- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2004

How Gen. Robert E. Lee’s farewell address to his army, General Order No. 9, came to be written is a short and simple story, easily told. It is Lt. Col. Charles Marshall’s story, reported by numerous historians, each putting his own spin on it and often drawing upon one another’s accounts, but all based on one primary source, Marshall’s own account. Lee left no memoir on this point.

Marshall, Lee’s military secretary and assistant adjutant general, was the only person from the Confederate army who accompanied Lee into the McLean house at Appomattox Court House, Va., to sign the surrender on April 9, 1865. He is the young man with spectacles shown leaning on the mantel of the house in the famous engraving of Lee’s meeting with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

As Marshall wrote in an 1887 letter to Gen. Bradley T. Johnson (later reprinted in “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”), there was a campfire discussion in front of Lee’s tent on the night after the surrender. The general, having expressed strong feelings about his men and their future, told Marshall to draft a farewell order. As Marshall had been unable to get to the task by 10 the next morning, Lee had the colonel stay in an ambulance near Lee’s tent, with a guard to prevent interruption.

Marshall said the first draft, in pencil, “contained an entire paragraph that was omitted by General Lee’s direction” and that “he made one or two verbal changes, and I then made a copy of the order as corrected, and gave it to one of the clerks in the Adjutant General’s Office to write in ink.”

It is not clear whether Lee signed that ink copy (as he did dozens and perhaps hundreds of other copies for souvenirs) or the second, corrected, pencil draft, or both. The first pencil draft surfaced in 1959, and it has resurfaced.

There is great historical significance to Marshall’s first draft of the famous farewell address, which this document certainly appears to be.

It speaks to us from a highly emotional moment in American history. Because of the omitted paragraph, we can see clearly how much it was a moment on which the fate of the next 140 years hinged. It was a moment in which the cooler and calmer head prevailed, emotions were brought under control, and upon reflection, realistic reasoning reasserted itself.

Did Lee not hesitate before he ordered omission of that paragraph? Or did he perhaps linger over it before it was relegated to history’s trash can? We probably will never know. What we are shown in this document is once again the priceless wisdom and courageous leadership of Gen. Robert Edward Lee.

The original pencil draft, now in a private collection,was purchased by a Virginia antiquarian for $20 as the high bid at an auction in 1959. The owner of the auction house had found it in the pocket of a Confederate officer’s uniform coat, which he had just purchased from a collector in Roanoke and then sold. (A rather confused news story appeared in a local newspaper about the discovery.)

The Virginian parted with his $20, as he explained at the time, reasoning that it was unlikely anyone would fake a rough draft. For several years, however, he subjected the draft to a rigorous process of authentication that included extensive correspondence with Marshall’s family and with Maj. Gen. Sir Frederick Maurice, the editor of Marshall’s papers (“An Aide-de-Camp of Lee,” 1927).

All the experts were convinced of its authenticity, and that early draft has been reauthenticated by the best-known experts using 21st-century scholarship and technology.

Marshall is never known to have said that the first pencil draft was lost. Nor is he known to have said anything about the paragraph stricken by Lee beyond what appeared in the letter to Gen. Bradley Johnson, reiterated in the Maurice book. He may not have been particularly proud of it. He may not have remembered its content. Almost certainly he would not have wanted to raise an entire new controversy that might cast an ambiguous shadow on the memory of Robert E. Lee.

The wording of this pencil draft should be considered in two separate parts: the ultimately omitted paragraph, and the rest of the Farewell Address, which is exactly what one would expect and shows three minor wording changes.

The “lost” paragraph is rather surprising on several counts. One is the revelation that it seems clearly to have been prepared from the outset as an optional alternative that the staff officer favored but knew the commanding general might not want. It is inverted, and it is evident that it was composed separately from the address that appears above Lee’s signature.

Also surprising to some degree is its content. If this is indeed the omitted paragraph of which Marshall wrote in his account, it is easy to see why Lee rejected it. It is obviously the thinking of a younger and less experienced man whose capacity to remain unrattled as he continues to exercise his best judgment in a crisis has been somewhat compromised by his being at the center of a momentous, devastating and terrifying historic moment:

“God willing, the surviving south, still there, strikes for the right cause for which so many sacrifices have already been made, for which doubtless many will yet be required. But remember when for always, the heart of every man will be strengthened by the recollection of friends left through necessity, in hands of the hated foe and one day by the help of God, we will return to retrieve the loved ones and unfold to the breeze from our own blue hills, the glorious flag of our young republic which has been baptized by fire and shell for four long sad years. Farewell my friends. We leave you to God & with sad hearts bid adieu to home, friends and kindred, aged and sever even stronger ties, thinking all sacrifices light in comparison with the noblest cause for which sword was ever drawn — God will defend the right.”

It’s certainly not what we would expect. It is inconsistent with what we have learned to think about Appomattox. It is surprising in its belligerency and its optimism. It hardly seems likely that it was intended as a message to the far-flung Confederate armies still surviving in the field, to be carried far and wide by Lee’s surrendering, homeward-bound men. It would indeed have kept animosities alive, and it could have poisoned the new attitude of reconciliation and forgiveness toward the Confederates.

Did Marshall think he knew his old chief’s mind better than he actually did? Did he harbor vain hopes that the paragraph would be considered — hopes that from history we know were unrealistic? Or had he been talking to so many opinionated fellow officers that in his shocked, exhausted, starved and disoriented condition he did not know exactly what he thought?

Some facts and questions about the lost paragraph stand out. The wording seems clearly to have been prepared intentionally as an optional alternative, as something about which Marshall definitely had doubts. The thoughts, however, are unfinished, somewhat disjointed, internally inconsistent and lacking thematic integrity. Is it really something Marshall hoped against hope the boss just might go for but knew in his heart that Lee would not?

Or had Lee said something in an unguarded moment that had led Marshall to think the addition of a militant paragraph would be considered seriously? Were almost all of the officers around headquarters just a little ill, just a little incapacitated and far from the top of their game? These questions may keep historians busy for a long time.

Richard E. Crouch is a lawyer in Northern Virginia.

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