Lee, Robert E. (1807-1870) to Matilda Mason
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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC08894 Author/Creator: Lee, Robert E. (1807-1870) Place Written: Mexico City, Mexico Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 20 September 1847 Pagination: 4 p. : address ; 21.5 x 13.6 cm
Responds to a previous letter from Matie, possibly a relative by marriage. Mentions mutual acquaintances, including a fellow soldier named Rhett. Relates that he occupies a suite of apartments belonging to Senora Santa Anna (wife of former Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna) at the National Palace. Discusses Senora Santa Anna's flowers at length. Supposes Mexico City's "principal people have fled..." Discusses characteristics and the layout of the city, including the position of the National Palace and museums. States that Bankhead (possibly Charles Bankhead) serves as the British minister to Mexico, and that Bankhead's wife invited him for a visit. Writes "It will be sweet to hear the English language upon a woman's tongue again. I think I will go today." Reflecting on the U.S.-Mexican War, declares "War is a great evil. It brings much individual as well as National Suffering. The sight of every battle field has made my heart bleed. The glorious dead were at rest... But it was for the living that I sorrowed." Discusses Santa Anna's departure and the dispersal of the Mexican army. States that despite these circumstances, Mexicans refuse to acknowledge defeat. Mentions Jose Joaquin Herrera, who had previously replaced Santa Anna. Discusses the will of Colonel Pinckney.
National Palace, City of Mexico, 20 Sept 1847
My beautiful Matie
How delighted I was to receive your letter of the 25 May. It reached Puebla a short time before the departure of the Army for this city. Its kind sweet lines smoothed over the past & cheered me on our arduous & laborious march. It has been impossible for me to write as our communications have been cut off since the main Army left Jalapa & I have scarcely found an opportunity to smuggle off a small note to my wife. I have sat down this morn in the hope rather than the expectation of finding a conveyance for these few lines, to assure you of my constant remembrance & sincere affection, which all Mexico cannot alter or diminish. I was very glad to hear that your dear sister was to spend the summer with you & I have often pictured to myself how happy you would all be together. Both of your sisters freed from their plaguing spouses & you I hope secluded from pestiferous [illegible]. Thank Miss Hollie for her kind remembrances. I wish I could tell her of her handsome Rhett. He remained with the Garrison at Puebla. I was sorry to part with him, but for her sake was content as he would thereby escape being shot at by these wretched Mexicans, who have no consideration for a man's laced jacket and pants. Your mother must have enjoyed the presence of all her daughters, & the flowers of Colross bloomed brighter than ever. All Mexico would have been exchanged by me for that garden. The thought of it has come cheeringly over me on many occasions. I occupy a portion of the suite of apartments belonging to Senora Santa Anna. They are secluded from observation & approach, & their entrance guarded [inserted: by] grated doors. Their furniture is elegant & sumptuous & they overlook her flower garden, the private entrance to which leads from my room. I wish I could transplant some of her flowers & vines. But you ought to see the arbours. There is one in the centre of the garden so densely covered with vines that the light at midday penetrates it sparingly. A fountain in the centre plays constantly into an elaborately wrought stone reservoir, which supplies the wilderness of geraniums & [struck: flowers] [inserted: roses] around with water. Other smaller bowers of picturesque shapes are interspersed through the garden,  and the light fruit of the orange, pomegranate, & olive are intermixed with the flowers. Of the city I can tell you but little. I have walked through its [inserted: streets] crowded with leperos, picking up the kernels of corn & barley that drop from our forage wagons. Our entrance has in this way given as much occupation to their starving population as our approach did to their armies. I suppose their principal people have fled the city, for I see scarcely any one but foreigners & Peones. There is great curiosity to behold the Yankees & crowds flock to see the men of Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco & Chapultepec. How great must be their disappointment at looking at our plain soldiery. Devoid of ornament in their dress, as well as pretension to superiority in their manners. Free from suspicion or the fear of danger & giving & receiving such little curtisies [sic] as fall in their way. When they compare them with their own beloved and vaunting heroes they are utterly unable to comprehend our uniformly victorious course; & some sapient writer, discarding the vulgar notions of bribery, treachery &c attribute it to the grey hairs of the officers. Then