Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter V: The Army of Northern Virginia: The General's sympathy for his suffering soldiers

The Document

During this winter, which was a very severe one, the sufferings of General Lee's soldiers on account of insufficient shelter and clothing, the scant rations for man and beast, the increasing destitution throughout the country, and his inability to better these conditions, bore heavily upon him. But he was bright and cheerful to those around him, never complaining of any one nor about anything and often indulging in his quaint humour, especially with the younger officers, as when he remarked to one of them, who complained of the tough biscuit at breakfast:

"You ought not to mind that; they will stick by you the longer!"

His headquarters continued all the winter at the same place, and with stove and fire-places in the tents, the General and his military family managed to keep fairly comfortable. On February 6, 1863, he wrote to his daughter, Agnes from this camp:

"Camp Fredericksburg, February 6, 1863.

"...I read yesterday, my precious daughter, your letter, and grieved very much when last in Richmond at not seeing you. My movements are so uncertain that I cannot be relied on for anything. The only place I am to be found is in camp, and I am so cross now that I am not worth seeing anywhere. Here you will have to take me with the three stools-- the snow, the rain, and the mud. The storm of the last twenty-four hours has added to our stock of all, and we are now in a floating condition. But the sun and the wind will carry all off in time, and then we shall appreciate our relief. Our horses and mules suffer the most. They have to bear the cold and rain, tug through the mud, and suffer all the time with hunger. The roads are wretched, almost impassable. I heard of Mag lately. One of our scouts brought me a card of Margaret Stuart's with a pair of gauntlets directed to 'Cousin Robert.'... I have no news. General Hooker is obliged to do something. I do not know what it will be. He is playing the Chinese game, trying what frightening will do. He runs out his guns, starts his wagons and troops up and down the river, and creates an excitement generally. Our men look on in wonder, give a cheer, and all again subsides in statu quo ante bellum. I wish you were here with me to-day. You would have to sit by this little stove, look out at the rain, and keep yourself dry. But here come, in all the wet, the adjutants-general with the papers. I must stop and go to work. See how kind God is; we have plenty to do in good weather and bad...."

"Your devoted father,

"R. E. Lee."

On February 23d, he writes to Mrs. Lee:

"Camp Fredericksburg, February 23, 1863.

"The weather is now very hard upon our poor bushmen. This morning the whole country is covered with a mantle of snow fully a foot deep. It was nearly up to my knees as I stepped out this morning, and our poor horses were enveloped. We have dug them out and opened our avenues a little, but it will be terrible and the roads impassable. No cars from Richmond yesterday. I fear our short rations for man and horse will have to be curtailed. Our enemies have their troubles too. They are very strong immediately in front, but have withdrawn their troops above and below us back toward Acquia Creek. I owe Mr. F. J. Hooker ["Fighting Joe" was Hooker's most popular sobriquet in the Federal army] no thanks for keeping me here. He ought to have made up his mind long ago about what do to--24th. The cars have arrived and brought me a young French officer, full of vivacity, and ardent for service with me. I think the appearance of things will cool him. If they do not, the night will, for he brought no blankets.

"R. E. Lee."

Chancellorsville and Death of "Stonewall" Jackson

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee,, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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