Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter II: The Confederate General: Chief advisor to President Davis

The Document

On May 25th, my father was transferred, with all the Virginia troops, to the Confederate States Army. He ceased to be a Major-General, and became a Brigadier. No higher rank having been created as yet in the Confederate service. Later, when the rank was created, he was made a full general.

By the end of May, to quote from General Long,

"Lee had organised, equipped, and sent to the field more than thirty thousand men, and various regiments were in a forward state of preparation."

When the Confederate government moved from Montgomery to Richmond, and President Davis took charge of all military movements, my father was kept near him as his constant and trusted adviser. His experience as an engineer was of great service to the young Confederacy, and he was called upon often for advice for the location of batteries and troops on our different defensive lines. In a letter to my mother he speaks of one of these trips to the waters east of Richmond.

"Richmond, June 9, 1861.

"...I have just returned from a visit to the batteries and troops on James and York rivers, etc., where I was some days. I called a few hours at the White House. Saw Charlotte and Annie. Fitzhugh was away, but got out of the cars as I got in. Our little boy looked very sweet and seemed glad to kiss me good-bye. Charlotte said she was going to prepare to leave for the summer, but had not determined where to go. I could only see some of the servants about the house and the stables. They were all well.... You may be aware that the Confederate Government is established here. Yesterday I turned over to it the command of the military and naval forces of the State, in accordance with the proclamation of the Government and the agreement between the State and the Confederate States. I do not know what my position will be. I should like to retire to private life, if I could be with you and the children, but if I can be of any service to the State or her cause I must continue. Mr. Davis and all his Cabinet are here.... Good-bye. Give much love to kind friends. May God guard and bless you, them, and our suffering country, and enable me to perform my duty. I think of you constantly. Write me what you will do. Direct here.

"Always yours,

"R. E. Lee."

To my mother, who was now in Fauquier County, staying at "Kinloch," Mr. Edward Turner's home, he writes on June 24th, from Richmond:

"...Your future arrangements are the source of much anxiety to me. No one can say what is in the future, nor is it wise to anticipate evil. But it is well to prepare for what may reasonably happen and be provided for the worst. There is no saying when you can return to your home or what may be its condition when you do return. What, then, can you do in the meantime? To remain with friends may be incumbent, and where can you go?... My movements are very uncertain, and I wish to take the field as soon as certain arrangements can be made. I may go at any moment, and to any point where it may be necessary.... Many of our old friends are dropping in. E. P. Alexander is here, Jimmy Hill, Alston, Jenifer, etc., and I hear that my old colonel, A. S. Johnston, is crossing the plains from California....

"As ever, R. E. Lee."

I again quote from a letter to my mother, dated Richmond, July 12, 1861:

"...I am very anxious to get into the field, but am detained by matters beyond my control. I have never heard of the appointment, to which you allude, of Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate States Army, nor have I any expectation or wish for it. President Davis holds that position. Since the transfer of the military operations in Virginia to the authorities of the Confederate States, I have only occupied the position of a general in that service, with the duties devolved on me by the President. I have been labouring to prepare and get into the field the Virginia troops, and to strengthen, by those from the other States, the threatened commands of Johnston, Beauregard, Huger, Garnett, etc. Where I shall go I do not know, as that will depend upon President Davis. As usual in getting through with a thing, I have broken down a little and had to take my bed last evening, but am at my office this morning and hope will soon be right again.... My young friend Mr. Vest has just returned from a search in the city for 'Dixie,' and says he has visited every place in Richmond without finding it. I suppose it is exhausted. Always yours,

"R. E. Lee."

"The booksellers say 'Dixie' is not to be had in Virginia. R. E. L."

Next: Battle of Manassas

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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/chapter02f.html, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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