A Visit with Lee (May 5, 1865)

Robert E. Lee at 707 E. Franklin Street with son George Washington Custis Lee (left) and staffer Walter H. Taylor (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee at 707 E. Franklin Street with son George Washington Custis Lee (left) and staffer Walter H. Taylor (Library of Congress).

George Meade has reached Richmond, and he drops in on his old adversary, Robert E. Lee. After Appomattox, Lee was living at 707 E. Franklin Street. This is where Mathew Brady had shot now-iconic images of Lee with staffer Walter Taylor and eldest son George Washington Custis Lee on April 16. Lee did sign an Amnesty Oath, on October 2, and sent it on to Washington, but rather than act on it, Secretary of State William Seward gave it to a friend, apparently as a souvenir. Lee did not receive a formal pardon or get his citizenship restored, at least not during his lifetime. His amnesty oath was rediscovered in the National Archives in 1970, and President Gerald Ford signed the act that restored Lee’s citizenship in 1975.

The newspaper article by Theodore Lyman appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser on May 2 and May 4. In it, Lyman laid out the case that Philip Sheridan was receiving too much for victories during the Appomattox campaign, and Meade too little. “It is the object of this brief review not to depreciate the unquestioned merits of General Sheridan, but to show that the whole credit by no means belongs to him,” wrote Lyman. “In no one engagement did General Sheridan handle one-half as many troops as were commanded by General Meade. It was Meade’s troops that carried the rebel lines by assault, and it was his troops again that made the decisive charge at Sailor’s Run. At no period during the toilsome pursuit were they wanting in the right place and at the right moment. But General Sheridan is fortunate in his arm of the service, the swift-moving cavalry; and the cavalry are fortunate in their music—the trumpet.” The entire article appears in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David W. Lowe.

It was intended we should march through the city to-day, but the condition of the men after their long march from Burksville, and the appearance of the weather, threatening a storm, the march was postponed till to-morrow. I think it will take us from eight to ten days to march across. I hope to be in Alexandria by the fourteenth or fifteenth. I have not seen anyone here except the Wises and Tuckers. I have heard of a great many people here whom I formerly knew, but besides my occupation, I have been indisposed to visit any of them, because I know they all feel bitter, and many are really in distress, which I am powerless to relieve.

The house at 707 E. Franklin Street (Library of Congress).

The house at 707 E. Franklin Street (Library of Congress).

Last evening Markoe Bache, who had been to see his friend Custis Lee, was told by him that his father, General Lee, would be glad to see me. I called there to-day and had a long talk with him. I endeavored to convince him of the expediency and propriety of his taking the oath of allegiance, not only on his own account, but for the great influence his example would have over others. General Lee said he had personally no objections, that he was willing, and intended to submit to the Constitution and laws of the United States, but that now he was a paroled prisoner of war, and he was unwilling to change his present status until he could form some idea of what the policy of the Government was going to be towards the people of the South. I argued with him that it was impossible for the Government to decide how they were to be treated, until it was satisfied they had returned to their allegiance, and that the only practicable way of showing this was by taking the oath. He admitted that the military power of the Confederacy had been destroyed, and that practically there was now no Confederate Government. The Government of the United States was the only one having power and authority, and those who designed living under it, should evince their determination by going through this necessary form. He also spoke a great deal of the status of the negro, which is really the great and formidable question of the day; but I did not devise any very practicable suggestions. I had a long and interesting talk, and left him, really sad to think of his position, his necessities, and the difficulties which surround him.

Lyman has sent me a Boston paper, with a very excellent article written by himself, which I will send you.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 278-9. Available via Google Books.

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