Robert E. Lee was a soldier even before he graduated from West Point. It is safe to say that he was born a soldier, for he inherited the love of military life from his father, the famous general of the Revolution, known as “Light Horse Harry.”
Bravery was a quality that always went with the name of Lee, and Robert E. Lee had it in full measure. He was three times brevetted for gallantry.
General Lee had a houseful of happy boys and girls. With them he was not a stern soldier, but instead their best friend and playmate. He taught his children to be kind to all animals and they were never without some pet dog or cat. His own favorite was “Traveler,” a beautiful horse that he rode in the war.
Soon after the Mexican War, while the army was still in camp, Lee wrote this letter to his daughter Agnes. Annie, who is mentioned in the letter, was his sister.
CITY OF MEXICO,
February 12th, 1848.
My dear little Agnes, — I was delighted to receive your letter, and to find that you could write so well. But how could you say that I had not written to you? Did I not write to you and Annie? I suppose you want a letter all to yourself, so here is one. I am very anxious to see you again and to know how you 123 progress in your studies. You must be quite learned studying so many branches, and I suppose are becoming quite a philosopher. There is a nice little girl here, rather smaller than you were when I parted from you, named Charlottita, which means little Charlotte, who is a great favorite of mine. Her mother is a French lady and her father an Englishman. She is quite fair, with blue eyes and long dark lashes, and has her hair plaited down her back. She cannot speak English, but has a very nimble little tongue and jabbers French at me. Last Sunday she and her elder sister came to the palace to see me, and I carried them into the garden I told you of, and got them some flowers. Afterwards I took them to see the Governor, General Smith, and showed them the rooms in the palace, some of which are very large, with pictures, mirrors and chandeliers. One room, called the reception room, is very richly furnished. The curtains are of crimson velvet with gilt mountings, and the walls are covered with crimson velvet. At one end of the room there is a kind of throne, with a crimson velvet canopy, suspended from a gilt coronet on which is perched the Mexican eagle on a gilt cactus, holding a snake in his mouth. It was on this dais and under this canopy that President Santa Anna 124 used to receive his company on great occasions. Church is held in this room now every Sunday. Santa Anna’s large armchair is brought forward to the front of the dais before which is placed a small desk where Mr. McCarty, our Chaplain, reads the Episcopal Service and preaches a sermon, General Scott and the officers and those soldiers that wish to attend, sitting below him. After showing Charlottita and her sister Isabel all these things, she said she wished to go to her Mamarita, which means little Mamma, so I carried her out of the palace and she gave me some very sweet kisses and bade me adieu. She is always dressed very nicely when I see her and keeps her clothes very clean; I hope my little girls keep theirs just as nice, for I know I cannot bear dirty children. You must, therefore, study hard and be a very nice girl and do not forget your papa who thinks constantly of you and longs to see you more than he can express. Take good care of Mildred and tell her how much her Papa wants to see her. I do not see any little children here like her. Write to me soon and believe me always your affectionate father.
R. E. LEE.
The following letters were written to Mildred, Lee’s youngest daughter: —
CAMP, 28th April, 1856.
My dear little Daughter, I was much pleased to 125 receive your letter. I did not know that you could write so well. I think in time when you get more accustomed to spelling in writing you will write a beautiful letter, and Minnie Sprole and I will have delight times reading them. I am very glad to hear that your hens are doing so well. You must have plenty of eggs, chickens, and ducks for Rob and then children when they come home this summer. You know your brother Fitzhugh has a magnificent appetite, and those girls from Staunton never see a chicken. I wish I had you here to take care of mine. I brought them many hundred miles in a coop behind the wagon and every evening at the end of the day’s march, would let them out and at night they would roost on top of the wagon. They laid several eggs on the road. I have only seven hens and some days I get seven eggs. Having no plank, I have been obliged to make them a house of twigs. I planted four posts in the ground and bored holes in each, three feet from the ground, in which I inserted poles for the floor, and around which were woven the branches that formed it. There are so many reptiles in this country that you cannot keep fowls on the ground. The sides and tops were formed in the same way, and the whole is covered with branches with their leaves on, which makes a shady house but furnishes little protection against the rain. Soldier hens, 126 however, must learn not to mind rain. I converted the coop they came in into nests. They pick up so much corn among the horses that I do not have to feed them, and they seem quite domesticated. I have no cat, nor have I heard of one in this country. You will have to send me a kitten in your next letter. The Indians have none, as there are so many wolves prowling around that they frighten away all the mice. My rattlesnake, my only pet, is dead. He grew sick and would not eat his frogs, etc., and died one night. I hope you will have a nice garden and study hard and learn your lessons well. You must write to me whenever you can and believe me your
ROBERT E. LEE.
