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John Esten Cooke was an American novelist, writer and poet. He was the brother of poet Philip Pendleton Cooke. During the American Civil War, Cooke served as a staff officer for Maj. Gen. J.E.B.Greatest Works of John Esten Cooke________________________________________A Life of Gen. Robert E. LeeMohun, or, The Last Days of Lee and his PaladinsThe Last of the ForestersThe Youth of Jefferson
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Mohun, or, The Last Days of Lee and his Paladins
The Last of the Foresters
The Youth of Jefferson
John Esten Cooke was a novelist, biographer, and veteran of the American Civil War (1861–1865). One of the most important literary figures of nineteenth-century Virginia, Cooke was the prolific author of historical adventures and romances in the tradition of Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. His most famous and perhaps best work, The Virginia Comedians: or, Old Days in the Old Dominion (1854), follows the aristocratic cad Champ Effingham in Virginia before the American Revolution (1775–1783). In fact, Cooke saw himself as a critic of aristocracy, but that criticism was rarely particularly sharp, and after the Civil War, his work unselfconsciously glorified the Confederacy in the tradition of the Lost Cause. "Come!" Cooke wrote in Surry of Eagle's-Nest (1866). "Perhaps as you follow me, you will live in the stormy days of a cavalier epoch: breathe its fiery atmosphere, and see its mighty forms as they defile before you, in a long and noble line." A relative by marriage to Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart, Cooke served with the cavalryman during the war and wrote hagiographic biographies of generals Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
Cooke was born on November 3, 1830, in Winchester and was the son of Maria W. Pendleton Cooke and John Rogers Cooke, an attorney and member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829–1830. His twelve siblings included the poet Philip Pendleton Cooke, and he was also a cousin of the writer and Maryland congressman John Pendleton Kennedy. Cooke spent his early childhood at Glengary, his family's Frederick County farm. After the house burned late in the 1830s, the family moved to Charles Town, in Jefferson County (now West Virginia), and shortly thereafter to Richmond, where Cooke lived until the Civil War. He hoped to attend the University of Virginia, but he repeatedly had to defer his plans because his father—perpetually in debt—could not afford the tuition. Although Cooke studied law with his father and began to practice in 1851, he was, in his own words, "dragged by literature," and he read voraciously works by Thomas Carlyle, Sir Walter Scott, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Washington Irving, among other British and American writers.
Cooke became friends with John Reuben Thompson, who in November 1848 published Cooke's poem "Avalon" in the Southern Literary Messenger . Thereafter Cooke's stories and essays regularly appeared in southern as well as northern periodicals, including Harper's New Monthly Magazine and Putnam's Monthly magazine. In 1854 Harper and Brothers published anonymously the first of his many historical romances, Leather Stocking and Silk; or, Hunter John Myers and His Times, a novel with title and characters inspired by James Fenimore Cooper and set in the Shenandoah Valley early in the nineteenth century. Cooke also anonymously wrote The Youth of Jefferson; or A Chronicle of College Scrapes at Williamsburg, in Virginia, A.D. 1764 (1854). A few months later the New York publishers D. Appleton and Company brought out The Virginia Comedians: or, Old Days in the Old Dominion, a historical romance set in pre-Revolutionary Virginia and chronicling the romantic pursuits of Champ Effingham, an aristocrat and sometime cad. The widely praised novel went through several printings during Cooke's lifetime and continues to be considered his best work.
Cooke's literary successes allowed him to abandon his moderately successful law practice in the mid-1850s. He published three more novels, Ellie: or, The Human Comedy (1855), an experiment with the contemporary social-problem novel; The Last of the Foresters: or, Humors on the Border; A Story of the Old Virginia Frontier (1856); and Henry St. John, Gentleman, of "Flower of Hundreds," in the County of Prince George, Virginia (1859), a sequel to The Virginia Comedians. Even though modern critics view his 1850s fiction as romanticizing colonial gentry and perpetuating the myth of the Virginia cavalier, Cooke saw himself as a critic of aristocracy. As at least one literary historian has pointed out, however, Cooke's view of the aristocracy was conflicted. Champ Effingham, who at the novel's beginning stalks the actress Beatrice Hallam and acts dishonorably, has been rehabilitated by the end.
Cooke joined the Richmond Howitzers, an artillery unit raised at the time of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. He became a sergeant after the unit mustered into Confederate service as Captain R. M. Anderson's Company, Virginia Light Artillery (1st Company Richmond Howitzers), but he was discharged on January 31, 1862. That spring Cooke served as a volunteer aide-de-camp to Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart, who had married Cooke's first cousin. Cooke received a commission as first lieutenant of artillery on May 19, 1862, joined Stuart on his celebrated ride around the Union army on June 12–16, and won promotion to captain on August 8, to rank from July 25. He became chief of ordnance for Stuart's cavalry division later that year. Stuart may have recommended Cooke for promotion to major, but Cooke remained a captain until the end of the war. In October 1863 he was temporarily assigned to duty in the adjutant general's department of Stuart's command, and beginning in May 1864 he served as assistant inspector general of the Army of Northern Virginia's artillery corps. Cooke was paroled at Appomattox Court House following Robert E. Lee's surrender on April 9, 1865.
While fighting in the major eastern campaigns from the First Battle of Manassas (1861) to Appomattox Court House, Cooke continued to write prolifically. His Civil War diaries fill four notebooks, and his war dispatches appeared under the pseudonym Tristan Joyeuse, Gent., in Richmond's Southern Illustrated News, among other periodicals. Later he collected and edited these accounts for Wearing of the Gray (1867). In 1863 Cooke published The Life of Stonewall Jackson, which he later revised and issued as Stonewall Jackson: A Military Biography (1866).
