There is no evidence that General Lee knew of this anecdote. He does not mention it in any undisputed letter, and I cannot learn that he ever alluded to it in his family.
In The Duty Letter, General Lee is made to introduce the Old Puritan in this rather pompous manner: "As to duty (which had not been mentioned before and seems lugged in here to lead up to the anecdote), I must now inform you," etc. He then proceeds to expand and embellish the anecdote far beyond the few lines in Barber, and in a way which Dr. Bradford describes as "somewhat melodramatic." Surely this is not our Lee! Quantum mutatus ab illo!
While some of the above objections may seem trivial, we should not forget the cumulative effect of circumstantial evidence. Everything, great and small, points in the same direction—to the forgery of The Duty Letter. Circumstantial evidence may be likened to the strands of a rope. A single strand may be easily broken; but many strands, woven into a cable, will hold a battleship at anchor.
3. The Compilation Theory.
This third theory concerning The Duty Letter concedes that the letter as such, is a forgery, i. e., that General Lee never, at any time, to anybody, wrote the letter printed in the New York Sun on November 26, 1864. But it is suggested that the forger, having access to genuine letters of General Lee, made use of
fowls retired to roost. The legislature of Connecticut was then in session at Hartford. A very general opinion prevailed that the day of judgment was at hand. The House of Representatives, being unable to transact their business, adjourned. A proposal to adjourn the Council was under consideration. When the opinion of Colonel Davenport was asked, he answered, 'I am against an adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment: if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought."
Whittier's poem entitled "Abraham Davenport" (the Old Puritan) was first published in 1866, just two years after The Duty Letter appeared in the New York Sun. It is probable that Whittier saw this publication, and that his poem was suggested by it.