Part 6 out of 8
soon as permitted. I wanted, if possible, to pass one day at
'Shirley'--I have not been there for ten years. It was the loved home
of my mother, and a spot where I have passed many happy days in early
life, and one that probably I may never visit again. But I do not
know that I shall be able. We are all as usual, and all would send
much love if they knew I was writing. Mildred is very happing in
the company of Miss Charlotte Haxall, and Custis retains his serenity
of character. Our young members of the family are looking forward
to their return to Powhatan as soon as the college exercises close,
which I hope will bring some relief to me also. I see that you have
been much visited of late, but you know that no one wants to see you
as much as I do. Tell Fitzhugh that his old friend, Miss Helen Peters,
has come to Lexington, from New York, to pass the summer. She is now
Mrs. Taylor and has brought with her two babies. She is as cordial
and affectionate as ever. Give much love to Fitzhugh and Rob, and
believe me always your devoted father,
"R. E. Lee.
"Mrs. Wm. H. Fitzhugh Lee."
My father was back at the college in full time for the "final
examinations." He always made it a point to be present, and took his
full share of sitting in the rooms while the students were working on
their papers. When occasion offered, somewhat to the surprise of the
learned faculty, he showed himself thoroughly conversant with each
and every department. Even with Greek he seems somewhat familiar,
and would question the students as to their knowledge of this language,
much to their astonishment.
The commencement exercises of the college began about June 1st and
lasted a week. At this time, the town was crowded with visitors, and
my father had his house full, generally of young girls, friends of my
sisters who came to assist at the "final ball," the great social
event connected with this college exercise. He seemed to enjoy their
society as much as the young men did, though he could not devote so
much time to them as the boys did, and I know that the girls enjoyed
his society more than they did that of their college adorers. On the
occasion of an entertainment at his house, in going amongst his guests,
he approached a young lady, a great belle, completely surrounded by
her admirers--students, cadets, and some old "Confeds." He stopped
and began to rally her on her conquests, saying:
"You can do as you please to these other young gentlemen, but you must
not treat any of my OLD SOLDIERS badly."
those who have never known him cannot imagine the charm of his manner,
the brightness of his smile, and the pleasant way he had of speaking,
especially to young people and little children. His rebukes to the
young were administered in the kindest, gentlest way, almost
persuasively, but he could be stern when the occasion demanded. Colonel
William Preston Johnston, a member of his faculty and a very dear
and trusted friend, says:
"In his intercourse with his faculty he was courteous, kind, and often
rather playful in manner. We all thought he deferred entirely too
much to the expression of opinion on the part of the faculty, when we
would have preferred that he should simply indicate his own views
or desire. One characteristic of General Lee I noted then and have
often recalled: I never saw him take an ungraceful posture. No matter
how long or fatiguing a faculty meeting might be, he always preserved
an attitude in which dignity, decorum, and grace were united. He was
a very well built man, with rounded body and limbs, and seemed without
the slightest affectation of effort to sit or stand or walk just as
a gentleman should. He was never in a hurry, and all his gestures
were easy and significant. He was always an agreeable companion.
There was a good deal of bonhomie and pleasantry in his conversation.
He was not exactly witty, nor was he very humorous, though he gave a
light turn to table-talk and enjoyed exceedingly any pleasantry or fun,
even. He often made a quaint or slightly caustic remark, but he took
care that it should not be too trenchant. On reading his letters one
discovers this playful spirit in many of them, as, for instance, in
his letter to the spiritualist who asked his opinion of Von Moltke
and the French war. He wrote in reply a most courteous letter in
which he said that 'the question was one about which military critics
would differ, that his own judgement about such matters was poor at
best, and that inasmuch as they had the power to consult (through
their mediums) Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Wellington, and all of
the other great captains who had ever lived, he could not think of
obtruding his opinion in such company.' General Lee did not talk
politics, but he felt very deeply the condition of the country, and
expressed to me several times in strong terms his disapproval of the
course of the dominant party."
