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Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was an American and Confederate soldier, best known as a commander of the Confederate States Army. He commanded the Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 until his surrender in 1865.A son of Revolutionary War officer Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III, Lee was a top graduate of the United States Military Academy and an exceptional officer and military engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. During this time, he served throughout the United States, distinguished himself during the Mexican–American War, and served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy.Fitzhugh Lee (1835 - 1905) was a Confederate cavalry general in the American Civil War, the 40th Governor of Virginia, diplomat, and United States Army general in the Spanish–American War. He was the son of Sydney Smith Lee, a captain in the Confederate States Navy, and the nephew of General Robert E. Lee.
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His Nephew and Cavalry Commander
Copyright © Fitzhugh Lee
Arcadia Press 2017
The occasion has been embraced to express the universal regret that General Lee never wrote anything concerning his career and campaigns. His statements would have settled conflicting opinions on all subjects contained therein. We know that it was his intention to record the deeds of his soldiers, but not to write his personal memoirs. He waited for a “convenient season,” and waited too long. In this volume the attempt has been made to imperfectly supply the great desire to have something from Robert E. Lee’s pen, by introducing, at the periods referred to, such extracts from his private letters as would be of general interest. He is thus made, for the first time, to give his impressions and opinions on most of the great events with which he was so closely connected. Except in a few instances, the scope of the book has not permitted the tactical details of the battlefield, or the mention by name of many of the officers and organizations whose superb courage contributed to their commander’s fame.
F. L. Glasgow, Va., August, 1894.
Westmoreland is one of a group of counties in Virginia lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. It was originally a portion of Northumberland County, and, though small in geographical extent, its historical record is great. Within a space of thirty miles in length and an average width of fifteen miles were born statesmen, soldiers, and patriots whose lives and characters adorn the pages of American history, and whose courage, genius, and learning are the proud inheritance of those who dwell to-day in the powerful republic of America. Here, from England, in 1665, settled the great-grandfather of the “Father of his country.” Americanized, he became an extensive planter, soldier, magistrate, member of the House of Burgesses, and a gentleman whose virtue and piety were undoubted. In his will he expressed his “sorrow for his sins, and begged forgiveness from Almighty God, Saviour, and Redeemer.” Here his son, Lawrence, and his grandson, Augustine, were born. The second wife of Augustine was Mary Ball, and their first child, born February 22, 1732, was named George Washington.
This son was destined to establish, with stainless sword, a free republic, and by great skill, unfaltering faith, and sublime patriotism transfer power from king to people. A grateful country acknowledged his illustrious services, and he was chosen the first President of the United States. This little county was not satisfied with the high honor. On April 28, 1758, James Monroe was born within its limits. He became a distinguished citizen, served as an officer in the Revolutionary War, was a member of the General Assembly of Virginia, of the Congress of Confederation, and the Virginia Convention called in June, 1778, to consider the Federal Constitution, a United States Senator, envoy to France, England, and Spain, twice Governor of his native State, Secretary of State in Mr. Madison’s administration, and President of the republic for two terms from 1817 to 1825 — thus adding, by a long and meritorious public career, additional renown to the county of his birth, his State, and his country. James Madison, fourth President of the United States, was born in the adjoining county of King George seven years before Monroe, and but a few miles distant. To this section, from England, came, too, the Lees, who belonged to one of the oldest families in the mother country, its members from a very early date being distinguished for eminent services to sovereign and country. By the side of William the Conqueror, at the battle of Hastings, in 1066, Lancelot Lee fought, and a later descendant, Lionel Lee, followed Richard Coeur de Lion, taking part in the third crusade to Palestine, in 1192, at the head of a company of “gentlemen cavaliers,” displaying great bravery at the siege of Acre.
The Lees of Virginia, “a family which has, perhaps, given more statesmen and warriors to their new home than any other of our old colonial progenitors,” came of an ancient and distinguished stock in England, and neither country can boast a nobler scion than the subject of these memoirs. General Lee had never the time or inclination to study genealogy, and always said he knew nothing beyond his first American ancestor, Colonel Richard Lee, who migrated to Virginia in the reign of Charles I. He believed, however, from his inherited traditions and the Coat of Arms borne by his progenitors in this country, that his family came originally from Shropshire, England; and when the world rang with his name and fame, and he paid the usual penalty of greatness by being besieged with reiterated queries respecting his pedigree, this was all he would say. Others, however, took more interest in the subject; he was claimed by the Lees of Cheshire, Oxfordshire, Bucks, and Essex, as well as of Shropshire, and much was said and written pro and con both before and after his death.
In recent years his genealogy has been very persistently and thoroughly investigated by those learned in antiquarian research, and their conclusion is in favor of Shropshire, though in 1663 the first emigrant, Colonel Richard Lee, made a will in which he states that he was “lately of Stafford Langton in the county of Essex.” Now, as we have every reason to believe that he was a younger son, the parental nest was probably full; neither was it such a “far cry” from Shropshire to the near vicinity of London, a remove preparatory, possibly, to the still greater one across the Atlantic. He certainly used the arms of the Shropshire Lees.
Colonel Lee’s devotion to the House of Stuart was notorious, and had been often proved even by the manner of dating his will — viz., “The 6th of February, in the sixteenth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord, Charles II, King of Great Britain, etc., and in the year of our Lord 1663.” Being Secretary of State and Member of the Privy Council in Virginia, he had assisted that stanch royalist, Governor Berkeley,in holding the colony to its allegiance, so that after the death of Charles I, Cromwell was forced to send troops and armed vessels of war to reduce it to subjection. Unable to resist, they made a treaty with the “Commonwealth of England,” wherein Virginia was described as an “Independent Dominion,” this treaty being ratified in the same manner as with a foreign power.
