William Fitzhugh Lee: “The Overlooked Lee” – Ann C. Reeves

(Ann C.Reeves, a direct descendant of “Willie” Lee of Shepherdstown, writes of the brief shining light of her ancestor’s life. William Fitzhugh Lee has been inexplicably missed by most official records. He was raised by the Lees in Shepherdstown after his father’s death, was a Virginia Military Institute graduate, close friend of J.E.B. Stuart, bestowed mysterious silver spurs by Stuart, only to die leading a pivotal charge on a battery at Manassas – that was not ordered. His poignant, agonizing death with family would become common – universal as an event but, as all such deaths, unique in its pathos and power. An American generation – across the divide – would encounter the new horror of young men in their budding prime, dying.-ED).

While not the head of his class academically, William “Willie” Lee was chosen by his classmates, on the basis of “character,” to address them upon graduation:

When I look around the happy faces of the motley throng assembled here tonight and reflect that those bright eyes now beaming with merriment and love may on tomorrow’s dawn grow dim with tears, when I meet the smiles of youthful manhood, the thoughtful glance of matured intellect or the searching gaze of venerated names as, and even then, we seek to trace the course of future tears and as the last hoary age turns to scan the path on which the course of life is run, bowed beneath the weight of years we seek not then to serve amid the rich promises of earthly hopes or to build the fairy fabric of ambition’s dreams.

These were the stirring words of a young and optimistic William Fitzhugh Lee in his Fourth of July Valedictory address to his compatriots at the Virginia Military Institute in 1853. Although the issues of slavery and states rights had been in the political forefront and the idea of secession had been discussed for several years, no one could have known how prescient these words were; that within eight years they would all wake up to “the dawn grown dim with tears,” and for him and his loved ones, this would unfold on the shores of Bull Run Creek.

William was the son of the Rev. William Fitzhugh Lee of Richmond and Mary Catherine Syme Chilton Lee, of Fairfax, born on April 27, 1832 in Richmond. The Rev. Lee, a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, was a first

cousin to Robert E. Lee. Bishop Meade described him as “light as a feather, but possessed a strong mind and will, and lived under the pressure of a heart and soul devoted to the love of God and man.” Despite a brief ministry of only twelve years, he made a significant contribution to the Episcopal Church, serving as Rector of a historic church in Richmond that he renamed St. John’s, famous for Patrick Henry’s speech in which he proclaimed, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” St. John’s thrived under his leadership, crowded with parishioners and Sunday school children and a zealous missionary society. Controversy around needing to expand led to Lee’s resignation and his founding and serving as Rector of Christ Church, Richmond. Due to physical frailty and declining health, he resigned and then founded and edited “The Southern Churchman,” an evangelical journal that he was editing on his deathbed, at the age of 33. His small son, William Fitzhugh Lee, known as “Willie,” was only five.

Although devoted to his mother, who returned to Alexandria with him, Willie spent considerable time with his paternal uncle, Edmund Jennings Lee, of Shepherdstown, Virginia, who served as a surrogate father. He was especially

close to his cousin, Edwin Gray Lee, who would end up on the battlefield with him at Manassas in July of 1861. Willie entered the Episcopal High School in Alexandria in the fall of 1842, aged ten. There, he fell under the

tutelage of the Rev. William N. Pendleton, Episcopal priest, headmaster of the school, and later, a Brigadier General and Chief of Artillery for the Confederate Army. A West Point graduate, Pendleton was a gifted teacher, engineer, and athlete who served as a powerful Christian role model for the boys he taught, including Willie. Pendleton’s daughter, Susan, would later

marry Willie’s first cousin, Edwin Gray Lee, of Shepherdstown, who was like a brother. Pendleton’s son, Alexander Swift Pendleton (Sandie) would serve

as Jackson’s Adjutant General and his unofficial Chief of Staff, later to become Early’s Chief of Staff. Willie also attended the Fairfax Institute.

During the times he lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousins at Leeland, in Shepherdstown, he grew up knowing their friends and neighbors. Among them was one of five daughters of a town physicians, Dr. Richard Parran and his

wife, Laura Morgan Parran. Eliza Morgan Parran, listed in the Morgan and Parran Family Bibles as Lillie (courtesy, John Whelihan) was the second eldest daughter. She is described in the March, 1853 journal of one potential suitor (William Quesenbury Claytor) as a young woman “whom I admire exceedingly…I think her decidedly more attractive than her sister…who is considered so beautiful.” (Alexander Street Press). Willie and Lillie must have known each other for many years. She participated in the annual

Ring tournament, a throwback to the chivalric jousts of England. Held in Morgan’s Grove (Lillie’s grandparents were Morgans,) there were knights on horses encouraged by the beautiful young women of Shepherdstown, one of whom was crowned Queen of Beauty among Maids of Honor. Lillie held both roles. She must have been intelligent, too, as William’s Commencement address also extolled the extension of literacy to women, making marriage a partnership of intellectual equals.

