The Regional Review

Volume VI - Nos. 3 & 4

March-April, 1941


The manuscript collection at Fort Pulaski National Monument has received a valuable addition, through the accession of an interesting letter written by Robert E. Lee in 1833 to John Mackay, of Savannah, Georgia. Mackay had been Lee's roommate at the Military Academy at West Point. The letter contains references to a number of men who were destined to win fame in the Service of the United States and of the Confederate States. In the letter Lee also relates an anecdote concerning Fanny Kemble, who was at the time filling an engagement in Washington, D. C.

The Lee letter is the gift of the late Miss Phoebe Herbert Elliott, of Savannah, a great niece of John Mackay. It is from the large collection of letters written by Lee to various members of the Mackay family over a wide range of years. This collection, which Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman has named "The Elliott Manuscripts", except for the bequest to Fort Pulaski, will probably be maintained as a unit for presentation to a southern university library. Miss Elliott was particularly interested in the restoration of Fort Pulaski and the valuable manuscript was given as a memorial to Robert E. Lee who began his active military career by assisting in the construction of Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, Georgia.

--- Ralston B. Lattimore

Arlington, Jany. 23rd. 1833

Mackay My Child

Your letter from Philadelphia arrived at Old Point (so aptly styled Comfort, secundum J. E. Johnston, while on the Indian Campaign) the day before I left there on my perigrinations in the interior. The which being concluded I have the honour to report from here, Lord Jack, picture me to yourself surrounded by my wife and child after an absence of a month, with so many accounts to settle with the one and to learn of the other. Then if you will place in the perspective, a host of these sweet young ladies. But stop. What am I speaking of and to whom? Aye, I fear should I awaken certain recollections, or perhaps recall cherished anticipations, Savannah, a city for which I have great affection might feel through the nerves of its Engineer. Therefor Mack we will change the subject and congratulate you on your happy location. I now look with perfect confidence to the future of Savannah and its worthy inhabitants since indirectly, they are committed to your care. How much mud do you find in the channel my child? And have you determined to carry the sea to the City or City to the the sea? Do you hail from Cockspur or Broughton St? (I would that I had the choice) and How does J R. K. M. come on with his fortifications? Regulate me upon all these things in your next. You told me that Miss Eliza was the mother of a little girl, which sounds very funny to me. And it was my intention to have told her so myself, as well as to have assured her anew of what she must still be certain of. But business and travel prevented and now the story is too old a one to be the apology of an Epistle. Do remember me most kindly to her and say to the little one, that I have a young man entirely at her service. The modesty which he has inherited from his Father forbids him from entering in person, upon so delicate a subject, but he says, without her beauty and brightness his young days will be dark and dreary and that the Bower of roses which he has planted would be changed to a Hut of willows. When I first heard that you were in Philadelphia, it was my daily intention to have written to a small sister of mine and childe by name, to have frequented Taverns and Tap rooms till she found you and to have introduced you to Chestnut St. However this I neglected and for this I beg your pardon. And when I learned from your letter, what a solitary time you had passed, I consoled myself by thinking that so fashionable a lady in her dress and address could hardly be entertaining to so plain a Gentleman. Washington is allowed I believe by those better acquainted with it than I am, to be duller this winter than usual. There are a few parties but no one is decidedly the rage, nor considered a big Lion. Miss Fanny Kemble was the great attraction last week and drew to herself crowded houses and all hearts. She is a lady of great talent and surpasses any performer I ever saw. She is the niece of Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble and I should think not unworthy these brilliant connexions. On the stage she is beautiful, In the ball room, for she frequents both, (I am told) she is next door to homely. Her eye is bright and teeth good, but off the stage I could not recognize her as the same being I had so admired the previous night. She fell into ill odour the last day of her stay. It seems as is natural, that she is much prejudiced in favour of the English and in riding out with young Fulton (you recollect he was at W. P. and is now in the U. S. Civil Service) who associates much with little attaches &c. and whom she took for an Englishman and spoke so plainly that he was obliged to tell her, he was an American. The story goes that she then, whether as a consequence of their previous conversation l know not, offered him $2 for the hire of his horse, (which she was then riding). Of course he refused to be considered in the light of a livery keeper and on their return the tale took wind. She was anonomously informed that if she appeared that night, she would be hissed. She did appear and it was attempted to hiss her off (I am told) but failed. The next morning according to a previous arrangement she left for Phila. Her Father only reaches to mediocrity. Dick and Tom are stationed at Ft. Wash'n. 15 miles below. l have seen them both. Tom looks very well though has a cough and is very imprudent. Prentiss is stationed in Wash'n. in the Adjt. Gen'ls. office. He is very fat and wrapped in his blue cloth cloak, lined with velvet, has all the size and importance of a member of Congress. We foraged the City together some three or four days, when Tom and Dick let go the willows for Ft. W. Berrian, Ewing, Guion, Hughes, Locke &c. are in W. The Misses Mason are flourishing as usual and desire to be remembered. l told Miss Nanie that you were coming to her wedding, which I believe is to happen, when that black Brother of mine, returns from sea, where he is going in the spring. Congress is doing nothing. They are hammering on the Tariff and make no mention of promoting modest merit in the persons of you or I. Nullification receives no quarter. I hope you will not be ordered to the scene of action. If so point out Dr. Elliott to J. E. Johnston the Col. has some private directions concerning him. Do present me most warmly to your dear Mother, your Aunt, Miss Cooper, Miss K. The little Madam if there, Brothers &c. and say something handsome for me to Miss Mae A. and G. Remember me to all Mackay and write soon, till then believe me.

Yours, R. E. Lee.

P. S. I suppose you know that there is only a part of a Comp'y at Old P. with a full staff. J. E. Johnston is at Ft. Moultrie and if you pay his passage will come and see you. I shall remain here till 1st of March and then return to O. P.

To John Mackay Esq'r.
     U. S. Artillery,
        Savannah, Georgia.

NOTE: "J. R. K. M." - Lieutenant J. K. F. Mansfield who was in charge of construction at Fort Pulaski from 1831 to 1846.

copy of Lee letter

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Date: 04-Jul-2002