December 23, 2017
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
A Christmas Story of General Lee and Santa Claus
Always around Christmas time it was the custom in my family for my father to read, in addition to those memorable passages from Holy Scripture, some delightful Christmas stories. Such readings became a kind of much-anticipated ritual during those holy days. Many of these came from the classic literature of the Old South. Occasionally, my father would also pass on to us stories of the family from Christmases past, in particular, tales related to him by his parents and grandparents, handed down as a precious legacy, a kind of passing on through oral tradition of who we had been not that long ago….our travails and struggles, our accomplishments, our aspirations, and our faith.
Both the oral tales and the written stories reflected in various ways our Southern and Carolina heritage, as well as a rich inheritance and an overarching moral imagination that had penetrated our culture—a culture that we had received as a trust from our ancestors both in Europe and here in America.
One such tale that I vividly recall was what we knew as “General Lee and Santa Claus.” Although my father would usually just recite it to us, we later found out that it had actually been published shortly after the War Between the States (1867). We had no reason to doubt it, and, indeed, until this day there is some debate about whether the incident recalled actually occurred. But as good Southerners, devoted to our land and our people and our traditions, even if tinged in legend, we knew that it must have been true!
Since we are but two days away from that marvelous and unique event in the history of mankind, I thought it appropriate to offer it here today. I give thanks to Jennifer Uhlank at the “Heroes, Heroines, and History” web site for her summary…it is just like I remember it.
General Robert E Lee and Santa Claus
Jennifer Uhlank December 25, 2013:
I recently came across an interesting Christmas-y story about General Robert E Lee. I am not sure the story is true, but I found it interesting, so I thought I would share it with you. The story was written about by Louise Clack in her 1867 book titled General Lee and Santa Claus: Mrs. Louise Clack’s Christmas Gift to Her Little Southern Friends.
As the story goes, sometime after the end of the Civil War, three young southern girls were confused as to why no Southern children received toys at Christmas during the war years. Their aunt suggested that the reason was because General Lee would not allow Santa to cross the lines into territory held by the South. The inquisitive girls took it upon themselves to write General Lee and find out if, in fact, this was the case. They greased the wheels by complimenting Lee, saying he was the “goodest man that ever lived” and that he “always spoke the truth.” Their letter continued as follows:
“Please tell us whether Santa Claus loves the little rebel children, for we think he don't; because he did not come to see us for four Christmas Eves. Auntie thinks you would not let him cross the lines, and we don't know how to find out unless we write and ask you. We all love you dearly, and we want to send you something; but we have not anything nice enough; we lost all our toys in the war. Birdie wants to send you one of our white kittens—the one with black ears; but Auntie thinks maybe you don't like kittens. We say little prayers for you every night, dear General Lee, and ask God to make you ever so happy.”
They signed the letter with “Your little friends, Lutie, Birdie, and Minnie.”
According to Mrs. Clack, General Lee wrote the little girls back, thanking them for their prayers, and explaining to them what happened to their toys. His letter stated the following:
“The first Christmas Eve of the war I was walking up and down in the camp ground, when I thought I heard a singular noise above my head; and on looking to find out from whence it came, I saw the queerest, funniest-looking little old fellow riding along in a sleigh through the air. On closer inspection, he proved to be Santa Claus.
“Halt! Halt!, I said; but at this the funny fellow laughed, and did not seem inclined to obey, so again I cried Halt!. And he drove down to my side with a sleigh full of toys. I was very sorry for him when I saw the disappointed expression of his face when I told him he could go no further South; and when he exclaimed, Oh, what will my little Southern children do! I felt more sorry, for I love little children to be happy, and especially at Christmas. But of one thing I was certain—I knew my little friends would prefer me to do my duty, rather than have all the toys in the world; so I said: Santa Claus, take every one of the toys you have back as far as Baltimore, sell them, and with the money you get buy medicines, bandages, ointments, and delicacies for our sick and wounded men; do it and do it quickly—it will be all right with the children.”
Lee continued his letter, stating that Santa saluted, drove away, and returned before dawn with not only the requested supplies, but much more for the sick and wounded men, and that Santa did this every Christmas Eve during the war. Lee closed his letter by inviting the three girls to write him again and signed off with, “Your true friend, General Robert E. Lee.”
I have no proof that these letters were ever truly written or exchanged. Whether they were real or simply a work of Mrs. Clack’s imagination, I thought they gave an interesting perspective on that period in our nation's history. I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did.