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.
I have four daughters. Each one is a credit to the family. Their father is a very proud Papa of them. Each day before breakfast when he is home he goes and collects roses in the garden and places a flower next to the place of each girl in the family. The largest bloom he places at my seat and then the second largest goes to the eldest daughter and the small bud goes to the youngest. In this sweet way he lets them know that he loves them. My husband is one of the best men that I know. He loves us so much and I know that the time he spends away from us is just as painful for him as it is for us. Fortunately there has been a lively correspondence between the entire family when we are separated.
With the current unrest escalating as a mother I fear for my daughters. They are all young and I do not want their life to be more complicated than life can be. I hope God will grant this mother’s prays for her daughters.
My eldest daughter Mary Custis Lee and was a strong willed girl, and is now a strong willed woman. She was my second child born in 1835 and is now 26; within the family circle we call her Daughter. Her birth was very difficult on me. Thank the Lord I was at home and my mother was able to help me. After Mary was born I had to take to bed for several months and still many years later I am not myself. Mary likes to travel and will be away from home for weeks on end. As the oldest of my four girls Mary has been lucky enought to have her own bed chamber although sometimes I wonder if her sisters would want to share a room with her. She does have a tendancy to do as she pleases. I do not know what will happen to her should there be war. She would not be happy having to stay in one place and I would fear for her saftey if she continued to travel. What would happen is she were to be caught on enemy ground? Though I love her very much sometimes I feel she can be a most trying child to me.
My second daughter, Anne Carter Lee (Annie as we call her), was born in 1839. She is now 22 and a lovely young lady. When she was born she had a red colored birthmark on her face, her father called her Little Raspberry because of it. Her birth was much easier than Mary’s – truly a blessing. Alas as small children are wont to do her little hands found a pair of scissors and pierced her right eye. She was blinded and forever has a scar. At so young an age my little girl was so burdened. It is difficult to write of Annie without also writing of my next child and third daughter, Eleanor Agnes Lee. Agnes (her family pet name) was born in 1841 only 20 months after Annie and the two became fast friends. She is now 20. It seemed, and still does, that the two are not often apart. To us, the family, they became known as the girls. They even share the same room. When Agnes arrived her Papa said that he could have dispensed with her for a year or two more. However, she was in such haste to greet him, he is now very glad to see her. And I have to admit I felt the same. With war looming I am nervous for both my girls. Annie is a bit frail and I do now know what will become of her. Agnes has a beau and he is with the United States military. What will she do if he ends up opposing the side her family is on? What if he is, God forbid, killed in battle? My heart breaks for my children to have to grow in a time made so difficult. How this country could some so far from the teachings and beliefs of George Washington is unbearable. I pray with all my heart everyday that the world will right itself and all will be calm.
My youngest daughter, Mildred Childe Lee, born in 1846 is now 15. In the family we call her Precious Life because she brings joy into any room she is in. She is a sweet girl and growing so fast. I must admit that my faults as a parent have done the most harm to Precious Life. Sometimes her behavior is most improper and her doting father does not help either. When she was younger I felt how much to blame I am for permitting her behavior and hoped God would be merciful to her & change her heart before Satan has taken possession of it. She has not yet devoted herself to God and I worry about her soul. She is a very active child and speaks out some. As she has grown I believe her good nature has come through and that her father and I have not let her stray from God’s path. I do not believe that Precious Life understands what is happening in the country right now. I write to her at school and she writes back concerning her wardrobe. With her reaching maturity as this conflict escalates I fear for what will become of her life. I would like to see her happy in life but should war happen I do not know if happiness is in God’s plan.
Now that their father has resigned from the United States military I fear for my daughters future even more. I can only hope that God will guide them and that they will feel His embrace forever.