Sept 30, 1915
General Lee's Cook
Rev Wm McLee, Gen Lee's Body Servant, Visits Herald Office
An old darkey of the ante-bellum type shambled into The Herald office Friday morning and doffing his hat in a very humble manner introduced himself as "William McLee, who cooked for Marse Robert E. Lee." There was no doubt as to the genuiness of Uncle William's credentials. He is living at Sumter with his eldest daughter and travels from point to point raising money to complete a church he is building at Sumter. He is endorsed by the ministers if Richmond.
Uncle William is quite an interesting character. He was raised on the Lee plantation in Virginia and hunted with General Lee when the latter was a boy. When General Lee entered the Confederacy he took William as his cook. Uncle William says General Lee, when a boy, was fond of hunting and he followed him many a day on fox chases and rabbit hunts. He said the boy who later was to command the confederate army was just like any other boy, full of life when out in the open with other boys of his own age, but rather quiet and reserved in the presence of his elders. Uncle William was with General Lee at Manassas, Fredericksburg, Seven Pines, Antietam, Gettysburg, Richmond, and other places where notable battles were fought. He was four times wounded and bears the scars showing evidences of his bravery. Uncle William says General Lee was the most even tempered man heever saw. Even in the face of defeat the great general never appeared to lose his equilibrium. He was kind to his servants and the only time he ever spoke to him harshly was when he killed the General's black pullet. The General told him that he was to have as his guest the next day General Gordon, General Longstreet,Stonewall Jackson, Wade Hampton, and a number of other distinguished officers of the Confederacy, The larder had run low and the only meat Uncle William could find was a ham of doubtful quality. In the coop belonging to the Generals commissary was a black pullet that laid an egg every other day. The General was proud of the pullet and as eggs were very scarce in the army he could not conceal his pleasure on the days when he was to be served with his one egg. Without the General's knowledge Uncle William killed the pullet and prepared it for his guest. When the General discovered that his favorite hen had been slaughtered, says Uncle William he grew mighty wroth. "I've never whipped any of my servants," exclaimed the General, "but I've a mind to thrash you for this." Uncle William said he explained to the General that he could not afford to let such distinguished "gem'men" dine on a tough old ham. Then said Uncle William, the General softened and said, "Ah, well, William, you've been mighty faithful to me all during these severe trials, keeping my bed well made, oiling my boots, washing my weary feet at night when you yourself were nearly exhaushed and I am going to forgive you, though I do hate to lose that pullet.
Although 80 years of age, Uncle William's mind is active and he is rich in reminiscences. He repeated many of the conversations he heard between General Lee and such distinguished officers as Longstreet, Jackson, Picket, and Hampton in the General's tent after nightfall and says if the General could rise from the grave now he would be a young man again.
Uncle William continued to serve General Lee as a body servant after the close of the war. He says the General was never the same man, however. Often he would fall into a reflective mood and sit for hours after hour without raising his head or uttering a word. One day when he found the General particularly silent and meditative, he asked if there was anything ailing him. "No, William," he replied, "I met out there on the street a while ago some of my old comrades in arms and they told me they had scarcely nothing at home to eat. I gave them, what change I had. But my mind today seems to dwell on the thousands of widows and orphans in this land. I wish it were so that I could help them all.
Uncle William said the General gave his sister $250.00 and told her to educate him for the ministry and this she did. Uncle William is now pastor of the church he is raising money to complete in the city at Sumter. He delivered several talks in the colored churches while in Dillon.
Article transcribed and contributed by Mary Lewis,
31 Jan 2003.
Last revised 8 Sept 2008.