Berkeley was then removed and another governor appointed; but the undaunted Colonel Richard Lee hired a Dutch vessel, freighted it himself, went to Brussels or Breda, surrendered up Sir William Berkeley’s old commission — for the government of that province — and received a new one from his present Majesty, Charles II, “a loyal action and deserving my commendation.” It is also said that he offered the exiled monarch an asylum in the New World. It is certain that on the death of Cromwell he aided Governor Berkeley in proclaiming Charles II in Virginia King of England, Scotland, France, Ireland, and Virginia two years before his “restoration” in England. In consequence, the motto to the Virginia Coat of Arms was “En dat Virginia quintam” until after the union of England and Scotland, when it was “En dat Virginia quartam.”
The inscription on the tombstone of the second Richard Lee, at Burnt House Fields, Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, describes him as belonging to an “ancient and noble family of Morton Regis in Shropshire.” It is clearly established that the three earliest representatives of the family in America, Colonel Richard Lee and his two eldest sons, claimed this Shropshire County descent.
It is our purpose to trace the Lees in America, not in England. The first emigrant, Colonel Richard Lee, is described as a man of good stature, of comely visage, enterprising genius, a sound head, vigorous spirit, and generous nature; and when he reached Virginia, at that time not much cultivated, he was so pleased with the country that he made large settlements with the servants who accompanied him. To his credit it may be added that when he returned to England, some years afterward, he “gave away all the lands he had taken up, and settled at his own expense, to the servants he had fixed on them, some of whose descendants are now possessed of very considerable estates in that colony.”
After remaining some time in England he again visited Virginia with a fresh band of followers whom he also established there. He first settled in York County in 1641, where he was burgess and justice in 1647, and when later he removed to the “Northern neck,” between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, he filled the offices of Secretary of State and Member of the Privy Council. Of his loyalty to the house of Stuart we have already spoken, and of his various voyages, indicating in themselves his “enterprising genius.” When he made his will in London, in 1663, he was returning on what proved to be his last voyage. He had with him his large, young family, his eldest son John not yet being of age; but he was so determined to establish them in Virginia that he ordered an English estate — Stratford — worth eight or nine hundred pounds per annum, to be sold and the money divided between his heirs. He died soon after his return, and as John, the B. A. of Oxford, never married, Richard, the second son, succeeded to the homestead in Westmoreland. He also graduated at Oxford in law, and was distinguished for his learning, spending almost his whole life in study. On October 15, 1667, as “Major Richard Lee, a loyal, discreet person and worthy of the place,” he was appointed member of the council. He was born in 1647, married Letitia Corbin, and died in 1714, leaving five sons and one daughter. His eldest son, Richard, the third of the name, married and settled in London, though his children eventually returned to Virginia. Philip removed to Maryland in 1700, and was the progenitor of the Lee family in that State. Francis, the third son, died a bachelor, but Thomas, the fourth, with only a common Virginia education (it could not have been much in those days), had such strong natural parts that he became a good Latin and Greek scholar, long after he was a man, without any assistance but his own genius. Though a younger son, with only a limited patrimony, by his “industry and parts” he acquired a considerable fortune, was a member of the council, and so well known and respected that when his house in Westmoreland burned down Queen Caroline sent him a large sum of money out of her privy purse, with an autograph letter. Stratford was rebuilt on an imposing scale, and, becoming the property of “Light-horse Harry,” on his marriage with Matilda, daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee and granddaughter of Thomas, was eventually the birthplace of General R. E. Lee. On the recall of Sir William Gooch, Thomas became president and commander in chief over the colony, in which station he continued some time, until the King thought proper to appoint him governor, and he is always spoken of as the first native governor, though he died in 1750, before his commission could reach him. He married Hannah Ludwell, of an old and honorable Somersetshire family, originally of German extraction, and left six sons and two daughters.
Stratford is still standing in Westmoreland County, an object of much veneration and respect. Within its walls, in the same chamber, two signers of the Declaration of Independence were born, while the fact that Robert Edward Lee first saw the light there makes it yet more interesting. It is a large, stately mansion, built in the shape of the letter “H,” and not far from the banks of the Potomac. Upon the roof were summer houses, with chimneys for columns, where the band played in the evenings, and the ladies and gentlemen promenaded. Thomas Lee was buried at Pope’s Creek Church, five miles from Stratford. George Washington was baptized at this church, and in the early days his family, the Lees, Paynes, and other prominent families of the neighborhood worshiped there.
It has been said that as Westmoreland County is distinguished above all other counties in Virginia as the birthplace of genius, so, perhaps, no other Virginian could boast so many distinguished sons as President Thomas Lee. General Washington, in 1771, wrote: “I know of no country that can produce a family all distinguished as clever men, as our Lees.” These sons in order of age were: Philip Ludwell, Richard Henry, Thomas, Francis Lightfoot, Henry, and Arthur. Matilda, the first wife of General Henry Lee, the father of General Robert E. Lee, was the daughter of the eldest son, Philip Ludwell Lee. Richard Henry Lee, the second son, is well known to students of American history. He has been generally styled “The Cicero of the American Revolution.” He moved on June 10, 1776, that “these colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States”; and with his brother Francis Lightfoot signed the Declaration of Independence. Having moved this declaration, according to parliamentary etiquette, he might have been appointed chairman of the committee to draw up the instrument, but the sickness of his wife called him home; or he might also have been the author of the Declaration of American Independence in place of Thomas Jefferson. His services to the cause of the colony were great, and their struggle for independence was sustained by his tongue and pen. He was a great orator, an accomplished scholar, a learned debater, and a renowned statesman in that period of our country’s history. His father’s brother, Henry Lee, the fifth son of the second Richard, married a Miss Bland, a great-aunt of John Randolph, of Roanoke. His only daughter married a Fitzhugh. His son Henry married Miss Grymes, and left a family of six sons and four daughters. Henry, the eldest, was the well-known “Light-horse Harry” of the Revolutionary War, the father of Robert E. Lee. He and Richard Henry Lee are frequently confounded, and their relationship has often been the subject of inquiry. Richard Henry Lee’s father, Thomas, and Henry Lee’s grandfather, Henry, were brothers. The former was therefore a first cousin of the latter’s father. “Light-horse Harry” was conspicuous in the military and civil annals of his country as a dashing dragoon in the war between Great Britain and the colonies. His boldness and activity were frequently commended by Washington, and he came out of the war with a brilliant reputation. He possessed the love and confidence of the commander in chief, and it is possible that Washington’s interest was first excited because he was once supposed to have had a tender feeling for Lucy Grymes, his mother, a friendship which was continued by reason of the attractive qualities of the son as soldier and statesman. This attachment was deeply appreciated by General Henry Lee, and throughout his career he was steadfast in his devotion to Washington.
