With apologies to Brooks D. Simpson, John Neff, who works at the Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi, has already provided me with some very helpful information, via h-net, about the newspaper column I quoted from in my previous post. Arlington, Neff informs us, was established by George Washington Parke Custis (Gen. Washington’s adopted son), Lee’s father-in-law. After Custis died in 1857, Lee took a leave of absence from the army in order to become a planter. Although Lee never owned more than a few slaves himself, there were two hundred of them at Arlington. Among them was a daughter of a slave (named Maria Syphax) and G.W. Parke Custis. This woman, who spoke to the Massachusetts cavalryman, was the half-sister of Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, who was married to Gen. Lee.
Our man in the 2nd Massachusetts, it appears, was understandably confused, thinking “master” meant R. E. Lee, not Custis. Given the complexities of Virginia genealogy, and the Lee family’s in particular, I can understand how he would’ve conflated the Lees and the Custises.