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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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Vol. I
p111
Chapter VII

The Ancient War of Staff and Line

Early in August, 1831, and doubtless on the "first boat," as promised, Lee and his wife reached Fort Monroe. Their plain quarters in the fort had been set in order by the friendly Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Talcott. The furnishings were simple, with no feather beds or luxuries, for Mrs. Lee brought with her no independent fortune and accepted no financial help from her father.

Within a few weeks of their arrival at Old Point occurred the most exciting incident of their three years' residence there. On August 23, Colonel Abram Eustis, the commanding officer of the fort, received word from the mayor of Norfolk that a menacing insurrection of slaves had broken out in Southampton County, forty miles from the city, and that the Negroes had procured arms and were mustering in large numbers. Help was needed. Eustis at once prepared three of his five companies of artillery for the field. The warships Warren and Natchez, then in Hampton Roads, also supplied detachments. Setting out the next morning, and using water transportation for a part of the distance, the force was able to cover sixty miles in twenty-four hours. It found, most fortunately, that the rising had been put down and that the Negroes had been scattered.1 Nearly sixty white people, however, had been slain.

As a staff officer, Lee did not go to Southampton, but he was, of course, profoundly concerned over the outburst, and believed, on the basis of what he heard, that only the Negroes' misunderstanding of the date of the rising prevented "much mischief." He wrote Mrs. Custis: "It is ascertained that they used their religious assemblies, which ought to have been devoted to better purposes, for forming and maturing their plans, and that their preachers p112 were the leading men. . . . The whole number of blacks taken and killed did not amount to the number of whites murdered by them."2

The insurrection had a thousand repercussions. Apprehension spread throughout the South. In Richmond the concern was so acute that Major Worth, Lee's old commander at West Point, who was then in garrison at Fort Monroe, was sent on a special journey to Bellona Arsenal to see that the arms stored there were secure against seizure.3 At Old Point, as a measure of precaution, Colonel Eustis put into effect a series of regulations for the exclusion of Negroes from the post. This greatly embarrassed the engineers and increased the long-developing friction that was to lead to a "post war" between them and the colonel.4 The temper of some of the Negroes in the tidewater section of Virginia was considered so menacing that five additional companies of artillery, three of the 3d Regiment and two of the 4th, were brought to Fort Monroe and put on duty. This gave the fort a garrison of 680 men, no small part of the army of the United States.5

The troops were not needed to suppress any further insurrection, but the presence of their officers added to the social life of the fort. To none was their advent more welcome than to Lee, for among the lieutenants who came with the artillery was his companion of West Point days, Joseph E. Johnston. The two took up where they had left off at the academy and seemingly were having a joyous time when their fellowship was interrupted by the Christmas holidays. The Lees went up the James River, probably to visit the Carters of Shirley, and then journeyed to Arlington via Baltimore, where they spent some snowy days with Mrs. Marshall. Soon after they got to Arlington they received a belated invitation to the wedding of the fair Eliza Mackay to William H. Stiles, a Georgian of distinction. Lee sat down to write his good wishes and congratulations in a letter which was broken off p113 more than once by the comings and goings of guests. He began the letter on her wedding day:

"How I should like to say 'Mr. and Mrs. Lee have the honour to accept Mrs. Mackay's kind invitation for Wednesday night.' But this cannot be Miss Eliza (My Sweetheart) because it only arrived here last night, by this token that I have been in tears ever since at the thought of losing you. Oh Me! Gilderoy you are a lucky fellow to have got so bright a New Year's gift this January 1832. Why Man, it is better for you than the gift of life. . . .

"But Miss E. how do you feel about this time? Say 12 o'clock of the day, as you see the shadows commence to fall towards the East and know that at last the sun will set? Though you may not be frightened I 'spect you are most marvellously alarmed. . . . Well I do wish I could be there. It would do me so much good to be with you all again and see you so happy. I wonder it has never entered the dull heads of Congress that I ought to be there and that they ought to make special provision for the occasion. But the wretches take no care of 'us youth.' And through their negligence you are deprived of my presence and I of your sweet company. If I could but drop in this morning and tell you what a powerful fine thing it is to stand up before the Parson with all eyes bent on you (except one pair) he mournful and solemn as if he were reading your funeral service. A man feels of so much, and I am sure, he could not add to the stillness of the scene though he were dead. Would not this revive you Miss E."

When he picked up the letter four days later, he was in the same merry mood.

". . . And how did you disport yourself My child? Did you go off well, like a torpedo cracker on Christmas morning. . . . Oh Mercy Are you really married Mrs. Stiles. The idea of it is as great a damper to a man's spirit as that of the cholera. But it must feel mighty funny to you. And I suppose you are so busy that you will not have time to read this scrawl so I must think about bringing it to an end. . . ."

