Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XVII: The Reconstruction Period: Playful humour shown in his letters

The Document

My father had recovered form the spell of sickness of the previous summer at the Old Sweet Springs, which had weakened and depressed him until about the time he attended my brother's wedding. That marriage had been a great joy to him. His trip there and back, and his visits to "Brandon" and "Hickory Hill," the change of climate and scene, seeing old friends and new places, had all contributed to benefit his health and spirits. I remember this Christmas of 1867 he seemed particularly bright and cheerful. I give a letter he wrote me after I had left for my home which reflects his playful humour and good spirits:

"Lexington, Virginia, January 23, 1868.

"My Dear Robert: I inclose a letter which has just arrived in the mail. It seems to be from a nice young lady, judging from the style and address. I hope she is the right one and that her response is favourable. Put in a good crop, and recollect you may have two to feed after the harvest. We are doing what we can in this region to supply the springs and streams that form the lowland rivers. It is still raining, though the snow and ice have not left us. After your departure, Mr. Gordon brought to me a letter from Fitzhugh to your mother which had come in the Sunday mail and was overlooked among the papers. I am sorry it had not been found before you left, as you would have known their plans. Tell them I am sorry not to have seen them. We miss you very much. 'Life' has it all her own way now, and expends her energy in regulating her brother and putting your mother's drawers and presses to rights. It's her only vent, and furnishes exercise for body and mind. There is to be a great fete in your mother's room to-day. The Grace Church Sewing Society is to meet there at 10 A. M.--that is, if the members are impervious to water. I charged the two Mildreds to be seated with their white aprons on and with scissors and thimbles in hand. I hope they may have a refreshing time. Good-bye.

"Your father,

"R. E. Lee.

"Robert E. Lee."

The second Mildred mentioned here was my father's niece, daughter of Charles Carter Lee. She was living with my father at this time, going to school, and was, like her cousin the other Mildred, not very fond of her needle. His nickname for her was "Powhattie," derived, I presume, from her native County of Powhatan. He was very fond of teasing her in his playful way. Indeed, we all enjoyed that attention from him. He never teased any one whom he did not especially like.

To his new daughter I find the following letter, written at this time, in which he shows his affection and admiration for her:

"Lexington, Virginia, March 10, 1868.

"My Beautiful Daughter: I have been wishing to write to you for a long time, but have supposed that you would be so engrossed with my sons, with their plans and their projects, that you could not lend an ear to your papa. But now I must tell you how much I have thought of you, how much I want to see you, and how greatly I was disappointed at your not getting to see us at the time you proposed. You must not postpone your visit too long, or you may not find us here. Our winter, which has been long and cold, I hope now is over. The gardeners are busy, the grass is growing green, and the atmosphere warm and inspiring. I presume under its genial influence you and Fitzhugh are busy improving your new home. I hope everything is agreeable, and that you are becoming more and more interested in making those around you happy. That is the true way to secure your own happiness for which my poor prayers are daily offered to the throne of the Most High. I have been summoned to Richmond the third Thursday in this month, as a witness in the trial against Mr. Davis; and though that will be a painful errand for me, I hope that it will give me the pleasure of seeing you. I will endeavour to get down some day to the White House, if it is only to spend Sunday with you. I hope that you will be able to pay some attention to your poor brother Robert. Do not let his elder brother monopolise you altogether. You will have to take care of both till you can find some one like yourself to take Romancoke in hand. Do you think Miss Anne Banister will consent? Mildred, you know, is the only one of the girls who has been with us this winter. She has consequently had her hands full, and considers herself now a great character. She rules her brother and my nephews with an iron rod, and scatters her advice broadcast among the young men of the college. I hope that it may yield an abundant harvest. The young mothers of Lexington ought to be extremely grateful to her for her suggestions to them as to the proper mode of rearing their children, and though she finds many unable to appreciate her system, she is nothing daunted by the obtuseness of vision, but takes advantage of every opportunity to enlighten them as to its benefits. Mary and Agnes are still in Baltimore, and are now at the house of Mrs. Charles Howard. Agnes expects, I believe, to return to the Peters near Ellicott City, and then go over to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to visit the Goldsboroughs and other friends. I hardly think either of them will get back before June. I have recently received a very pretty picture from a young lady of Baltimore, Miss Mary Jones, whom I met last summer at the White Sulphur Springs. In one of my morning rides to the Beaver-dam Falls, near the Sweet Springs, I found her at the foot of the falls making a sketch of the scene, and on her return home she finished it and has sent it to me. It is beautifully painted and is a faithful representation of the Falls. I think you will be pleased with it when you come up, and agree with me in the opinion that it is the principal ornament of our parlour. I am sorry to inform you that your poor mama ahs been suffering more than usual lately from her rheumatic pains. She took cold in some way, which produced a recurrence of her former pangs, though she is in a measure now relieved. We often wish for you and Fitzhugh. My only pleasure is in my solitary evening rides, which give me abundant opportunity for quiet thought. With a great deal of love to your husband, I am your sincerely attached father,

"R. E. Lee."

"Mrs. William H. Fitzhugh Lee."

Next: His opinion of negro labour

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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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