After the Civil War, Cooke moved to Clarke County. The war had temporarily shifted his literary focus from colonial Virginia to the recent past and to the northern literary market. Cooke's three Civil War novels—Surry of Eagle's-Nest; or The Memoirs of a Staff-Officer Serving in Virginia (1866), Mohun; or, the Last Days of Lee and His Paladins (1869), and Hilt to Hilt; or, Days and Nights on the Banks of the Shenandoah in the Autumn of 1864 (1869)—mixed imaginative scenes with historical military figures. A compilation of his articles on Virginia battles appeared as Hammer and Rapier (1870). Cooke's war experience also inspired his biography A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee (1871).
Although he is recognized as one of the first writers to treat the Civil War in fiction, critics lament that he did not exploit his war experiences to explore the subject in more depth and with more forthrightness. This is especially true because Cooke's war diaries and various statements suggest that he understood war to be quite different from the romantic adventures of his books. "I never liked the business of war," he told an interviewer after the Civil War.
Gold lace on my coat always made me feel as if I were a child tricked out in red and yellow calico with turkey-feathers in my headgear to add to the gorgeousness. There is nothing intellectual about fighting. It is fit work for brutes and brutish men. And in modern war, where men are organized in masses and converted into insensate machines, there is really nothing heroic or romantic in any way calculated to appeal to the imagination!
Cooke's books, it seems, were an attempt to refashion modern war in the romantic, intellectual image of Cooke himself. This transformation served an important purpose. Cooke's tales "resisted Reconstruction and glorified the Confederacy while at the same time slowly fueling the spirit of reunion," the historian David W. Blight has written. "Cooke demonstrated how easily for some the horrible memory of combat and campaigning could be converted into purposeful nostalgia."
On September 18, 1867 in Millwood, in Clarke County, Cooke married Mary Francis Page, who died on January 15, 1878. Their one daughter and two sons included Robert Powel Page Cooke, a physician who participated in Walter Reed's experiments to determine the cause of yellow fever. The family lived at the Briars, their Clarke County estate, where Cooke wrote, entertained, and farmed. His new agricultural knowledge informed the plot of one of his best novels from the postbellum years, The Heir of Gaymount (1870). The productive Cooke published more than a dozen other novels and novellas, and two historical works, as well as many essays for various periodicals. He was an early member of the American Historical Association.
Cooke's work holds a significant place in Virginia's literary history and in nineteenth-century American literary culture. He was arguably the most famous Virginia writer of his period, a skilled historical romancer in the tradition of Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Gilmore Simms who repeatedly turned to Virginia's past as his inspiration for fiction. Although sometimes viewed as derivative and careless, and especially faulted for inadequate revision, Cooke's writings embraced a breadth of subject matter, from colonial Virginia history to class in contemporary Richmond, in a wide variety of genres that gives his work enduring interest. In part because of his success in gaining recognition from northern editors and readers, his career illustrates connections between northern and southern publishing in the nineteenth century.
John Esten Cooke died, probably of typhoid fever, at the Briars on September 27, 1886. He was buried in the Old Chapel Cemetery, in Clarke County.
A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language." "Human virtue should be equal to human calamity."
LEE'S EARLY LIFE.
II.—The Lees of Virginia
III.—General "Light-Horse Harry" Lee
V.—Lee's Early Manhood and Career in the United States Army
VI.—Lee and Scott
VIII.—His Reception at Richmond
IX.—Lee in 1861
X.—The War begins
XI.—Lee's Advance into Western Virginia
XII.—Lee's Last Interview with Bishop Meade
IN FRONT OF RICHMOND.
I.—Plan of the Federal Campaign
II.—Johnston is wounded
III.—Lee assigned to the Command—his Family at the White House
IV.—Lee resolves to attack
V.—Stuart's "Ride around McClellan"
ON THE CHICKAHOMINY.
I.—The Two Armies
II.—Lee's Plan of Assault
III.—The Battle of the Chickahominy
V.—Richmond in Danger—Lee's Views
VI.—Lee and McClellan—their Identity of Opinion
THE WAR ADVANCES NORTHWARD.
III.—Lee advances from the Rapidan
IV.—Jackson flanks General Pope
VI.—The Second Battle of Manassas
LEE INVADES MARYLAND.
II.—Lee in Maryland
III.—Movements of the Two Armies
IV.—The Prelude to Sharpsburg
V.—The Battle of Sharpsburg
VI.—Lee and McClellan—their Merits in the Maryland Campaign
VII.—Lee and his Men
VIII.—Lee passes the Blue Ridge
IX.—Lee concentrates at Fredericksburg
X.—The Battle of Fredericksburg
XI.—Final Movements of 1862
XII.—The Year of Battles
XIII.—Lee in December, 1862
CHANCELLORSVILLE AND GETTYSBURG.
I.—Advance of General Hooker
IV.—Jackson's Attack and Fall
V.—The Battle of Chancellorsville
VI.—Flank Movement of General Sedgwick
VII.—Lee's Generalship and Personal Demeanor during the Campaign
VIII.—Personal Relations of Lee and Jackson
IX.—Circumstances leading to the Invasion of Pennsylvania
X.—Lee's Plans and Objects
XI.—The Cavalry-fight at Fleetwood
XII.—The March to Gettysburg
XIII.—Lee in Pennsylvania
XIV.—Concentration at Gettysburg
XV.—The First Day's Fight at Gettysburg
XVI.—The Two Armies in Position
XVII.—The Second Day
XVIII.—The Last Charge at Gettysburg
XIX.—Lee after the Charge
XX.—Lee's Retreat across the Potomac
XXI.—Across the Blue Ridge again
LAST CAMPAIGNS OF THE YEAR 1863.
I.—The Cavalry of Lee's Army
II.—Lee flanks General Meade
III.—A Race between Two Armies
IV.—The Fight at Buckland
V.—The Advance to Mine Run
VI.—Lee in the Autumn and Winter of 1863
LEE'S LAST CAMPAIGNS AND LAST DAYS.
