J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Lexington”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 8)

Mary Anna Custis Lee – Wife of Robert E. Lee

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     Born on October 1, 1808, Mary Anna Randolph Custis was the only surviving child of Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, who was George Washington’s step-grandson. Mary Anna was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. She enjoyed all the benefits of growing up in a wealthy family, and spent most of her time at Arlington, which her father built in honor of George Washington.
     Mary had many suitors, and received a marriage proposal from Sam Houston. The man who stole her heart, however, was her second cousin, Robert Edward Lee, whom she had known since childhood. They were married at Arlington on June 30. 1831. Robert had already become an established military man, so he brought Mary with him to West Point. It wasn’t long before she gave birth to a boy, and over the course of several years, bore two more sons and four daughters. She was fluent in four languages, and was an avid painter, author, and horticulturalist, propagating eleven rose varieties in her garden at Arlington. Mary was also deeply religious, and as her rheumatoid arthritis progressed, she accepted it as the will of God. She inherited Arlington after her father passed away in 1857, and two years later, published his memoirs, which she titled “Recollections.” She included an editor’s note stressing the urgency of reconciliation between northern and southern states, as the approaching Civil War seemed imminent.
     Following Virginia’s secession, Mary’s sons enlisted, and Robert resigned from his position with the U.S. military to serve under the newly-formed Confederate States of America. He traveled to Richmond, but Mary remained at Arlington until May, when she received word that Union soldiers were crossing the Potomac from Washington to seize her estate. Reluctantly, she departed, believing that the move was only temporary. How strange she must have felt knowing that she, the descendant of George Washington, was now the enemy. She traveled to different family-owned plantations until the encroaching Yankees forced her to retreat to Richmond. Once there, she set up housekeeping at several locations, all the while diligently knitting socks and mittens for her husband and his soldiers, despite her crippling arthritis.
     In 1863, following the Battle of Brandy Station, Mary witnessed the arrest of her wounded son, Rooney, who had been transported to a local plantation home to recuperate under Mary’s care. She found it necessary to travel to hot springs because of her condition, where she learned of the battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Once she returned to Richmond in the fall, she busied herself with knitting, even though inflated costs made it difficult for her to obtain yarn, and she was saddened by the loss of a daughter due to typhoid fever. Rooney’s two children and his frail wife also succumbed to disease.
     During the war, she rarely saw her husband or sons. While her daughters attended services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on April 2, 1865, they observed as President Davis was called away, and learned afterward that General Lee’s forces had fallen back: Richmond was being evacuated. Mary, however stubborn, refused to leave, and watched from her window as residents scrambled to get out before the Yankees invaded. Following a still quiet, bummers entered the city, looting, cursing, and setting fires. Still, Mary resiliently held tight. Union forces soon appeared, restoring order, and a sentry was placed at her door for protection. Out of the goodness of her heart, she sent down a breakfast tray every morning to the weary soldier who stood outside her door. It wasn’t long before she learned that her husband had surrendered his army. Robert, along with their sons, returned home soon afterward.
     Once the war ended, Robert received many job offers, finally accepting the position as president of Washington College in Lexington. By December, Mary joined him. They spent many happy years together until the summer of 1870, when Robert caught a cold that aggravated the angina he’d developed seven years earlier. He died on October 12, and was buried in a crypt beneath the campus chapel. Mary did not attend the funeral.
     Bedridden for a month, her health finally improved. She was allowed to remain at what was renamed Washington and Lee College, since her son, Custis, had been elected to succeed his father. In 1872, she filed a petition with the Judiciary Committee of Congress to receive payment for Arlington, but her request was denied. Meanwhile, her arthritis had grown so bad that she could no longer sew, so she painted and sold tinted photographs of herself, Robert, and George and Martha Washington, donating the proceeds to charity. The following year, she toured Virginia, where her travels brought her back to her beloved Arlington. Appalled by the desecration, she remained in the carriage as old servants ran out to greet her. Grand trees that had once stood on the property had been reduced to stumps, and headstones cluttered the lawn. She returned to Alexandria, and continued her charity work. In October, her daughter, Agnes, died, which broke Mary’s heart. The loss was too much for her: on November 5, 1873, she, too, passed away. Per her request, she was entombed in the basement of the college chapel next to her husband.

     (In 1874, Custis took up his mother’s crusade to obtain Arlington and won. Because the house was surrounded by a cemetery, he immediately sold it to the U.S. Government. Ownership was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. Eventually, all of the Lee children’s remains were moved to the Lee Chapel.)

