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Four Civil War Letters Given To The University Of Virginia Library Special Collections Department

January 17, 2000 -- Four letters written by Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and Joseph E. Johnston have been donated to the University of Virginia Library Special Collections Department.

The letters, three written during the Civil War and one after, are the gift of U.Va. alumnus Robert M. Hughes and his wife, Jean. Hughes is a relative of the late Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who wrote one of the donated letters to Hughes’ grandfather, Robert M. Hughes Sr., the great grand nephew of Johnston. In the letter, dated Jan. 15, 1884, Johnston boasts of a Civil War naval battle between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor where in talking of the Monitor’s defeat, he said it "ran away of the fight."

"These letters are important to Civil War history and are indicative of personal and military relationships between four of the Confederacy’s greatest generals," said research archivist Ervin L. Jordan, who has written extensively about the Civil War. For example, in Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson’s letter to Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown "J.E.B." Stuart on April 14, 1863, the normally secretive and solemn Jackson discusses plans for the capture of Manassas Junction. Not generally given to cracking jokes, Jackson writes: "I hope that you may have your ‘itching to get hold of [Union Gen. Robert H.] Milroy’ removed without being badly scratched by him." Jackson closes the letter with "Very truly, your friend."

In Gen. Robert E. Lee’s July 24, 1861 letter to "My Dear General" Joseph E. Johnston, Lee congratulates Johnston for his role in the Confederate victory at the Civil War’s first major land battle, First Manassas (also known as First Bull Run, Virginia, July 21, 1861). "Lee's letter reveals a strong attachment to the Confederacy, a sentiment that stands somewhat at odds with his reputation as a reluctant convert to secession," said Gary W. Gallagher, the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War. Gallagher concludes that the four letters are a significant addition to the University of Virginia Library Special Collections Department, as they should "attract considerable attention from scholars and others interested in the Confederate high command."

Stuart reveals a tender side in the May 18, 1861 letter to his wife, Flora, addressing her as "Dearest One." He informs her that he has received a pistol mailed to him and concludes with a touching request that she "kiss the dear ones" for him. "Reading the letters gives one a feeling of the generals as people and not just historical figures," said Mike Plunkett, director of Special Collections.

The four letters add to an already impressive collection of Civil War documents. The Special Collections Department currently holds approximately 3,000 Civil War collections, 170 collections in which Robert E. Lee is correspondent or subject, 40 J.E.B. Stuart collections, 29 Joseph E. Johnston collections, and 63 Stonewall Jackson collections. Lee’s letter is a noteworthy complement to another letter recently acquired by the department. Dated March 24, 1863, this letter to Lee’s older brother Charles Carter Lee discusses recent military events, family members, and several prominent Confederate soldiers.

Hughes, a 1951 graduate of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences and a 1957 graduate of the School of Law, realizing the historical value of the letters, said he wanted to give the letters to U.Va. where they would be made available for study by Civil War and other scholars. They will be described fully in the library’s on-line catalog and the Special Collections staff will produce a guide to the collection.

For more information about the letters, or about the Special Collections Department, contact Mike Plunkett at (804) 924-3998 or by e-mail at

For a photo of the letters contact Melissa Norris at (804) 924-4254 or

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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