Part 4 out of 8
were my only companions. I could not trespass upon them always.
The scenery is beautiful here, but I fear it will be locked up in
winter by the time you come. Nothing could be more beautiful than the
"Most affectionately, R. E. Lee."
In addition to his duties as college president, my father had to make
all the arrangements for his new home. The house assigned him by the
college was occupied by Dr. Madison, who was to move out as soon as
he could. Carpenters, painters and glaziers had to be put to work
to get it into condition; furniture, carpets, bedding to be provided,
a cook procured, servants and provisions supplied.
My mother was an invalid and absent, and as my sisters were with her,
everything down to the minutest details was done by my father's
directions and under his superintendence. He had always been noted
for his care and attention to the little things, and that trait,
apparent in him when a mere lad, practised all through his busy and
eventful life, stood him in good stead now. The difficulties to be
overcome were made greater by the scarcity and inaccessibility of
supplies and workmen and the smallness of his means. In addition,
he conducted a large correspondence, always answering every letter.
To every member of his family he wrote continually, and was interested
in all our pursuits, advising and helping us as no one else could
have done. Some of his letters to my mother at this time show how he
looked into every matter, great or small, which related to her comfort
and welfare, and to the preparation of her new home. For example,
on October 9th he writes:
"...Life is indeed gliding away and I have nothing of good to show for
mine that is past. I pray I may be spared to accomplish something for
the benefit of mankind and the honour of God.... I hope I may be able
to get the house prepared for you in time to reach here before the
cold weather. Dr. Madison has sent me word that he will vacate the
house on the 16th inst., this day week. I will commence to make some
outside repairs this week, so as to get at the inside next, and hope
by the 1st of November it will be ready for you. There is no furniture
belonging to the house, but we shall require but little to commence
with. Mr. Green, of Alexandria, to whom I had written, says that his
manufacturing machinery, etc., has been so much injured that, although
it has been returned to him, he cannot resume operations until next
year, but that he will purchase for us anything we desire. I believe
nothing is manufactured in Richmond--everything comes from the North,
and we might as well write to Baltimore at once for what we want.
What do you think? I believe nothing of consequence is manufactured
here. I will see this week what can be done...."
And again, a few days later, he writes:
"...I hope you are all well, and as comfortable as can be. I am very
anxious to get you all here, but have made little progress in
accomplishing it so far. Dr. M. expects to vacate the house this week,
but I fear it is not certain he can do so.... I engaged some carpenters
last week to repair the roof, fences, stable, etc., but for want of
material they could not make a commencement. There is no lumber here
at hand. Everything has to be prepared. I have not been in the house
yet, but I hear there is much to be done. We shall have to be patient.
As soon as it is vacated, I will set to work. I think it will be more
expeditious and cheaper to write to Renwick [of Baltimore] to send
what articles of furniture will be required, and also to order some
carpets from Baltimore...."
In a postscript, dated the 17th, he says:
"The carpenters made a beginning on the house yesterday. I hope it may
be vacated this week. I will prepare your room first. The rest of
us can bivouac. Love to all. Most affectionately, R. E. Lee."
On October 19th:
"...I have been over the house we are to occupy. It is in wretched
condition. Mrs. M. has not yet vacated it, but I have some men at work,
though this storm has interrupted their operations and I fear little
will be done this week. I think I can make your room comfortable.
The upstairs is very convenient and the rest of the house sufficiently
so. I think you had better write at once to Brit [the "Brit" mentioned
here is Mrs. Birtannia Kennon, of "Tudor Place," my mother's first
cousin. She had saved for us a great many of the household goods from
Arlington, having gotten permission from the Federal authorities to
do so, at the time it was occupied by their forces] to send the curtains
you speak of, and the carpets. It is better to use what we have than
to buy others. Their use where originally intended [Arlington, to that
beloved home my mother still hoped to return] is very uncertain. They
have been tossed about for four years, and may be lost or ruined.
They can come by express to Lynchburg, and then up the canal, or by
Richmond. The merchants say the former is the best way--much more
expeditious and but little more expensive."
Spending the summer on the Pamunkey at the White House, exposed all
day in the fields to the sun, and at night to the malaria from the
river and marshes, I became by the last of September one continuous
"chill," so it was decided that, as the corn was made, the fodder
saved, the wheat land broken up, and hands not so greatly needed, I
should get a furlough. Mounting my mare, I started on a visit to my
mother and sisters, hoping that the change to the upper country would
help me to get rid of the malaria. When I reached "Derwent" my father
had gone to Lexington, but my mother and the rest were there to welcome
me and dose me for my ailments. There was still some discussion among
us all as to what was the best thing for me to do, and I wrote to my
father, telling him of my preference for a farmer's life and my desire
to work my own land. The following letter, which he wrote me in reply,
is, like all I ever got from him, full of love, tenderness, and good,
"My Dear Son: I did not receive until yesterday your letter of the
8th inst. I regret very much having missed seeing you--still more to
hear that you have been suffering from intermittent fever. I think
the best thing you can do is to eradicate the disease from your system,
and unless there is some necessity for your returning to the White
House, you had better accompany your mother here. I have thought very
earnestly as to your future. I do not know to what stage your education
has been carried, or whether it would be advantageous for you to pursue
it further. Of that you can judge. If you do, and will apply yourself
so as to get the worth of your money, I can advance it to you for
this year at least. If you do not, and wish to take possession of your
farm, I can assist you a little in that. As matters now stand, you
could raise money on your farm only by mortgaging it, which would put
you in debt at the beginning of your life, and I fear in the end would
swallow up all your property. As soon as I am restored to civil rights,
if I ever am, I will settle up your grandfather's estate, and put you
in possession of your share. The land may be responsible for some
portion of his debts or legacies. If so, you will have to assume it.
In the meantime, I think it would be better for you, if you determine
to farm your land, to go down there as you propose and begin on a
moderate scale. I can furnish you means to buy a team, wagon,
implements, etc. What will it cost? If you cannot wait to accompany
your mother here, come up to see me and we can talk it over. You could
come up in the packet and return again. If you do come, ask Agnes
for my box of private papers I left with her, and bring it with you;
but do not lose it for your life, or we are all ruined. Wrap it up
with your clothes and put it in a carpet-bat or valise, so that you
can keep it with you or within your sight, and do not call attention
to it. I am glad to hear that Fitzhugh keeps so well, and that he
is prospering in his farming operations. Give him a great deal of
love for me. The first thing you must do is to get well.
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee."
His letters to his daughters tell, in a playful way, much of his life,
and are full of the quiet humor in which he so often indulged. We
were still at "Derwent," awaiting the time when the house in Lexington
should be ready. It had been decided that I should remain and
accompany my mother and sisters to Lexington, and that some of us,
or all, should go up the river to "Bremo," the beautiful seat of
Dr. Charles Cocke, and pay a visit there before proceeding to Lexington.
Here is a letter from my father to his daughter Mildred:
"Lexington, October 29, 1865.
"My Precious Life: Your nice letter gave me much pleasure and made
me the more anxious to see you. I think you girls, after your mother
is comfortable at 'Bremo,' will have to come up and arrange the house
for her reception. You know I am a poor hand and can do nothing
without your advice. Your brother, too, is wild for the want of
admonition. Col. Blair is now his 'fidus Achates,' and as he is almost
as gray as your papa, and wears the same uniform, all gray, he is
sometimes taken for him by the young girls, who consider your brother
the most attentive of sons, and giving good promise of making a
desirable husband. He will find himself married some of these days
before he knows it. You had better be near him. I hope you give
attention to Robert. Miss Sallie will thaw some of the ice from his
heart. Tell her she must come up here, as I want to see her badly.
I do not know what you will do with your chickens, unless you take
them to 'Bremo,' and thus bring them here. I suppose Robert would
not eat 'Laura Chilton' and 'Don Ella McKay.' Still less would he
devour his sister 'Mildred' [these were the names of some of my sister's
pet chickens]. I have scarcely gotten acquainted with the young
ladies. They look very nice in the walks, but I rarely get near them.
Traveller is my only companion; I may also say my pleasure. He and
I, whenever practicable, wander out in the mountains and enjoy
sweet confidence. The boys are plucking out his tail, and he is
presenting the appearance of a plucked chicken. Two of the belles
of the neighborhood have recently been married--Miss Mattie Jordan
to Dr. Cameron, and Miss Rose Cameron to Dr. Sherod. The former
couple go to Louisburg, West Virginia, and start to-morrow on horseback,
the bride's trousseau in a baggage wagon; the latter to Winchester.
Miss Sherod, one of the bridesmaids, said she knew you there. I did
not attend the weddings, but have seen the pairs of doves. Both of
the brides are remarkable in this county of equestrianism for their
good riding and beauty. With true affection, Your fond father,
"R. E. Lee."
To his daughter Agnes, about the same time, he writes:
"Lexington, Virginia, October 26, 1865.
"My Dear Agnes: I will begin the correspondence of the day by thanking
you for your letter of the 9th. It will, I am sure, be to me
intellectually what my morning's feast is corporeally. It will
strengthen me for the day, and smooth the rough points which constantly
protrude in my epistles. I am glad Robert is with you. It will be
a great comfort to him, and I hope, in addition, will dissipate his
chills. He can also accompany you in your walks and rides and be
that silent sympathy (for he is a man of few words) which is so
soothing. Though marble to women, he is so only externally, and you
will find him warm and cheering. Tell him I want him to go to see
Miss Francis Galt (I think her smile will awake some sweet music in
him), and be careful to take precautions against the return of the
chills, on the 7th, 14th, and 21st days.... I want very much to have
you all with me again, and miss you dreadfully. I hope another month
will accomplish it. In the meantime, you must get very well. This
is a beautiful spot by nature--man has done but little for it. Love
to all. Most affectionately,
"R. E. Lee."
About the first week of November we all went by canal-boat to "Bremo,"
some twenty-five miles up the James River, where we remained the
guests of Doctor and Mrs. Charles Cocke until we went to Lexington.
My sister Agnes, while there, was invited to Richmond to assist at
the wedding of a very dear friend, Miss Sally Warwick. She wrote
my father asking his advice and approval, and received this reply,
so characteristic of his playful, humorous mood:
"Lexington, Virginia, November 16, 1865.
"My Precious Little Agnes: I have just received your letter of the
13th and hasten to reply. It is very hard for you to apply to me to
advise you to go away from me. You know how much I want to see you,
and how important you are to me. But in order to help you to make
up your mind, if it will promote your pleasure and Sally's happiness,
I will say go. You may inform Sally from me, however, that no
preparations are necessary, and if they were no one could help her.
She has just got to wade through it as if it was an attack of measles
or anything else--naturally. As she would not marry Custis, she may
marry whom she chooses. I shall wish her every happiness, just the
same, for she knows nobody loves her as much as I do. I do not think,
upon reflection, she will consider it right to refuse my son and take
away my daughter. She need not tell me whom she is going to marry.
