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Civil War Trust

Robert E. Lee's Letters to his Siblings

April 20, 1861
Robert E. Lee

The following are letters written from Robert E. Lee to his siblings concerning his decision to resign from the U.S. Army.

Arlington, Virginia, April 20, 1861

My Dear Sister:  I am grieved at my inability to see you....  I have been waiting for a 'more convenient season,' which has brought to many before me deep and lasting regret.  Now we are in a state of war which will yield to nothing.  The whole South is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet in my own person I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native State.

With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.  I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword.  I know you will blame me; but you must think as kindly of me as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I thought right.

To show you the feeling and struggle it has cost me, I send you a copy of my letter of resignation.  I have no time for more.  May God guard and protect you and yours, and shower upon you everlasting blessings, is the prayer of your devoted brother,   

R. E. Lee.

Arlington, Virginia, April 20, 1860

My Dear Brother Smith:  The question which was the subject of my earnest consultation with you on the 18th inst. has in my own mind been decided.  After the most anxious inquiry as to the correct course for me to pursue, I concluded to resign, and sent in my resignation this morning.  I wished to wait till the Ordinance of secession should be acted on by the people of Virginia; but war seems to have commenced, and I am liable at any time to be ordered on duty which I could not conscientiously perform.  To save me from such a position, and to prevent the necessity of resigning under orders, I had to act at once, and before I could see you again on the subject, as I had wished.  I am now a private citizen, and have no other ambition than to remain at home.  Save in defense of my native State, I have no desire ever again to draw my sword.  I send you my warmest love.

Your affectionate brother,

R. E. Lee.

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