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Chapter 3: a cavalry officer of the army of the United States.

His term of office at West Point terminated by his assignment to cavalry. The great civilizing arms of the United States had been extended so as to embrace large extents of territory, and more cavalry was required. An expenditure of one hundred and sixty millions of dollars, thirty victories in Mexico, and the capture of ten fortified places, including the capital city of the enemy, resulted in adding to the Republic New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California. The increase in population made it necessary to increase the army in order to give full protection to all citizens within the new boundary lines. After the United States had secured independence, cavalry was not at first recognized as a component part of the regular army. The first mounted regiment, called the First Dragoons, was not organized until 1833. Then followed the Second Dragoons in 1836, and in 1846 another regiment was added, designated as “Mounted Riflemen.” With a vast extent of territory and a population of whites numbering about twenty millions in 1855, the cavalry arm of the service consisted of but three regiments. General Scott, in his report of the operations of the army for 1853, first urged that the army be increased by two regiments of dragoons and two regiments of infantry. The following year Hon. Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, renewed the commander in chief's recommendation, and President Pierce asked its favorable consideration by Congress, stating that the army was of “inestimable importance as the nucleus around which the volunteer force of the nation can promptly gather in the hour of [53] danger.” And that he thought it “wise to maintain a military peace establishment.” Mr. R. M. T. Hunter, at that time a distinguished senator in Congress from the State of Virginia, offered an amendment to the Army Appropriation Bill which had passed the House in 1854, authorizing the increase of the army by two regiments of cavalry and five hundred mounted volunteers, who were to serve for twelve months. James Shields, an Irishman by birth, who had served conspicuously in the Mexican War as a brigadier general, and who was then a senator from the State of Illinois, offered a substitute to Hunter's amendment, embodying the views of his former commander in chief, Scott. A protracted debate resulted. Sam Houston, of Texas, and Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri, led the opposition to the measure, the former saying that in the Texas Republic, before its annexation to the United States, the expenses of the Indian War had not exceeded ten thousand dollars a year, and that the settlers had better protection against hostile tribes of Indians than they had received from regiments of the regular army, while the latter indulged in a tirade of abuse against the army generally, calling them “schoolhouse officers and pothouse soldiers” ; that he did not believe the aim of the Administration was to relieve the frontier settlements, but to furnish places for graduates of West Point and the friends of the Secretary of War, stating that the object of Mr. Pierce and Jefferson Davis was the ultimate conquest of the island of Cuba.

These views seem to have made an impression upon some sections of the country. The Comte de Paris adopted them in his History of the Civil War in America. He says: “In 1855 Congress passed a law authorizing the formation of two new regiments of cavalry, and Mr. Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, took advantage of the fact that they had not been designated by the title of dragoons to treat them as a different arm, and to fill them with his creatures, to the exclusion of regular officers, whom he disliked.” It is hardly necessary to say that the comte was writing with limited knowledge. His epithet was applied to such officers as Sumner, Sedgwick, McClellan, Emory, Thomas, [54] Stoneman, Stanley, Carr, etc., who served with much distinction on the Union side of the war from 1861 to 1865; as well as to Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Lee, Hardee, Kirby Smith, Field, Hood, J. E. B. Stuart, and a number of others who espoused the cause of the South in the late war-“names the world will not willingly let die.” Edwin Sumner was promoted by Mr. Davis from major of Second Dragoons to colonel of First Cavalry, and Joseph E. Johnston, a captain in the Topographical Engineers, was made its lieutenant colonel. The colonelcy of the Second Cavalry was tendered to Albert Sidney Johnston, then a major in the Paymaster's Department of the army. This officer, who afterward became so distinguished, graduated at West Point in 1826, and was assigned as a lieutenant to the Second Infantry. His subsequent career in Texas and in the Mexican campaign is well known to the whole country. Zachary Taylor said of him that “he was the best soldier he had ever commanded,” while Scott remarked that his appointment as colonel of the Second Cavalry “was a Godsend to the army and country.”

Captain and Brevet-Colonel R. E. Lee, of the engineers, was promoted to be lieutenant colonel of this regiment, and William J. Hardee and William H. Emory to be its majors. The latter was soon transferred to the First Cavalry, and the vacancy offered to Braxton Bragg, of the artillery, who declined it because he did not want to remain in the service, and recommended George H. Thomas, of the Third Artillery, who was appointed. Van Dorn, Kirby Smith, James Oakes, Innis Palmer, Stoneman, O'Hara, Bradfute, Travis, Brackett, and Whiting were its captains, and Nathan G. Evans, Richard W. Johnson, Charles Field, and John B. Hood were among its first lieutenants.

Secretary of War Davis graduated at West Point in 1828, two years after Albert Sidney Johnston and one year before Robert E. Lee. He possessed an accurate knowledge of the individual merits of army officers, and time and history have indorsed his selection of officers for these new regiments; for on their respective sides in the late war nearly every one became celebrated. Mr. Davis said to the writer that when he carried [55] the list to the President, the latter remarked that he thought too many of the officers were from the Southern States, and that for the first time his attention was directed to the section from which many of these officers came. In their appointment he had only considered that past services richly entitled them to promotion. At the date of the organization of the two new cavalry regiments seventy officers were appointed by Secretary Davis, but only twenty-nine of them came from States which seceded from the Union in 1861. It is, however, a “historical fact that the officers thus selected were superb soldiers, and that they were from the best to be found in the army and in civil life.”

