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Papers of Robert E. Lee
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Lee to General James Longstreet
- 8 Mar 1864
Lee to President Jefferson Davis
- 15 Apr 1864
R.E. Lee to Blair Robertson
- April 30, 1864
Lee to General Jubal A. Early
Confidential HdQr Army Nva
17th Sept 1864
LtGen J. A. Early
I desire to have your views __?__ the propriety and expediency of reorganizing the __?__ of the Valley District. I think it possible to __?__ its efficiency by a change in its organization. The points to which I call your attention particularly and on which I desire your opinion are as follows:
There is a small Georgia battn in Vaughan's Brigade which I think might be sent to this army with advantage to be placed with the Phillips Legion and constitute a Ga. Regt. The Tennessee troops under Gen Vaughan should be kept together. Part of his command is now in SWVa, and it might be advantageous to send the part with you to that Dept, and let Gen Echols replace it with some Va. troops from his commannd which might be attached to one of your Va brigades. Or if this cannot be done, Gen E might send such of Vaughan's as are with him to you, and you might replace them from some of your Va troops drawn from his Department, which would enable him to receive them.
It might be well to attach Gilmore's battn to the Maryland cavalry with Gen Johnson & form a Maryland command under an officer from that state. (Page 2) Some of the Va brigades might be broken up with advantage, and the regts assigned to others which are better disciplined, but weak in __?__say the Brigades of Fitz Lee's Divn. Or __?__ might be attached to these brigades, __?__ them so as to form a new division. This is to effect such an organization as __?__ cure the discipline and efficiency of the __?__ while I have suggested the foregoing changes, your views on the whole matter, as you see best able to recommend the mode of reorganization. The force of cavalry in that Dept is large by the Field Returns(?), and if properly officered and organized ought to be very formidable. Having indicated my object, I shall be guided by your advice in carrying it out.
I shall endeavor to send you Rosser's Brigade as soon as it can be spared, and hope that it will add considerably to the strength of your cavalry. It has occurred to me that as it is reported that many Kentuckians are now coming into SWVa, the presence of Gen Breckenridge in that Department would be attended with good results. He would also be of service in the organizing our forces in that district, a thing of no little difficulty, but which is much needed. Please let me have your views on this point also, and say whether can spare Gen B.
Very respy Your obt servt
R E Lee
R.E. Lee to General William Nelson Pendleton
- 21 Oct 1864
R.E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant
HdQrs C. S. Armies
18th Febry 1865
Lt Gen U S Grant
Comdg U S Armies,
I have received your letter of the 16th isnt: and have submitted your proposition to release citizens held as prisoners by either party to the Secretary of War.
I shall be glad if some arrangement can be made to relieve such persons from unecessary suffering. I have no knowledge of the facts mentioned in the extract from the newspaper, but will direct inquiry to be made. I gave no order for the arrest of any citizen, and if it be true that those mentioned were taken by any of our forces, I presume they are held as hostages generally for persons of the same class in custody of the Federal Authorities, and not for particular individuals.
R E Lee
- 18 Feb 1865
General Orders No 9
- 10 Apr 1865
R.E. Lee to Washington College Board of Trustees
- 24 Aug 1865
R.E. Lee to General William Nelson Pendleton
- aug 28 1865
R.E. Lee to General A.L. Long
- may 24 1865
Robert Edward Lee
1807-1870), American soldier, general in the Confederate States army, was the youngest son of major-general Henry Lee, called " Light Horse Harry." He was born at Stratford, Westmoreland county, Virginia, on the 19th of January 1807, and entered West Point in 1825. Graduating four years later second in his class, he was given a commission in the U.S. Engineer Corps. In 1831 he married Mary, daughter of G. W. P. Custis, the adopted son of Washington and the grandson of Mrs. Washington. In 1836 he became first lieutenant, and in 1838 captain. In this rank he took part in the Mexican War, repeatedly winning distinction for conduct and bravery. He received the brevets of major for Cerro Gordo, lieut.-colonel for Contreras-Churubusco and colonel for Chapultepec.
After the war he was employed in engineer work at Washington and Baltimore, during which time, as before the war, he resided on the great Arlington estate, near Washington, which had come to him through his wife. In 1852 he was appointed superintendent of West Point, and during his three years here he carried out many important changes in the academy. Under him as cadets were his son G. W. Custis Lee, his nephew, Fitzhugh Lee and J. E. B. Stuart, all of whom became general officers in the Civil War. In 1855 he was appointed as lieut.-colonel to the 2nd Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Sidney Johnston, with whom he served against the Indians of the Texas border. In 1859, while at Arlington on leave, he was summoned to command the United States troops sent to deal with the John Brown raid on Harper's Ferry. In March 1861 he was made colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry; but his career in the old army ended with the secession of Virginia in the following month. Lee was strongly averse to secession, but felt obliged to conform to the action of his own state. The Federal authorities offered Lee the command of the field army about to invade the South, which he refused. Resigning his commission, he made his way to Richmond and was at once made a major-general in the Virginian forces. A few weeks later he became a brigadier-general (then the highest rank) in the Confederate service.
