Son of Light Horse Harry - James Barnes

The Separation

A few days after the scenes of the last chapter General Lee—for he had now received his commission said good-bye to his family and set out for Baltimore, where he expected to be gone for a few days on business of an important nature that had to be completed before his departure to the North, where he expected to assume his military command. They were stormy days then, for, strange to say, the country, with a war on its hands, was not united in sentiment. There were many prominent people in New England, and not a few in the South, who had been against any action that might precipitate hostilities and bring on a war. Even after the first gun had been fired there were found men who urged quite publicly that the end of the struggle would be disastrous to the republic, and that conciliation and acceptance of the conditions offered by England were the only ways to prevent dire disaster.

With Henry Lee the matter was one of much debate. The acts of the administration at Washington did not altogether meet with his approval, and in his frank and open manner he expressed his opinion and was consequently quoted—and more often misquoted—in the press.

Now, there lived in Baltimore just at this time a Mr. Hanson, editor of the Federal Republican, a paper devoted to the interests of the Federalist party that was then not high in public favor. Party hatred was rife everywhere, and at no time in the history of our country was political feeling so bitterly avowed and so openly shown.

General Lee was a friend of Mr. Hanson, and on the day that he made his visit to Baltimore the Republican had printed an article that had created much excitement. In fact, so much of a stir was made by its appearance that the printing-office had been surrounded by a crowd of angry men since mid-day. It was three or four o'clock when General Lee arrived. He found some difficulty in working his way through the crowd, and he overheard many bitter speeches and excited words. But that the gathering would indulge in violence was far, indeed, from his mind.

When at last he reached the editor's office he found Mr. Hanson correcting the proof-sheets of an article that had just been set in type. The editor rose as his visitor entered.

"You are the very person I want to see, General Lee," he began. "Will you cast your eye over this and tell me what you think of it?"

Lee did as he was asked, the editor watching him narrowly and noting every change in his expression. When he had finished, the old soldier placed the paper on the desk and shook his head slowly. In a few words he advised his friend against the publication of the editorial. He cautioned him that it would not only produce a bad effect, but that it might inflame the people so that they would possibly fulfil some of the muttered threats.

But the editor was not to be reasoned with, or at least he would not alter his mind, and the article was embodied in the paper and some advance sheets reached the street. No sooner had the people outside secured a copy than it was read aloud, and before long half a dozen fiery orators were holding their little knots of listeners about them and pointing up at the office of the Federal Republican.

General Lee walked to the window; he had stayed late, intending to escort Mr. Hanson through the mob that had now increased in numbers and was growing angrier each moment. As he stood there the editor joined him. That Mr. Hanson was a man of strong convictions he had already proved, and that he possessed courage was evident. The general looked at him almost with admiration, for no sooner had the people in the street recognized him than there arose a great shout. The editor threw up the window and calmly gazed down at the howling mob. Whether it was his intention to address them or not cannot be told, for just at that moment one of the leaders headed a rush for the entrance (the office was on the second floor). Roughly sweeping aside one of the compositors, who had been acting as watchman, they started for the narrow stairway. General Lee rushed out into the hall to meet the onslaught. It was his intention to stop them if possible, and get them to listen to reason, but he did not know that a great many of the mob were under the influence of liquor, that had been doled out by a Whig wine merchant at the corner, a great enemy of Mr. Hanson. However, happen as it did, the whole combination of circumstances was most unfortunate.

General Lee possessed a fiery temper, and, as he had often proved, it had at times in the past got the better of him. He was a powerful man, well knit, and well muscled. The first fellow up the staircase was a large, hard-featured individual who carried a copy of the Federal Republican  in his hand. General Lee met him, and with his palm peacefully raised would have stopped him at the stair-head, but the fellow drew back and hurled the paper straight in the general's face.

There was no thought of anything but immediate action after that. Without a moment's hesitation Lee leaped at the leader's throat and hurled him down the stairway upon the heads of his followers. Then for an instant his wisdom and caution came to his aid, and he tried to make his voice heard. It was of no use; the appearance of Mr. Hanson at his elbow, and the voice of the big bully who had now regained his feet, combined with the drunken condition of some of the crowd, accounted for what followed. Some one aimed a blow at the editor. It was parried and returned, and the first thing the general knew he was in the midst of a struggling, cursing throng that bore him down. Twice he managed to get erect again and fought bravely with his fists, but it was of no use. He was borne down again and trampled on.

When later he recovered he was in a terribly mauled and maimed condition. The editor also was badly hurt, and part of the office was wrecked.

For some time General Lee's life was despaired of. He had been injured internally, and long did the two boys, who were then at Alexandria, remember the sad day of their father's return. His military career was closed. He never could recover from those terrible injuries. It was shocking to his family and friends to see the difference in the old soldier's looks and behavior. There were no more rides cross country, no more long rambles along the banks of the river. Light Horse Harry had disappeared; it was a helpless invalid now who sat in the big chair on the wide veranda.

At last, under the advice of physicians, General Lee started on a voyage to the West Indies, where it was hoped that a long residence in a warm and equable climate would help to put off the acute stage of the ailment that had developed as a result of his meeting with the mob. Alas! he was never to see Alexandria again. Five miserable years of suffering he passed away from his native land, and in 1818 he found, to put it in his own words, "that he was approaching the Valley of the Shadow," and that his one desire was to end his days at home. So he set sail upon a little coasting-schooner bound from Nassau, and when only a day or so at sea his painful malady had so increased that he could no longer stand the pitching and tossing of the vessel, and he requested the captain to lay his course to Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia. His former friend and commander, General Nathanael Greene, had an estate there, and Mrs. James Shaw, his married daughter, lived in the beautiful old mansion of Dungeness. The schooner dropped anchor off the island, and with some difficulty General Lee was conveyed to land, where he was welcomed gladly; and here, surrounded by loving friends and all the comfort that their kindness and attention could give him, Henry Lee passed away, only two months after he had set sail for home.

Side by side the two comrades sleep, for he was buried close to the grave of General Greene. The letters that he had written to his wife and to his sons show well the temper and character of the man. Of his youngest son, Robert, he wrote as follows: "Robert was always good, and will be confirmed in his happy turn of mind by his ever-watchful and affectionate mother." It was the devotion of his young life and the deep affection that was so lovingly returned that probably helped to mould, in the boy's character, that sympathy and tender solicitude for his own family that always marked him.

When General Henry Lee died Robert was eleven years old. Mrs. Lee, up to that time, had been his tutor, besides being his guide, counsellor, and friend. But at the age of thirteen the boy began to study under the direction of Mr. Leary, a man of great scholarly attainments. Subsequently he attended a Quaker school, kept by Mr. Benjamin Hallowell, where he led his classmates in all their studies. He longed, however, to be supporting himself, and, although he said little about it, the career of a soldier still appealed to him as strongly as it had in the days of very early boyhood.