Brevet-Colonel Lee left the Engineer Corps with great regret; he had thoroughly mastered its scientific details, and, with a national reputation, stood in the front rank of military engineers. At West Point he had been instructed in cavalry, artillery, and infantry tactics, and, like all cadets at the date of graduation, was supposed to be equally well informed as to the drill and duties of each arm of service; but twenty-six years had rolled around since graduation, during which his attention had been entirely absorbed in the profession of engineer, and it was necessary that he should again study cavalry tactics. Promotion was slow in the United States Army, and in a long official life he had only reached the lineal rank of captain. By sudden transition, in a single bound he had been promoted to a lieutenant colonelcy, a position he possibly would not have reached in the ordinary course of promotion for many years; his duty to all concerned demanded that he should accept the position. It was an unwritten law in the army that if promotion was offered and declined, the reputation of the officer suffered; it was regarded as a confession on his part that he had not capacity to perform the duties of a higher grade.

Next to the engineer, the cavalry service was the most agreeable to Lee. He was fond of horses, and liked to see them cleaned, fed, and well taken care of; he had a firm seat in the saddle, and rode gracefully and well. He might never become, in the language of the cavalry song, [56]

A bold dragoon, who scorns all care
As he stalks around with his uncropped hair.

And indeed it is difficult to picture him in short jacket, long boots coming above his knees, jingling spurs, clanking saber, and slouched hat, upon whose looped — up side gay feathers danced. Or can we imagine him with the devil-may-care look and jaunty bearing generally ascribed as attributes of the “rough rider” ? We can not fancy him charging the French columns with the fury of a Ponsonby at Waterloo; or riding boot to boot with dashing Cardigan and his “death or glory” squadrons “into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell” at Balaklava; or side by side with fearless Murat and his twelve thousand cavalry at Jena; or as fast and furious as Stuart, or Sheridan, Forrest, or Custer. And yet it is safe to say, had the opportunity offered, this new cavalry officer would have been found equal to the emergency. The cavalry genius of Cromwell is readily admitted, in spite of the fact that he was forty-four years of age when he first drew his sword, and Lee was now forty-six. General Foy, in his history of the Peninsular War, writes: “Apres les qualities necessaire[s]? au commandant en chef, le talent de guerre plus sublime est celui du general de cavalrie.” Lee was endowed with youth, health, strength, and “talent for war” ; he had been shaken well into the saddle by his Mexican campaign, and was buoyant and brave. A fearless and graceful rider, he could have manoeuvred squadrons, and when the bugle sounded the charge, reins loosened, and sabers flashed in the air, lead them to victory.

The headquarters of the Second Cavalry were established at Louisville, Ky., where Lieutenant-Colonel Lee assumed command on the 20th of April, 1855. Afterward he was transferred to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where the companies were to be organized and instructed, and which was then the temporary regimental headquarters. He writes Mrs. Lee from that post, July 1, 1855: “The chaplain of the post, a Mr. Fish, is now absent; he is an Episcopal clergyman and well spoken of; we have therefore not had service since I have been here. The church stands out in the trees, grotesque in its form and ancient in its appearance. I [57] have not been in it, but am content to read the Bible and prayers alone, and draw much comfort from their holy precepts and merciful promises. Though feeling unable to follow the one, and truly unworthy of the other, I must still pray to that glorious God without whom there is no help, and with whom there is no danger. That he may guard and protect you all, and more than supply to you my absence, is my daily and constant prayer. I have been busy all the week superintending and drilling recruits. Not a stitch of clothing has as yet arrived for them, though I made the necessary requisition for it to be sent here more than two months ago in Louisville. Yesterday, at muster, I found one of the late arrivals in a dirty, tattered shirt and pants, with a white hat and shoes, with other garments to match. I asked him why he did not put on clean clothes. He said he had none. I asked him if he could not wash and mend those. He said he had nothing else to put on. I then told him immediately after muster to go down to the river, wash his clothes, and sit on the bank and watch the passing steamboats till they dried, and then mend them. This morning at inspection he looked as proud as possible, stood in the position of a soldier with his little fingers on the seams of his pants, his beaver cocked back, and his toes sticking through his shoes, but his skin and solitary two garments clean. He grinned very happily at my compliments. I have got a fine puss, which was left me by Colonel Sumner. He was educated by his daughter, Mrs. Jenkins, but is too fond of getting up on my lap and on my bed; he follows me all about the house and stands at the door in an attitude of defiance at all passing dogs.”

In the November following he was in Kansas, having been temporarily detached from his regiment and detailed to serve as a member of a court-martial ordered to convene to try an assistant surgeon of the army for leaving his station in the midst of a fatal epidemic, and wrote Mrs. Lee, from Fort Riley, November 5, 1855: “The court progresses slowly. A good deal was told in the evidence of Saturday; Mrs. Woods, wife of Brevet-Major Woods, Sixth Infantry, whose husband had left on the [58] Sioux expedition, was taken ill at 9 P. M. on the 2d of August. Her youngest child, a boy of three years, was taken that night at twelve, and about six next morning her eldest, a girl of five years. The mother, when told that her end was approaching, asked her only attendant, a niece of the chaplain, to take down the last request to her children and absent husband. The sickness of her children had kindly been concealed from her by this young lady, who managed, by the aid of a soldier, to attend to them all. They all died that morning, the 3d of August. The boy preceded, and the girl followed the mother by about an hour. Their bodies rest in the same grave. I pray their spirits may be united in heaven. The husband, stripped of all he loved, is still absent; and the same day Major Ogden, Mrs. Woods's nurse, a soldier and his wife, died-making seven corpses in the house in one day. Major Ogden was a valuable soldier and much beloved by his men. They have erected to his memory, on an adjacent hill overlooking the fort and the beautiful valley of the Kansas and its branches, a stone monument, their own design and workmanship. The epitaph on it relates in touching simplicity his services and death. He died as he had lived — a soldier and a Christian, and repeated the Lord's Prayer with his last breath. There were fifty-nine deaths during the epidemic. Mrs. Armistead, wife of Major Armistead (General Lewis Armistead, killed at Gettysburg), died in six hours after she was taken. Her husband had marched with his company, but only proceeded thirty miles when overtaken by an express. He returned in the night, found his wife dead, and after her funeral in the morning-this same fatal 3d of August-started for his camp, carrying his two little children with him. A soldier has a hard life and but little consideration.”

