The other day while doing research, I found this letter to Robert E. Lee by three little Southern girls, and his response. I was so touched by their exchange, that I wanted to share the story with you. I thought it would be appropriate to include this Christmas, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was first printed in 1867 as part of Mrs. Louise Clack's Christmas Gift To Her Little Southern Friends, and all proceeds were given to Orphans of the South.
Dear General Lee:
We think you are the goodest man that ever lived, and our auntie says you will go right straight to heaven when you die; so we want to ask you a question, for we want to know the truth about it, and we know that you always speak the truth.
Please tell us whether Santa Claus loves the little rebel children, for we think he don't; because he did not come to see us for four Christmas Eves. Auntie thinks you would not let him cross the lines, and we don't know how to find out unless we write and ask you. We all love you dearly, and we want to send you something; but we have not any thing nice enough; we lost all our toys in the war. Birdie wants to send you one of our white kittens--the one with black ears; but Auntie thinks maybe you don't like kittens. We say little prayers for you every night, dear General Lee, and ask God to make you ever so happy. Please let us know about Santa Claus as soon as you can; we want to know for something very, very, very particular; but we can't tell even you why until Christmas time, so please to excuse us.
Your little friends,
Lutie, Birdie, and Minnie
My dear little friends:
I was very glad to receive your kind letter, and to know by it that I have the good wishes and prayers of three innocent little girls, named Lutie, Birdie, and Minnie.
I am very glad that you wrote about Santa Claus for I am able to tell you all about him. I can assure you he is one of the best friends that the little Southern girls have. You will understand this when I explain to you the reason of his not coming to see you for four years.
The first Christmas Eve of the war I was walking up and down in the camp ground, when I thought I heard a singular noise above my head; and on looking to find out from whence it came, I saw the queerest, funniest-looking little old fellow riding along in a sleigh through the air. On closer inspection, he proved to be Santa Claus.
“Halt! Halt!” I said; but at this the funny fellow laughed, and did not seem inclined to obey, so again I cried,“Halt!”. And he drove down to my side with a sleigh full of toys. I was very sorry for him when I saw the disappointed expression of his face when I told him he could go no further South; and when he exclaimed, “Oh, what will my little Southern children do!” I felt more sorry, for I love little children to be happy, and especially at Christmas. But of one thing I was certain--I knew my little friends would prefer me to do my duty, rather than have all the toys in the world; so I said: “Santa Claus, take every one of the toys you have back as far as Baltimore, sell them, and with the money you get buy medicines, bandages, ointments, and delicacies for our sick and wounded men; do it and do it quickly--it will be all right with the children.”
Then Santa Claus sprang into his sleigh, and putting his hand to his hat in true military style, said: “I obey orders, General,” and away he went. Long before morning he came sweeping down into camp again, with not only every thing I had ordered, but with many other things that our poor soldiers needed. And every Christmas he took the toy money and did the same thing; and the soldiers and I blessed him, for he clothed and fed many a poor soul who otherwise would have been cold and hungry. Now, do you not consider him a good friend. I hold him in high respect, and trust you will always do the same.
I should be pleased to hear from you again, my dear little girls, and I want you ever to consider me,
Your true friend,
General Robert E. Lee