The Lee-Pegram Cover

By Patricia & Brian Green
 The American Philatelist 
August 1971


A cover endorsed with the signature of Gen. Robert E. Lee is always a desirable item, but the sad story of the addressee in this case proves to be the interesting part of the cover with which this  article deals.

The addressee is Mrs. Hetty Cary Pegram, a well known belle of Richmond throughout the War.  She was described by Henry Kyd Douglas in "I Rode With Stonewall" as "the most beautiful woman  of her day and generation" and "the handsomest woman in the Southland--with her classic face,  her pure complexion, her auburn hair. her perfect figure and her carriage, altogether the most beautiful woman I ever saw in any land."

On the back of the cover is a notation stating that it contained a letter of condolence written by  General Lee from Petersburg to the widow of General Pegram. As the cover is addressed to  Richmond, we had high hopes on a recent trip to Richmond of locating it. We were in luck, as it  is filed in the manuscript division of the Virginia Historical Society at Battle Abbey. We also found  their wedding invitation on file there.

Evil omens attended their marriage. To start the day off, the bride broke a mirror on her dressing  table. The whispers started. Jefferson Davis sent his private carriage and horses to take the pair  to the church, but the normally gentle horses balked and refused to go forward, almost causing  a mishap. Somehow Hetty tripped as she went up the aisle of St. Paul's and badly core her dress  and veil. The superstitious murmurs ran rampant.

Three weeks  later, to the day. Gen.John Pegram was buried. He was killed at Hatchet's Run  Feb. 6, 1865. only a short time before the War ended. He died almost immediately from a chest  wound near the heart. Hetty Cary had been his fiancee for three years, but was his bride for less  than three weeks.

Gen. Lee was given command of all the armies of the Confederacy the same day Pegram met  his death. His heart was heavy when he heard of his friend's death and he wrote the following  beautiful letter to General Pegram's young widow.

My dear Mrs Pegram

I cannot find words to express my deep sympathy in your affliction, my sorrow at your loss. God alone can give you strength to bear the blow he has inflicted, and since it has  been death by his hand I know it was sent in mercy. As dear as your husband was to  you, as necessary apparently to his Country and as important to his friends, I feel  assured it was best for him to go at the moment he did. His purity of character, his  services to the Country and his devotion to his God, prepared him for the peace and  rest he now enjoys. We are left to grieve at his departure, cherish his memory and  prepare to follow. May God give us his Grace, that through the mediation of his blessed  Son, we may be ready to obey his gracious Summons.

Truly and affy your friend
R E Lee
Petersburg 11 Feb '65

Mrs Hetty Pegram

Lee was a great letter-writer, always finding time to reply to any of his friends or relatives even from  the field of some great battle. His letters were always gracious, courteous, and interesting.  Unfortunately, or fortunately for the people who possess such philatelic gems, many of Lee's  personal papers and most of his official and military communications were lost or destroyed near  the close of the War. After the War he wrote "All of my records, returns, etc. etc., were needlessly destroyed by the clerks having them in charge on the retreat from Petersburg, and such as had been forwarded to the War Department in Richmond were either destroyed in the conflagration or captured  in the attempt to save them."

This cover, as were most of the Lee Field Letters, was endorsed with Lee's signature in the upper  right hand corner where a "frank" or stamp would normally be placed. This signature, however, is not  a frank, as only the Post Office Department was allowed the privilege of free mail for official  correspondence, and that had to be enclosed in specially printed envelopes and signed by an official  of that department. Several possibilities could account for his signature on his envelopes. Lee so  endorsed his mail while in the Engineer Corps of the United States Army, so it may have been carried  over by force of habit. Possibly Confederate military regulations required endorsement before a military courier could accept and deliver such letters. As far as known Lee autographed all his envelopes in this way, whether they were mailed or delivered by courier, as was this one to Mrs. Pegram. It was more  out of the ordinary when his letters were mailed, as the mails were not very direct and private messenger was often the surest and fastest way of sending mail.

Most of the Lee Field Covers known today are in the Library of Congress, with some scattered in  various historical societies or museums and a few in private hands. The letter from General Lee to Mrs. Pegram was donated to the Virginia Historical Society in 1966 and we presume that the cover went on 
the market about that time. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this is the first time that this particular cover has been philatelically recorded.


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