More excerpts from Duty, Honor, Country, where my character, Elijah Cord, visits Lee’s mansion, which is now Arlington house at the center of the cemetery that now has the same name. The Unions seized Lee’s plantation during the war and used it for a rather grim reason: to bury their war dead.
June 1841, Arlington, Virginia
The massive white door swung open and a Negro dressed in fine livery was dwarfed by the opening into Arlington House. “Sir?”
“I have this,” Cord said, not quite sure of the etiquette. He held out a sealed envelope.
The servant did not accept it and Cord felt a trickle of sweat slide down his back. It wasn’t just because it was Northern Virginia in July. Cord extended his arm further, practically shoving the letter of introduction into the servant’s chest. Reluctantly, the man took it. He was old, with close-cropped white hair. He stared at the envelope as if it might attack him.
The servant looked up. “Who are you calling on, sir?”
“It’s on the envelope,” Cord said. “Major Robert E. Lee.”
A voice echoed in the large center hall. “You must be Cadet Cord.”
The Negro stepped aside and there stood the distinguished member of the class of 1829, who had graduated second in his class of forty-six and with zero demerits, a feat Cord couldn’t manage for one week, never mind four years. Lee was resplendent in his blue uniform, a red sash around his waist, gold oak leaves indicating his rank of major on the epaulets adorning his shoulders. It didn’t occur to Cord to ask Lee why he was in uniform while at home, in between assignments. And if it had occurred, he most certainly would not have asked. Lee’s hair was long and dark, just beginning to show a touch of gray in the mustache.
He walked up to the door and gestured at the servant. “You may go.”
“Sir.” The servant held out the envelope.
“You should know better than that,” Lee admonished the servant as he took it. Behind Lee, another, younger slave hovered, also dressed in the same well-cut livery.
“What do you think of Texas?” Lee abruptly asked.
“Annexation,” Lee snapped.
Cord focused. “It is inevitable. Texas must be part of the country.”
“It will mean war.” Lee sounded eager.
“Texas as a slave or free state?” Lee asked.
Cord glanced at the black man standing five paces away. “Slave, of course, sir.”
“It has nothing do with slavery, you know,” Lee said
“Of course not, sir,” Cord replied, having no idea what the Major meant.
“Slavery is a given condition from God. When God wishes it to end, it will end. It is clear God wants Texas to be annexed and to be a slave state since He struck down President Harrison, who opposed both, so quickly after taking office. And it’s also about the sanctity of the State. A State must have the right to choose its own course. Those wise men who wrote the Constitution knew that.”
“I believe Jefferson wrote that slavery was comparable to holding a wolf by the ears,” Cord said before catching himself, “and we can neither continue to hold the wolf, nor safely let it go. Justice is on one side of the scale and self-preservation on the other.”
Lee’s face tightened. “For a slave owner, he had some strange thoughts. What we do is bridle our people of color and keep them in their place. Neither justice or self-preservation, but rather the natural order of things to be maintained.”
“You may go,” Lee said, dismissing Cord like he was a plebe once more.
Cord headed away, but Lee’s call stopped him. “I will probably see you somewhere in Mexico in the coming years, Cadet Cord. I suggest you attend to your martial studies with more diligence. There will be war.”
A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.
Tomorrow: Natchez, MS, the richest city in America. In 1841.