In 1850, William entered the class of 1853 at the Virginia Military Institute, the third class since it’s founding. According to correspondence between his mother, Mary Lee and the Superintendent, Col. Francis H. Smith, there were maternal worries about his maturity and moral behavior, as well as questions about his tuition, paid for by Edmund Jennings Lee. As required by graduates of VMI, William was expected to teach for a period of time in Virginia, which he ultimately did, in Fauquier County. Letters between him and Superintendent Smith suggest that he tried to bypass this responsibility due to a need for greater income to help support his mother, and, for a short time, he first worked as a civil engineer.

In June of 1855, William entered the United States Army as a 2nd Lieutenant under the 2nd Regiment, scheduled to be stationed at Fort Ridgely, a small outpost in Minnesota, although a letter to Superintendent Smith suggests he was rerouted to Fort Leavenworth. Records indicate that he also served at Fort Randall South Dakota, Fort Riley, Kansas, and several other remote frontier posts that helped to manage Indian affairs. During this period of time, he came to know J.E.B. Stuart, who was making a name for himself in the US Army. It was William who informed Stuart that his wife Flora, had born him a son. When admirers gifted Stuart with a pair of silver spurs, he gave them to William Lee in acknowledgment of his promise as a soldier.

On September 15th, 1859, William Fitzhugh Lee married Lillie Parran while on leave from Jefferson Barracks. The wedding was performed at 8:00 in the

morning at Trinity Church by the Rev. C. W. Andrews, an influential churchman whose dedication to theology and global understanding included a strong interest in the Liberian solution to slavery. Dr. Andrews figured largely in the lives of the Parran and Lee family members, with numerous baptisms, weddings, and funerals (C.W. Andrews Papers, Duke University Archives).

After they were married, the Lees and the Stuarts bonded as couples, at Fort Riley and later, at Jefferson Barracks. This was a special relationship that

lasted as long as each of the four lived. While Flora Stuart and Lillie became close, J.E.B. Stuart also seemed quite taken with Lillie for her special qualities, and they sustained a deep and enduring friendship as evidenced by several remaining letters. In a July 16, l860 letter from Stuart to Lee written from a camp 10 miles above Bent’s Fort, Stuart wrote:

Dear Lee:
As Mr. Robt. Bent son of Col B leaves on 18th for the states I avail myself of his going to jot you a line. I made a little scout the other day which accomplished all the success attending us thus far. I will give you very briefly the items. As we passed Bents Fort on the morning of the 11th old B told us he had positive information that old Sotanke & family (2 lodges) had been a few minutes before within a ½ of a mile from his post. When hearing of our being there he cleared out double quick. I immediately volunteered to pursue him, and the maj. detached with me 20 men, and I started in pursuit. After a sharp trot of 5 miles I came in sight, he then abandoned everything but the ponies & I followed at a run – He was several miles ahead but I gained on them every jump. I never participated in a more exciting chase. In 2½ hours after leaving Bents Fort I was just in the act of nabbing them when I discovered Capt. Steele with a large detachment approaching from the opposite direction returning from a 8 days unsuccessful scout. Wasn’t that unfortunate for me? Finding that he was sure to secure the main party I turned to the right to pursue some scattered bucks running off in that direction, in that pursuit a part of Steele’s command under Otis, Armstrong, & Bayard joined and two warriors were killed, & 1 squaw captured, those captured by Steele’s party were 16 women & children and 36 ponies & mules. The last warrior was killed by the Sergt (Occleston) of my detachment, but not until he had given Bayard a very severe arrow wound in the cheek, and wounds to two of my detachment in the legs. The capture of the whole party I am confident (&I believe all of nearly all are equally so) would have been just as certain by my party alone, but as my Detachment had contributed mainly to effect it, I suppose I ought to be satisfied. I pursued them 26 miles to Steele & then 6 miles to the right. I had Bayard carried in a blanket that distance back to Steele’s. Bayard is now here, he suffers a great deal having the arrow head still deeply imbedded in between the cheek bone & the upper part of the upper jaw-bone. It can not be extracted. No fears are entertained as to his ultimate recovery, but he will be a sufferer for some time I fear.

