Unlocking History: Treasures Of Robert E. Lee Discovered

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Grim foreboding comes in the Lee’s handwritten original draft of the 1863 General Order notifying his troops of the death of General Stonewall Jackson, the brilliant Confederate tactician upon whom Lee depended. Generals usually dictated orders, says Shepard, so the fact that he handwrote this one indicates that he understood the full import of Jackson’s death for the Southern cause.

According to Pryor, perhaps the most significant Robert E. lee materials in the trunks are unfinished post-war essays he wrote on the government, war, and the evils of majority rule. The traditional view of Lee holds that he held no rancor in his heart after the war and altogether transcended the whole cataclysmic experience of war, perhaps an impression given by the great dignity in which he carried himself. These essays, however, expose Lee’s bitter struggle to reconcile himself to defeat and its disastrous results for the South, as well as his oral dilemma over having chosen that side.

What comes through most strongly in Lee’s writings is his humanity. In a letter to his wife-to-be, long before the Civil War would rip him and the nation apart, Lee’s words are those of a love struck young engineer who can’t wait to see her. In his letter of September 11, 1830, he rather comically describes the reaction of his family members to news of his engagement. “Both parties gradually approached the place where I was standing, and just as the storm seemed ready to burst upon my innocent head I bolted from the house & took refuse in the laundry. I just escaped in time, for hardly had I closed the door, when the whole building rung with the shouts and clamour of the enraged combatants.”

Most of Lee’s 21 love letters to Mary are published in a special edition of the Virginia Historical Society’s Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Vol. 115, Issue 4, 2007). See also Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters (Viking 2007).