The military operations with which the great Civil War opened in 1861 were directed by President Davis and General Lee. Lee was personally in charge of the unsuccessful West Virginian operations in the autumn, and, having been made a full general on the 31st of August, during the winter he devoted his experience as an engineer to the fortification and general defense of the Atlantic coast. Thence, when the well-drilled Army of the Potomac was about to descend upon Richmond, he was hurriedly recalled to Richmond. General Johnston was wounded at the battle of Fair Oaks (Seven Pines) on the 31st of May 1862, and General Robert E. Lee was assigned to the command of the famous Army of Northern Virginia which for the next three years " carried the rebellion on its bayonets." Little can be said of Lee's career as a commander-in-chief that is not an integral part of the history of the Civil War. His first success was the " Seven Days' Battle " in which he stopped McClellan's advance; this was quickly followed up by the crushing defeat of the Federal army under Pope, the invasion of Maryland and the sanguinary and indecisive battle of the Antietam. The year ended with another great victory at Fredericksburg. Chancellorsville, won against odds of two to one, and the great three days' battle of Gettysburg where for the first time fortune turned decisively against the Confederates, were the chief events of 1863. In the autumn Lee fought a war of maneuver against General Meade. The tremendous struggle of 1864 between Lee and Grant included the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor and the long siege of Petersburg , in which, almost invariably, Lee was locally successful. But the steady pressure of his unrelenting opponent slowly wore down his strength. At last with not more than one man to oppose to Grant's three he was compelled to break out of his Petersburg lines (April 1865). A series of heavy combats revealed his purpose, and Grant pursued the dwindling remnants of Lee's army to the westward. Headed off by the Federal cavalry, and pressed closely in rear by Grant's main body, General Lee had no alternative but to surrender. At Appomattox Court House on the 9th of April, the career of the Army of Northern Virginia came to an end. Lee's farewell order was issued on the following day, and within a few weeks the Confederacy was at an end. For a few months Lee lived quietly in Powhatan county, making his formal submission to the Federal authorities and urging on his own people acceptance of the new conditions. In August he was offered, and accepted, the presidency of Washington College, Lexington (now Washington and Lee University), a post which he occupied until his death on the 12th of October 1870 He was buried in the college grounds.
By his achievements he won a high place amongst the great generals of history. - Though hampered by lack of materials and by political necessities, his strategy was daring always, and he never hesitated to take the gravest risks. On the field of battle he was as energetic in attack as he was constant in defense, and his personal influence over the men whom he led was extraordinary. No student of the American Civil War can fail to notice how the influence of Lee dominated the course of the struggle, and his surpassing ability was never more conspicuously shown than in the last hopeless stages of the contest. The personal history of Lee is lost in the history of the great crisis of America's national life; friends and foes alike acknowledged the purity of his motives, the virtues of his private life, his earnest Christianity and the unrepining loyalty with which he accepted the ruin of his party.
Lee on Slavery
Robert E. Lee letter dated December 27, 1856:
I was much pleased the with President's message. His views of the systematic and progressive efforts of certain people at the North to interfere with and change the domestic institutions of the South are truthfully and faithfully expressed. The consequences of their plans and purposes are also clearly set forth. These people must be aware that their object is both unlawful and foreign to them and to their duty, and that this institution, for which they are irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil and servile war. There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Savior have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. Although the abolitionist must know this, must know that he has neither the right not the power of operating, except by moral means; that to benefit the slave he must not excite angry feelings in the master; that, although he may not approve the mode by which Providence accomplishes its purpose, the results will be the same; and that the reason he gives for interference in matters he has no concern with, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbor, -still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course. . . . Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?
Robert E. Lee's Slave
Rev. William Mack Lee
Robert E. Lee's Slave and Lee's Cook from 1861 to 1865
I was born June 12, 1835, Westmoreland County, Va.; 82 years ago. I was raised at Arlington Heights, in the house of General Robert E. Lee, my master. I was cook for Marse Robert, as I called him, during the civil war and his body servant. I was with him at the first battle of Bull Run, second battle of Bull Run, first battle of Manassas, second battle of Manassas and was there at the fire of the last gun for the salute of the surrender on Sunday, April 9, 9 o'clock, A. M., at Appomatox, 1865.
The following is a list of co-generals who fought with Marse Robert in the Confederate Army: Generals Stonewall Jackson, Early, Longstreet, Kirby, Smith, Gordon from Augusta, Ga. Beauregard from Charleston, S. C., Wade Hampton from Columbia, S. C., Hood, from Alabama, Ewell Harrison from Atlanta, Ga., Bragg, cavalry general from Chattanooga, Tenn., Wm. Mahone of Virginia, Pickett, Forest, of Mississippi, Mosby, of Virginia, Willcox, of Tennessee, Lyons, of Mississippi, Charlimus, of Mississippi, Sydney Johnston, Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Marse Robert, and Curtis Lee, his son.
The writer of this little book, the body servant of Gen. Robert E. Lee, had the pleasure of feeding all these men at the headquarters in Petersburg, the battles of Decatur, Seven Pines, the Wilderness, on the plank road between Fredericksburg and Orange County Court House, Chancellorsville, The Old Yellow Tavern, in the Wilderness, Five Forks, Cold Harbor, Sharpsburg, Boonesville, Gettysburg, New Market, Mine Run, Cedar Mountain, Civilian, Louisa Court House, Winchester and Shenandoah Valley.
At the close of the struggle, General Lee said to General Grant: "Grant, you didn't whip me, you just overpowered me, I surrender this day 8,000 men; I do not surrender them to you, I surrender on conditions; it shall not go down in history I surrendered the Northern Confederate Army of Virginia to you. It shall go down in history I surrendered on conditions; you have ten men to my one; my men, too, are barefooted and hungry. If Joseph E. Johnston could have gotten to me three days ago I would have cut my way through and gone back into the mountains of North Carolina and would have given you a happy time." What these conditions were I do not know, but I know these were Marse Robert's words on the morning of the surrender: "I surrender to you on conditions."