The Second Cavalry, under the command of Colonel Johnston, on the 27th of October following began its long march from Jefferson Barracks to western Texas. It numbered seven hundred and fifty men and eight hundred horses. It marched under the command of its colonel, Major Hardee being the only other field officer who accompanied it, Lee and Thomas being on court-martial [59] detail. The regiment was destined for the next few years to be stationed at the various posts of western Texas, and its duty was to protect the scalp of the settler from the tomahawk of the savage. Texas has an area of two hundred and seventy-four thousand square miles, or one hundred and fifty million acres of land, and is two and a half times the area of Great Britain and Ireland. In order to watch over such a stretch of frontier it was necessary to divide the regiment up so that only a few companies occupied the same post.

Lieutenant-Colonel Lee arrived in Texas in March, 1856: To Mrs. Lee he writes from San Antonio on March 20, 1856: “To-morrow I leave for Fort Mason, where Colonel Johnston and six companies of the regiment are stationed. Major Hardee and four companies are in camp on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, about forty miles from Belknap. I presume I shall go there. I have left it with Mr. Radiminski (a native of Poland and a lieutenant in the Second Cavalry) to make provision for the journey, and have merely indicated that I should be content with a boiled ham, hard bread, a bottle of molasses, and one of extract of coffee-all of which have been provided.” Lee was afterward stationed at Camp Cooper, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, so named in honor of Samuel Cooper, then adjutant general of the army; and from that point in June, 1856, he was dispatched with four companies of his regiment on an expedition against the Comanches, but was unsuccessful in finding them. It is mentioned because it was his first service of this nature, and the largest command he had ever exercised in the field up to that period. The Indians of western Texas in those days roved over the prairies in small bodies, and would descend suddenly upon the frontier settlements, scalping and killing the settlers and driving off their horses and cattle. They were fine specimens of irregular cavalry, were splendid riders, and when compelled to fight, used the open or individual method of warfare, after the manner of the Cossacks.

From Camp Cooper, Texas, August 4, 1856, remembering that Mr. Custis always celebrated his country's birth by a patriotic speech of welcome to the many who visited him on such occasions, he says to Mrs. Lee: “I [60] hope your father continued well and enjoyed his usual celebration of the Fourth of July; mine was spent, after a march of thirty miles on one of the branches of the Brazos, under my blanket, elevated on four sticks driven in the ground, as a sunshade. The sun was fiery hot, the atmosphere like the blast from a hot-air furnace, the water salt, still my feelings for my country were as ardent, my faith in her future as true, and my hopes for her advancement as unabated as they would have been under better circumstances.”

A week later, having received intelligence of the death of his youngest sister, Mildred, who, having married a Mr. Childe, had removed to and was a resident of Paris, France, he writes: “The news came to me very unexpectedly, and in the course of nature I might never have anticipated it, as indeed I had never realized that she could have preceded me on the unexplored journey upon which we are all hastening. Though parted from her for years, with little expectation but of a transient reunion in this life, this terrible and sudden separation has not been the less distressing because it was distant and unlooked for. It has put an end to all hope of our meeting in this world. It has cut short my early wishes and daily yearnings, and so vividly does she live in my imagination and affection that I can not realize she only exists in my memory. I pray that her life has but just begun, and I trust that our merciful God only so suddenly and early snatched her away because he then saw that it was the fittest moment to take her to himself. May a pure and eternal life now be hers, and may we all live so that when we die it may be open to us.” On the 25th of the same month he tells Mrs. Lee: “I shall leave here on the 1st proximo for the Rio Grande, and shall be absent from two and a half to three months; will go from here to Fort Mason and pick up Major Thomas 1 and take him on with me, and thus have him as a traveling companion all the way, which will be a great comfort to me.” And then mentioning the Comanche raids on the settlers of Texas, he says: “These people give a world of trouble to man and horse, and, poor creatures, they are not worth it.” [61]

Whenever a vacancy occurred in the army in a grade above lieutenant colonel, his chances for promotion were always discussed. His reply to a letter from his wife, informing him that his name was frequently mentioned for a brigadier generalcy, was written the day he set out for Ringgold Barracks to serve as a member of the courtmartial ordered to try Major Giles Porter, of the rifles, and is very characteristic:

Camp Cooper, Texas, September 1, 1856.
We are all in the hands of a kind God, who will do for us what is best, and more than we deserve, and we have only to endeavor to deserve more, and to do our duty to him and ourselves. May we all deserve his mercy, his care, and protection. Do not give yourself any anxiety about the appointment of the brigadier. If it is on my account that you feel an interest in it, I beg you will discard it from your thoughts. You will be sure to be disappointed; nor is it right to indulge improper and useless hopes. It besides looks like presumption to expect it.

The journey to the Rio Grande is best told in his own words:

Ringgold Barracks, Texas, October 3, 1856.
I arrived here on the 28th, after twenty-seven consecutive days of travel. The distance was greater than I had anticipated, being seven hundred and thirty miles. I was detained one day on the road by high water-had to swim my mules and get the wagon over by hand. My mare took me very comfortably, but all my wardrobe, from my socks up to my plume, was immersed in the muddy water-epaulets, sash, etc. They are, however, all dry now. Major Thomas traveled with me from Fort Mason. We are in camp together. Captain Bradford, whom we knew at Old Point, is on the court. Colonel Chapman, of the infantry, from Georgetown, Captain Marsey, Colonels Bainbridge, Bumford, Ruggles, and Seawell, and Captain Sibley, an old classmate of mine. Colonel Waite is president of the court and Captain Samuel Jones, of the artillery, judge advocate. The latter brought his wife and child with him in a six-mule road wagon from Sinda, about one hundred and twenty miles up the river. All the court are present and yesterday we commenced the trial of our old friend, Giles Porter. I hope he will clear himself of the charges against him. I am writing with much inconvenience from a stiff finger, caused by a puncture from a Spanish bayonet, while pitching my tent on the road, which struck the joint. Every branch and leaf in this country nearly are armed with a point, and some seem to poison the flesh. What a blessed thing the children are not here! They would be ruined.


