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Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

 Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

My father was at this time anxious to secure for himself and familya house somewhere in the country. He had always had a desire to bethe owner of a small farm, where he could end his days in peace andquiet. The life in Richmond was not suited to him. He wanted quietand rest, but could not get it there, for people were too attentiveto him. So in the first days of June he mounted old Traveller and,unattended, rode down to "Pampatike"--some twenty-five miles--to paya visit of several days to his relations there. This is an old Carterproperty, belonging then and now to Colonel Thomas H. Carter, who, butlately returned from Appomattox Court House, was living there with hiswife and children. Colonel Carter, whose father was a first cousinof General Lee's, entered the Army of Northern Virginia in the springof 1861, as captain of the "King William Battery," rose grade by gradeby his skill and gallantry, and surrendered in the spring of 1865, asColonel and Chief of Artillery of his corps at that time. He washighly esteemed and much beloved by my father, and our families hadbeen intimate for a long time.

"Pampatike" is a large, old-fashioned plantation, lying along thePamunkey River, between the Piping Tree and New Castle ferries. Partof the house is very old, and, from time to time, as more rooms wereneeded, additions have been made, giving the whole a very quaint andpicturesque appearance. At the old-fashioned dinner hour of threeo'clock, my father, mounted on Traveller, unannounced, unexpected, andalone, rode up to the door. The horse and rider were at once recognisedby Colonel Carter, and he was gladly welcomed by his kinsfolk. I amsure the days passed here were the happiest he had spent for many years.He was very weary of town, of the incessant unrest incident to hisposition, of the crowds of persons of all sorts and conditions strivingto see him; so one can imagine the joy of master and horse when, aftera hot ride of over twenty miles, they reached this quiet resting-place.My father, Colonel Carter tells me, enjoyed every moment of his stay.There were three children in the house, the two youngest little girlsof five and three years old. These were his special delight, and hefollowed them around, talking baby-talk to them and getting them totalk to him. Every morning before he was up they went into his room,at his special request, to pay him a visit. Another great pleasurewas to watch Traveller enjoy himself. He had him turned out on thelawn, where the June grass was very fine, abundant, and at its prime,and would allow no cord to be fed to him, saying he had had plentyof that during the last four years, and that the grass and the libertywere what he needed. He talked to Colonel Carter much about Mexico,its people and climate; also about the old families living in thatneighbourhood and elsewhere in the State, with whom both ColonelCarter and himself were connected; but he said very little about therecent war, and only in answer to some direct question.

About six miles from "Pampatike," on the same river and close to itsbanks, is "Chericoke," another old Virginia homestead, which hadbelonged to the Braxtons for generations, and, at that time, was thehome of Corbin Braxton's widow. General Lee was invited to dine there,and to meet him my brother, cousin, and I, from the White House, wereasked, besides General Rosser, who was staying in the neighbourhood,and several others. This old Virginia house had long been noted forits lavish hospitality and bountiful table. Mrs. Braxton had neverrealised that the war should make any change in this respect, andher table was still spread in those days of desolation as it had beenbefore the war, when there was plenty in the land. So we sat down toa repast composed of all the good things for which that country wasfamous. John and I did not seem to think there was too much in sight--at any rate, it did not daunt us, and we did our best to lessen thequantity, consuming, I think, our share and more! We had been forso many years in the habit of being hungry that it was not strangewe continued to be so awhile yet. But my father took a different viewof the abundance displayed, and, during his drive back, said to ColonelCarter:

"Thomas, there was enough dinner to-day for twenty people. All thiswill now have to be changed; you cannot afford it; we shall have topractise economy."

In talking with Colonel Carter about the situation of farmers at thattime in the South, and of their prospects for the future, he urgedhim to get rid of the negroes left on the farm--some ninety-odd innumber, principally women and children, with a few old men--sayingthe government would provide for them, and advised him to secure whitelabour. The Colonel told him he had to use, for immediate needs, suchforce as he had, being unable at that time to get whites. WhereuponGeneral Lee remarked:

"I have always observed that wherever you find the negro, everythingis going down around him, and wherever you find a white man, you seeeverything around him improving."

He was thinking strongly of taking a house in the country for himselfand family, and asked the Colonel whether he could not suggest somepart of the State that might suit him. Colonel Carter mentioned ClarkeCounty as representing the natural-grass section of Virginia, andGloucester County the salt-water. My father unhesitatingly pronouncedin favour of the grass-growing country. He told Mrs. Carter how pleasedhe was to hear that she had received her husband in tears when hereturned from the surrender, as showing the true spirit, for, thoughglad to see him, she wept because he could fight no more for the cause.The day after this dinner he had to turn his back on those dear friendsand their sweet home.

When Traveller was brought up to the door for him to mount, he walkedall around him, looking carefully at the horse, saddle, and bridle.Apparently the blanket was not arranged to suit him, for he held thebridle while "Uncle Henry" took off the saddle. Then he took offthe blanket himself, spread it out on the grass, and, folding it tosuit his own idea of fitness, carefully placed it on Traveller's back,and superintended closely the putting on and girthing of the saddle.This being done, he bade everybody good-bye, and, mounting his horse,rode away homeward--to Richmond. After crossing the Pamunkey atNewcastle ferry, he rode into "Ingleside," about a mile from the river,the lovely home of Mrs. Mary Braxton. Here he dismounted and paid hisrespects to the mistress of the house and her daughters, who were alsocousins. That afternoon he reached Richmond, returning by the sameroad he had travelled coming out. After his visit, which he hadenjoyed so much, he began looking about more than ever to find a countryhome.

The house he was occupying in Richmond belonged to Mr. John Stewart,of "Brook Hill," who was noted for his devotion to the cause of theSouth and his kindness to all those who had suffered in the conflict.My brother Custis had rented it at the time he was appointed on Mr.Davis's staff. A mess had been established there by my brother andseveral other officers on duty in Richmond. In time, my mother andsister had been made members of it, and it had been the headquartersof all of the family during the war, when in town. My father wasdesirous of making some settlement with his landlord for its longuse, but before he could take the final steps my mother received thefollowing note from Mr. Stewart:

"...I am not presuming on your good opinion, when I feel that you willbelieve me, first, that you and yours are heartily welcome to the houseas long as your convenience leads you to stay in Richmond; and, next,that you owe me nothing, but, if you insist on paying, that the paymentmust be in Confederate currency, for which along it was rented to yourson. You do not know how much gratification it is, and will affordme and my whole family during the remainder of our lives, to reflectthat we have been brought into contact, and to know and to appreciateyou and all that are dear to you."