INDIANOLA, TEXAS, 22 March, 1857.
How can you say, My Precious Life, that I have not answered your letters? I cannot answer them before I receive them, but always do after. I was much gratified at finding on my arrival at San Antonio your two of the 4th Jan. and 15th Feb. They were very nice letters too, particularly the last. Well written and all the words correctly spelled. I think in time you will write beautiful letters. You must continue, therefore, to try and take pains. It has been said that our letters are good representatives of 127 our minds. If fair, correct, sensible and clear; so may you expect to find the writers. They certainly present a good criterion for judging of the character of the individual. You must be careful that yours make a favorable impression of you, as I hope you will deserve. I am truly sorry for the destruction of the Long Bridge. It will be an injury to the business of many, and in inconvenience to you in taking your music lessons. I am very glad to hear of your interest and progress in music and hope your proficiency will keep pace with your labor. You must be a great personage now, sixty pounds! Enormous. I wish I had you here in all your ponderosity. I want to see you so much. Cannot you and dear Mary Childe pack yourselves in a carpet bag and come out to the Comanche country? I wish you would. I would get you such a fine cat that you would never look at “Tomtita” again. Did I tell you “Jim Nooks,” Mrs. Waite’s cat, was dead? Died of apoplexy. I foretold his end. Coffee and cream for breakfast, pound cake for lunch, turtle and oysters for dinner, buttered toast for tea, and Mexican rats, taken raw, for his supper. Cat nature could not stand so much luxury. He grew enormously and ended in a spasm. His beauty could not save him. I saw in San Antonio a cat dressed up for company. He had two holes bored in each ear, and in each were two bows 128 of pink and blue ribbon. His round face set in pink and blue looked like a full blooming ivy bush. He was snow-white, and wore the golden fetters of his inamorata around his neck, in the form of a collar. His tail and feet were tipped with black, and his eyes of green and stealthy pace, were truly cat-like! But I saw “cats as is cats” in Savannah. While the stage was changing mules, I stepped around to see Mr. and Mrs. Monod, a French couple, with whom I had passed a night when I landed in Texas in 1846, to join General Wool’s army. Mr. Monod received me with all the shrugs and grimaces of his nation, and the entrance of Madame was foreshadowed by her stately cats, with visage grave and tails erect, who preceded, surrounded, and followed in her wake. Her present favorite Sodoiska, a large mottled gray, was a magnificent creature, and in her train she pointed out Aglai, her favorite eleven years ago when I had visited her. They are of French breed and education, and when the claret and water was poured out for my refreshment they jumped on the table for a sip too. If I can persuade the mail stage to give a place to one of that distinguished family, I will take one to Camp Cooper, provided Madame can trust her pet into such a barbarous country and Indian society. I left that wild cat on the Rio Grande. He was too savage. Had grown as large as a small-sized dog. 129 Had to be caged, and would strike at everything that came within his reach. His cage had to be strong and consequently heavy, and I could not bring it. He would pounce upon a kid as “Tomtita” would on a mouse, and would whistle like a tiger when you approach him. Give much love to Mary Childe when she comes and tell her I love her dearly. Be a good child and think always of your devoted father.
R. E. LEE.