As one of the Army of Northern Virginia, I occasionally saw the commander-in-chief, on the march, or passed the headquarters close enough to recognise him and members of his staff, but as a private soldier in Jackson's corps did not have much time, during that campaign, for visiting, and until the battle of Sharpsburg I had no opportunity of speaking to him. On that occasion our battery had been severely handled, losing many men and horses. Having three guns disabled, we were ordered to withdraw, and while moving back we passed General Lee and several of his staff, grouped on a little knoll near the road. Having no definite orders where to go, our captain, seeing the commanding general, halted us and rode over to get some instructions. Some others and myself went along to see and hear. General Lee was dismounted with some of his staff around him, a courier holding his horse. Captain Poague, commanding our battery, the Rockbridge Artillery, saluted, reported our condition, and asked for instructions. The General, listening patiently looked at us--his eyes passing over me without any sign of recognition--and then ordered Captain Poague to take the most serviceable horses and men, man the uninjured gun, send the disabled part of his command back to refit, and report to the front for duty. As Poague turned to go, I went up to speak to my father. When he found out who I was, he congratulated me on being well and unhurt. I then said:
"General, are you going to send us in again?"
"Yes, my son," he replied, with a smile; "you all must do what you can to help drive these people back."
This meeting between General Lee and his son has been told very often and in many different ways, but the above is what I remember of the circumstances.
He was much on foot during this part of the campaign, and moved about either in an ambulance or on horseback, with a courier leading his horse. The accident which temporarily disabled him happened before he left Virginia. He had dismounted, and was sitting on a fallen log, with the bridle reins hung over his arm. Traveller, becoming frightened at something, suddenly dashed away, threw him violently to the ground, spraining both hands and breaking a small bone in one of them. A letter written some weeks afterward to my mother alludes to this meeting with his son, and to the condition of his hands:
"...I have not laid eyes on Rob since I saw him in the battle of Sharpsburg--going in with a single gun of his for the second time, after his company had been withdrawn in consequence of three of its guns having been disabled. Custis has seen him and says he is very well, and apparently happy and content. My hands are improving slowly, and, with my left hand, I am able to dress and undress myself, which is a great comfort. My right is becoming of some assistance, too, thought it is still swollen and sometimes painful. The bandages have been removed. I am now able to sign my name. It has been six weeks to-day since I was injured, and I have at last discarded the sling."
After the army recrossed the Potomac into Virginia, we were camped for some time in the vicinity of Winchester. One beautiful afternoon in October, a courier from headquarters rode up to our camp, found me out, and handed me a note from my father. It told me of the death of my sister Annie. As I have lost this letter to me, I quote from one to my mother about the same time. It was dated October 26, 1862:
"...I cannot express the anguish I feel at the death of our sweet Annie. To know that I shall never see her again on earth, that her place in our circle, which I always hoped one day to enjoy, is forever vacant, is agonising in the extreme. But God in this, as in all things, has mingled mercy with the blow, in selecting that one best prepared to leave us. May you be able to join me in saying 'His will be done!' ...I know how much you will grieve and how much she will be mourned. I wish I could give you any comfort, but beyond our hope in the great mercy of God, and the belief that he takes her at the time and place when it is best for her to go, there is none. May that same mercy be extended to us all, and may we be prepared for His summons."