform with a gilt wreath on his collar and many straps on his sleeves, but he had on a plain suit of gray, with only the three gilt stars which every Confederate colonel could wear. And yet, he was no other than our chief general, Robert E. Lee, who is not braver than he is good and modest.”
In the winter of 1864, some of the cavalry were moved to Charlottesville, in order to get food for their horses, and not having much to do, the officers began to attend dances. General Lee, hearing of this, wrote to his son Robert thus:—
“I am afraid that Fitz was anxious to get back to the ball. This is a bad time for such things. * * There are too many Lees on the committee. I like them all to be at battles, but I can excuse them at balls.”
It is said that during the seven days' battle, of which I have told you, he was sitting under a tree, the shades of evening hiding even the stars on his coat collar, when a doctor rode up and said:
“Old man, I have chosen that tree for my field hospital and I want you to get out of the way.”
“I will gladly give way when the wounded come up, but in the meantime there is plenty of room for both of us,” was the reply.
The angry man was about to make some retort when a staff officer rode up and spoke to his “old man” as General Lee.
The doctor then began to make excuse for his rudeness, but General Lee said quietly:
“It is no matter, Doctor; there is plenty of room till your wounded come up.”
This story is often told of him: In 1864, when General Lee was on the lines below Richmond, many soldiers came near him and thus brought to them the fire of the foe. He said to the soldiers: “Men, you had better go into the back-yard; they are firing up here and you might get hurt.”
The men obeyed, but saw their dear General walk across the yard and pick up some object and place it in a tree over his head. They found out that the object he had risked his life for was only a little bird which had fallen out of its nest. God had given the stern chief a heart so tender that he could pause amid a rain of shot and shell to care for a tiny fallen birdling.
General Lee dearly loved his horses. Once, when at the springs, he wrote to his clerk in Lexington and sent this message to his horse, Traveler: “Tell him I miss him dreadfully.”
Traveler lived only two years after the death of his master. In the summer of 1872, when he was fifteen years old, the fine, faithful animal, that had carried the General through the storms of war and the calm of his latter years, died of lock-jaw in Lexington. He was noted for his springy walk, high spirit, and great strength. When a colt, he was called Jeff. Davis. The General changed his name to Traveler. He was his most famous war-horse.
In the summer of 1862, General Lee owned a beautiful war-horse called Richmond, given to him by some friends in the city of Richmond. But, to the grief of his master, this pet was short-lived; and what he writes after his loss, sounds almost as if he were looking back to the death of a friend:
“His labors are over, and he is at rest. He carried me very faithfully, and I shall never have so beautiful an animal again.”
General Lee was noted for his want of hatred towards any one. He called the Northern soldiers “those people.” Once, in the midst of a fierce battle, he said to his son Robert, who was bravely working at a big gun, “That's right, my son; drive those people back.” When told of Jackson's fatal wound, his eye flashed fire and his face flushed as he thought of his great loss; but he quietly said:
“General Jackson's plans shall be carried out. Those people shall be driven back to-day.”
The Rev. J. William Jones says—that one day after the war, as he went up the street, he saw General Lee standing talking to a poor man. As the man walked away he said to him: “That is one of the old soldiers, and added, ‘he fought on the other side; but we must not think of that.’ ”
After the war, when at the springs, a lady friend pointed to a man near by and said to General Lee, “That is General——, of the Federal Army. He is having quite a dull time. He is here with his daughters, but we do not care to have anything to do with them.”
“I am glad that you told me,” said General Lee; “I will see at once that they have a better time.”
After that he took pains to make friends with “those people,” and so set the fashion for others. General —— and his daughters were soon having “a better time.”
General Lee was more than brave and tender; he was meek, yet with a heart big enough to love every one of his soldiers, and great enough to plan long marches and glorious battles.
After the battle of Gettysburg, one of his officers rode up and told him that his men were for the most part killed or wounded. Lee shook hands with him and said: “All this has been my fault. It is I who have lost this fight, and you must help me out as best you can.”
Not once did Lee cast the blame where it belonged, but rode among his men with such words of cheer as these: “All this will come right in the end.” “We want all good and true men just now.” “All good men must rally.” In this way he closed up his broken lines, and showed such a brave front that Meade did not deem it well to renew the fight.
PICKETT'S RETURN AFTER THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG.
Once, when some friends were at his house in Richmond, the Rev. Dr. —— spoke in sharp terms of the way in which the North had acted. General Lee said, “Well! it matters little what they may do to me; I am old, and have but a short time to live at best.”
When Dr. —— got up to go home, General Lee went with him to the door and said to him, “Doctor, there is a good book which I read, and which you preach from, which says, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.’ Do you think your speech just now quite in that spirit?”
