Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XVI: An Advisor of Young Men: The General's ovation at Petersburg

The Document

A special car carried General Lee and the other wedding guests from Richmond to Petersburg. He did not enter into the gay conversation of the young people, but appeared sad and depressed, and seemed to dread seeing the town of Petersburg and meeting its people. This feeling was dispelled by the enthusiastic welcome given him by every one there. General Mahone, whose guest he was to be, met him at the depot with a carriage and four white horses. Many of the citizens tried to take out the horses and pull the carriage into the town, but the General protested, declaring, if they did so, he would have to get out and help them. The morning after the wedding he drove out to "Turnbull's" to see an old woman who had been very kind to him, sending him eggs, butter, etc., when he had had his headquarters near by during the siege. On his return he took lunch at Mr. Bolling's, and held an impromptu reception, everybody coming in to speak to him.

That night he went to an entertainment given to the bride at Mr. Johnson's. He enjoyed the evening very much and expressed his feeling of relief at seeing every one so bright and cheerful. He was delighted to find the people so prosperous, and to observe that they had it in their hearts to be gay and happy. The next morning he returned to Richmond. He was escorted to the train in the same way in which he had been received. All the people turned out to see him leave, and he departed amid tremendous cheering.

My father enjoyed this visit. It had been a success in every way. His old friends and soldiers called on him in great numbers, all eager to look on his face and clasp his hand again. The night of the wedding, the streets were filled with crowds anxious to see him once more, and many to look on him for the first time. Where ever he was seen, he was treated with the greatest love, admiration, and respect. It was with devotion, deep, sincere, and true, mixed with awe and sadness, that they beheld their old commander, on foot, in citizen's dress, grayer than three years ago, but still the same, passing along the ways where he had so often ridden on Traveller, with the noise of battle all around. What a change for him; what a difference to them! But their trust and faith in him were as unshaken as ever. A glimpse of his feelings at this time is shown in one of his letters written a few weeks later, which I will give in its proper place. The day after his return to Richmond he write to my mother:

"Richmond, December 1, 1867.

"My Dear Mary: I returned here yesterday with Custis, Robert and Fitz. Lee. We left Fitzhugh and his bride in Petersburg. Mildred is with them. In consequence of being told that the new couple were to leave Petersburg the morning after the wedding, I had made my arrangements to return here Saturday. If I had known that they would remain till Monday, as is now their intention, I should have made my arrangements to stay. Mildred will come up with them on Monday and go to Mrs. Caskie's. I proposed to Custis, Rob, and Fitz to remain in Petersburg till that time, but they preferred coming with me. I shall go to Brandon to-morrow morning, and will take Custis and Robert with me. I propose to return here Tuesday, finish my business Wednesday, spend Thursday at Hickory Hill, take passage for Lexington Friday, where I hope to arrive Saturday. As far as I could judge, our new daughter will go to Baltimore December 2d and probably return here the following Monday. Fitzhugh will go down to the White House during the week and make arrangements for their sojourn there. He can go down in the morning and return in the evening. I repeated our invitation to her to visit us on their return from Baltimore, but she said Fitzhugh thought it better fo them to defer it till the spring, but she would write to let us know. I do not think she will come at this time, for she is in that happy state which causes her to take pleasure in doing what she thinks he prefers, and he, I think, would like to go to the White House and arrange for winter. I went up to Caskie's last evening. Saw Norvell, but Mr. and Mrs. Caskie were both sick upstairs. The latter is better than when I last wrote, and free from pain. I paid several visits yesterday evening, and took Rob with me. Mrs. Triplett's, Mrs. Peebles', Mrs. Brander's, Mrs. J. R. Anderson's. At the latter place I met Mrs. Robert Stannard, who looked, I thought, remarkably well. She is living with Hugh (her son), on his farm. I also went to Mrs. Dunlop's and saw there General and Miss Jennie Cooper. The latter looked remarkably well, but the former is very thin. They will remain here some weeks. I have not seen Colonel Allan since my return from Petersburg, but am told that he is better. You must give a great deal of love to all with you. I am very anxious to get back, and I hope that you are all well. It is very cold here this morning, and ice is abundant. Good-bye.