There is a story told of my father which points to his playful manner
here alluded to. At a certain faculty meeting they were joking Mr.
Harris, who so long and so ably filled the chair of Latin, about his
walking up the aisle of the Presbyterian church with the stem of
his pipe protruding from his pocket. Mr. Harris took out the offending
stem and began cutting it shorter. My father, who had been enjoying
the incident, said:
"No, Mr. Harris, don't do that; next time leave it at home."
Sometimes he deemed it advisable to be a little stern. One of the
young professors went off for a few days without asking the president's
permission. On his return the General met him very stiffly, saying:
"Mr. ---, I congratulate you on your return to your friends and duties.
I was not aware of your absence until I heard it by chance."
Mr. --- told this on himself, and added that it was the last time he
ever went away without a formal leave of absence. His particularity
in little things has often been commented on. He applied it to all his
affairs. Dr. Kirkpatrick, Professor of Moral Philosophy, came into
the president's office and asked for a certain paper. My father
told him where it could be found. After a while, turning to the doctor
"Did you find the paper?"
"Yes, General," replied the Doctor.
"Did you return it to the place where you found it?"
At another time he asked Professor Harris to look at a catalogue on
the table. The Professor took up a new one, wrapped ready for the
mail, and was about to tear the cover off, when my father, hastily
handing him one already opened, said:
"Take this, if you please."
My mother used to say that he could go, in the dar, and lay his hand
on any article of his clothing, or upon any particular paper, after
he had once arranged them, provided they had not been disturbed. One
of his "quaint or slightly caustic remarks," alluded to by Colonel
Johnston, I recall as told to me. He met a lady friend down in the
town, who bitterly complained that she could get nothing to eat in
Lexington suitable for Lent--no fish, no oysters, etc.
"Mrs. ---," the General replied, "I would not trouble myself so much
about special dishes; I suppose if we try to abstain from SPECIAL SINS
that is all that will be expected of us."
Mrs. R. E. Lee
Goes to Warm Springs for rheumatism--Her daughter Mildred takes typhoid
there--Removes to Hot Springs--Her husband's devotion--Visit of
Fitzhugh and bride to Lexington--Miss Jones, a would-be benefactor of
Washington College--Fate of Washington relics belonging to Mrs. Lee's
That summer my father determined to take my mother to the Warm Springs,
in Bath County, Virginia, hoping that the baths there might be of
service to her, and purposing, if she was not benefited, to go to
the Hot Springs, five miles distant. He was most anxious that his
new daughter should join her there and go with him to any place she
might select and come back with them to Lexington. In the following
letter to his son he tells of his plans for the summer:
"Lexington, Virginia, July 1, 1868.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I received yesterday your letter of the 28th
ultimo, and regret very much to learn of Tabb's indisposition. I
hope that she will soon be well, and I wish very much she would join
us in the mountains and return here with us. In my letter to her
about the time when she went to her sister's wedding, which I hope
she got, I told her of my wishes on the subject, and believe gave
her our general plans. I can now say with more distinctness that,
unless something now unforeseen should prevent, I will take your mother
to the Warm Sprints, from the 10th to the 15th inst., and after trying
the water there about two weeks, if not favourable, will take her
over to the Hot. After seeing her comfortably established, I will
then go anywhere Tabb desires--to the Healing or the White Sulphur
or Sweet. I intend to go myself to the White Sulphur for about a
fortnight, to drink the water, and will take Mildred with me. Agnes,
having gone last summer, will not care to go, I presume, and can remain
with her mother. Mildred has been quite sick for the past week, but
is now much better, and in a week will be strong enough for the journey,
I think. If not, we shall have to delay our departure a little.
