Today is my wedding anniversary. My husband and I have been married for 30 years. I cannot believe that we have been married for so long and that this anniversary will not be spent with my husband. We met when I was a very young girl and he was only a boy. When we were older and he started courting me I was nervous about his job and relationship with God. After a long engagement and several postponements we were married on a rainy June day. While it was raining outside inside we celebrated with our family and friends for several days. While I loved my husband I found the change in my lifestyle difficult to accept. I had never lived so far away from my family and life was difficult. After the birth of my first child I decided to move home. After that my husband and I made our life at Arlington.
At that house and with my parents we raised seven children together and made a happy life. We had our disagreements and issues. He had not yet embraced Christ yet and I am not as prompt as he would like me to be but we have had a good life together. And now on this anniversary we remember our wedding during a war that our sons are fighting in and with the threat of death all around us.
I feel the pain of our separation more acutely today and the loss of our home adds to that pain. To not have the comfort of home while I worry about the life of my husband and children pains me greatly. But I have the memories and I shall hold those close to me. I pray for my family and thank God for the blessings he has given me. My husband has been a blessing in my life; God has made a wonderful match in us.
My house has been taken over by the United States Military. They are not occupying the building as of yet but I fear any day they will invade my home. My cousin Markie Williams, who has stayed loyal to the United States, was able to visit Arlington and retrieve some of her possessions. She saw the family cat and the servants that we had to leave behind. I fear that the treasures that I was forced to leave at Arlington will be taken or destroyed by the Union forces. For years my family was the caretaker of Washington’s memory. We have many of his possessions and letters. I could not take everything with me when I was forced to leave my home and so many things had to be locked in the attic and in cupboards. Markie was not able to bring all of these things back to safety with her either. She was able to save Anne’s letters and my father’s painting, The Battle of Monmouth, which once hung in the U. S. Capitol. How far we have fallen.
I have come to realize that I will no longer be able to return home anytime soon. It does not appear that the war will end as soon as it was once thought. I cannot express the sorrow that I feel when I think of not returning home. My heart has been crushed into such small pieces I feel as if they could blow away. I feel as though the country has turned its back on me and my family. We have done nothing but uphold the memory of Washington and the values and beliefs of the country.
If it wasn’t to relieve the minds of my husband and sons, who are performing their duty, I would not have stirred from the house even if the whole Northern Army were to surround it. I wonder if it would have been better had I stayed at the house. Would these zealous patriots who are risking their lives to preserve the Union founded by Washington come and take the home of his great granddaughter away? Now, whatever I have thought, and even now think, of the commencement of this horrible conflict, our duty is plain—to resist unto death. In God is our only hope.
The press has been busy spreading falsehoods about my husband. In the daily newspaper’s they call him a traitor and an ingrate. How can this be? My husband gave the United States years of duty and service. Nothing broke his heart more than to have to resign his commission. One newspaperman wrote, “Lee once professed to greatly venerate the memory and example of the great Washington. He even married the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis who never tired of writing and eloquently portraying the virtues and eminent deeds of the Father of his Country if he could have lived until now, he would have good cause to be bowed down in grief and sorrow to behold his son-in-law following in the footsteps of Benedict Arnold.”
How can someone say this about my husband who wanted nothing more than for civil war to be averted? He did not make his decision lightly. It taxed him greatly as it has many of his friends. Our family has given everything it can for this country. It is not our fault that President Lincoln has assembled such an army that it could only be his intent to crush the South.
Can people not realize that the decision to fight against the army he served has cost my husband a great deal? Friends and family alike have turned their back on him and refuse to understand. The North has caused people to choose between the country and their state. How can people choose between a country they have never seen all of and a state in which they have lived all their lives? Would the press have my husband fight against his fellow Virginians? Is it not enough that he suffers as he fights against his friends and mentors?
This war has caused grief among the entire country. The blame should fall on those who could not compromise to save this glorious union not the men who have chosen to fight.
After having to flee my home I have gone to live with my Aunt Maria at Ravensworth. When I first arrived I believed that I would be able to return to Arlington within a few weeks. Sadly this has not been the case. I have been at Ravensworth for three weeks now and do not see my return to Arlington occurring anytime soon. The United States military has occupied my home. I was heartened to learn that they had not disturbed the house itself but had rather set up their headquarters on the lawns. This news was very good but I soon learned that the occupying soldiers were disrespecting my home and the servants there. I had an overseer come and find me to explain what the soldiers were doing at Arlington.
It was after this meeting that I finally understood that the country had turned on me and my family, accusing us of turning our back on everything we had fought for. I am left homeless, not even able to get or send to Alexandria where my funds are deposited to obtain means for my support… The whole country is filled with men, women & children flying in terror. I fear there is nothing but the special protection of Heaven which can save Arlington from ruin. Having my home taken from me and being unable to have my children safe and near me has been a bitter pill to swallow. Tho’ every hearth in the South is open to me however humble, still I feel desolate & houseless most especially as the time approaches to have all my children assembled at the happy season when they come home from vacation, but I will try to say from my heart, “God’s Will be done to me & mine” even should He slay us.
