Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in the US Army

Today, after the fall of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, after President Lincoln proclaimed an insurrection and issued a command to muster troops to put down the rebellion, after the President’s proclamation of a blockade on southern ports, Colonel Robert E. Lee of the First Cavalry, veteran of the Mexican War and the man who ended the violence at Harpers Ferry with more violence and captured John Brown, wrote two brief letters, one slightly longer than the other.

The first was to the Secretary of War of the United States.

Arlington, Washington City P.O.
20 April 1861

Honble Simon Cameron
Sect. of War

Sir,

I have the honor to tender the resignation of my Commission of Colonel of the 1st Regt. of Cavalry.

Very respectfully your Ob’t servant

R. E. Lee
Col 1st. Cavalry

The second, slightly longer letter, was to his old friend General Winfield Scott, commander of the US Army.

Arlington, Washington City, P.O
20 Apr 1861

Lt. Genl Winfield Scott
Commd U.S. Army

Genl,
Since my interview with you on the 18th Inst[1]: I have felt that I ought not longer to retain any Commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has Cost me to separate myself from a Service to which I have divoted [sic] all the best years of my life, & all the ability I possessed. During the whole of that time, more than a quarter of a century, I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors & the most Cordial friendships from any Comrades. To no one Genl have I been as much indebted as to yourself for kindness & Consideration & it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry with me, to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind Consideration, & your name & fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native state shall I ever again draw my sword. Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for “the Continuance of your happiness & prosperity & believe me

Most truly yours
R E Lee

You can see a picture of the original of this letter at the Arlington House National Park Service site. What’s interesting is the amount of editing Lee did on this letter; clearly it was a difficult one for him to write and get down everything he wanted to say. The sadness of it is heart-breaking.

[1] “of this month”

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Published in: on 20 April, 2011 at 04:00  Leave a Comment  
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