The Chieftains Museum Major Ridge Home and the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia recently announced that they have partnered to host a viewing of rare period copies of letters from Gen. Robert E. Lee on Thursday, Aug. 9, at the old Dalton Freight Depot. Lee’s official surrender order — General Order No. 9 — will be on display.
“I never expected to be moved by the letters, but seeing them — just being in their presence — had a surprising impact on me,” remarked David Aft, president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. “They are a real piece of American history. Few would dispute Lee’s leadership and greatness, but the letters demonstrate the pride and pain he felt in sharing the news of the Confederate surrender with his troops. His words are both dignified and powerful.”
The letters are part of a collection housed at the Chieftains Museum Major Ridge Home in Rome.
“We contacted the Community Foundation to ask for help in the document restoration and preservation of the letters, as well as financial assistance to help us establish and improve existing exhibits at the museum,” said Ruth Demeter, chairman of the Chieftains’ Board of Directors. “After I described the letters to David Aft, he told me that certain foundation patrons had a special interest in Civil War projects and may be willing to help. He made the connection, then later called me with the good news.”
The restoration of the Lee letters is being made possible through a generous grant from the Bill and Linda Blackman Charitable Fund, a fund of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. Knowing her husband’s passion for Civil War history and memorabilia, Linda Blackman made the grant to honor Bill on his birthday.
“And that’s why we are hosting a reception and viewing in Dalton — to recognize the generosity of the Blackmans, and so Bill and Linda can share the experience with others in the community,” noted Demeter. “The restoration of the Lee letters is a classic example of giving philanthropy as a gift. We maintain a wish list at the museum of specific items and activities that would make great gifts and help the museum — each one available for a donation of $3,000 to $5,000.”
The second letter on display is from Lee and addressed to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and tells of the wounding of Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Both letters will be on display at the reception, along with a family Bible used by Joseph Addison Jones, courier and past resident of the Chieftains Museum, to covertly transport correspondence during the Civil War.
“The two messages written by Robert E. Lee were sent out using Jones as a dispatch rider,” Demeter said. “But another courier reached the recipients earlier than Jones, so Jones didn’t deliver either letter. He stuck the letters into his Bible, and that’s how the museum ended up with these historic documents.”
The letters and Bible will eventually become part of the permanent exhibit at the Chieftains Museum in Rome.
The viewing and reception will begin at 6:30 p.m. Local historian Jim Burran will briefly discuss the historical significance of the letters and recount the nation’s mood as the Civil War came to a close some 147 years ago.
“Philanthropic gift giving makes so much sense, and is a beyond-a-lifetime gift in many cases,” said Aft. “There are many opportunities of inspired giving in northwest Georgia, and throughout the world. A gift to the Nature Conservancy is a perfect gift for a friend who is passionate about environmental causes. A lot of people are making donations to purchase goats for struggling farmers in Africa, as wedding gifts to friends. The newlyweds don’t see the goats or the farmers, but they are moved by the power of a single gesture.”
Aft continued, “Here in Dalton, a donation to the Boys & Girls Club could build a soccer field or purchase a set of sports equipment for the playground. I have seen people provide a scholarship in someone’s name for summer camp or to help the kids at the Family Crisis Center enjoy an afternoon field trip.”
Aft said that possibilities are endless, and that the Community Foundation has experience in matching passion with purpose.
“Our mission is to promote charitable giving and to help individuals and families get the most from their philanthropic endeavors,” he said.
For more information about the viewing or the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, call David Aft at (706) 275-9117.
The following words are excerpts from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s official surrender letter, referred to as General Order No. 9. Lee’s surrender to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Civil War.
“I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them. But feeling that valor and devotion would accomplish nothing that would compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those, whose past service have endeared them to their countrymen.”
Lee signed the letter, “With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell. — RE Lee, General”