Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter IX: A Private Citizen: Longs for a country home, Finds one at "Derwent," near Cartersville

The Document

The latter part of June, my father, mother, brother Custis, and sisters went to "Derwent," the name of the little place which was to be his home for that summer. They went by canal-boat from Richmond to Cartersville, and then had a drive of about six miles. Mrs. Cocke lived at "Oakland," two miles away, and her generous heart was made glad by the opportunity of supplying my father and his family with every comfort that it was possible to get at the time. In his letters to me, still at the White House busy with our corn, he gives a description of the surroundings:

"...We are all well, and established in a comfortable but small house, in a grove of oaks, belonging to Mr. Thomas Cocke [Mrs. Cocke's eldest son]. It contains four rooms, and there is a house in the yard which when fitted up will give us another. Only your mother, Agnes, and Mildred are with me. Custis, who has had a return of his at Mrs. Cocke's house, about two miles off--is convalescent, I hope. I have been nowhere as yet. The weather has been excessively hot, but this morning there is an agreeable change, with some rain. The country here is poor but healthy, and we are at a long distance from you all. I can do nothing until I learn what decision in my case is made in Washington. All unite with me in much love.

"Very truly, your father,

"R. E. Lee."

The "case" referred to here was the indictment in June by a grand jury in Norfolk, Virginia, of Mr. Davis, General Lee, and others, for treason or something like it.

The Hon. Reverdy Johnson offered his professional services to my father in this case, but there was no trial, as a letter from General Grant to the authorities insisted that the parole given by him to the officers and soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia should be respected. The following letter explains itself:

"Near Cartersville, Virginia, July 27, 1865.

"Hon. Reverdy Johnson, Baltimore, Md.

"My Dear Sir: I very much regret that I did not see you on your recent visit to Richmond, that I might have thanked you for the interest you have shown in my behalf, and you great kindness in offering me your professional services in the indictment which I now understand is pending against me. I am very glad, however, that you had an opportunity of reading a copy of General Grant's letter of the 20th inst. to me, which I left with Mr. Macfarland for that purpose, and also that he might show it to other officers of the Army of Northern Virginia in my condition. I did not wish to give it greater publicity without the assent of General Grant, supposing that, if he desired it made public, he would take steps to have it done. Should he consent to your request to have it published, I, of course, have no objection. But should he not, I request that you only use it in the manner I have above indicated. Again offering you my warmest thanks for your sympathy and consideration for my welfare, I am, with great respect,

"Your obedient Servant,

"R. E. Lee."

In another letter to me he tells of his visit to his brother Charles Carter Lee in Powhatan County, which was an easy ride from "Derwent." He was very fond of making these little excursion, and Traveller, that summer, was in constant use:

"Near Cartersville, July 22, 1865.

"My Dear Rob: I have just returned from a visit to your Uncle Carter, and, among my letters, find one from some of your comrades to you, which I inclose. I was happy to discover from the direction that it was intended for you and not for me. I find Agnes quite sick, and have sent for the doctor, as I do not know what to do for her. Poor little thing! she seems quite prostrated. Custis, I am told, is better. He is still at Mrs. Cocke's. The rest of us are well. I saw several of your comrades, Cockes, Kennons and Gilliams, who inquired after you all. Give my love to F. and Johnny, in which all here unite, and believe me most truly and affectionately

"Your father, R. E. Lee.

"Robert E. Lee."

In another letter he gives an account of a trip that he and Traveller had taken across the river into Albemarle County:

"Near Cartersville, August 21, 1865.

"My Dear Bertus: I received only a few days ago your letter of the 12th. I am very sorry to hear of your afflictions, but hope you have shaken off all of them. You must keep your eyes open, you precious boy, and not run against noxious vines and fevers. I have just returned from a visit to Fluvanna. I rode up the gray and extended my peregrinations into Albemarle, but no further than the Green Mountain neighbourhood. I made short rides, stopping every evening with some friend, and had a very pleasant time. I commended you to all the young ladies on the road, but did not know I was extolling a poisoned beau! You must go up and see Miss Francis Galt. Tell Fitzhugh I wrote to him before I went away. I am glad to hear that your corn is so fine, and that you are making preparations to put in a good crop of wheat. I wish I had a little farm somewhere, to be at work too. Custis is paying a visit to his friend, Captain Watkins, in Powhatan. He came up for him last Saturday, and bore him off. He has got quite well now, and I hope will continue so. Agnes is also well, though still feeble and thin. Your mother, Life, and myself as usual. We have not heard for some time from daughter. A report has reached us of her being at Mr. Burwell's. Miss Mary Cocke and her brother John paid us a short visit from Saturday to Monday, and several of our neighbors have been over to spend the day. We have a quiet time, which is delightful to me, but I fear not so exhilarating to the girls. I missed Uncle Carter's visit. He and his Robert rode up on a pair of colts while I was in Fluvanna, and spent several days. I wish we were nearer you boys. I want to see you very much, but do not know when that can be. I hope Johnny is well. I have heard nothing from his father since we parted in Richmond, but hear that Fitz has gone to see his mother. All here send their best love to you, and I pray that every happiness may attend you.

"Your devoted father,

"R. E. Lee.

"Robert E. Lee."

"Bertus" was a contraction of Robertus, my father's pet name for me as a child. My afflictions were "poison-oak," chills, and fever. The letter to my brother Fitzhugh, here referred to, I also give:

"Near Cartersville, Cumberland County, Virginia, July 29, 1865.

"My Dear Fitzhugh: I was very glad to receive, by the last packet from Richmond, your letter of the 22d. We had all been quite anxious to hear from you, and were much gratified to learn that you were all well, and doing well. It is very cheering to me to hear of your good prospects for corn and your cheerful prospects for the future. God grant they may be realised, which, I am sure, they will be, if you will unite sound judgement to your usual energy in your operations. As to the indictments, I hope you, at last, may not be prosecuted. I see no other reason for it than for prosecuting ALL who ever engaged in the war. I think, however, we may expect procrastination in measures of relief, denunciatory threats, etc. We must be patient, and let them take their course. As soon as I can ascertain their intention toward me, if not prevented, I shall endeavour to procure some humble, but quiet, abode for your mother and sisters, where I hope they can be happy. As I before said, I want to get in some grass country, where the natural product of the land will do much for my subsistence.... Our neighbours are very kind, and do everything in the world to promote our comfort. If Agnes is well enough, I propose to ride up to 'Bremo' next week. I wish I was near enough to see you. Give much love to Rob and Johnny, the Carters and Braxtons. All here unite in love and best wishes for you all.

"Most affectionately, your father,

"R. E. Lee."

Next: Chapter X: President of Washington College

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

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