Agnes was also sick on the Eastern Shore of Maryland about three
weeks, and, I am told, looks badly. She is now at the University
of Virginia, and will be home in a few days and go with us to the
Springs. You must arrange your plans to suit your interests and
convenience, coming to us when you can and staying as long as you
can. You know the interest I take in your prosperity and advancement,
which cannot be assured without earnest attention to your business
on your part, and therefore I never urge you to act contrary to your
own judgement in reference to them. As to my daughter, Tabb, tell
her if she will trust herself to her papa she shall never want anything
he can do for her, and I think she will find the prediction in my
letter to her verified. She might join us at Goshen and go with us,
or come here. Why did she not come up with her father? I went to
see him last evening, but he was out. Your mother, I presume, has
told you of home affairs. She has become nervous of late, and broods
over her troubles so much that I fear it increases her sufferings. I
am therefore the more anxious to give her new scenes and new thoughts.
It is the principal good I anticipate. Love to Rob. Custis still
talks of visiting you, but I have not heard of his having fixed the
day of his departure. He is quite well. With my best love to my
daughter T--- and the same to yourself, I am,
"Most affectionately your father,
"R. E. Lee."
The morning he left Lexington he, while waiting for the stage, writes
as follows to a great favourite of his, a friend of Mildred's, who
had been on a visit to her that summer:
"Lexington, Virginia, July 14, 1868.
"...The stage is at the door to carry us to Goshen, and if Mrs. Lee's
strength permits, we hope to reach the Warm Springs to-night. After
two or three week's trial of its waters we shall go to the Hot, where,
leaving Agnes to take care of her mother, I shall take Mildred to the
White Sulphur, and hope to meet you at Covington and carry you along.
Will you not come?... Mildred is quite well again and is flying
about this morning with great activity. Agnes is following with
slower steps, Mrs. Lee is giving her last injunctions to Sam and
Eliza. Letitia [my mother's maid] is looking on with wonder at the
preparations, and trying to get a right conception of the place to
which she is going, which she seems to think is something between
a steel-trap and a spring-gun. Custis is waiting to help his mother
into the stage, and you see how patient I am. To add interest to the
scene, Dr. Barton has arrived to bid adieu and to give Mildred an
opportunity of looking her best. I believe he is the last rose of
summer. The others, with their fragrance and thorns, have all
A few days after their arrival at the Warm Springs Mildred was taken
ill with typhoid fever, and during many anxious weeks my father and
Agnes were her only nurses. My mother's room was on the first floor
of the "Brockenborough Cottage," my sister's in the second, so she
could not get upstairs to her room. Mildred was very fanciful--would
not have no one but my father to nurse her, and could not sleep unless
she had his hand in hers. Night after night he sat by her side,
watching over her and attending to every want with gentleness and
patience. He writes to the same young lady, at Mildred's request:
"Warm Springs, Virginia, July 30, 1868.
"...She [Mildred] has been so anxious to write to you, and so uneasy
at her inability to do so, that I hope you will permit me to tell you
the reason. She has been quite sick and is so still--confined to
her bed with low fever, which retains its hold very pertinaciously.
she took cold a few days after our arrival, from some imprudence, and
she is very much enfeebled. She has been more comfortable the last
day or two, and I hope is better, but I presume he recovery will
necessarily be slow. You know she is very fanciful, and as she seems
to be more accessible to reason from me, I have come be her chief
nurse and am now writing in her room, while she is sleeping.... This
is a beautiful valley, and we have quite a pleasant company--Mr. and
Mrs. Chapman and their three daughters from Alabama; Mrs. Coleman
and her two daughters from Baltimore; some ladies from Richmond,
Washington, Kentucky, Iowa, etc., and an ever-changing scene of faces.
As soon as Mildred is strong enough, we will go to the Hot, after
which, if she desires it, I will take her to the White. Mrs. Lee
and Agnes are improving slightly, I am glad to say. We hear of many
friends at the Hot, Healing, and White, and hope we shall reach
these respective waters before they depart.... The Harrisons have
written me that they will be here on the 14th proximo, but unless
Mildred's recovery is much retarded it will be too late for me to
see them. The Caskies will be at the Hot about the same time....
"Your most sincerely,
"R. E. Lee."