At the close of the war I did not know A from B, although I had been preaching two years before the war. I was married six years before the war. My wife died in 1910. I am the father of eight daughters and I have twenty-one grand children and eight great-grand children. My youngest child is 42 years old.
I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender.
The following from the Bedford Bulletin, a paper published in the town of Bedford, Va., which town I am now visiting, situated in the mountains in full view of the famous Peaks of Otter; while soliciting means here to finish my church near Norfolk, I caught inspiration to give the readers of this little book, my friends, and friends and admirers of Marse Robert, a brief history of his body servant and cook, the Rev. William Mack Lee, and will, I hope, cause you to purchase one at the price named on back of same, as I will never be able to write another; I am too old.
Lee's Body Servant Here.
Rev. William Mack Lee, one of the best known colored men in the South, is in town this week making an effort to raise funds to complete the payment on his church near Norfolk. He is a Baptist minister and built the church at a cost of $5,500, of which all has been paid except about $500, and he wants to raise this before he returns home.
He was born on the plantation of Gen. Robert E. Lee, in Westmoreland County, 81 years ago, and at the outbreak of the civil war went to the front as the body servant of his distinguished master. He cooked and waited on the Southern chieftain during the entire four years of the war, being with him at the surrender at Appomattox. The fact that the war had set him free was of small moment to him, and he stayed with his old master until his death. He is a negro of the old type, distinguished looking, polite in manner, and, despite his age, is straight, firm of step and bids fair to serve his congregation for many more years. The first day he was in town, he went to the old Burwell homestead, now the home of Mr. John Ballard, because he and his master had stopped there while on a visit to Bedford, soon after the war, and was greatly disappointed to find that the last member of the Burwell family was dead.
He will be in town all of this week, and if you want to help him pay for his church you will find him on the streets or some one will tell you where he can be found.
I have been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ the best I knew, with my limited preparation, for 57 years. My master, at his death, left me $360 to educate myself with. I went to school. I studied hard at the letter, but my greatest learning came from Jesus Christ. God sent me out to preach, and when God sends a man out, he is qualified both with the Holy Ghost and the Spirit. He makes his words sharp as a two-edged sword, and his feet as a burning pillar of brass.
I was ordained in Washington, D.C., July 12, 1881, as a Missionary Baptist preacher. The beginning of my work as an ordained minister was with the Third Baptist Church, Northwest, Washington, D.C., which I built with 20 members, at a cost of $3,000. This church increased from 20 to 500 members during my pastorate. I also built another church in the same city, a frame building, 20 x 36 feet long, at a cost of $2,000. I took this church with 8 members and left it with 200 at the close of two years.
My next pastorate was at Cantorsville, about eight miles northeast of Baltimore, Md., in Baltimore county. There were 12 members of this church, when I took charge. I erected for a house of worship a frame building 22 x 38 at a cost of $3,500. At the end of four years the membership had increased from 12 members to 365. I resigned this charge and took a church in Norfolk county, Virginia, six miles from the city of Norfolk. In this little town called Churchland, I erected a brick building, stone front, for a house of worship, at a cost of $5,500, in the year 1912, all of which has been paid, with the exception of about $500. When I began the building of this last house for God, I sought aid from abroad. I went into three states and by the help of the Lord, and good friends of Virginia, North and South Carolina, I have succeeded in raising over $5,000 for this last project. I preached in 36 counties in South Carolina in 1915, 28 counties in North Carolina, and 23 counties in Virginia. The following is a list of cities and towns that responded to my call for help in relieving the indebtedness of my church:--Virginia: Norfolk, Portsmouth, Berkley, Brambleton, Newport News, Hampton, Cape Charles, Eastville, Pocomoke City, Charles City, Suffolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Crewe, Blackstone, Petersburg, Ivor, Waverley, Zuni, Appomattox, Bedford, Roanoke and Hollins. South Carolina: Columbia, Charleston, Summersville, Kingtree, Lake City, Bennettsville, Florence, Mullen, Hartsville, Darlington, Marion, Dillon, Latta, Sumpter, Spartansburg, Orangeville, and Branchville. North Carolina: Raleigh, Wilmington, Rocky Mount, Goldsboro, Greensville, Greensboro, Selma, Clinton, Tarboro, Little Washington, Edenton, Elizabeth City, Wilson, Windsor, Kinston, LaGrange Beaufort, Durham, Hamlet, Rockingham, Gibsonville, Lovington, Ahoskie, Tunis, Reidsville, Winchester.
Having stayed on Marse Robert's plantation 18 years after the war and with limited schooling, I am not ashamed to give my history to the world that it might cause some of the young Negroes who have school advantages from childhood and early youth, to consider life more seriously and if men of my type had lived in their time, how far they would exceed them along lines of religious, educational and business activities. I contribute my success to my teaching from God. When John was writing on the Isle of Patmos, God appeared to him and said, "Write no more, John, seal up what thou hast written." John fell face foremost. God said, "Rise upon your feet, fear not, I am he who was persecuted, seal up what has been written and write no more." The apostle Paul says the letter kills a man, but the word of God makes him alive in our Lord Jesus Christ. A man gets nothing for starting a journey, but gets pay for being faithful and, holding out to the end. If a man lives according to the ten commandments, he will be blessed, because the chief word in the Decalogue, obedience; and obedience to God is service to man.