When Dr. —— made some excuse, General Lee said: “I fought the people of the North because I believed that they were seeking to wrest from the South her rights. * * * I have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.”
One day during the war, as they were looking at the hosts of the foe, one of his generals said, “I wish those people were all dead!” General Lee, with that grace which was his own, said, “How can you say so? Now, I wish that they would all go home and leave us to do the same.
At the close of the war, some of our best men went to seek homes in other lands. This, General Lee deemed wrong. He thought that the men of the South should stay at home and build up what had been laid waste by war. He wrote to one of his friends thus: “She (Virginia) has need for all of her sons, and can ill afford to spare you.” Once more he wrote: “I think the South needs the aid of her sons more than at any time of her history. As you ask, I will state that I have no thought of leaving her.”
In a word, the welfare of the impoverished, desolated South was his chief concern. He kept in sight the honor of the South, but not that hate to the North which brought no good.
A lady who had lost her husband in the war, and had brought her two sons to college, spoke in sharp terms of the North to General Lee. He gently said: “Madam, do not train up your children as foes to the Government of the United States. * * We are one country now. Bring them up to be Americans.” Thus did this grand man, with a sad heart, try to do his duty at all times and on all occasions.
Though meek in the way I have told you, General Lee was at the same time too proud to take the aid which, from time to time, his friends would offer him. They knew that he had lost his “all” by the war, and felt that he should now be helped, so that he might pass his days without care. But this proud man would take no aid. When, in a quiet way, the trustees of the college gave the house in which he lived to Mrs. Lee, and also the sum of three thousand dollars each year, he wrote, in Mrs. Lee's name, a kind but firm letter and declined the gift.
After his death, they again deeded the home to Mrs. Lee and sent her a check for a large sum of money. But she, with the pride of her husband, sent back the check and would not let the funds of the college be taken for her use.
General Lee was always neat in his attire. This trait was the cause of much comment at the time of the “surrender.”
General Sharp, of the Federal Army, says:
“It was late in the day when it was known that General Lee had sent for General Grant. The surrender took place in the left-hand room of an old house which had a hall-way through it. In that room were a few officers, of whom I was one.
“A short space apart sat two men. The larger and taller of the two was the more striking. His hair was as white as snow. There was not a speck upon his coat; not a spot upon those gauntlets that he wore, which were as bright and fair as a lady's glove. That was Robert E. Lee. The other was Ulysses S. Grant. His boots were muddy, and he wore no sword.
“The words that passed between Lee and Grant were few. General Grant, while the men wrote out the terms of the surrender, said: ‘General Lee, I have no sword; I rode all night.’ And General Lee, with the pride which became him well, made no reply, but in a cold, formal way, bowed.
“Then General Grant, in the attempt to be polite, said: ‘I don't always wear a sword.’
“Lee only bowed again.
“Some one else then said: ‘General Lee, what became of the white horse you rode in Mexico? He may not be dead yet; he was not so old.’
“General Lee again bowed and said: ‘I left him at the White House, on the Pamunkey river, and I have not seen him since.’
“Then there were a few words, which we could not hear, spoken in a low tone of voice between Grant and Lee.
“At last, when the terms of surrender had all been signed, Lee arose, cold and proud, and bowed to each man on our side in the room. And then he went out and passed down that little square in front of the house, and mounted the gray horse that had carried him all over Virginia.
“When he had gone we learned what the low-toned words had meant. General Grant turned and said: ‘You go and ask each man that has three rations to turn over two of them, and send them on to General Lee. His men are on the point of starvation.‘ ’
This calm, proud man was the same who a few hours before had said: “Then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” His superb, proud mien won from the foe only praise and respect.
LEE AND GRANT.
I must here give you General Fitzhugh Lee's picture of the two generals at that time:
“Grant, not yet forty-three years old, five feet eight inches tall, shoulders slightly stooped, hair and beard nut-brown, wearing a dark-blue blouse; top-boots, pants inside; dark thread gloves; without spurs or sword, and no marks of rank save the straps of a general.
“Lee, fifty-eight years old, six feet tall, hair and beard silver-gray; a handsome uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned to the throat, with three stars on collar, fine top-boots with spurs, new gauntlets, and at his side a splendid sword.” Lee wore his best in honor of the cause for which he fought.
General Lee never touched tobacco, brandy or whiskey; he was always a sober man. Just as he was starting to the Mexican war, a lady in Virginia gave him a bottle of fine old whiskey, saying that he would be sure to need it, and that it was very fine. On his return home he sent the bottle, unopened, to his friend to convince her that he could get along without whiskey.
