Robert E. Lee and Gilliams | Gilliams of Virginia

Robert E. Lee and the GILLIAMs
Updated March 23, 2016


Near Cartersville, VA, July 22, 1865
My Dear Rob,
. . . I saw several of your comrades, Cockes, Kennons and GILLIAMs, who inquired after you all. Give my love to F. and Johnny, in which all here unite, and believe me most truly and affectionately
Your father,
R. E. Lee.
Captain Robert E. Lee, Recollections of General Lee, Doubleday, 1904, p. 176.


Lexington, VA, December 18, 1869
My Dear Fitzhugh,
. . . I have received a letter from your Uncle Carter telling me of his pleasant visit to you and of his agreeable impression of his nephew and new niece. He was taken very sick in Richmond and delayed there so long that he could not be present at Wm. Kennon’s wedding, and missed the festivities at his neighbor GILLIAM’s and at Norwood. . .
Your affectionate father,
R. E. Lee
Captain Robert E. Lee, Recollections of General Lee, Doubleday, 1904, p. 378-379


. . . After Appomattox, as he rode wearily homeward, he planned to stop overnight at the home of his brother, Charles Carter Lee, in Powhatan, the house already was so crowded with guests that Mrs. GILLIAM, neighbor across the way, was asked if she could receive General Lee. She made ready the best room happy in the prospect of having him under her roof, but when he arrived she was told in his manner of courteous finality that he could not think of troubling her and that he would camp out, but that he would be grateful if she would entertain an officer who happened to be traveling with his wife. Then he added, as he saw the lady’s disappointment, that if it were agreeable to her he would be happy to take breakfast with her the next morning. He bivouacked that night with the officers who still keep this company—it was probably the last time he ever did so—and he appeared at the appointed hour at his hostess’s. The anguish of defeat had almost numbed him, and the burden of the maimed, the dead, and the widowed lay on his heart, but even then while the corpse of his country still twitched, he did not forget his love of youth. After the meal he took the little girl of the family on his knees—she was about ten—and when he had caressed her, asked her if she did not want to go with him to Richmond, where, he told her, he would find a “lot of little sweethearts for her.” She still lives, with more than seventy year behind her, and she cherishes that moment in the lap of General Lee as the most precious in her life.
Douglas Southall Freeman, “Lee and the Ladies,” Scribner’s Magazine, Volume 78, July-December 1925, p. 468.


On his way to Richmond, which he reached on the 12th of April, General Lee stopped for the night near the residence of his brother, Charles Carter Lee, of Powhatan County, and although importuned by his brother to pass the night under his roof, the General persisted in pitching his tent by the side of the road (This was not immediately in front of the residence of his brother, but of that of Mr. John GILLIAM whose farm adjoined that of Mr. Lee, a more elevated and desirable site) and going into camp as usual. This continued self-denial may be only explained upon the hypothesis that he desired to have his men know that he shared their privations to he very last.
Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 15, p. xxvii.


At evening Lee reaches his brother’s farm in Powhatan County. He was made welcome, of course, but as the house was crowded he insisted on using his own tent. He was then invited to “spend the night” in familiar Virginia phrase, at the residence of John GILLIAM, whose farm adjoined that of C. C. Lee. He asked, instead, that the available room be given a sick officer and his wife who had driven up. Learning from his brother’s family that the GILLIAMs were disappointed at his refusal and were very anxious that he at least eat a meal at their table, he sent word that if it were agreeable he would take breakfast with them. Then, having procured a pair of shoes for the soldier to whom he had promise them, he went into camp, immediately in front of the GILLIAM home. It was his final bivouac, the last night he ever slept under canvas.
The next morning he ate with the GILLIAM family. It probably was at this time, and in answer to a question from Mr. GILLIAM that he said many people would wonder why he did not make his escape before the surrender, when that course was predictable. The reason, he explained, was that he was unwilling to separate his fate for that of the men who had fought under him so long. He was unrestrained in his conversation and made much of a little girl of about ten, the daughter of the GILLIAMs, who was presented to him. He took her on his knee and caressed her. “Polly,” he said, “come with me to Richmond and I will give you a beau.”
Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography, Volume 4, New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1935, p. 160-161


At bedtime that night, Robert refused too crowd Carter’s family with three extra people (by now Giles Cooke had turned off to his home). He also declined the invitation of neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. GILLIAM, asking them instead to take in a sick officer and his wife who had stopped along the road and were preparing to camp out. So as not to hurt the GILLIAMs’ feelings, he agreed to have breakfast with them.
So the tent was pitched for the last time, and Lee went into camp, to the disappointment of Walter Taylor, who wrote that thought he appreciated Lee’s desire to have his men know that he had shared their privations to the last, he, personally, could have easily done without this final bit of self-denial.
The presence of ten-year-old Polly GILLIAM made breakfast additionally pleasing for Robert, who took her on his knee afterward and talked to her in that engaging way he had with children. When it came time to go, he kissed her and whispered:
“Polly, come with me to Richmond, and I will give you a beau.”
Margaret Sanborn, Robert E. Lee, the Complete Man. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1967, p 240.

The day of April 15 would see Lee into Richmond. Just six days before, he had met with Grant to sign the surrender agreement. Three days ago, his regiments had laid down their arms in the surrender ceremony. Now, stopping for breakfast along the road at the house of a family named GILLIAM, Lee showed the lighter side of his nature. Always, he enjoyed the conversation of ladies and of children; above all, he enjoyed his teasing encounters with little girls. This day his entrance into Richmond as a paroled prisoner of war would cause many to weep, but the man who symbolized this despair took ten-year-old Polly GILLIAM on his knee, smiled at her, and said, “Polly, come with me to Richmond and I will give you a beau.”
Charles Bracklen Flood, Lee, the Last Years, Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 36.


Sources
  • Flood, Charles Bracklen. Lee, the Last Years, Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 36.
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall. R. E. Lee: A Biography, Volume 4, New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1935, p. 160-161
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall. “Lee and the Ladies,” Scribner’s Magazine, Volume 78, July-December 1925, p. 468.
  • Lee, Capt. Robert E. Recollections of General Lee, Doubleday, 1904, p. 176.
  • Lee, Capt. Robert E. Recollections of General Lee, Doubleday, 1904, p. 378-379
  • Sanborn, Margaret. Robert E. Lee, the Complete Man. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1967, p 240.
  • Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 15, p. xxvii.