I have heard nothing from Riley since the mail sent out from Pawnee Fork. We have heard through the Cheyenne’s and Arrapahoes who are here & very friendly, that somebody has killed 8 Kiowas near Cow Creek, and that somebody has killed 20 lodges of Comanches on a tributary to Arkansas below Mulberry Creek, and that Ruff has killed 110 on the Canadian. We have received pretty authentic information that the Indians who were at a point 20 miles from Denver City have moved down on the Republican and Smoky Hill, & our next move will be in that direction. We will probably reach Pawnee Fork by the middle of 20th of August. Desaupne is now absent with 100 men over a 5 days scout on Purgatoire Cr, he is expected day after tomorrow. The Indians have refrained from depredations thus far on the emigrants, as far as we can learn. The prisoners are now in the hands of the Indian Agent Bent – who will endeavor to secure the delivery of the mail murderers. He has however ascertained pretty certainly that they have been all killed. The warriors we killed were Sotanke’s brother and son the Squaws were his. The old buck is bankrupt now. Walker went up to a grand war dance at Bents Fort. We enjoyed it very much. Young Bent the bearer of this seems to be a very clever fellow, and has been very kind to us. Don’t curse your fate if you should be ordered to take post at Bent’s Fort, it is by far the best point west of Riley’s & so stands in our estimation. Quarters already for 2 companies, and the best building material – except lime, clay is however available as a substitute. Remember me cordially to Mrs. Lee when you write (I suppose she is East), and present my kindest regards to all friends at Pawnee. I do not consider that worthy Capt of our regiment one of that number. I think it probably that Bayard will in a week if his situation will allow it, be sent in the ambulance under escort to Pawnee to go thence to the States. His gallantry & personal daring was the subject of special mention in my report, though he belonged to Steele’s detachment.

The officers here are getting on very harmoniously & pleasantly. Very truly yours, J.E.B. Stuart

(Original letter, now lost, was in the possession of Mrs. F.V. Chappell, of New London, CT. Contents courtesy Western Historical Manuscript Collection – Columbia, MO)

in later life, and as an infant with her mother

On New Year’s Day, 1861, Laura Morgan Lee was born to Lillie while William was stationed at Jefferson Barracks. As the winter progressed and more and more southern states voted for secession, Abraham Lincoln assumed office, and the northern and southern stances became tightened, William became more and more upset. Following the battle at Fort Sumter in April, he began to speak out against what he considered the faulty course being pursued by the Federal Government toward the South. He spoke his mind quite freely and was arrested by Captain Nathanial Lyon, a staunch abolitionist who had gained command of the St. Louis arsenal. William was court-martialed and kept on house arrest for a brief period of time. When released, he resigned from the Army on April 30, ten days after his second cousin Robert E. Lee’s resignation, and returned to Virginia. With the help R.E. Lee, he was appointed a captain in the Confederate Army, ordered to duty at Harper’s Ferry. According to Charles D. Walker, author of “Graduates and Eleves of the Virginia Military Institute,” William was ordered to Harper’s Ferry where he was “actively engaged in the training of the raw recruits of the recently-formed army, and afterwards…performed laborious service as a drill-master and recruiting officer.” Although Walker writes that Lee was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of the 33rd Virginia Infantry, things at Harper’s Ferry were very disorganized as herds of new, untested recruits descended upon that town. It took the arrival of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, William’s former Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery at VMI to whip the new recruits into shape During this time, Lillie and six-month-old Laura had remained in Missouri. Fearful of their safety, William quickly penned the following letter on June 21st.

Harper’s Ferry, VA June 21st 1861
My dear Lilly

I wrote to you a few days ago advising you how to get to Virginia. Since then I have been most anxious and uneasy about your safety. The mails have all stopped Between here and all points north and west. So I shall have great difficulty in Getting letters to you. When you write, enclose your letters to Dr. MacGill of Hagerstown and ask him to find an opportunity to get them to your mother {Laura Parran Towner in Shepherdstown} who can transmit them to me. The Balt. & Ohio Rl.Rd between Wheeling and Grafton is in possession of the troops of the North. It will be out of the question therefore for you to attempt to come in that Way. The Louisville route is the only one left you now. Find an escort to that city or to Cincinnati. From Cincinnati you could go to Louisville and then on to Lynchburg, Va. O’Connell sometimes goes to Newport to take recruits. Ask him To let you know when he can go next after the receipt of this and if he can take you with him to Cincinnati and place you en route for Louisville. In the meantime write to Dr. Llewellyn Powell, my cousin, tell him who you are & how you are traveling & ask him to meet you at Louisville & place you under escort for Va. It would be better if you could get an escort all the way in. Suppose you write to Maj. Hagum {Hagman?} to try & find you one from Fort Leavenworth. There are Constantly officers (resigned) on their way in from there.

I must hurry down & try & find an opportunity to send this to you – all are well & in good spirits. Love and Kisses & all – From your fondly devoted Husband W. F. L.
(Original location of this document at Red Top, family home in Connecticut of William Reeves, Jr., Carol Reeves Parke, and Ann C. Reeves)

The following events are taken from private John O. Casler’s “Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade.” Casler had joined the Potomac Guards in June of 1861, which became part of Col. Arthur C. Cummings’ regiment that ultimately became the First Brigade under T.J. Jackson, along with Lieutenant Colonel William Fitzhugh Lee. According to Casler, by June 24th the companies took part in Johnston’s movement to reinforce Beauregard at Manassas Junction, marching east towards Winchester, where they were celebrated by brass bands, “drums beating, colors flying, and the fair ladies waving their handkerchiefs and cheering (them) on to ‘victory or death.’” The soldiers moved to Shawnee Springs and back to Romney. Between late June and early July, they moved between Darksville, Shawnee Springs, and Martinsburg with a few minor “squirmishes” with the Federals. An anticipated July 4th battle did not materialize and they moved back to Winchester. Casler admits to his disappointment, not yet having experienced the horrors of war.

