Robert E. Lee's
Lighter Side
The Marble Man's Sense of Humor
By Thomas Forehand Jr.

 Book Review
by Mary Belle Melcher Meitzen


Marble is often used to describe Robert E. Lee. That word accurately depicts one side of his personality.  HARD   COLD SMOOTH   In public, he sat, stood, walked and rode erect. In the presence of strangers, he armed himself with a quiet demeanor.

Yet, like a cavalry screen, Lee's statuesque appearance hid another side of his personality - HIS LIGHTER SIDE. Robert E. Lee consistently displayed a good sense of humor in what he said and wrote and in how he reacted to various situations.  Those around Lee often had opportunities to laugh with him in the calm of peace as well as in the throes of war.1

When he was almost 40 years old, Lee received orders on August 19, 1846 to leave Fort Hamilton, New York, and transfer to  San Antonio, Texas to participate in the War with Mexico.  As he prepared his field kit, his friends insisted on giving him presents ---among them a bottle of much praised whisky.    Which side of the marble accepted the gift?

Lee sailed to New Orleans, Louisiana and then to Port Lavaca, Texas where he spent the night with a French Family, the Monods. Was his lighter side-his good sense for humor-- present for the evening? 

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The next day, he rode horseback to San Antonio, arriving on September 21, a month and two days after he had left New York. This was considered a very rapid journey! 2

Lee's good sense of humor budded in his youth, bloomed before he became a soldier, and was still flowering on his last working day as president of Washington College.

General Lee's humor was all encompass: fellow soldiers, religious traditions, newspaper editors, newborn babies, liquor, weddings, accidents, courtship, dating, pets, chow, his appearance, his children, doctors, politicians.  Very little escaped his humor.

Like most fathers, Lee romped and played games with his children; he enjoyed having them tickle his hands and feet.

During the war, he frequently shot bullets of humorous rebuke. After the war, he once acted so silly at home that a visitor cringed to see him in one of his unguarded moments. Lee was full of fun. He joked, teased, punned, told humorous stories, pulled pranks and sometimes laughed himself to tears.

Let's roll the marble from the hard cold side to his fun lighter side.

4. True History  1866   - p.16   (Letter)

Dear Sir: I return to you my thanks for the compliment paid me by your proposition to write a history of my life. It is a hazardous undertaking to publish the life of any one while living, and there are few who would desire to read a true history of themselves. Independently of a few national events with which mine (I) have been

Iconnected, it presents little to interest the general reader.

Very respectfully,

R. E. Lee

10. A Bridal Party Prank - p.19 (young man)

The young married Lee was stimulated by Washington, DC's social life. He recorded that he had returned to a state of youthfulness. His brother had just married and he had attended a bridal party.          

"My sprits were so buoyant last night, that my sister-in-law was trying to pass me off as her spouse, but I was not going to have my sport spoiled that way so I deceived the young ladies and told them I was her younger brother. Sweet, innocent things, they concluded I was single and I have not had such soft looks and tender pressure of the hand for many years."

7. Lee with His Children - p.18

Lee , most dignified in public, was more relaxed at home. His son Robert recalled: It pleased and delighted my father to take off his slippers and place his feet in our laps. When we became drowsy, he had a way of stirring us up with his foot laughing heartily at and with us. Sometimes our interest in his wonderful tales became so engrossed that we would forget to do our duty when he would declare," No tickling, no story."

30. New York City Danger - p.27

Lee was stationed at Fort Hamilton in New York. He wrote to Mrs. Lee that she could get anything she wanted in the city. He warned her there were so many pretty things in the stores it was dangerous to go into any of them. He wrote his son to consult his mother about the expenditures of money, and do NOT TAKE HER SHOPPING OR YOU WILL HAVE TO FURNISH HER WITH AN EQUAL AMOUNT TO COMPLETE HER PURCHASES.

31. A Fine Howdy Do - p.28

Lee was highly visible when he rode among his troops. Though his mount Traveller was well groomed, Lee's clothing was as simple as that of his soldiers. He was unarmed and seldom accompanied by more than one other soldier. Once, when a feebleminded soldier addressed the General with "Howdy'do, dad", Lee responded, "Howdy do, my man."

89. Socks You Can Count On - p. 52

Threadbare clothing was fashionable for Confederate soldiers. Those blessed to have shoes also needed socks. Mrs. Lee and her friends would knit socks. Lee often teased Mary because the total number of socks she sent did not always match the total number of socks she had noted in her letter. He urged her to appoint one of his daughters to make an accurate count.  When the next batch of 30 pairs of socks matched the next total of thirty, Lee praised the accomplishment. " I am glad to find there is arithmetic enough in my family to count 30. I thought if you placed your daughter at work all would go right.

3. Fire Power - p.15

While Lee was president of Washington College, an explosive incident prompted his attention.  Four students rented a campus room. Each took a turn to purchase the wood. The winter was cold. Graham noticed the wood was disappearing at an alarming rate. He became suspicious and decided to set a trap for the thief. He chose a log, drilled a hole, and filled the hole with gunpowder. Finally he covered the hole with clay. The next day there was a loud explosion in Dr. J's room; his stove was blown apart and the building set on fire.

At chapel, General Lee reminded the student body that their honor was to control what went on campus life. Later Graham and his partners went to President Lee's office. They told him about the plan to catch the thief. They had no idea there was any connection between the missing wood and Prof. J's room. Seldom had Graham seen the General 'laugh'. Lee gently admonished, Mr. Graham, your plan to find out who was taking your wood was a good one, but your powder charge was too heavy. Next time, don't use so much powder.

Marble---Two sides: Humorous or serious helped Lee to bloom and flower even until his death. The author,Thomas Forehand, through research and documentation, presents the Marble man's sense of humor. The book is an enjoyable, readable story, noting

seldom published incidents in the life of General Robert E. Lee. Robert L. Lee's Lighter Side was selected to honor THE MAN  on the  200th anniversary of his birth . 1807-2007 3


Port Lavaca, Texas 150 Birthday Celebration 1840-1990, City of Port Lavaca   - pps. 192-193

Robert E. Lee's Lighter Side, The Marble Man's Sense of Humor, Edited by Thomas Forehand, Jr. pps. 11, 12, 15, 16,19, 28, 52.

UDC Magazine, March 2007, page 39. Presentation: UDC, William P. Rogers Chapter 44 Victoria, Texas, March 16, 2007


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