Sunday, August 5, 2012
Robert E. Lee's Slave
Posted by Charleston Voice
There is Probably No More Revealing Aspect of a Man's Character than that Given by the Opinion's of Those Who Work For Him
We have seen what Presidents and Great Men thought of Robert E. Lee. But What Did His Slave/Servant Think of Him?
For Your Consideration, We Present the Recollections of
Rev. William Mack Lee
and Lee's Cook from 1861 to 1865
HISTORY OF THE LIFE
I was born June 12, 1835, Westmoreland County, Va.; 82 years ago. I was raised at Arlington Heights, in the house of General Robert E. Lee, my master. I was cook for Marse Robert, as I called him, during the civil war and his body servant. I was with him at the first battle of Bull Run, second battle of Bull Run, first battle of Manassas, second battle of Manassas and was there at the fire of the last gun for the salute of the surrender on Sunday, April 9, 9 o'clock, A. M., at Appomatox, 1865.
The following is a list of co-generals who fought with Marse Robert in the Confederate Army: Generals Stonewall Jackson, Early, Longstreet, Kirby, Smith, Gordon from Augusta, Ga. Beauregard from Charleston, S. C., Wade Hampton, from Columbia, S. C., Hood, from Alabama, Ewell Harrison from Atlanta, Ga., Bragg, cavalry general from Chattanooga, Tenn., Wm. Mahone of Virginia, Pickett, Forest, of Mississippi, Mosby, of Virginia, Willcox, of Tennessee, Lyons, of Mississippi, Charlimus, of Mississippi, Sydney Johnston, Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Marse Robert, and Curtis Lee, his son.
The writer of this little book, the body servant of Gen. Robert E. Lee, had the pleasure of feeding all these men at the headquarters in Petersburg, the battles of Decatur, Seven Pines, the Wilderness, on the plank road between Fredericksburg and Orange County Court House, Chancellorsville, The Old Yellow Tavern, in the Wilderness, Five Forks, Cold Harbor, Sharpsburg, Boonesville, Gettysburg, New Market, Mine Run, Cedar Mountain, Civilian, Louisa Court House, Winchester and Shenandoah Valley.
At the close of the struggle, General Lee said to General Grant: "Grant, you didn't whip me, you just overpowered me, I surrender this day 8,000 men; I do not surrender them to you, I surrender on conditions; it shall not go down in history I surrendered the Northern Confederate Army of Virginia to you. It shall go down in history I surrendered on conditions; you have ten men to my one; my men, too, are barefooted and hungry. If Joseph E. Johnston could have gotten to me three days ago I would have cut my way through and gone back into the mountains of North Carolina and would have given you a happy time." What these conditions were I do not know, but I know these were Marse Robert's words on the morning of the surrender: "I surrender to you on conditions."
At the close of the war I did not know A from B, although I had been preaching two years before the war. I was married six years before the war. My wife died in 1910. I am the father of eight daughters and I have twenty-one grand children and eight great-grand children. My youngest child is 42 years old.
I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender.
The following from the Bedford Bulletin, a paper published in the town of Bedford, Va., which town I am now visiting, situated in the mountains in full view of the famous Peaks of Otter; while soliciting means here to finish my church near Norfolk, I caught inspiration to give the readers of this little book, my friends, and friends and admirers of Marse Robert, a brief history of his body servant and cook, the Rev. William Mack Lee, and will, I hope, cause you to purchase one at the price named on back of same, as I will never be able to write another; I am too old.
Rev. William Mack Lee, one of the best known colored men in the South, is in town this week making an effort to raise funds to complete the payment on his church near Norfolk. He is a Baptist minister and built the church at a cost of $5,500, of which all has been paid except about $500, and he wants to raise this before he returns home.
He was born on the plantation of Gen. Robert E. Lee, in Westmoreland County, 81 years ago, and at the outbreak of the civil war went to the front as the body servant of his distinguished master. He cooked and waited on the Southern chieftain during the entire four years of the war, being with him at the surrender at Appomattox. The fact that the war had set him free was of small moment to him, and he stayed with his old master until his death.
He is a negro of the old type, distinguished looking, polite in manner, and, despite his age, is straight, firm of step and bids fair to serve his congregation for many more years. The first day he was in town, he went to the old Burwell homestead, now the home of Mr. John Ballard, because he and his master had stopped there while on a visit to Bedford, soon after the war, and was greatly disappointed to find that the last member of the Burwell family was dead.
He will be in town all of this week, and if you want to help him pay for his church you will find him on the streets or some one will tell you where he can be found.
I have been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ the best I knew, with my limited preparation, for 57 years. My master, at his death, left me $360 to educate myself with. I went to school. I studied hard at the letter, but my greatest learning came from Jesus Christ. God sent me out to preach, and when God sends a man out, he is qualified both with the Holy Ghost and the Spirit. He makes his words sharp as a two-edged sword, and his feet as a burning pillar of brass.