Valley Mt: 17 Sept ’61

I recd dear Mary your letter of the 5th by Beverly T[urner].1 who is a nice young soldier. I am pained to see fine young men like him, of education & standing from all the old & respectable families in the State Serving in the ranks. I hope in time they will receive their reward. I met him as I was returning from an expedition to the enemys works, which I had hoped to have Surprised on the morg of the 12th, both at Cheat Mt & on [Tygart’s] Valley river. All the attacking parties with great labour had reached their destination, over mountains considered impassable to bodies of troops, notwithstanding a heavy storm that set in the day before & raged all night, in which they had to stand up till daylight. Their arms were then unserviceable & they in poor Condition for a fierce assault against arty & superior numbers. After waiting till 10 o’clock, for the assault on Cheat Mt which did not take place & which was to have been the signal for the rest, they were withdrawn, & after waiting three days in front of the enemy, hoping he would Come out of his trenches, we returned to our position at this place.

I Cannot tell you my regret & mortification at the untoward events that caused the failure of the plan. I had taken every precaution to ensure success & counted on it. But the ruler of the Universe willed otherwise & sent a storm to disconcert a well laid plan, & to destroy my hopes. We are no worse off now than before, except the disclosure of our plan, against which they will guard.

We met with one heavy loss which grieves me deeply, Col: [John A.] Washington2 accompd Fitzhugh on a reconnoitering expedition, & I fear they were carried away by their zeal & approached within the enemies pickets. The first they knew was a volley from a concealed party within a few yards of them. Their balls passed through the Cols body. Three struck F[itzhugh]’s horse, & the horse of one of the men was killed. F mounted the Col’s horse & brought him off. I am much grieved. He was always anxious to go on these expeditions. This was the first day I assented. Since I had been thrown in Such intimate relations with him, I had learned to appreciate him very highly. Morg & evg have I seen his on his knees praying to his maker.

“The righteous perisheth & no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to Come.”3 May God have mercy on us all!

I suppose you are at the Hot springs & will direct to you there. Our poor sick I know suffer much. They bring it on themselves, by not doing what they are told. They are worse than children for the latter can be forced.

Custis writes the girls have gone to Carters. They did not get your letter in time. I hope I may be able to get there before you leave. I may have to go to the Kanawha & if so will write to you from Lewisburg.

Fitzhugh is very well. Charlotte writes the baby is better.

Love to daughter.

Truly yours

R E Lee

I am much obliged to you for your offer of socks. I should like to have ½ doz good thick cotton socks if you could get them knit & have the cotton.


1. Beverly Turner, son of Edward C. Turner of “Kinloch.” He served in the 9th Virginia cavalry during the war and eventually on the staff of George Washington Custis Lee.

2. John A. Washington (1821-1861) was a great grandnephew of George Washington and the last member of the Washington family to own Mount Vernon. He married Eleanor Love Seldon and lived at “Waveland” in Fauquier County before the war. He served on Robert E. Lee’s staff during the general’s campaign in western Virginia. Washington was killed on 1861 September 13. He is buried at Zion Episcopal churchyard in Charles Town, West Virginia. 

3. Isaiah 57:1.

Source: Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51 c 315, Section 16, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 January 10