In addition to my pastoral duties I found time to look after the bodily wants of my fellowman as well as his spiritual needs. To this end I organized the State Benevolent Association of Virginia, for colored people, at Charlottesville in 1887. In 1888 I organized at Washington, D. C., the Supreme Grand Lodge United States Benevolent Association of the District of Columbia. The district associations of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania are under jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge, whose office and building is located at 428 R Street, N. W., Washington. I am elected Grand Chief for life at a salary of $50 per month and traveling expenses.
This association pays sick dues and death benefits and aids its members while out of employment by allowing a weekly sum of $2.00 for 4 weeks each, or until employment is secured, and gives each unfortunate a chance to pay back same to the Association in easy installments of 25 cents a month until the amount has been paid, so advanced by the Association's Treasurer. The brotherhood requires its members to help those find employment who are not employed.
I have some gavels made out of the poplar where Marse Robert bade farewell to his comrades and instructed them to go home and make themselves good citizens and may I urge those who read this book, especially my people, to take the advice of the humble writer, try to make yourselves good citizens by being industrious, save your money, educate yourselves, buy property, etc., let your religion be more practical and less sentimental. The best friends we have are the Southern people who know all about our raising, and if we colored people want to get along well with the white people, we must show our behavior to, respect and be obedient to them. These are my views to our race.
Your respectable, obedient servant,
REV. WM. MACK LEE.
General Robert E. Lee's cook and body servant of the Civil War.
Still limping from a Yankee bullet, an old darkey, with a grizzled beard and an honest face, hobbled into the office of the World-News at a busy hour yesterday.
"Kin you white folks gimme a little money fur my church?" he asked, doffing his tattered hat as he bowed.
Typewriters tickled their hurried denial.
The aged negro cocked his head on one side. "What, I ain't gwine ter turn away Ole Marse Robert's nigger is yer? You didn't know dat I was Gen. Robert Lee's cook all through de wah, did yer?" Every reporter in the office considered that introduction sufficient, and listened for half an hour to William Mack Lee, who followed General Robert E. Lee as body guard and cook throughout the Civil War. When the Negro lifted his bent and broken figure from a chair to take his leave every man in the office reached into his pocket, for a contribution.
"The onliest time that Marse Robert ever scolded me," said William Mack Lee, "in de whole fo' years dat I followed him through the wah, was, down in de Wilderness--Seven Pines-- near Richmond. I remembah dat day jes lak it was yestiday. Hit was July the third, 1863.
"Whilst we was in Petersburg, Marse Robert had done got him a little black hen from a man and we named the little black hen Nellie. She was a good hen, and laid mighty nar every day. We kep' her in de ambulants, whar she had her nest.
Prepared Feast From Small Supply.
"On dat day--July the third--we was all so hongry and I didn't have nuffin in ter cook, dat I was jes' plumb bumfuzzled. I didn't know what to do. Marse Robert, he had gone and invited a crowd of ginerals to eat wid him, an' I had ter git de vittles. Dar was Marse Stonewall Jackson, and Marse A. P. Hill, and Marse D. H. Hill, and Marse Wade Hampton, Gineral Longstreet, and Gineral Pickett and sum others.
"I had done made some flanel cakes, a little tea, and some lemonade, but I 'lowed as how dat would not be enuff fo' dem gemm'n. So I had to go out to de ambulants and cotch de little black hen, Nellie.
There was a tear in William Mack Lee's voice, but in his eye I fancied that I saw the happy light that always dances in the eyes of his race at the thought of a fowl for cooking.
"I jes' had to go out and cotch little Nellie. I picked her good, and stuffed her with breod stuffin, mixed wid butter. Nellie had been gwine wid us two years, and I hated fer to lose her. We had been gettin' all our eggs from Nellie.
"Well, sir, when I brung Nellie inter de commissary tent and set her fo' Marse Robert he turned to me right fo' all dem gimmin and he says: 'William, now you have killed Nellie. What are we going to do for eggs?"
"'I jes' had ter do it, Marse Robert.' says I.
'No, you didn't William; I'm going to write Miss Mary about you. I'm going to tell her you have killed Nellie.'
"Marse Robert kep' on scoldin' me mout dat hen. He never scolded 'bout naything else. He tol' me I was a fool to kill de her whut lay de golden egg. Hit made Marse Robert awful sad ter think of anything bein' killed, whedder der 'twas one of his soljers, or his little black hen."
Lee Wept Over Jackson's Death.
"I have even seed him cry. I never seed him sadder dan dat gloomy mownin' when he tol' me 'bout how Gineral Stonewall Jackson had been shot by his own men.
"He muster hurd it befo' but he never tol' me til' nex' mawnin'.
"'William,' he says ter me, 'William, I have lost my right arm.'
"'How come yer ter say dat, Marse Robert?' I axed him. 'Yo ain't bin in no battle sence yestiddy, an' I doan see yo' arm bleedin'.
"'I'm bleeding at the heart, William,' he says, and I slipped out'n de tent, 'cause he looked lak he wanted to be by hisself.
"A little later I cum back an' he tol' me dat Gineral Jackson had bin shot by one of his own soljers. The Gineral had tol' 'em to shoot anybody goin' or comin' across de line. And den de Gineral hisself puts on a federal uniform and scouted across de lines. When he comes back, one of his own soljers raised his gun.
"'Don't shoot. I'm your general,' Marse Jackson yelled.
"'Dey said dat de sentry was hard o' hearin'. Anyway, he shot his Gineral an' kilt him.
"'I'm bleeding at the heart, William,' Marse Robert kep' a sayin'.
Tells of His Own Wounds.
"On July de twelf, 1863, I was shot myself," continued the old darkey, heaving a deep sigh as he withdrew his thoughts from the death of General Stonewall Jackson.
