Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter V: The Army of Northern Virginia: Chancellorsville and Death of "Stonewall" Jackson

The Document

The dreary winter gradually passed away. Toward the last of April, the two armies, which had been opposite each other for four months, began to move, and, about the first of May, the greatest of Lee's battles was fought. My command was on the extreme left, and, as Hooker crossed the river, we followed a raiding party of the enemy's cavalry over toward the James River above Richmond; so I did not see my father at any time during the several day's fighting. The joy of our victory at Chancellorsville was saddened by the death of "Stonewall" Jackson. His loss was the heaviest blow the Army of Northern Virginia ever sustained. To Jackson's note telling him he was wounded, my father replied:

"I cannot express my regret at the occurance. Could I have directed events, I should have chosen for the good of the country to have been disabled in your stead. I congratulate you on the victory, which is due to your skill and energy."

Jackson said, when this was read to him,

"Better that ten Jacksons should fall than one Lee."

Afterward, when it was reported that Jackson was doing well, General Lee playfully sent him word:

"You are better off than I am, for while you have only lost your LEFT, I have lost my RIGHT arm."

Then, hearing that he was worse, he said:

"Tell him that I am praying for him as I believe I have never prayed for myself."

After his death, General Lee writes to my mother, on May 11th:

"...In addition to the deaths of officers and friends consequent upon the late battles, you will see that we have to mourn the loss of the great and good Jackson. Any victory would be dear at such a price. His remains go to Richmond to-day. I know not how to replace him. God's will be done! I trust He will raise up some one in his place...."

Jones, in his Memoirs, says: "To one of his officers, after Jackson's death, he [General Lee] said: 'I had such implicit confidence in Jackson's skill and energy that I never troubled myself to give him detailed instructions. The most general suggestions were all that he needed.'"

To one of his aides, who came to his tent, April 29th, to inform him that the enemy had crossed the Rappahannock River in heavy force, General Lee made the playful reply:

"Well, I heard firing, and I was beginning to think it was time some of you lazy young fellows were coming to tell me what it was all about. Say to General Jackson that he knows just as well what to do with the enemy as I do."

Jackson said of Lee, when it was intimated by some, at the time he first took command, that he was slow:

"He is cautious. He ought to be. But he is NOT slow. Lee is a phenomenon. He is the only man whom I would follow blindfold."

As the story of these great men year by year is made plainer to the world, their love, trust, and respect for each other will be better understood. As commander and lieutenant they were exactly suited. When General Lee wanted a movement made and gave Jackson an outline of his plans and the object to be gained, it was performed promptly, well, and thoroughly, if it was possible for flesh and blood to do it.

At the end of May, the Army of Northern Virginia, rested and strengthened, was ready for active operations. On May 31st General Lee writes to Mrs. Lee:

"...General Hooker has been very daring this past week, and quite active. He has not said what he intends to do, but is giving out by his movements that he designs crossing the Rappahannock. I hope we may be able to frustrate his plans, in part, if not in whole.... I pray that our merciful Father in Heaven may protect and direct us! In that case, I fear no odds and no numbers."

General Fitzhugh Lee wounded and captured; Escape of his brother Robert

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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/chapter05c, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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