Robert E. Lee and Certain Young Ladies

Today, we are pleased to welcome back guest author Mike Block.

John Sedgwick and his staff on the front steps of Farley.
John Sedgwick and his staff on the front steps of Farley.

On September 13, 1863, the Army of the Potomac, responding to the departure of General James Longstreet’s First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia to Tennessee, moved south and occupied Culpeper County, removing the Confederates that had been present into Orange County. The two armies sat across each other with the Rapidan River between for a generally quiet month until the start of what would become the Bristoe Campaign. During this brief period of inactivity, General John Sedgwick used the Sterns house, better known today as “Farley” as headquarters for his Sixth Corps. The house was owned at the time by Franklin P. Stearns, who had in the spring of 1863 moved to Culpeper from Richmond.

The following incident took place on October 11, 1863 as General Lee entered Culpeper and his Army advanced back into the Culpeper County. The story originally was recorded in Armistead L. Long’s, Memoirs of Robert E. Lee, published in 1886 and has been repeated in some form in other books and publications:

“Lee, while encamped at Culpeper, was of course cordially received by the people of the town. One of these, a lady who had been somewhat scandalized by the friendly relations between some of her neighbors and the Yankees, took occasion to complain to the general that certain young ladies, then present, had been in the habit of visiting General Sedgwick at his headquarters, which was pitched in the ample grounds of a citizen whose house he declined to use, preferring to remain outside.

“The young ladies were troubled, for the general looked very grave. But they were soon relieved when he said, ‘I know General Sedgwick very well. It is just like him to be so kindly and considerate, and to have his band there to entertain them. –So, young ladies, if the music is good, go and hear it as often as you can, and enjoy yourselves. You will find that General Sedgwick will have none but agreeable gentlemen about him.’”[1]

In November, after the Battle of Rappahannock Station, the Sixth Corps, Sedgwick and his staff returned to Farley. He used the same residence during the Army of the Potomac’s winter encampment. Again he chose to pitch his tent on the ample grounds. And again, the music played.

Sedgwick's Staff at Farley
Sedgwick’s Staff at Farley

History does not record the reaction or the name of the scandalized lady.

[1] Long, A. L., Memoirs of Robert E. Lee: His Military and Personal History Embracing a Large Amount of Information Hitherto Unpublished, Blue & Gray Press, 1983, p 306.

Mike Block authored an Appendix titled, “’Miserable, miserable management’ The Battles of Rappahannock Station and Kelly’s Ford,” in the book “A Want of Vigilance, The Bristoe Station Campaign” by Rob Orrison and Bill Backus. Available at


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