"Truly and affectionately,

"R. E. Lee."

The people mentioned here as those he called on were all friends living in Richmond, with whom my mother had become well acquainted during her stay there, in war times. There were many others he went to see, for I remember going with him. He sat only a few minutes at each place--"called just to shake hands," he would say. All were delighted to see him. From some places where he had been well known he could hardly get away. He had a kind word for all, and his excuse for hurrying on was that he must try to see so and so, as Mrs. Lee had told him to be sure to do so. He was bright and cheerful, and was pleased with the great affection shown him on all sides.

On the day he had appointed--Monday, the 2d of December--we started in the morning for "Brandon." We took the steamer down James River, passing through much of the country where he had opposed McClellan in '62 and Grant in '64. Custis and I were with him. He said very little, as I remember--nothing about the war--but was interested in all the old homesteads along the route, many of which he had visited in the days long ago and whose owners had been his relatives and friends. He expressed great regret at not being able to stop at "Shirley," which was the birthplace and home of his mother before she married. He stayed at "Brandon" one night only, taking the same boat as it returned next day to Richmond. They were all glad to see him and sorry to let him go, but his plans had been formed before-hand, according to his invariable custom, and he carried them out without any change. Spending one day in Richmond, he went from there to "Hickory Hill," thence to Lexington, arriving there the Saturday he had fixed on. I bade him and my brother Custis good-bye in Richmond, and returned to my home. To my brother, Fitzhugh, after his return from his wedding trip, he writes:

"Lexington, Virginia, December 21, 1867.

"My Dear Fitzhugh: I was very glad last night to receive your letter of the 18th announcing your return to Richmond. I did not like my daughter to be so far away. I am glad, however, that you had so pleasant a visit, which has no doubt prepared you for the enjoyments of home, and will make the repose of Xmas week in Petersburg doubly agreeable. I had a very pleasant visit to Brandon after parting with you, which Custis and Robert seemed equally to enjoy, and I regretted that I could only spend one night. I passed Shirley both going and returning with regret, from my inability to stop; but Custis and I spent a day at Hickory Hill on our way up very agreeably. My visit to Petersburg was extremely pleasant. Besides the pleasure of seeing my daughter and being with you, which was very great, I was gratified in seeing many friends. In addition, when our armies were in front of Petersburg I suffered so much in body and mind on account of the good townspeople, especially on that gloomy night when I was forced to abandon them, that I have always reverted to them in sadness and sorrow. My old feelings returned to me, as I passed well-remembered spots and recalled the ravages of the hostile shells. But when I saw the cheerfulness with which the people were working to restore their condition, and witnessed the comforts with which they were surrounded, a load of sorrow which had been pressing upon me for years was lifted from my heart. This is bad weather for completing your house, but it will soon pass away, and your sweet helpmate will make everything go smoothly. When the spring opens and the mocking-birds resume their song you will have much to do. So you must prepare in time. You must give a great deal of love for me to all at Mr. Bolling's, to General and Mrs. Mahone, and other friends. We shall be very glad when you can bring our daughter to see us. Select the time most convenient to you, and do not let it be long distant. Tell her I wish to see her very much, as do also her mama and sisters. Your mother regrets that you did not receive her letter in answer to yours from Baltimore. She wrote the day of its reception, and addressed it to New York, as you directed. The box about which you inquired arrived safely and was much enjoyed. Mary is in Baltimore, where she will probably spend the winter. As I am so far from Mildred, it will be difficult for her to make up her mind when to return, so that the whole care of the household devolves upon Agnes, who is occupied all the morning, teaching our niece, Mildred.... God bless you all is the prayer of Your devoted father, R. E. Lee.

"General Wm. H. F. Lee."

Next: His personal interest in the students under his care

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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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