MRS. HENRIETTA E. LEE’S LETTER TO GENERAL HUNTER

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MRS. HENRIETTA E. LEE’S LETTER TO GENERAL HUNTER ON THE BURNING OF HER HOUSE:

[In Southern Historical Papers, Volume 8, pages 215-216.]
The following burning pr...otest against a cruel wrong deserves to be put on record, as a part of the history of General David Hunter's inglorious campaign in the Valley of Virginia, and we cheerfully comply with the request of a distinguished friend to publish it. The burning of this house and those of Col. A. R. Boteler and Andrew Hunter, esq., in the lower valley, and of Governor Letcher's and the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington give him a place in the annals of infamy only equaled by the contempt felt for his military achievements:
Jefferson County, July 20, 1864.
General Hunter:
Yesterday your underling, Captain Martindale, of the First New York Cavalry, executed your infamous order and burned my house.
You have had the satisfaction ere this of receiving from him the information that your orders were fulfilled to the letter; the dwelling and every out-building, seven in number, with their contents, being burned.
I, therefore, a helpless woman whom you have cruelly wronged, address you, a Major-General of the United States army, and demand why this was done?
What was my offence? My husband was absent, an exile. He had never been a politician or in any way engaged in the struggle now going on, his age preventing. This fact your chief of staff, David Strother could have told you.
The house was built by my father, a Revolutionary soldier, who served the whole seven years for your independence. There was I born; there the sacred dead repose. It was my house and my home, and there has your niece (Miss Griffith), who has tarried among us all this horrid war up to the present time, met with all kindness and hospitality at my hands.
Was it for this that you turned me, my young daughter, and little son out upon the world without a shelter? Or was it because my husband is the grandson of the Revolutionary patriot and "rebel," Richard Henry Lee, and the near kinsman of the noblest of Christian warriors, the greatest of generals, Robert E. Lee?
Heaven's blessing be upon his head forever. You and your Government have failed to conquer, subdue, or match him; and disappointment, rage, and malice find vent on the helpless and inoffensive.
Hyena-like, you have torn my heart to pieces! for all hallowed memories clustered around that homestead, and demon-like, you have done it without even the pretext of revenge, for I never saw or harmed you.
Your office is not to lead, like a brave man and soldier, your men to fight in the ranks of war, but your work has been to separate yourself from all danger, and with your incendiary band steal unaware upon helpless women and children, to insult and destroy.
Two fair homes did you yesterday ruthlessly lay in ashes, giving not a moment's warning to the startled inmates of your wicked purpose; turning mothers and children out of doors, you are execrated by your own men for the cruel work you give them to do.
In the case of Colonel A. R. Boteler, both father and mother were far away. Any heart but that of Captain Martindale (and yours) would have been touched by that little circle, comprising a widowed daughter just risen from her bed of illness, her three fatherless babies—the oldest not five years old—and her heroic sister.
I repeat, any man would have been touched at that sight but Captain Martindale. One might as well hope to find mercy and feeling in the heart of a wolf bent on his prey of young lambs, as to search for such qualities in his bosom.
You have chosen well your agent for such deeds, and doubtless will promote him.
A colonel of the Federal army has stated that you deprived forty of your officers of their commands because they refused to carry on your malignant mischief. All honor to their names for this, at least! They are men; they have human hearts and blush for such a commander!
I ask who that does not wish infamy and disgrace attached to him forever would serve under you? Your name will stand on history's page as the Hunter of weak women, and innocent children, the Hunter to destroy defenseless villages and refined and beautiful homes—to torture afresh the agonized hearts of widows; the Hunter of Africa's poor sons and daughters, to lure them on to ruin and death of soul and body; the Hunter with the relentless heart of a wild beast, the face of a fiend and the form of a man.
Oh, Earth, behold the monster! Can I say, "God forgive you?" No prayer can be offered for you. Were it possible for human lips to raise your name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing back again, and demons claim their own. The curses of thousands, the scorns of the manly and upright, and the hatred of the true and honorable, will follow you and yours through all time, and brand your name infamy! infamy!
Again, I demand why you have burned my home? Answer as you must answer before the Searcher of all hearts, why have you added this cruel, wicked deed to your many crimes?
 

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OpnCoronet

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#4
What did capt. Martindale, say?
I don't know, but I would think the Capt. probably told her why. Does she want to confirm Capt. Martindale's explanation or is she seeking a different one?
 

Northern Light

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#5
What did capt. Martindale, say?
I don't know, but I would think the Capt. probably told her why. Does she want to confirm Capt. Martindale's explanation or is she seeking a different one?
I think what she is seeking is relief by venting her anger and anguish to the person she see as directly responsible for her pain. By venting this to him, perhaps she seeks to shame him for his orders, by showing how it affected her. That would be my guess.
 

ErnieMac

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#6
The estate was named Bedford and was Henrietta Bedinger Lee's birthplace and inheritance from he father. A detailed account from Henrietta Edmonia Lee Goldsborough (daughter nicknamed Netta) follows: http://justjefferson.com/20Bedford.htm

As noted in the article three estates were burned that day, Bedford and Fountain Rock at Shepherdstown and Hunter's Hill at Charles Town. Henrietta Lee's husband, Edmund Jennings Lee II, was an attorney in private practice and her eldest son, Edwin Gray Lee had been recently promoted to Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. The Lee name was probably the motivating factor behind the burning of Bedford. Fountain Rock was owned by Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler. Hunter's Hill was the property of Andrew Hunter an attorney who had prosecuted John Brown after the Harpers Ferry Raid and was David Hunter's cousin. I doubt Henrietta Lee's letter to General Hunter impacted him in the least.

Henrietta never did get over the burning of Bedford. The property was sold in 1880 to David Billmyer "a prosperous Union man". She made a final visit and recorded her thoughts in her diary, a part of which follows: "Nov. 19th – November winds howl idly by. This evening alone and sadly I turned my footsteps to Bedford. Now Bedford, no more. The house and name dead. As I walked pensively over its once beautiful, now ruined grounds, I wondered what had been the especial sin of my forefathers that it was swept away from the earth with the wave of destruction scarce one stone upon another to tell it had once been a beautiful stately habitation of joy and happiness. My grandfather’s home and my father’s birthplace as well as mine. And my heart asks: ‘who did sin, this man or his father?’ that their home and memory are swept away from the children of men. Alas who can tell."

Son Edmund Jennings Lee III would write of the burning of Bedford and another Lee property that they "were burnt by the order of the famous general of the Northern army who was so valiant and efficient in this line of service." He did not choose to dignify Hunter by mentioning his name.

Bedford - Before and after photos.
image007.jpg


image005.jpg
 

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