I.—General Grant crosses the Rapidan
II.—The First Collision in the Wilderness
III.—The Battle of the 6th of May
IV.—The 12th of May
V.—From Spottsylvania to the Chickahominy
VI.—First Battles at Petersburg
VII.—The Siege of Richmond begun
VIII.—Lee threatens Washington
IX.—The Mine Explosion
X.—End of the Campaign of 1864
XI.—Lee in the Winter of 1864-'65
XII.—The Situation at the Beginning of 1865
XIII.—Lee attacks the Federal Centre
XIV.—The Southern Lines broken
XV.—Lee evacuates Petersburg
XVI.—The Retreat and Surrender
XVII.—Lee returns to Richmond
XVIII.—General Lee after the War
XIX.—General Lee's Last Years and Death
I.—The Funeral of General Lee
II.—Tributes to General Lee
LEE'S EARLY LIFE,
The name of Lee is beloved and respected throughout the world. Men of all parties and opinions unite in this sentiment, not only those who thought and fought with him, but those most violently opposed to his political views and career. It is natural that his own people should love and honor him as their great leader and defender in a struggle of intense bitterness—that his old enemies should share this profound regard and admiration is due solely to the character of the individual. His military genius will always be conceded, and his figure remain a conspicuous landmark in history; but this does not account for the fact that his very enemies love the man. His private character is the origin of this sentiment. The people of the North, no less than the people of the South, feel that Lee was truly great; and the harshest critic has been able to find nothing to detract from this view of him. The soldier was great, but the man himself was greater. No one was ever simpler, truer, or more honest. Those who knew him best loved him the most. Reserved and silent, with a bearing of almost austere dignity, he impressed many persons as cold and unsympathetic, and his true character was long in revealing itself to the world. To-day all men know what his friends knew during his life—that under the grave exterior of the soldier, oppressed with care and anxiety, beat a warm and kindly heart, full of an even extraordinary gentleness and sweetness; that the man himself was not cold, or stiff, or harsh, but patient, forbearing, charitable under many trials of his equanimity, and magnanimous without effort, from the native impulse of his heart. Friend and foe thus to-day regard him with much the same sentiment, as a genuinely honest man, incapable of duplicity in thought or deed, wholly good and sincere, inspired always under all temptations by that prisca fideswhich purifies and ennobles, and resolutely bent, in the dark hour, as in the bright, on the full performance of his duty. "Duty is the sublimest word in our language," he wrote to his son; and, if we add that other august maxim, "Human virtue should be equal to human calamity," we shall have in a few words a summary of the principles which inspired Lee.
The crowning grace of this man, who was thus not only great but good, was the humility and trust in God, which lay at the foundation of his character. Upon this point we shall quote the words of a gentleman of commanding intellect, a bitter opponent of the South in the war:
"Lee is worthy of all praise. As a man, he was fearless among men. As a soldier, he had no superior and no equal. In the course of Nature my career on earth may soon terminate. God grant that, When the day of my death shall come, I may look up to Heaven with that confidence and faith which the life and character of Robert E. Lee gave him. He died trusting in God as a good man, with a good life, and a pure conscience."
He had lived, as he died, with this supreme trust in an overruling and merciful Providence; and this sentiment, pervading his whole being, was the origin of that august calmness with which he greeted the most crushing disasters of his military career. His faith and humble trust sustained him after the war, when the woes of the South wellnigh broke his great spirit; and he calmly expired, as a weary child falls asleep, knowing that its father is near.
Of this eminent soldier and man whose character offers so great an example, a memoir is attempted in this volume. The work will necessarily be "popular" rather than full and elaborate, as the public and private correspondence of Lee are not at this time accessible. These will throw a fuller light on the subject; but sufficient material is at the disposal of the writer to enable him to present an accurate likeness of Lee, and to narrate clearly the incidents of his career. In doing so, the aim of the author is to measure out full justice to all—not to arouse old enmities, which should be allowed to slumber, but to treat his subject with the judicial moderation of the student of history.
A few words will terminate this preface. The volume before the reader was begun in 1866. The writer first, however, informed General Lee of his design, and had the honor to receive from him in reply the assurance that the work "would not interfere with any he might have in contemplation; he had not written a line of any work as yet, and might never do so; but, should he write a history of the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia, the proposed work would be rather an assistance than a hinderance."
As the writer had offered promptly to discontinue the work if it were not agreeable to General Lee, this reply was regarded in the light of an assurance that he did not disapprove of it. The composition was, however, interrupted, and the work laid aside. It is now resumed and completed at a time when the death of the illustrious soldier adds a new and absorbing interest to whatever is connected with his character or career.
The Lees of Virginia spring from an ancient and respectable family of Essex, in England.
Of some members of the family, both in the Old World and the New, a brief account will be given. The origin of an individual explains much that is striking and peculiar in his own character; and it will be found that General Lee inherited many of the traits of his ancestors, especially of some eminent personages of his name in Virginia.
The family pedigree is traced back by Lee, in the life of his father, to Launcelot Lee, of London, in France, who accompanied William the Conqueror to England. After the battle of Hastings, which subjected England to the sway of the Normans, Launcelot Lee, like others, was rewarded by lands wrested from the subdued Saxons. His estate lay in Essex, and this is all that is known concerning him. Lionel Lee is the next member of the family of whom mention is made. He lived during the reign of Richard Coeur de Lion, and, when the king went on his third crusade, in the year 1192, Lionel Lee raised a company of gentlemen, and marched with him to the Holy Land. His career there was distinguished; he displayed special gallantry at the siege of Acre, and for this he received a solid proof of King Richard's approbation. On his return he was made first Earl of Litchfield; the king presented him with the estate of "Ditchley," which became the name afterward of an estate of the Lees in Virginia; and, when he died, the armor which he had worn in the Holy Land was placed in the department of "Horse Armory" in the great Tower of London.