It was in Winchester that William Fitzhugh Lee saw his little Laura for what would be the last time.

According to Casler, his battalion was ordered to report to Col Cummings, somewhat south of Winchester and they remained in the area until July 15th, at which time they became permanently attached to General T.J. Jackson’s brigade. As there were not enough men, yet, to be numbered, their regiment became Colonel Cummings Regiment. They finally left the Winchester area on July 18th, marching toward Berry’s Ferry, on the Shenandoah River, where they were informed of the Federal threat to General Beauregard at Manassas Junction. The men were formed in ranks in a forced march all day and all night, crossing the Shenandoah around midnight and spending about two hours to rest in Paris, before heading towards Manassas.

Lowell Reidenbaugh, in “33rd Virginia Infantry,” writes that the men reached the Shenandoah River at sundown, walking waist-high through the water. They were exhausted, and spent the next night (the 20th) in a grove of pines. In the morning, they marched upstream, returning to Blackburn’s Ford. Three hours later, Jackson was informed of an impending battle near Henry House Hill, the left anchor of the Confederate line. The 33rd marched the seven miles there and sustained bombardment without a fight until mid-afternoon.

There are several accounts of the ensuing battle between the 33rd and Rickett’s and Griffin’s batteries, near Henry House Hill in Manassas. Casler explains that the 33rd Regiment had been organized in Winchester, and that most companies “were perfectly raw troops.” Jackson, soon to be named “Stonewall” had ordered the brigade to hold off fire until the Federals were within thirty paces. Cummings wrote that the brigade had reached the brow of the ridge near Henry House with the 33rd Regiment to the far left. All agree that a charge was made contrary to orders. In “Col. Cummings’ Account” in the Southern Historical Society Papers, he explained that some Federals, dressed in red, had started firing on the left flank of the brigade. This “tore up the ground uncomfortably near the men and, the two things together, coming about the same time caused considerable confusion in part of the regiment, and realizing that the most trying position that raw men, and even the best disciplined and bravest could be placed in was to be required to remain still, doing nothing, receiving the enemy’s fire without returning it, I feared the consequences, if I strictly obeyed General Jackson’s orders; therefore it was that I have the orders to charge, contrary to his order to wait until the enemy was within thirty paces, the enemy being much further off at that time.” Casler writes:

Colonel Cummings and Lieutenant Colonel Lee were in front of our regiment, perhaps a hundred yards, stooping down, and occasionally standing to get a view over the crest of the hill that rose gently before us for a little over a hundred yards. The musketry kept up on our right, and then Colonels Cummings and Lee were seen to rise and bending down, to come back with somewhat quickened steps to the regiment. I remember, as Colonel Cummings drew near, he called out: “Boys, they are coming, now wait until they get close before you fire.’ Almost immediately several pieces of artillery, their horses in front, made their appearance on the hill in front of us, curving as if going into battery, and at the same time I descried the spear-point and upper portion of a United States flag, as it rose in the hands of its bearer over the hill; then I saw the bearer, and the heads of the men composing the line of battle to the right and left of him. At the sight several of our men rose from the ranks, leveled their muskets at the line, and, although I called out, ‘Do not fire yet,’ it was of no use; they fired and then the shrill cry of Colonel Cummings was heard, ‘Charge!’ and away the regiment went, firing as they ran, into the ranks of the enemy, and particularly at the battery towards which our line rapidly approached . . . I think it can be demonstrated that the victory of First Manassas is traceable to Colonel Cummings (p. 42.)

Casler quoted a letter received from Col. Cummings at 75 years of age:

When General Jackson directed me to look out for the enemy’s artillery, Captain William Lee, who was acting as Lieutenant Colonel, and a gallant man he was, and I walked out on the plateau and saw the artillery of the enemy moving rapidly up the Sudley road to our front and left, and large bodies of the enemy’s infantry moving along the hill towards our left flank, and we returned immediately to the regiment.

Casler felt that the unauthorized charge was made “with splendid discretion (p. 43.) While it took three attempts to secure Rickett’s battery, it was an unexpected victory for the Confederates (in the eyes of much of the country), and it buoyed their spirits greatly.

During the charge, Captain William Lee, acting as Lieutenant Colonel, was mortally wounded in the breast.

An article in the Times-Dispatch of June 4, 1905 was reproduced in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XXXIV. Quoting Captain John H, Grabill, of the 33rd, “After the battle was over, General Jackson rode to one of the field hospitals As he sat upon his horse he looked steadily upon the dying Captain Lee of the Thirty-third, who was propped against a small tree, and made this remark: ‘The work Colonel Cummings’ regiment did today was worth the loss of the entire regiment.’” In fact, the 33rd sustained huge losses.

A touching first-hand account of the Battle of First Manassas was written in a personal letter from William Lee’s cousin (who was like a brother,) Edwin Gray Lee to William’s mother, describing the battle, his lingering illness, and death (Western Historical Manuscript Collection, Columbia, Mo.)

