A life of Gen. Robert E. Lee by John Esten Cooke

By John Esten Cooke

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On the 11th of June, Whiting's division was embarked on the cars of the Danville Railroad at Richmond, and moved across the river to a point near Belle Isle, where at that moment a considerable number of Federal prisoners were about to be released and sent down James River. Here the train, loaded with Confederate troops, remained for some time, and _the secret_ was discovered by the released prisoners. General Lee was reënforcing Jackson, in order that the latter might march on Washington. Such was the report carried to General McClellan, and it seems to have really deceived him.

The reply is brief and simple, but these are very great merits on such an occasion. No portion of the address contains a phrase or word denunciatory of the Federal Government, or of the motives of the opponents of Virginia; and this moderation and absence of all rancor characterized the utterances of Lee, both oral and written, throughout the war. He spoke, doubtless, as he felt, and uttered no expression of heated animosity, because he cherished no such sentiment. His heart was bleeding still from the cruel trial it had undergone in abruptly tearing away from the old service to embark upon civil war; with the emotions of the present occasion, excited by the great ovation in his honor, no bitterness mingled--or at least, if there were such bitterness in his heart, he did not permit it to rise to his lips.

The ruddy appearance which characterized him from first to last was the result of the most perfectly-developed physical health, which no species of indulgence had ever impaired. He used no tobacco then or afterward, in any shape--that seductive weed which has been called "the soldier's comfort"--and seemed, indeed, superior to all those small vices which assail men of his profession. Grave, silent, with a military composure of bearing which amounted at times, 37 as we have said, to stiffness, he resembled a machine in the shape of a man.

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