The name of Richard Lee is next mentioned as one of the followers of the Earl of Surrey in his expedition across the Scottish border in 1542. Two of the family about this period were "Knights Companions of the Garter," and their banners, with the Lee arms above, were suspended in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. The coat-of-arms was a shield "band sinister battled and embattled," the crest a closed visor surmounted by a squirrel holding a nut. The motto, which may be thought characteristic of one of General Lee's traits as a soldier, was, "Non incautus futuri"
Such are the brief notices given of the family in England. They seem to have been persons of high character, and often of distinction. When Richard Lee came to Virginia, and founded the family anew there, as Launcelot, the first Lee, had founded it in England, he brought over in his veins some of the best and most valiant blood of the great Norman race.
This Richard Lee, theprincepsof the family in Virginia, was, it seems, like the rest of his kindred, strongly Cavalier in his sentiments; indeed, the Lees seem always to have been Cavalier. The reader will recall the stately old representative of the family in Scott's "Woodstock"—Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley—who is seen stalking proudly through the great apartments of the palace, in his laced doublet, slashed boots, and velvet cloak, scowling darkly at the Puritan intruders. Sir Henry was not a fanciful person, but a real individual; and the political views attributed to him were those of the Lee family, who remained faithful to the royal cause in all its hours of adversity.
It will be seen that Richard Lee, the first of the Virginia Lees, was an ardent monarchist. He came over during the reign of Charles I., but returned to England, bequeathing all his lands to his servants; he subsequently came back to Virginia, however, and lived and died there. In his will he styles himself "Richard Lee, of Strafford Langton, in the County of Essex, Esquire." It is not certainly known whether he sought refuge in Virginia after the failure of the king's cause, or was tempted to emigrate with a view to better his fortunes in the New World. Either may have been the impelling motive. Great numbers of Cavaliers "came over" after the overthrow of Charles at Naseby; but a large emigration had already taken place, and took place afterward, induced by the salubrity of the country, the ease of living, and the cheapness and fertility of the lands on the great rivers, where families impoverished or of failing fortunes in England might "make new settlements" and build on a new foundation. This would amply account for the removal of Richard Lee to Virginia, and for the ambition he seems to have been inspired with, to build and improve, without attributing to him any apprehension of probable punishment for his political course. Very many families had the first-named motives, and commenced to build great manor-houses, which were never finished, or were too costly for any one of their descendants to possess. The abolition of primogeniture, despite the opposition of Pendleton and others, overthrew all this; and the Lees, like other families, now possess few of the broad acres which their ancestors acquired.
To return, however, to Richard Lee. He had already visited Virginia in some official capacity under the royal governor, Sir William Berkeley, and had been so much pleased with the soil and climate of the country, that he, as we have said, emigrated finally, and cast his lot in the new land. He brought a number of followers and servants, and, coming over to Westmoreland County, in the Northern Neck of Virginia, "took up" extensive tracts of land there, and set about building manor-houses upon them.
Among these, it is stated, was the original "Stratford" House, afterward destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt, however, and became the birthplace of Richard Henry Lee, and afterward of General Robert E. Lee. We shall speak of it more in detail after finishing, in a few words, our notice of Richard Lee, its founder, and the founder of the Lee family in Virginia. He is described as a person of great force of character and many virtues—as "a man of good stature, comely visage, enterprising genius, sound head, vigorous spirit, and generous nature." This may be suspected to partake of the nature of epitaph; but, of his courage and energy, the proof remains in the action taken by him in connection with Charles II. Inheriting, it would seem, in full measure, the royalist and Cavalier sentiments of his family, he united with Sir William Berkeley, the royal governor, in the irregular proclamation of Charles II. in Virginia, a year or two before his reinstallment on the English throne. He had already, it is reported on the authority of well-supported tradition, made a voyage across the Atlantic to Breda, where Charles II. was then in exile, and offered to erect his standard in Virginia, and proclaim him king there. This proposition the young monarch declined, shrinking, with excellent good sense, from a renewal, under less favorable circumstances, of the struggle which terminated at Worcester. Lee was, therefore, compelled to return without having succeeded in his enterprise; but he had made, it seems, a very strong impression in favor of Virginia upon the somewhat frivolous young monarch. When he came to his throne again, Charles II. graciously wore a coronation-robe of Virginia silk, and Virginia, who had proved so faithful to him in the hour of his need, was authorized, by royal decree, to rank thenceforward, in the British empire, with England, Scotland, and Ireland, and bear upon her shield the motto, "En dat Virginia quartam."
Richard Lee returned, after his unsuccessful mission, to the Northern Neck, and addressed himself thenceforward to the management of his private fortunes and the affairs of the colony. He had now become possessed of very extensive estates between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and elsewhere. Besides Stratford, he owned plantations called "Mocke Neck," "Mathotick," "Paper-Maker's Neck," "War Captain's Neck," "Bishop's Neck," and "Paradise," with four thousand acres besides, on the Potomac, lands in Maryland, three islands in Chesapeake Bay, an interest in several trading-vessels, and innumerable indented and other servants. He became a member of the King's Council, and lived in great elegance and comfort. That he was a man of high character, and of notable piety for an age of free living and worldly tendencies, his will shows. In that document he bequeaths his soul "to that good and gracious God that gave it me, and to my blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ, assuredly trusting, in and by His meritorious death and passion, to receive salvation."
The attention of the reader has been particularly called to the character and career of Richard Lee, not only because he was the founder of the family in Virginia, but because the traits of the individual reappear very prominently in the great soldier whose life is the subject of this volume. The coolness, courage, energy, and aptitude for great affairs, which marked Richard Lee in the seventeenth century, were unmistakably present in the character of Robert E. Lee in the nineteenth century.
