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The spirit of 1861--correspondence of General R. E. Lee.

[The following hitherto unpublished letters are of interest and value as Illustrating the spirit of the early days of the war.]

Alexandria, April 23, 1861.
My Dear Robert — The enclosed letter was written to me, as you will see, in consequence of a remark I made to Dr. Sparrow, which he repeated to the writer, Dr. May, that I hoped your connection with the Virginia forces — if you concluded to accept the command — might lead to some peaceful settlement of our difficulties. I hoped this from the friendship between yourself and General Scott. I have only time now to enclose you Dr. May's letter, and to offer my earnest prayer that God may make you instrumental in saving our land from this dreadful strife.

In haste, yours truly,

Theological Seminary of Virginia, April 22, 1861.
My Dear Sir — I am sure of your sympathy with me in the motive of what I now write, even though you may think me presumptuous and lacking in judgment. Two considerations prompt me: one, an editorial in the National Intelligencer of to-day, placed by yourself in Dr. Sparrow's hands, and read by him to me a few minutes ago; the other a suggestion that Colonel Lee, now to be put in command of the Virginia troops might, by God's blessing, bring peace to our distracted country. Oh, how my heart leaped at the thought! How many thousands, yea, millions, would rise up to bless the man that should bring this to pass? I may be stepping out of my line in offering a word on the subject; but my heart is full, and I know you at least are willing to give me your attention. Who knows but your cousin may be raised up by God for such a time as this? Could he bring about, at least, an armistice, preparatory to a national assembly for peaceful settlement of our troubles, how many hearts would he relieve and how large his share in the blessedness of peace-makers! I do not enter into the political considerations of the matter. That is not my province. It may suffice to say, that so far as became me, whether in the North or [92] in the South, I always gave my opinion against the organization and the proposed measures of the party now controlling the General Administration. I always held that organization to be not only needless, but mischievous. When it became sectionally dominant, I hoped still that the more thoughtful members of it would shape its course. They seem to have been overborne. The unfortunate proclamation of the President and the measures which were its immediate antecedents have utterly disappointed me and saddened me; but, as I said, I do not enter into the political aspect of the great question now before us. I would regard it as a Christian should, and especially a Christian minister. My feeble voice I lift for peace. I have often turned my thoughts to Colonel Lee. The world knows his services in the Mexican war. Years ago I asked my brother-in-law, Major A. H. Bowman (now of West Point), what army officers thought of him as a soldier. I remember well his emphatic answer: “If those who were with him (Colonel Lee) in Mexico should answer, they would unanimously declare him to be, in all military qualifications, without a rival in the service.” But my interest in him was quickened by hearing of his Christian character. During his absence in Mexico, I visited his family at Arlington, and heard from Mrs. Lee allusions to his private letters. I received then my opinion of him as a Christian, and have had my eye on him ever since. May we not hope that God has put him in his present position to be an instrument of abating the storm which now threatens shipwreck to the whole country? It is sad that so few of our public men are Christians. Colonel Lee is a grand exception. I know, in an official post, which is not that of head of the government, he would find it difficult to follow the private promptings of his own Christian mind, for a soldier's business is not to advise his superiors, but to obey. But great respect would be shown to the judgment and Christian spirit of one so distinguished as he. Viginia gave us our original independence through her Washington. She gave us our national constitution through Jefferson, Madison and others. Can she not now, while we are threatened with the immeasurable evils of civil war, give us, through Colonel Lee, peace? In common with other States she may justly complain of wrongs; but will civil war repair them? Christianity teaches not only the duty, but the wisdom of patience and forgiveness. Virginia, from her geographical position, from her glorious share in the past, and from her great political weight, has it in her power (am I presumptuous in saying it?) to [93] come in as mediator, rather as an umpire, and settle the question, not only for the happiness of the whole country, but for her own special prosperity. Should Colonel Lee be a leader in this matter, and place his native State in this grand position (which I must think she can hold), he will have an honor never reached by Napoleon or Wellington. If Virginia may not call back the people of the continent to union, she yet may to peace. Standing apart from others, she would not, could not be invaded. She could be a healer or peacemaker, and have all the blessedness of such an office.

The wisdom of seniors has not been allowed its part in our great questions. Young, impetuous spirits seem to be leading the mind of the country. Especially has not the Christian mind, the Church, been heard. Its voice must be for peace. Our sins may be too great to allow us to have again the blessedness of a united country, but may we not have peace? Is there not moral power in the Christian mind of the country to stay the hand of fraternal strife? How many wives, mothers, widows, sisters — how many quiet peaceable citizens of all classes sigh for peace? How many families now separated by wide geographical distances would be divided in a way far more painful and dreadful by civil war? No quiet citizen, no Christian can think of it without a fainting heart. During the civil wars of England, in the times of the Commonwealth, Lord Falkland was known in all Britain as one of the bravest men ever born in that land. After he had seen the indescribable wretchedness of the people of his native country in the strife of brothers, he would sit abstracted among his friends, and sighing from the depths of his heart, exclaim “Peace, peace I” I dare not say Colonel Lee may bring us peace. The Lord alone can do that. We may have so sinned that the wrath of God must lie upon us, and make us suffer the awful judgment now threatening; but we may at least pray and strive for the mercy which shall give us peace. How do all Christian sentiments — how do all the interests of the Christian Church--how do all our interests cry for peace? I do not say the Gospel forbids war absolutely. Its direct and primary call is to peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” From my inmost soul I pray that in this our day of trial, that blessedness may be enjoyed by Colonel Lee. In thus writing do I seem to be a meddler? I am not so in purpose and motive. Perhaps I mistake my calling. I think as a Christian and as a Christian minister [94] I cannot err in wishing and praying for peace. Our great national questions cannot be settled except in time of peace. Oh, may that peace come now, at the beginning, instead of the end of a fearful conflict.

So praying, I am sure of your sympathy, and subscribe myself,

Most sincerely, your friend,

Richmond, 25 April, 1861.
My Dear Cassius — I have received your letter of 23d. I am sorry your nephew has left his college and become a soldier. It is necessary that the persons on my staff should have a knowledge of their duties, and an experience of the wants of the service, to enable me to attend to other matters. It would otherwise give me great pleasure to take your nephew. I shall remember him if anything can be done. I am much obliged to you for Dr. May's letter. Express to him my gratitude for his sentiments, and tell him that no earthly act would give me so much pleasure as to restore peace to my country. But I fear it is now out of the power of man, and in God alone must be our trust I think our policy should be purely on the defensive. To resist agression, and allow time to allay the passions and reason to resume her sway. Virginia has to-day, I understand, joined the Confederate States. Her policy will doubtless therefore be shaped by united counsels. I cannot say what it will be, but trust that a merciful Providence will not dash us from the height to which his smiles had raised us. I wanted to say many things to you before I left home, but the event was rendered so imperatively speedy that I could not.

May God preserve you and yours.

Very truly,

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