While at Ravensworth my husband began to fear for my safety and again urged me to leave. I have accepted several invitations from friends and relatives to visit but I worry about becoming a burden and I do wish to return to my home again. My eldest daughter Mary is my companion but it is a job that is new and difficult for her. I fear for my children during this time. I do not want my sons to die fighting a war that should not be fought and I fear for the spiritual life of all of my children. I pray for my family and for my country.
Since my husband has left, he has been writing me urging me to leave Arlington. I do not wish to leave my home. This is the house my father built and the house where I have raised my children. It is my deepest hope that my grandchildren will come here. But now with civil war I do not want to think of what could happen. In April I recieved letters urging me to leave. I resisted leaving for sometime; the spring has been so beautiful and the flowers in the garden so lovely, but last week my cousin Orton Williams came rushing up to the house exclaiming that the Union troops were getting ready to take Arlington. I was in a rush then to get everything together for an immediate departure. Thankfully the Lord took pity and Orton returned saying that the army had been delayed. Several days later my cousin resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy. This war has torn my heart in two. I am angry at the North for forcing their beliefs on us and for pushing us until this war broke out. At the same time I love the united country that my family fought so hard for. I am disheartened to see another of my family forsake the unified country.
After Orton left I had to move quickly to make all of the family valuables as safe as possible. I have sent the silver and many of Washington’s papers as well as my family and my husband’s family papers to Robert who is still in Richmond. I have locked books and engravings in some closets while carpets and drapes have gone into the attic. Washington china has been stowed away in the basement. I pray that these beloved family treasures will be safe for as long as I am away from home. I have already sent my daughters Mary and Agnes to Aunt Maria at Ravensworth. I feel that there is still so much in the house that should be sent away or locked up for safety but there is no time.
I have written to my husband several times about the difficulty of leaving our home. The weather is so nice and the flowers have never looked as nice as they do this spring. I would greatly prefer to remain at home and have my children around me. But this is not to be. I have turned over the house keys to my trusted servant Selina Grey. I have gone to join my daughters at Ravensworth and I wonder when I will ever see my family home again.
I have not written for sometime as the current actions of the country have distressed me greatly. My husband has resigned from the United States Army and while I have told him that the decision he makes will be the right one and that I will follow his path I am still heartbroken over the path that he has chosen. The love I have for this united country makes it almost impossible to witness what is happening now. On the 22nd of April Robert left for Richmond and on the 23rd he took command of the Virginia forces. He was unanimously voted Major General. I am so proud of him and yet at the same time I am dismayed by the direction that the country has taken. When he accepted his position he stated “Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention,–Profoundly impressed with the solemnity of the occasion, for which I must say I am not prepared, I accept the position assigned me by your partiality. I would have much preferred had your choice fallen on an abler man. Trusting in Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow-citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.” On the 23rd of April Virginia also provisionally sided with the Confederacy. It has not been ratified yet but the vote is scheduled for May 23rd.
Because of my husband’s decisions our family has been hounded in the press. The northern newspapers seem to take every delight in calling my husband a traitor and ingrate. One paper even said that if my father were alive he would “have good cause to be bowed down in grief and sorrow to behold his son-in-law following in the footsteps of Benedict Arnold.” I have been doing my best to reply to these horrible articles in a respectful manner. I had no sympathy with the hasty course of South Carolina and prayed and hoped for the Union. I pray daily to God to avert civil war, yet cannot conceive why Lincoln has assembled such an army if it is not his intention to attempt to crush the South. The course that the government has taken has led the country to fall apart. The South cannot be made to stay in a country that does not support or uphold the values of all the citizens. At the same time to see this beautiful country dissolve after so many fought to create it saddens me greatly. My only recourse now is to pray.
I have been in a state of shock and sadness. My husband has resigned his commission in the United States Army and has now joined the Virginia Provisional Army. I have told him that I would support his decision no matter what he chose but I cannot help but feel as though he has made the wrong choice. How can he turn his back on his country? The country his father fought to create? I do not want to know what my father would have thought about this decision either. His pride in the country and in his step father, General George Washington, would have made it impossible for him to see what is happening now.
Now that my husband had sided against the United State he tells me that I will have to leave my home. He has already left to go to Richmond and continues to write to me about the importance of leaving. I do not want to even think about leaving my home, the place I was raised and where I raised my children. My parents are buried here and my life is here. Where would I go? I do not believe that I will have to leave my home and that while my husband is thinking of my safety, he is being overly cautious.
My children are reacting to the news of their father’s resignation and his commission in the Virginia forces. Our sons are conflicted and do not know if they should follow their father or their country. I do not know what my daughters make of these events. At times I do not think they fully understand what is going on around them.