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Honoring a Great Man

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(Portrait by Theodore Pine, 1904)

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was born on this date in 1807. Lee is one of my favorite characters of the Civil War, and is featured in many of my books. He was so loyal to his homeland that he gave up his commission with the U.S. Army to support Virginia when the Commonwealth seceded from the Union in 1861. This could not have been an easy decision for him. He was career military, and he was President Lincoln’s first choice to lead the Union Army. But because the country was split, Lee went with his heart and declined Lincoln’s offer.

The war wasn’t kind to General Lee. He lost many relatives during the war, and told President Jefferson Davis several times that he did not want to lead the Confederate Army. Inevitably, the South lost, but Lee accepted defeat with grace and humility. He was offered the presidency at Washington College in Lexington, which he accepted. Only five years later, he died of pneumonia, presumably brought on by heart failure.

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Robert E. Lee was a true patriot and a devout family man. He held his religious beliefs above all else. His stamina and integrity are admirable, and his leadership ability carried his soldiers through many battles. His men idolized him with love and adoration, and compared him to King Arthur. Lee was one of the greatest generals in American history.

That’s why it is such a shame that the country he fought and suffered so much for has turned against his memory. New Orleans is still debating whether to destroy the statue erected in his honor in that city. This is recurring all over the South. It is disgraceful that such a great man is depicted now in such a dishonorable light. Lee never fought to defend slavery: in fact, he set his slaves free well before the war took place. He did not believe in the institution. He fought under the Stars and Bars to preserve Southern rights and freedom, and as a declaration that his soldiers would fight to save their homes. Lee’s home, Arlington, was taken away from him during the war, but he never wavered in his faith of God and country. It is disgusting how the Stars and Bars for which he fought have been removed from his Chapel and burial place. Shame on you, Virginia, for allowing it to happen.

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(General Lee on his horse, Traveller, 1866)

Would that his enemies squirmed in their shame…but alas they have none.

“The commanding general considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the unarmed and defenseless, and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country.”

“It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies…and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth.”

Robert E. Lee

 

Racehorses and the Civil War

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Many racehorses were used during the Civil War. My new book, Horses in Gray, discusses this topic. At the start of the war, Southern gentry thought that thoroughbreds would outperform other breeds, and thus assure victory for the Confederacy. Southern soldiers brought their steeds with them, and most were nimble, well-bred stock from Virginia and Kentucky. However, it didn’t take long for both armies to figure out that thoroughbreds were too flighty and unpredictable under gunfire, so they switched primarily to Morgans, Percherons, and Saddlebreds, and used various other breeds as well.

Thoroughbreds were mostly ridden by commanding officers after that, to give them the appearance of dignity and nobility. General Grant’s horse, Cincinnati, was a descendant of Lexington, a record-breaking thoroughbred. Grant was supposedly offered $10,000 in gold for Cincinnati, but he declined the offer. President Lincoln rode the horse on occasion, and reportedly enjoyed riding him very much. After Grant was elected president, Cincinnati went with him to the White House.

General Lee’s horse, Traveller, also had royal racing blood in his veins. His lineage stretched back to English racehorses; from Diomed, to Sir Archy, to Grey Eagle, which was Traveller’s sire. Grey Eagle was a famous, full-blooded thoroughbred, and set many records. Traveller’s dam was a half-bred grade mare named Flora. After the war, Traveller accompanied Lee to Washington and Lee University in Alexandria, Virginia, where Lee served as president. The general gave rides to the town’s children on Traveller, and everyone could set their timepieces to the punctuality Lee displayed when riding Traveller through town.

On this date in 1973, Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby. It was the first of Secretariat’s Triple Crown victories. It should be interesting to see how American Pharoah, last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby winner, does in his two upcoming Triple Crown races. Thoroughbred racing was a very popular sport in this country since its birth, and fortunately, still is today.

In Honor of Two Famous Generals

This week marks the birthdays of two famous Confederate generals: Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee’s birthday was yesterday, January 19, and Jackson’s birthday is tomorrow, January 21.

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Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807. He was a son of the famous Revolutionary War hero, “Light Horse Harry” Lee. Robert E. Lee’s upbringing was atypical of Virginia gentry. Although his first home was at Stratford Hall (a beautiful plantation in Virginia that is now a tourist attraction), Lee’s family moved to Alexandria when he was four because his father was thrown into debtor’s prison. Robert E. Lee was accepted into West Point Military Academy in 1825, where he excelled and graduated at the top of his class with no demerits. He served as a military engineer, and married Mary Custis, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, at Arlington House.