"Yer see dat hole in my head? Dat whar a piece er de shell hit me. Anudder piece struck me nigh de hip.
"I had jes give Marse Robert his breakfas' an' went to git old Traveler fer him to ride ter battle. Traveler was Marse Robert's horse what followed him 'round same as a dog would, and would never step on de dead men, but allers walked betwixt and aroun' 'em.
"I went out an' curried and saddled Traveler. I hyeard dem jack battery guns begin to pop an' bust an' roah. I saddled Traveler and tuck him in front o' Marse Robert's tent.
"Jes' as Marse Robert cum out'n his tent a shell hit 35 yards away. It busted, and hit me, an' I fell over.
"I must o' yelled, 'cause Marse Robert said he ain't never hyeard no noise like de wan I hollered. He cum over and tried to cheer me up, an' I hollered lak one o' dem jackass guns.
"Marse Robert lafed so hard 'cause he said he ain't never seed a nigger holler so loud. An' den he called for de ambulants an' dey tuck me ter de hospital."
Loyal to Famous Master.
William Mack Lee has all the praise in the world for "Marse Robert." He tells many interesting incidents of the Southern hero's life in the tent and field.
The old Negro is here now trying to raise $418 with which to complete a fund of $5,000, most of which he has already secured, for building a church. He has built four churches and is now working on his fifth.
Among the white churches contributing to his fund are nine Baptist, eight Methodist, and six Episcopalians, in Norfolk, four Baptist in Danville, and churches in Lynchburg, Bedford, Crew, Blackstone and Appomattox.
William Mack Lee was born in Westmoreland County, Va., at the old Stafford House, on the Potomac River, 1835. He is 84 years old. He was raised by General Lee as his personal servant.
"Tell de white folks heah to be good ter me an' my church," says William. "Tell 'em not ter turn away Robert's ole nigger."
Letter From Lee to Hunter
Lee Suggests that Negroes should be immediately recruited into the Confederate Army
Lee suggests that in exchange for their service, they be granted freedom for themselves and their families
Lee suggests that they should be welcome to live as free men in the south after the war
Lee suggests that the men's families should be granted freedom even if the men did not survive the war
Lee suggests that they should be paid a bounty for faithful service
Lee believes that the freed slaves would make loyal and effective soldiers
Lee suggests that the policy moving forward in the south should be emancipation of the slaves
In fact, before the war was over, Robert E. Lee was effectively using former slaves as Confederate Soldiers
Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia
January 11, 1865
Hon. Andrew Hunter
I have received your letter of the 7th instant, and without confining myself to the order of your interrogatories, will endeavor to answer them by a statement of my views on the subject. I shall be most happy if I can contribute to the solution of a question in which I feel an interest commensurate with my desire for the welfare and happiness of our people.
Considering the relation of master and slave, controlled by humane laws and influenced by Christianity and an enlightened public sentiment, as the best that can exist between the white and black races while intermingled as at present in this country, I would deprecate any sudden disturbance of that relation unless it be necessary to avert a greater calamity to both. I should therefore prefer to rely upon our white population to preserve the ratio between our forces and those of the enemy, which experience has shown to be safe. But in view of the preparations of our enemies, it is our duty to provide for continued war and not for a battle or a campaign, and I fear that we cannot accomplish this without overtaxing the capacity of our white population.
Should the war continue under the existing circumstances, the enemy may in course of time penetrate our country and get access to a large part of our negro population. It is his avowed policy to convert the able-bodied men among them into soldiers, and to emancipate all. The success of the Federal arms in the South was followed by a proclamation of President Lincoln for 280,000 men, the effect of which will be to stimulate the Northern States to procure as substitutes for their own people negroes thus brought within their reach. Many have already been obtained in Virginia, and should the fortune of war expose more of her territory, the enemy would gain a large accession to his strength. His progress will thus add to his numbers, and at the same time destroy slavery in a manner most pernicious to the welfare of our people. Their negroes will be used to hold them in subjection, leaving the remaining force of the enemy free to extend his conquest. Whatever may be the effect of our employing negro troops, it cannot be as mischievous as this. If it end in subverting slavery it will be accomplished by ourselves, and we can devise the means of alleviating the evil consequences to both races. I think, therefore, we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves be used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which must be produced upon our social institutions. My opinion is that we should employ them without delay. I believe that with proper regulations they can be made efficient soldiers. They possess the physical qualifications in an eminent degree. Long habits of obedience and subordination, coupled with the moral influence which in our country the white man possesses over the black, furnish an excellent foundation for that discipline which is the best guaranty of military efficiency. Our chief aim should be to secure their fidelity.
There have been formidable armies composed of men having no interest in the cause for which they fought beyond their pay or the hope of plunder. But it is certain that the surest foundation upon which the fidelity of an army can rest, especially in a service which imposes peculiar hardships and privations, is the personal interest of the soldier in the issue of the contest. Such an interest we can give our negroes by giving immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully (whether they survive or not), together with the privilege of residing at the South. To this might be added a bounty for faithful service.
We should not expect slaves to fight for prospective freedom when they can secure it at once by going to the enemy, in whose service they will incur no greater risk than in ours. The reasons that induce me to recommend the employment of negro troops at all render the effect of the measures I have suggested upon slavery immaterial, and in my opinion the best means of securing the efficiency and fidelity of this auxiliary force would be to accompany the measure with a well-digested plan of gradual and general emancipation. As that will be the result of the continuance of the war, and will certainly occur if the enemy succeed, it seems to me most advisable to adopt it at once, and thereby obtain all the benefits that will accrue to our cause.
