Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 30, 1861 (Tuesday): The Outrage of Mrs. Lee

Mrs. Lee's letter to General Sandford (University of Washington Collection-click for larger view).

                                                HDQRS. DEPARTMENT NORTHEASTERN VIRGINIA,
                                                                                                Arlington, May 30, 1861.
Mrs. R. E. LEE:
   MADAM: Having been ordered by the Government to relieve Major-General Sandford in command of this department, I had the honor to receive this morning your letter of to-day, addressed to him at this place.
   With respect to the occupation of Arlington by the United States troops, I beg to say it has been done by my predecessor with every regard to the preservation of the place.  I am here temporarily in camp on the grounds, preferring this to sleeping in the house, under the circumstances which the painful state of the country places me with respect to the proprietors.
     I assure you it has been and will be my earnest endeavor to have all things so ordered that on your return you will find things as little disturbed as possible.
… I trust, madam, you will not consider it an intrusion if I say I have the most sincere sympathy for your distress, and that, as far as is compatible with my duty, I shall always be ready to do whatever my alleviate it.
     I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
                                                                        IRVIN McDOWELL

Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, left Arlington House on May 15th, intending to return once she had removed and secured family relics such as silverware and several of Washington’s letters (she being the surviving child of Washington’s adopted son).  On her return she discovered Union troops occupying her home and that she would require permission to return.  “It never occurred to me, General Sandford (her letter began), that I would be forced to ask for permission to enter my own house and such an outrage as its military occupation to the expulsion of me and my children could ever have been perpetrated by anyone in the whole extent of this country.”  Ironically, the treasures she removed only traveled to Ravenscroft plantation in Fairfax County, soon enough to also be occupied by Union forces.  Mrs. Lee returned to the house only once after the war, for a last remembrance in 1873, the year she died.

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