On Oct. 12, 1870, Gen. Robert E. Lee died from complications of pneumonia after having a stroke a few days earlier. He died as a man without a country. Just after Lee surrendered in April 1865, he applied to President Andrew Johnson for amnesty and the restoration of his citizenship. For some reason, Lee did not get the oath-of-allegiance paper fixed at that time.
It was the day Lee became president of Washington College that he filled out his oath-of-allegiance paper and sent it to the proper office. For some strange reason, it never arrived at the correct office. Some historians say Lee’s paper was given as a souvenir to someone who stuffed it into a desk drawer and forgot about it. Lee inquired about his citizenship paper many times in the next five years. I have read letters he wrote to others in which he mentioned the citizenship paper and wondered about the long delay. He never knew that his citizenship would be restored by chance 110 years later. Let me tell you about the person who found it.
I was born on a farm about a quarter of a mile behind St. Thomas Church on Highway 301. Our neighbors were Raymond Nobles and his sons, Cecil and Gus. Across the highway was a beautiful, white house where Scott and Kate Baxter Parker lived. The late Billy and Joy Wingate bought and restored that house about nine years ago. Scott and Kate had four children: W. G., Elmer, Marinelle and Anita. I distinctly remember Anita as a very attractive high school girl as she rode the bus with me to Ludowici School.
Our family often walked by the Parker house on our way to visit several of our aunts and uncles who lived farther down the road. Nearly every time we passed by, we stopped at the gate and talked to the couple. They loved to talk. And we loved to look at the pretty camellias and were especially interested in the fine pomegranate bush in the backyard or edge of the garden. They always gave us some when they ripened. Later, we moved to the old log cabin that Kate’s sister and brother-in-law, Key and Flossie Howard, owned.
Elmer O. Parker was born in 1915 in Liberty County in the area that was changed to Long County five years later. Elmer was four years older than my father, but they went to school together in the little country schoolhouses located near them. Elmer and Daddy were very good friends, and I am sure they enjoyed many marble games down on their knees, barefooted and wearing overalls.
Elmer entered the armed services and later took a job at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Elmer loved history and always was trying to find information about happenings or people. He was a Civil War history buff. I have several letters he wrote to me, telling me something about history or genealogy. He came to one of our family reunions a few years ago at Pigott Branch and talked more than I could! He was filled with so much historical information, and it was very interesting to hear his stories. I wish he were still living so I could learn much more from him.
One day in 1971 while searching in some boxes for something in the basement, Elmer came across a pasteboard box that had “Virginia” scribbled on the outside. He began looking in the box and unfolded an old, faded piece of paper. He hardly could believe what he found. He was speechless. Elmer had spent many hours during his regular working time and many hours of his free time searching for the lost oath of allegiance that Lee supposedly had signed but no one ever had seen. And now here it was in Elmer’s hands. I imagine that he read it many times and looked at it to make sure it was the real thing. This is the write-up that appeared in Military Affairs (December 1971).
“AMI member discovers lost Lee paper: Elmer O. Parker, a reference specialist on military records in the National Archives and a member of the American Military Institute, recently discovered Robert E. Lee’s oath of allegiance to the United States, which Lee had signed in Lexington, Va., on Oct. 2, 1865, the same day he became president of what is now Washington and Lee University. The paper was discovered in a bundle of papers in the National Archives. The document was placed on display at the Museum of the Confederacy (in) Richmond, Va. The paper surprised many historians who believed that Lee had failed to satisfy the requirements for restoration of his citizenship after the Civil War. Lee earlier had applied to President Andrew Johnson for amnesty and the restoration of his citizenship, but the oath of allegiance never caught up with the application. Thus, more than a century after the Civil War, Virginia’s two United States senators, Harry F. Byrd Jr. and William B. Spong Jr., joined in introducing a resolution to Congress to posthumously restore the full citizenship rights of General Robert E. Lee, famed commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.”
After some opposition by die-hard liberals, Congress finally passed the resolution July 22, 1975. President Gerald Ford, sitting at Lee’s former desk, signed it into law Aug. 5, 1975. So, 110 years after the tragic war, Lee became a man with a country again, all because of the dedication and persistence of a Liberty (Long) County man who kept the famous “lost Lee paper” in the back of his mind each time he searched through hundreds of military records.
I find it sad that in the articles I found on the Internet, Elmer Parker rarely was credited with finding the