The Legend’s Last Son Followed the Family to War


After serving as a junior officer, ‘Rob’ Lee wrote a famend chronicle of his father’s life

IT WASN’T EASY LIVING within the shadow of the Confederacy’s best basic, however Robert E. Lee Jr. had an fascinating and achieved Civil Warfare profession. He fought within the artillery and cavalry and rose to the rank of lieutenant. He later turned considered one of his father’s best chroniclers by the publication of Recollections and Letters of Robert E. Lee in 1904.

Robert Edward Lee Jr. was the sixth of his dad and mom’ seven youngsters. The youngest of three boys, he was born October 27, 1843, atArlington Plantation, the house of his mom, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of George Washington. Rob’s different grandfather was Revolutionary Warfare cavalryman “Gentle Horse” Harry Lee.

Robert E. Lee Jr. poses as a toddler together with his mom, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee. (Virginia Museum of Historical past and Tradition)

The household’s army custom had its challenges. As a Common Military officer, the elder Lee was gone for lengthy durations conducting engineering work on army defenses in Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Georgia. When the Mexican Warfare broke out, Captain Lee served as an engineer in Winfield Scott’s forces. In Recollections and Letters, Rob stated his earliest reminiscence of his father was of him returning dwelling from Mexico after an absence of almost two years. In line with Rob, his father didn’t acknowledge him and kissed Rob’s playmate accidentally. It could not be the final time Rob’s father failed to acknowledge his son.

As was true of the opposite Lee youngsters, Rob obtained a wonderful schooling. He first attended college in Baltimore, whereas his father was serving at Fort Carroll. When Robert E. Lee moved to West Level, N.Y., in 1852 to function superintendent of the U.S. Navy Academy, Rob adopted. Rob remembered his father serving to him with Latin and educating him learn how to journey a horse. However Rob wrote, “I noticed however little of my father after we left West Level” in 1855, when the senior Lee was ordered to St. Louis in preparation for his subsequent project out West, chasing Comanche warriors throughout the recent and arid Texas plains.

Regardless of his father’s absences, “it was unimaginable to disobey him,” Rob recalled. “My mom I might generally circumvent and at occasions took liberties along with her orders…however precise obedience to each mandate of my father was part of my life and being.” From November 1857 to February 1860, Robert E. Lee returned to Arlington to settle the property of George Washington Parke Custis. Younger Rob had one other couple of years to get pleasure from together with his father.

In distinction to his father and brothers, Rob was not interested by pursuing a army schooling. He attended the College of Virginia, which within the prewar interval was a raucous, all-male establishment the place college students drank, shot pistols, and broke issues. Rob might need been filled with youthful power, however like his father, he was additionally non secular. In Could 1860, he underwent a religious conversion. “How are you getting alongside together with your God,” he wrote his sister Mildred in January 1861. “O! my sister,” he stated, “neglect not him. I’ve suffered a lot from neglecting him.”

Robert Jr. grew up at Arlington Plantation while his father was stationed at army posts for long periods. This June 28, 1864, photo shows Union troops occupying the Lee home. (Library of Congress)
Robert Jr. grew up at Arlington Plantation whereas his father was stationed at military posts for lengthy durations. This June 28, 1864, photograph exhibits Union troops occupying the Lee dwelling. (Library of Congress)

When the Civil Warfare broke out, Rob—not but 18 years previous—was an keen volunteer. Within the spring of 1861, younger males from the College of Virginia organized army firms, and Rob turned a commissioned officer within the “Southern Guard.” He marched with this unit all the best way to Winchester earlier than Governor John Sensible ordered the scholars again to Charlottesville. In December 1861, Rob wrote there have been solely 50 college students left on the college—down from 650 the earlier 12 months—as a result of so many had enlisted within the Accomplice Military.

Rob grew up in a thriving slaveholding society, and his racial views mirrored that actuality. In January 1862, a couple of months earlier than he reenlisted, Rob visited White Home plantation, the house of his brother William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, higher often called “Rooney.” Rob wrote to Mildred that “essentially the most pleasant factor concerning the place is the set of negroes. They’re the true previous Virginny sort, as well mannered as doable dedicated to their grasp & mistress, who’re dedicated to them & who do each factor for them.”

