Malevolent imputation Answered.
In the Dispatch,
of the 14th inst., I find the following paragraph in a letter to the New York Herald
, from ‘"Camp Butler, Newport News, Oct. 27th 1861:"’
‘"Yesterday afternoon General Phelps
sent out a detachment of Company D. First New York, Volunteers, under command of Lieut.
ingersoll, to a house belonging to Baker P. Lee
, about three miles from camp.
For the last month the only occupants of the house have been a poor white woman and three negresses.
Some days ago Lee
sent a messenger to this white woman, warning her to leave the house, as he purposed to burn it down over her head.
The woman was, of course, frightened, and fled in the direction of Back River
, and when one of our scouting parties, on Friday last, came to the house, they found one of the negresses in a dying condition, and the other two, being old and diseased, unabled to take care of themselves.
Out of feelings of humanity, Gen. Phelps
yesterday ordered the above mentioned detachment to proceed to the house, and after they had buried the dead woman they brought the other two, with all their baggage, into camp, and had them sent by steamer to Fortress Monroe
, where the old ladies have friends and relatives.
One of them is ‘"going on a hundred years,"’ and seems, considering her age, to be quite smart.
Her eyesight and hearing were as good as in a young person, and she seemed much affected at leaving the old homestead, where she has worked so faithfully and seen generation after generation pass on before her. It was a touching sight to see her carry from the house, as the last relic, her washing board."’
The facts are these: When the people of the lower end of Elizabeth City county were obliged, by the Yankee
invasion, to fly from their homes, they left their slaves amply provided with food, clothing and comfortable quarters.
Baker P. Lee
, whose residence is within three miles of Newport's News, returned to his farm a few days after the flight of his family, and was met by his negroes, not only deferentially, but with joyous demonstrations of unshaken fidelity.--Having secured his family portraits, Mr. Lee
again, in sadness, turned away from his home and returned to the residence of a relative in a place of safety, persuaded that his happy slaves would never yield to the delusive overtures of the occupants of Newport's News.--A few weeks elapsed, however, and most of the ignorant negroes has gone over to the enemy, doubtless inveigled by the false promises of their pseudo sympathizers.
faithful fellow, true to the last, clung to the old homestead until he was forced away by a fire of men with bayonets behind him. Two loyal old women still remained, and my brother (Captain Frank Lee
,) induced a lady in the neighborhood to move into my father's dwelling, promising her liberal remuneration if she would take care of them.
Two or three weeks ago, having heard the lady had left the place, and that these helpless old creatures had been taken to Newport News, Capt. Lee
and myself obtained from Gen. Magruder
the privilege of going down with a flag of truce to reclaim them, if possible, that we might see them comfortably cared for by those (as Gen. Magruder
nobly expressed it) ‘"whose duty, as well, as pleasure, it is to protect them."’ We went with the flag, and one of the old women was returned to us. The other had died a few days before from a paralytic stroke, and we had the consolation of learning from several Federal officers that she was decently interred.
Such is a plain statement of the truth of this matter, in answer to the malevolent imputation of the Herald's
correspondent, ill concealed in his reference to the ‘"old ladies,"’ whom he would have the world to believe were inhumanly forsaken by their masters, and abandoned to the tender mercy of Gen. Phelps
.--The assertion that Mr. Lee
‘"sent a message to this white woman, warning her to leave the house, as he purposed to burn it down over her head,"’ is not only a flat falsehood, but is so clearly an Irish bull, as to provoke a smile at the awkwardness of the author, in his entangling effort to tell a tale of malignity with an air of truth.
The idea of warning a woman to leave
the house because he intended to burn it over her head,
is so singularly irreconcilable, ludicrous, and absurd, as to baffle all attempts at an analysis of the language, or comprehension of its meaning.
It will not be inappropos here, I trust, to refer to an incident or two in connexion with my visit to the Yankees
, under the flag of truce, in quest of the faithful old slave, whose palsied hand I grasped again with a warmth and tenderness of feeling no Northern man on his native soil can ever appreciate or understand.
But to the incident: While awaiting an answer from General Phelps
, at a point on the road near Newport News, we were approached and accosted by two young officers of the post, with whom we had quite a lively conversation, now and then spiced with an interchange of good-humored ‘"hits,"’ conveyed in piquant allusions to the ‘"events of the day,"’ such as the little affair at Lees
burg, &c., &c. In reply to a remark made by one of our party in reference to the negroes of the neighborhood, one of the Federal
gentlemen asserted their skill in playing ‘"poker,"’ whereupon it was suggested to him that they had acquired the habit since they parted company with us, pleasantly insinuating that ‘"evil associations corrupt good morals."’ We were courteously received by every officer we met, except Gen. Mansfield
, whose bitterness of feeling and acerbity of temper were most rudely exhibited.
But I will not trespass further on your space.
Should this reply to the false statement of the Herald's humanitarian
correspondent at Newport News chance to meet that worthy's eye, he may rest assured that the ‘"old lady"’ is now with her master and mistress, contented and comfortable, and by no means desirous of renewing her acquaintance with her Yankee friends — the despoilers of that ‘"old homestead"’ she was so loathe to leave.
Baker P. Lee, Jr.
P. S.--Other editors in whose columns the Newport News letter appeared, would oblige me by publishing the above. B. P. L.,Jr.