Robert E. Lee did not always refer to his blue-coated adversaries as “those people,” often storming at them as “vandals and violators of all rules of war; in such moments his neck would turn red and chin and head flare upward, like a spirited horse. Plenty of instances are recorded of Lee’s loss of temper . . .” Had Lee accepted Winfield Scott’s offer of command of the invading armies, it seems certain that he would have quickly gone over to the other side after realizing the true intent of his commander-in-chief. The birthdate of Robert E. Lee is observed on January 19 — a legal holiday in North Carolina and other States.
Lee Assesses His Adversaries
“When his son, “Rooney” Lee, a federal prisoner, was moved to a new place of safety, Lee remarked that “any place would be better than Fort Monroe with [General Benjamin] Butler in command,” and his antipathy to [General John] Pope inspired several bitter comments.
That his nephew, Louis Marshall, who fought on the Union side, was part of Pope’s entourage was particularly offensive. “When you write Rob tell him to catch Pope for me, and also bring in his cousin Louis Marshall who, I am told, is on his staff. I could forgive the latter’s fighting against us, but not his joining Pope.”
For [General Joseph] Hooker, Lee’s contempt was more good-natured; he commonly referred to him as “Mr. F.J. Hooker,” thus making his own use of Hooker’s nickname, “Fighting Joe”; while for Burnside Lee had a real affection, as had most people, friend or foe. “We always understood each other so well,” he commented, on Burnside’s supersession, “I fear [Lincoln] may contrive to make these changes [in command] till they find someone whom I don’t understand.”
The most unfortunate victim of this strain in Lee was General David Hunter, the head of a federal force in the Shenandoah in 1864. After the war, Hunter wrote Lee, asking his professional opinion of his strategy in that campaign. In particular “when he [Hunter] found it necessary to retreat from before Lynchburg, did he not adopt the most feasible line of retreat?”
“Lee replied with a cutting solemnity that would have done honor to Dean Swift: “I would say that I am not advised as to the motives which induced you to adopt the line of retreat which you took, and am not, perhaps, competent to judge of the question, but I certainly expected you to retreat by way of the Shenandoah Valley and was gratified at the time that you preferred the route through the mountains to the Ohio – leaving the valley open for General [Jubal] Early’s advance into Maryland.”
(The Lees of Virginia, Burton J. Hendrick, Little, Brown and Company, 1935, pp. 415-416)