We shall conclude our notice of the family by calling attention to that great group of celebrated men who illustrated the name in the days of the Revolution, and exhibited the family characteristics as clearly. These were Richard Henry Lee, of Chantilly, the famous orator and statesman, who moved in the American Congress the Declaration of Independence; Francis Lightfoot Lee, a scholar of elegant attainments and high literary accomplishments, who signed, with his more renowned brother, the Declaration; William Lee, who became Sheriff of London, and ably seconded the cause of the colonies; and Arthur Lee, diplomatist and representative of America abroad, where he displayed, as his diplomatic correspondence indicates, untiring energy and devotion to the interests of the colonies. The last of these brothers was Philip Ludwell Lee, whose daughter Matilda married her second cousin, General Henry Lee. This gentleman, afterward famous as "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, married a second time, and from this union sprung the subject of this memoir.
This celebrated soldier, who so largely occupied the public eye in the Revolution, is worthy of notice, both as an eminent member of the Lee family, and as the father of General Robert E. Lee.
He was born in 1756, in the county of Westmoreland—which boasts of being the birthplace of Washington, Monroe, Richard Henry Lee, General Henry Lee, and General Robert E. Lee, Presidents, statesmen, and soldiers—and, after graduating at Princeton College, entered the army, in 1776, as captain of cavalry, an arm of the service afterward adopted by his more celebrated descendant, in the United States army. He soon displayed military ability of high order, and, for the capture of Paulus's Hook, received a gold medal from Congress. In 1781 he marched with his "Legion" to join Greene in the Carolinas, carrying with him the high esteem of Washington, who had witnessed his skilful and daring operations in the Jerseys. His career in the arduous campaigns of the South against Cornwallis, and the efficient commander of his cavalry arm. Colonel Tarleton, may be best understood from General Greene's dispatches, and from his own memoirs of the operations of the army, which are written with as much modesty as ability. From these it is apparent that the small body of the "Legion" cavalry, under its active and daring commander, was the "eye and ear" of Greene's army, whose movements it accompanied everywhere, preceding its advances and covering its retreats. Few pages of military history are more stirring than those in Lee's "Memoirs" describing Greene's retrograde movement to the Dan; and this alone, if the hard work at the Eutaws and elsewhere were left out, would place Lee's fame as a cavalry officer upon a lasting basis. The distinguished soldier under whose eye the Virginian operated did full justice to his courage and capacity. "I believe," wrote Greene, "that few officers, either in Europe or America, are held in so high a position of admiration as you are. Everybody knows I have the highest opinion of you as an officer, and you know I love you as a friend. No man, in the progress of the campaign, had equal merit with yourself." The officer who wrote those lines was not a courtier nor a diplomatist, but a blunt and honest soldier who had seen Lee's bearing in the most arduous straits, and was capable of appreciating military ability. Add Washington's expression of his "love and thanks," in a letter written in 1789, and the light in which he was regarded by his contemporaries will be understood.
His "Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department" is a valuable military history and a very interesting book. The movements of Greene in face of Cornwallis are described with a precision which renders the narrative valuable to military students, and a picturesqueness which rivets the attention of the general reader. From these memoirs a very clear conception of the writer's character may be derived, and everywhere in them is felt the presence of a cool and dashing nature, a man gifted with themens aequa in arduis, whom no reverse of fortune could cast down. The fairness and courtesy of the writer toward his opponents is an attractive characteristic of the work, which is written with a simplicity and directness of style highly agreeable to readers of judgment.
[Footnote 1: See his observations upon the source of his successes over Tarleton, full of the generous spirit of a great soldier. He attributes them in no degree to his own military ability, but to the superior character of his large, thorough-bred horses, which rode over Tarleton's inferior stock. He does not state that the famous "Legion" numbered only two hundred and fifty men, and that Tarleton commanded a much larger force of the best cavalry of the British army.]
[Footnote 2: A new edition of this work, preceded by a life of the author, was published by General Robert E. Lee in 1869.]
After the war General Henry Lee served a term in Congress; was then elected Governor of Virginia; returned in 1799 to Congress; and, in his oration upon the death of Washington, employed the well-known phrase, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." He died in Georgia, in the year 1818, having made a journey thither for the benefit of his health.
General Henry Lee was married twice; first, as we have said, to his cousin Matilda, through whom he came into possession of the old family estate of Stratford; and a second time, June 18,1793, to Miss Anne Hill Carter, a daughter of Charles Carter, Esq., of "Shirley," on James River.
The children of this second marriage were three sons and two daughters—Charles Carter,Robert Edward, Smith, Ann, and Mildred.
[Illustration: "STRATFORD HOUSE." The Birthplace of Gen. Lee.]
Robert Edward Lee was born at Stratford, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on the 19th of January, 1807.
[Footnote 1: The date of General Lee's birth has been often given incorrectly. The authority for that here adopted is the entry in the family Bible, in the handwriting of his mother.]
Before passing to Lee's public career, and the narrative of the stormy scenes of his after-life, let us pause a moment and bestow a glance upon this ancient mansion, which is still standing—a silent and melancholy relic of the past—in the remote "Northern Neck." As the birthplace of a great man, it would demand attention; but it has other claims still, as a venerable memorial of the past and its eminent personages, one of the few remaining monuments of a state of society that has disappeared or is disappearing.
The original Stratford House is supposed, as we have said, to have been built by Richard Lee, the first of the family in the New World. Whoever may have been its founder, it was destroyed in the time of Thomas Lee, an eminent representative of the name, early in the eighteenth century. Thomas Lee was a member of the King's Council, a gentleman of great popularity; and, when it was known that his house had been burned, contributions were everywhere made to rebuild it. The Governor, the merchants of the colony, and even Queen Anne in person, united in this subscription; the house speedily rose again, at a cost of about eighty thousand dollars; and this is the edifice still standing in Westmoreland. The sum expended in its construction must not be estimated in the light of to-day. At that time the greater part of the heavy work in house-building was performed by servants of the manor; it is fair, indeed, to say that the larger part of the work thus cost nothing in money; and thus the eighty thousand dollars represented only the English brick, the carvings, furniture, and decorations.
