A son of the revolutionary ‘Light-Horse Harry
,’ he had married a Custis.
His children represented all there was of descent, blood, and tradition of the Old Dominion, made up as the Old Dominion was of tradition, blood, and descent.
The holder of broad patrimonial acres, by birth and marriage he was a slave-owner, and a slave-owner of the patriarchal type, holding ‘slavery as an institution a moral and political evil.’
Every sentiment, every memory, every tie conceivable bound him to Virginia
; and, when the choice was forced upon him—had to be made—sacrificing rank, career, the flag, he threw in his lot with Virginia
He did so with open eyes, and weighing the consequences.
He at least indulged in no self-deception—wandered away from the path in no cloud of political metaphysics—nourished no delusion as to an early and easy triumph.
‘Secession,’ as he wrote to his son, ‘is nothing but revolution.
The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy
It is idle to talk of secession.’
But he also believed that his permanent allegiance was due to Virginia
; that her secession, though revolutionary, bourd all Virginians
and ended their connection with and duties to the national government.
Thereafter, to remain in the United States army would be treason to Virginia
So, three days after Virginia
passed its ordinance, he, being then at Arlington
, resigned his commission, at the same time writing to his sister, the wife of a Union officer, ‘We are now in a state of war which will yield to nothing.
The whole South
is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia
, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and, though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet in my own person I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native State.
With all my devotion to the Union
, and feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.
I have therefore resigned my commission in the army; and, save in defense of my native State, I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.’
Two days before he had been unreservedly tendered, on behalf of President Lincoln
, the command of the Union
army then immediately to be put in the field in front of Washington
—the command shortly afterward held by General McDowell