Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 39.djvu/183
Major-Genkral George VVASniNtiioN Cusris Lee. lil
field-assignment, and that the latter told, him that his highest duty was obedience to the will of his superior.
The story is, probably, as apocryphal as the letter alleged to have been written to him by his father when Custis Lee was a cadet at West Point, in which occurs the oft-quoted platitude — "Duty is the sublimest word in our language" ; a letter spurious beyond question, yet one that, having caught the popular fancy, is as hard to "kill" as the myth of "Barbara Frietchie" and destined, no doubt, to as long a tenure of popular credence.
True, he rendered eminent service in the position he held, and the President bears emphatic testimony to the great weight he attached to his sagacious counsel. Above all other members of his staff, Mr. Davis entrusted to him delicate missions (of a nature too confidential to be set down in writing) to his father and to other generals commanding in the field. Much of high- est import to the fut.ure historian he could have told, after the war, touching these inside shapings of events, but as might have been surely predicted of a man of his temperament, he would neither talk nor write about them, and their secrets died with him.
But the position at best was a trying one, and no one but a soldier can fully understand what this enforced duty meant, as the heroic years went by. to a man of high spirit and consum- mate military equipment.
W'hile, as said already, he cared little for the rank his class- mates and kinsmen were steadily winning, Custis Lee was too good a soldier not to care immensely for what that rank signified. Above all, it must have been well-nigh intolerable to him that, all question of rank and "glory" apart, he should not be allowed to share their hardships and to brave with them the chances of honorable wounds and noble death.
Of "the class of '54," whose highest honors he had achieved, the records show, allowing for deaths and resignations, that twenty-four espoused the LTnion side, of whom four fell in battle, the first to fall on either side being Lieutenant John T. Greble, LI. S. A., who, at the earlv age of twenty-seven, died a soldier's