From John Hennessy:
In answering a research request today, I came across this remarkable description of President Davis and Robert E. Lee, down to the hair growing out of Lee’s ears. The occasion was a service at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church in Orange on November 22, 1863–just a few days before the Union army crossed the Rapidan to commence the Mine Run Campaign. The soldier was a commissary officer in the 47th North Carolina (the original is privately owned; a typescript resides in the park’s collection). The letter reflects a type of writing that has, in the age of photography and video, largely disappeared from our world: the art of physical and personal description. It largely speaks for itself.
This morning I went with a friend up to Orange to attend church, the Episcopal. The motive that induced me particularly was the hope of seeing no less a personage than Pres. Davis, having learned that he came up on the train from Richmond yesterday. We were at the church early to secure seats, entered by the left door and sat near the middle of the house and near the left hand wall, the church fronting west. The services were commenced, by a young clergyman, evidently the rector, but Gen. Pendleton was seated near, in his black robe. You may remember that I gave you an account of a fast day sermon he preached in the same house last summer. He is in command of all the artillery n Gen. Lee’s army….
Pres. Davis and Gen. Lee entered while the young clergyman was reading a prayer and the congregation had bowed their heads. On looking up, I discovered very near me the well known form and face of Gen. Lee, and on his left, the thin, bony face that reminds one so forcibly of a postage stamp as to excite a smile. He was dressed in a plain dark citizen’s dress, with a worn brown overcoat thrown loosely over his shoulders, of which he divested himself on rising to take part in the service. His hair is slightly grey and his hair cut short. His face tapers to a point at the chin. If he were a plain common man he would be called “Lantern-pawed.” His cheeks are prominent. A very thin beard hangs under his chin….He is evidently careworn and pale from the burden of responsibility and the mental anxiety consequent on his office.
By his side sat Gen. Lee, the very opposite of the President in form, features and general appearance. He is burly & “beefy” and fat. His form is large and full and round. His face is massive in its proportions, his nose slightly aquiline, his hair and beard are I the transition state from grey to snowy, his crown almost utterly bald, the back of his neck full and fat, indicating more of the animal in his nature than the lean, intellectual President. He holds a high head and is the very impersonation of dignity and manly power.
It makes one feel better to look at him. I was near enough to see that a bunch of coarse, brisly, black hair grows seemingly out of the orifice of each ear. He wears a very plain uniform and the three stars on his collar are of the plainest order.
In the sacred desk was Gen. Pendleton, who reminds me of Gen. Lee when the latter is not near. Near the centre of the house sat Gen. Lee & Pres. Davis, the two most prominent men in the Confederacy. I also noticed in the crowded house the face of Gen. A.P. Hill, Gen. Anderson, Gen. Wilcox, some other Generals to me unknown, and a host of lesser military lights…with a sprinkling of ladies to add grace and beauty to the medley. The sermon was plain and practical, pervaded by a tone of feeling.
Justice concluded his missive with a lament:
…The evil days are now upon us. Days of darkness and toil and sorry fill the years now. The hearts of all are hardened, and pity scarcely lingers in the human breast. Homes are desolate, the strength and pride of our land fall in battle by the thousands. O when will it end. When can I live in peace and quiet in the sweetest, best, little home on earth.