“Light-Horse Harry’s” father, Henry Lee, of Leesylvania, and Lucy Grymes were married at Green Spring, on James River, December 1, 1753. His mother was the daughter of Lucy Ludwell, who married Colonel Grymes, of the Council of Virginia. Bishop Porteus, of England, was her uncle. Their son Henry was born January 29, 1756, at Leesylvania, some three miles from Dumfries, a village built by Scotch merchants, and then the county town of Prince William. His brother, Charles Lee (not to be confounded with General Charles Lee, an Englishman, and no relation to this family), was subsequently Attorney General in Washington’s second Cabinet. The future cavalry leader was educated at Princeton. Dr. William Shippen writes to Richard Henry Lee from Philadelphia, August 25, 1770: “I am persuaded that there is no such school as Princeton on this continent. Your cousin Henry Lee is in college, and will be one of the first fellows in this country. He is more than strict in his morality, has fine genius, and is diligent.” The profession of law was thought best for the display of his talents, and he was about to embark for England to study it, under the direction of Bishop Porteus, of London, when stopped by hostilities between the mother country and her American colonies.
Possessing fine descriptive powers, application, great facility for public expression, and with character formed and mind trained by such a distinguished light of the Church of England, a great legal future would seem a safe prediction; but before the smoke cleared away from the first British gun fired in Massachusetts, its report was heard in Virginia. The English volley lighted patriotic fires in the hearts of the colonists with the rapidity electricity flies in this age from the touch of the button. The sword was substituted for the law book in the hands of Henry Lee, and we find him, at the age of nineteen, after the battle of Lexington, a captain of cavalry, being nominated for that position by Patrick Henry, the orator of American liberty. He rose rapidly in his new career. In the Northern Department at Brandywine, Germantown, Springfield, and in the operations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, his address, cool courage, great ability, and unceasing activity as an outpost officer speedily drew the attention of his superiors. Congress recognized his services, promoted him, and gave him an independent partisan corps. Ever thereafter his position in the war was near the flashing of the guns. His duties kept him close to the enemy’s lines, and his legion was what cavalry should be — the eyes and ears of the army. His communications to Washington were confidential, were sent direct, and he was ordered by the commander in chief to mark them “Private.” When Washington was anxious to effect Arnold’s capture he consulted the commander of the “Light horse,” who planned the famous desertion of Sergeant Champe. He projected and executed the surprise and capture of Paulus Hook by a brilliant coup de main, and for prudence, bravery, and tactical skill was presented by Congress with a gold medal emblematical of his success — a distinction conferred on no other officer below the rank of general during the war. On one side of the medal was a bust of the hero, with the words: “Henry Lee, Legionis Equit.: Praefecto Comitia Americana,” and on the reverse is translated: “Nothwithstanding rivers and intrenchments, he, with a small band, conquered the foe by warlike skill and prowess, and firmly bound, by his humanity, those who had been conquered by his arms. In memory of the conflict at Paulus Hook, 19th August, 1779.”
