Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter I: Services in the United States Army: The family pets

The Document

My next recollection of my father is in Baltimore, while we were on a visit to his sister, Mrs. Marshall, the wife of Judge Marshall. I remember being down on the wharves, where my father had taken me to see the landing of a mustang pony which he had gotten for me in Mexico, and which had been shipped from Vera Cruz to Baltimore in a sailing vessel. I was all eyes for the pony, and a very miserable, sad-looking object he was. From his long voyage, cramped quarters and unavoidable lack of grooming, he was rather a disappointment to me, but I soon got over all that. As I grew older, and was able to ride and appreciate him, he became the joy and pride of my life. I was taught to ride on him by Jim Connally, the faithful Irish servant of my father, who had been with him in Mexico. Jim used to tell me, in his quizzical way, that he and "Santa Anna" (the pony's name) were the first men on the walls of Chepultepec. This pony was pure white, five years old and about fourteen hands high. For his inches, he was as good a horse as I ever have seen. While we lived in Baltimore, he and "Grace Darling," my father's favourite mare, were members of our family.

Grace Darling was a chestnut of fine size and of great power, which he had bought in Texas on his way out to Mexico, her owner having died on the march out. She was with him during the entire campaign, and was shot seven times; at least, as a little fellow I used to brag about that number of bullets being in her, and since I could point out the scars of each one, I presume it was so. My father was very much attached to her and proud of her, always petting her and talking to her in a loving way, when he rode her or went to see her in her stall. Of her he wrote on his return home:

"I only arrived yesterday, after a long journey up the Mississippi, which route I was induced to take, for the better accommodation of my horse, as I wished to spare her as much annoyance and fatigue as possible, she already having undergone so much suffering in my service. I landed her at Wheeling and left her to come over with Jim."

Santa Anna was found lying cold and dead in the park at Arlington one morning in the winter of '60-'61. Grace Darling was taken in the spring of '62 from the White House [My brother's place on the Pamunkey River, where the mare had been sent for save keeping."] by some Federal quartermaster, when McClellan occupied that place as his base of supplies during his attack on Richmond. When we lived in Baltimore, I was greatly struck one day by hearing two ladies who were visiting us saying:

"Everybody and everything--his family, his friends, his horse, and his dog--loves Colonel Lee."

The dog referred to was a black-and-tan terrier named "Spec," very bright and intelligent and really a member of the family, respected and beloved by ourselves and well known to all who knew us. My father picked up his mother in the "Narrows" while crossing from Fort Hamilton to the fortifications opposite on Staten Island. She had doubtless fallen overboard from some passing vessel and had drifted out of sight before her absence had been discovered. He rescued her and took her home, where she was welcomed by his children an made much of. She was a handsome little thing, with cropped ears and a short tail. My father named her "Dart." She was a fine ratter, and with the assistance of a Maltese cat, also a member of the family, the many rats which infested the house and stables were driven away or destroyed. She and the cat were fed out of the same plate, but Dart was not allowed to begin the meal until the cat had finished.

Spec was born at Fort Hamilton and was the joy of us children, our pet and companion. My father would not allow his tail and ears to be cropped. When he grew up, he accompanied us everywhere and was in the habit of going into church with the family. As some of the little ones allowed their devotions to be disturbed by Spec's presence, my father determined to leave him at home on those occasions. So the next Sunday morning, he was sent up to the front room of the second story. After the family had left for church he contented himself for awhile looking out of the window, which was open, it being summer time. Presently impatience overcame his judgement and he jumped to the ground, landed safely notwithstanding the distance, joined the family just as they reached the church, and went in with them as usual, much to the joy of the children. After that he was allowed to go to church whenever he wished. My father was very fond of him, and loved to talk to him and about him as if he were really one of us. In a letter to my mother, dated Fort Hamilton, January 18, 1846, when she and her children were on a visit to Arlington, he thus speaks of him:

"...I am very solitary, and my only company is my dogs and cats. But 'Spec' has become so jealous now that he will hardly let me look at the cats. He seems to be afraid that I am going off from him, and never lets me stir without him. Lies down in the office from eight to four without moving, and turns himself before the fire as the side from it becomes cold. I catch him sometimes sitting up looking at me so intently that I am for a moment startled..."

In a letter from Mexico written a year later--December 25, '46, to my mother, he says:

"...Can't you cure poor 'Spec.' Cheer him up--take him to walk with you and tell the children to cheer him up..."

In another letter from Mexico to his eldest boy, just after the capture of Vera Cruz, he sends this message to Spec....

"Tell him I wish he was here with me. He would have been of great service in telling me when I was coming upon the Mexicans. When I was reconnoitering around Vera Cruz, their dogs frequently told me by barking when I was approaching them too nearly...."

Next: Home from the Mexican War

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee, http://www.historyofwar.org/sources/acw/lee_letters/chapter01c.html, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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