The employment of negro troops under regulations similar in principle to those above indicated would, in my opinion, greatly increase our military strength and enable us to relieve our white population to some extent. I think we could dispense with the reserve forces except in cases of necessity.
It would disappoint the hopes which our enemies base upon our exhaustion, deprive them in a great measure of the aid they now derive from black troops, and thus throw the burden of the war upon their own people. In addition to the great political advantages that would result to our cause from the adoption of a system of emancipation, it would exercise a salutary influence upon our whole negro population, by rendering more secure the fidelity of those who become soldiers, and diminishing the inducements to the rest to abscond.
I can only say in conclusion that whatever measures are to be adopted should be adopted at once. Every day's delay increases the difficulty. Much time will be required to organize and discipline the men, and action may be deferred until it is too late.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lee's Letter to Sam Houston
H’d Qrs: Dept. of Texas
Fort Brown, 20 April 1860
Governor of Texas
I had the honour on the 11th Inst: to
receive from the Honb’le Geo: McKnight, Comm’r of the
State, your Communication of the 24’ Ulto:
Having no authority to receive volunteers into the
Service of the U. States, I was unable to retain the
Squadron of Rangers on the Rio Grande upon
the Conditions proposed.
It is gratifying to me to state that Major Heintz-
elman Comm’r the U.S. troops on the Rio Grand
Speaks in Complimentary terms of the Conduct of
both officers & men composing the Squadron &
particularly Commends Major Ford & Capt. Littleton
commanding the two Companies.
You will be pleased to learn that at this time
there are no disturbances on this frontier & that I
hear of the presence of no banditti on either side
of the river.
I am with high respect your Obt Servt
Bt Col Comm’t Dept. of Texas
Col. R.E. Lee
Troops upon the
Robert E. Lee Resignation from US Army (to Winfield Scott)
Since my interview with you on the 18th instant I have felt that I ought not longer to retain my commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for acceptance.
It would have been presented at once, but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted all the best years of my life & all the ability I possessed. During the whole of that time, more than 30 years, I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors, & the most cordial friendship from my companions. To no one Genl have I been as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness & consideration, & it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation.
I shall carry with me to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration, & your name & fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword. Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continuance of your happiness & prosperity & believe me....
most truly yours R. E. Lee
Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia
After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles who have remained steadfast to the last that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged.
You may take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.
Lee to Jefferson Davis
The present seems the most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate Army to enter Maryland. The two grand armies of the United States that have been operating in Virginia, though now united, are much weakened and demoralized. Their new levies, of which I understand sixty thousand men have already been posted in Washington, are not yet organized, and will take some time to prepare for the field. If it is ever desired to give material aid to Maryland and afford her an opportunity of throwing off the oppression to which she is now subject, this would seem the most favorable. After the enemy had disappeared from the vicinity of Fairfax Court House and taken the road to Alexandria & Washington, I did not think it would be advantageous to follow him farther. I had no intention of attacking him in his fortifications, and am not prepared to invest them. If I had possessed the necessary munitions, I should be unable to supply provisions for the troops. I therefore determined while threatening the approaches to Washington, to draw the troops into Loudon, where forage and some provisions can be obtained, menace their possession of the Shenandoah Valley, and if I found practicable, to cross into Maryland.
The purpose, if discovered, will have the effect of carrying the enemy north of the Potomac, and if prevented, will not result in much evil. The army is not properly equipped for an invasion of an enemy's territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men are poorly provided with clothes, and in thousands of instances are destitute of shoes. Still we cannot afford to be idle, and though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipments, must endeavor to harass, if we cannot destroy them. I am aware that the movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider success impossible, and shall endeavor to guard it from loss. As long as the army of the enemy are employed on this frontier I have no fears for the safety of Richmond, yet I earnestly recommend defence, by land and water, in the most perfect condition. A respectable force can be collected to defend its approaches by land, and the steamer Richmond I hope is now ready to clear the river of hostile vessels. Should Genl [Braxton] Bragg find it impracticable to operate to advantage on his present frontier, his army, after leaving sufficient garrisons, could be advantageously employed in opposing the overwhelming numbers which it seems to be the intention of the enemy now to concentrate in Virginia. I have already been told by prisoners that some of [General Don Carlos] Buell's cavalry have been joined to Genl Pope's army, and have reason to believe that the whole of McClellan's, the larger portions of Burnside's & Cox's and a portion of [General David] Hunter's, are united to it. What occasions me most concern is the fear of getting out of ammunition. I beg you will instruct the Ordnance Department to spare no pains in manufacturing a sufficient amount of the best kind, & to be particular in preparing that for the artillery, to provide three times as much of the long range ammunition as of that for smooth bore or short range guns.
The points to which I desire the ammunition to be forwarded will be made known to the Department in time. If the Quartermaster Department can furnish any shoes, it would be the greatest relief.
We have entered upon September, and the nights are becoming cool.
Robert E. Lee's Letter to Davis 7/31/1863
Your note of the 27 [sic] enclosing a slip from the Charleston Mercury relative to the battle of Gettysburg is received. I much regret its general censure upon the operations of the army, as it is calculated to do us no good either at home or abroad.