In November, 1780, he was promoted to be lieutenant colonel of dragoons, and his corps is spoken of as the “finest that made its appearance in the arena of the Revolutionary War.” Washington had it formed expressly for him of equal proportions of cavalry and infantry, both officers and men being picked from the army. Under its victorious guidons rode Peter Johnston, the father of the distinguished soldier, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, who joined the legion when only sixteen years old and led the forlorn hope at the storming of Fort Watson, and was publicly thanked. Afterward he became a judge, and was celebrated for his learning and ability. It is curious that the sons of Judge Johnston and General Henry Lee were afterward classmates at the United States Military Academy, and at the marriage ceremony of Lee, Johnston was a groomsman. These two eminent soldiers were in the front rank of the United States Army, and served with great distinction under the Southern flag, even as their fathers rode boot to boot in the days of the Revolution. When Henry Lee’s legion was selected to assist in the defense of the Carolinas and the Virginias in the Southern Department, Washington wrote to Mr. John Matthews, a member of Congress from South Carolina, informing him of its march, saying: “Lee’s corps will go to the southward; it is an excellent one, and the officer at the head of it has great reserves of genius.” Lafayette held the leader of the legion in high estimation, and bears testimony to his “distinguished services,” his “talents as a corps commander,” and his “handsome exploits”; while one of the general officers of the army said: “He seemed to have come out of his mother’s womb a soldier.” General Nathanael Greene, his immediate commander, testified that “few officers, either in America or Europe, were held in so high a point of estimation,” in a letter to the President of Congress, February 18, 1782, expressed himself as “more indebted to this officer [Lee] than any other for the advantages gained over the enemy in the operations of the last campaign,” and in a letter to Lee himself writes: “No man in the progress of the campaign had equal merit with yourself, nor is there one so reported; everybody knows I have the highest opinion of you as an officer, and you know I love you as a friend.” After the British colors were lowered at Yorktown Henry Lee began a civil career which proved to be as great as his military record. In 1778 he was a member of the convention called in Virginia to consider the ratification of the Federal Constitution. In the battle of intellectual giants composing that body, with eloquence and zeal he pleaded for its adoption. By his side, and voting with him on that important question, were such men as James Madison, John Marshall, afterward Chief Justice of the United States, and Edmund Randolph; while in the ranks of the opposition stood Patrick Henry with immense oratorical strength, George Mason, “the wisest man,” Mr. Jefferson said, he “ever knew,” Benjamin Harrison, William Grayson, and others, who thought the Constitution, as it came from the hands of its framers, conferred too much power on the Federal Government and too little upon its creator, the States. In 1786 he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. From 1792 to 1795 he was Governor of Virginia, and was selected by President Washington to command the fifteen thousand men from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, who were sent into western Pennsylvania to quell what was known as the “Whisky Insurrection,” which he successfully accomplished without bloodshed. This rebellion grew out of a resistance to a tax laid on distilled spirits. Washington accompanied him on the march as far as Bedford, Pa., and in a letter, dated October 20, 1794, to Henry Lee, Esq., commander in chief of the militia army on its march against the insurgents in certain counties of western Pennsylvania, says at its conclusion: “In leaving the Army I have less regret, as I know I commit it to an able and faithful direction, and that this direction will be ably and faithfully seconded by all.”
While Governor of Virginia, a section lying under the Cumberland Mountains, projecting between Kentucky and Tennessee, was formed into a separate county and named after him. It has since been divided into two, the eastern portion being called after General Winfield Scott. In 1779 General Lee was elected to Congress, and on the death of General Washington was appointed to deliver an address in commemoration of the services of that great man, in which occurs the famous sentence so often quoted: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow-citizens.” In 1798-99, as a representative of the County of Westmoreland in the General Assembly, he took an active part in the debate upon Mr. Madison’s famous resolutions of that date. In his opinion, the laws of the United States then under discussion were unconstitutional, and if they were, Virginia had a right to object; “but,” he exclaimed, “Virginia is my country; her will I obey, however lamentable the fate to which it may subject me.”
When he was Governor of Virginia, six years before, his native State occupied the first place in his heart. In reply to a letter from Mr. Madison, dated Philadelphia, January 21, 1792, asking him if he would relinquish his office and accept command of an army to be organized for the protection of the western frontier, he writes: “Were I called upon by the President to command the next campaign, my respect for him would induce me to disregard every trifling obstruction which might oppose my acceptance of the office, such as my own repose, the care of my children and the happiness I enjoy in attention to their welfare, and in the execution of the duties of my present station. As a citizen, I should hold myself bound to obey the will of my country in taking any part her interests may demand from me. Therefore I am, upon this occasion, in favor of obedience to any claim which may be made on me. Yet I should require some essential stipulations — only to secure a favorable issue to the campaign.” After speaking of how formidable the enemy was, he adds: “One objection I should only have (the above conditions being acceded to), and that is, the abandoning of my native county, to whose goodness I am so much indebted; no consideration on earth could induce me to act a part, however gratifying to me, which could be construed into disregard or faithlessness to this Commonwealth.”
His great son therefore inherited this doctrine. It was branded into his brain and flowed through his veins; so that later when he had to meet the question of serving under the flag of the United States or of obeying the will of Virginia, he drew his sword in defense of his mother Commonwealth. When the war was declared with England in 1812, Henry Lee was living in Alexandria, having moved there to facilitate the education of his children; he was offered, and accepted at once, a major general’s commission in the army. Before entering upon his duties he went to Baltimore on business, and while there visited the house of Mr. Hanson, the editor of the Federal Republican. “When he was about to leave he found the house surrounded by an angry mob, who were offended with the editor for his articles in opposition to the war; as his friend’s life was threatened, he determined to assist him in resisting the attack of the mob. The results of that night proved nearly fatal to General Lee, and were disgraceful to party spirit.” The injuries he received at the hands of the excited mob prevented him from entering upon the campaign, obliged him to go to the West Indies for his health, and ultimately caused his death. While abroad, amid the fatal march of his disease, his heart turned ever to his home and family. His letters to his son, Charles Carter Lee, have been preserved, and are literary models, the object being to impress religion, morality, and learning upon his children, as well as to manifest his great affection for those left behind. “Fame,” he writes, “in arms or art, is naught unless betrothed to virtue.” And then: “You know I love my children, and how dear Smith is to me. Give me a true description of his mind, temper, and habits. Tell me of Anne. Has she grown tall? And how is my last, in looks and understanding? Robert was always good, and will be confirmed in his happy turn of mind by his ever-watchful and affectionate mother; does he strengthen his native tendency?” He wanted to know, too, whether his sons rode and shot well, bearing in mind a Virginian’s solicitude always that his sons should be taught to ride, shoot, and tell the truth.
In his opinion, Hannibal was a greater soldier than Alexander or Caesar; for he thought an ardent excitement of the mind in defending menaced rights brings forth the greatest display of genius, of which, forty-four years afterward, his great son was an illustrious example. On June 18, 1817, from Nassau, he writes: “This is the day of the month when your dear mother became my wife, and it is not so hot in this tropical region as it was then at Shirley. Since that happy day, marked only by the union of two humble lovers, it has become conspicuous as the day our war with Great Britain was declared in Washington, and the one that sealed the doom of Bonaparte on the field of Waterloo. The British general, rising gradatim from his first blow struck in Portugal, climbed on that day to the summit of fame, and became distinguished by the first of titles, ‘Deliverer of the Civilized World.’ Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar, among the ancients; Marlborough, Eugene, Turenne, and Frederick, among the moderns, opened their arms to receive him as a brother in glory.”