I suppose it is some cross old widower, with a dozen children. She
will not be satisfied at her sacrifice with less, and I should think
that would be cross sufficient. I hope 'Life' is not going to desert
us too, and when are we to see you?... I have received your mother's
letter announcing her arrival at 'Bremo.'... Tell your mother, however,
to come when she chooses and when most to her comfort and convenience.
She can come to the hotel where I am, and stay until the house is ready.
There is no difficulty in that, and she can be very comfortable. My
rooms are up on the 3d floor and her meals can be sent to her. Tell
Rob the chills will soon leave him now. Mrs. Cocke will cure him.
Give much love to your mamma, Mildred, Rob, and all at 'Bremo.'
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee.
"Miss Agnes Lee."
Colonel Ellis, President of the James River and Kanawha Canal Company,
placed at my mother's disposal his private boat, which enabled her
to reach "Bremo" with great ease and comfort, and when she was ready
to go to Lexington the same boat was again given her. It was well
fitted up with sleeping accommodations, carried a cook, and had a
dining-room. It corresponded to the private car of the present railroad
magnate, and, though not so sumptuous, was more roomy and comfortable.
When provisions became scarce we purchased fresh supplies from any
farm-house near the canal-bank, tied up at night, and made about four
miles an hour during the day. It was slow but sure, and no mode of
travel, even at the present day, could have suited my mother better.
She was a great invalid from rheumatism, and had to be lifted whenever
she moved. When put in her wheel-chair, she could propel herself on
a level floor, or could move about her room very slowly and with great
difficulty on her crutches, but she was always bright, sunny-tempered,
and uncomplaining, constantly occupied with her books, letters,
knitting, and painting, for the last of which she had a great talent.
On November 20th my father writes to her from Lexington:
"I was very glad to hear, by your letter of the 11th, of your safe
arrival at 'Bremo.' I feel very grateful to Col. Ellis for his
thoughtful consideration in sending you in his boat, as you made the
journey in so much more comfort. It is indeed sad to be removed from
our kind friends at 'Oakland,' who seemed never to tire of contributing
to our convenience and pleasure, and who even continue their kindness
at this distance. Just as the room which I had selected for you was
finished, I received the accompanying note from Mrs. Cocke, to which I
responded and thanked her in your name, placing the room at her
disposal. The paint is hardly dry yet, but will be ready this week,
to receive the furniture if completed. I know no more about it than
is contained in her note. I was also informed, last night, that a
very handsome piano had been set up in the house, brought from Baltimore
by the maker as a present from his firm or some friends. I have not
seen it or the maker. This is an article of furniture that we might
well dispense with under present circumstances, though I am equally
obliged to those whose generosity prompted its bestowal. Tell Mildred
I shall now insist on her resuming her music, and, in addition to her
other labours, she must practise SEVEN hours a day on the piano, until
she becomes sufficiently proficient to play agreeably to herself and
others, and promptly and gracefully, whenever invited. I think we
should enjoy all the amenities of life that are within our reach,
and which have been provided for us by our Heavenly Father.... I
am sorry Rob has a return of his chills, but he will soon lose them
now. Ask Miss Mary to disperse them. She is very active and energetic;
they cannot stand before her.... I hope Agnes has received my letter,
and that she has made up her mind to come up to her papa. Tell her
there are plenty of weddings here, if she likes those things. There
is to be one Tuesday--Miss Mamie Williamson to Captain Eoff. Beverley
Turner is to be married the same night, to Miss Rose Skinker, and
sweet Margaret will also leave us. If they go at three a night,
there will soon be none of our acquaintances left. I told Agnes to
tell you to come up whenever most convenient to you. If the house
is habitable I will take you there. If not, will bring you to the
hotel.... I wish I could take advantage of this fine weather to
perform the journey...."
The Idol of the South
Photographs and autographs in demand--The General's interest in young
people--His happy home life--Labours at Washington College--He gains
financial aid for it--Worsley's translation of Homer dedicated to him--
Tributes from other English scholars
The people of Virginia and of the entire South were continually giving
evidence of their intense love for General Lee. From all nations,
even from the Northern States, came to him marks of admiration and
respect. Just at this time he received many applications for his
photograph with autograph attached. I believe there were none of the
little things in life so irksome to him as having his picture taken
in any way, but, when able to comply, he could not refuse to do what
was asked of him by those who were willing and anxious to do so much
In the following letter the photographs referred to had been sent to
him for his signature, from a supply that my mother generally kept on
hand. She was often asked for them by those who very considerately
desired to save my father the trouble:
"Lexington, November 21, 1865.
"My Dear Mary: I have just received your letter of the 17th, and return
the photographs with my signatures. I wrote to you by the boat of
yesterday morning. I also sent you a packet of letters by Captain
Wilkinson [commander of the canal packet], which also ought to have
reached you to-day. I have nothing to add to my former letters, and
only write now that you may receive the photos before you leave. I
answered Agnes' letter immediately, and inclosed her several letters.
I was in hopes she had made up her mind to eschew weddings and stick
to her pap. I do not think she can help little Sallie. Besides, she
will not take the oath--how can she get married? The wedding party
from this place go down in the boat to-night to Lynchburg--Miss
Williamson and Captain Eoff. They are to be married in church at
eight P. M. and embark at eleven. I wish them a pleasant passage
and am glad I am not of the party. The scenery along the river will
no doubt be cheering and agreeable. I think the repairs of the house
will be completed this week; should the furniture arrive, it will be
habitable next. The weather is still beautiful, which is in our
favour. I am glad Caroline is so promising. I have engaged no servant
here yet, nor have I found one to my liking. we can get some of some
kind, and do better when we can. I have heard nothing of the wedding
at 'Belmead,' and do not think Preston will go. Mrs. Cocke is very
well, but the furniture she intends for your room is not yet completed.
It will be more comfortable and agreeable to you to go at once to the
house on your arrival. But if there is anything to make it more
desirable for you to come before the house is ready, you must come to
the hotel. If we could only get comfortable weather in December, it
would be better not to go into the house until it is dry, the paint
hard, etc. It will require all this week to get the wood done; then
it must be scoured, etc., and the furniture properly arranged. Tell
Rob he will soon be well. He must cheer up and come and see his papa.
Give my love to Mrs. Cocke, Miss Mary, etc., etc. Tell Agnes, if she
thinks Sallie is IN EXTREMIS, to go to her. I do not want her to pass
away, but it is a great disappointment to me not to have her with me.
I am getting very old and infirm now, and she had better come to her
papa and take care of him.
"Most affectionately yours, R. E. Lee.
"Mrs. M. C. Lee."
My father was always greatly interested in the love affairs of his
relatives, friends, and acquaintances. His letters during the war
show this in very many ways. One would suppose that the general
commanding an army in active operations could not find the time even
to think of such trifles, much less to write about them; but he knew
of very many such affairs among his officers and even his men, and
would on occasion refer to them before the parties themselves, very
much to their surprise and discomfiture. Bishop Peterkin, of West
Virginia, who served on the staff of General Pendleton, tells me of
the following instances, in illustration of this characteristic:
"It was in the winter of 1863-4, when we were camped near Orange Court
House, that, meeting the General after I had come back from a short
visit to Richmond, he asked after my father, and then said, 'Did you
see Miss ---?' and I replied, 'No, sir; I did not.' Then again, 'Did
you see Miss ---?' and when I still replied 'No,' he added, with a
smile, 'How exceedingly busy you must have been.'
"Again--at the cavalry review at Brandy Station, on June 8, 1863--
we had galloped all around the lines, when the General took his post
for the 'march past,' and all the staff in attendance grouped themselves
about him. There being no special orders about our positions, I got
pretty near the General. I noticed that several times he turned
and looked toward an ambulance near us, filled with young girls. At
At last, after regiments and brigades had gone by, the Horse Artillery
came up. The General turned and, finding me near him, said, 'Go and
tell that young lady with the blue ribbon in her hat that such-and-such
a battery is coming.'
"I rode up and saluted the young lady. There was great surprise shown
by the entire party, as I was not known to any of them, and when I
came out with my message there was a universal shout, while the General
looked on with a merry twinkle in his eye. It was evidently the
following up on his part of some joke which he had with the young lady
about an officer in this battery."
My mother had arranged to start for Lexington on November 28th, via
the canal, but for some reason was prevented on that day. In his next
letter, my father, who was most anxious that she should make the journey
before the bad weather set in, expresses his disappointment at not
finding her on the packet on the expected morning.
"Lexington, Virginia, November 20, 1865.
"My Dear Mary: I am much disappointed that you did not arrive on the
boat last night, and as you had determined when you wrote Saturday,
the 25th, to take the boat as it passed Tuesday, I fear you were
prevented either by the indisposition of yourself or of Robert's. I
shall, however, hope that it was owing to some less distressing cause.
Our room is all ready and looks remarkably nice. Mrs. Cocke, in her
great kindness, seems to have provided everything for it that you
require, and you will have nothing to do but to take possession. The
ladies have also arranged the other rooms as far as the furniture
will allow. They have put down the carpets in the parlour, dining-room,
and two chambers upstairs, and have put furniture in one room. They
have also put up the curtains in the rooms downstairs, and put a table
and chairs in the dining-room. We have, therefore, everything which
is required for living, as soon as the crockery, etc., arrives from
'Derwent,' of which as yet I have heard nothing. Neither has the
furniture from Baltimore arrived, and the season is so far advanced
that we may be deprived of that all winter. But with what we now have,
if we can get that from 'Derwent,' we shall do very well. There is
some report of the packets between this place and Lynchburg being
withdrawn from the line, which renders me more uneasy about your
journey up. This is a bright and beautiful morning, and there is no
indication of a change of weather, but the season is very uncertain,
and snow and ice may be upon us any day. I think you had better come
now the first opportunity. Do not take the boat which passes 'Bremo'
Saturday. It reaches Lynchburg Sunday morning, arriving here Monday
night. You would in that case have to lie at the wharf at Lynchburg
all day Sunday. I have heard of Agnes' arrival in Richmond, and shall
be happy to have 'Precious Life' write me again. I have engaged a man
for the balance of the year, who professes to know everything. He
can at least make up fires, and go on errands, and attend to the yard
and stable. I have heard nothing of Jimmy. Give my kind regards to
all at 'Bremo.' Custis is well and went to the boat to meet you this
morning. The boat stops one and one-quarter miles from town. Remain
aboard until we come.
"Most affectionately yours, R. E. Lee.
"P.S.--Since writing the foregoing I have received your letter of
the 28th. I shall expect you Saturday morning. R. E. L.
"Mrs. M. C. Lee."