But I am prepared for similar criticism & as far as I am concerned the remarks fall harmless. I am particularly sorry however that from partial information & mere assumption of facts that injustice should be done any officer, & that occasion should be taken to asperse your conduct, who of all others are most free of blame. I do not fear that your position in the confidence of the people, can be injured by such attacks, & I hope the official reports will protect the reputation of every officer. These cannot be made at once, & in the meantime as you state much falsehood may be promulgated. But truth is mighty & will eventually prevail. As regards the article in question I think it contains its own contradiction. Although charging Heth with the failure of the battle, it expressly states he was absent wounded. The object of the writer & publisher is evidently to cast discredit upon the operations of the Government & those connected with it & thus gratify feelings more to be pitied than to be envied. To take notice of such attacks would I think do more harm than good, & would be just what is desired. The delay that will necessarily occur in receiving official reports has induced me to make for the information of the Department a brief outline of operations of the army, in which however I have been unable to state the conduct of troops or officers. It is sufficient to show what was done & what was not done. No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me, nor should it be censured for the unreasonable expectations of the public. I am alone to blame, in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess & valour. It however in my opinion achieved under the guidance of the Most High a general success, though it did not win a victory. I thought at the time that the latter was practicable. I still think if all things could have worked together it would have been accomplished. But with the knowledge I then had, & in the circumstances I was then placed, I do not know what better course I could have pursued. With my present knowledge, & could I have foreseen that the attack on the last day would have failed to drive the enemy from his position, I should certainly have tried some other course. What the ultimate result would have been is not so clear to me. Our loss has been heavy, that of the enemy's proportionally so. His crippled condition enabled us to retire from the country comparatively unmolested. The unexpected state of the Potomac was our only embarrassment. I will not trespass upon Your Excellency's time more. With prayers for your health & happiness, & the recognition by your grateful country of your great services
Robert E. Lee's Letter to Davis 3/25/1864
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the letter forwarded to me by your directions, containing the views of the views of the writer as to the intentions of the enemy in the approaching campaign.
I have read the speculations of the Northern papers on the subject, and the order of Genl Grant published in our papers yesterday, but I am not disposed to believe from what I now know, that the first important effort will be directed against Richmond.
The Northern papers, particularly if they derive their information from official sources, as they profess, do not in all probability represent the real purposes of the Federal Government, but are used to create false impressions. The order of Genl Grant, closely considered, is not inconsistent with this idea. There was no apparent occasion for the publication at such a time and place of his intention to take up his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, and the announcement appears to me to be made with some hidden purpose. It will be remembered that Northern papers of the 14th instant represented Genl Grant as en route for Tennessee to arrange affairs there preparatory to assuming immediate command of the Army of the Potomac. What those arrangements were, we do not know, but if of sufficient moment to require Genl Grant's personal presence in the West just on the eve of his entering upon active duties with another army, it can not be probable that he had completed them by the time his order bears date, March 17th, especially as several of the few days intervening between his departure from Washington and the publication of the order, must have been consumed in travelling [sic]. The establishment of an office in Washington to which communications from other armies than that which Genl Grant accompanies shall be addressed, evidently leaves everything to go on under the direction of the former authorities as before, and allows no room for inferences as to whether any army will be active or not, merely from the fact of the presence of Genl Grant. There is to my mind an appearance of design about the order which makes it of a piece with the publications in the papers, intended to mislead us as to the enemy's intention, and if possible, induce corresponding preparation on our part. You will remember that a like ruse was practised [sic] at Vicksburg. Just before the Federal Army went down the river, the indications given out were such, that it was thought the attempt on Vicksburg would be abandoned, and that it was proper to reinforce Genl Bragg, whose army it was supposed would next be attacked. It is natural that the enemy should try to conceal the point which he intends to assail first, as he may suppose that our armies, being connected by shorter lines than his, can concentrate more rapidly. In confirmation of these views, I cannot learn that the army of Genl Meade has been reinforced by any organized troops, nor can I learn of any coming east over the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad which I have ordered to be closely watched. A dispatch from Genl Imboden dated March 23rd states that it is reported that the enemy was moving troops westwards over that road all last week. The report is vague but if true, the troops referred to may be recruits, convalescents & furloughed men going to the corps from the east now serving in the west, or they may be reinforcements for the Army of Tennessee. I have reiterated my order about watching the road, and directed the rumor above mentioned to be carefully investigated. From present indications, I am inclined to believe that the first efforts of the enemy will be directed against Genl Johnston or Genl Longstreet, most probably the former. If it succeeds, Richmond will no doubt be attacked. The condition of the weather and the roads will probably be more favorable for active operations at an early day in the South than in Virginia where it will be uncertain for more than a month. Although we cannot do more than weigh probabilities, they are useful in stimulating and directing a vigilant observation of the enemy, and suggesting such a policy on our part as may determine his. His object can be ascertained with the greatest certainty by observing the movements of his armies closely. I would advise that we make the best preparations in our power to meet an advance in any quarter, but be careful not to suffer ourselves to be misled by feigned movements into strengthening one point at the expense of others, equally exposed and equally important. We should hold ourselves in constant readiness to concentrate as rapidly as possible wherever it may be necessary, but do nothing without reasonably certain information except prepare. This information I have already said, can be best obtained by unremitting vigilance in observing those armies that will most probably be active in the campaign, and I trust that Your Excellency will impress this fact, and the importance of energy, accuracy, and intelligence in collecting information upon all officers in a position to do so. Should a movement be made against Richmond in large force, its preparation will no doubt be indicated by the withdrawal of troops from other quarters, particularly the Atlantic coast and the West. The officers commanding in these regions should endeavor to get early and accurate information of such withdrawal. Should Genl Johnston or Genl Longstreet find the forces opposed to them reduced sufficiently to justify attacking them, they might entirely frustrate the enemy's plans by defeating him. Energy and activity on our part, with a constant readiness to seize any opportunity to strike a blow, will embarrass, if not entirely thwart the enemy in concentrating his different armies, and compel him to conform his movements to our own. If Genl Johnston could be put in a condition to operate successfully against the army opposed to him, he would effectually prevent a combination against Richmond. In the meantime, to guard against any contingency, everything not immediately required should be sent away from Richmond, and stores of food and other supplies collected in suitable and safe places for the use of the troops that it may become necessary to assemble for its defence [sic]. I beg to repeat that the utmost vigilance and circumspection, coupled with active and energetic preparation are of the first moment to us.
