William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
William Lee Papers, 1862-1955
James S. Schoff Civil War CollectionFinding aid created by
Shannon Wait, March 2010
William Lee papers
Lee, William, 1840-1935
The William H. Lee papers are primarily comprised of correspondence and documents relating to Lee’s service with the 8th Missouri Cavalry and the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry, Union Army. A few items document his family life and career after the war.
Language: The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown
Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.
William Lee papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
The collection has been arranged into two series: Correspondence and Documents.
William Henry Lee was born in Brutus, New York, on August 23, 1840. He was the grandson of Abner Lee (1759-1843), who had served as a private in the 5th Connecticut Regiment in the Revolutionary War. After Lee’s father died in 1855, William worked doing odd jobs and attended Jordan Academy in Jordan, New York, and Monroe Collegiate Institute in Elbridge, New York. In 1857 and 1858, he taught district school, and by 1860, he had moved to Newton County, Arkansas, and was growing corn, oats, and wheat on 100 acres of land rented from a cousin, Nathan Clements.
In May 1862, Lee was ordered to report for muster into the Confederate army, but his sympathies were with the Union, and he hastily traveled to the Union line at Cassville, Missouri, via “woods and byways” (“Life of Wm. H. Lee Written by Himself”). On June 23, 1862, he was mustered into Company F, 8th Missouri Cavalry. He participated in the Battle of Prairie Grove and the capture of Little Rock, and wrote about the large number of Union casualties in the former. Lured by a substantial pay raise, Lee joined the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry when it was organized in February 1864, and was honorably discharged as 1st lieutenant on February 4, 1865. He spent several additional months working as a citizen clerk for the Post Commissary in Lewisburg, Arkansas.
On April 18, 1865, he married Mary A. (Mollie) Welborne, and the pair soon left Arkansas for Harbor Springs, Michigan, where they would reside for the rest of their lives, except for a few years spent farming in New York, Tennessee, and Minnesota. William pursued a number of occupations, including teaching, clerical work, and running an abstract business. The Lees had three children that survived to adulthood: Russell, Sarah, and Mabel. William Lee died on August 19, 1935 at the age of 94.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The William Lee papers contain 57 items spanning from 1862 to 1955, including 49 letters and 8 documents. The earliest items in the collection are 16 letters written by Lee to family members during his service in the 8th Missouri Cavalry and the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry. In his letters of this period, Lee gave detailed accounts of marches, battles, and skirmishes and shared his opinions on several political subjects. His letter of September 11, 1862, contains an account of the Battle of Prairie Grove: “…we marched up on the right wing of our army & in two hours after our artillery commenced firing the day was ours. This is given up by all to be the hardest fought battle of the west & the most decisive.” Lee’s descriptions were frequently accompanied by numerical counts of forces and casualties.
Also of interest is Lee’s perspective on the conflict between North and South, which he expressed in several letters to his mother. Despite residing in Arkansas at the outbreak of the war, Lee strongly identified with the North, and his sentiments seemed to deepen over the course of the war. He expressed deep anger at Southerners (April 22, 1863) stating, “…if every one of them were today occupying a tract of land 6 by 3 feet under the sod I think they would have their Southern Rights…” He also cheered the changes to the Arkansas Constitution forbidding slavery and Confederate “brushwacking” (January 30, 1864). After his February 4, 1865, honorable discharge, the theme of Lee’s letters quickly turned to the courtship of his future wife, Mary, whom he calls “Mollie.” Included in the collection are six invitations to from Lee to “Miss Mollie,” and a letter written on the morning of their wedding day, April 18, 1865, expressing his wish for “a quiet family thing of it.”
Later letters document Lee’s business travels and family life. A letter from Mary to her mother (January 26, 1876) gives substantial information on the Lee children, the adjustment to living in Tennessee (“the society is not of the best”), and the difficulty of finding a school. The 20th-century letters mainly document efforts to put up a new gravestone for Abner Lee, William Lee’s grandfather.
The “Documents” series contains a variety of materials, including Lee’s army discharge papers, a brief autobiography with clippings on William and Mary Lee, and three photos, one of which may portray Lee as an elderly man.
- Brutus (N.Y. : Town)
- De Valls Bluff (Ark.)
- Harbor Springs (Mich.)
- Lee, Abner, 1759-1843.
- Lewisburg (Ark.)
- Little Rock (Ark.)
- Military discharge--United States.
- Mothers and sons.
- Prairie Grove, Battle of, Ark., 1862.
- United States. Army. Missouri Cavalry Regiment, 3rd (1864-1865)
- United States. Army. Arkansas Cavalry Regiment, 8th (1862-1865)
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
- Babcock, Ethan.
- Lee, Mary A. (Mollie) Welborne.
| Container / Location
|Box 86, Schoff Civil War Collection
1862 September 11-1864 January 30
1864 March 2-1865 March 21
1865 April 1-1874 November 22
1876 January 26-1899 March 29
1903 February 16-1955 November 1
1862 June 23-1890 July 21, Undated
William Lee’s autobiography, containing clippings relating to William and Mary Lee.