Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XVII: The Reconstruction Period: Mr. Davis's trial

The Document

A few days afterward he writes to his son Fitzhugh, who was now established very happily in his new house, and warns him not to depend entirely on sentiment, but to arrange for something material. He also speaks of Mr. Davis and his trial, which was continually being postponed, and in the end was dismissed, and gives him some good advice about importing cattle:

"Lexington, Virginia, March 30, 1868.

"My Dear Fitzhugh: I was very glad to receive your letter of the 19th, and as you are aware of the order of the court postponing Mr. Davis's trial till the 14th proximo, I presume that you have not been expecting me down. I see it stated in the Washington 'Star' that the trial is again postponed till May 4th, but I have seen as yet no order from the court. Mr. and Mrs. Davis went from Baltimore to New York on Tuesday last, and were to go on to Canada. He said that he did not know what he should do or what he could turn his hand to for support. As long as this trial is hanging over him, of course, he can do nothing. He can apply his mind to nothing, nor could he acquire the confidence of the business community in anything he might undertake, from the apprehension of his being interrupted in the midst of it. Agnes and Mary saw them as they passed through Baltimore. They say Mr. Davis was well, though he had changed a great deal since they saw him last. I am very glad that you are so pleased with your house. I think it must be my daughter that gives it such a charm. I am sure that she will make everything look bright to me. It is a good thing that the wheat is doing so well, for I am not sure 'that the flame you are so rich in will light a fire in the kitchen, nor the little god turn the spit, spit, spit.' Some material element is necessary to make it burn brightly and furnish some good dishes for the table. Shad are good in their way, but they do not run up the Pamunkey all the year. I am glad that you are making arrangements for some cows, and think you are right in getting those of the best breed. It used to be thought that cows from the North would not prosper in that lower country, and indeed cows from the upper part of Virginia did not succeed well, but were apt to become sick and die; and that the surest process to improve the stock was to purchase calves of good breed and cross on the native stock. You must, therefore, be careful and not invest too much. We have had a cold winter, and March has been particularly harsh. Still, vegetation is progressing and the wheat around Lexington looks beautiful. My garden is advancing in a small way. Pease, spinach, and onions look promising, but my hot-bed plants are poor. The new house, about which you inquire, is in statu quo before winter. I believe the money is wanting and the workmen cannot proceed. We require some of that latter article here, as elsewhere, and have but little.... I heard of you in Richmond the other day, but did not learn whether my daughter was with you. I wish you would send her up to her papa when you go away. With much love,

"Your devoted father, R. E. Lee."

A month later he writes me, telling me that he expects to be in Richmond the following week, and will try to get down to see us; also telling of his garden, and horse, and, as he always did, encouraging, cheering me, and offering help:

"Lexington, Virginia, April 25, 1868.

"My Dear Rob: Your letter of the 21st is just received. I am very glad that your wheat is improving in appearance, and hope that at harvest it will yield a fair return for your care and labour. Your corn I am sure will be more remunerative than the crop of last year, and I trust that at the end of the year you will find you have advanced in the field of agriculture. Your mule and provender was a heavy loss. You must make it up. Replace the first by a good one and I will pay for it. I hope the warm sun will bring forward the grass to supply the latter. Should I go to Richmond, next week, as I now expect, I will be prepared to pay for the mule, and if I do not I will send you a check for the amount. I am sorry to hear that you have not been well. You must get out of that too.... You must refresh yourself when you can by going up to the White House to see your brother and sister. Take a good look at the latter for me.... In our garden nothing is up but the hardy plans, pease, potatoes, spinach, onions, etc.... Beets, carrots, salsify, etc., have been sown a long time, but are not up, and I cannot put in the beans, squash, etc., or set out the hot-bed plants. But we can wait. I have not been as well this winter as usual, and have been confined of late. I have taken up Traveller, however, who is as rough as a bear, and have had two or three rides on him, in the mud, which I think has benefited me. Mildred sometimes accompanies me. Your mother, I am glad to say, is better. She has less pain than when I last wrote, and is more active on her crutches.... Good-bye, my dear son. If I go to Richmond I will try to get to see you.

"Affectionately your father,

"R. E. Lee."

"R. E. Lee, Jr."

Next: Letter to Mrs. Fitzhugh Lee

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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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