Again he tells him “that Thales, Pittacus, and others in Greece taught the doctrine of morality almost in our very words, ‘Do unto others as you would they should do unto you,’ and directs his son’s attention to the fact that the beautiful Arab couplet, written three centuries before Christ, announced the duty of every good man, even in the moment of destruction, not only to forgive, but to benefit the destroyer, as the sandal tree, in the instant of its overthrow, sheds perfume on the axe that fells it.” The principles sought to be inculcated in these admirable letters will be found running through their lives, lodged firmly in their characters, and their constant reappearance in the life of one of them is an evidence of the impression made.
At the expiration of nearly five years, finding that there was no hope of his ultimate recovery, he determined to return to his family and friends. In January, 1818, he took passage in a New England schooner bound from Nassau to New Providence and Boston. On nearing the coast of the United States he became so much worse that he requested the captain to direct his course to Cumberland Island, lying off the coast of Georgia. He knew that his former trusted friend, General Nathanael Greene, had an estate there, and that there resided his married daughter, Mrs. James Shaw. Next to dying within the limits of his native State he preferred to furl the flag of a celebrated career under the generous roof and kindly influence of the hospitable daughter of a beloved brother soldier. He was landed at “Dungeness,” known as the most beautiful and attractive residence on the Georgia coast, and here he was lovingly received and tenderly cared for. From the window of his sick-room “an extensive view of the Atlantic Ocean, of Cumberland Sound, and the low-lying verdant shores of Georgia could be seen upon the one side, while upon the other lay attractive gardens and groves of oranges and olives, while grand live oaks swayed solemnly to and fro loaded with pendent moss.”
General Henry Lee’s sufferings, consequent upon the injuries received in Baltimore, were intense. Mrs. Shaw, General Greene’s daughter, said that after his arrival at “Dungeness” they still continued, and that a surgical operation was proposed as offering some hope of prolonging his life; but he replied that an eminent physician, to whose skill and care during his sojourn in the West Indies he was much indebted, had disapproved a resort to the proposed operation. His surgeon in attendance still urging it, he put an end to the discussion by saying: “My dear sir, were the great Washington alive and here, joining you in advocating it, I would still resist.” His agony at times was very great, causing irritation to overcome his rarely failing amiability. At times he would lose self-control and order his servants and every one else from the room. At length an old woman who had been Mrs. Greene’s favorite maid, and who was then an esteemed and privileged family servant, was selected to wait upon him. The first thing General Lee did as she entered his room was to hurl his boot at her head and order her out. Entirely unused to such treatment, without saying a word she deliberately picked up the boot and threw it back. The effect produced was marked and instantaneous. The features of the stern warrior relaxed, in the midst of his pain and anger a smile passed over his countenance, and from that moment to the day of his death he would permit no one except “Mom Sarah” to do him special service. In the presence of the angel of death he recognized and rewarded pluck and spirit in an old negro nurse, even as he did courage in the breasts of his soldiers.
Not the least among the recollections of “Dungeness” is the fact that the last days of one of the great heroes of the Revolution were passed there; and when the “flowers of spring could no longer charm by their beauty and fragrance, or the soft southern wind bring health and surcease of pain to the suffering and dying, it received into its hospitable bosom and folded in one long and affectionate embrace all that was mortal of the gallant, gifted, and honored dead.” Henry Lee and Nathanael Greene now sleep but a short distance apart, where the “recollections of their brave deeds and the grateful songs of the true lovers of liberty are caught up by the billows of a common ocean.” Two months after the sick soldier landed he was dead. Every token of respect was shown by the United States Navy vessels in Cumberland Sound; their colors were put at half-mast, as well as the flags at the military headquarters of the army on Amelia Island. Citizens from the adjoining islands united in paying their respects. Commodore Henley, of the navy, superintended the last details. A full army band was in attendance, and Captains Elton, Finch, and Madison, and Lieutenants Fitzhugh and Ritchie, of the navy, and Mr. Lyman, of the army, acted as pall-bearers. Upon the stone marking his grave is this inscription: “Sacred to the Memory of General Henry Lee, of Virginia. Obiit March 25, 1818, Aetat. 63.”
Not long before the war of 1861-65 the Legislature of Virginia passed resolutions for the appointment of a committee who, with the consent of his sons, should remove the remains to the capital city of Virginia, where a suitable monument would be erected to his memory. The commencement of hostilities prevented the accomplishment of this purpose. The sad duty had not been performed before by his sons, because one, Major Henry Lee, was abroad, one was an officer of the army, another of the navy, the fourth a lawyer, and their respective duties kept them widely apart, so that the matter, though frequently referred to in their correspondence, had never been fully arranged. The remains of “Light-horse Harry,” therefore, still rest amid the magnolias, cedars, and myrtles of beautiful “Dungeness.”
In many respects this officer was one of the most remarkable men of his day. He was a patriot and soldier, whose personal courage was tested in the fire of battle; an orator, a writer of vigorous and terse English, with a happy facility for expression rarely equaled. His book, called the Memoirs of the War of “76,” is the standard work to-day of events in the war in the Southern Department of the United States. Two editions of it had been exhausted, and in 1869 a third was issued by his son, R. E. Lee, who, forgetful of his own great deeds, was desirous only of perpetuating those of his distinguished father.