Robert Jr.’s older brothers, Maj. Gen. William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee, left, and Maj. Gen. Custis Lee also served in the Army of Northern Virginia. Both were captured by Union troops. (From left: Library of Congress; Heritage Auctions)
Robert Jr.’s older brothers, Maj. Gen. William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee, left, and Maj. Gen. Custis Lee additionally served within the Military of Northern Virginia. Each had been captured by Union troops. (From left: Library of Congress; Heritage Auctions)

On March 28, 1862, Rob joined the Rockbridge Artillery as a non-public, and with that unit skilled his first combating within the Shenandoah Valley. In the course of the first few weeks of his service, the Accomplice Military was in a troublesome second of transition. In April, the Accomplice Congress handed a controversial conscription act, the primary in American historical past. The act drafted males from the ages of 18 to 35 and stored them for 3 years or till the tip of the struggle. The act led to the reorganization and consolidation of regiments. “The entire military appears very a lot dissatisfied,” Rob wrote to his father on April 23. He famous there have been “a superb many desertions among the many militia & the valley males who refuse to depart their houses behind them.” Rob himself was not discouraged, and he appeared down on these males of wavering patriotism.

In Could at Entrance Royal, Va., Confederates routed a a lot smaller drive of Federals below Colonel John Reese Kenly. Rob wrote of overrunning Federal camps and the boys serving to themselves to bacon, sugar, espresso, and different luxuries. We “acquired every kind of sweetmeats,” Rob wrote his father, “essentially the most scrumptious canned fruit of all Varieties ginger desserts by the barrels sugar sweet & all Sorts of ‘nick nacks.’” Rob stated he made a “hearty meal” of “bread & butter ginger desserts & sugar wh[ich] helped me out, for I used to be almost starved.” The younger artilleryman stated the Accomplice harm amounted to $100,000.

Victory didn’t erase the cruel realities of struggle. Rob noticed considered one of his mates badly wounded within the face at Entrance Royal. As for himself, he was exhausted. “I believe I’ve been by as onerous a time as I ever will see on this struggle,” he advised his father. “For twenty 4 days we’ve been marching & that is the fourth day we’ve rested Via rain mud water woods up & down mountains & for 2 weeks half starved.” The onerous combating, although, energized him. “I’m now as hearty as a buck feeling higher than I ever did in my life,” he reassured his father.

Rob didn’t see Common Lee once more till the Seven Days Battles. By then, his father had been put in control of the Military of Northern Virginia and was combating to drive Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Military of the Potomac from the outskirts of Richmond. Rob remembered that by then, “quick rations, the dangerous water, and the nice warmth, had begun to inform on us, and I used to be fairly properly worn out.”

On the Second Battle of Manassas, Rob, serving because the “No. 1” man answerable for ramming artillery rounds down his cannon’s barrel, was once more within the thick of fight. “My face and arms had been blackened with powder-sweat,” he recalled, “and the few clothes I had on had been ragged and stained with the purple soil of that part.” Rob encountered his father on the battlefield and managed to get his consideration. “Effectively, my man, what can I do for you?” he remembered his father saying. “Why, Common don’t me?” Rob replied. As soon as his father realized who he was speaking to, he was “a lot amused at my look and most glad to see that I used to be secure and properly.”

After the struggle Robert Jr. settled at Romancoke, a plantation on the Pamunkey River, however struggled as a farmer and missed his household in Lexington. (Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy, 1807-1870. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1897)

Shortly after Second Manassas, the Military of Northern Virginia headed north towards the Potomac River and Maryland. In the course of the busy days of marching, Rob recalled he “sometimes noticed the commander-in-chief, on the march, or handed the headquarters shut sufficient to recognise him and members of his employees, however as a non-public soldier in Jackson’s corps didn’t have a lot time…for visiting….

His subsequent alternative to speak to his father got here on September 17, the day of the infamous Battle of Sharpsburg. Throughout that bloody battle, when 23,000 males turned casualties, Rob remembered that “our battery had been severely dealt with, dropping many males and horses. Having three weapons disabled, we had been ordered to withdraw, and whereas shifting again we handed Common Lee and several other of his employees, grouped on somewhat knoll close to the highway….Captain Poague, commanding our battery, the Rockbridge Artillery, saluted, reported our situation, and requested for directions.”