The discomforts of army travel and army life were very great in those days. Officers would scarcely get within their assigned quarters at one post before they would be ordered to another, and as transportation was limited to a few Government wagons, the transfer would always result in loss to the officers. Lieutenant-Colonel Lee gives as a glimpse of this in a letter to Mrs. Lee, dated:

Ringgold Barracks, Texas, October 24, 1856.
Major Porter had for his counsel two Texan lawyers, a Judge Bigelow and a Colonel Bowers, very shrewd men, accustomed to the tricks and stratagems of special pleadings, which, of no other avail, absorb time and stave off the question. The movement of troops to Florida will not take place, I presume, until the beginning of November. They are packing up and getting ready. The officers are selling their surplus beds and chairs, cows, goats, and chickens. I am sorry to see their little comforts going, for it is difficult on the frontier to collect them again. Mrs. Sibley told me her chairs and cow had gone, and Mrs. Waite her goats. The pigeons and chickens are disposed of on the table. General Vidaun, in his attack on Camargo, seems to progress pari passu with the court. I am more interested in the state of health of my man Johnson, who has fever. I hope it will prove a slight case for his sake and my own, for, though he is a poor cook, he is all I have, and neither the major [George H. Thomas] nor I can stand these long and interesting sessions of the court without eating. I have read in a stray number of the New York Times, that reached here somehow, a violent attack upon Secretary Davis [Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War] for the removal of Professor Sprole [West Point]. It makes out a severe charge against the Secretary, the merits of which, though I am sorry for the professor, I am too dull to see. The Secretary and President have surely the right to appoint whom they think best to fill the station. I sincerely hope he will not suffer on account of his losing his place. He has some strong friends in the city of New York. At any rate you had better write to Miss Becky [his daughter] to stay with you till her father is located. In the same paper there are ill-natured strictures upon our regiment. The writer is opposed to the new regiments, particularly the First and Second Cavalry and the Ninth and Tenth Infantry, and calls for their early disbandment. They may suit themselves in everything relating to my services, and whenever they tell me they are no longer required they will not be obtruded on them.

Two months later Lieutenant-Colonel Lee was at Fort Brown, Texas, with thoughts filled with the approaching [63] Christmas and his family's happiness. He Writes in December, 1856: “The time is approaching when I trust many of you will be assembled around the family hearth at dear Arlington another Christmas. Though absent, my heart will be in the midst of you, and I shall enjoy in imagination and memory all that is going on. May nothing occur to mar or cloud the family fireside, and may each be able to look back with pride and pleasure at their deeds of the past year, and with confidence and hope to that in prospect. I can do nothing but hope and pray for you all. Last Saturday I visited Matamoras, Mexico, for the first time. The town looked neat, though much out at the elbow, and nothing apparently going on of interest. The plaza or square was inclosed and the trees and grass flourishing, for which I am told the city is indebted to Major William Chapman, of the Quartermaster's Department, who made the improvement while it was in the occupation of the American army. The most attractive thing to me in town were the orange trees loaded with unripe fruit. The oleander was in full bloom, and there were some large date, fig, and palm trees.”

Two days after the great festival the following letter to Mrs. Lee, giving in graphic words his views on slavery, a sly slap at the Pilgrim Fathers, and his personal Christmas doings, was written:

Fort Brown, Texas, December 27, 1856.
The steamer has arrived from New Orleans, bringing full files of papers and general intelligence from the “States.” I have enjoyed the former very much, and, in the absence of particular intelligence, have perused with much interest the series of the Alexandria Gazette from the 20th of November to the 8th of December inclusive. Besides the usual good reading matter, I was interested in the relation of local affairs, and inferred, from the quiet and ordinary course of events, that all in the neighborhood was going on well. I trust it may be so, and that you and particularly all at Arlington and our friends elsewhere are well. The steamer brought the President's message to Congress, and the reports of the various heads of the departments, so that we are now assured that the Government is in operation and the Union in existence. Not that I had any fears to the contrary, but it is satisfactory always to have facts to go on; they restrain supposition and conjecture, confirm faith, and bring contentment. I was much pleased [64] with the President's message and the report of the Secretary of War. The views of the President on the domestic institutions of the South are truthfully and faithfully expressed. In this enlightened age there are few, I believe, but will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it, however, a greater evil to the white than to the black race, and while my feelings are strongly interested in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are stronger for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjection may be necessary is known and ordered by a wise and merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from a mild and melting influence than the storms and contests of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small part of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of slavery is onward, and we give it the aid of our prayers and all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands, who sees the end and who chooses to work by slow things, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day; although the abolitionist must know this, and must see that he has neither the right nor the power of operating except by moral means and suasion; and if he means well to the slave, he must not create angry feelings in the master. That although he may not approve the mode by which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will never be the same; that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no concern holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbors when we disapprove their conduct. Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve the freedom of their opinion have always proved themselves intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others? I hope you had a joyous Christmas at Arlington, and that it may be long and often repeated. I thought of you all and wished to be with you. Mine was gratefully but silently passed. I endeavored to find some little presents for the children in the garrison to add to their amusement, and succeeded better than I had anticipated. The stores are very barren of such things here, but by taking the week beforehand in my daily walks I picked up little by little something for all. Tell Mildred I got a beautiful Dutch doll for little Emma Jones-one of those crying babies that can open and shut their eyes, turn their head, etc. For the two other little girls, Puss Shirley and Mary Sewell, 1 found handsome French teapots to match cups given to them by [65] Mrs. Waite; then by means of knives and books I satisfied the boys. After dispensing my presents I went to church; the discourse was on the birth of our Saviour. It was not as simply or touchingly told as it is in the Bible. By previous invitation I dined with Major Thomas at 2 P. M. on roast turkey and plum pudding. He and his wife were alone. I had provided a pretty singing bird for the little girl, and passed the afternoon in my room. God bless you all.