On August 3d from the same place, he writes to my brother Fitzhugh:
"...this was the day I had appointed to go to the Hot, but Mildred is
too sick to move. She was taken more than a fortnight since,...and
her attack seems to have partaken of a typhoid character. She has
had since a low and persistent fever, which retains its hold. She
is very feeble, but, in the doctor's opinion, somewhat better. I
myself see little change, except that she is now free from pain. I
cannot speak of our future movements. I fear I shall have to abandon
my visit to the White. Your mother and Agnes are better than when
they arrived. The former bathes freely, eats generously, and sleeps
sweetly. Agnes, though feeble, is stronger. I am the same, and
can see no effects of the waters upon myself. Give much love to my
sweet daughter and dear sons. All unite with me in this message....
I am, as ever and always,
"R. E. Lee."
Another letter to my brother, Fitzhugh, from the Warm Springs, tells
of his daughter's convalescence. Smith's Island, of which he writes,
belonged to my grandfather's estate, of which my father was executor.
He was trying to make some disposition of it, so that it might yield
a revenue. It is situated on the Atlantic just east of Cape Charles,
in Northampton County, Virginia.
"Warm Springs, Virginia, August 14, 1868.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I received, yesterday, your letter of the 9th,
and, as your mother informed you of Mildred's condition, I deferred
replying to it until to-day. I am glad to inform you that she is
better, and that the doctor pronounces her convalescent this morning.
He says her progress must necessarily be slow, but with care and
prudence he sees nothing to prevent her recovery, unless something
unforeseen occurs. I hope, therefore, we may dismiss our anxiety. As
regards Smith's Island, I should be very glad if you could go over
and see it, and, if you think proper, make such disposition of it as
you and Robert think most advantageous. See Mr. Hamilton S. Neale
(Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia) and consult with him on
the subject and let me know your determination. I think you will
find him kind and intelligent. I have visited the island twice in
my life, a long while ago, and thought that, if a person lived on it,
he might, by grazing, planting and fishing, make a comfortable living.
You and Robert might, if you choose, buy the island from the estate.
I fear the timber, etc., has been cut from it. I never thought it
as valuable as your grandfather did. You will have to go to Norfolk,
take the steamer to Cherrystone, where, I suppose, you can find a
conveyance to Eastville. You know Cobb's Island has been a fashionable
bathing-place. John Lewis wrote that the beach was delightful and
fare excellent, and that they had sail-vessels there at the disposal
of visitors. But Mr. Neale and Mr. John Simpkins, the present agent,
can put you in the way of visiting the island, and you might carry
my sweet daughter, Tabb, over and give her a surf bath. But do not
let the mosquitoes annoy her. Give her much love from me. I am
writing in Mildred's room, who is very grateful for your interest in
her behalf. She is too weak to speak. I hope Rob had a pleasant
trip. Tell me Custis's plans. I have not heard from him. Your mother
and Agnes unite in love to you, Rob, and Tabb. I have a fan in one
hand, while I wield a pen with the other, so excuse brevity. Most
affectionately yours, R. E. Lee.
"P.S.--George and Eleanor Goldsborough and Miss Mary G--- express
themselves as much pleased with Cobb's Island. I do not know how far
it is east of Smith's Island. R. E. Lee."
His daughter being convalescent, he carried out his plan, and went
over to the White Sulphur Springs, after he had placed my mother and
sisters at the Hot Springs. In a letter from there, on August 28th,
"...The place looks beautiful--the belles very handsome, and the beaux
very happy. All are gay, and only I solitary. I am all alone. There
was a grand fancy masked ball last night. The room was overflowing,
the music good, as much spring in the boards as in the conversation,
and the german continued till two o'clock this morning. I return to
the Hot next week, and the following to Lexington. Mildred is much
better, but says she has forgotten how to write. I hope that she
will be strong enough to return with me.... I am, Truly and
affectionately yours, R. E. Lee."