General Lee once proposed to treat some of his officers, saying, “I have a demijohn which I know is of the best.” The demijohn was brought, and the cups, held out for the treat, were filled to the brim—not with old “Rye,” but with fresh buttermilk, which a kind lady had sent. The General seemed to enjoy the joke hugely.
Being once asked to a fine dinner, he refused all the good dishes, and said to the lady of the house: “I cannot consent to be feasting while my poor men are nearly starving.”
It was his way to send any nice thing he might have to the sick and wounded in the hospitals.
A lady relates that when her brother was badly wounded near Petersburg, he was taken to a tent near a hospital, out of range of the fire of the foe. One day General Lee came riding up and went in to see the wounded man. He took him gently by the hand and told him to cheer up and get well; that he had use for all brave men like him. Then he drew two fine peaches from his pocket and laid them on the side of the cot.
Tears trickled down the wounded man's pale cheeks as he listened to these kind words, and felt that his chief cared so much for him, a private soldier.
Near the close of the war, when meat had become quite scarce, an aide of President Davis', being at headquarters, was asked to dine. The meal spread on the rough board was corn-bread, and a small piece of meat in a large mess of greens. The aid saw that the meat was not touched, though General Lee had asked all to take a piece of it. When the meal was over, the aide asked one of the men why the meat was not eaten. The reply was, that it had been loaned by a friend to cook with the greens, and had to be returned.
It was General Lee's wish to fare just as his men did. When, during the siege of Petersburg, Mrs. Lee, fearing the great strain would be too much for him begged him to take more care of his health, he wrote: “But what care can a man give to himself in time of war?” He then went on to say that he lived in a tent in order to be near his men and the officers with whom he had to act; that he bad been offered rooms by kind friends, but that he could hot turn their homes into a camp.
An English officer wrote this account of Lee's headquarters in 1862: “Lee's headquarters I found were only seven or eight pole-tents, with their backs to a stake-fence, while a little stream of good water flowed close by. In front of the tents were three wagons, and a number of horses roamed over the fields. No guards were seen near, and no crowd of aids swarmed about. A large farm-house stood close by, which would have made a good home for the General, but Lee does not let his men rob or disturb the people, and likes to set them a good example.”
It was in this way that he gained the great love of his men.
A short time after the surrender, two ragged Confederates, just from prison in the North, waited upon the General and said that there were sixty other fellows around the corner who were too ragged to come. They had sent these two to offer their loved chief a home in the mountains of Virginia. “We will give you,” said one of them, “a good house and a fine farm. We boys will work for you and you shall never want.”
Tears came to the eyes of General Lee as he told them that he must decline their gift. The offer of these men was but the feeling of the whole South. Though poor themselves, they would have given him houses, lands and money had he let them.
Just after the war, General Lee received the following letter from one of his old soldiers:
“We have been fighting hard four years, and now the Yankees have got us in Libby Prison. They are treating us awful bad. The boys want you to get us out if you can ; but if you can't, just ride by the Libby and let us see you and give you a cheer. We will all feel better for it.”
This letter touched the tender heart of Lee, as well as this story which was told to him by Rev. J. William Jones: After the war, the latter was riding along a road one day, when he saw a young man plowing in a field, guiding the plow with one hand, for on the other side was an empty sleeve.
He soon saw that the man plowing was a soldier whom he had known, and stopped to speak to him. In fact, he had known the young man from boyhood; how, at the first tap of the drum he had gone to fight for his native State; and how he had been maimed for life, and had gone home to find that he must work with one arm for his bread, as his fortune had been wrecked by the war. When he told the young man how sad it made him to see him thus, the latter said: “Oh! it is all right. I thank God that I have one arm left, and can use it for those I love.”
When the Rev. Mr. Jones told this to General Lee, his face flushed, and he said: “What a noble fellow! But it is just like one of our soldiers. The world has never seen nobler men than those who belonged to the Army of Northern Virginia.”
The real corner-stone of Lee's life was his trust in God. Whatever came to him he always said, “God's will be done.”
The death of the wife of his son, General W. H. Fitzhugh Lee, gave General Lee much grief. The former General was wounded and taken prisoner. While in prison his lovely wife died. In this bitter grief, General Lee wrote to his son these words:
“My whole trust is in God, and I am ready for whatever He may ordain.”
While the army was at Mine Run, in November, 1863, and a battle was at hand, General Lee, with a number of officers riding down the line of battle, came upon a party of soldiers who were holding a prayer-meeting. The shooting had begun along the lines, the cannon were already roaring, and the mind and heart of the great chief were on the battle. Yet, as he saw these men bent in prayer, he dismounted and joined in the simple worship. So these humble men led the devotions of their loved General.
