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A pair of remarkable letters, written by a remarkable Southern Lady…a cousinly-in-law of Robert E Lee, the burning of whose house in July 1864 by General David Hunter was obviously motivated by her name and family affiliation. Her famous scathing letter to Gen. Hunter in response is included in full transcript below. The two letters offered here are a glimpse into their life before their home was destroyed and the family displaced and a rare opportunity to own anything connected with this well written about family.

Dated “Bedford [VA] Monday night” [1861] and “Bedford Jan 2nd” [1862]. The “Monday night” letter,” 6 pp. in length, addressed to “My precious child” and the “January 2nd” letter, 8 pp., to her daughter Ellen. Both letters are 6 pp. in length, both in ink and measure 5.25 x 7” each. Both are in very good condition, and entirely legible.

Mrs. Henrietta Bedinger Lee was the wife of Edmund Jennings Lee, 2nd cousin of Robert E. Lee, and the mother of General Edwin Gray Lee. “Bedford” was her ancestral estate inherited from her father, a revolutionary war soldier and patriot, located in near Shepherdstown in present day West Virginia.

On July 19, 1864, Bedford was ordered burned to the ground on orders from Union general David Hunter, carried out by Captain Martindale of the 1st New York Cavalry. Henrietta was the wife of Edmund Jennings Lee, an attorney and a second cousin of Robert E. Lee, whose eldest son was Edwin Gray Lee recently promoted to Brigadier General, CSA. The Lee name was probably the motive behind the burning of Bedford. [Another nearby estate also burned belonged to Andrew Hunter, an attorney who had prosecuted John Brown.]

On the day following, Mrs. addressed the following famous and scathing letter to General Hunter, an excerpt of which reads as follows:

“Jefferson County, July 20, 1864…

General Hunter: Yesterday your underling, Captain, Martindale, of the first New Cavalry, executed your infamous order and burned my house. You have had the satisfaction ere this of receiving from him the information that your orders were fulfilled to the letter; the dwelling and every out building, seven in number, with their contents, being burned.

I, therefore, a helpless woman whom you have cruelly wronged, address, a Major-General of the United State army, and demand why this was done?

What was my offence? My husband was absent, an exile. He had never been a politician or in any way engaged in the struggle now going on, his age preventing. This fact your chief of staff, David Strother could have told you.

The house was built by my father, a Revolutionary soldier who served the whole seven years for your independence. There I was born; their the scred dead repose. It was my house and my home, and there has your niece (Miss Griffith), who has tarried among us all this horrid war up to the present time, met with all kindness and hospitality at my hands.

Was it for this that you turned me, my young daughter, and little son out into the world without a shelter? Or was it because my husband is the grandson of the Revolutionary patriot and “rebel,” Richard Henry Lee, and the near kinsman of the noblest of Christian warriors, the greatest of generals, Robert E. Lee?

Heaven’s blessing be on his head forever. You and your government have failed to conquer, subdue, or match him; and disappointment, rge, and malice find vent on the helpless and inoffensive…”

While it is doubtful that Gen. Hunter ever read or saw a copy of this letter, it seems fairly certain that Confederate General Jubal Early did, and that it fueled his resolve in deciding to raid north and burn Chambersburg, PA in the autumn of 1864.


In the following excerpts from her earlier letters, offered here, Henrietta Lee’s forceful personality shines through brisk and clear:

“Bedford Monday night [1861]

My precious child…your very interesting letter reached me Saturday…Indeed, I can scarce express what I felt when I read of your wanderings, with you seven helpless little children and sitting up too, half the night…I am most thankful to know… you have found rest for the soles of your feet…

I had written this for, when the servants came rushing in to say a “big fire was in town” of course we all flew, when O horror! Such a fearful sight presented its self. All the buldings __ Longlasses Hill seemed an awful blaze. Mr. Lee insisted that the fire was on this side the river and started off for Town. Netta [her daughter) ran to Mrs. Parkers, there we could not only see, but could hear the roar of the flames mingles with human shrieks….the work of human fiends who surround his house in number.