From the same place-Fort Brown, Texas, January 7, 1857-writing to Mrs. Lee, whom he hears has been sick, he says: “Systematically pursue the best course to recover your lost health. I pray and trust your efforts and the prayers of those who love you may be favorably answered. Do not worry yourself about things you can not help, but be content to do what you can for the well-being of what belongs properly to you. Commit the rest to those who are responsible, and though it is the part of benevolence to aid all we can and sympathize with all who are in need, it is the part of wisdom to attend to our own affairs. Lay nothing too much to heart. Desire nothing too eagerly, nor think that all things can be perfectly accomplished according to our own notions.”

Mr. Custis, of Arlington, was very fond of cats, and his large yellow “Tom” was his constant attendant. Some of his household naturally grew fond of these animals, his son-in-law being among them. Lieutenant-Colonel Lee would not cut the skirt of his robe, as did Mohammed, to prevent disturbing his cat, which was sleeping on it, nor, like Cardinal Wolsey, give audience with a cat seated beside him, nor let his cat rest among his papers and books, as did Richelieu, nor wish a statue with his right hand resting on his cat, as did Whittington, the famous Lord Mayor of London, but he liked to see a well-fed puss, such as Gray described in his ode “On the death of a favorite cat” :

Her conscious tail her joy disclosed,
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The relish of her paws;

Her coat that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet and emerald eyes,
She saw and purr'd applause.


From Fort Brown, Texas, February 16, 1857, he tells Mrs. Lee: “Tell your father Mrs. Colonel Waite has a fine large cat which she takes with her everywhere. He is her companion by day, and sleeps on her bed at night. In public conveyances she leads him in the leash, and carries along a bottle of milk for his use. In her own carriage he sits on her lap. I have been trying to persuade her to let me take him up to Camp Cooper, but she says she can't part from him. He must go to Florida. I have seen some fine cats in Brownsville in the stores kept by Frenchmen, but no yellow ones; the dark brindle is the favorite color on the frontier. In my walk the other evening I met a Mexican with a wild kitten in his arms enveloped in his blanket; it was a noble specimen of the Rio Grande wildcat, spotted all over with large spots like the leopard. I tried very hard to buy him, but he said he was already sold. I should prefer one of those at Camp Cooper. I fear, though, I should have to keep him chained, for they are very wild and savage.”

And again from Indianola, Texas, March 27, 1857, he writes to his youngest daughter: “It has been said that our letters are good representatives of our minds. They certainly present a good criterion for judging of the character of the individual. You must be careful that yours make as favorable an impression of you as I hope you will deserve. I am truly sorry for the destruction of the Long Bridge. [Spans the Potomac between Arlington and Washington.] It will be an injury to the business of many and an inconvenience to you in taking your music lessons. You must be a great personage now-sixty pounds! I wish I had you here in all your ponderosity. I want to see you so much. Can you not pack up and come to the Comanche country? I would get you such a fine cat you would never look at ‘ Tom’ again. Did I tell you Jim Nooks, Mrs. Waite's cat, was dead? He died of apoplexy. I foretold his end. Coffee and cream for breakfast, pound cake for lunch, turtle and oysters for dinner, buttered toast for tea, and Mexican rats, taken raw, for supper. He grew enormously and ended in a spasm. His beauty could not save him. I saw in San Antonio a cat dressed up for [67] company: He had two holes bored in each ear, and in each were two bows of pink and blue ribbon. His round face, set in pink and blue, looked like a big owl in a full blooming ivy bush. He was snow white, and wore the golden fetters of his inamorata around his neck in the form of a collar. His tail and feet were tipped with black, and his eyes of green were truly catlike. But I ‘saw cats as is cats’ in Sarassa, while the stage was changing mules. I stepped around to see Mr.Monod and Mrs. Monod, a French couple with whom I had passed the night when I landed in Texas, in 1846, to join General Wool's army. Mr. Monod received me with all the shrugs of his nation, and the entrance of madame was foreshadowed by the coming in of her stately cats, with visages grave and tails erect, who preceded, surrounded, and followed her. Her present favorite, Sodoiska, a large mottled gray, was a magnificent creature, and in her train she pointed out Aglai, her favorite eleven years ago when I first visited her. They are of French breed and education, and when the claret and water was poured out for my refreshment they jumped on the table for a sit-to. If I can persuade the mail stage to give a place to one of that distinguished family, I will take it to Camp Cooper, provided madame can trust her pet into such a barbarous country and Indian society. I left the wildcat on the Rio Grande; he was too savage; had grown as large as a small-sized dog, had to be caged, and would strike at anything that came within his reach. His cage had to be strong, and consequently heavy, so I could not bring it. He would pounce upon a kid as Tom Tita [the cat at Arlington] would on a mouse, and would whistle like a tiger when you approached him. Be a good child and think always of your devoted father.”

