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Bill Thayer

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  This webpage reproduces an appendix to Volume I 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.

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
Appendix I‑2

Townsend's Account of Lee's Interview with Scott,
April 1, 1861

General Scott knew that he [Lee] was at Arlington Heights, at the house of his father-in‑law, Mr. Custis, and one day asked me if I had seen or heard of him lately. I replied in the negative, except that he was on leave and at Arlington Heights. Said the general, "It is time he should show his hand and if he remains loyal should take an important command." I then suggested that I should write a note to Lee and ask him to call at the general's headquarters. "I wish you would," replied the general. The note was written and the next day, April 19, 1861, Colonel Lee came to the office. The general's was the front room of the second story. His round table stood in the centre of the room and I had a desk in one corner. The aides were in an adjoining room with a door opening into the general's. When Lee came in, I was alone in the room with the general and the door to the aides' room was closed. I quietly arose, keeping my eye on the general, for it seemed probable he might wish to be alone with Lee. He, however, secretly motioned me to keep my seat and I sat down without Lee having a chance to notice that I had risen. The general having invited Lee to be seated, the following conversation, as nearly as I can remember, took place. General Scott: "You are at present on leave of absence, Colonel Lee? Colonel Lee: "Yes, General, I am staying with my family at Arlington." General Scott: "These are times when every officer in the United States service should fully determine what course he will pursue and frankly declare it. No one should continue in government employ without being actively employed." (No response from Lee.) General Scott (after a pause): "Some of the Southern officers are resigning, possibility with the intention of taking part with their States. They make a fatal mistake. The contest may be long and severe, but eventually the issue must be in favor of the Union." (Another  p637  pause and no reply from Lee.) General Scott (seeing evidently that Lee showed no disposition to declare himself loyal or even in doubt): "I suppose you will go with the rest. If you purpose to resign, it is proper you should do so at once; your present attitude is an equivocal one." Colonel Lee: "The property belonging to my children, all they possess, lies in Virginia. They will be ruined, if they do not go with their State. I cannot raise my hand against my children."1

The Author's Note:

1 E. D. Townsend: Anecdotes of the Civil War, 29.

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Page updated: 19 Mar 11