At this time the packet-boat from Lynchburg to Lexington, via the
James River and Kanawha Canal, was the easiest way of reaching Lexington
from the outside world. It was indeed the only way, except by stage
from Goshen, twenty-one miles distant, a station of the Chesapeake &
Ohio R. R. The canal ran from Lynchburg to Richmond, and just after
the war did a large business. The boats were very uncertain in their
schedules, and my father was therefore very particular in his directions
to my mother, to insure her as far as he could a comfortable journey
[my father was not aware, when he wrote such explicit directions about
the route, that Colonel Ellis had again put his boat at my mother's
We did get off at last, and after a very comfortable trip arrived at
Lexington on the morning of December 2d. My father, on Traveller, was
there to meet us, and, putting us all in a carriage, escorted us to
our new home. On arriving, we found awaiting us a delicious breakfast
sent by Mrs. Nelson, the wife of Professor Nelson. The house was in
good order--thanks to the ladies of Lexington--but rather bare of
furniture, except my mother's rooms. Mrs. Cocke had completely
furnished them, and her loving thoughtfulness had not forgotten the
smallest detail. Mrs. Margaret J. Preston, the talented and well-known
poetess, had drawn the designs for the furniture, and a one-armed
Confederate soldier had made it all. A handsomely carved grand piano,
presented by Stieff, the famous maker of Baltimore, stood alone in the
parlour. The floors were covered with the carpets rescued from
Arlington--much too large and folded under to suit the reduced size of
the rooms. Some of the bedrooms were partially furnished, and the
dining-room had enough in it to make us very comfortable. We were
all very grateful and happy--glad to get home--the only one we had
had for four long years.
My father appeared bright and even gay. He was happy in seeing us all,
and in knowing that my mother was comfortably established near to him.
He showed us over the house, and pointed with evident satisfaction
to the goodly array of pickles, preserves, and brandy-peaches which
our kind neighbors had placed in the store-room. Indeed, for days and
weeks afterward supplies came pouring in to my mother from the people
in the town and country, even from the poor mountaineers, who, anxious
to "do something to help General Lee," brought in hand-bags of walnuts,
potatoes, and game. Such kindness--delicate and considerate always--as
was shown to my father's family by the people, both of the town and
the country around, not only then but to this day, has never been
surpassed in any community. It was a tribute of love and sympathy
from honest and tender hearts to the man who had done all that he could
do for them.
My father was much interested in all the arrangements of the house,
even to the least thing. He would laugh merrily over the difficulties
that appalled the rest of us. Our servants were few and unskilled,
but his patience and self-control never failed. The silver of the
family had been sent to Lexington for safe-keeping early in the war.
When General Hunger raided the Valley of Virginia and advanced upon
Lexington, to remove temptation out of his way, this silver, in two
large chests, had been intrusted to the care of the old and faithful
sergeant at the Virginia Military Institute, and he had buried it in
some safe place known only to himself. I was sent out with him to
dig it up and bring it in. We found it safe and sound, but black
with mould and damp, useless for the time being, so my father opened
his camp-chest and we used his forks, spoons, plates, etc., while his
camp-stools supplied the deficiency in seats. He often teased my
sisters about their experiments in cookery and household arts,
encouraging them to renewed efforts after lamentable failures. When
they succeeded in a dish for the table, or completed any garment with
their own hands, he was lavish with his praise. He would say:
"You are all very helpless; I don't know what you will do when I am
"If you want to be missed by your friends--be useful."
He at once set to work to improve all around him, laid out a vegetable
garden, planted roses and shrubs, set out fruit and yard trees, made
new walks and repaired the stables, so that in a short time we were
quite comfortable and very happy. He at last had a home of his own,
with his wife and daughters around him, and though it was not the
little farm in the quiet country for which he had so longed, it was
very near to it, and it gave rest to himself and those he loved most
His duties as president of Washington College were far from light.
His time was fully occupied, and his new position did not relieve
him from responsibility, care and anxiety. He took pains to become
acquainted with each student personally, to be really his guide and
friend. Their success gratified and pleased him, and their failures,
in any degree, pained and grieved him, and their failures, in any
degree, pained and grieved him. He felt that he was responsible
for their well-doing and progress, and he worked very hard to make
them good students and useful men.
The grounds and buildings of the college soon began to show his care,
attention, and good taste. In all his life, wherever he happened to
be, he immediately set to work to better his surroundings. The
sites selected for his headquarter camps during the war, if occupied
for more than a day, showed his tasteful touch. When superintendent
at West Point, the improvements suggested and planned by him were
going on for the three years he remained there. Very soon after he
assumed charge of Arlington, the place showed, in its improved
condition, the effects of his energetic industry. The college at
Lexington was a splendid field for the exercise of his abilities in
this line. The neighbouring Virginia Military Institute soon followed
teh example he had set, and after a year the municipal authorities
of Lexington were aroused to the necessity of bettering their streets
and sidewalks, and its inhabitants realised the need of improving and
beautifying their homes. He managed a very large correspondence,
answering every letter when possible, the greater proportion with his
own hand. To the members of his own family who were away he wrote
regularly, and was their best correspondent on home matters, telling
in his charming way all the sayings and doings of the household and
My sister Agnes had gone to the wedding of Miss Warwick direct from
"Bremo," and was in Richmond when my father sent her two of the first
letters he wrote after the arrival of my mother in Lexington:
"Lexington, Virginia, December 5, 1865.
"My Worrying Little Agnes: your letter of the 1st received to-night.
I have autographed the photographs and send a gross of the latter and
a lock of hair. Present my love to the recipients and thank them for
their favours. Sally is going to marry a widower. I think I ought
to know, as she refused my son, and I do not wish to know his name.
I wonder if she knows how many children he has. Tell Mr. Warwick I
am sorry for him. I do not know what he will do without his sweet
daughter. Nor do I know what I will do without her, either. Your
mother has written--Mildred, too--and I presume has told you all
domestic news. Custis is promenading the floor, Rob reading the
papers, and Mildred packing her dress. Your mamma is up to her eyes
in news and I am crabbed as usual. I miss you very much and hope
this is the last wedding you will attend. Good-bye. Love to everybody.
"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee.
"Miss Agnes Lee."
The other is dated nearly a month later, and from this it appears that
the wedding so often referred to is about to take place:
"Lexington, Virginia, January 3, 1866.
"My Precious Little Agnes: I sat down to give my dear little Sally--
for she is dear to me in the broadest, highest sense of the word--the
benefit of Jeremy Taylor's opinion on hasty marriages. But, on
reflection, I fear it would be words lost, for your mother says her
experience has taught her that when a young woman makes up her mind
to get married, you might as well let her alone. You must, therefore,
just thank her for the pretty inkstand, and say that I'll need no
reminder of her, but I do not know when I shall make up my mind to
stain it with ink. I was very glad to receive your letter of the 26th,
and to think that you were mindful of us. I know you do not wish to
be away, though you are striving to get as far away as possible.
When you reach Norfolk, you will be so convenient to New York, whence
steamers depart almost daily for Europe. Let us know when you sail.
But I do not write to restrain your movements, though you know how
solitary I am without you. I inclose...which, with what I gave Mildred,
I hope will answer your purpose. Send me or bring me the photographs
I asked for. I like them of the last edition; they seem to take with
the little school-girls, and I have nothing else to give them. I
hope you will have a safe and pleasant trip. Tell Mr. Warwick I shall
sorrow with him to-night--though I believe Mrs. Lee is right. Remember
me to all friends, and believe me,
"Your devoted father, R. E. Lee.
"Miss Agnes Lee."
The latter part of January my father was sent by the board of trustees
to Richmond to converse with the Committee on Education of the Virginia
Legislature, then in session, as to some funds of the State held by
Washington College. His mission was, I believe, successful, and
great material aid was gained. He remained no long than was absolutely
necessary, and, returning to his duties at Lexington, encountered a
severe snow-storm. The difficulties he had to overcome are described
in the following letter to his daughter Agnes, whom he had met in
Richmond, and who had gone from there to visit some friends in Norfolk:
"Lexington, Virginia, January 29, 1866.
"My Precious Little Agnes: I have received your letter of the 17th,
transmitting the photographs, for which I am very much obliged. I
returned the one for Miss Laura Lippett, whom I wish I could see once
again. It would be more agreeable to me than any photograph. I had
quite a successful journey up, notwithstanding the storm. The snow
increased as we approached the mountains, and night had set in before
we reached Staunton. The next morning, before sunrise, in spite of
the predictions of the wise ones, I took passage on the single car
which was attached to the locomotive, and arrived at Goshen about 10
A. M., where, after some little encouragement, the stage-driver attached
his horses to the stage, and we started slowly through the mountains,
breaking the track. On reaching the Baths, the North River was
unfordable, but I was ferried across in a skiff, with all my bundles
(I picked up two more in Staunton and one at Goshen) and packages,
and took a stage detained on the opposite bank for Lexington, where
I arrived in good time. I found all as well as usual, and disappointed
at not seeing you with me, though I was not expected. I told them how
anxious you were to come with me, and how you wanted to see them, but
that you looked so wretchedly I could not encourage you. I hope you
are now in Norfolk, and that the fish and oysters will fatten you and
cure your feet!... But get strong and keep well, and do not wear
yourself out in the pursuit of pleasure. I hope you will soon join us,
and that Lexington may prove to you a happy home. Your mother is a
great sufferer, but is as quiet and uncomplaining as ever. Mildred
is active and cheerful, and Custis and I as silent as our wont. Major
Campbell Brown is here on a visit. I am surprised to find him such
a talker. I am very sorry to find that Preston Cocke has been obliged
to leave on account of his health. I have one comfort: my dear nephew
will never injure himself by studying. Do not be alarmed about him....
Remember me to Colonel Taylor, all his mother's family, his wife, the
Bakers, Seldens, etc. I know none of the latter but the Doctor, for
whom I have always had a great esteem. Your mother, brother, and
Mildred send their best love and kindest wishes. I am always,
"Your devoted father, R. E. Lee.
"Miss Agnes Lee."
It was at Dr. Seldon's house that my sister was visiting. He had been
very kind in offering assistance to my father and mother. I remember
well the supper given me and several of my comrades when we were coming
back from the surrender, and while the Doctor and his family were
refugees at Liberty, now Bedford City, Va. Stopping there one night,
weary and hungry, while looking for quarters for man and beast, I got
a note asking me and my friends to come to their house. An invitation
of that kind was never refused in those days. We went and were treated
as if we had been sons of the house, the young ladies themselves waiting
on us. In the morning, when we were about to start, they filled our
haversacks with rations, and Mrs. Selden, taking me aside, offered me
a handful of gold pieces saying that she had more and that she could
not bear to think of my father's son being without as long as she
The love and devotion shown my father by all the people of the South
was deeply appreciated by him. He longed to help them, but was almost
powerless. I think he felt that something could be done in that
direction by teaching and training their youth, and I am sure this idea
greatly influenced him in deciding to accept the presidency of
Washington College. The advantages to the South of a proper education
of her youth were very evident to him. He strongly urged it wherever
and whenever he could. In a letter written at this time to the Reverend
G. W. Leyburn, he speaks very forcibly on the subject:
"So greatly have those interests [educational] been disturbed at the
South, and so much does its future condition depend upon the rising
generation, that I consider the proper education of its youth one of
the most important objects now to be attained, and one from which the
greatest benefits may be expected. Nothing will compensate us for the
depression of the standard of our moral and intellectual culture, and
each State should take the most energetic measures to revive the schools
and colleges, and, if possible, to increase the facilities for
instruction, and to elevate the standard of learning...."