After which he trailed off into chatter about mutual acquaintances in the army. Mrs. Lee added her congratulations in a postscript that presents most charmingly the contrast between her temperament and Lee's:

"You see what a small space is left me my dear Miss Eliza to offer my congratulations and to wish that your pathway in life may be as bright as our beneficent Creator and Father sees best for you. I still indulge a hope, though it may seem a vain one, that we may one day meet with a friend to us both so dear. I am now a wanderer on the face of the earth and know not where we are going next and hope it will be East. I suppose you remain in Savannah near your Mother? What happiness! I am with mine now — the past and the future disregarded. I offer my love and congratulations to you and the family on the late joyous occasion. We should have been delighted to participate in it — So farewell

Your sincere and Affectionate     
M. Lee."6

Apparently Mrs. Lee remained at Arlington after the Christmas holidays, and Lee went back to Old Point. He and Joe Johnston had a merry season. Johnston, still "The Colonel" to his intimates, was impregnable in his self-discipline. Lee neither drank nor swore nor gambled. But if the pair walked not in the counsel of the ungodly, they had no compunctions about standing in the way of sinners, at least to see what the sinners were doing. When good man Eustis was safe behind the door of his quarters, quiet for the night, Lee and Johnston would prowl about, visiting the just and the unjust, with observant eye. On one call they found a friend, as Lee wrote Jack Mackay, "in the middle of the floor, trying to get off his uniform. We had to assist his lendings, or Borrowings rather, for there was nothing his own but his pants, and he had slept in the Colo's uniform."

There was no reproach in this, no shocked sensibilities. It was always so with Lee in his youth. He did not share in the excesses of his comrades but he did not wear a sombre face. When hard duty was given them, Lee shared their distress and understood p115 how they might seek solace in their cups. "The poor devils of Subs," Lee confided to Mackay, "are drilled off their feet." This may have been the reason that one of the young officers kept as "his constant companion . . . that phial of Texas whiskey, hermetically sealed to celebrate his meeting with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Dick T[ilghman] whenever that should take place." As for Tilghman himself, companion of West Point, he "left yesterday for Baltimore, cursing the whole concern."7 Subsequently, Lee had to report that Johnston "from occasionally accompanying me over the river, is in some danger of being caught by a pair of black eyes."8

Mrs. Lee returned with milder weather; the nightly visitation of quarters by the engineer and the artillerist became less frequent; the scare of a slave rebellion subsided; most of the officers slipped back into the leisurely routine of life at an army post. But for Lee and his brothers, there opened a new and a strange warfare, a warfare that brought all the sons of "Light-Horse Harry" closer together. Even the exiled and disgraced "Black-Horse Harry" emerged from the shadows as a defender of the family name.

The circumstances were odd: Except for one period of wavering, "Light-Horse Harry" Lee had been consistently opposed to Jeffersonian ideas. Charles Lee, his brother, had been Attorney General under Washington, and of counsel in the famous case of Marbury vs. Madison. The whole politics of the family was anti-Jefferson, though Jefferson was their distant kinsman through the Randolphs.9 Because of Henry Lee's part in procuring from his pen a statement regarding the character of a lady to whom Jefferson was alleged to have made improper advances, the Lees had long felt a certain contempt for the third President.10 There had been no open hostilities, however, until the appearance in 1829 of T. J. Randolph's four-volume edition of Jefferson's correspondence.11 This contained two unpleasant references to "Light-Horse Harry." p116 One was the statement in a letter of 1815 from Jefferson to Monroe, asserting that although the legislature of Virginia had absolved Jefferson of all blame for the seizure of public arms by the British at Richmond in January, 1781, "Gen. Lee has put all these imputations among the romances of his historical novel," — Lee's Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department — "for the amusement of credulous and uninquisitive readers."12 The other reference was in a letter to Washington, written at the time of the neutrality agitation. In this Jefferson branded Lee for repeating to Washington a tale that Jefferson had insinuated Washington was under Britain influence. It was, said he, "The slander of an intriguer, dirtily employed in sifting the conversations of my table, where alone he could hear of me; and seeking to atone for sins against another who had never done him any other injury than of declining his confidence." Lee, the talebearer, he concluded, was a "miserable tergiversator, who ought indeed to have been of more truth, or less trusted by his country."13

These references greatly incensed the Lees. The younger Henry had been at Monticello, at the invitation of its master, only three days before Jefferson's death, to examine papers which Jefferson held were absolution of any charge of mismanagement of Virginia's affairs in 1781,14 and now Henry Lee took up the chapter in his exile and wrote a tedious but terrific indictment of Jefferson under the title Observations on the Writings of Thomas Jefferson, With Particular Reference to the Attack They Contain on the Memory of the Late General Henry Lee.15 This appeared in 1832.