It made my heart ache. God only can tell, who amongst us next may be the sufferers—such things brings this terrible war with fearful business before us. There has been a large re-enforcement over the river lately and I was told today, that one had been sent to W’…Port, so you see these wretches are trying to surround us on all sides. I am thankful you are away from the perils, which seem to be thickening round us each days they still send them insolent threats to quarter upon us this winter…

I learned today that the woman you gave your note to, Mrs. R___ was black Rep[ublican}. I could not help laughing when I thought how you were taken in. She went on to Winchester and tried to get Gen. Jackson to give her a pass. He positively refused. She is now in Martinsburg, where undoubtedly some of her Union loving friends will smuggle her across the river. Martinsburg is under the strictest martial law. No one is allowed to go in or out without a pass from Gen. Jackson. This forbodes something, but what none of know. I believe that when McClellan makes an attack upon Centreville, they will try and cross into all these border Countries and surround our armies…

I sent a worsted pillow and a pair of fine socks to Gen. Jackson and Col. Cummings, Mrs. Jackson sent me a very nice note of thanks in return. I was told a short time since that your Uncle Henry had made peace with the Yankees thro the influence of your uncle B and Jim Greenwood, and had returned to his own house. Lizzie wrote to Davis, and said “When will this cruel war be ended” the letter was returned it had been opened and on the margin was written “If Mrs. S__ wishes to correspond with her husband she must not call this a cruel war.”

Henrietta Lee, Second letter (to daughter Ellen)—dated “Bedford Jan 2d”

In this letter, Mrs. Lee begins by complaining of a sore back, going on detail the grueling housework and supervision entailed since: “Your papa finds that he cannot afford a servant this year.” As a consequence, all day long she “has been after Peg, Bill, and Margaret [slaves] until sickened with the prospect of what I must go through this year.”

She then describes Yankee harassment of town on Christmas night, as follows:

“On Christmas night, because the boys in town threw up some fireworks, and a drunkened soldier shot off a pistol, the vile cowardly Yankees fired upon the town with shell and cannon, three times the shell burst in the town and twice the cannon balls flew over it. Not content with this, they shot the rifle balls in every direction, and the next day, their stupid Col. sent of the most insolent ill spelled letters, with all manner of threats, a copy of the same Mr. Lee sent to Mr. P which I presume he will show you. You can judge for yourself whether it would be safe for you return here. Many of the soldiers are of the opinion that these wretches will burn the town insignificant as it is out of a spirit of revenge. But in the Lord I trust, he will not let our enemies crush us, of this I am confident…

I paid Edwin a short visit this week. He looks very thin and pale. I think he is utterly unfit to join his Reg. But he says if it is ordered to Romney he is resolved to go—tho’ I think it will be the wildest folly…

We passed a quiet very very dull Christmas, no cakes or pies as Christmas gifts—poverty and necessity have depressed us all…

You say you would not like to board—I would board tomorrow if you Papa would agree to it. The torments and expense of housekeeping are too great…

I was much obliged to you for the stampes—they are the first Confederate stamps I have seen. You know that poor wretched Gilmer…a few days ago he went down to the river, drunk as he always was and called to the Vandals [Yankees], that if they would send a boat and pick him up, he would swim out to meet them. He left his horse, watch, and clothing on the bank and jumpered into the water, they met him and took him up and marched in his state of nudity up the hill, today we learned they intended to shoot him. I am sorry for the fate of the poor wretch for he is most unfit to die…

Netta [second daughter Henrietta] has taken it into her heart to have her hair cut off—and she looks like a fat Tom boy…I thought I would go with your papa the last time he went but he went on horseback. Your papa made as he thought a grand speculation at a sale today. A Lamp which cannot burn for want of a burner, two gass sticks and a pitcher. Truly the old saying is “save the pence and the dollars will take care of themselves. I wish my dear husband could do so and send these two poor boys to school—with nothing to start in life with and no education they will be poor indeed. [jp/bm][ph:L]







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