They all returned to Lexington early in September, in time for the
opening of the college. Mildred was still weak and nervous, nor did
she recover her normal strength for several months. She was always
my father's pet as a little girl, and during this illness and
convalescence he had been very tender with her, humoring as far as
he could all of her fancies. Not long before that Christmas, she
enumerated, just in fun, all the present she wished--a long list.
To her great surprise, when Christmas morning came she found each
article at her place a the breakfast-table--not one omitted.
His sympathy with all who were suffering, ill, and afflicted was warm
and sincere. Colonel Shipp, now superintendent of the Virginia Military
Institute, was the commandant of cadets when my father came to
Lexington. He tells me that the he was ill for some weeks, laid up
in his room, which was next to that of my brother Custis. He hardly
knew General Lee, and had spoken to him only a few times, but my father
went to see him quite often, would sit by him, talk to him, and seemed
much interested in his getting well. He said that he would consult
Mrs. Lee ("who is a great doctor"), and he finally brought a bottle
of something in which sudor-berries were the chief ingredient. Colonel
Shipp found out afterward that the sudor-berries had been sent from
the White House, and that my mother had concocted the medicine.
On one occasion, calling at Colonel Preston's, he missed two little
boys in the family circle, who were great favourites of his, and on
asking for them he was told that they were confined to the nursery
by croup. The next day, though the weather was of the worst
description, he went trudging in great storm-boots back to their
house, carrying in one hand a basket of pecan nuts and in the other
a toy, which he left for his little sick friends.
To my mother, who was a great invalid from rheumatism for more than
ten years, he was the most faithful attendant and tender nurse. Every
want of hers that he could supply he anticipated. His considerate
fore-thought saved her from much pain and trouble. During the war
he constantly wrote to her, even when on the march and amidst the most
pressing duties. Every summer of their life in Lexington he arranged
that she should spend several months at one of the many medicinal
springs in the neighbouring mountains, as much that she might be
surrounded by new scenes and faces, as for the benefit of the waters.
Whenever he was in the room, the privilege of pushing her wheeled
chair into the dining-room and out on the verandas or elsewhere about
the house was yielded to him. He sat with her daily, entertaining
her with accounts of what was doing in the college, and the news of
the village, and would often read to her in the evening. For her his
love and care never ceased, his gentleness and patience never ended.
This tenderness for the sick and helpless was developed in him when
he was a mere lad. His mother was an invalid, and he was her constant
nurse. In her last illness he mixed every dose of medicine she took,
and was with her night and day. If he left the room, she kept her
eyes on the door till he returned. He never left her but for a short
time. After her death the health of their faithful servant, Nat,
became very bad. My father, then just graduated from West Point,
took him to the South, had the best medical advice, a comfortable room,
and everything that could be done to restore him, and attended to him
I can find few family letters written by my father at this time. Those
which have been preserved are to my brother Fitzhugh, and are mostly
about Smith's Island and the settling up of my grandfather's estate.
The last of September he writes:
"Lexington, Virginia, September 28, 1868.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: Your report of the condition of Smith's Island
corresponds with my own impressions, based upon my knowledge of the
island and the reports of others. I think it would be advantageous,
under present circumstances, to make sale of the island as soon as a
fair price can be obtained, and I have so instructed Mr. Hamilton S.
Neale, who has consented to act as my agent.... I should like this
while matter arranged as soon as possible, for my life is very
uncertain, and its settlement now may avoid future difficulties. I
am very glad to hear that you and Rob have continued well, and that
my daughter is improving. Give my love to them both. The loss of
your fine cows is a serious one, and I believe you will have to
procure them in your vicinity and improve them. Get some calves this
fall of a good breed. We hope that we shall see you this fall. Your
mother is as comfortable as usual, and Mildred is improving. Custis,
Mary, and Agnes are well, and all would send love, did they know I
"Very affectionately your father, R. E. Lee."