The thesis of the book was that Jefferson had been guilty of the duplicity that Lee had charged against him. The conduct of the two men during and after the Revolution was compared, in an effort to show how much better Lee had behaved than Jefferson. The author attempted to prove that Jefferson had maligned others p117 — Washington, Hamilton, Knox, Marshall, and Jay — as he had maligned Lee. It was a savage, bitter, and wordy book, but it showed the intensity of the family's devotion to the memory of "Light-Horse Harry." In reaction, Lee and his brothers became more confirmed in their opposition to the party of Jefferson. By inheritance, Robert Lee was a Federalist; by circumstance he became a Whig, wholly out of sympathy with the party that controlled the government during the greater part of his service in the United States army.16 Carter Lee was as bitter against Jefferson as Henry was, and in 1839 he issued a second and even more elaborate edition of the Observations, with new criticism of his father's assailant.17 The whole ran to 262 closely printed pages. Robert's temperament was not one to indulge in vendettas, and his name does not appear in the controversy, but he was as zealous as any of his brothers in upholding the public record of his father, and then, as always, he regarded his father as a hero who had fallen on misfortune.

Despite this affair, Robert Lee's spirits were high during most of 1832, and his new domestic life was most happy. Mrs. Lee was sick part of the time, and was often away, but she bore him a fine baby on September 16, 1832. The youngster was named George Washington Custis Lee, after his grandfather, and he throve despite childish ills.18 Lee joked with his mother on occasion — "Mercy, what gets into women's heads" —19 but he told Mackay, "I would not be unmarried for all you could offer me."20 As for the baby, he confessed in due course, "Master Custis is the most darling boy in the world."21

Now that he was pater familias, the company of the wives of the officers at Old Point interested him vastly. "I am left to console them," he said of the women whose husbands were sent p118 South in the Seminole War, "and am in the right position to sympathize with them, as Mrs. Lee and her little limb are at Arlington."22 And again, "As for the daughters of Eve in this country, they are formed in the very poetry of nature, and would make your lips water and fingers tingle. They are beginning to assemble to put their beautiful limbs into this salt water."23 The news of expectancy and of birth found in him an amused and enthusiastic chronicler. "The population of the Point," he announced to Mackay, "has been increased by the little Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Huger boy, and I take it upon myself to predict the arrival of a small French."24 The coming of a new Talcott baby drew from him congratulations and avowals — the first of numerous such messages that he was to send: "I was sincerely delighted yesterday to learn by your note, of the magnificent present offered you by Mrs. T. and had some thought of taking the Barge this morning and presenting my congratulations to Mrs. T. in person. Do offer them in my stead in the kindest manner. We have been waiting for the event to decide upon the sex of our next and now determine it shall be a girl in order to retain the connection in the family."25 The joke was made the more pointed by the fact that the "next" was begotten soon thereafter and, sure enough, was a girl.

For the company he kept, Lee's inclination and his disciplined neatness disposed him to wear handsome, well-cut clothing. He got himself a dress-uniform coat, made by the fashionable tailor at the military academy, and he thriftily calculated the difference in cost between purchasing a new chapeau and buying new trimmings for his old one.26 "We shall be a grand set of fellows with our gold and silver," he said, "and if I could only catch some of the grandiloquence of my neighbor Fabius [Whiting], I might hope to rise in the world."27 It probably was about this time, or perhaps in 1831, that Lee sat for the first of his portraits. Reproduced in this volume, it shows him in the full-dress uniform of his corps, with the side-whisker that was the dernier cri of p119 fashion.28 Then, as in later life, he preferred the company of women to that of men, but even when Talcott was away from Old Point, had a number of able men beside Johnston with whom to consort. Benjamin Huger, West Pointer of 1824, James Barnes of his own class, Robert Parrott, who had been an assistant professor while Lee was at the academy, and Albert E. Church of the class of 1828, all of them brilliant, were at Old Point during Lee's service there.29 These friends sufficed. Beyond the social life of the fort, Lee had little diversion at Old Point and seemingly craved none. He kept up a rather extensive correspondence,30 he played some chess,31 and, for the first time, became interested in his Lee ancestry and coat of arms.32

In the better mastery of his profession, these years were a busy and a most important period with Lee. He came as an assistant of limited experience; he was to leave fully qualified to direct a large engineering project. Talcott was absent on other duty for part of the building season of 1832, and for virtually all the seasons of 1833 and 1834. The daily burden of the work rested on Lee. At Fort Monroe the counterscarp wall was finished, the scarp wall was pointed, and a considerable part of the casemated covert-way was arched by August, 1832, when cholera broke out and forced Talcott, who was then on duty, to suspend operations. Slave owners became alarmed for the safety of their servants and would not hire them in adequate numbers.33 The arches, however, were finished before the season ended.34 Labor continued scarce during 1833, despite an increase of 15 per cent in wages. Some painting and a good deal of carpenter work was done, but p120 progress was not so rapid as had been hoped.35 It was nearly December before enough workers were at hand to resume labor on the ramparts, and thereafter they had to be laid off in a little more than two weeks because of the damage done by a heavy storm.36

At the beginning of the season of 1834 Lee left Arlington before the Potomac was opened and rode overland to Fort Monroe — "up to my ears in mud and alone."37 He went to work as soon as he could assemble his force of laborers and, undeterred by another heavy storm that wrecked several vessels in Hampton Roads, he got an extensive season's programme under way.38 When the project was nearing completion, uncertainty concerning further appropriations threatened to force a discharge of the laborers, but this was averted for the time. Very little work was undertaken at Fort Calhoun, despite President Jackson's desire to have it completed before the expiration of his term. The unobliging foundations continued at the rate of three inches a year. All that could be done was to continue to pile up stone in the hope that the substratum would be so compressed that it would carry the weight of the walls.39