The construction of such an edifice had at that day a distinct object. These great old manor-houses, lost in the depths of the country, were intended to become the headquarters of the family in all time. In their large apartments the eldest son was to uphold the name. Generation after generation was to pass, and some one of the old name still live there; and though all this has passed away now, and may appear a worn-out superstition, and, though some persons may stigmatize it as contributing to the sentiment of "aristocracy," the strongest opponents of that old system may pardon in us the expression of some regret that this love of the hearthstone and old family memories should have disappeared. The great man whose character is sought to be delineated in this volume never lost to the last this home and family sentiment. He knew the kinships of every one, and loved the old country-houses of the old Virginia families—plain and honest people, attached, like himself, to the Virginia soil. We pass to a brief description of the old house in which Lee was born.
Stratford, the old home of the Lees, but to-day the property of others, stands on a picturesque bluff on the southern bank of the Potomac, and is a house of very considerable size. It is built in the form of the letter H. The walls are several feet in thickness; in the centre is a saloon thirty feet in size; and surmounting each wing is a pavilion with balustrades, above which rise clusters of chimneys. The front door is reached by a broad flight of steps, and the grounds are handsome, and variegated by the bright foliage of oaks, cedars, and maple-trees. Here and there in the extensive lawn rises a slender and ghostly old Lombardy poplar—a tree once a great favorite in Virginia, but now seen only here and there, the relic of a past generation.
Within, the Stratford House is as antique as without, and, with its halls, corridors, wainscoting, and ancient mouldings, takes the visitor back to the era of powder and silk stockings. Such was the mansion to which General Harry Lee came to live after the Revolution, and the sight of the old home must have been dear to the soldier's heart. Here had flourished three generations of Lees, dispensing a profuse and open-handed hospitality. In each generation some one of the family had distinguished himself, and attracted the "best company" to Stratford; the old walls had rung with merriment; the great door was wide open; everybody was welcome; and one could see there a good illustration of a long-passed manner of living, which had at least the merit of being hearty, open-handed, and picturesque. General Harry Lee, the careless soldier, partook of the family tendency to hospitality; he kept open house, entertained all comers, and hence, doubtless, sprung the pecuniary embarrassments embittering an old age which his eminent public services should have rendered serene and happy.
Our notice of Stratford may appear unduly long to some readers, but it is not without a distinct reference to the subject of this volume. In this quiet old mansion—and in the very apartment where Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee first saw the light—Robert E. Lee was born. The eyes of the child fell first upon the old apartments, the great grounds, the homely scenes around the old country-house—upon the tall Lombardy poplars and the oaks, through which passed the wind bearing to his ears the murmur of the Potomac.
He left the old home of his family before it could have had any very great effect upon him, it would seem; but it is impossible to estimate these first influences, to decide the depth of the impression which the child's heart is capable of receiving. The bright eyes of young Robert Lee must have seen much around him to interest him and shape his first views. Critics charged him with family pride sometimes; if he possessed that virtue or failing, the fact was not strange. Stratford opened before his childish eyes a memorial of the old splendor of the Lees. He saw around him old portraits, old plate, and old furniture, telling plainly of the ancient origin and high position of his family. Old parchments contained histories of the deeds of his race; old genealogical trees traced their line far back into the past; old servants, grown gray in the house, waited upon the child; and, in a corner of one of the great apartments, an old soldier, gray, too, and shattered in health, once the friend of Washington and Greene, was writing the history of the battles in which he had drawn his sword for his native land.
Amid these scenes and surroundings passed the first years of Robert E. Lee. They must have made their impression upon his character at a period when the mind takes every new influence, and grows in accordance with it; and, to the last, the man remained simple, hearty, proud, courteous—thecountry Virginianin all the texture of his character. He always rejoiced to visit the country; loved horses; was an excellent rider; was fond of plain country talk, jests, humorous anecdote, and chit-chat—was the plain country gentleman, in a word, preferring grass and trees and streams to all the cities and crowds in the world. In the last year of his life he said to a lady: "My visits to Florida and the White Sulphur have not benefited me much; but it did me good to go to the White House, and seethe mules walking round, and the corn growing."
We notice a last result of the child's residence now, or visits afterward to the country, and the sports in which he indulged—the superb physical health and strength which remained unshaken afterward by all the hardships of war. Lee, to the last, was a marvel of sound physical development; his frame was as solid as oak, and stood the strain of exhausting marches, loss of sleep, hunger, thirst, heat, and cold, without failing him.
When he died, it was care which crushed his heart; his health was perfect.
Of Lee's childhood we have no memorials, except the words of his father, long afterward.
"Robert was always good," wrote General Henry Lee.
[Footnote 1: To C.C. Lee, February 9, 1817.]
That is all; but the words indicate much—that the good man was "always good." It will be seen that, when he went to West Point, he never received a demerit. The good boy was the good young officer, and became, in due time, the good commander-in-chief.
In the year 1811 General Henry Lee left Stratford, and removed with his family to Alexandria, actuated, it seems, by the desire of affording his children facilities for gaining their education. After his death, in 1818, Mrs. Lee continued to reside in Alexandria; was a communicant of Christ Church; and her children were taught the Episcopal catechism by young William Meade, eventually Bishop of Virginia. We shall see how Bishop Meade, long afterward, recalled those early days, when he and his pupil, young Robert Lee, were equally unknown—how, when about to die, just as the war began in earnest, he sent for the boy he had once instructed, now the gray-haired soldier, and, when he came to the bedside, exclaimed: "God bless you, Robert! I can't call you 'general'—I have heard you your catechism too often!"