From the same place on the next day he lets his wife know how difficult it was for army officers to retain their servants:

Indianola, Texas, March 28, 1857.
Major Thomas, anticipating a long sojourn, brought down Mrs. Thomas with him, who told me last evening of her troubles in relation to her womenkind. She brought two sisters from New Orleans under obligation to remain in her service two years. One [68] of them has become enamored of a soldier at Fort Mason, and has engaged herself to marry him. Colonel Taylor informs me that his two women servants married soldiers at Fort Brown without his knowledge about a fortnight after his arrival. It seems we have our troubles wherever we are and can not escape them.

The court-martials being over, Colonel Lee started for his post, and at Fort Mason, en route, on the 4th of April, 1857, writes: “I write to inform you of my progress thus far on my journey. I arrived here yesterday in a cold norther, and though I pitched my tent in the most sheltered place I could find, I was surprised to see this morning, when getting up, my bucket of water, which was sitting close by my bed, so hard frozen that I had to break the ice before I could pour the water into the basin. On visiting the horses in the night they seemed to suffer much with cold, notwithstanding I had stretched their picket line under the lee of a dense thicket to protect them from the wind. This post has the advantage of Camp Cooper in providing habitable though homely quarters for officers and men. This is Easter Sunday. I hope you have been able to attend the services at Church. My own have been performed alone in my tent, I hope with a humble, grateful, and penitent heart, and will be acceptable to our Heavenly Father. May he continue his mercies to us both and all our children, relatives and friends, and in his own good time unite us in his worship, if not on earth, forever in heaven.”

And on his arrival writes:

Camp Cooper, Texas, April 19, 1857.
After an absence of over seven months I have returned to my Texas home. I heard of Indians on the way but met none. I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in the crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, and on Him I rely and feel that in all our life we are upheld and sustained by Divine Providence, and that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He designs no blessing to idle and inactive wishes, and the only miracle he now exhibits to us is the power he gives to Truth and Justice to work their way in this wicked world. After so long an absence I found my valuables in a better condition than I had anticipated. My tent had frequently been prostrated by storms but always rose again. It was, of course, attended by a natural crash not worth considering, could you replace your crockery, buckets, etc., which is impossible.


The change of the weather in Texas is the subject of a letter dated April 26, 1857: “The changes of the weather here are very rapid. Yesterday, for instance, I was in my white linen coat and shirt all the afternoon, and the thermometer in my tent, with the walls raised and a fine breeze blowing through it, stood at eighty-nine degrees. I could not bear the blanket at night, but about twelve o'clock a ‘norther’ came roaring down the valley of the Clear Fork and made all my blankets necessary. This morning fires and overcoats are in fashion again. A general courtmartial has been convened here for the trial of Lieutenant Eagle, Second Cavalry. I am president of the court, I am sorry to say. Colonel Bainbridge, Major Thomas, Major Van Horn, Major Paul, Captain King, and others are members. I have pitched a couple of tents by the side of mine for the Major and Mrs. Thomas, for she has accompanied him again, and they are to take their meals with me. The major can fare as I do, but I fear she will fare badly, for my man Kumer is both awkward and unskilled. I can, however, give them plenty of bread and beef, but, with the exception of preserved vegetables, fruits, etc., I can give very little else. I sent yesterday to the settlements below and got a few eggs, some butter, and one old hen. I shall not reflect upon her. The game is poor now and out of season, and we are getting none of it. In my next I shall be better able to tell you how I got on with my entertainments.”

In a letter dated Camp Cooper, June 9, 1857, he mentions the sickness of the troops: “The great heat has produced much sickness among the men. The little children, too, have suffered. A bright little boy died a few days since from it. He was the only child, and his parents were much affected by his loss. They expressed a great desire to have him buried with Christian rites, and asked me to perform the ceremony; so for the first time in my life I read the beautiful funeral service of our Church over the grave to a large and attentive audience of soldiers.”

And on the 25th of June, 1857, Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, in advising his wife and one of his daughters to go [70] to the Springs, suggested that they be escorted by his youngest son, saying: “A young gentleman who has read Virgil must surely be competent to take care of two ladies, for before I had advanced that far I was my mother's outdoor agent and confidential messenger. Your father [G. W. P. Custis] must have a pleasant time at Jamestown, judging from the newspaper report of the celebration. Tell him I at last have a prospect of getting a puss. I have heard of a batch of kittens at a settler's town on the river, and have the promise of one. I have stipulated if not entirely yellow, it must at least have some yellow in the composition of the color of its coat; but how I shall place it-when I get it-and my mouse on amicable terms I do not know.”

In a letter dated Camp Cooper, June 22, 1857, he tells his wife again of the sickness of the troops and of the death of a little boy, the son of a sergeant, about one year old. “His father came to me,” he writes, “with the tears flowing down his cheeks, and asked me to read the funeral services over his body, which I did at the grave for the second time in my life. I hope I will not be asked again; for, though I must believe it is far better for the child to be called by its heavenly Creator into his presence in its purity and innocence, unpolluted by sin and uncontaminated by the vices of the world, still, it so wrings a parent's heart with anguish that it is painful to see. Yet I know it was done in mercy to both. The child has been saved from all misery and sin here. The father has been given a touching appeal and powerful inducement to prepare for hereafter.”

In the summer of 1857, Colonel Johnston being ordered to report to Washington for the purpose of taking charge of the Utah expedition, Lieutenant-Colonel Lee assumed command of his regiment. The death of his father-in-law, Mr. Custis, recalled him to Arlington in the fall of that year; but he returned as soon as possible to his regimental headquarters in Texas. The death of the “adopted son of Washington,” October 10, 1857, in his seventy-sixth year, was greatly deplored. His unbounded hospitality was as broad as his acres, and his vivid recollections of the Father of his Country, [71] though only eighteen when he died, and whose memory he venerated, were most charmingly narrated. His father, John Parke Custis, the son of Mrs. Washington by her first husband, was Washington's aid-de-camp at the siege of Yorktown, and died at the early age of twenty-eight.