Lee bore these responsibilities heavily,40 but he continued to learn. He did some designing of buildings, wharves, and fortifications;41 p121 he supervised the preparation of accounts and of monthly and annual reports;42 he faced some of the problems of sanitation, with which the science of his day was quite unable to cope;43 he had a large experience in estimating construction costs;44 he acquired a further knowledge of the working of the commissary;45 he was inducted into the mysteries of banking and departmental finance.46 The art of dealing with labor he acquired so successfully that after an emergency in April, 1834, when all hands had been called out to build a barricade in a blinding blow of sand, hail, and rain, he had been able to say with pride, "I never saw men work better."47 He learned, also, how to combine initiative with deference, and in nearly all his personal letters to Talcott there was a tactful line asking, if that officer thought him in error, to forward further instructions.48 Most particularly did he shine in applying to public works the principles of economy he had been taught at home. He bargained closely for schooner hire, and was uneasy when he thought the vessels did not carry so much as they should.49 His inspections of material were critical;50 his disposition was to seek the most favorable time for awarding contracts. When additional stone was needed at Fort Monroe he figured he could take the rough hewings at Fort Calhoun and dress them for not much more than half what the material would cost elsewhere.51

p122 Lee liked the location of Fort Monroe52 and the companionship of many of the officers, and he felt that he would not readily find another such chief as Talcott.53 Vexations there were, however, some of them so galling that in 1833 he contemplated resigning from the army. "Know, my friend," he wrote Mackay, "that it is a situation full of pains, and one from which I shall modestly retire on the first fitting opportunity. . . . My opinion on these matters has been formed, from the little experience I have had of a Garrison life in time of peace, where I have seen minds formed for use and ornament, degenerate into sluggishness and inactivity, the stimulus of brandy or cards to rouse them to action, and apparently a burden to the possessors and perhaps an injury to their companions."54 The drinking in which some of the officers indulged in their idleness ceased to be taken as a matter of course and came to puzzle him. "He is a fine looking young man," he said of a lieutenant who had been arrested for being drunk on parade. "Graduated very well in 1832 and appears to be intelligent But his propensity, it is impossible for me to comprehend."55 He kept up with politics, yet he wearied of its perpetual discussion: "Congress is doing nothing but hammering on the tariff and makes no mention of promoting modest merit in the persons of you and I."56 And again: "There is nothing new here or in these parts. Nullification! Nullification!! Nullification!!!"57 Besides all, promotion in the Engineers Corps was incredibly slow: it had been 1832 before he had passed from brevet to regular rank as second lieutenant.58

But all these things were less of a burden to him than the constant jealousies and conflicts of authority between the staff and p123 the line, between the engineers on one side and, on the other, the commandant at Fort Monroe. The line officers disliked the large liberty the engineers had to make contracts and to disburse public funds. Following the clash with Colonel Eustis in 1831 over the orders for the exclusion of Negroes from the fort,59 there had been several squabbles,60 and in one instance a controversy of some seriousness over the discharge of Lee's principal overseer because of a quarrel with a captain at the post.61 In this instance, junior officer though he was, Lee did not hesitate to express to headquarters his sympathy with the discharged man, who, he said, had been zealous and faithful in the discharge of his duties.62 Lee's differences, however, were incidental to a continuing feud between Captain Talcott and the line. This quarrel was over the engineers' use of quarters within the fort, and, more hotly, over the direction by the engineers of the remaining work at Fort Monroe. Talcott thought the engineers should complete the whole enterprise. The officers of the garrison wished it finished by the troops and laborers at the fort.63 Each side suspected the other of plotting against it.

Early in 1834 the Artillery School of Practice at Fort Monroe was broken up and its officers and batteries were ordered to different stations. The engineers regarded this as a victory, though they had no part in compassing it. Lee rejoiced that "the Cincinnati," as he put it, were called "from their ploughs to their swords."64 The number of idlers, in the eyes of the busy engineers, was graciously reduced. Of course, this involved separation from Joe Johnston, and that was lamentable, especially in the circumstances. For when the artillery officers were ordered from Old Point they were put aboard the Alabama, and there they remained — indefinitely, as it seemed. Having nothing to do, and p124 never having had any work, as Lee maintained, the bored artillerists arranged a grand party. They did not invite the wives of the officers of the garrison or the young aristocrats of Hampton Roads. Instead, they summoned to the ship the ladies of easy virtue in the neighborhood. If they had to be caged in that confounded ship, forever rolling and pitching in the wintry sea, the gunners would at least have one great evening, with merriment unrestrained. High preparations were made in galley and in cabin; eagerly the young officers awaited the arrival of the Circes. They came not. At last, when an explanation was had, it was distressful: In order to tune themselves up for the evening the expected guests had indulged themselves in a little spirits and, most deplorably, had become too drunk for the journey.65 Johnston had no part in this, except perhaps as a spectator aboard the ship, but it was a flat anticlimax to the residence at Old Point of officers who had given gaiety to day and noise to night.