Robert E. Lee's Letter to Davis 4/20/1865
Richmond, Virginia April 20, 1865
Mr. President The apprehensions I expressed during the winter, of the moral [sic] condition of the Army of Northern Virginia, have been realized. The operations which occurred while the troops were in the entrenchments in front of Richmond and Petersburg were not marked by the boldness and decision which formerly characterized them. Except in particular instances, they were feeble; and a want of confidence seemed to possess officers and men.
This condition, I think, was produced by the state of feeling in the country, and the communications received by the men from their homes, urging their return and the abandonment of the field. The movement of the enemy on the 30th March to Dinwiddie Court House was consequently not as strongly met as similar ones had been. Advantages were gained by him which discouraged the troops, so that on the morning of the 2d April, when our lines between the Appomattox and Hatcher's Run were assaulted, the resistance was not effectual: several points were penetrated and large captures made.
At the commencement of the withdrawal of the army from the lines on the night of the 2d, it began to disintegrate, and straggling from the ranks increased up to the surrender on the 9th. On that day, as previously reported, there were only seven thousand eight hundred and ninety-two (7892) effective infantry. During the night, when the surrender became known, more than ten thousand men came in, as reported to me by the Chief Commissary of the Army. During the succeeding days stragglers continued to give themselves up, so that on the 12th April, according to the rolls of those paroled, twenty-six thousand and eighteen (26,018) officers and men had surrendered.
Men who had left the ranks on the march, and crossed James River, returned and gave themselves up, and many have since come to Richmond and surrendered. I have given these details that Your Excellency might know the state of feeling which existed in the army, and judge of that in the country. From what I have seen and learned, I believe an army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia, and as far as I know the condition of affairs, the country east of the Mississippi is morally and physically unable to maintain the contest unaided with any hope of ultimate success. A partisan war may be continued, and hostilities protracted, causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country, but I see no prospect by that means of achieving a separate independence. It is for Your Excellency to decide, should you agree with me in opinion, what is proper to be done. To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace.
I am with great respect,
yr obdt svt R. E. Lee Genl
“Never had mother a nobler son. In him the military genius of America was developed to a greater extent than ever before. In him all that was pure and lofty in mind and purpose found lodgment. Dignified without presumption, affable without familiarity, he united all those charms of manners which made him the idol of his friends and of his soldiers and won for him the respect and admiration of the world. Even as in the days of triumph, glory did not intoxicate, so, when the dark clouds swept over him, adversity did not depress.
Robert E. Lee papers from Burke & Herbert unveiled
These trunks, discovered by Robert E. L. deButts, Jr. and E. Hunt Burke, contained letters, legal papers, journals, travel souvenirs, financial records, and smaller artifacts that were collected by Mary Custis Lee, the eldest daughter of General Robert E. Lee.
The historical society, which has been selected by the heirs of Mary Custis Lee as stewards of this collection, will add these previously unknown items to what is already the largest holding of Lee family papers in any single repository. And, to the delight of many Civil War and Lee historians, the VHS will make the majority of the collection available to researchers through the Society’s library reading room beginning May 31, 2007.
“In my nearly twenty years as president and CEO of the Virginia Historical Society, there have been few moments as spectacular as the discovery of the Mary Custis Lee trunks stored for 84 years at Burke & Herbert Bank,” Dr. Charles F. Bryan, Jr. said.
Since his death, researchers have lamented that Robert E. Lee never wrote a memoir. But, as Elizabeth Brown Pryor will reveal at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 24, 2007, this collection contains numerous letters and notes in the hand of Robert E. Lee reflecting on his long career. Pryor, who was granted access to selected portions of the collection found at Burke & Herbert Bank before processing at the Society began, will speak at a Banner Lecture about her recently published book, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through his Private Letters.
In her book, Pryor explores the thoughts and actions of Robert E. Lee largely through his own words—words that were derived from dozens of previously unpublished sources—including the new papers at the VHS. Pryor’s lecture will shed light on Lee’s religious beliefs, his views on slavery, his father, his days at West Point, and his decision to join the South during the Civil War.
“Releasing details about Mary Custis Lee’s trunks and the collection in conjunction with Pryor’s lecture just seemed like perfect timing,” said VHS Senior Archivist Lee Shepard. “The Society would like to develop educational programs and exhibitions using the Lee papers by 2011 to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.”
To learn more about this newly discovered Lee collection, visitors may attend Pryor’s lecture on Thursday, May 24 at 12:00 p.m. in the Robins Family Forum. After the lecture, Pryor will sign copies of her book, which is for sale in the VHS Museum Shop. Banner Lectures are free with regular VHS admission.
After Pryor’s lecture, the VHS will hold a private appreciation luncheon for Burke & Herbert Bank for housing the trunks safely for over eighty years. Bank Chairman Charlie Collum and Bank President & COO Hunt Burke will attend the lunch with Pryor. Afterwards, they will have the opportunity to examine the preservation efforts of the collection by VHS archivists.