After fighting in the Mexican War, Lee continued with the United States military until Virginia seceded in April, 1861. He then decided to stay true to his state, so he resigned his commission. He served under Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who eventually gave Lee total control of the Confederate Army. During the first two years of the war, Lee and Jackson fought side-by-side in several battles.

Following his surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, Lee served as the President of Washington and Lee University in Lexington. His tenure was short-lived, however. He died on October 12, 1870, and is buried on campus. Lee was a true patriot, hero, and gentleman. He was deeply religious, and was greatly admired and respected by his men, as well as his students and the citizens of Lexington.

Stonewall_Jackson_-_National_Portrait_Gallery

Thomas J. Jackson, born on January 21, 1824, was also a deeply religious man. He was sometimes ridiculed for his peculiar, eccentric behavior. Jackson was extremely shy, but after a harsh upbringing, he learned to read, and managed to graduate from West Point in 1846. He fought in the Mexican War, where he met Robert E. Lee. In 1851, Jackson became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia, where his teaching methods received criticism. His first wife died in childbirth, but he remarried a few years later.

When the Civil War broke out, Jackson was assigned to Harpers Ferry, where he commanded the “Stonewall Brigade.” His strategic military genius helped win battles at First and Second Manassas, the Peninsula and Valley Campaigns, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. During the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, 1863, Jackson was mistaken for the enemy by his own men and wounded. His arm was amputated, and it was thought he would recover. But after eight days, he succumbed to pneumonia. He died on May 10, 1863, and is buried in Lexington Cemetery (his left arm is buried at Ellwood Manor).

Lee and Jackson were two of the most prolific generals of the Civil War. Their religious conviction and military genius will always be admired and revered. Both men, along with Jefferson Davis, are featured in the carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia.

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Protests Begin in Honor of General Lee

Va. campus to remove Confederate flags from chapel

Now that a small group of law students at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia have succeeded in their mission to eradicate all Confederate flags from campus, including those displayed at Lee Chapel, where General Robert E. Lee is interred, other groups have decided to contest the decision. This Saturday, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Lexington-based Stonewall Brigade, will hold a flag vigil downtown at noon. The demonstration will be followed by an open forum at 4:00 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express to respond to what the SCV refers to as “grave robbery.”

The flags were removed after the law students claimed that the Confederate flags were hurtful and offensive to minorities. According to the SCV, Washington and Lee University can easily remedy the situation. This can be accomplished by separating campus policies from the chapel.

“We feel that what they did is a desecration of Robert E. Lee’s memorial and gravesite,” said Commander Brandon Dorsey. “It is borderline illegal, and the flags should be returned. No military servicemen should have the flags for which they fought removed from their gravesite.”

W&L President Kenneth Ruscio issued a lengthy statement earlier this month stating that the Confederate flag replicas were not presented in “an educational manner.” According to Ruscio, original flags on loan from the American Civil War Museum in Richmond will be on display in the chapel museum on a rotating basis.

Dorsey said that W&L may have violated state law by removing the battle flags, therefore desecrating the memorial of a war veteran. “”Our chief concern is primarily seeing that Robert E. Lee’s gravesite and memorial are maintained in the manner they were originally conceived to be,” he said.

The SCV was rebuked last spring when they contacted W&L after the law students’ demands were publicized.

“We’re so diametrically opposed. We don’t think there is any hope for dialogues,” he said. “We wanted the university to allow public debate. We wanted historical experts to talk about the relevance of Lee in this era. It was a flat rejection.”

Another Assault on the Confederate Flag

A recent hearing by the townspeople in Lexington, Virgina voted to abolish flying the Confederate battle flag (i.e. the Southern Cross or St. Andrews Cross) because it offended some people. The town is famous for its Civil War ties, in that both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are buried there. In fact, General Lee served as president of Washington and Lee University after the war.

In contradiction, one speaker, H.K. Edgerton, an NAACP former president, spoke on behalf of allowing the flag to remain, stating that it dishonored black Confederate soldiers not to do so. The majority of people attending the hearing voted in favor of retaining the flag, but their opposition was overruled, and the ordinance was passed anyway.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans showed up in force to oppose the ordinance, and held a rally at a nearby park in protest, providing the crowd with free hot dogs and bluegrass music. After the 4-1 decision was passed by city officials, the SCV vowed to protest the ordinance.

For more information, visit:

http://main.aol.com/2011/09/02/lexington-virginia-confederate-flag_n_946456.html?mid=56

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