If the engineers rejoiced when the disappointed artillerists at last sailed away, their satisfaction was brief. Congress adjourned during the last week of June, and, among its final acts, confirmed all the brevet commissions in the army as regular grades. The exultation of the artillerists who remained at Fort Monroe aroused Lee's amusement and almost his disgust.66 Then, on July 18, though the regular inspection had already been made, Major General Alexander Macomb, the commanding officer of the army, came to Fort Monroe with the Secretary of War and examined the work being done at Old Point and at the Rip-Raps. He said little about his findings but went back to Washington and filed a report. Of its contents Talcott and Lee knew nothing at the time, though they attributed to Macomb the general hostility that line officers were supposed to feel toward the staff. Six days later the inspector general of the army, Colonel John E. Wool, arrived at the fort to examine the works. Talcott happened to be absent in Norfolk at the time, so Lee had to do the honors. When he waited on Wool for that purpose, the colonel asked if it were not a fact that General Macomb had recently made an inspection. As Lee confirmed this without comment, Wool said that he saw p125 no reason for going over the details of the work, but that, for his own information, he would like to see Fort Calhoun. Lee took him out to the Rip-Raps immediately. It was blistering hot, but Lee was determined, as he jestingly wrote Talcott, that the three inspections "might complete our measure of Glory for this work." On the way, Wool "propounded several wise querries, and among them, whether there were not quarters for us outside, which," said Lee, "I take for a premonitory symptom." Wool did nothing further that day and on the following morning merely walked on the ramparts with Lee for a time before breakfast.

That was all there was to inspection number three,67 but by no means all the story. On July 31 the adjutant general issued "Order No. 54 . . . received from the War Department." This stated that "on the report of the Major General Commanding the Army" the engineer department in Hampton Roads should be transferred to the Rip-Raps and that the commandant at Fort Monroe should be charged with the completion of the works at Old Point Comfort, "under directions and instructions from General Head Quarters." Only one officer of engineers was to be left at Hampton Roads and he was to take up his quarters at the Rip-Raps, with all his force, by August 31, "or earlier if convenient." As a special concession, so to speak, the engineers were to be allowed to get their water from the cisterns at Fort Monroe. The order concluded with a statement that it was understood no further appropriations were to be asked for Fort Monroe. It was hoped by a judicious application of unexpended balances, and funds made available through the sale of surplus engineering property, "that Fort Monroe may be placed in a respectable condition both as to defence and appearance."68

When this order was received by Talcott, on August 5, he considered it a direct censure of his management of the work in Hampton Roads, and he believed every one else at Old Point so regarded it. He accordingly demanded a court of inquiry.69 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Gratiot promptly concurred in this demand, though he toned it down to a "request" in his covering letter to the Secretary of p126 War.70 Macomb, however, did not approve of an investigation. "For my part," he wrote, "I cannot see that any censure is either expressed or implied in any part of the order from the War Department, and I am sure none was intended in the report on which it is founded."71 Macomb was justified in this statement, because the report did not contain any criticism of Talcott. It was simply a statement that the work remaining to be done at Fort Monroe was comparatively unimportant in character and in extent and could easily be done by the garrison. The report stated wrongly that Talcott favored this arrangement, but Macomb gave the engineers full credit for the construction they had directed. The report, in a word, was unexceptionable, whatever the feeling that prompted it. The trouble was with the blunt, explicit language of the order from the adjutant general's office.72

Not realizing this, Lee went to Washington to see what lay behind the report and the order. Through the kindness of one of the assistant engineers, a West Pointer of his own day, Lee got a look at the correspondence, and learned that a modification of the offending order was in prospect, with high compliments to Talcott. The engineer's workmen, however, were to go to the Rip-Raps, with Lee in charge, and Talcott was to be sent to the Hudson River, to supervise improvements in contemplation there. "It was all as you supposed got up by General M.," Lee reported grimly to Talcott.73 A little later, Lee suspected that some other influence had been at work, though that did not lessen his resentment at what he considered to be the mistreatment of Talcott by Macomb. "But now I think of it," he asked Talcott, "is there no way of cooking Macomb up and that the scullions be so arranged that I could have one stir in the pot? He is a most precious 'v[image ALT: an underscored blank]n' surely and obeys his instructions as well as another. Something must be done with him, but what can?74

The sentiments of the captain and of the lieutenant, as positive p127 as insubordinate, did not reduce the immediate authority of the major general. Nor could the juniors foresee that in a little more than a year the offending order would be revoked and the authority of the engineers restored.75 For the time the work was ended. Talcott received instructions to set out for the Hudson, and Lee moved over to the poorly equipped Rip-Raps. He went there so much in advance of the designed 31st of August that he wrote Talcott on that day he might "be considered an old inhabitant."76