He began:

You know we left Winchester on the 18th of July. We reached Manassas Junction on the 19th and on the morning of Saturday the 20th we were placed in the reserve to General Longstreet behind the woods in rear of the Battlefield of the 18th. While we lay there I repeatedly saw Willie and conversed and laughed with him. Early on the morning of the 21st we were moved and we continued to shift our position until about 10 A.M. when we finally took one in reserve to Gen. Bee’s Brigade. During this morning I saw William frequently. About 11 o’clock we got a request from Gen. Bee to come to his support. Gen. Jackson (I was his aide-de-camp) sent me to move the various regiments forward. And the last time I saw Willie was just as I bore the order to Col. Cummings to move his (???-ED). He was looking as calm and cheerful as ever. I saw him, and at 20 minutes before 12 o’clock, we entered the battle. The order of our Brigade was as follows – On the right was the 5th Regt. Next the 4th the 27th was in column in reserve to the 4th and in front of the 4th were 21 pieces of our artillery. On the left of the 4th was the 2nd and on the left of the 2nd the 33d, which was Wm’s Regt. Which made the left of the Brigade.

About 2 P.M. the battle became terrific. Our artillery and that of the enemy kept up one uninterrupted roar, while the sharp rattle of the musketry and the occasional thunder of a volley from a whole Regiment, mingled with the crashing or shot, the shriek and whistle of bullets, the bursting shell, and the hoarse, loud tone of fierce Command made it all seem doubly terrific and grand.

About 2:30 or 3 P.M. “Rickett’s Battery” was brought on the hill, put into position and unlimbered. It fired two shots, when it was charged by the 33rd. They drove the Yankees from the guns but were not strong enough to hold them, and were driven back. They Charged again, Wm. Leading the left wing and Colonel Cummings the right, and again took the battery and again had to abandon it. It was in this charge that Wm. Was shot. (All these particulars I learned afterwards.) Col. Cummings rallied his men, charged the third time, and took and kept the Battery. The 33rd lost more than one third in killed and wounded, a greater loss than was sustained by any other Regiment on either side.

When Willie was shot, he walked back up the hill, but did not fall. He remarked to an officer, “I am shot”: and the blood began to trickle from his breast. He was assisted to a distance of more than half a mile in rear of the Battle ground, and he then had to lie down. “All the charges” that I mentioned above, occupied but a few minutes: About 3 o’clock I was accosted by Dr. Cornelius Baldwin of the 33rd who asked me if I knew Capt. Lee was shot. My heart sank as I told him no, and I begged him to take me to him.

He said no, if I could stay with Dr. McGuire (who was overwhelmed there with the wounded) he would bring him there. I urged him to make all speed, and in a few minutes he brought William to us in a light spring wagon.

We lifted him out as tenderly as we could and laid him in the shade, on the ground. The day was extremely hot and all around us was dust and confusion – wounded men in every conceivable state of mutilation lying all round.

Dr. McGuire immediately unbuttoned Willie’s coat and vest as far as he could. The wound was right in the centre of the breast between the 1st and 2nd studs of his shirt. The missile that inflicted the wound (whether a small piece of shell or a bullet, I never could determine) had struck the third button of his coat, partly torn it off, and had passed downwards, driving the cloth or the coat, waist coat and small waistcoat button, together with his shirt, about an inch and a half into the breast.

It required nearly the whole of the surgeon’s strength to draw these things from the wound, while I held him in my arms. The wound gave him much pain; the Dr. carefully dressed it and laid him down in quite an easy position. Whatever it was that struck him did not enter the breast: It either fell off, rebounding when he was shot, or else it was pulled out, unobserved, with the clothing. He was too much hurt to be allowed to talk, and the only communication he made was either assent or dissent, indicated by the movement of his head. After his wound was dressed, I gave him some water and asked him if he felt easier. He nodded. I then told him he must not speak, but that I must tell him that we had whipped the enemy and would soon drive them from the field. Just then our gallant Brigade made its final charge, and Generals E.K. Smith and Elay came up with their fresh troops. The enemy broke and ran in the wildest panic, and the mighty, never, never-to-be forgotten shout of victory arose. I sat down by him and said:

“Willie, do you hear that? We’ve whipped them and they are flying! The day is ours and we have gained an overwhelming victory!! Oh, how his glorious eye brightened, as he feebly waved his hand, and still more feebly whispered “hurrah!” At this moment Brig. General Jackson came up with a shattered finger to have it dressed; as soon as it was done, he directed me to get on my horse and ride back with him on the field. A young friend who was by Willie’s side assured me he would never leave him and would see him well and comfortably taken care of and fixed. I was utterly unable to leave the field of battle until after dark, and even then I had not fulfilled the orders I had to execute. I got to my Brigade about midnight: and next morning early I went to the house where I learned Willie had been taken. It was owned by some good Scotch people named “Pringle.”

