Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

 Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

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The day after the battle of Cold Harbor, during the "Seven Days"fighting around Richmond, was the first time I met my father after Ihad joined General Jackson. The tremendous work Stonewall's men hadperformed, including the rapid march from the Valley of Virginia, theshort rations, the bad water, and the great heat, had begun to tellupon us, and I was pretty well worn out. On this particular morning,my battery had not moved from its bivouac ground of the previous night,but was parked in an open field all ready, waiting orders. Most ofthe men were lying down, many sleeping, myself among the latter number.To get some shade and to be out of the way, I had crawled under acaisson, and was busy making up many lost hours of rest. SuddenlyI was rudely awakened by a comrade, prodding me with a sponge-staffas I had failed to be aroused by his call, and was told to get up andcome out, that some one wished to see me. Half awake, I staggeredout, and found myself face to face with General Lee and his staff.Their fresh uniforms, bright equipments and well-groomed horsescontrasted so forcibly with the war-worn appearance of our commandthat I was completely dazed. It took me a moment or two to realisewhat it all meant, but when I saw my father's loving eyes and smileit became clear to me that he had ridden by to see if I was safe andto ask how I was getting along. I remember well how curiously thosewith him gazed at me, and I am sure that it must have struck them asvery odd that such a dirty, ragged, unkempt youth could have been theson of this grand-looking victorious commander.

I was introduced recently to a gentleman, now living in Washington,who, when he found out my name, said he had met me once before andthat it was on this occasion. At that time he was a member of theTenth Virginia Infantry, Jackson's Division, and was camped near ourbattery. Seeing General Lee and staff approach, he, with others, drewnear to have a look at them, and thus witnessed the meeting betweenfather and son. He also said that he had often told of this incidentas illustrating the peculiar composition of our army.

After McClellan's change of base to Harrison's Landing on James River,the army lay inactive around Richmond. I had a short furlough onaccount of sickness, and saw my father; also my mother and sisters,who were then living in Richmond. He was the same loving father tous all, as kind and thoughtful of my mother, who as an invalid, andof us, his children, as if our comfort and happiness were all he hadto care for. His great victory did not elate him, so far as one couldsee. In a letter of July 9th, to my mother, he says:

"...I have returned to my old quarters and am filled with gratitudeto our Heavenly Father for all the mercies He has extended to us.Our success has not been so great or complete as we could have desired,but God knows what is best for us. Our enemy met with a heavy loss,from which it must take him some time to recover, before he canrecommence his operations...."

The honourable Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the ConfederateStates, says of General Lee:

"What I had seen General lee to be at first--child-like in simplicityand unselfish in his character--he remained, unspoiled by praise andby success."

He was the same in victory or defeat, always calm and contained.Jackson, having had a short rest, was now moved up to Gordonsville.I rejoined my command and went with him, supplied with new clothesand a fresh stock of health. In a letter to his three daughters whowere in North Carolina, dated Richmond, July 18, 1862, he writesdescribing my condition:

"Rob came out to see me one afternoon. He had been much worn down byhis marching and fighting, and had gone to his mamma to get a littlerest. He was thin but well, but, not being able to get a clean shirt,has not gone to see Miss Norvell. He has rejoined his company andgone off with General Jackson, as good as new again, I hope, inasmuchas your mother thought, by means of a bath and a profusion of soap,she had cleansed the outward man considerably, and replenished hislost wardrobe."

From Gordonsville we were moved on to Orange County, and then commencedthat series of manoeuvres by the Army of Northern Virginia, beginningwith the battle of Cedar Mountain and ending with second Manassas.

When I again saw my father, he rode at the head of Longstreet's menon the field of Manassas, and we of Jackson's corps, hard pressed fortwo days, welcomed him and the divisions which followed him with greatcheers. Two rifle-guns from our battery had been detached and sentto join Longstreet's advance artillery, under General Stephen D. Lee,moving into action on our right. I was "Number 1" at one of theseguns. We advanced rapidly, from hill to hill, firing as fast as wecould, trying to keep ahead of our gallant comrades, just arrived.As we were ordered to cease firing from the last position we took,and the breathless cannoneers were leaning on their guns, GeneralLee and staff galloped up, and from this point of vantage scannedthe movements of the enemy and of our forces. The general reined in"Traveller" close by my gun, not fifteen feet from me. I looked atthem all some few minutes, and then went up and spoke to Captain Masonof the staff, who had not the slightest idea who I was. When he foundme out he was greatly amused, and introduced me to several others whomI already knew. My appearance was even less prepossessing that whenI had met my father at Cold Harbour, for I had been marching nightand day for four days, with no opportunity to wash myself or my clothes;my face and hands were blackened with powder-sweat, and the few garmentsI had on were ragged and stained with the red soil of that section.When the General, after a moment or two, dropped his glass to his side,and turned to his staff, Captain Mason said:

"General, here is some one who wants to speak to you."

The General, seeing a much-begrimed artillery-man, sponge-staff inhand, said:

"Well, my man, what can I do for you?" I replied:

"Why, General, don't you know me?" and he, of course, at once recognisedme, and was very much amused at my appearance and most glad to seethat I was safe and well.

We, of the ranks, used to have our opinions on all subjects. Thearmies, their generals, and their manoeuvres were freely discussed.If there was one point on which the entire army was unanimous--I speakof the rank and file--it was that we were not in the least afraid ofGeneral Pope, but were perfectly sure of whipping him whenever wecould meet him. The passages I quote here from two of General Lee'sletters indicate that this feeling may possibly have extended to ourofficers. In a letter to my mother, from near Richmond, dated July 28,1862, he says:

"...When you write to Rob, tell him to catch Pope for me, and alsobring in his cousin, Louis Marshall, who, I am told, is on his staff.I could forgive the latter's fighting against us, but not his joiningPope."

And again:

"...Johnny Lee [his nephew] saw Louis Marshall after Jackson's lastbattle, who asked him kindly after his old uncle, and said his motherwas well. Johnny said Louis looked wretched himself. I am sorry heis in such bad company, but I suppose he could not help it."

As one of the Army of Northern Virginia, I occasionally saw thecommander-in-chief, on the march, or passed the headquarters closeenough to recognise him and members of his staff, but as a privatesoldier in Jackson's corps did not have much time, during that campaign,for visiting, and until the battle of Sharpsburg I had no opportunityof speaking to him. On that occasion our battery had been severelyhandled, losing many men and horses. Having three guns disabled, wewere ordered to withdraw, and while moving back we passed General Leeand several of his staff, grouped on a little knoll near the road.Having no definite orders where to go, our captain, seeing thecommanding general, halted us and rode over to get some instructions.Some others and myself went along to see and hear. General Lee wasdismounted with some of his staff around him, a courier holding hishorse. Captain Poague, commanding our battery, the RockbridgeArtillery, saluted, reported our condition, and asked for instructions.The General, listening patiently looked at us--his eyes passing overme without any sign of recognition--and then ordered Captain Poagueto take the most serviceable horses and men, man the uninjured gun, sendthe disabled part of his command back to refit, and report to the frontfor duty. As Poague turned to go, I went up to speak to my father.When he found out who I was, he congratulated me on being well andunhurt. I then said:

"General, are you going to send us in again?"

"Yes, my son," he replied, with a smile; "you all must do what you canto help drive these people back."

This meeting between General Lee and his son has been told very oftenand in many different ways, but the above is what I remember of thecircumstances.


  1. Cerdic

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  2. Halwende

    This magnificent thought, by the way, falls

  3. Arnet

    Only mountains can be steeper than mountains - why show off?

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