General Henry Lee was twice married: first to Matilda, the daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee, of Stratford, and afterward to Anne Hill Carter, daughter of Charles Hill Carter, of Shirley. Four children were born from the first marriage. The eldest was named after his beloved commander, General Nathanael Greene, and died in infancy. The second son died when ten years old. The miniature of this child he always thereafter wore, and it is still preserved in the family. The third son, Henry, was born in 1787, and died in Paris, France, January 30, 1837. He graduated at William and Mary College, and served with credit in the War of 1812. He was appointed by General Jackson Consul to Algiers in 1829. In journeying through Italy he met the mother of the great Napoleon, and, being an admirer of his Italian campaigns, determined to write his life; the book is well written, as are other works of his.
The daughter married Bernard Carter, a brother of her stepmother. The children by General Henry Lee’s second marriage were Algernon Sydney, Charles Carter, Sydney Smith, and Robert Edward, and two daughters, Anne and Mildred. The first boy lived only eighteen months. The second, named after his wife’s father, was educated at Cambridge. “We have just heard,” writes his father from San Domingo, June 26, 1816, “that you are fixed at the University of Cambridge, the seminary of my choice. You will there have not only excellent examples to encourage your love and practice of virtue, but ample scope to pursue learning to its foundation, thereby fitting yourself to be useful to your country.” Charles Carter Lee afterward studied law, and was a most intellectual, learned, and entertaining man. His social qualities were of the highest order, his humor inimitable; his classic wit flowed, as clear as the mountain stream, from a well-stored mind. He was a boon companion and the first guest invited to the banquet; around him all clustered, and from his vicinity peals of laughter always resounded. His speeches, songs, and stories are marked traditions in the family to-day. Gifted with a most retentive memory, and being a great reader, especially of history, his recollection of all he had read made him a most instructive and agreeable companion. Every subject received its best treatment from his genius. He was thoroughly conversant with biblical literature, and had been known to maintain the leading part in discussions of the Bible with a roomful of ministers whose duty it was to expound it. In every drawing-room his presence was most warmly welcomed. At every festive board his song or speech was hailed with enthusiastic greeting. He was clever, generous, liberal, and free-hearted. When paying visits with his brothers — and the three often went together — should wine happen to be offered, Smith and Robert with their usual abstemiousness would decline; Carter, however, would accept, remarking: “I have always told these boys that I would drink their share of wine, provided they would keep me generously supplied.” He wrote, too, with beauty and fluency of expression, and once said to his brother Robert:. “The Government employs you to do its fighting; it should engage me to write your reports. I admit your superiority in the exercise of the sword and in planning campaigns. I am, however, as you know, the better writer of the two, and can make my pen mightier than your sword after the battle is over. We could thus combine and be irresistible.” He died, and was buried at his country seat, Windsor Forest, in Powhatan County. The third son, Sydney Smith, entered the United States Navy at an early age, and served with marked distinction in that service for thirty-four years. When Virginia withdrew from the Union of States he accepted service in the Southern navy.
A daughter of General R. E. Lee writes of him: “No one who ever saw him can forget his beautiful face, charming personality, and grace of manner, which, joined to a nobility of character and goodness of heart, attracted all who came in contact with him, and made him the most generally beloved and popular of men. This was especially so with regard to women, to whom his conduct was that of a preux chevalier, the most chivalric and courteous; and, having no daughters of his own, he turned with the tenderest affection to the daughters of his brother Robert. His public service of more than thirty years in the navy of the United States is well known. He entered it as a boy of fifteen, and faithfully served his country by land and sea in many climes and on many oceans. He was in Japan with Commodore Perry, commanding his flagship, when that inaccessible country was practically opened to the commerce of the world. He was Commandant of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and afterward in command of the navy yard at Philadelphia. When the war of secession began he was stationed in Washington, but when Virginia seceded he did not hesitate to abandon the comforts and security of the present and ambitions of the future and cast his lot with his native State in a war which, from the very nature of things, there could be but little hope for a naval officer. Uninfluenced then by hope of either fame or fortune, he sadly parted with the friends and comrades of a lifetime, including General Scott, who had been likewise devoted to him as he was to his brother, and for four years served the Southern Confederacy with the same ardor and energy and unselfishness that he had previously given to the whole country. When the end came he accepted the situation with characteristic resignation and fortitude.”
The eldest daughter married Mr. William Marshall, and lived in Baltimore. When the war cloud overshadowed the land, Judge Marshall was ardently devoted to the cause of the Union; their only son was educated at West Point, and remained in the army of the United States during the war which followed. It was natural, therefore, that the wife’s sympathies in the pending struggle should be with husband and child. For many years she was a great invalid and rarely left her couch. Sick and tortured with conflicting emotions, her days were days of trial. It is said she would smilingly agree with her husband in the hope that the armies of the United States would gain victories over the troops of the South, and then into a thousand pieces dash all former arguments by shaking her head and saying: “But, after all, they can’t whip Robert.” It was the triumph of ties of consanguinity over all other bonds. Mildred, the youngest daughter, married Mr. Edward Vernon Childe, of Massachusetts, who removed to and lived in Paris, where she died, where her children were brought up and educated. The eldest son, Edward Lee Childe, possessing an excellent education, fine literary ability, and a love for the memory of his great uncle, wrote a life of him in French, which has been well received by the people of that country, and was translated into English, in 1875, by Mr. George Litting, of London.