G. W. P. Custis, the grandson of Mrs. Washington, was educated at Princeton. His early life was passed at Mount Vernon, but after the death of his grandmother, in 1802, he built Arlington House, opposite the city of Washington, on an estate left him by his father. In his will he decreed that all of his slaves should be set free after the expiration of five years. The time of manumission came in 1863, when the flames of war were fiercely raging; but amid the exacting duties incident to the position of army commander, Robert E. Lee, his executor, summoned them together within his lines and gave them their free papers, as well as passes through the Confederate lines to go whither they would.

Mr. Custis in his will says: “I give and bequeath to my dearly beloved daughter, Mary Custis Lee, my Arlington House estate, containing seven hundred acres, more or less, and my mill on Four Mile Run, in the County of Alexandria, and the lands of mine adjacent to said mill in the counties of Alexandria and Fairfax, in the State of Virginia, the use and benefit of all just mentioned during the term of her natural life. . . . My daughter, Mary Custis Lee, has the privilege by this will of dividing my family plate among my grandchildren; but the Mount Vernon plate, together with every article I possess relating to Washington, and that came from Mount Vernon, is to remain with my daughter at Arlington House during said daughter's life, and at her death to go to my eldest grandson, George Washington Custis Lee, and to descend from him entire and unchanged to my latest posterity.” These articles were taken from Arlington, General McClellan writes, and put into the Patent Office in Washington for safe-keeping until such times as they should be restored to their rightful owner, and that he [McClellan] would be willing to testify to that fact in a court of justice, if it were necessary. They were removed afterward from the [72] Patent Office and placed in the National Museum, where they are now, and all applications for their restoration have been refused. A decision of the Supreme Court restored to General Custis Lee Arlington, and Congress should return these articles of Washington, which had been taken from his grandfather's house during the war.

Petty frontier war with savages was not congenial to the tastes or in accord with the genius of such a soldier as Lee. Army life there was not pleasant to officers of his rank; the forts were surrounded on all sides by long strips of dreary, uninhabited territory, and in order to better protect this vast section of western Texas, the ten companies constituting his regiment of cavalry were divided up into garrisons of one or two companies to each post. Prairie scouting was done principally by subalterns with small detachments, a lieutenant and twenty troopers being frequently detailed for that purpose. The duties of a department or regimental commander were for the most part supervisory.

No great continental lines of railroad bound in those days ocean to ocean with bands of steel. No telegraphs bore on electric wings communication from fort to fort; the United States mail was carried by armed soldiers on small mules, whose habitual gait was the gallop, while officers and their families were transported in ambulances drawn by mules, and accompanied by armed escorts. At the end of each day's journey the night was spent in tents. Sibley, of the Second Dragoons, when traveling in this way with his wife and daughter over Texas prairies, first conceived the idea of the famous tent called after him; he was caught in a “norther,” and made a fire in his wall tent during the night, hoping the smoke would go out of the opening in front; it did not do so, and the next day he worked at the model of the tent, in shape similar to the Indian tepee; the present Army Sibley tent is the result. Officers stationed at frontier posts in those days could not communicate with the headquarters of the Department at San Antonio for many days, or hear from their homes in the States for many weeks.

The Indians, too, were not foemen worthy of Lee's steel; the Comanches were then the largest and fiercest [73] tribe in Texas. Attached to Lee's first station, Camp Cooper, was an “Indian reserve.” The Government was making its-first experiment toward civilizing the savage. The Indians were induced to come to such reservation, where they were fed and taken care of at Government expense; the great majority of them did not deign to associate so familiarly with the pale faces; some, however, came, especially in the winter months; but when the grass grew high in the spring, and the game fat, they resumed their wandering life, and with bent bow and a quiver full of arrows, lay in ambush to kill those who had fed them. Catumseh, one of the Comanche chiefs, was at the reserve when Lee was at Camp Cooper. With true official courtesy the lieutenant colonel, as the commandant of the fort and the representative of the Great Father at Washington, decided to visit him, and told the interpreter to say to the chief that he would treat him as a friend so long as his conduct and that of the tribe deserved it, but would meet him as an enemy the moment he failed to keep his word. Catumseh was not much pleased with Lee's views, receiving them with an emphatic grunt, relying principally upon producing a profound impression upon his visitor by the information that he was a “big Indian” and had six wives, and would have more respect for Lee if he had followed his example. The visit was not productive of results, and failed to establish the desired entente cordiale between the two chiefs. They separated, mutually convinced that the other was a cunning specimen who had to be watched. During the interview Catumseh was in all probability taking the measure of Lee's scalp, while Lee was in turn disgusted with the paint and ornaments of the Indian, for we find him writing word that he “was rendered more hideous than Nature made him.” These Indians were treacherous in disposition and filthy in habit; a nomadic life made them active, vigilant, and a foe not to be despised. Their strength, however, was inferior to that of the soldier, because their food, clothing, and exposure were not conducive to its development. For breakfast, dinner, and supper, they had the raw meat of the antelope, deer, and buffalo. It was their habit to cut it into long strips, put it over the backs of their ponies, [74] ride on it to keep it in place, and whenever hungry on the march, cut off a piece and eat it. They were matchless horsemen, and could crawl under or over the side of a horse with the ease a squirrel could circumscribe a tree. The bow and arrow was their principal weapon, and the precision of their aim was wonderful. They would draw rings a few feet in diameter on the ground, and shooting an arrow to a surprising height in the air, cause it to return and stick in a previously designated circle. The green turf was the couch of the red man, the blue sky his coverlet; stoicism and courage were the characteristics of the race, but combined with murder, theft, and perfidy. Colonel Lee was doubtless glad to get away from them. On that Sunday afternoon, October 16, 1859, when John Brown with a small force marched into Harper's Ferry with the avowed purpose of liberating slaves and inaugurating war between the whites and blacks, Colonel Lee was enjoying the hospitality of his Arlington home; having asked for the second furlough, in a long career, to settle up the estate of Mr. Custis, being his sole executor, he was within range of the Secretary of War when that officer decided to take prompt measures to regain the United States Arsenal which Brown had captured. No one then knew the limits of this aggressive action of Brown. An officer well equipped by experience, courage, and balanced judgment was required to represent the Government. The needle in the Secretary of War's office turned by mere force of instinct to Lee, and he promptly responded to the summons. A battalion of marines from the navy yard at Washington was ordered to be put at his service, and the troops of the regular army, at Fort Monroe. The “John Brown raid,” as it was termed, was the natural outgrowth of the agitation by the abolitionists of the slavery question on the mind of a wild fanatic. The mad actor in the Harper's Ferry tragedy was born in the State of Kentucky, and for the greater part of fifty-nine years had been a monomaniac on the subject of freedom for the negro. His mind had become overexcited, and in his frenzy he had already performed deeds which placed him close to the dangling rope. At Springfield, Mass., where he once resided, he [75] formed an order called the “League of Gileadites,” pledged to rescue fugitive slaves. To this order he delivered addresses in manuscript, saying in one of them: “Stand by one another and by your friends while a drop of blood remains and by hanging, if you must.” Nine years afterward in Virginia the rope was placed in uncomfortable proximity to his own neck.