Again, in a letter to General John B. Gordon, written December, 1867,
"The thorough education of all classes of the people is the most
efficacious means, in my opinion, of promoting the prosperity of the
South. The material interests of its citizens, as well as their moral
and intellectual culture, depend upon its accomplishment. The text-
books of our schools, therefore, should not only be clear, systematic,
and scientific, but they should be acceptable to parents and pupils
in order to enlist the minds of all in the subjects."
In a letter to a friend in Baltimore he is equally earnest:
"I agree with you fully as to the importance of a more practical course
of instruction in our schools and colleges, which, calling forth the
genius and energies of our people, will tend to develop the resources
and promote the interests of the country."
In many other letters at this time and later on, especially in one
to Professor Minor, who had been appointed with him upon a board by
the Educational Society of Virginia, did he urge the importance of
education for the present and future safety, welfare, and prosperity
of the country. Among the many tokens of respect and admiration, love,
and sympathy which my father received from all over the world, there
was one that touched him deeply. It was a "Translation of Homer's
Iliad by Philip Stanhope Worsley, Fellow of Corpus Christi College,
Oxford, England," which the talented young poet and author sent him,
through the General's nephew, Mr. Edward Lee Childe, of Paris, a
special friend of Mr. Worsley. I copy the latter's letter to Mr.
Childe, as it shows some of the motives influencing him in the
dedication of his work:
"My Dear Friend: You will allow me in dedicating this work to you,
to offer it at the same time as a poor yet not altogether unmeaning
tribute of my reverence for your brave and illustrious uncle, General
Lee. He is the hero, like Hector of the Iliad, of the most glorious
cause for which men fight, and some of the grandest passages in the
poem come to me with yet more affecting power when I remember his
lofty character and undeserved misfortunes. The great names that your
country has bequeathed from its four lurid years of national life as
examples to mankind can never be forgotten, and among these none will
be more honoured, while history endures, by all true hears, than that
of your noble relative. I need not say more, for I know you must be
aware how much I feel the honour of associating my work, however
indirectly, with one whose goodness and genius are alike so admirable.
Accept this token of my deepest sympathy and regard, and believe me,
"Ever most sincerely yours,
"P. S. Worsley."
On the fly-leaf of the volume he sent my father was written the
following beautiful inscription:
"To General Lee,
The most stainless of living commanders
and, except in fortune, the greatest,
this volume is presented
with the writer's earnest sympathy
and respectful admiration
'... oios yap epveto Idiov Ektwp.'
and just beneath, by the same hand, the following beautiful verses:
"The grand old bard that never dies,
Receive him in our English tongue!
I send thee, but with weeping eyes,
The story that he sung.
"Thy Troy is fallen,--thy dear land
Is marred beneath the spoiler's heel--
I cannot trust my trembling hand
To write the things I feel.
"Ah, realm of tears!--but let her bear
This blazon to the end of time:
No nation rose so white and fair,
None fell so pure of crime.
"The widow's moan, the orphan's wail,
Come round thee; but in truth be strong!
Eternal Right, though all else fail,
Can never be made Wrong.
"An Angel's heart, an angel's mouth,
Not Homer's, could alone for me
Hymn well the great Confederate South--
Virginia first, and LEE.
"P. S. W."
His letter of thanks, and the one which he wrote later, when he heard
of the ill health of Mr. Worsley--both of which I give here--show
very plainly how much he was pleased:
"Lexington, Virginia, February 10, 1866.
"Mr. P. S. Worsley.
"My Dear Sir: I have received the copy of your translation of the
Iliad which you so kindly presented to me. Its perusal has been my
evening's recreation, and I have never more enjoyed the beauty and
grandeur of the poem than as recited by you. The translation is as
truthful as powerful, and faithfully represents the imagery and rhythm
of the bold original. The undeserved compliment in prose and verse,
on the first leaves of the volume, I received as your tribute to the
merit of my countrymen, who struggled for constitutional government.
"With great respect,
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
"Lexington, Virginia, March 14, 1866.
"My Dear Mr. Worsley: In a letter just received from my nephew, Mr.
Childe, I regret to learn that, at his last accounts from you, you
were greatly indisposed. So great is my interest in your welfare
that I cannot refrain, even at the risk of intruding upon your sickroom,
from expressing my sincere sympathy in your affliction. I trust,
however, that ere this you have recovered and are again in perfect
health. Like many of your tastes and pursuits, I fear you may confine
yourself too closely to your reading. Less mental labour and more
of the fresh air of Heaven might bring to you more comfort, and to your
friends more enjoyment, even in the way in which you now delight them.
Should a visit to this distracted country promise you any recreation,
I hope I need not assure you how happy I should be to see you at
Lexington. I can give you a quiet room, and careful nursing, and a
horse that would delight to carry you over our beautiful mountains.
I hope my letter informing you of the pleasure I derived from the
perusal of your translation of the Iliad, in which I endeavoured to
express my thanks for the great compliment you paid me in its
dedication, has informed you of my high appreciation of the work.
"Wishing you every happiness in this world, and praying that eternal
peace may be your portion in that to come, I am most truly, Your
friend and servant,
"R. E. Lee."
That winter, my father was accustomed to read aloud in the long evenings
to my mother and sisters "The Grand Old Bard," equally to his own and
his listeners' enjoyment.
Two or three years after this, Professor George Long, of England, a
distinguished scholar, sent my father a copy of the second edition of
his "Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius." The first edition of
this translation was pirated by a Northern publisher, who dedicated
the book back to Emerson. This made Long very indignant, and he
immediately brought out a second edition with the following prefatory
"...I have never dedicated a book to any man and if I dedicated this,
I should choose the man whose name seemed to me most worthy to be
joined to that of the Roman soldier and philosopher. I might dedicate
the book to the successful general who is now the President of the
United States, with the hope that his integrity and justice will restore
peace and happiness, so far as he can, to those unhappy States which
have suffered so much from war and the unrelenting hostility of wicked
men. But as the Roman poet says,
"'Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni;'
"And if I dedicated this little book to any man, I would dedicate it
to him who led the Confederate armies against the powerful invader,
and retired from an unequal contest defeated, but not dishonoured;
to the noble Virginian soldier whose talents and virtues place him by
the side of the best and wisest man who sat on the throne of the
These two nearly similar tributes came from the best cultured thought
of England, and the London Standard, speaking more for the nation at
"A country which has given birth to men like him, and those who followed
him, may look the chivalry of Europe in the face without shame; for the
FATHERLANDS OF SIDNEY AND BAYARD NEVER PRODUCED A NOBLER SOLDIER,
GENTLEMAN, AND CHRISTIAN THAN GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE."
In a letter to his old friend, Mr. H. Tutweiler, of Virginia, Professor
Long sent the following message to my father, which, however, was
never received by him, it having been sent to my mother only after
"I did not answer General Lee's letter [one of thanks for the book,
sent by Professor Long through Mr. Tutweiler], because I thought that
he is probably troubled with many letters. If you should have occasion
to write to him, I beg you will present to him my most respectful
regards, and my hope that he will leave behind him some commentary
to be placed on the same shelf with Caesar's. I am afraid he is too
modest to do this. I shall always keep General lee's letter, and will
leave it to somebody who will cherish the remembrance of a great soldier
and a good man. If I were not detained here by circumstances, I would
cross the Atlantic to see the first and noblest man of our days."
Another noble English gentleman, who had shown great kindness to the
South and who was a warm admirer of General Lee, was the Honorable
A. W. Beresford Hope. He, I think, was at the head of a number of
English gentlemen who presented the superb statue of "Stonewall"
Jackson by Foley to the State of Virginia. It now stands in the Capitol
Square at Richmond, and is a treasure of which the whole Commonwealth
may justly be proud. Through Mr. Hope, my father received a handsome
copy of the Bible, and, in acknowledgement of Mr. Hope's letter, he
wrote the following:
"Lexington, Virginia, April 16, 1866.
"Honourable A. W. Beresford Hope, Bedgebury Park, Kent, England
"Sir: I have received within a few days your letter of November 14,
1865, and had hoped that by this time it would have been followed by
the copy of the Holy Scriptures to which you refer, that I might have
known the generous donors, whose names, you state, are inscribed on
its pages. Its failure to reach me will, I fear, deprive me of that
pleasure, and I must ask the favour of you to thank them most heartily
for their kindness in providing me with a book in comparison with
which all others in my eyes are of minor importance, and which in all
my perplexities has never failed to give me light and strength.
Your assurance of the esteem in which I am held by a large portion
of the British nation, as well as by those for whom you speak, is
most grateful to my feelings, though I am aware that I am indebted to
their generous natures, and not to my own merit, for their good opinion.
I beg, sir, that you will accept my sincere thanks for the kind
sentiments which you have expressed toward me, and my unfeigned
admiration of your exalted character. I am, with great respect,
"Your most obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
Lee's Opinion upon the Late War
His intention to write the history of his Virginia campaigns--Called
before a committee of Congress--Preaches patience and silence in the
South--Shuns controversy and publicity--Corresponds with an Englishman,
Herbert C. Saunders
My father had a strong desire at this time to write a history of his
campaigns. I think, however, he gradually gave it up when he saw the
great difficulties to be overcome and the labour required to produce
anything worthy of the subject, especially as he began to realise
that his strength was slowly failing--a fact which his letters indicate.
Just after the cessation of hostilities, he had taken some preliminary
steps toward acquiring the necessary material. In a circular letter
which he sent out to a great many of his general officers, he wrote:
"I am desirous that the bravery and devotion of the Army of Northern
Virginia be correctly transmitted to posterity. This is the only
tribute that can now be paid to the worth of its noble officers and
soldiers, and I am anxious to collect the necessary information for
the hisotry of its campaigns, including the operations in the Valley
and in Western Virginia, from its organisation to its final
In a letter to the Honourable W. B. Reid, of Philadelphia, he writes
on the same subject:
"...I concur with you entirely as to the importance of a true history
of the war, and it is my purpose, unless prevented, to write the
history of the campaigns in Virginia. With this view, I have been
engaged since the cessation of hostilities in endeavouring to procure
the necessary official information. All my records, reports, returns,
etc., etc., with the headquarters of the army, were needlessly destroyed
by the clerks having them in charge on the retreat from Petersburg,
and such as had been forwarded to the War Department in Richmond were
either destroyed in the conflagration or captured at the South in the
attempt to save them. I desire to obtain some vouchers in support
of my memory, or I should otherwise have made some progress in the
narrative. the have not even my letter- or order-books to which to refer.