Seventy-five years after the birth of Washington, Robert Edward, the fourth son of General Henry Lee and Anne Hill Carter, was born at Stratford, Westmoreland County, Virginia, on the 19th of January, 1807. If he inherited much from a long and illustrious line of paternal ancestors, he no less fell heir to the strong characteristics of his mother’s family, one of the oldest and best in Virginia. The unselfishness, generosity, purity, and faithfulness of the Virginia Carters are widely known, and they have always been “true to all occasions true.” In his mother was personified all the gentle and sweet traits of a noble woman. Her whole life was admirable, and her love for her children beyond all other thoughts. To her watchful care they were early confided by the long absence and death of her distinguished husband.
Robert was four years old when his father removed the family to Alexandria, six when he visited the West Indies for his health, and eleven when he died. If he was early trained in the way he should go, his mother trained him. If he was “always good,” as his father wrote, she labored to keep him so. If his principles were sound and his life a success, to her, more than to any other, should the praise be given. This lovely woman, as stated, was the daughter of Charles Carter, of Shirley, who resided in his grand old mansion on the banks of the James River, some twenty miles below Richmond, then, as now, the seat of an open, profuse, and refined hospitality, and still in the possession of the Carters. Mrs. Henry Lee’s mother was Anne Moore, and her grandmother a daughter of Alexander Spottswood, the soldier who fought with Marlborough at Blenheim, and was afterward sent to Virginia as governor in 1710, and whose descent can be traced in a direct line from King Robert the Bruce, of Scotland.
Robert Edward Lee could look back on long lines of paternal and maternal ancestors, but it is doubtful whether he ever exercised the privilege; in a letter to his wife, written in front of Petersburg, February, 1865, he says: “I have received your note. I am very much obliged to Mr. — for the trouble he has taken in relation to the Lee genealogy. I have no desire to have it published, and do not think it would afford sufficient interest beyond the immediate family to compensate for the expense. I think the money had better be applied to relieving the poor…”
He felt a natural pride in their achievements, but no one knew better than he that in a republic, and in a great war, a man’s ancestry could not help him, but that place and promotion depended upon individual merit. His lineage has been traced because the descent of a celebrated man excites attention, just as it is interesting to discover the source of a noble river whose blessings to commerce cannot be measured. In consequence of the absence of the elder brothers, the ill health of one sister, and the youth of another, to Robert’s care, in a measure, his mother was committed. After his father’s departure to the tropics she watched over his daily life with tender solicitude, and he was, she said, both a daughter and a son to her. With filial devotion to her comfort his hours out of school were given. He waited on her, nursed her when sick, drove with her, obeyed her every wish, and this reciprocal love was a goodly picture in old Alexandria to those who saw mother and son in those days. As Robert grew in years he grew in grace; he was like the young tree whose roots, firmly imbedded in the earth, hold it straight from the hour it was first planted till it develops into majestic proportions. With the fostering care of such a mother the son must go straight, for she had planted him in the soil of truth, morality, and religion, so that his boyhood was marked by everything that produces nobility of character in manhood. The handsome boy was studious and sedate, was popular with other boys, stood high in the estimation of his teachers, and his early inspiration was good, for his first thoughts were directed upon lofty subjects by an excellent mother.
His birthplace and that of Washington were not only in the same county but only a short distance apart. The landscape of that section of Virginia was the first that greeted the eyes of each. The Potomac River, in all its grandeur and beauty, flowed past Stratford as well as Pope’s Creek. Alexandria afterward became his town, as it had before been the town of Washington. The married life of the two was respectively passed at Mount Vernon and Arlington, the same river rolling at their feet, while the old town stood dignified and historic between the mansions proudly connecting the name and fame of their occupants.
Robert went first to the Alexandria Academy, being under the tuition of Mr. Leary, who was ever after his firm friend. Later he attended the famous school of Mr. Benjamin Hallowell, in Alexandria, whose house, still standing, is yet conducted as a popular school. Ben. Hallowell was a Quaker of the Quakers. His school stood high; so did he as a teacher. “Brimstone castle” the boys called it, on account of its color. Mr. Hallowell says that young Lee was an exemplary student, perfectly observant and respectful, and those who knew him, either in the charm of the domestic circle or amid the roar of battle, knew that good old Mr. Hallowell’s opinion must have been correct.
The time had now arrived to select a profession, and to the army his inclination pointed — a direction which probably resulted from a son’s desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, especially when that father had been so distinguished in the profession. He was now a modest, manly youth, in his eighteenth year, who resolved to take care of himself and relieve his mother to that extent. His father’s career had reflected credit upon his country; could he not hope to do the same? Sydney Smith Lee, his next oldest brother, had already entered the navy, and was supporting himself; so he decided to go in the army. The application for an appointment to the United States Military Academy was successful, and in 1825 his name was entered upon the rolls of that celebrated institution. He had now four years of hard study, vigorous drill, and was absorbing strategy and tactics to be useful to him in after-years. His excellent habits and close attention to all duties did not desert him; he received no demerits; was a cadet officer in his class, and during his last year held the post of honor in the aspirations of cadet life — the adjutancy of the corps. He graduated second in a class of forty-six, and was commissioned second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. It is interesting to notice that his eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, also entered the Military Academy twenty-five years after his father, was also the cadet adjutant, graduated first in his class, and was assigned to the Engineer Corps. During his whole course at West Point Robert was a model cadet, his clothes looked nice and new, his crossbelts, collar, and summer trousers were as white as the driven snow mounting guard upon the mountain top, and his brass breast and waist plates were mirrors to reflect the image of the inspector. He conscientiously performed his tours of guard duty, whether the non-commissioned officer of the guard was approaching his post or sleeping in his quarters. He never “ran the sentinel post,” did not go off the limits to the “Benny Havens” of his day, or put “dummies” in his bed, to deceive the officer in charge as he made his inspection after taps, and at the parades stood steady in line. It was a pleasure for the inspecting officer to look down the barrel of his gun, it was bright and clean, and its stock was rubbed so as to almost resemble polished mahogany.