The house was full of wounded, among them Br. Gen. E.K. Smith, who was removed during the day. Willie was in a large room down stairs and during all the time save three days, was alone. My excellent young Harrison from Berkely, was by him, nursing him as tenderly as tho it had been his own brother. He had been up with him the whole night. Willie was still suffering very much, but was much better. He had the best medical attendance the army afforded, in Drs. McGuire, Conrad and Straith. The latter was with him day and night the whole time. He was still forbidden to talk; but he beckoned me to him and said, in a low whisper: “Eddie, write to Lil and Mother.” I said: “Yes Willie, but don’t talk.” He smiled and was perfectly quiet.

All that day and night he was in much pain, but it diminished and the next morning (Tuesday) he was much better. Before day I went to his wife, and in the morning as soon as I got a little rest, I wrote to you. He seemed to suffer less all day than he had done, and during part of it seemed really bright, and I couldn’t help hoping he would get well. He asked me twice if I had written to you, and seemed quite and satisfied when I told him I had, but I wouldn’t let him or rather did not encourage him to talk of you although I knew his thoughts were with you and his wife and child continually. At night he was not so comfortable as during the day, but next morning he brightened up again and continued so much better until Thursday indeed until Friday morning early that I determined to write to you saying that the Drs hoped for his recovery, as indeed they did during part of Wednesday and Thursday. But it did not continue. Young Harrison had

to leave me on Tuesday morning, when my cousin, George Bedinger came to aid me in nursing him. To both of them we owe many, many thanks. Their kindness and watchful attention could not have been greater possibly.

Cousin Lillie did not get my letter, as I did not know where she was. But being at Strasburg, she learned on Wednesday that Willie was wounded and on Thursday she and Mrs. Swann, her cousin, came to the house where we were. They had great difficulty in getting there, but the kindness of some officers helped them through. During all this time Co. Cummings and others of his Regiment came over continually to enquire after him. Dr. Eliason, who lived up the road some little way, was more than kind, also. (Talcott Eliason) He supplied so many comforts and conveniences. On Friday morning Willie began to grow worse. In the afternoon Mrs. Towner (Lillie’s Mother)

and Pa and Edmund came. I knew then from the Surgeon there was no hope. Oh how my dear father wept over one whom he loved as his own son! Constantly Willie asked us briefly as possible, to read to him and sing to him. And every thought, and every breath was but full of confidence and faith and love towards our Heavenly Father and the Blessed Savior. He grew gradually worse from this, gangrene having ensued. On Saturday he said “Dr. is there any hope”? Straith (who was unremitting in his efforts) replied “Captain I fear there is none”.

His wife and all of us were around him. He said: “I had hoped to live to see my Country established in her new Government: but if Thou orderest otherwise, Oh Father, Thy will be done”. He asked Pa to pray; but he was weeping so that he could not and I prayed for him, for his wife and child, for his Mother and for us who loved him dearly:

“That all of us might bow with humble hearts to the will of that God whose every act is full of love; that we might kiss the hand that ever Chastens for our good and remember that those who departed in Jesus, were only ‘gone before’.”

And when I finished he took up the prayer and prayed the God of Justice and the God of Battles to bless and prosper our Country very briefly, for he could not talk much, but how fervently and how beautifully. And I know that God will answer that prayer of his faithful dying servant. From this moment he was conscious scarcely at all. He suffered much until Sunday night: but after that he was insensible to pain. I sat by him, watched him, nursed him and scarcely ever left his side from this, or during the whole time. But I have nothing more to tell. At twenty minutes before nine o’clock on Tuesday night, July 30th his brave heart ceased to throb and the blessed Father of Mercy took him to Himself. And when I looked upon his thin but calm and beloved face (for oh dear Aunt I loved him) my heart went up to God for those he left behind. And surely He will be with and bless them for hath He not promised? He was so gentle, so patient, so full of love to those who
were around him . . . He has only gone before, dear Aunt Mary, to await you in his Father’s home. The faithful soldier of Christ’s Cross has gone to join his Lord’s glorious army – never, never more to leave it.

I have since then been commissioned as Major to the Regt. (33rd) which he was on duty with; and often wish you could hear the expressions of regard, respect and love with which the command, from its commanding officer to (two unknown words) soldier invariably speak of him. No sadder (two unknown words) than that of his loss could

ever have been made to them. But he fell, (blessed thought) in the path of duty, in his Country’s Cause, in Freedom’s cause, on the field of honor and of glory. He fell, not unmarked, unknown, & unloved; but with his sword in his strong grasp, as the leader of gallant soldiers many of whom fell by his side, and mourned by hundreds who knew him but to love him. And above all, far above all, he

fell, not without hope in God – but an humble, earnest prayerful child of Jesus: a trusting servant of the Most High! And to that Gracious God and Loving Father, dear Aunt I commend you: Oh may He in his Great Mercy be with you, bless you, sustain you, & comfort you. “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble. The name of the God of Jacob defend thee: send thee help from the sanctuary and strengthen thee out of Zion”! Let us take comfort from and make an example of, the dying bed of my more than brother. And “cast our burden on the Lord” and say as he so sweetly, submissively said “Oh Lord! Thy will be done.”