I have thought it possible that some of my official correspondence,
which would be of value to me, might be found among the captured records
in Washington, and that General Grant, who possesses magnanimity as
well as ability, might cause me to be furnished with copies. I have,
however, hesitated to approach him on the subject, as it is one in
which he would naturally feel no interest."
In a letter to General Early, written in November, 1865, on the same
subject, he says:
"...I desire, if not prevented, to write a history of the campaigns
in Virginia.... Your reports of your operations in '64 and '65 were
among those destroyed. Can not you repeat them, and send me copies
of such letters, orders, etc., of mine (including that last letter,
to which you refer), and particularly give me your recollections of
our effective strength at the principal battles? My only object is
to transmit, if possible, the truth to posterity, and do justice to
our brave soldiers."
Here is another letter to General Early, written March 16th, containing
references to the same subject, and to two letters of General Early
which had been published in the papers. It is interesting, also, as
showing his moderation in speaking of those who had misrepresented
his words and acts:
"My Dear General: I am very much obliged to you for the copies of my
letters, forwarded with yours of January 25th. I hope you will be
able to send me reports of the operations of your commands in the
campaign, from the Wilderness to Richmond, at Lynchburg, in the Valley,
Maryland, etc.; all statistics as regards numbers, destruction of
private property by the Federal troops, etc., I should like to have,
as I wish my memory strengthened on these points. It will be difficult
to get the world to understand the odds against which we fought, and
the destruction or loss of all returns of the army embarrass me very
much. I read your letter from Havana to the New York Times, and was
pleased with the temper in which it was written. I have since received
the paper containing it, published in the City of Mexico, and also
your letter in reference to Mr. Davis. I understand and appreciate
the motives which prompted both letters, and think they will be of
service in the way you intended. I have been much pained to see the
attempts made to cast odium upon Mr. Davis, but do not think they will
be successful with the reflecting or informed portion of the country.
The accusations against myself I have not thought proper to notice, or
even to correct misrepresentations of my words or acts. WE SHALL HAVE
TO BE PATIENT and suffer for awhile at least; and all controversy, I
think, will only serve to prolong angry and bitter feeling, and postpone
the period when reason and charity may resume their sway. At present,
the public mind is not prepared to receive the truth. The feelings
which influenced you to leave the country were natural, and, I presume,
were uppermost in the breasts of many. It was a matter which each
one had to decide for himself, as he only could know the reasons
which governed him. I was particularly anxious on your account, as
I had the same apprehensions to which you refer. I am truly glad that
you are beyond the reach of annoyance, and hope you may be able to
employ yourself profitably and usefully. Mexico is a beautiful
country, fertile, of vast resources; and, with a stable government
and virtuous population, will rise to greatness. I do not think that
your letters can be construed by your former associates as reflecting
upon them, and I have never heard the least blame cast by those who
have remained upon those who thought it best to leave the country. I
think I stated in a former letter the reasons which governed me, and
will not therefore repeat them. I hope, in time, peace will be restored
to the country, and that the South may enjoy some measure of prosperity.
I fear, however, much suffering is still in store for her, and that
her people must be prepared to exercise fortitude and forbearance.
I must beg you to present my kind regards to the gentlemen with you,
and, with my best wishes for yourself and undiminished esteem, I am,
"Most truly yours,
"R. E. Lee."
That his purpose had been heard of in the outside world is evident
from this reply to a publisher in Cincinnati:
"Near Cartersville, Virginia, August 26, 1865.
"Mr. Joseph Topham, Cincinnati, Ohio.
"My Dear Sir: I have just received your letter of the 17th inst.,
in reference to a history of the late war to be written by myself.
I cannot, at present, undertake such a work, but am endeavouring to
collect certain material to enable me to write a history of the
campaigns in Virginia. Its completion is uncertain, and dependent
upon so many contingencies that I think it useless to speak of
arrangements for its publication at present. Thanking you for your
kind proposition, I am,
"Very respectfully yours,
"R. E. Lee."
There were a great many letters of this kind from Northern publishing
houses, and his replies were all of the same character. His failure
to carry out this much cherished wish is greatly to be deplored. How
much we and our children have missed, those who know his truth and
honesty of purpose, his manliness, simplicity, and charity, can best
During the last days of February he was summoned to Washington to appear
before a committee of Congress which was inquiring into the conditions
of things in the Southern States, with a view to passing some of the
so-called reconstruction measures. His testimony was simple, direct,
and dignified, and is well worth reading by all who wish to hear the
plain truth. It was his first appearance in any city save Richmond
since the war, and being at a time of such political excitement, his
visit was an occasion of absorbing interest to the crowds then in the
When in Washington, Armanda, one of the house-servants at Arlington,
called on him but failed to see him. In answer to a letter from her,
my father replies as follows:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 9, 1866.
"Amanda: I have received your letter of the 27th ult., and regret
very much that I did not see you when I was in Washington. I heard
on returning to my room, Sunday night, that you had been to see me;
and I was sorry to have missed you, for I wished to learn how you
were, and how all the people from Arlington were getting on in the
world. My interest in them is as great now as it ever was, and I
sincerely wish for their happiness and prosperity. At the period
specified in Mr. Custis's will--five years from the time of his death--
I caused the liberation of all the people at Arlington, as well as
those at the White House and Romancoke, to be recorded in the Hustings
Court at Richmond; and letters of manumission to be given to those
with whom I could communicate who desired them. In consequence of
the war which then existed, I could do nothing more for them. I do
not know why you should ask if I am angry with you. I am not aware
of your having done anything to give me offense, and I hope you would
not say or do what was wrong. While you lived at Arlington you behaved
very well, and were attentive and faithful to your duties. I hope you
will always conduct yourself in the same manner. Wishing you health,
happiness, and success in life, I am truly,
"R. E. Lee."
Shortly after his return to Lexington, he writes to Mrs. Jefferson
Davis. In this letter he expresses such noble sentiments, and is so
moderate and sensible in his views of those who were harassing him and
the South, that all who read it must profit thereby:
"Lexington, Virginia, February 23, 1866.
"My Dear Mrs. Davis: Your letter of the 12th inst. reached Lexington
during my absence at Washington. I have never seen Mr. Colfax's
speech, and am, therefore, ignorant of the statements it contained.
Had it, however, come under my notice, I doubt whether I should have
thought it proper to reply. I HAVE THOUGHT, FROM THE TIME OF THE
CESSATION OF THE HOSTILITIES, THAT SILENCE AND PATIENCE ON THE PART
OF THE SOUTH WAS THE TRUE COURSE; and I think so still. CONTROVERSY
OF ALL KINDS will, in my opinion, only serve to continue excitement
and passion, and will prevent the public mind from the acknowledgement
and acceptance of the truth. These considerations have kept me from
replying to accusations made against myself, and induced me to recommend
the same to others. As regards the treatment of the Andersonville
prisoners, to which you allude, I know nothing and can say nothing
of my own knowledge. I never had anything to do with any prisoners,
except to send those taken on the fields, where I was engaged, to the
Provost Marshal General at Richmond. I have felt most keenly the
sufferings and imprisonment of your husband, and have earnestly
consulted with friends as to any possible mode of affording him relief
and consolation. He enjoys the sympathy and respect of all good men;
and if, as you state, his trial is now near, the exhibition of the
while truth in his case will, I trust, prove his defense and
justification. With sincere prayers for his health and speedy
restoration to liberty, and earnest supplications to God that He may
take you and yours under His guidance and protection, I am, with great
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
In further illustration of these views, held so strongly by him and
practised so faithfully throughout his life, the following, written
to a gentleman in Baltimore, is given:
"Lexington, Virginia, April 13, 1866.
"My Dear Sir: Your letter of the 5th inst., inclosing a slip from
the Baltimore "American," has been received. The same statement has
been published at the North for several years. The statement is not
true; but I have not thought proper to publish a contradiction, being
unwilling to be drawn into a newspaper discussion, believing that
those who know me would not credit it and those who do not would care
nothing about it. I cannot now depart from the rule I have followed.
It is so easy to make accusations against the people at the South
upon similar testimony, that those so disposed, should one be refuted,
will immediately create another; and thus you would be led into endless
controversy. I think it better to leave their correction to the return
of reason and good feeling.
"Thanking you for your interest in my behalf, and begging you to
consider my letter as intended only for yourself, I am,
"Most respectfully your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
In this connection I give the following letter thanking Mr. Burr for
a copy of the "Old Guard" which he had sent him, and showing also
what, in his opinion, the South had fought for, and of what true
"Lexington, Virginia, January 5, 1866.
"Mr. C. Chauncey Burr.
"My Dear Sir: I am very much obliged to you for your letter of the
27th ult., and for the number of the 'Old Guard' which you kindly sent
me. I am glad to know that the intelligent and respectable people at
the North are true and conservative in their opinions, for I believe
by no other course can the right interests of the country be maintained.
All that the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established
by our forefathers, should be preserved, and that the government as
originally organised should be administered in purity and truth. If
such is the desire of the North, there can be no contention between
the two sections, and all true patriots will unite in advocating that
policy which will soonest restore the country to tranquility and order,
and serve to perpetuate true republicanism. Please accept my thanks
for your advocacy of right and liberty and the kind sentiments which
you express toward myself, and believe me to be, with great respect,
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
An interesting view of my father's desire to keep himself from public
attention is shown by his correspondence with an English gentleman,
Mr. Herbert C. Saunders. The connected interview states his opinions
on several points which are valuable. The copy of these papers was
kindly furnished me by Mr. John Lyle Campbell, the Proctor of Washington
and Lee University:
"Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, January 19, 1900.
"Capt. Robert E. Lee, West Point, Virginia.
Dear Capt. Lee: I inclose the copy promised you of the papers found
in General Lee's desk. The paper seems to have had his careful
revision, as there are a good many passages stricken out and a good
many insertions in what seems to me undoubtedly to be his handwriting;
and I was very much interested in the changes that he made, as they
were most characteristic of him--toning everything down, striking out
adjectives, turning phrases from a personal to a general character,
and always adding simplicity and force to the original. It seems to
me most likely that he was a first disposed to allow the publication,
but declined at last, on August 22d, the full limit of time indicated
in Mr. Saunders's letter. I am Yours truly,
"(Dict.) Jno. L. Campbell."