Alexandria continued to be the residence of the family until the young man was eighteen years of age, when it was necessary for him to make choice of a profession; and, following the bent of his temperament, he chose the army. Application was made for his appointment from Virginia as a cadet at West Point. He obtained the appointment, and, in 1825, at the age of eighteen, entered the Military Academy. His progress in his studies was steady, and it is said that, during his stay at West Point, he was never reprimanded, nor marked with a "demerit." He graduated, in July, 1829, second in his class, and was assigned to duty, with the rank of lieutenant, in the corps of Engineers.
[Illustration: R.E. LEE, AS A YOUNG OFFICER New York D Apololay & Co.]
He is described, by those who saw him at this time, as a young man of great personal beauty; and this is probably not an exaggeration, as he remained to the last distinguished for the elegance and dignity of his person. He had not yet lost what the cares of command afterward banished—his gayety andabandon—and was noted, it is said, for the sweetness of his smile and the cordiality of his manners. The person who gave the writer these details added, "He was a perfect gentleman." Three years after graduating at West Point—in the year 1832—he married Mary Custis, daughter of Mr. George Washington Parke Custis, of Arlington, the adopted son of General Washington; and by this marriage he came into possession of the estate of Arlington and the White House—points afterward well known in the war.
The life of Lee up to the beginning of the great conflict of 1861-'65 is of moderate interest only, and we shall not dwell at length upon it. He was employed on the coast defences, in New York and Virginia; and, in 1835, in running the boundary line between the States of Ohio and Michigan. In September, 1836, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant; in July, 1838, to a captaincy; in 1844 he became a member of the Board of Visitors to the Military Academy; in 1845 he was a member of the Board of Engineers; and in 1846, when the Mexican War broke out, was assigned to duty as chief engineer of the Central Army of Mexico, in which capacity he served to the end of the war.
Up to the date of the Mexican War, Captain Lee had attracted no public attention, but had impressed the military authorities, including General Winfield Scott, with a favorable opinion of his ability as a topographical engineer. For this department of military science he exhibited endowments of the first class—what other faculties of the soldier he possessed, it remained for events to show. This opportunity was now given him in the Mexican War; and the efficient character of his services may be seen in Scott's Autobiography, where "Captain Lee, of the Engineers," is mentioned in every report, and everywhere with commendation. From the beginning of operations, the young officer seems to have been summoned to the councils of war, and General Scott particularly mentions that held at Vera Cruz—so serious an affair, that "a death-bed discussion could hardly have been more solemn." The passages in which the lieutenant-general mentions Lee are too numerous, and not of sufficient interest to quote, but two entries will exhibit the general tenor of this "honorable mention." After Cerro Gordo, Scott writes, in his official report of the battle: "I am compelled to make special mention of Captain R.E. Lee, engineer. This officer greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Vera Cruz; was again indefatigable during these operations, in reconnoissance as daring, as laborious, and of the utmost value." After Chapultepec, he wrote: "Captain Lee, so constantly distinguished, also bore important orders for me (September 13th), until he fainted from a wound, and the loss of two nights' sleep at the batteries."
We may add here the statement of the Hon. Reverdy Johnson, that he "had heard General Scott more than once say that his success in Mexico was largely due to the skill, valor, and undaunted energy of Robert E. Lee."
For these services Lee received steady promotion. For meritorious conduct at Cerro Gordo, he was made brevet major; for the same at Contreras and Cherubusco, brevet lieutenant-colonel; and, after Chapultepec, he received the additional brevet of colonel—distinctions fairly earned by energy and courage.
When the war ended, Lee returned to his former duties in the Engineer Corps of the U.S.A., and was placed in charge of the works, then in process of construction, at Fort Carroll, near Baltimore. His assignment to the duty of thus superintending the military defences of Hampton Roads, New York Bay, and the approaches to Baltimore, in succession, would seem to indicate that his abilities as engineer were highly esteemed. Of his possession of such ability there can be no doubt. The young officer was not only thoroughly trained in this high department of military science, but had for his duties unmistakable natural endowments. This fact was clearly indicated on many occasions in the Confederate struggle—his eye for positions never failed him. It is certain that, had Lee never commanded troops in the field, he would have left behind him the reputation of an excellent engineer.
In 1855 he was called for the first time to command men, for his duties hitherto had been those of military engineer, astronomer, or staff-officer. The act of Congress directing that two new cavalry regiments should be raised excited an ardent desire in the officers of the army to receive appointments in them, and Lee was transferred from his place of engineer to the post of lieutenant-colonel in the Second Cavalry, one of the regiments in question. The extraordinary number of names of officers in this regiment who afterward became famous is worthy of notice. The colonel was Albert Sydney Johnston; the lieutenant-colonel, R.E. Lee; the senior major, William J. Hardee; the junior major, George H. Thomas; the senior captain, Earl Yan Dorn; the next ranking captain, Kirby Smith; the lieutenants, Hood, Fields, Cosby, Major, Fitzhugh Lee, Johnson, Palmer, and Stoneman, all of whom became general officers afterward on the Southern side, with the exception of Thomas, and the three last named, who became prominent generals in the Federal army. It is rare that such a constellation of famous names is found in the list of officers of a single regiment. The explanation is, nevertheless simple. Positions in the new regiments were eagerly coveted by the best soldiers of the army, and, in appointing the officers, those of conspicuous ability only were selected. The Second Regiment of cavalry thus became thecorps d'éliteof the United States Army; and, after Albert Sydney Johnston, Robert E. Lee was the ranking officer.
Lee proceeded with his regiment to Texas, remaining there for several years on frontier duty, and does not reappear again until 1859.
Such was the early career in the army of the soldier soon to become famous on a greater theatre—that of a thoroughly-trained, hard-working, and conscientious officer. With the single exception of his brief record in the Mexican War, his life had been passed in official duties, unconnected with active military operations. He was undoubtedly what is called a "rising man," but he had had no opportunity to display the greatest faculties of the soldier. The time was coming now when he was to be tested, and the measure of his faculties taken in one of the greatest wars which darken the pages of history.