Virginia Bedinger wrote to her mother in Shepherdstown, “Truly, it was a great victory + I pray to God to make us thankful to Him for his great love + mercy towards us in delivering us from the horde of our enemies . . .Measuring our friends loss in that victory, poor Mr. Willie Lee was wounded desperately + when we heard it was thought he must die. God have mercy on his poor young wife.”

Charles Wesley Andrews, the Episcopal clergyman and Rector of Trinity Church in Shepherdstown, also went to visit William in the Pringle House. In a letter written to his wife, he wrote:

I went to see Willie Lee who was shot in the breast mortally as is supposed. Lilly had got there. He was well attended to by Edwin Lee and others. He could not speak above a whisper & breathed with difficulty, but understood all I said. He was alive however yesterday morning when I left & there’s no thought or possibility of his recovery. Mr. E.J. Lee has gone back again this morning to bring up his body if he dies.

Although the lingering death of any young soldier is tragic, William did not die alone, miserable, and unknown as did so many courageous warriors in this terrible conflict. On the field, in the field hospital, and as death slowly overtook him, he was surrounded by friends and family – his beloved Lillie, his mother-in-law, classmates from VMI, his former professor Jackson, General Pendleton, his priest C. W. Andrews, his cousin/brother Edwin, his uncle and surrogate father, Edmund, Col. Cummings, and fellow members of the 33rd. With a lifetime forged with early loss and economic hardship, the frustration of not seeing his dream of a new country, the devastation of knowing he was not to enjoy the blessings of a long marriage and fatherhood of his baby girl, and in the face of intense pain and suffering, William was consoled by his deep faith that God’s will be done. In the end, it was not Captain and Mrs. William Fitzhugh Lee, but Willie and Lillie, lovingly intertwined in the cot of the front right room of the Pringle House as his life slowly ebbed away. Thus did the following dawn grow dim with tears.

Because of the disorganization, lack of documentation in the early days of the war and his untimely death during the first real battle, William Fitzhugh Lee’s brave and humble character, popularity, and courageous role in the Battle of First Manassas has not been properly told. It is time for my great-great-grandfather’s story to be shared.

(Lillie Parran Lee is t the far right).

Lillie Parran Lee was devastated, wearing widow’s black daily for the next fifty-five years. Following Willie’s death, she had her sister, Mary Dare Tinsley, hand deliver the silver spurs, which William was wearing when he was felled, to J.E.B. Stuart. Upon his dying, Stuart told those around him to give his sword to his son and to give his spurs to Mrs. Lillie Lee, of Shepherdstown. The friendship between the two couples had come full circle.

My mother, Elizabeth Lee Chappell Reeves and Uncle, Thomas Huntington Chappell, remembered her well from their childhood as a gentle and loving elder who told stories and played card games with them. She would never acknowledge President Lincoln or the existence of West Virginia, insisting on Jefferson County, Virginia as her place of origin. From a childhood of carefree gaiety and social interest, Lillie sustained not only the early loss of her father, husband and close friend, J.E.B. Stuart, but her daughter, at the age of 34. She remained loyal to the Cause, dying in New London Connecticut at the home of her great-grand daughter, whom she helped raise. But that is another story – Ann C. Reeves.

Useful Local Links:

Manassas: The March, The Mayhem, The Memory – Pt. 2
14,991 words


Rev. C. W. Andrews Collection – Special Collections Library, Perkins Collection, Duke University.

Andrews, Rev. C.W. (1877). “Memoir of Rev. C. W. Andrews.” Cornelius Walker, ed. New York, NY: Thomas Whittaker, 2 Bible House. Print.

Andrews, Rev. C.W. (1877). “Memoir of Rev. C. W. Andrews.” Cornelius Walker, ed. Google Books. 19 July 2008. Web. 24 Dec. 2010.

Casler, John O. (1906). “Four years in the Stonewall Brigade, containing the daily experiences of four year’s service in the ranks from a diary kept at the time.” Marietta, GA: Continental Book Company. Print.

Casler, John O. (1906). “Four years in the Stonewall Brigade, containing the daily experiences of four year’s service in the ranks from a diary kept at the time.” Internet Archives: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music, and Wayback Machine. 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 1 March 2011.

Craighill, E. A. (1989). “Confederate surgeon: the personal recollections of E.A. Craighill Confederate surgeon.” Peter W. Houck ed. Lynchburg, Va: H. E. Howard, Inc. Print.

Cummings, Col. Arthur. (1906) “Colonel Cumming’s Account.” Southern Historical Society papers. R. A. Brock (ed). Volume 34. Richmond, VA.: Southern Historical Society. pp. 367-371

Cummings, Col. Arthur. (1906) “Colonel Cumming’s Account.” Southern Historical Society papers. Google Books 15 Aug. 2006 Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Grabill, Captain John H. (1906). “Thirty-Third Virginia at Manassas – Col. Cummings Takes Liberties With His Orders and Does Good Work.” Southern Historical Society papers. R. A. Brock (ed). Volume 34. Richmond, VA.: Southern Historical Society. pp. 363-367.