The papers of which the following are copies were found in General
Robert E. Lee's desk in the President's office at Washington and Lee
University. On the envelope in which they were inclosed was the
following indorsement in General Lee's handwriting:
"London, July 31, 1866.
"Herbert C. Sanders asks permission to publish his conversation with
me. August 22d--Refused."
"3 Bolton Gardens, South Kensington, London, July 31, 1866.
"My Dear General Lee: Presuming on the acquaintance with you which I
had the honour and pleasure of making last November at Lexington, while
travelling in Virginia, I venture now to write to you under these
circumstances. You may remember that, at the time I presented to
you my letter of introduction, I told you that two other Englishmen,
friends of mine, who had come with me to America, were then making a
tour through Georgia, the Carolinas, and some other Southern States.
One of them, Mr. Kennaway, was so much interested with all he saw, and
the people at home have appreciated his letters descriptive of it so
well, that he is intending to publish a short account of his visit.
Not having, however, had an introduction to yourself, he is anxious
to avail himself of the somewhat full accounts I wrote home at the
time, descriptive of my most interesting interview with you, and, with
this view, he has asked me to put into the shape of a letter all those
more prominent points which occur to me as gathered from my letters
and my recollection, and which are likely to interest and instruct
the English public. I have, after some hesitation, acceded to the
request--a hesitation caused mainly by the fact that at the time I
saw you I neither prepared my notes with a view to publication nor
did I inform you that there was any chance of what you told me being
repeated. I may add that I never until a month or two ago had the
slightest thought of publishing anything, and, in fact, have constantly
resisted the many applications by my friends that I should let my
letters see the light. My object in now writing to you is to know
whether you have any objection to my giving my friend the inclosed
short account of our interview, as it would, I am convinced, add
greatly to the interest of the narrative. If you have no objection
to this, perhaps you would kindly correct any statements put into
your mouth which are not quite accurate, or expunge anything which
might prejudice you with the public either of the North or the South,
if unluckily anything of this nature should have crept in. My letters,
were written a day or two after the conversation, but you had so much
of interest and new to tell me that I do not feel sure that I may not
have confused names of battles, etc., in some instances. It will be
necessary for me to deliver my part of the performance early in
September to the publishers, and, therefore, I should feel much obliged
by your sending me an answer at your earliest convenience. There will
be a mail due here about the first of that month, leaving the United
States on Wednesday, the 22d, and I shall, therefore, wait till its
arrival before sending my letter to Mr. Kennaway; but should I not
hear from you then I shall consider you have no objections to make
or alterations to suggest, and act accordingly. If you have any new
facts which you think it desirable should be known by the public, it
will give me much pleasure to be the medium of their communication.
"I am sure I need scarcely tell you with what keen interest I have
read all the accounts from your continent of the proceedings in Congress
and elsewhere in connection with the reconstruction of the South. I
do sincerely trust it may be eventually effected in a way satisfactory
to the South, and I most deeply deplore the steps taken by the Radical
side of the House to set the two (North and South) by the ears again.
President Johnson's policy seems to me to be that which, if pursued,
would be most likely to contribute to the consolidation of the
country; but I am both surprised and pained to find how little power
the Executive has against so strong a faction as the Radicals, who,
while they claim to represent the North, do, in fact, but misrepresent
the country. I am sure you will believe that I say with sincerity
that I always take great interest in anything I hears said or that
I read of yourself, and I am happy to say that, even with all the
rancour of the Northern Radicals against the South, it is little they
find of ill to say of you.
"Hoping you will not think I am doing wrong in the course I propose
to take, and that your answer may be satisfactory, I remain, my dear
"Yours very sincerely, Herbert C. Saunders.
"General Robert E. Lee."
"Lexington, Virginia, August 22, 1866.
"Mr. Herbert C. Saunders,
"3 Bolton Gardens, South Kensington, London, England.
"My Dear Mr. Saunders: I received to-day your letter of the 31st ult.
What I stated to you in conversation, during the visit which you did
me the honour to pay me in November last, was entirely for your own
information, and was in no way intended for publication. My only
object was to gratify the interest which you apparently evinced on the
several topics which were introduced, and to point to facts which you
might investigate, if you so desired, in your own way. I have an
objection to the publication of my private conversations, which are
never intended but for those to whom they are addressed. I cannot,
therefore, without an entire disregard of the rule which I have followed
in other cases, and in violation of my own sense of propriety, assent
to what you propose. I hope, therefore, you will excuse me. What
you may think proper to publish I hope will be the result of your
own observations and convictions, and not on my authority. In the
hasty perusal which I have been obliged to give the manuscript inclosed
to me, I perceive many inaccuracies, resulting as much, from my
imperfect narrative as from misapprehension on your part. Though
fully appreciating your kind wish to correct certain erroneous
statements as regards myself, I prefer remaining silent to doing
anything that might excite angry discussion at this time, when strong
efforts are being made by conservative men, North and South, to sustain
President Johnson in his policy, which, I think, offers the only means
of healing the lamentable divisions of the country, and which the
result of the late convention at Philadelphia gives great promise of
doing. Thanking you for the opportunity afforded me of expressing
my opinion before executing your purpose, I am, etc.,
"R. E. Lee."
The following is Mr. Saunders' account of the interview:
"On only one subject would he take at any length about his own conduct,
and that was with reference to the treatment of the Federal prisoners
who had fallen into his hands. He seemed to feel deeply the backhanded
stigma cast upon him by his having been included by name in the first
indictment framed against Wirz, though he was afterward omitted from
the new charges. He explained to me the circumstances under which
he had arranged with McClellan for the exchange of prisoners; how he
had, after the battles of Manassas, Fredericksburg, and (I think)
Chancellorsville, sent all the wounded over to the enemy on the
engagement of their generals to parole them. He also told me that on
several occasions his commissary generals had come to him after a
battle and represented that he had not rations enough both for prisoners
and the army when the former had to be sent several days' march to
their place of confinement, and he had always given orders that the
wants of the prisoners should be first attended to, as from their
position they could not save themselves from starvation by foraging
or otherwise, as the army could when in straits for provisions. The
General also explained how every effort had always been made by the
Confederates to do away with the necessity of retaining prisoners by
offering every facility for exchange, till at last, when all exchange
was refused, they found themselves with 30,000 prisoners for whom
they were quite unable to do as much as they wished in the way of food.
He stated, furthermore, that many of their hardships arose from the
necessity of constantly changing the prisons to prevent recapture.
With the management of the prisons he assured me he had no more to
do than I had, and did not even know that Wirz was in charge of
Andersonville prison (at least, I think he asserted this) till after
the war was over. I could quite sympathise with him in his feeling
of pain under which his generous nature evidently suffered that the
authorities at Washington should have included him and others similarly
circumstanced in this charge of cruelty at the time that letters written
by himself (General Lee), taken in Richmond when captured, complaining
that the troops in his army had actually been for days together on
several occasions without an ounce of meat, were in possession of
the military authorities.
"When discussing the state of feeling in England with regard to the
war, he assured me that it had all along given him the greatest
pleasure to feel that the Southern cause had the sympathies of so many
in the 'old country,' to which he looked as a second home; but, in
answer to my questions, he replied that he had never expected us to
give them material aid, and added that he thought all governments were
right in studying only the interests of their own people and in not
going to war for an 'idea' when they had no distinct cause of quarrel.
"On the subject of slavery, he assured me that he had always been in
favour of the emancipation of the negroes, and that in Virginia the
feeling had been strongly inclining in the same direction, till the
ill-judged enthusiasm (accounting to rancour) of the abolitionists in
the North had turned the southern tide of feeling in the other
direction. In Virginia, about thirty years ago, an ordinance for the
emancipation of the slaves had been rejected by only a small majority,
and every one fully expected at the next convention it would have been
carried, but for the above cause. He went on to say that there was
scarcely a Virginian new who was not glad that the subject had been
definitely settled, though nearly all regretted that they had not been
wise enough to do it themselves the first year of the war. Allusion
was made by him to a conversation he had with a distinguished contryman
of mine. He had been visiting a large slave plantation (Shirley) on
the James River. The Englishman had told him that the working
population were better cared for there than in any country he had ever
visited, but that he must never expect an approval of the institution
of slavery by England, or aid from her in any cause in which that
question was involved. Taking these facts and the well-known antipathy
of the mass of the English to the institution in consideration, he
said he had never expected help from England. The people 'at the South'
(as the expression is), in the main, though scarcely unanimously,
seem to hold much the same language as General Lee with reference to
our neutrality, and to be much less bitter than Northerners generally--
who, I must confess, in my own opinion, have much less cause to complain
of our interpretation of the laws of neutrality than the South. I may
mention here, by way of parenthesis, that I was, on two separate
occasions (one in Washington and once in Lexington), told that there
were many people in the country who wished that General Washington
had never lived and that they were still subjects of Queen Victoria;
but I should certainly say as a rule the Americans are much too well
satisfied with themselves for this feeling to be at all common. General
Lee, in the course of this to me most interesting evening's seance,
gave me many details of the war too long to put on paper, but, with
reference to the small result of their numerous victories, accounted
for it in this way: the force which the Confederates brought to bear
was so often inferior in numbers to that of the Yankees that the more
they followed up the victory against one portion of the enemy's line
the more did they lay themselves open to being surrounded by the
remainder of the enemy. He likened the operation to a man breasting
a wave of the sea, who, as rapidly as he clears a way before him, is
enveloped by the very water he has displaced. He spoke of the final
surrender as inevitable owing to the superiority in numbers of the
enemy. His own army had, during the last few weeks, suffered materially
from defection in its ranks, and, discouraged by failures and worn out
by hardships, had at the time of the surrender only 7,892 men under
arms, and this little army was almost surrounded by one of 100,000.
They might, the General said with an air piteous to behold, have cut
their way out as they had done before, but, looking upon the struggle
as hopeless, I was not surprised to hear him say that he thought it
cruel to prolong it. In two other battles he named (Sharpsburg and
Chancellorsville, I think he said), the Confederates were to the
Federals in point of numbers as 35,000 to 120,000 and 45,000 to
155,000 respectively, so that the mere disparity of numbers was not
sufficient to convince him of the necessity of surrender; but feeling
that his own army was persuaded of the ultimate hopelessness of the
contest as evidenced by their defection, he took the course of
surrendering his army in lieu of reserving it for utter annihilation.
"Turning to the political bearing of the important question at issue,
the great Southern general gave me, at some length, his feelings with
regard to the abstract right of secession. This right, he told me,
was held as a constitutional maxim at the South. As to its exercise
at the time on the part of the South, he was distinctly opposed, and
it was not until Lincoln issued a proclamation for 75,000 men to invade
the South, which was deemed clearly unconstitutional, that Virginia
withdrew from the United States.
"We discussed a variety of other topics, and, at eleven o'clock when
I rose to go, he begged me to stay on, as he found the nights full long.