The final listened to Poague’s report and advised him to take his broken weapons to the rear, however to organize his remaining cannon for extra motion. As he talked to Poague, Lee’s eyes drifted over the battle-worn males on the battery, as soon as once more apparently not recognizing his youngest son. Rob recalled that he approached his father, stated good day, then requested, “Common, are you going to ship us in once more?” Replied the commander, “Sure, my son, you all should do what you’ll be able to to assist drive these folks again.”

By the autumn of 1862, Rob, his father, and his brother and cavalry officer Rooney had survived a number of bloody campaigns, however the household suffered loss all the identical. In October, his sister Annie died of illness in North Carolina, the place she had fled to flee the ravages of struggle in Virginia. “I shall by no means see her any extra on this world,” Rob wrote of Annie.

As a lot as doable, the household tried to remain collectively. Rooney was promoted from colonel of the ninth Virginia Cavalry to brigadier basic and management of North Carolina and Virginia troopers. Rob turned a lieutenant and considered one of Rooney’s employees officers and remained optimistic concerning the Confederacy’s future. “I believe we’ll whip previous Burnside badly once we meet him,” he wrote in late November 1862. Occasions proved him appropriate. Lee’s forces soundly defeated Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside in December on the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Months of relative inactivity adopted. Rob fought at Chancellorsville on Could 1-3, 1863, however he didn’t march north with the Military of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania in the course of the Gettysburg Marketing campaign. That may have been as a result of Rooney was wounded at Brandy Station on June 9 and captured quickly thereafter and despatched to a Northern jail, the place he languished for months. Along with his brother out of the military, Rob labored for some time with the Ordnance Division in Richmond.

Rob was not depressed by the information of his father’s July defeat at Gettysburg. Later that month, he advised his mom that “the boys & officers are in excellent spirits & very desirous of creating their fame firmly, which they assume has been somewhat shaken at Gettysburg.” By then, Rob had rejoined the cavalry, serving in Colonel John R. Chambliss’ thirteenth Virginia Cavalry, and he defended his fellow horsemen in opposition to accusations that the cavalry “by no means does something.” “Reality is we do all of the onerous work of the Military,” he stated, noting there was “freedom on this department which is pleasant.”

Rob remembered that on the time of the 1864 Overland Marketing campaign, morale was nonetheless excessive within the Military of Northern Virginia. He wrote, “it by no means occurred to me, and to hundreds and hundreds like me, that there was any event for uneasiness.” The lads of the Military of Northern Virginia “firmly believed that ‘Marse Robert’…would convey us out of this hassle all proper.” Rob was wounded on the Could combating close to Spotsylvania, however he recovered and rejoined his command. In a July 1864 letter to his sister Agnes, he wrote of troopers getting a lot to eat, and he was impatient to “flip our horses out on the positive grass in Maryland & Pennsylvania.”

Charlotte “Lottie” Taylor Haxall married Robert Jr. in November 1871 however died of tuberculosis in September 1872. (Beaux and Brains of the 60’s, G.W. Dillingham Co, 1909)

In the course of the Petersburg siege, on August 15, 1864, he was wounded barely within the arm on the Second Battle of Deep Backside. The wound took Rob out of motion for 3 weeks.

By 1865, Rob’s outlook had grown darker and he was pessimistic about his future. “I don’t know whether or not I shall ever see you once more,” he advised his sister, Mildred. However he might nonetheless be humorous, warning Agnes in March: “Don’t let Sheridan get my trunk,” referring to Union Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan.

Within the remaining days of the struggle, Rob had a horse shot from below him, an occasion he remembered occurring on April 2 or 3. Fortunately for him, he was lower off from the remainder of the military. He stated he was “shocked” when he heard of the information of the give up. He rejoined his command and accompanied the remnants of the Jefferson Davis authorities to Greensboro, N.C. That was so far as he made it. He ultimately returned to Richmond and was paroled in Could 1865.

With the South devastated, Rob tried his hand at farming. He settled in King William County, Va., roughly 40 miles east of Richmond. Because the proprietor of “Romancoke,” he ran a small plantation on the Pamunkey River. The property was left to Rob in 1857 by his grandfather, George Washington Parke Custis. At Romancoke, Rob—removed from his household in Lexington—discovered himself a lonely bachelor and struggling farmer.