This autumn he had a visit from his nephew, Edward Lee Childe. Edward
lived in Paris, and had crossed over in the summer to see my father
and mother. He made a very pleasant impression on everybody, and
was much pleased with his visit. Here is a letter written by my
father to my brother just after Edward left:
"Lexington, Virginia, October 14, 1868.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I have returned to Mr. Hamilton S. Neale the
advertisement of the sale of Smith's Island, with my approval, and
have requested him to advertise in the Northern and Richmond papers,
etc., and to send out such other notices as he deems best calculated
to attract attention to the property, and to take every measure to
enhance the value of the island and to procure for your grandfather's
estate the full benefit of the sale.... I have heard from Mr. Compton
that my daughter Tabb has returned to the White House in improved
health, which I am very glad of. I hope that you will soon be able
to bring her up to see us. Do not wait until the weather becomes too
cold. Our mountain atmosphere in winter is very harsh. So far, the
weather has been delightful. Your cousin Edward left us last Thursday
evening on his way to see you. We enjoyed his visit greatly. Agnes
and I rode down to the Baths last Saturday to see the Harrisons, and
returned Sunday evening. They were well, and somewhat benefited by
their visit. Mr. George Ritchie's death no doubt threw a shade of
sadness over the whole party on Mrs. Harrison's account, though all
were charming and Miss Belle very sweet. We are about the same--your
poor mother comfortable, Mildred improving. All would unite in love
to you and yours, did they know I was writing. Give much love to
my dear daughter, Tabb, and tell her that I want to see her very much.
"Truly and affectionately your father,
"General W. H. Fitzhugh Lee. R. E. Lee."
In a few days, he writes again, still about Smith's Island, but adds
much about the family and friends:
"Lexington, Virginia, October 19, 1868.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I received your letter of the 12th the day I last
wrote to you. I am glad we agree that $--- should be the minimum
limit for the price of Smith's Island. You will see by my letter
referred to that it has been so fixed. December 22d is the day proposed
by Mr. Neale as the time of public sale, which was approved by me,
though I feared the notice might be too short. Still there are good
reasons for the sale being made without unnecessary delay. I think
November, which you suggest, would not afford sufficient notice. I
would recommend that you and Robert attend the sale, and be governed
by circumstances in what you do. I would go myself, but it would be
a long, hard journey for me at that season of the year, and I do not
see any material good that I can do. Mr. Neale kindly offered to meet
me at Cherrystone landing and take me to his house, but I shall decline
in your favour. I am sorry that Edward did not get down to see you,
for I wanted him to see my daughter, Tabb. I am sure he has seen none
like her in Paris. He left here with the purpose of visiting you and
his uncle Smith, and I do not know what made him change his mind. I
hope that you will get in a good crop of wheat, and get it in well.
The latter is very important and unless accomplished may deprive you
of the whole benefit of your labour and expense. We shall look
anxiously for your visit. Do not put it off too late or the weather
may be unfavourable. Our mountain country is not the most pleasant
in cold weather, but we will try and make you warm. Give my love
to Tabb, and tell her I am wanting to see her all the time. All
unite in love to her and you. Your mother is about the same, very
busy, and full of work. Mildred is steadily improving, and is able
to ride on horseback, which she is beginning to enjoy. Mary and
Agnes very well. We see but little of Custis. He has joined the
mess at the institute, which he finds very comfortable, so that he
rarely comes to our table to breakfast now. The rest of the time he
seems to be occupied with his classes and studies. Remember me to Rob.
I hear of a great many weddings, but his has not been announced yet.
He must not forget his house. I have not, and am going to take up
the plan very soon. Mildred says a good house is an effective card
in the matrimonial game. She is building a castle in the air. The
Harrisons propose leaving the Baths to-morrow. George arrived a week
ago. I did not get down Saturday to see them as I wished. I hope
the health of the whole party has been improved. I wish I could
spend this month with you. That lower country is delightful to me at
this season, and I long to be on the water again, but it cannot be.
With much love,
"R. E. Lee.
"General Wm. H. Fitzhugh Lee."