His son, General Custis Lee, who had distinguished himself much during
the war, but whom I had not the good fortune of meeting, is the only
one of his family at present with him at Lexington, where he occupies
the position of a professor in the Military Institute of Virginia.
This college had 250 cadets in it when the war broke out, General
'Stonewall' Jackson being one of the professors. At one moment in the
war, when the Federal were advancing steadily up the Shenandoah Valley,
these youths (from 16 to 22 years of age) were marched to join the
Confederate Army, and did good service. In one battle at Newmarket,
of which I shall have occasion to speak later in my letters, they
distinguished themselves in a conspicuous way under the leadership of
Colonel Shipp, who is still their commandant. By a brilliant charge,
they contributed, in a great measure, to turn the tide of affairs,
losing nine of their number killed and more than forty wounded. General
Hunter, on a subsequent occasion, when occupying Lexington with a body
of Federal troops, quartered his men in the Military Institute for
several days, and, on leaving, had the building--a very handsome and
extensive one--fired in numerous places, completely destroying all but
the external walls, which now stand. The professors' houses stood in
detached positions, and these, too, with the house of Mr. Letcher, a
former governor of the State, he also burnt to the ground. The
Washington college, the presidency of which General Lee now holds, they
also ransacked, destroying everything it contained, and were preparing
it for the flames, to which they were with difficulty restrained from
devoting it by earnest representations of its strictly educational
The General writes to his sons--To his wife at Rockbridge Baths--He
joins her there about once a week--Distinguished and undistinguished
callers at his Lexington home--He advocates early hours--His fondness
I had before this time gone to my farm in King William County and
started out in life as a farmer. As there was nothing but the land
and a few old buildings left, for several years I had a very up-hill
time. My father encouraged, advised me, and gave me material aid.
His letters to me at this time will show the interest he took in my
welfare. In one written March 16, 1866, after advising me as to steps
to be taken in repairing an old mill on the place, he writes:
"I am clear for your doing everything to improve your property and make
it remunerative as far as you can. You know my objections to incurring
debt. I cannot overcome it.... I hope you will overcome your chills,
and by next winter you must patch up your house, and get a sweet wife.
You will be more comfortable, and not so lonesome. Let her bring a
cow and a churn. That will be all you will want.... Give my love
to Fitzhugh. I wish he were regularly established. He cannot afford
to be idle. He will be miserable."
My brother Fitzhugh, here referred to, was negotiating to rent his
farm, the White House, to some so-called English capitalists, and had
not as yet established himself. In another letter to me, of May 26,
1866, my father says:
"...I will state, at the outset, that I desire you to consider Romancoke
with its appurtenances your own; to do with as you consider most to
your interest; to sell, farm, or let; subject, however, to the
conditions imposed by your grandfather's will, as construed by the
decree of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, which declares, 'If the
legacies are not paid off by the personal property, hires of slaves,
rents, and sale of the real estate, charged with their payment, at the
end of five years, the portion unpaid remains a charge upon the White
House and Romancoke until paid. The devisees take their estates cum
"The result of the war having deprived the estates of the benefit of
the hire of the slaves and the sale of Smith's Island, and the personal
property having all been swept off by the Federal armies, there is
nothing left but the land of the two estates named. A court might
make some deduction from the amount of the legacies to be paid in
consideration of these circumstances, and I should think it would be
fair to do so. But of that I cannot say. Now, with this understanding,
make your own arrangements to suit yourself, and as you may determine
most conducive to your interests. In confirming your action, as the
executor or your grandfather, I must, however, take such measures as
may be necessary to carry out the purpose of his will.... If you are
determined to hold the estate, I think you ought to make it profitable.
As to the means of doing so, you must decide for yourself. I am unable
to do it for you, and might lead you astray. Therefore, while always
willing to give you any advice in my power, in whatever you do you
must feel that the whole responsibility rests with you.... I wish,
my dear son, I could be of some advantage to you, but I can only give
you my love and earnest prayers, and commit you to the keeping of that
God who never forgets those who serve Him. May He watch over and
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee."
In another letter, of June 13th, after telling me of the visit of a
cousin of my mother's and how much gratification it was to have her
with them, he regrets that he son, who brought his mother up to
Lexington, had to hurry home on account of having left his wife and
"...When you have such pleasing spurs in your flanks, I hope you may
be on the fair road to prosperity. All unite in love to you and
Fitzhugh. Ask the latter if George has yet found a horse to trade with
the gray. We miss him very much [my brother had recently visited
Lexington], and want to see you as badly. You may judge how poorly
we are off. The examination has commenced at Washington College. Three
days are over successfully, and I hope to finish in twelve more. ----
has been up in two subjects, and not got thrown. He has two more.
But, in the meantime, I am much occupied, and will be confined all day.
I have no time for letters of affection, so must tell you good-bye.
"R. E. Lee."
This was the first final examination at Washington College since my
father became its president. He worked very hard, and was kept busy
attending to all the details and the putting into practice of several
new methods and systems he had introduced.
That summer he took my mother to the Rockbridge Baths, about eleven
miles from Lexington, to give her the benefit of the waters, which,
he hoped, might give her some relief from the continual pain she
suffered. She did derive benefit, but, unfortunately, had a fall which
seriously impeded the improvement. In reply to a note from my mother
telling him of her misfortune and asking him to send her some medicines,
he writes the following note:
"Lexington, Virginia, August 10, 1866.
"My Dear Mary: On receiving your note, yesterday, I had only time to
get the arnica and send it by the stage. I am very sorry that you
received such a fall, and fear it must have been a heavy shock to you.
I am, however, very thankful that you escaped greater injury, and
hope it is no worse than you describe. I will endeavour to get down
to see you to-morrow evening, and trust I may find you somewhat relieved
from its effects. We are pretty well here. Many people are out of
town, and I have not seen those who are in. Love to the girls.
"Truly and affectionately yours,
"R. E. Lee.
"Mrs. M. C. Lee."
My father was still very busy with his college work, and, after
establishing her there, spent most of the time in Lexington, riding
Traveller over to see her whenever he could get a spare day. Among
the few letters preserved of those written to her at this time, I have
a note of July 16th:
"My Dear Mary: I am glad to see by your letter of yesterday that you
are recovering so well from your fall. I hope you may soon be well
again.... Caroline [the cook] got back this morning. Left her daughter
better. Says there is a very good girl in Lynchburg, from General
Cocke's estate, anxious to live with us. I shall have more conversation
with her [Caroline], and, if satisfied, will write for her, by the
boat to-night. Her father is in Lynchburg, and anxious for her to
come.... Tell Mrs. Cabell I am sorry to have missed seeing her. Where
is Katie? I wish she would send her to see me. I will endeavour to
find some one to carry this to you. Love to all.
"Very affectionately and truly yours,
"R. E. Lee."
The mails in those days were not very direct, and private messenger
was often the surest and speediest method of letter-carriage. In the
absence of my mother, my father was trying to better the staff of
servants. Their inefficiency was the drawback to our comfort then,
as it is now. Often the recommendation of some was only the name of
the estate from which they came. A few days later, my father writes
"Lexington, Virginia, July 20, 1866.
"My Dear Mary: I was glad to receive your note this morning, and
wish it could have reported a marked improvement in your health. But
that, I trust, will come in time. It has been impossible for me to
return to you this week, and, indeed, I do not see how I can absent
myself at all. I shall endeavour to go to the Baths Monday, and hope
during the week you may be able to determine whether it would be more
advantageous for you to remain there or go further, as I shall have
to return here as soon as I can. I can accomplish nothing while
absent. Custis ahs determined to accompany Mr. Harris to the White
Sulphur Monday, and the girls seem indifferent about leaving home.
They ask, properly, what is to become of it? Mr. Pierre Chouteau,
son of Julia Gratiot and Charles Chouteau, will hand you this. He
will remain over Sunday at the Baths, and can tell you all about St.
Louis. I send such letters as have come for you. I have no news.
The heat seems to extend everywhere, but it will be cool enough after
a time. We are as usual, except that 'Aunt' Caroline [the cook] seems
more overcome, and Harriet [the maid] indulges in lighter attire. I
fear Mrs. Myers had an awful time. The Elliotts do not seem in haste
to leave town. They are waiting for a cool day to go to the Natural
Bridge, and do not seem to have decided whether to go to the Baths
or Alum Springs. We had an arrival last night from the latter place--
General Colquit and daughters. They return to-morrow. The girls
will write of domestic matters. I received a letter from Rob at
Romancoke. He is still taking cholagogue, but well. Nothing of
interest has occurred.
"R. E. Lee."
Cholagogue was a fever-and-argue remedy of which I partook largely at
that time. After this letter, my sisters joined my mother at the
Baths, my father still spending most of his time in Lexington, but
riding over to see them whenever he could. He was very busy repairing
some of the old buildings of the college and arranging his work for
the next session. Here is another short note to my mother:
"Lexington, Virginia, August 2, 1866.
"My Dear Mary: Mr. Campbell has just informed me that Cousins George
and Eleanor Goldsborough are with you. Tell them they must not go
till I can get to the Baths. I think the waters of the latter will
do them as much good as anything they can try, and the sight of them
will do me great benefit. I find here much to do, but will endeavour
to be with you to-morrow evening or Saturday morning. Custis has just
come, but finding me occupied with builders, shook hands, got his
dinner, and left for the Institute. So I do not know where he is from
or where he will go next. Our neighbours are generally well, and
inquire for you. Colonel Reid better. Tell the girls, if I find them
improving, I will bring them something. Remember me to Cousins George
and Eleanor and all the ladies. I have about a bushel of letters to
answer and other things to do.
"R. E. Lee."
On one of his visits to my mother, he took advantage of the comparative
quiet and rest there and wrote me a long letter, which I give her in
"Rockbridge Baths, July 28, 1866.
"My Dear Robert: I was very glad to see from your letter of the 2d
the progress you are making in your farm. I hope things may move
prosperously with you, but you must not expect this result without
corresponding attention and labour. I should like very much to visit
you, but it will be impossible. I have little time for anything but
my business. I am here with your mother, waiting to see the effects
of these waters upon her disease, before proceeding to the Warm Springs.
She is pleased with the bath, which she finds very agreeable, and it
has reduced the swelling in her feet and ankles, from which she has
been suffering for a long time, and, in fact, from her account, entirely
removed it. This is a great relief in itself, and, I hope, may be
followed by greater. I do not think she moves with more facility,
though I think she walks [on her crutches] oftener and longer than
heretofore, and probably with more confidence. She has been her too
short a time to pronounce positively as to the effects of the water,
and will have to remain three or four weeks before we determine whether
she will go further. I am unwilling for her to lose the whole summer
here unless it promises some advantage, and, after the middle of next
week, unless some marked change takes place, shall take her to the
Warm Springs. Custis has gone to the White Sulphur, but expects to
be in Richmond on August 6th to meet Fitzhugh, with the view of going
to the Warrenton White Sulphur Springs in North Carolina, to witness
the erection of a monument over dear Annie, which the kind people of
that country have prepared for the purpose. My attendance on your
mother, which is necessary, prevents my being present. Agnes and
Mildred are here. I think the baths have been beneficial to them
already, though they have not been here a week. I will leave them
to describe the place and visitors. I applied the dressing of salt
to the old meadow at Arlington with the view of renovating the grass.