Cadet Lee in 1829 became Lieutenant Lee of the Engineer Corps of the United States Army. The cadets who graduate in each class with first honors are assigned to it, and its ranks are kept full of first-class material; its members are composed of students who obey the regulations, are proficient in their studies, and receive few demerits. From this scientific corps distinguished men and great soldiers have issued, and to be an officer of the United States Engineer Corps is a passport everywhere.
A short time previous to the late war a number of officers of the different arms of service were assembled in one of the rooms at West Point. The conversation turned, as it often did, upon the relative merits of the different arms of services, each officer contending for his own branch; finally an officer of infantry, who afterward became a distinguished major general in the army of the United States, said: “You gentlemen who graduate at the head of your respective classes are of opinion that you are the most talented, and possibly will make the best soldiers and most intelligent officers of the army; you will find, however, that should war actually take place between the Northern and Southern States, and you get in a tight place on the field of battle, you cannot work yourself out with equations.” All of which is very true. A courier has been known to tell his superior officer how to extricate his troops in a perilous position under fire, because he had more military perception, though less education and engineering skill.
Great soldiers, like poets, are born, not made. Military training, discipline, the study of strategy, and grand tactics are powerful re-enforcements to natural genius. All the army commanders from 1861 to 1865, on either side, were West Point graduates; but many West Pointers were indifferent officers; on the other hand, others climbed high on Fame’s military ladder who never attended a military school. Generals Logan and Terry on the Northern, and Generals Forrest and Gordon on the Southern side, were distinguished examples; but if to their soldierly qualifications a military education had been added, their ascent to distinction would have been greatly facilitated.
Lieutenant Lee entered upon the usual life of a young officer of engineers; his chosen profession had his earnest attention, and every effort was made to acquire information. He knew his studies at West Point were only the foundation upon which to build the life edifice. Without continued application to the principles of engineering and study he could not hope to rise above the ordinary level of the military graduate. So his army career began with the fixed determination to put aside daily pleasures of life where they conflicted with daily hours of duty. Officers in this branch of the service had pleasant stations, necessarily near or in the cities. Fortifications for the defense of harbors, forts for the protection of seaports, streams whose currents made bars at wrong places, and other similar works must receive the attention of the engineer. His location was therefore near the centers of civilization. Cavalry and infantry graduates of West Point were ordered to posts where the sun goes down behind the western hills; guarding long lines of frontier, scouting, and fighting hostile tribes of Indians were their particular duties. The temptations incident to city life did not lie so much in their course as in the path of the engineer. The pleasures and fascinations of social life everywhere surrounded him. As soon as he unbuckled sword belt there was but a step to take to get into the gay world. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that sometimes the engineer drank wine when it was red, and did not seek his quarters till the sun had gilded with its first glance the spires of the neighboring church. The artillery officer enjoyed with his comrades his mess table; the infantry officer occasionally had moistened lips from a canteen of frontier fire water; while the “bold dragoon who scorned all care” rode far and sometimes drank deep.
Lee was naturally exposed to an engineer’s temptations, but was careful and abstemious. He went much in the society of ladies — always most congenial to him. His conversation was bright, his wit refined and pleasant. Cement, mortar, lime, curves, tangents, and straight professional lines disappeared then. He enjoyed a dress parade of this kind, was happy in the drawing-room in the evening, and happy in his work on the parapet next day. He was in love from boyhood. Fate brought him to the feet of one who, by birth, education, position, and family tradition, was best suited to be his life companion. Mary Custis, the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, of Arlington, and Robert E. Lee, were married on the 30th of June, 1831, only two years after he had emerged from his Alma Mater. They had known each other when she was a child at Arlington and he a young boy in Alexandria, some eight miles away. It is said she met him to admire when he came back to Alexandria on furlough from the Military Academy. It was the first time any one in that vicinity had ever seen him in his cadet uniform. He was handsomer than ever; straight, erect, symmetrical in form, with a finely shaped head on a pair of broad shoulders. He was then twenty years old and a fine specimen of a West Point cadet on leave of absence. The impressions produced were of an enduring nature, and the officer, upon graduation, followed up the advantage gained by the attractive cadet.
G. W. P. Custis was the adopted son of Washington and the grandson of Mrs. Washington. Lee was therefore to marry a great granddaughter of Mrs. Washington, and was a fortunate man, not so much, perhaps, from these ties, but because of the great qualities of head and heart possessed by Mary Custis, his affianced bride. It is difficult to say whether she was more lovely on that memorable June evening when the Rev. Mr. Keith asked her, “Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband?” or after many years had passed, and she was seated in her large armchair in Richmond, almost unable to move from chronic rheumatism, but busily engaged in knitting socks for sockless Southern soldiers. The public notice of the marriage was short:
Married, June 30, 1831, at Arlington House, by the Rev. Mr. Keith, Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, of the United States Corps of Engineers, to Miss Mary A. R. Custis, only daughter of G. W. P. Custis, Esq.
The modesty of the newly married couple was spared the modern newspaper notice of what the bride wore at her wedding and what she had packed in her trunks, and her presents and trousseau are in happy oblivion. Beautiful old Arlington was in all her glory that night. The stately mansion never held a happier assemblage. “Its broad portico and widespread wings held out open arms, as it were, to welcome the coming guest. Its simple Doric columns graced domestic comfort with a classic air. Its halls and chambers were adorned with the patriots and heroes and with illustrations and relics of the great Revolution and of the ‘Father of his Country,’ and without and within, history and tradition seemed to breathe their legends upon a canvas as soft as a dream of peace.”
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