Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XII: Lee's Opinion upon the Late War: Preaches patience and silence in the South

The Document

Shortly after his return to Lexington, he writes to Mrs. Jefferson Davis. In this letter he expresses such noble sentiments, and is so moderate and sensible in his views of those who were harassing him and the South, that all who read it must profit thereby:

"Lexington, Virginia, February 23, 1866.

"My Dear Mrs. Davis: Your letter of the 12th inst. reached Lexington during my absence at Washington. I have never seen Mr. Colfax's speech, and am, therefore, ignorant of the statements it contained. Had it, however, come under my notice, I doubt whether I should have thought it proper to reply. I HAVE THOUGHT, FROM THE TIME OF THE CESSATION OF THE HOSTILITIES, THAT SILENCE AND PATIENCE ON THE PART OF THE SOUTH WAS THE TRUE COURSE; and I think so still. CONTROVERSY OF ALL KINDS will, in my opinion, only serve to continue excitement and passion, and will prevent the public mind from the acknowledgement and acceptance of the truth. These considerations have kept me from replying to accusations made against myself, and induced me to recommend the same to others. As regards the treatment of the Andersonville prisoners, to which you allude, I know nothing and can say nothing of my own knowledge. I never had anything to do with any prisoners, except to send those taken on the fields, where I was engaged, to the Provost Marshal General at Richmond. I have felt most keenly the sufferings and imprisonment of your husband, and have earnestly consulted with friends as to any possible mode of affording him relief and consolation. He enjoys the sympathy and respect of all good men; and if, as you state, his trial is now near, the exhibition of the while truth in his case will, I trust, prove his defense and justification. With sincere prayers for his health and speedy restoration to liberty, and earnest supplications to God that He may take you and yours under His guidance and protection, I am, with great respect,

"Your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee."

In further illustration of these views, held so strongly by him and practised so faithfully throughout his life, the following, written to a gentleman in Baltimore, is given:

"Lexington, Virginia, April 13, 1866.

"My Dear Sir: Your letter of the 5th inst., inclosing a slip from the Baltimore "American," has been received. The same statement has been published at the North for several years. The statement is not true; but I have not thought proper to publish a contradiction, being unwilling to be drawn into a newspaper discussion, believing that those who know me would not credit it and those who do not would care nothing about it. I cannot now depart from the rule I have followed. It is so easy to make accusations against the people at the South upon similar testimony, that those so disposed, should one be refuted, will immediately create another; and thus you would be led into endless controversy. I think it better to leave their correction to the return of reason and good feeling.

"Thanking you for your interest in my behalf, and begging you to consider my letter as intended only for yourself, I am,

"Most respectfully your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee."

In this connection I give the following letter thanking Mr. Burr for a copy of the "Old Guard" which he had sent him, and showing also what, in his opinion, the South had fought for, and of what true republicanism consists:

"Lexington, Virginia, January 5, 1866.

"Mr. C. Chauncey Burr.

"My Dear Sir: I am very much obliged to you for your letter of the 27th ult., and for the number of the 'Old Guard' which you kindly sent me. I am glad to know that the intelligent and respectable people at the North are true and conservative in their opinions, for I believe by no other course can the right interests of the country be maintained. All that the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved, and that the government as originally organised should be administered in purity and truth. If such is the desire of the North, there can be no contention between the two sections, and all true patriots will unite in advocating that policy which will soonest restore the country to tranquility and order, and serve to perpetuate true republicanism. Please accept my thanks for your advocacy of right and liberty and the kind sentiments which you express toward myself, and believe me to be, with great respect,

"Your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee."

Shuns controversy and publicity

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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/chapter12d.html webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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