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.
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.
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.
I cannot believe what God has wrought in my life. Last night my husband came down the stairs and said to me the question is settled. Here is my letter of resignation. I do not know how he can do this but I told him whichever way you go will be in the path of duty. You will think it right, and I shall be satisfied. But how can I be satisfied when I feel my heart breaking over my husband leaving the country of his birth and family. A country that his family helped build. He has worked so hard his entire life being of service in the military. How can a man so patriotic now have to fight against his country? What will happen if he sees friends on the other side of his gun? And what will the family think! I know of very few in our family that want to see war break out and still fewer who will be glad to hear of his resignation. My poor husband does not think of what faces him he only thinks of what his conscience tells him.
Now that their father has resigned from his post I do not know what my sons will do. They have always admired their father and tried to emulate him in every way. Two of them have had careers in the military and my youngest wanted to go to West Point. Will they now too join with Virginia and leave the United States behind? I can not bear to see what God had helped create now be destroyed by men. How can this happen?
My husband has told me that should war break out that we will have to leave our home. I cannot bring myself to think of leaving Arlington. It would bring to end all that my family has worked for. What would we do with all of Washington’s things? How could I know they would be safe from thieves? I do not want to believe that I will have to leave my family home, the home I grew up in and the home that I have raised my children in. This home has been a place of peace and reverence for the country and George Washington. My father worked his entire life so that people would never forget the work that George Washington did to bring the country together. To have defeated the British and won independence only to be torn apart by our own hands seems an awful fate for the country. I pray that God will intervene and save the land that I love so dearly.