The holiday of Christmas was very important to Robert E. Lee. Army life took him away for months at a time and the holiday season became the time that the entire Lee famile got together at Arlington. However, a few times Lee was unable to attend Christmas festivities and he would write home to discuss his unhappiness. It is via these letters that Robert E. Lee becomes a human. The joy of family, friends and plum pudding are discussed openly. Yes, the Lee children believed in Santa Claus and were delighted to open their gifts on Christmas morning. These emotional letters take Lee from the "Marble Man" to a man of flesh and blood who loved his family and had a deep passion for the Christmas season. Here is just a few of these fascinating letters.
To his young sons, Rooney and Custis. It is Christmas 1846 and Lee is writing from the Mexican War battlefront:
“I hope good Santa Claus will fill by Rob's stockings tonight that Mildred's, Agnes's, and Annals may break down with good things. I do not know what he may have for you and Mary, but if he only leaves for you one half of what I wish, you will want for nothing. I have frequently thought if I had one of you on each side of me riding on ponies, such as I could get you, I would be comparatively happy.”
The same year (1846) to his wife Mary, Lee writes:
“We have had many happy Christmas' together, and this is the first time that we have been entirely separated at this holy time since our marriage, and though I have been absent on two or three other occasions on the day itself, yet have not been far distant and always arrived during the holy days. We have therefore nothing to complain of and I hope it has not interfered with your happiness, surrounded as you are by father, Mother, children and dear friends. I therefore trust you are well and happy and that this is the last time I shall be absent from you during my life. May God preserve and bless you till then and forever after is my constant prayer.”
1851, Lee to his son Custis who was enrolled at West Point:
“We came on Wednesday morning. It was a bitter cold day, and we were kept waiting an hour in the depot at Baltimore for the cars, which were detained by the snow and ice on the rails. We found your grandfather at the Washington depot, Daniel and the old carriage and horses, and young Daniel on the colt Mildred. Your mother, grandfather, Mary Eliza, the little people and the baggage, I thought load enough for the carriage, so Rooney and I took our feet in our hands and walked over . . . .The snow impeded the carriage as well as us, and we reached here shortly after it. The children were delighted at getting back, and passed the evening in devising pleasure for the morrow. They were in upon us before day on Christmas morning, to overhaul their stockings. Mildred thinks she drew the prize in the shape of a beautiful new doll; Angelina's infirmities were so great that she was left in Baltimore and this new treasure was entirely unexpected. The cakes, candies, books, etc., were overlooked in the caresses bestowed upon her, and she was scarcely out of her arms all day. Rooney got among his gifts a nice pair of boots, which he particularly wanted, and the girls, I hope, were equally pleased with their presents, books, and trinkets.
Your mother, Mary, Rooney, and I went into church, and Rooney... skated back along the canal (Rooney having taken his skates along for the purpose,) and we filled his place in the carriage with Miss Sarah Stuart, one of M.'s comrades, Minny Uoyd was detained at home to assist her mother at dinner but your Aunt Maria Fitzhugh brought her and Miss Lucretia Fitzhugh out the next day, and Wallace Stiles and his brother arriving at the same time, we had quite a table-full...
I need not describe to you our amusements, you have witnessed them so often; nor the turkey, cold ham, plum pudding, mince-pies, etc. at dinner. I hope you will enjoy them again, or some equally as good...”
This 1856 letter from Texas (where Lee was stationed at that time) mirrors the 1846 letters from Mexico. Lee writes:
“The time is approaching when I trust many of you will be assembled around the family hearth at dear Arlington, to celebrate another Christmas. Though absent, my heart will be in the midst of you, and I shall enjoy in imagination and memory, all that is going on. May nothing occur to mar or cloud the family fireside, and may each be able to look back with pride and pleasure at their deeds of the past year and with confidence and hope to that in prospect. I can do nothing but hope and pray for you.”
“I have been recalling dearest Mary the many happy Christmases we have had together, and the pleasure I have enjoyed with you, your dear parents and the children around me. I ought not therefore to repine at an occasional separation from you, but be grateful for what I have had, and be prepared to keep this solitary and alone My prayers and thoughts will be with you and all will receive my fervent salutations. I hope nothing will be omitted that I could have done, to make each one happy.”
Christmas 1860. The Civil War is fast approaching and despite the ill health of his wife, Colonel Lee found time to write to Arlington:
“Although you anticipated a quiet Christmas, I hope it was a happy one to you all, and that you were filled with gratitude for the many blessings that surrounded you. Although distant, my heart and thoughts were ever present with you and my prayers were offered for Heavens choicest benefits for you all.... Here we are far removed and get the essence of all disunion movements from the New Orleans papers.... I am particularly anxious that 'Virginia should keep right, and inauguration of the Constitution, so I would wish that she might be able to maintain it and save the union.'”
Wow now that is powerful stuff. I wish all my readers Happy Holidays!!