How the Robert E. Lee portrait came to be a cherished possession of a Fell’s Point Union Family

Dashiell Marine Family History
Source: interview with John Mende of the Fell’s Point Cultural Museum and Program

Character endures ruin and loss

Lieutenant Commander Moreau Forrest US Navy was grandson of one of the Defenders of Baltimore and a Fell''s Point 1812 privateer, Captain Henry Dashiell. A Naval Academy graduate, Moreau fought bravely on the Keokuk at Fort Sumter, and then in the Mississippi Campaign, only to die at 25 of yellow fever. His widowed mother Mary was left bereft and impoverished – he had been a mainstay of her support.

His cousin, though he was called “Uncle“ because of the difference in their ages, 64 year old French Forrest had lived in Virginia four miles from Washington at Clermont Woods. Formerly US Navy, his conscience called him to be true to Virginia and he became a Commodore in the Confederate Navy. He knew this decision would cost him all he had because of his proximity to the US Capital.

His property was confiscated, his magnificent home was used as a smallpox hospital, then ransacked and burned. He returned to Clermont Woods - some say he was dismissed by Lee - about six months before the end of the war, a sick and broken man. He took up residence in the caretaker''s house with a former slave, Josphat. Meat is in short supply. French sells his magnificent folio edition Cicero for hens and a rooster (whom he named “Cicero”).

Mary Leeke Dashiell Forrest, Moreau''s mother, is still living here in Fell''s Point.

Knowing of “Uncle French’s” ruin, she sends him her special “receipt” lemon cake, his favorite from happier days, (in a trunk with soap, spirits, mended sheets, ink and paper, coffee and books ---among other things). It was so delicious and so moved the Commodore and Josphat that he said - “Mary must have a gift in return. Josphat gathered honey and beeswax from the forest, but the only material thing the Commodore could still call his own, his folio edition Cicero now gone, was a portrait of Robert E. Lee, it having no barter or cash value. So Josphat came to Fell’s Point and delivere the portrait and a long letter that said, among other things:

"That our ties of love, blood and marriage are preserved through this debacle means more to me than you could ever know. I must somehow acknowledge your broadness of mind and generosity of spirit (not to mention that superb and sublime lemon cake), my dear, dear Mary. This portrait is all that''s left me so I send it, awkward though it is under the circumstances.

Regard and remember: character endures ruin. It must. And I must, just as your brave heart must endure the loss of your beloved son. How it grieves me to know we will never see that brave and bright young man again. That we endure the loss of all we once held dear now without bitterness and despair, that we forgive and are forgiven - that is our call to duty now, and that is the war within”.

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