How Did Robert E. Lee Spend Christmas in 1861?


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Eleanor Rose

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I always enjoy living history events, especially those offered around the holidays. In searching out offerings for this holiday season, I came across an article that offered some insight into what General Lee, as well as some others, was doing on Christmas Day in 1861. I thought you might enjoy a look too. Keep in mind it had been a year and five days since South Carolina had seceded, and ten months since the formation of the Confederate States of America. The mood in the South was festive this Christmas because their new country had sustained any attacks put forth by the Northern armies. In the North, however, the mood was less so because they had not been able to put an end to the rebellion.

General Robert E. Lee was inland at his headquarters at Coosawatchie, South Carolina and thus separated from his family for Christmas in 1861. He had been sent there to see to the coastal defenses. He wrote his wife Mary, “I cannot let this day of graceful rejoicing pass without some communication with you. I am thankful for the many among the past that I have passed with you, and the remembrance of them fills me with pleasure. For those on which we have been separated we must not repine. Now we must be content with the many blessings we receive.” In this letter, General Lee also expressed sadness over the seizure of their home in Arlington and the precious items they had lost. He wrote, “They cannot take away the remembrance of the spot, and the memories of those that to us rendered it sacred. That will remain to us as long as life will last, and that we can preserve.”

President Jefferson Davis spent Christmas in Richmond with his wife Varina. They were celebrating a new addition to their family. William Howell “Billy” Davis had been born in the Confederate White House less than three weeks earlier. Christmas time was likely quite special for this couple, since they had first met in 1843 during the holidays at Jefferson’s brother’s home.

General James Longstreet also spent the holiday in Richmond with his family. Little did he know that this would be his last Christmas with his three youngest children. Mary Ann, James Jr. and Augustus Baldwin fell ill with scarlet fever soon after the holiday. Mary Ann succumbed on January 25. Within a week, all three were dead. General Longstreet never appeared to fully recover from his grief.

President Lincoln spent much of Christmas day meeting with his Cabinet and debating the developing crisis known as the Trent Affair. He and Mary Todd Lincoln hosted a dinner for two dozen guests that evening. The Lincoln children spent Christmas day at the home of U.S. Patent Office clerk Horatio Nelson Taft. Taft wrote in his diary, “It has been quite a noisey day about the house. Our three boys and the Two Lincoln boys have been very busy fireing off Crackers & Pistols. Willie & Thomas Lincoln staid to Dinner at 4 o’clock.” Days later young Willie Lincoln fell ill with typhus and died in February. I wonder if President Lincoln lamented not spending the past Christmas day with his boys, particularly Willie.

For these men and all the people, both North and South, this would be their last “peaceful” Christmas for several years to come. Even now thinking about that makes me feel a little sad.



Source: “The Rites of Innocence” by James S. Robbins
 

Eleanor Rose

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What a lovely drawing/painting. Thanks for posting.
I wonder if the girl behind Lee is either Anne Carter Lee or Mary Custis Lee. His daughters.
Actually Tom this is just a free stock photo I found online. I didn't even notice the resemblance of the man in the picture to Robert E. Lee. That makes me like this pic even more. :smile:
 

TomV71

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Actually Tom this is just a free stock photo I found online. I didn't even notice the resemblance of the man in the picture to Robert E. Lee. That makes me like this pic even more. :smile:
Aha, I thought it actually was a painting of Robert E.Lee and his family. But the kids in the painting is too young to be his children at that time. But he really resembles Lee! That was the first thing i saw.
 

Eleanor Rose

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By the way the Trent Affair concluded in December when Lincoln released the imprisoned Confederate diplomats John Slidell and James Mason and thus avoided war with Britain.
Yes indeed. President Lincoln said, "One war at a time.” On December 27, Secretary of State William Seward sent a message to British officials agreeing to release the Confederates and pay reparations.
 

BlueandGrayl

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Yes indeed. President Lincoln said, "One war at a time.” On December 27, Secretary of State William Seward sent a message to British officials agreeing to release the Confederates and pay reparations.
Well there was also the intervention of one Prince Albert in the whole Trent Affair.

He was nearing his death and when he saw the British response letter to the Americans Primce Albert altered and moderated it to acknowledge that Captain John Wilkes was not acting under orders from the American government thus it gave Lincoln and his cabinet negotiating space.
 

diane

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The last war time Christmas Lee spent with his family was during the siege of Petersburg. He told Mary he wasn't coming because it would not be right when his men couldn't be with their families, but somewhere in the middle of the night he changed his mind. Figured it was very likely to be his last with his family! So he sneaked into Richmond and found the house asleep but full of relations. He tried to get into the bedroom but Mary's maid had locked the door as people kept coming in and out of her room, so he tippy toed around opening various doors to see where there was a vacant bed - none to be had, all full of kids and cousins. So he went downstairs to sleep on a couch. In the morning, at breakfast, he was very surprised to read in the papers that his marriage was on the rocks because he'd come home and his wife had locked him out of their bedroom on Christmas!
 

BlueandGrayl

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Might I also add that during the Trent Affair another case of a United States ship capturing a British ship with a Confederate on board occurred it was the USS Santiago de Cuba (surprising name for a U.S. ship) captured the RMS Eugenia Smith along board was R.W. Zacharie (a purchasing agent) but it was overshadowed by the aforementioned Trent Affair.
 

TomV71

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It may start to look a lot like Christmas in my neck of the woods. We're forecast to get a foot of snow this weekend. :cold:
The first snow arrived here in my neck of the woods yesterday. Just an inch or so. But much more coming tomorrow.
But actually, the temperature falls when it snows. Twenty below zero falls quickly with heavy snow. :smile:
 

Zella

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It may start to look a lot like Christmas in my neck of the woods. We're forecast to get a foot of snow this weekend. :cold:
:confused:

They can't decide if we're going to get a couple of inches of snow and a glaze of ice or if we're going to get several inches of snow and a 1/4 inch of ice. I'm holding out for enough for a snow day but not enough to knock out the power. :penguin::polar:
 

Eleanor Rose

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I'm holding out for enough for a snow day but not enough to knock out the power.
I love the snow, but I can do without the ice.

Twenty below zero falls quickly with heavy snow.
Yikes Tom!!! What is the temperature now?

Might I also add that during the Trent Affair another case of a United States ship capturing a British ship with a Confederate on board occurred it was the USS Santiago de Cuba (surprising name for a U.S. ship) captured the RMS Eugenia Smith along board was R.W. Zacharie (a purchasing agent) but it was overshadowed by the aforementioned Trent Affair.
I didn't know this. Thanks for sharing!
 

Karen Lips

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The last war time Christmas Lee spent with his family was during the siege of Petersburg. He told Mary he wasn't coming because it would not be right when his men couldn't be with their families, but somewhere in the middle of the night he changed his mind. Figured it was very likely to be his last with his family! So he sneaked into Richmond and found the house asleep but full of relations. He tried to get into the bedroom but Mary's maid had locked the door as people kept coming in and out of her room, so he tippy toed around opening various doors to see where there was a vacant bed - none to be had, all full of kids and cousins. So he went downstairs to sleep on a couch. In the morning, at breakfast, he was very surprised to read in the papers that his marriage was on the rocks because he'd come home and his wife had locked him out of their bedroom on Christmas!
The media was just as bad then as it is now. Reminds me of the Nation Enquirer!
 

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