Kansas when a Territory, and an applicant for admission to the American Union, was made the abolition battlefield; John Brown went there, of course, for agitation was the business of his life. Acts of violence were frequent. Excitement in the Territory grew, and finally culminated in the Pottawattamie massacre, where five unoffending citizens were called from their beds and assassinated by Brown and his companions. The commotion created by the carnage increased the notoriety of the butcher, and he was an abolition hero. Eastern agitators placed on his head the crown of heroism, and offers of arms and money were freely tendered. His fanaticism grew, and his zeal knew no proper bounds. Virginia was selected as the best point to carry out his plans. There he would incite the negroes to rebellion and furnish them with arms from the United States Arsenal. In his madness he pictured a great and growing army of black recruits from all portions of the Southern States.

War for the extermination of slavery should begin in the State where the Dutch first landed the negro. The choice was approved by New England supporters who lost their money while Brown lost his life. Lee went to Harper's Ferry. The marines, under their gallant officers, battered down the door of the engine-house into which he had fled with a portion of his men for refuge from the aroused citizens. Brown was captured, tried, convicted, and hung on the 2d of December, 1859.

Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, from Harper's Ferry, December 1, 1859, says in a letter to his wife: “I arrived here yesterday, about noon, with four companies from Fort Monroe, and was busy all the evening getting accommodations for the men and posting pickets to insure timely notice of the approach of the enemy. The feelings of the community seem to have calmed down, and [76] I have been received with every kindness. I presume we are fixed here until after the 16th. To-morrow will probably see the last of Captain Brown (Old John Brown). There will be less interest for the others, but still I think the troops will not be withdrawn till they are similarly disposed of. This morning I was introduced to Mrs. Brown, who with a Mr. Tyndale and Mrs. McKim, all from Philadelphia, has come on to have a last interview with her husband. As it is a matter over which I have no control, and wish to take none, I referred them to General William B. Taliaferro.2 Tell Smith [his brother in the navy] that no charming women have insisted on taking charge of me, as they are always doing of him. I am left to my own resources.”

A committee of Congress was appointed to investigate the matter, who reported that the invasion was an act of lawless ruffians under the sanction of no public or political authority, distinguished from ordinary violence only by the ulterior ends in contemplation by them and by the fact that the money to maintain the expedition, and the large amounts they had brought with them, had been contributed by other States of the Union.

Virginia, not knowing the extent of the insurrection, was preparing for war. Henry A. Wise, then Governor, promptly took active measures to preserve the peace of his State, and everywhere volunteers tendered their service. When Colonel Lee was ordered to Harper's Ferry, J. E. B. Stuart, a young lieutenant of the First Cavalry, was in Washington on leave of absence, and happened to be at Arlington on that day. Fond of enterprise and indifferent to danger, he at once volunteered as aid-de-camp to Lee, asked and received permission to accompany him, and was the first to recognize Brown, having seen him in Kansas. Afterward he became the great cavalry chieftain of the Army Lee commanded. The prisoners at Harper's Ferry were at once turned over to the United States District Attorney, Mr. Robert Ould, and Lee returned to Washington and Arlington, and in a short time was again on his way to resume his official duties in Texas. We find him writing [77] from San Antonio, Texas, June 25, 1860, to Mrs. Lee, his impressions of one of the holidays there: “Yesterday,” he says, “was St. John's Day, and the principal, or at least visible, means of adoration or worship seemed to consist in riding horses. So every Mexican, and indeed others, who could procure a quadruped were cavorting through the streets, with the thermometer over a hundred degrees in the shade, a scorching sun, and dust several inches thick. You can imagine the state of the atmosphere and suffering of the horses, if not the pleasure of the riders. As everything of the horse tribe had to be brought into requisition to accommodate the bipeds, unbroken colts and worn-out hacks were saddled for the occasion. The plunging and kicking of the former procured excitement for, and the distress of the latter merriment to the crowd. I did not know before that St. John set so high a value upon equitation.”

There he remained until summoned to Washington in February, 1861, reaching that city on the 1st of March. Once more, and for the last time, he was with his family under the roof of stately old Arlington.

1 General George H. Thomas.

2 Commanding the Virginia troops.

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