One day in 1865, while riding along the lines with his staff, General Lee met the Rev. J. William Jones, who was giving tracts to the men in the trenches. He at once reined in his horse and spoke to this “man of God,” while the officers crowded around.
General Lee asked if he ever had calls for prayer-books, and said that if he would come to his headquarters he would give him some—that a friend in Richmond had given him a new book; and upon his saying to his friend that he would give his old book, that he had used ever since the Mexican war, to some soldier, the friend offered him a dozen new books for the old one. He had, of course, taken so grand an offer, and now had twelve, in place of one, to give away.
When the Rev. Mr. Jones called, General Lee was out, but had left the books for Mr. Jones with one of his staff. He had written on the fly-leaf of each book, “Presented by R. E. Lee.”
We are sure that if any of these books were saved amid the din and stress of war, they are now much prized by those who own them.
These are some of the words which General Lee would use when his army had gained the day: “Thanks be to God.” “God has again crowned the valor of our troops with success.”
Again, upon a fast-day, he said in an order, “Soldiers! let us humble ourselves before the Lord our God, asking, through Christ, the forgiveness of our sins.”
With the close of the war, the piety of this great man seemed to increase. His seat at church was always filled, unless he was kept away by sickness, and he was ever ready for good works. He did not find fault with preachers, as so many do, but was most fond of those who were simple and true to the teachings of the Bible.
Once he said to a friend: “Do you think that it would be any harm for me to hint to Mr. —— that we should be glad if he made his morning prayers a little short? You know our friend makes this prayer too long. He prays for the Jews, the Turks, and the heathen, and runs into the hour for our College recitations. Would it be wrong for me to hint to Mr. —— that he confine his morning prayers to us poor sinners at the College, and pray for the Turks, the Jews, the Chinese, and other heathen some other time?”
General Lee was a constant reader of the Bible. One of his friends relates that, as he watched beside his body the day after death, he picked up from the table a well-worn pocket Bible, in which was written in his own hand, “R. E. Lee, Lieutenant-Colonel of U.S. Army.” This little book had been the light of his pathway through many trials.
General Lee gave freely of his small means to his church and to the poor. At a vestry meeting which took place the evening of his illness, the sum of fifty-five dollars was needed for the pay of the Sector. Though he had before given his share, General Lee said in a low voice, “I will give the sum.” These were the last words he spoke to the vestry, and this giving was his last public act.
His love for his wife and children is shown by the tender, loving letters he wrote when away from them. During the Civil War his anxiety for them was great.
Just before the Northern army crossed the Potomac, in 1861, Mrs. Lee left her beautiful home, Arlington, and came South. Arlington was at once seized by the Northern Government, and the grounds were taken for a burial-place for the Northern soldiers.
Mrs. Lee and her daughters then sought a home at the “White House,” on the Pamunkey River, where Washington married the “Widow Custis,” and which had been left by Mr. Custis to one of General Lee's sons. Mrs. Lee and her daughters were soon driven from there by the hosts of McClellan, and the house was burned to the ground. At last, they found a home in Richmond, where they lived until the close of the war.
RESIDENCE OF GENERAL LEE IN RICHMOND.
Mrs. Lee's health had failed, but a large part of her time was spent in knitting socks for the poor bare-footed soldiers of the South. Her brave daughters, also, knit socks, and nursed the sick and wounded soldiers.
Those were sad times, and the Lee family suffered most heavily.
The death of her noble husband was a great shock to Mrs. Lee, who was then not able to walk without aid. She did not survive him many years, and now rests beside him in the College chapel at Lexington, Virginia. Their daughter Agnes, who died shortly after her father, is buried in the same place.
MARY CUSTIS LEE.
Close by is the grave of Stonewall Jackson. How meet that these two friends and heroes should rest so near each other!
The blue mountains of their loved Virginia keep “watch and ward” over their graves; and each year, pilgrims from every part of the land come to visit their tombs and place fresh flowers and green wreaths upon them.
General Custis Lee was made President of the College in his father's place. The College is now called the “Washington and Lee University,” after Washington and Lee, the two great names in the history of our country.
Cŏn´cōurse, a crowd of people.
Cou´rier (kōō´rier), a man who carries an order for an officer.
Pĭl´grim, a traveler to holy places.
What General Lee became in 1865.
Something about his work.
His visit to the South in 1870.
His illness and death.
What day is kept throughout the South in memory of Lee?
About Mrs. Lee.
The tomb of Lee.
Washington and Lee University.
LEE'S COURT OF ARMS.
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