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    Lee vows to defend Charleston: "I shall endeavor to defend it to the last extremity..."

    Robert E. Lee Autograph Letter Signed. Two pages, 8" x 10", Coosawhatchie, South Carolina; January 17, 1862. A letter from General Lee to relative Shirley Carter Turner, presumably in Charleston, South Carolina, concerning his view on the defense of Charleston and his thoughts on the safety of Turner's family in that city, in addition to sharing family news.

    My dear Shirley

    On my return yesterday from Florida I recd. your letter of the 3rd Inst: I regret not having seen you when in Charleston & am still more sorry to learn of your feeble state of health. As regards your inquiry of the state of Charleston, I can say nothing more than what you already know. I cannot foresee the result of the attack of the enemy. I shall endeavor to defend it to the last extremity & trust he may never put foot within it. His forces are numerous & his batteries powerful, but thank God 'victory is not always to the strong' & it is better that we perish than be beaten.

    As regards the removal of your family, if circumstances render it Convenient, & if as you say it would be out of your power to remove them in the event of disaster, prudence dictates it should be done now. Their presence would add nothing to the strength of the City & might embarrass you. I cannot say however that it would either be necessary or required.

    I hope I may be able to see you when I next visit Charleston, but my time is so much occupied & my duties so pressing, that I cannot with certainty promise myself that pleasure.

    Letters from M__arvd. since my return report all tolerably well with her. She is at the White House on the Pamuckey, with Charlotte & two of the girls. Mary (daughter) I believe is still at Kinloch. She was to come to Richmond after the Holy days & may now be there.

    Your inference as to the death of your Aunt Suzy is correct. It is stated in one of M__s letters. But I know nothing more than that the Dr. was not with her. She was so pure & good that her death is not to be regretted, however we may grieve at her loss.

    Please present me kindly to your family & believe me very truly yours
    RELee

    The city of Charleston, South Carolina, was considered in the North to be the seat of the Southern rebellion. The Civil War began in Charleston's harbor when on the early morning hours of April 12, 1861 South Carolina troops bombarded and captured Fort Sumter. The beginning of the war brought a Union blockade of Southern ports along the Atlantic coast, including Charleston. In order to improve the blockade of the city, a Union commission appointed by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles recommended seizing a nearby port and chose Port Royal, located between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston.

    The Battle of Port Royal occurred on November 7, 1861, with combined Union army and naval forces capturing Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard after small Confederate forces abandoned the sites. In the months preceding the battle, the army in South Carolina went through several changes in leadership, the most recent occurring on the eve of battle, when on November 5, 1861 the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida were constituted a military department under the command of General Robert E. Lee. The day after the capture of Port Royal, Lee arrived in Savannah to take command of the defenses of the Confederacy's Atlantic coast. Because the coast was too long and too vulnerable, and his resources too small, Lee was forced to abandon most of the coastal islands, and concentrate the defenses further inland, nearer the coastal railroads, in the hope that reinforcements could be rushed to any danger point in time to prevent its capture.

    On December 11, 1861 a massive fire burned 164 acres of ground in the city, including more than 600 buildings. This tragic event, together with the expected Union siege of Charleston, plans for which began in the aftermath of the capture of Port Royal, put city residents on edge. After the Battle of Port Royal, Union forces consolidated their victory by occupying Beaufort, and then moved north by next taking St. Helena Sound. The northward movement of Union forces continued up to the rivers on the south side of Charleston, where it was halted. The siege of Charleston thus continued until the last days of the war. Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, served as General Lee's headquarters during command of Confederate forces protecting the lower Southern coastline.

    This is a fascinating letter in which General Lee writes to a relative and passionately expresses his determination to defend Charleston to the "last extremity."

    Shirley Carter Turner (1806-1868) was born at Shirley Plantation, Charles City County, Virginia, and was related to the eminent Carter family of that state. Robert "King" Carter was Robert E. Lee's great-great-grandfather. Lee's mother was Ann Hill Carter. When Lee was young, his mother would take him and her other children to visit Shirley plantation, her former home, at least once a year. During his many visits, Lee developed friendships with many of his close Carter cousins and adopted the social attitudes of the Carter family-devotion to family, church, Virginia, and to God. Lee's son Rooney was married at Shirley plantation in 1859. Shirley Carter Turner was captain of several commercial vessels, including the United States. He died in Charleston, South Carolina.

    Condition: The letter has usual mail folds with some wear and scattered foxing. Tiny pin holes occur at the intersections of the folds.



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