I believe it is equally good for corn. It was refuse salt--Liverpool--
which I bought cheaply in Alexandria from the sacks having decayed
and broken, but I cannot recollect exactly how much I applied to the
acre. I think it was about two or three bushels to the acre. You had
better consult some work on farming as to the quantity. I would advise
you to apply manure of some kind to all your land. I believe there
is nothing better or cheaper for you to begin with than shell lime.
I would prefer cultivating less land manured in some way than a large
amount unassisted. We are always delighted to hear from you, and I
trust with care you may escape the chills. The incentives I spoke of
were a sweet wife and child. God bless you, my dear son.
"R. E. Lee."
My mother continued to improve so much that she did not go that summer
to the Warm Springs. My father spent most of his time in Lexington,
but rode over to the Baths about once a week. There was nothing he
enjoyed more than a good long ride on Traveller. It rested him from
the cares and worries incident to his duties, and gave him renewed
energy for his work. He was often seen that summer along the eleven
miles of mountain road between Lexington and the Baths. He made
himself acquainted with the people living near it, talked to them
about their affairs, encouraged and advised them, and always had a
cheery greeting and a pleasant word for them. The little children
along his route soon became acquainted with the gray horse and his
stately rider. College reopened the last of September and by October
he had his wife and daughters with him again. He write to me on
October 18th, trying to help me in my agricultural perplexities:
"...Am glad to hear that you are well and progressing favourably. Your
Uncle Smith says, in a letter just received in which he writes of his
difficulties and drawbacks, 'I must tell you that if you desire to
succeed in any matter relating to agriculture you must personally
superintend and see to everything.' Perhaps your experience coincides
"I hope your wheat will reimburse you for your labour and guano. I
think you are right in improving your land. You will gain by cultivating
less and cultivating that well, and I would endeavour to manure every
crop--as to the kind of manure which will be the most profitable, you
must experiment. Lime acts finely on your land and is more lasting
than guano. If you can, get shells to burn on your land, or, if not,
shell lime from Baltimore. I think you would thereby more certainly
and more cheaply restore your fields. I hope your sale of ship-timber
may place you in funds to make experiments. You will have to attend
to your contractors. They will generally bear great attention, and
then circumvent you.... I hope I shall see you this winter, when we
can talk over the matter. We are pretty well. Your mother is better
by her visit to the Baths. Mildred talks of going to the Eastern
Shore of Maryland next month, and I fear will be absent from us all
winter. I must refer you to your sisters for all news. They are
great letter-writers, and their correspondence extends over the globe.
Miss Etta Seldon is with us. All our summer visitors have gone, and
some who, I hoped, would have visited us have not come.... Good-bye,
my dear son. God bless you....
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee."
"Robert E. Lee, Jr."
My uncle, Smith Lee, was farming on the Potomac, and was constantly
sending me messages of condolence through my father. Our experiences
were the same as all others starting to farm under the new order of
things. My father was very hospitable, and it delighted him to have
his relatives and friends come and see him. So many kindnesses had
been shown to himself and family for the last five years that he greatly
enjoyed this, his first opportunity of greeting in his own home those
who had so often offered my mother and sisters the shelter of theirs.
The country around Lexington was most beautiful, and the climate in
the summer and autumn all that could be desired. So, at those seasons,
whenever he was at home, there was generally some one visiting him,
nearly always relatives or old and dear friends. He entertained very
simply, made every one feel at home, and was always considerate and
careful of the amusement and welfare of his guests.
People came from all over the world to Lexington to see him. Amongst
the visitors from afar were the marquis of Lorne and the Hon. Mr.
Cooper, who were on a tour through the United States. They came to
Lexington to see General Lee. When they called at the house there
happened to be no servant at hand, and my father, meeting them at the
door, received their cards. Not having on his glasses, he could not
read the names, but ushered the strangers into the parlour, and
presented them to Mrs. Lee, without calling their names. My mother
thought the tall, slender youth was a new student, and entered into
conversation with him as such. Struck by his delicate appearance, she
cautioned him against the harsh winter climate of the mountains, and
urged him to be careful of his health. On this, Mr. Cooper explained
who his companion was, and there was much amusement over the mistake.
The professors and students of the two institutions of learning were
constant visitors, especially in the evenings, when young men came
to see the girls. If his daughters had guests, my father usually sat
with my mother in the dining-room adjoining the drawing-room. When
the clock struck ten he would rise and close the shutters carefully
and slowly, and, if that hint was not taken, he would simply say "Good
night, young gentlemen." The effect was immediate and lasting, and
his wishes in that matter, finally becoming generally known, were
always respected. Captain W., who had very soon found out the General's
views as to the time of leaving, was told on one occasion that General
Lee had praised him very much.
"Do you know why?" said the Captain. "It is because I have never been
caught in the parlour at ten o'clock. I came very near it least night,
but got into the porch before the General shut the first blind. That's
the reason he calls me 'a fine young man.'"
A young friend who was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute called
on my sisters one evening, and remarked, just for something to say:
"Do you know this is the first civilian's house I have entered in
My father was in the room in the room in his gray Confederate coat,
shorn of the buttons; also my two brothers, Custis and Fitzhugh, both
of whom had been generals in the Confederate Army; so there was quite
a laugh over the term CIVILIAN. I have already mentioned how particular
my father was about answering all letters. It was a great tax on his
time, and some of them must have been a trial to his temper. The
following will explain itself:
"Lexington, Virginia, September 5, 1866.
"A. J. Requier, 81 Cedar St., New York.
"My Dear Sir: I am very much obliged to you for your kind letter of
the 22d ult. So many articles formerly belonging to me are scattered
over the country that I fear I have not time to devote to their
recovery. I know no one in Buffalo whom I could ask to reclaim the
Bible in question. If the lady who has it will use it, as I hope she
will, she will herself seek to restore it to the rightful owner. I
will, therefore, leave the decision of the question to her and her
conscience. I have read with great pleasure the poem you sent me,
and thank you sincerely for your interest in my behalf. With great
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
Here is another one of many of a similar character:
"Lexington, Virginia, September 26, 1866.
"Mr. E. A. Pollard, 104 West Baltimore St., Baltimore, Md.
"Dear Sir: I return you my thanks for the compliment paid me by your
proposition to write a history of my life. It is a hazardous
undertaking to publish the life of any one while living, and there
are but few who would desire to read a true history of themselves.
Independently of the few national events with which mine has been
connected, it presents little to interest the general reader, nor do
I know where to refer you for the necessary materials. All my private,
as well as public, records have been destroyed or lost, except what
is to be found in published documents, and I know of nothing available
for the purpose. Should you, therefore, determine to undertake the
work, you must rely upon yourself, as my time is so fully occupied
that I am unable to promise you any assistance.
"R. E. Lee."
This autumn my sister Mildred paid a visit to our cousins, Mr. and
Mrs. George Golsborough, living at "Ashby," near Easton, on the Eastern
Shore of Maryland. She remained away there and elsewhere for several
months. My father's letters to her, many of which have been preserved,
are most interesting. They show very plainly many beautiful phases
of his noble character and disposition:
"Lexington, Virginia, December 21, 1866.
"My Precious Life: I was very glad to receive your letter of the 15th
inst., and to learn that you were well and happy. May you be always
as much so as is consistent with your welfare here and hereafter, is
my daily prayer. I was much pleased, too, that, while enjoying the
kindness of your friends, we were not forgotten. Experience will teach
you that, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, you will
never receive such a love as is felt for you by your father and mother.
That lives through absence, difficulties, and times. Your own feelings
will teach you how it should be returned and appreciated. I want to
see you very much, and miss you at every turn, yet am glad of this
opportunity for you to be with those who, I know, will do all in their
power to give you pleasure. I hope you will also find time to read
and improve your mind. Read history, works of truth, not novels and
romances. Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in
its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good,
and, when summoned away, to leave without regret. Your friends here
inquire constantly after you, and wish for your return. Mrs. White
and Mrs. McElwee particularly regret your absence, and the former
sends especial thanks for your letter of remembrance. We get on in
our usual way. Agnes takes good care of us, and is very thoughtful
and attentive. She has not great velocity, but is systematic and
quiet. After to-day, the mornings will begin to lengthen a little,
and her trials to lessen. It is very cold, the ground is covered with
six inches of snow, and the mountains, as far as the eye can reach in
every direction, elevate their white crests as monuments of winter.
This is the night for the supper for the repairs to the Episcopal
church. Your mother and sisters are busy with their contributions.
It is to take place at the hotel, and your brother, cousins, and father
are to attend. On Monday night (24th), the supper for the Presbyterian
church is to be held at their lecture-room. They are to have music
and every attraction. I hope both may be productive of good. But you
know the Episcopalians are few in numbers and light in purse, and
must be resigned to small returns.... I must leave to your sisters
a description of these feasts, and also an account of the operation
of the Reading Club. As far as I can judge, it is a great institution
for the discussion of apples and chestnuts, but is quite innocent of
the pleasures of literature. It, however, brings the young people
together, and promotes sociability and conversation. Our feline
companions are flourishing. Young Baxter is growing in gracefulness
and favour, and gives cat-like evidences of future worth. He possesses
the fashionable colour of 'moonlight on the water,' apparently a dingy
hue of the kitchen, and is strictly aristocratic in appearance and
conduct. Tom, surnamed 'The Nipper,' from the manner in which he
slaughters our enemies, the rats and the mice, is admired for his
gravity and sobriety, as well as for his strict attention to the
pursuits of his race. They both feel your absence sorely. Traveller
and Custis are both well, and pursue their usual dignified gait and
habits, and are not led away by the frivolous entertainments of lectures
and concerts. All send united love, and all wish for your return.
Remember me most kindly to Cousins Eleanor and George, John, Mary,
Ida, and all at 'Myrtle Grove,' and to other kind friends when you
meet them. Mrs. Grady carried yesterday to Mr. Charles Kerr, in
Baltimore, a small package for you. Be careful of your health, and
do not eat more than half the plum-puddings Cousin Eleanor has prepared
for Xmas. I am glad to hear that you are fattening, and I hope you
will reach 125 lbs. Think always of your father, who loves you dearly.
"R. E. Lee.
"P.S., 22d.--Rob arrived last night with 'Lucy Long.' He thinks it
too bad you are away. He has not seen you for two years.
"R. E. Lee."