we grey beards elevated our heads, but when my eye fell upon the brown curls of our young men, I agreed with pretty Rhett in giving them the preference. I have seen but the outside of the houses. There are some palaces among them. The buildings of the National palace, containing the offices of State, War, Marine &c & the mint, occupy one of the largest squares of the city. Close by is the museum, in which is preserved, the Armour of Cortes and Alvarado, the Sacrificial stone of the Aztecs & the bronze statue of Charles the Fifth. But the greatest curiosity I am told in the city, is the house of Monte Pio, containing at this time about ten millions of dollars worth of jewels, recd by the compy formed under the protection of the Government in pledge of the aid furnished to the needy rich. I have been invited to visit it, but the despair of finding there a jewel as bright as yourself. Still I will go. You know that Mr Bankhead, formerly Secy of the English Legation at Washington, is the resident Minister from England here. His wife is with him & has extended invitations to some of the officers to visit her. I was to have gone yesterday but did not. It will be sweet to hear the  English language upon a womans tongue again. I think I will go today. I enjoyed the society of some English children at Taculya, more than I can express. I tried to fancy I had on my knee my own little girls & sweet Rob, but could not. War is a great evil. It brings much individual as well as national suffering. The sight of every battle field has made my heart bleed. The glorious dead were at rest. Their mangled remains could not discompose their firm calm countenances. But it was for the living that I sorrowed. The aching hearts at home. The crushed wives & orphaned children. The wet cheeks of their brothers around. Appreciating their worth, feeling their death, agonized at their loss. Seeing no help, no relief. In this way one by one has been taken from us & every field been wet with our tears. Still the work has gone bravely on. We have reached a resting place & can look around. The entire military force of the country is shivered to peices [sic]. All their fortresses have been taken. Upwards of 600 peices [sic] of cannon, most of their munitions of war, hundreds of their officers & more men than our Army numbers. Their Army is completely dispersed, their Government fled, & there is no one to oppose or treat with us. It would naturally be thought that peace would be the result. I consider it doubtful. The obstinacy of these people is proverbial. Void of magnanimity, though beaten, they cannot acknowledge it. Knowing the unwillingness of our Govt to crush them & its desire to extend the hand of friendship to them, they think by refusal to gratify their revenge. They have shown hitherto a wonderful capacity of recuperation. We shall see what they can do, without money, without guns, without an army & without resources. Santa Anna has fled towards Oajaca, & is said to be making his way to the sea coast for the purpose of leaving the Country. The fragment of their army under Genl Herrera reduced to a few thousand has retreated towards Tolusa. Their Govt has gone to Queretaro, where their Congress is called to meet, early in October. We will wait for events. I hope our Govt will throw large reinforcements into the country. This Army has been overtasked & overworked. The two old Divisions, upon whom has fallen the burden of the War, are reduced to skeletons. The new Divisions will yet require some time to become soldiers. Cut off from friends & Country, our resource has been in our bayonets. I shall not inflict upon you a description of the series of battles by which we  fought our way into this city. I must even beg pardon for thrusting upon you matters so foreign to a ladys correspondence. The most of our friends are safe. You will see the names of those injured in the papers. Of the Engineers only two escaped unhurt & they were brought into action late the evg that we entered the Capital. The Topcals are safe, & the ordnance got off with [strikeout] [inserted: two wounded]. Herger has been staying in my room since our arrival. He has arranged his quarters to day at the Arsenal. I have had great comfort in him. In writing to our friends, he has frequently expressed the satisfaction he experienced in Col Pinckneys will. You are aware of its terms. Made to annoy & injure him it has been changed to a pleasure & comfort. For should he be killed, property to the amount of $150,000. would at revert to his children. Should he survive his wife you know, they get nothing. You must give my kindest regards to your mother, sisters & all friends. I feel much assured in your sweet prayers. The prayers of those I love have been heard. I have been preserved 'mid great dangers. I constantly pray that my thanks & gratitude may be properly offered, to that great God, whose arm alone could have protected me, & that he may guard & shield you from every injury - very truly & sincerely
R E Lee
City of Mexico}
Miss Matilda Mason
U. States America
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