Chapter IV Army Life of Robert the Younger
Volunteer in Rockbridge Artillery--"Four Years with General Lee" quoted--Meeting between father and son--Personal characteristics of the General--Death of his daughter Annie--His son Robert raised from the ranks--the horses, "Grace Darling" and "Traveller"--Fredricksburg-- Freeing slaves
Like all the students at the university, I was wild to go into the army, and wrote my father that I was afraid the war would be over before I had a chance to serve. His reply was that I need have no fear of that contingency, that I must study hard and fit myself to be useful to my country when I was old enough to be of real service to her; so, very properly, I was not allowed to have my wish then. In a letter to my mother written April, '61, he says:
"I wrote to Robert that I could not consent to take boys from their schools and young men from their colleges and put them in the ranks at the beginning of a war, when they are not wanted and when there are men enough for that purpose. The war may last ten years. Where are our ranks to be filled from then? I was willing for his company to continue at their studies, to keep up its organisation, and to perfect themselves in their military exercises, and to perform duty at the college; but NOT to be called into the field. I therefore wished him to remain. If the exercises at the college are suspended, he can then come home...."
But in the spring of '62 he allowed me to volunteer, and I having selected the company I wished to join, the Rockbridge Artillery, he gave his approval, and wrote me to come to Richmond, where he would give me my outfit. He was just as sweet and loving to me then as in the old days. I had seen so little of him during the last six years that I stood somewhat in awe of him. I soon found, however, that I had no cause for such a feeling. He took great pains in getting what was necessary for me. The baggage of a private in a Confederate battery was not extensive. How little was needed my father, even at that time, did not know, for though he was very careful in providing me with the least amount he thought necessary, I soon found by experience that he had given me a great deal too much. It was characteristic of his consideration for others and the unselfishness of his nature, that at this time, when weighed down, harassed and burdened by the cares incident to bringing the untrained forces of the Confederacy into the field, and preparing them for a struggle the seriousness of which he knew better than any one, he should give his time and attention to the minute details of fitting out his youngest son as a private soldier. I think it worthy of note that the son of the commanding general enlisting as a private in his army was not thought to be anything remarkable or unusual. Neither my mother, my family, my friends nor myself expected any other course, and I do not suppose it ever occurred to my father to think of giving me an office, which he could easily have done. I know it never occurred to me, nor did I ever hear, at that time or afterwards, from anyone, that I might have been entitled to better rank than that of a private because of my father's prominence in Virginia and in the Confederacy. With the good advice to be obedient to all authority, to do my duty in everything, great or small, he bade me good-bye, and sent me off to the Valley of Virginia, where the command in which I was about to enlist were serving under "Stonewall Jackson."
Of my father's military duties at this time, Colonel Taylor, in his "Four Years with General Lee," says:
"Exercising a constant supervision over the condition of affairs at each important point, thoroughly informed as to the resources and necessities of the several commanders of armies in the field, as well as of the dangers which respectively threatened them, he was enabled to give them wise counsel, to offer them valuable suggestions, and to respond to their demands for assistance and support to such extent as the limited resources of the government would permit. It was in great measure due to his advice and encouragement that General Magruder so stoutly and so gallantly held his lines on the Peninsula against General McClellan until troops could be sent to his relief from General Johnston's army. I recollect a telegraphic despatch received by General Lee from General Magruder, in which he stated that a council of war which he had convened had unanimously determined that his army should retreat, in reply to which General Lee urged him to maintain his lines, and to make as bold a front as possible, and encouraged him with the prospect of being reinforced. No better illustration of the nature and importance of the duty performed by General Lee, while in this position, can be given than the following letter--one of a number of similar import--written by him to General Jackson, the 'rough' or original draft of which is still in my possession:
"'Headquarters, Richmond, Virginia, April 29, 1862.