Lexington, Va., 3rd Oct., 1865


Genl. G. T. Beauregard

New Orleans, La


My Dear General:

I have received your letter of the 1st ult and am very sorry to learn that the papers of yourself and Johnston are lost, or at least beyond your reach; but I hope they may be recovered. Mine never can be, tho some may be replaced. Please supply all you can. It may be safer to send them by private hand, if practicable to Mr Caskie at Richmond, or to me at this place. I hope both you and Johnston will write the history of your campaigns. Every one should do all in his power to collect and disseminate the truth, in the hope that it may find a place in history, and descend to posterity. I am glad to see no indication in your letter of an intention to leave the country. I think the South requires the aid of her sons now more than at any period of her history. As you ask my purpose, I will state that I have no thought of abandoning her unless compelled to do so.

After the surrender of the Southern armies in April, the revolution in the opinions and feelings of the people seemed so complete, and the return of the Southern States into the union of all the States so inevitable, that it became in my opinion the duty of every citizen, the contest being virtually ended, to cease opposition, and place himself in a position to serve the country. I therefore, upon the promulgation of the proclamation of Presdt Johnson of 29th May, which indicated his policy in the restoration of peace, determined to comply with its requirements, and applied on the 13th of June to be embraced within its provisions. I have not heard the result of my application.1 Since then, I have been elected to the Presidency of Washington College, and have entered upon the duties of the office in the hope of being of some service to the noble youth of our country. I need not tell you that true patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another, and that the motive which impels them – the desire to do right – is precisely the same. The circumstances which govern their actions, change, and then conduct must conform to the new order of things. History is full of illustrations of this. Washington himself is an example. At one time he fought against the French under Braddock, in the service of the King of Great Britain; at another, he fought with the French at Yorktown under the orders of the Continental Congress of America, against him. He has not been branded with reproach by the world for this, but his course has been applauded.

With sentiments of great esteem,

I am most truly yours,

(sgd.) R. E. Lee



Source: Photocopy of letter form Lee’s letterbook, Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51 c 737, pp. 33-35, Section 42, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 October 9     



1. Lee’s application was misplaced and not discovered until the 1970s, when Congress restored his citizenship.