Despite his indignation at the political aspect of the matter, Lee did not regard the change at Fort Monroe as a reflection on himself or Talcott, or on their work, which he knew was creditable to them. For some time he had wished to get away from Old Point because of the bickering,77 and now that the line had triumphed over the staff, he philosophically viewed it as the triumph of animosity. "I was heartily sick of it," he confided to Mackay, "and am rejoiced that it is at an end. . . . The jealousy that existed concerning the contract exercised by the Engineers was a continual thorn in my side."78

That the chief engineer did not consider the transfer of Talcott as a discredit to Lee was soon evident. At the Rip-Raps, Lee's task was simply that of supervising the piling up of stone on the foundations, which still continued to sink just enough to make construction of the fort impossible.79 It was no work for a young and active man whose ability his chief in Washington had already discovered. About October 25, 1834, when he had been at the Rip-Raps only some two months, Lee received an invitation from General Gratiot to come to Washington. On his arrival Gratiot told him that he was contemplating the transfer of Lieutenant Bartlett, an assistant in the office, and was considering Lee for the place. Lee, of course, was as anxious for his family to be near Arlington as he was to get away from Hampton Roads, but he p128 frankly said he had no desire for office work. Gratiot, however, was intent on having Lee, and he painted the prospect alluringly. Lee agreed, before he left, to try the work if Gratiot desired him to do so. Shortly thereafter he was relieved at Fort Calhoun by Captain W. A. Eliason and was ordered to report for service as assistant to the chief of engineers.80


The Author's Notes:

1 Report of the Major-General of the Army, 1830‑31; Ex. Docs., 1st sess., 22d Cong., vol. 1, p55. Nat Turner, the Negro who inspired the rising, was not captured until Oct. 30 (W. S. Drewry: The Southampton Insurrection, 91).

Web Resources on the Southampton Slave Revolt (Nat Turner's Rebellion):

The Confessions of Nat Turner (an interview with him, finally published in 1882) • The History Buff

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2 Quoted in extenso in Fitz Lee, 27‑28.

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3 Lee to Talcott, MS., Sept. 14, 1831, Talcott MSS. (F). Bellona Arsenal was on the south side of James River, above Richmond.

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4 Eustis' order No. 101, Nov. 13, 1831; Lee to Eustis, Nov. 16, 1831; Lee to Gratiot, Nov. 16, 1831, Eng. MSS., 221; Gratiot to Lee, Nov. 18, 1831, MS. Letters to Officers of Engineers, vol. 4, p225.

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5 Report of the Sec. of War, 1830‑31, Ex. Docs., 1st sess., 22d Congress, vol. 1, pp55, 66, 67.

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6 R. E. and Mary C. Lee to Mrs. E. A. Stiles, MS., Jan. 4, 1832, a copy of which Mrs. Frank Screven has kindly given the writer.

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7 Lee to Mackay, MS., Nov. 3, 1831; Elliott MSS.; Long, 35, quoting Lee's clerk; B. T. Johnston's Joseph E. Johnston, 7.

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8 Lee to Mackay, MS., Feb. 18, 1833; Elliott MSS.

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9 Emory Speer: Lincoln, Lee, Grant, 47.

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10 Henry Lee to Thomas Jefferson, MS., Sept. 8, 1806; Colonel [image ALT: an underscored blank] to Henry Lee, MS., n. d., 1805, Library of Congress.

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11 Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson; edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph; Charlottesville, Va., 1829.

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12 Jefferson to James Monroe, Jan. 1, 1815; 17 Jefferson (Memorial edition), 11; Randolph edition, 4, 246.

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13 Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, June 19, 1796; H. Lee's Observations (2d ed.), p6; Randolph editions, supra, 3, 330‑32.

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14 Henry Lee to Andrew Jackson, July 1, 1826; J. S. Bassett; Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, 3, 305.

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15 There is no copy of the first edition of this in the Library of Congress, but there is one at Harvard and another in the New York Public Library.

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16 Cf. Cassius F. Lee to Robert E. Lee, MS., Sept. 8, 1838: "I am sorry you Whigs did not do your duty better, but O, the love of treasury pap, be it gold or paper!" (Lee MSS., VHS).

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17 Philadelphia; Thomas Cowperthwait & Co.; Carey & Hart.

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18 Mrs. Lee was sick in September, 1831, and in March, 1834, and was away from Old Point in December, 1832, July, 1833, and November, 1833 (Lee to Talcott, MS., Sept. 14, 1831, Dec. 6, 1832, July 3, 1833, Nov. 22, 1833, March 27, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F and VHS)). For the birth of Custis Lee, see Brock, 163, and E. J. Lee, 455; Lee to Talcott, MS., July 2, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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19 Lee to Talcott, MS., March 24, 1834; Talcott MSS. (VHS).

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20 Lee to Mackay, MS., Feb. 3, 1834; Elliott MSS.

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21 Lee to Talcott, MS., Nov. 1, 1834; Talcott MSS. (VHS).

