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St Mary’s May 22d, 1863

 

Gen. Lee,

My Dear Sir,

Amid the toils and dangers to which you are exposed for your country’s welfare, you are richly entitled to every drop of comfort which it is possible to pour into yourself.

The term of your daughter’s residence at this school is about to expire, and it affords me great pleasure to assure you that her diligence and proficiency as a people, and her conduct as a lady, have been worthy of her percentage. This is bestowing the highest praise upon her. She has been exemplary in her observance of the minutest rules of discipline, and has scance allowed a moment to pass unemployed and unimproved. She carries away with her the most cordial esteem and regard not only of all her teachers and young companions, but of many of our community whom her father’s name had attracted towards her. Her modesty is not the least of her recommendations; she never betrays by look, word, or gesture the least consciousness that she is the daughter of the man whom the Nation delights to honor.

While you, General, have had a daughter under my tuition, I have had two sons fighting as lieutenants, under your banner. Both were at the battle of Chancellorsville; where one, the adjutant of the 7th N.C. fell, mortally wounded.1 He was a noble, gallant, and what is infinitely better, a Christian boy. This is my consolation in so grievous a bereavement. His brother went through the same battle unhurt. He is attached to the 5th Regt N.C. T.

But I will not intrude upon time which belongs to the country.

I am, General, with the most sincere Respect & Esteem, Your obedient Servant

Aldert Smedes

 

[marginal note] Both my boys entered the service as privates

 

 

 

Source: Transcribed from photocopy of original letter, Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51 c 449, Section 22, Lee Family Papers, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2022 May 9

  

 

 

1. Ives Smedes (1843-1863). Here is information about him and the family on the website findagrave.com:

“Although his father was not an ardent secessionist, [Reverend Smedes] cast his lot with the South and four of his sons would serve the Confederacy, two of them giving their lives in battle. In February 1862, just before turning age 19, Ives enlisted with the 7th NC Infantry, his unit known as the “Wake Raiders”. His younger brother, Abraham Kiersted Smedes would join the same regiment in August of 1863. His two older brothers, Rev. Bennett Smedes and Edward Sanford Smedes would both join the NC 5th in July of 1863; and Bennett, who had just been ordained, would be Chaplain of the NC 5th.

Ives rose quickly through the ranks and by February 1863 was 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of 7th NC Regiment. On April 30, 1863 the 7th was part of Robert E. Lee’s forces who secured a victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought from April 30 to May 6, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. In the middle of the battle, on May 3, 1863, Ives was severely wounded in the neck and shoulder. Word reached his parents on the 6th that their son had been wounded and they took off immediately for Richmond where they located their young boy in hospital there. They felt hopeful he would recover, and his father planned to returned to Raleigh, leaving Ives in the care of his mother, only to see Ives take a turn for the worse and die on May 10th. His inconsolable mother and grief-stricken father accompanied his body back to Raleigh and it was brought into the city by wagon with a flag draped coffin. He was buried in Oakwood, his young life extinguished at age 23.

 Family friend, Eliza A. Everston would later write a letter to Kate deRosset Meares informing her of Ives death. (Both at one time had served on the faculty of St. Mary’s School), reported “His Colonel who is in town says he never saw such coolness and courage on the battlefield or such unselfishness after he was wounded. His father says he never heard him make a complaint while he was with him.” She continued in her letter that “for nearly three years he had been a communicant of the Church and his choice of profession was that of the Ministry”.

By May 1864, the war was not going well for either the Smedes or the Confederacy. During the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 8 – May 21, 1864, Ives’ older brother, Lt. Edward Sanford Smedes, serving in the 5th NC regiment, was shot through the heart as he led his men into battle after his colonel was killed, becoming one of 32,000 casualties in the engagement. Edward was buried on the battlefield by two of his Raleigh neighbors, William Ruffin Cox and Seaton Gales. In the winter of 1866 when the federal government ordered the removal of all Confederate graves from the Virginia battlefields, Rev. Dr. Smedes sent his younger son, Abraham, to claim Edward’s body. He was brought home and buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

His father’s school, St. Mary’s, managed to stay open during the war despite his great personal losses and his wife’s failing health. It served as a sanctuary for many refugees including the wife and children of the Confederacy’s President, Mrs. Jefferson Davis and her children, who sheltered there in the summer of 1862 and Mildred Lee, daughter of Gen. Robert E Lee, who was a pupil at the school for two years. Classes met as usual even during the last weeks of April 1865, when Federal troops were encamped in the St. Mary’s Grove.

Two of Ives brothers who served in the Confederate Army survived the war. Older brother Rev. Bennett Smedes took over for his father and became rector of St. Mary’s School for 22 years. Younger brother, Capt. Abraham K. Smedes, who served with the 7th during Civil War, went to UNC and became a lawyer in Goldsboro. His youngest brother, George M. Smedes, who was too young to serve, also became a lawyer, but died young at age 35 unmarried.”