Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter IX: A Private Citizen: Lee's conception of the part his influence exerted toward the restoration of Virginia

The Document

My father was at this time anxious to secure for himself and family a house somewhere in the country. He had always had a desire to be the owner of a small farm, where he could end his days in peace and quiet. The life in Richmond was not suited to him. He wanted quiet and rest, but could not get it there, for people were too attentive to him. So in the first days of June he mounted old Traveller and, unattended, rode down to "Pampatike"--some twenty-five miles--to pay a visit of several days to his relations there. This is an old Carter property, belonging then and now to Colonel Thomas H. Carter, who, but lately returned from Appomattox Court House, was living there with his wife and children. Colonel Carter, whose father was a first cousin of General Lee's, entered the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1861, as captain of the "King William Battery," rose grade by grade by his skill and gallantry, and surrendered in the spring of 1865, as Colonel and Chief of Artillery of his corps at that time. He was highly esteemed and much beloved by my father, and our families had been intimate for a long time.

"Pampatike" is a large, old-fashioned plantation, lying along the Pamunkey River, between the Piping Tree and New Castle ferries. Part of the house is very old, and, from time to time, as more rooms were needed, additions have been made, giving the whole a very quaint and picturesque appearance. At the old-fashioned dinner hour of three o'clock, my father, mounted on Traveller, unannounced, unexpected, and alone, rode up to the door. The horse and rider were at once recognised by Colonel Carter, and he was gladly welcomed by his kinsfolk. I am sure the days passed here were the happiest he had spent for many years. He was very weary of town, of the incessant unrest incident to his position, of the crowds of persons of all sorts and conditions striving to see him; so one can imagine the joy of master and horse when, after a hot ride of over twenty miles, they reached this quiet resting-place. My father, Colonel Carter tells me, enjoyed every moment of his stay. There were three children in the house, the two youngest little girls of five and three years old. These were his special delight, and he followed them around, talking baby-talk to them and getting them to talk to him. Every morning before he was up they went into his room, at his special request, to pay him a visit. Another great pleasure was to watch Traveller enjoy himself. He had him turned out on the lawn, where the June grass was very fine, abundant, and at its prime, and would allow no cord to be fed to him, saying he had had plenty of that during the last four years, and that the grass and the liberty were what he needed. He talked to Colonel Carter much about Mexico, its people and climate; also about the old families living in that neighbourhood and elsewhere in the State, with whom both Colonel Carter and himself were connected; but he said very little about the recent war, and only in answer to some direct question.

About six miles from "Pampatike," on the same river and close to its banks, is "Chericoke," another old Virginia homestead, which had belonged to the Braxtons for generations, and, at that time, was the home of Corbin Braxton's widow. General Lee was invited to dine there, and to meet him my brother, cousin, and I, from the White House, were asked, besides General Rosser, who was staying in the neighbourhood, and several others. This old Virginia house had long been noted for its lavish hospitality and bountiful table. Mrs. Braxton had never realised that the war should make any change in this respect, and her table was still spread in those days of desolation as it had been before the war, when there was plenty in the land. So we sat down to a repast composed of all the good things for which that country was famous. John and I did not seem to think there was too much in sight-- at any rate, it did not daunt us, and we did our best to lessen the quantity, consuming, I think, our share and more! We had been for so many years in the habit of being hungry that it was not strange we continued to be so awhile yet. But my father took a different view of the abundance displayed, and, during his drive back, said to Colonel Carter:

"Thomas, there was enough dinner to-day for twenty people. All this will now have to be changed; you cannot afford it; we shall have to practise economy."

In talking with Colonel Carter about the situation of farmers at that time in the South, and of their prospects for the future, he urged him to get rid of the negroes left on the farm--some ninety-odd in number, principally women and children, with a few old men--saying the government would provide for them, and advised him to secure white labour. The Colonel told him he had to use, for immediate needs, such force as he had, being unable at that time to get whites. Whereupon General Lee remarked:

"I have always observed that wherever you find the negro, everything is going down around him, and wherever you find a white man, you see everything around him improving."

He was thinking strongly of taking a house in the country for himself and family, and asked the Colonel whether he could not suggest some part of the State that might suit him. Colonel Carter mentioned Clarke County as representing the natural-grass section of Virginia, and Gloucester County the salt-water. My father unhesitatingly pronounced in favour of the grass-growing country. He told Mrs. Carter how pleased he was to hear that she had received her husband in tears when he returned from the surrender, as showing the true spirit, for, though glad to see him, she wept because he could fight no more for the cause. The day after this dinner he had to turn his back on those dear friends and their sweet home.

When Traveller was brought up to the door for him to mount, he walked all around him, looking carefully at the horse, saddle, and bridle. Apparently the blanket was not arranged to suit him, for he held the bridle while "Uncle Henry" took off the saddle. Then he took off the blanket himself, spread it out on the grass, and, folding it to suit his own idea of fitness, carefully placed it on Traveller's back, and superintended closely the putting on and girthing of the saddle. This being done, he bade everybody good-bye, and, mounting his horse, rode away homeward--to Richmond. After crossing the Pamunkey at Newcastle ferry, he rode into "Ingleside," about a mile from the river, the lovely home of Mrs. Mary Braxton. Here he dismounted and paid his respects to the mistress of the house and her daughters, who were also cousins. That afternoon he reached Richmond, returning by the same road he had travelled coming out. After his visit, which he had enjoyed so much, he began looking about more than ever to find a country home.

The house he was occupying in Richmond belonged to Mr. John Stewart, of "Brook Hill," who was noted for his devotion to the cause of the South and his kindness to all those who had suffered in the conflict. My brother Custis had rented it at the time he was appointed on Mr. Davis's staff. A mess had been established there by my brother and several other officers on duty in Richmond. In time, my mother and sister had been made members of it, and it had been the headquarters of all of the family during the war, when in town. My father was desirous of making some settlement with his landlord for its long use, but before he could take the final steps my mother received the following note from Mr. Stewart:

"...I am not presuming on your good opinion, when I feel that you will believe me, first, that you and yours are heartily welcome to the house as long as your convenience leads you to stay in Richmond; and, next, that you owe me nothing, but, if you insist on paying, that the payment must be in Confederate currency, for which along it was rented to your son. You do not know how much gratification it is, and will afford me and my whole family during the remainder of our lives, to reflect that we have been brought into contact, and to know and to appreciate you and all that are dear to you."

Next: He visits old friends throughout the country

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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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