Old South Military Antiques

Colonel Robert E. Lee Letter
Item #: OS-6821

The page and a half letter shown here was written by R.E. Lee when he was working on the fort in Baltimore harbor. It is clear that he is responding to the colonel of the First Maryland Regiment of Artillery who had requested that he install a lighthouse on the fort to which Lee, in his characteristic diplomatic way, explained to him that he was "not at liberty to apply the appropriation for the construction of the fort to such a purpose.” The letter reads as follows:

"Col. Geo. P. Kane

Collector of Baltimore

Fort Carroll

17 April, 1851


I have your letter of the 15thinst. Enclosing a communication to you from Mesrss Taylor, Crawford & Shriver, agents of steamboats from Baltimore upon the necessity of a light on Fort Carroll.

When the fort was first laid out & when its position was unknown to the vessels trading to Baltimore, I deemed it important to have displayed at night, a signal light, to warn them off from the piles & other obstacles, we were obliged to place there. This light was continued as stated in the communication of Mesrss Taylor etc., till the end of the working season in December last; fearing that its withdrawal might lead the vessels into error.

Upon assuming operations in the beginning of this month, the fort having now assumed a definite shape and continuous form & having two large buildings & some tall machinery, about 45 ft. above the surface of the water, erected on the constructing wharves, appeared to be sufficiently conspicuous without a signal light.

A light however at the sight of the fort, which is about midway between the lights at North Point & the Lazaretto might prove a convenience to the navigation of Baltimore, & it would give me pleasure to erect one as it seems to be desired by the steamboat agents named.

Page 2

But I am not at liberty to apply the appropriation for the construction of the fort to such a purpose.

Should you however deem one of sufficient importance & can furnish me with a proper lantern & a supply of oil, it will give me much pleasure to have it attended to as long as operations are continued at the fort.

I remain Sir, very respt.

your obt. Servt.

R.E. Lee

BT Col Engrs

The letter is in excellent condition, having no tears or repairs and only mild folds. The letter, written in ink, is still dark and bold. Lee’s signature is especially clear and bold. The images had to be taken through the glass, which slightly distorts them. It looks better in person than it does in the photographs shown here.