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22 Lee to Mackay, MS., Nov. 28, 1833; Elliott MSS.

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23 Lee to Mackay, MS., June 26, 1834; Elliott MSS.

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24 Ibid.

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25 Lee to Talcott, MS., March 1, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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26 Lee to Talcott, MS., Dec. 6, 1832; Talcott MSS. (VHS); Lee to Talcott, MS., May 23, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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27 Lee to Talcott, MS., May 23, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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28 This portrait, attributed to Benj. West, Jr., was the property of General Custis Lee after his mother's death. It was long at Washington and Lee University and subsequently passed into the hands of the widow of Colonel Robert E. Lee, son of General W. H. F. Lee.

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29 Lee to Talcott, MS., Oct. 21, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F).

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30 Lee's autograph began to change in 1833, especially when he wrote with a pencil. A letter to Talcott of Oct. 21, 1833, contains a pencilled postscript that shows almost the handwriting of the war period. Prior to that time, except for the letter "c" his autograph would hardly be recognized by those familiar with his chirography in the eighteen-sixties.

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31 Lee to Talcott, MS., Oct. 21, Dec. 1, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F).

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32 Lee to Talcott, MS., Dec. 1, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F).

The subject is covered in detail in Chapter 10.

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33 Rept. Chief Eng. Army, 1831‑32, Ex. Docs., 2d sess., 22d Cong., vol. 1, p86.

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34 Lee to Talcott, MS., Dec. 6, 1832; Talcott MSS. (VHS).

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35 Rept. Chief Eng. Army, 1832‑33, Ex. Docs., 1st sess., 23d Cong., vol. 1, p32; Lee to Talcott, MS., March 27, 1833; Talcott MSS. (VHS); Lee to Talcott, MS., Nov. 22, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F).

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36 Lee to Talcott, MS., Dec. 1 and Dec. 16, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F); Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Dec. 24, 1833; Eng. MSS., 332.

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37 Lee To Mackay, MS., Feb. 3, 1834; Elliott MSS.

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38 Lee to Talcott, MS., April 7, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F). Two vessels carrying stone went on Hampton bar and one of them split open. Two ran aground near the mouth of Mill creek but were gotten off that night. One large schooner was lost at the head of the bar and a child, two women, and a man with a broken thigh were rescued while she was sinking.

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39 Lee to Engineer's office, MS., June 6, 1834, Eng. MSS., 353, Gratiot to Lee, MS., June 9, 1834. MS. Letters to Engineers, vol. 5, p27; Repts. Chief Eng. Army, 1831‑32 to 1833‑34, inclusive; Ex. Docs., 2d sess., 22d Cong., vol. 1, pp86‑87; Ibid., 1st sess., 23d Cong., vol. 1, p52; Ibid., 2d sess., 23d Cong., vol. 1, p101. Jackson in the summer of 1833 visited the Rip-Raps, as Fort Calhoun was usually called, and not only said the fort must be finished in two years but also ordered changes in design. "The President," Lee wrote Talcott, "has played the Devil with the plan of Fort Calhoun" (Lee to Talcott, MS., Sept. 12, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F)).

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40 Cf. Lee to Talcott, MS., Feb. 25, 1834: "I shall be in a fever till the arrival of the lime" (Talcott MSS. (F)). Cf. also Lee to Talcott, MS., Dec. 16, 1833, following a very severe storm: "I will do all in my power to repair damages but you had better come down" (Talcott MSS. (F)). Cf., further, Lee to Talcott, MS., Sept. 12, 1833: "The Engr. Dept. here is but so so, and I fear badly represented" (Talcott MSS. (F)).

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41 Lee to Gratiot, MS., Nov. 9, 1831, Eng. MSS., 220; Lee to Gratiot, MS., April 16, 1832, Eng. MSS., 242; Lee to Gratiot, MS., Nov. 20, 1832, Eng. MSS., 270.

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42 Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Oct. 19, 1832, Eng. MSS., 266; July 9, 1834, Ibid., 364; Lee to Gratiot, MS., Nov. 2, 1832, Ibid. 267; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., July 22, 1833; Ibid., 309; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., May 1, 1834, Ibid., 349; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Sept. 8, 1834; Ibid., 376; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Oct. 8, 1834, Ibid., 379.

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43 Lee to Engineer's office, MS., July 18, 1834, on standing water, Eng. MSS., 367.

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44 Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Nov. 23, 1832, Eng. MSS., 271; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., April 19, 1833, Ibid., 293; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Aug. 19, 1833, Ibid., 314; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Dec. 9, 1833, Ibid., 327; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., July 9, 1834, Ibid., 365; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Oct. 3, 1834, Ibid., 378; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Oct. 15, 1834, Ibid., 380.

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45 Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Dec. 6, 1832, Eng. MSS., 272; Lee to Talcott, MS., Aug. 31, 1834, Talcott MSS. (VHS).