Not like his oldest brother Custis, who turned president of Washington and Lee College, and Rooney, who later turned a U.S. congressman, Rob stored a low profile after the struggle and his racial views had not progressed past condescending references to African Individuals. In February 1866, he advised a sister about “Outdated Coon,” a black lady serving to him preserve home. A 12 months later, he dismissed the plight of the freed folks of the South, saying, they had been “stirred up by baptizing & politics,” however added “that concept would by no means be demonstrated by Cuffee.”

He nonetheless obtained recommendation from his father. “You could have a pleasant spouse,” the elder Lee advised him in August 1867. “I don’t such as you being so

lonely. I concern you’ll fall in love with celibacy.” Common Lee traveled to Romancoke a number of occasions to see his bachelor son. Rob apparently cared little about entertaining, and after one journey Common Lee determined his son wanted a correct set of silverware. The final final visited Rob within the spring of 1870.

The information of his father’s dying on October 12, 1870, hit Rob onerous. After the final’s dying, he lamented his personal “selfishness & weak point” and praised his father for the “instance of true manliness he set me all by his life.” In distinction, he felt he had “performed so little for him.”

Rob’s unsure funds, the shabbiness of his property, and the truth that he was removed from household and metropolis life slowed his prospects of discovering a spouse. After a protracted courtship, in November 1871 he married 23-year-old Charlotte Taylor Haxall, however the marriage to “Lottie,” as she was identified, proved temporary. She died of tuberculosis on September 22, 1872. “I attempt to imagine that each one is for one of the best,” he wrote after her dying, “however it is rather onerous—onerous to imagine, more durable nonetheless to really feel so.” A 12 months later, Rob misplaced his mom, who had suffered from debilitating ailing well being. Just a few weeks earlier than her dying, Rob’s sister, Agnes, had additionally died.

In 1875, Rob departed for England together with his sister Mildred. He stayed there for a 12 months. Rob ultimately moved from Romancoke to Washington, D.C., the place he labored within the insurance coverage enterprise. In March 1894, Rob married Juliet Carter, the daughter of Colonel Thomas H. Carter, a Virginian who had served within the Military of Northern Virginia’s artillery.

Rob and Juliet had two daughters, Anne Carter (1897-1978) and Mary Custis (1900-1994). In 1904, Rob revealed Recollections and Letters of Common Robert E. Lee. The e-book included transcriptions of his father’s letters, recollections of his spoken phrases, and anecdotes drawn from Rob’s recollections of these of his older siblings. The e-book was properly obtained and stays important studying for Lee students.

Robert Jr. ultimately moved to Washington, D.C., the place he labored within the insurance coverage enterprise and married a second time. In 1904, Robert Jr. revealed Recollections and Letters of Robert E. Lee. (Virginia Museum of Historical past and Tradition)

Rob died on October 14, 1914, and he’s buried together with his household within the Lee crypt in Lexington. Robert E. Lee biographer J. William Jones wrote of him, “No braver or extra chivalric man ever lived, and his dying is lamented by his surviving comrades of the struggle, and by a number of mates.”

In some ways, Robert E. Lee Jr. was a typical Accomplice soldier. He was an single enlisted man in his 20s who fought within the ranks and a defender of the racial established order. He survived the struggle, although he noticed lots of his mates and comrades killed.

In different methods, his life was atypical in that he was the son of the Confederacy’s best warrior and a member of one of many South’s most celebrated and elite households. An unsuccessful farmer after the struggle, the ex-Insurgent moved, sarcastically, to the federal capital of Washington, D.C., to hunt higher monetary alternatives.

Rob’s profession might have been humble in contrast with others of his technology, however his letters present an necessary hyperlink between the pre- and postwar South, and he was the liveliest and funniest author of any member of his household. His Recollections and Letters of Robert E. Lee stays an necessary supply on his well-known father.

Colin Woodward is the creator of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Accomplice Military In the course of the Civil Warfare. He lives in Richmond, the place he’s host of the historical past and popular culture podcast “American Rambler.” He’s revising a e-book on nation singer Johnny Money.

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