A single incident of public importance marks the life of Lee between 1855 and 1861. This was what is known to the world as the "John Brown raid"—an incident of the year 1859, and preluding the approaching storm. This occurrence is too well known to require a minute account in these pages, and we shall accordingly pass over it briefly, indicating simply the part borne in the affair by Lee. He was in Washington at the time—the fall of 1859—on a visit to his family, then residing at Arlington, near the city, when intelligence came that a party of desperadoes had attacked and captured Harper's Ferry, with the avowed intent of arming and inciting to insurrection the slaves of the neighborhood and entire State. Lee was immediately, thereupon, directed by President Buchanan to proceed to the point of danger and arrest the rioters. He did so promptly; found upon his arrival that Brown and his confederates had shut themselves up in an engine-house of the town, with a number of their prisoners. Brown was summoned to surrender, to be delivered over to the authorities for civil trial—he refused; and Lee then proceeded to assault, with a force of marines, the stronghold to which Brown had retreated. The doors were driven in, Brown firing upon the assailants and killing or wounding two; but he and his men were cut down and captured; they were turned over to the Virginia authorities, and Lee, having performed the duty assigned him returned to Washington, and soon afterward to Texas.
He remained there, commanding the department, until the early spring of 1861. He was then recalled to Washington at the moment when the conflict between the North and the South was about to commence.
Lee found the country burning as with fever, and the air hot with contending passions. The animosity, long smouldering between the two sections, was about to burst into the flame of civil war; all men were taking sides; the war of discussion on the floor of Congress was about to yield to the clash of bayonets and the roar of cannon on the battle-field.
Any enumeration of the causes which led to this unhappy state of affairs would be worse than useless in a volume like the present. Even less desirable would be a discussion of the respective blame to be attached to each of the great opponents in inaugurating the bitter and long-continued struggle. Such a discussion would lead to nothing, and would probably leave every reader of the same opinion as before. It would also be the repetition of a worn-out and wearisome story. These events are known of all men; for the political history of the United States, from 1820, when the slavery agitation began, on the question of the Missouri restriction, to 1861, when it ended in civil convulsion, has been discussed, rediscussed, and discussed again, in every journal, great and small, in the whole country. The person who is not familiar, therefore, with the main points at issue, must be ignorant beyond the power of any writer to enlighten him. We need only say that the election of Abraham Lincoln, the nominee of the Republican party, had determined the Gulf States to leave the Union. South Carolina accordingly seceded, on the 20th of December, 1860; and by the 1st of February, 1861, she had been followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The struggle thus approached. Military movements began at many points, like those distant flashes of lightning and vague mutterings which herald the tempest. Early in February Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, was elected President of the Confederate States, at Montgomery. On the 13th of April Fort Sumter surrendered to General Beauregard, and on the next day, April 14, 1861, President Lincoln issued his proclamation declaring the Gulf States in rebellion, and calling upon the States which had not seceded for seventy-five thousand men to enforce the Federal authority.
Tip to this time the older State of Virginia had persistently resisted secession. Her refusal to array herself against the General Government had been based upon an unconquerable repugnance, it seemed, for the dissolution of that Union which she had so long loved; from real attachment to the flag which she had done so much to make honorable, and from a natural indisposition to rush headlong into a conflict whose whole fury would burst upon and desolate her own soil. The proclamation of President Lincoln, however, decided her course. The convention had obdurately refused, week after week, to pass the ordinance of secession. Now the naked question was, whether Virginia should fight with or against her sisters of the Gulf States. She was directed to furnish her quota of the seventy-five thousand troops called for by President Lincoln, and must decide at once. On the 17th of April, 1861, accordingly, an ordinance of secession passed the Virginia Convention, and that Commonwealth cast her fortunes for weal or woe with the Southern Confederacy.
Such is a brief and rapid summary of the important public events which had preceded, or immediately followed, Lee's return to Washington in March, 1861. A grave, and to him a very solemn, question demanded instant decision. Which side should he espouse—the side of the United States or that of the South? To choose either caused him acute pain. The attachment of the soldier to his flag is greater than the civilian can realize, and Lee had before him the brightest military prospects. The brief record which we have presented of his military career in Mexico conveys a very inadequate idea of the position which he had secured in the army. He was regarded by the authorities at Washington, and by the country at large, as the ablest and most promising of all the rising class of army officers. Upon General Winfield Scott, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Army, he had made an impression which is the most striking proof of his great merit. General Scott was enthusiastic in his expressions of admiration for the young Virginian; and with the death of that general, which his great age rendered a probable event at any moment, Lee was sure to become a candidate for the highest promotion in the service. To this his great ability gave him a title at the earliest possible moment; and other considerations operated to advance his fortunes. He was conceded by all to be a person of the highest moral character; was the descendant of an influential and distinguished family, which had rendered important services to the country in the Revolution; his father had been the friend of Washington, and had achieved the first glories of arms, and the ample estates derived from his wife gave him that worldly prestige which has a direct influence upon the fortunes of an individual. Colonel Lee could thus look forward, without the imputation of presumption, to positions of the highest responsibility and honor under the Government. With the death of Scott, and other aged officers of the army, the place of commander-in-chief would fall to the most deserving of the younger generation; and of this generation there was no one so able and prominent as Lee.
[Footnote 1: "General Scott stated his purpose to recommend Lee as his successor in the chief command of the army."—Hon. Reverdy Johnson.]
The personal relations of Lee with General Scott constituted another powerful temptation to decide him against going over to the Southern side. We have referred to the great admiration which the old soldier felt for the young officer. He is said to have exclaimed on one occasion: "It would be better for every officer in the army, including myself, to die than Robert Lee." There seems no doubt of the fact that Scott looked to Lee as his ultimate successor in the supreme command, for which his character and military ability peculiarly fitted him. Warm personal regard gave additional strength to his feelings in Lee's favor; and the consciousness of this regard on the part of his superior made it still more difficult for Lee to come to a decision.
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