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46 Lee to Engineer's office, MS., Oct. 21, 1833, Eng. MSS., 323; Lee to Engineer's office, MS., July 9, 1834, Ibid., File 363; Engineer's office to Lee, MS., Sept. 13, 1834, Letters to officers of Engineers, vol. 5, p108; Engineer's office to Lee, MS., Oct. 9, 1834, Ibid., vol. 5, p124.

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47 Lee to Talcott, MS., April 7, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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48 E.g., Lee to Talcott, MS., Aug. 2, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F).

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49 Lee to Talcott, MS., Oct. 21, 1833, April 9, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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50 Lee to Talcott, MS., Oct. 23, Nov. 22, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F).

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51 Lee to Talcott, MS., Dec. 4, 1833, Feb. 13, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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52 "Fort Monroe is a post by no means to be despised" (Lee to Mackay, MS., Feb. 27, 1834; Elliott MSS.).

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53 "As much as I like the Location of Old Point and as fond as I am of the company of some of the Offrs. and of some persons in the neighborhood and notwithstanding the great partiality I have for my comdg. Offr. (I mean no flattery) and my belief I shall not meet with such another. . . ." Lee to Talcott, MS., June 4, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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54 Lee to Mackay, MS., Feb. 18, 1833; Elliott MSS.

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55 Lee to Talcott, MS., Nov. 22, 1833; Talcott MSS. (F).

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56 Lee to Mackay, MS., Jan. 23, 1833; Elliott MSS.

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57 Lee to Talcott, MS., Dec. 7, 1832; Talcott MSS. (VHS). He referred to politics in his letter of Feb. 21, 1833, to Talcott (Talcott MSS. (F).), and in his letters of Feb. 27 and July 22 to Mackay; Elliott MSS.

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58 In the Army Register of 1832 (American State Papers, Military Affairs, 4, 833) he had been listed as brevet second lieutenant. His promotion to regular rank was announced in special order No. 62, A. G. O. (War Dept. MS.), July 19, 1832, to rank as of July 1, 1829, the date of his first commission.

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59 See supra, p112.

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60 Lee to Talcott, MS., March 1, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F); Lee to Talcott, MS., May 13, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F); Lee to Engineer's office, MS., June 23, 1834; Eng. MSS.

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61 Lee to Engineer's office, with enclosures, MS., July 6, July 17, 1833, and June 6, 1834; Eng. MSS., 306, 307, 354.

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62 Letter of June 6, 1834, supra, and Lee to Talcott, MS., June 6, 1834 (Talcott MSS. (F).). Lee had the support of the Engineer's office in these differences, but when he violated regulations inadvertently by forwarding directly a furlough application that should have gone through Talcott, he was promptly reprimanded (Engineer's office to Lee, MS., Dec. 15, 1831, MS. Letters to Officers of Engrs., vol. 4, p234).

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63 Lee to Talcott, MS., April 23, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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64 Lee to Talcott, MS., April 23, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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65 Lee to Mackay, MS., Feb. 3, 1834; Elliott MSS.

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66 Lee to Talcott, MS., July 2, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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67 Lee to Talcott, MS., July 26, 1834, Nov. 1, 1834; Talcott MSS. (VHS).

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68 U. S. War Dept. MSS., Orderly Book No. 3, Eng. Dept.

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69 Talcott to Gratiot, MS., Aug. 5, Sept. 1, 1834, in Gratiot to Acting Sec. of War, Aug. 9, 1839; U. S. War Dept. MSS.

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70 Ibid.

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71 A. Macomb to John Forsyth, Acting Sec. of War, MS., Aug. 11, 1834 (U. S. War Dept. MSS.).

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72 Macomb to Acting Secretary of War, MS., July 30, 1834; U. S. War Dept. MSS.

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73 Lee to Talcott, MS., Aug. 22, 1834. This letter is docketed July 22, but must have been written a month later.

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74 Lee to Talcott, MS., Oct. 1, 1834; Talcott MSS. (VHS).

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75 Lee to Talcott, MS., Nov. 17, 1835; Talcott MSS. (VHS).

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76 Lee to Talcott, MS., Aug. 31, 1834; Talcott MSS. (VHS). For conditions at Fort Calhoun and for Talcott's transfer, see Talcott to Gratiot, MS., Aug. 11, Sept. 1, Sept. 8, 1834; Gratiot to the Sec. of War, Aug. 19, 1834; U. S. War Dept. MSS.

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77 "There are so many of the desagremens connected with the duty that I should like to get another Post." Lee to Talcott, MS., June 6, 1834; Talcott MSS. (F).

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78 Lee to Mackay, MS., Oct. 18, 1834; Elliott MSS.

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79 For the continued subsidence of the work, as late as 1835, see Rept. Chief Eng. Army, 1834‑35; Ex. Docs., 1st sess., 24th Cong., vol. 1, p102.

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80 Lee to Talcott, MS., Nov. 1, 1834; Talcott MSS. (VHS). For the transfer of Lee, see Order Book of Engineers, 3, 26. Other correspondence relating to the fort during Lee's supervision, Sept. 1 and Oct. 1, 1834, is extant in Eng. MSS., 374 and 377.


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