Grabill, Captain John H. (1906). “Thirty-Third Virginia at Manassas – Col. Cummings Takes Liberties With His Orders and Does Good Work.” Southern Historical Society papers.
Google Books 15 Aug. 2006 Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Index:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 32.djvu
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Johns, J. (John), Sparrow, William. (1867). “A memoir of the life of the Right Rev. William Meade, D.D., bishop of the Protestant Episcopal church in the diocese of Virginia.” Baltimore, MD: Innes & company. Print.

Lee, Susan P. (1893). “Memoirs of William Nelson Pendleton.” Philadelphia, PA.: J. B. Lippincott Company. Print.

Lee, Susan P. (1893). “Memoirs of William Nelson Pendleton.”
Google Books 15 Aug. 2006 Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Reidenbaugh, Lowell. (1987). “33rd Virginia Infantry.” Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard, Inc. Print.

Strother, David H., "Mountains." Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. New York, NY: Harper and Bros. Volume 51, Issue: 304, (Sept., 1875). pp. 475-486. Print.

Strother, David H., "Mountains." Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.
ebooks.library.cornell.edu. 28 Aug. 2004 Web. 16 Oct. 2011.

Thomas, Emery M. (1999). “Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart.” Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. Print.

Virginia Military Institute Archives

Walker, Charles D. (1877). “Memorial Virginia Military Institute. “Biographical Sketches of the Graduates and Eleves of the Virginia Military Institute who Fell During the War Between the States.” Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott & Co. Print.

Walker, Charles D. (1877). “Memorial Virginia Military Institute. “Biographical Sketches of the Graduates and Eleves of the Virginia Military Institute who Fell During the War Between the States.“Google Books 15 Aug. 2006 Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Western Historical Manuscript Collection, Columbia, Mo.

Virginia Military Institute Archives


Surkamp, Jim. (1998). “J.E.B. Stuart’s Silver Spurs Pt. 1.” (Video) Retrieved 5 July 2011 from:

Flickr Sets:

William Fitzhugh Lee – Courtesy Reeves Family

Bishop William Meade –
Johns, J. (John), Sparrow, William. (1867). “A memoir of the life of the Right Rev. William Meade, D.D., bishop of the Protestant Episcopal church in the diocese of Virginia.” Baltimore, MD: Innes & company. Print.

Rev. William Lee – Courtesy Reeves Family

Edmund Jennings Lee – Courtesy the Goldsborough Family

Edwin Gray Lee – Courtesy the Goldsborough Family, detail from painting at Library of Congress.

William Nelson Pendleton –
William Nelson Pendleton. “Encyclopedia Virginia.” Courtesy The Virginia Historical Society. 7 Oct. 2010 Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Susan Pendleton Lee – Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal. Photo No. 19459

Sandie Pendleton –
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Laura Morgan Parran – Courtesy of the Reeves Family

Original Trinity Episcopal Church – Jim Surkamp

A ring tournament –
Strother, David H., "Mountains." Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. New York, NY: Harper and Bros. Volume 51, Issue: 304, (Sept., 1875). pp. 484. Print.

Strother, David H., "Mountains." Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.
ebooks.library.cornell.edu. 28 Aug. 2004 Web. 16 Oct. 2011.

The Queen of the Ring Tournament –
Strother, David H., "Mountains." Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. New York, NY: Harper and Bros. Volume 51, Issue: 304, (Sept., 1875). p. 485. Print.

Strother, David H., "Mountains." Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. ebooks.library.cornell.edu. 28 Aug. 2004 Web. 16 Oct. 2011.

Young J.E.B. Stuart
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Edwin Gray Lee in civilian clothing – Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal. Photo No. 17037.

Dr. Hunter McGuire –
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

George Bedinger Rust – Danske Dandridge Collection, Special Collections, Perkins Collection, Duke University

Edmund Lee Jr. – Courtesy the Goldsborough Family

Photos of actual room William Lee was cared for – Ann C. Reeves

Virginia Bedinger (Lucas) – Perry Collection, Charles Town Library, “Jefferson County History” Notebook.

Lily Parran Lee in later years – Courtesy the Reeves Family

TAGS: Lily Parran Lee, William Nelson Pendleton, Susan Pendleton Lee, Edwin Gray Lee, Edmund Jennings Lee, Col. Arthur Cummings, Manassas, Bull Run, Laura Morgan Lee, Gribler, 33rd Virginia, Casler, Virginia Military Institute, Shepherdstown, Virginia Bedinger, Civil War, William F. Lee, Ann Reeves, Goldsboroughs, Jim Surkamp, American Public University System, J.E.B. Stuart, silver spurs, http://www.apus.edu , Hunter McGuire, Dr.John A Straith, http://civilwarscholars.com

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