A Southern Officer to his Boys

By Captain Robert E. Lee (1847)

Ship Massachusetts, Off Lobos, February, 27, 1847

My Dear Boys :

I received your letters with the greatest pleasure, and, as I always like to talk to you both together, I will not separate you in my letters, but write one to you both. I was much gratified to hear of your progress at school, and hope that you will continue to advance, and that I shall have the happiness of finding you much improved in all your studies on my return. I shall not feel my long separation from you, if I find that my absence has been of no injury to you, and that you have both grown in goodness and knowledge, as well as stature. But, ah! how much I will suffer on my return, if the reverse has occurred! You enter all my thoughts, into all my prayers; and on you, in part, will depend whether I shall be happy or miserable, as you know how much I love you. You must do all in your power to save me pain.

You will learn, by my letter to your grandmother, that I have been to Tampico. I saw many things to remind me of you, though that was not necessary to make me wish that you were with me. The river was so calm and beautiful, and the boys were playing about in boats, and swimming their ponies. Then there were troops of donkeys carrying water through the streets. They had a kind of saddle, something like a cart-saddle, though larger, that carried two ten-gallon kegs on each side, which was a load for a donkey. They had no bridles on, but would come along in strings to the river, and, as soon as their kegs were filled, start off again. They were fatter and sleeker than any donkeys I had ever seen before, and seemed to be better cared for. I saw a great many ponies, too. They were larger than those in the upper country, but did not seem so enduring. I got one to ride around the fortifications. He had a Mexican bit and saddle on, and paced delightfully, but, every time my sword struck him on the flanks, would jump and try to run off. Several of them had been broken to harness by the Americans, and I saw some teams, in wagons, driven four-in-hand, well matched and trotting well.

We had a grand parade on General Scott's arrival. The troops were all drawn up on the bank of the river, and fired a salute as he passed them. He landed at the market, where lines of sentinels were placed to keep off the crowd. In front of the landing the artillery was drawn up, which received him in the centre of the column, and escorted him through the streets to his lodgings. They had provided a handsome gray horse, richly caparisoned, for him, but he preferred to walk, with his staff around him, and a dragoon led the horse behind us. The windows along the streets we passed were crowded with people, and the boys and girls were in great glee, the Governor's Island band playing all the time.

There were six thousand soldiers in Tampico. Mr. Barry was the adjutant of the escort. I think you would have enjoyed with me the oranges and sweet-potatoes. Major Smith became so fond of the chocolate that I could hardly get him away from the house. We only remained there one day. I have a nice state-room on board this ship; Joe Johnston and myself occupy it, but my poor Joe is so sick all the time I can do nothing with him. I left Jem to come on with the horses, as I was afraid they would not be properly cared for. Vessels were expressly fitted up for the horses, and parties of dragoons detailed to take care of them. I had hoped they would reach here by this time, as I wanted to see how they were fixed. I took every precaution for their comfort, provided them with bran, oats, etc., and had slings made to pass under them and attached to the coverings above, so that, if in the heavy sea they should slip, or be thrown off their feet, they could not fall.

I had to sell my good old horse Jim, as I could not find room for him, or, rather, I did not want to crowd the others. I know I shall want him when I land. Creole was the admiration of every one at Brazos, and they hardly believed she had carried me so far, and looked so well. Jem says there is nothing like her in all the country, and I believe he likes her better than Tom or Jerry. The sorrel mare did not appear to be so well after I got to the Brazos. I had to put one of the men on her, whose horse had given out, and the saddle hurt her back. She had gotten well, however, before I left, and I told Jem to ride her every day. I hope they may both reach the shore again in safety, but I fear they will have a hard time. They will first have to be put aboard a steamboat and carried to the ship that lies about two miles out at sea, then hoisted in, and how we shall get them ashore again, I do not know; probably throw them overboard, and let them swim there.

I do not think we shall remain here more than one day longer. General Worth's and General Twiggs's divisions have arrived, which include the regulars, and I suppose the volunteers will be coming on every day. We shall probably go on the 1st down the coast, select a place for debarkation, and make all the arrangements preparatory to the arrival of the troops. I shall have plenty to do there, and am anxious for the time to come, and hope all may be successful. Tell Rob he must think of me very often, be a good boy, and always love papa. Take care of Speck and the colts. Mr. Sedgwick and all the officers send their love to you.

The ship rolls so that I can scarcely write. You must write to me very often. I am always very glad to hear from you. Be sure that I am thinking of you, and that you have the prayers of your affectionate father,

R. E. LEE.

Lee, Robert E., A Southern Officer to his Boys , The Romance of the Civil War, New York: The McMillan Company, 1903

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