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.
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 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.
As conflict continues to grow my thought have turned to my children and what will become of them should Virginia secede and war be declared. I have three boys and four girls I do not know what will happen if there is war in the country.
My eldest, George Washington Custis Lee, was born in 1832 and is 29 now. When he was little we called him Boo, but now he is Cusits to his family. He was the only one of children not to be born at Arlington. As a child he was a bit of a trouble maker but now as a man now he is a credit to his family and a blessing in my life. Out of my three sons Custis is the only on to have chosen to make a career out of the military. With states seceding I am afraid for him for he is still young enough to fight and it frightens me to think that he may have to choose between his country and his state. He is currently in the United States Army. I know that the talk of secession weigh heavily on him as they do his father. I pray daily that he will not have to make this choice, that God had other plans for the country and for my children.
My second son, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, was born in 1837 and is 24. His family nick name is Rooney. As a child he was adventurous and lively. His father once said that he was “too large to be a man, too small to be horse.” When he was eight years old he cut his finger tips off with straw cutters and since that day I knew that I had to keep a close eye on him and have asked God to keep his eye on him as well. Should there be a war I am sure he would have to fight. He is married to Charlotte Wickham and they are very happy together at the White House. The property is located in New Kent County, Virginia and he inherited it from his Grandfather. I would be so sad to see this young couples tranquility broken. I pray for them daily and know that God will keep my family in mind.
My youngest son, Robert Edward Lee Jr., was born in 1843 and is 18. His family nick name is Rob. As a child he was a simple easy going child who loved nothing more than to talk with his father in the morning. He was and still is especially close to Mildred, the youngest child. He is currently at the University of Virginia, he enrolled there last year. I was glad to see one of my sons pursue a career besides the military and I would like to see him finish school. I fear though that he will follow his brothers and fight if that is what they choose. I would like to see him finish his work at school. He is so young and I do not want to have to face outliving any of my children.
It is a sad state of affairs when a country created not even 100 years ago may be torn asunder by the grandchildren of the men who fought for the creation and freedom of our country. I pray daily now that my children will be kept safe no matter what happens. The uncertainty that I live with right now is almost unbearable, only God can lighten my burden and guide my actions.
This blog is a project for Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial. As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War gets underway it becomes even more important to understand how people lived during, and reacted to, the Civil War. The Lee family is an interesting case study because of the juxtaposition of loyalties and values. Robert E. Lee’s father was a highly respected Revolutionary War Colonel and Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee’s great grandmother was Martha Washington wife of George Washington. Robert E. Lee was a highly thought of and well respected Colonel in the United States military himself. It is hard to image two people more devoted to the memory of George Washington or the idea of a united country.
As the Civil war got underway Col. Lee resigns his position with the United States military and soon after joins the Virginia forces. His decision to tie his fate with Virginia seals the fate of his wife. While much attention has been paid to General Lee, Mrs. Lee has been overlooked. Mrs. Lee is an interesting character in any time period. Less concerned about how she looked or if she was on time, Mrs. Lee made sure her children were raised well, went to church, and that the enslaved population on her family’s plantation were educated. By educating those enslaved the Lee family blatantly disregarded Virginia law. After doing some research one feels that nothing would have made her happier than to stay for forever at Arlington House with her husband and children.
This blog aims to historically and accurately interpret Mrs. Lee’s emotions during the Civil War. Mrs. Lee will begin blogging March 1st, 1861 when Colonel Lee returns from Texas. This date was chosen as Texas’s secession can be seen as the beginning of Mrs. Lee’s most difficult phase of life. After leaving Arlington she would never live in the house again, see her parent’s graves again, and she would have to cope with the death of her daughter, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and husband all without the comforts of her one true home.