This weekend and next week mark the birthdays of two renowned American heroes: General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Although the Confederacy for which they fought and/or died for ceased to exist, and was overcome by a unified government over states’ rights, these men served the military with bravery, distinction and nobility. This week I will honor General Lee, whose birthday is on January 19. An article of this remarkable man follows:
Two Anecdotes of General Lee
By Walter B. Barker.
The life and character of so noble a man as General Robert E. Lee is a theme that none but our greatest minds should discuss in public or in private, but with your permission the writer, who held an humble position on the staff of Brigadier General Jos. R. Davis, of Mississippi, (nephew of Jefferson Davis), in the Army of Northern Virginia, will relate two little incidents which happened at the “Battle of the Wilderness.”:
On the eve of the 5th of May General Lee, with General Stuart, rode to the front, where Stuart’s cavalry had encountered the advance of the Federal army. As they rode through the infantry, then awaiting orders, passing a farm house, three young ladies stood at the gate of the residence, holding a package, which from his gallantry, or good looks, or both, they entrusted to Capt. E.P. Thompson (nephew of Jake Thompson, and now a Mississippi editor), of General Davis’s staff, with the request that he deliver the same to General Lee. It contained three handsomely embroidered colored merino overshirts, very much worn in the army. Capt. Thompson at once rode forward to overtake the General, who had by this time reached within range of the shots from Grant’s skirmishers, and while under fire tendered the gift as from the ladies. General Lee, with his usual self possession and courteous bearing, said to Capt. T.: “Return my warmest thanks to the ladies, and be kind enough to deliver the package to one of my couriers: say that I trust I may see and thank them in person.
Early on the morning of the 6th, Grant, who had massed a heavy force in the immediate front of Davis’s Mississippi brigade, opened fire and began a forward movement on our lines at this point. Seeing we were unable to check their advance, Colonel Stone (since Governor of Mississippi), commanding Davis’s brigade, sent word to General Heth, division commander, that he must be reinforced, which brought to our aid a division of Longstreet’s corps, led in person by that able Lieutenant General. It was at this critical crisis that General Lee appeared upon the scene. After the enemy had been repulsed on the right, and while our chieftain was awaiting, in painful anxiety, information from our left wing, a courier — a mere youth — came dashing up with a message from Lieutenant General R.H. Anderson, his small pony panting like a deer that had been pursued by a pack of trained hounds. Delivering his sealed message to General Lee in person, who, after reading it, noticing how tired his pony was, said to him: “Young man, you should have some feeling for your horse; dismount and rest him!” at the same time taking from the small saddlebags attached to his own saddle a buttered biscuit, giving half of it, from his own hand, to the young courier’s pony. This act of consideration for the dumb beast made a lasting impression upon my then youthful mind, and taught me ever since to treat all animals as if they had feelings as ourselves. At the moment it occurred to me, hungry as I was, that he had better have divided his biscuit with the rider of the animals, or myself; but I soon appreciated the motive of his hospitality to the poor beast, and, as before stated, learned a lesson in kindness to animals I shall not soon forget.
Southern Historical Society Papers.
Volume XII. July-August-September. Nos. 7, 8, 9