The last of October he went to Staunton on some business. He rode
Traveller, and Colonel Wm. Allan rode with him. It was the time of
the Augusta Agricultural Fair, and while there he visited the exhibition
and was received by the people with great demonstrations of delight.
A student standing by remarked dryly:
"I don't see why the Staunton people make all this to do over General
Lee; why, in Lexington, he SENDS for me to come to see him!"
In a letter of November 2d he mentions this little journey:
"...I have recently paid a visit to Staunton and saw the young people
there. They seemed very happy in their fair, and the beaux with their
belles. I rode over on Traveller and was accompanied by Colonel Allan.
The former was delighted at the length of the road, and the latter
relieved from an obstinate cold from which he was suffering. On the
second morning, just as the knights were being marshalled to prove
their prowess and devotion, we commenced our journey back to Lexington,
which we reached before nine P. M., under the light of a beautiful
At this time his son Fitzhugh and his new daughter paid their long-
promised visit, which he enjoyed immensely. My mother and sisters were
charmed with her, and the entire community vied in paying her attention.
My father was proud of his daughter-in-law and much gratified at his
son's marriage. He was delighted with the manner in which she adapted
herself to the ways of all her new relations, with her sweet attention
to my mother, and, above all, with her punctuality. She had been
warned beforehand by her husband that, to please his father, she must
be always ready for family prayers, which were read every morning by
him just before breakfast. This she succeeded in doing, never failing
once to be on time. As breakfast was at seven o'clock, it was no small
feat for one not accustomed to such early hours. She said afterward
that she did not believe that General Lee would have an entirely high
opinion of any person, even General Washington, if he could return to
earth, if he were not ready for prayers! After a delightful visit of
three weeks my brother and his wife returned home. Just as the latter
was packing, my father came into her room and filled all the space in
the top of her trunk with pecan nuts, which some friends had sent him
from the South.
The hour fixed for the service in the college chapel was, as I have
said, a quarter to eight o'clock every morning except Sunday. In the
three winter months, December, January, and February, it was one hour
later. As the president never failed to attend, when not prevented
by sickness or absence, it was necessary to have an early breakfast.
After chapel he went to his office and was seated at his desk by eight
o'clock, where he remained, unless called out by public business, till
two P.M. This room was open to all in the college who had business
with him. The new students were required to report to him here in
person, and from their first interviews we obtained a knowledge of
the young men of which he availed himself in their future career in
the college. As president, he was always disposed to be lenient with
students who were reported for disorderly conduct or for failure in
their studies or duties. He would say to the faculty, when they
seemed to think it necessary to send a student home:
"Don't you think it would be better to bear with him a little longer?
Perhaps we may do him some good."
Being sent for to this office was anything but pleasant to the students.
Lewis, one of the janitors, went around with the names of those the
president wanted to see, written by his own hand on a long slip of
paper. He carried the paper in one hand, a pencil in the other, and
when he could find the one he wanted in a crowd of his comrades, he
took special pleasure in serving his notice, and would say in his
solemn, sepulchral voice:
"Mr. ---, the president wants to see you at the office."
Then Mr. --- took the pencil and made a cross-mark opposite his name,
which was evidence of his having received his summons. What transpired
at these interviews was seldom known, except as the student himself
might reveal it; for unless it became necessary to summon the delinquent
a second time, the president never alluded to the subject. An old
student writes me the following account of his experience in the
"I was a frolicsome chap at college, and, having been absent from class
an unreasonable number of times, was finally summoned to the General's
office. Abject terror took possession of me in the presence of such
wise and quiet dignity; the reasons I had carefully prepared to give
for my absence stood on their heads, or toppled over. In reply to
General Lee's grave but perfectly polite question, I stammered out a
story about a violent illness, and the, conscious that I was at that
moment the picture of health, I hastened on with something about leaving
my boots at the cobbler's, when General Lee interrupted me: 'Stop,
Mr. M---,' he said; 'stop, sir! ONE GOOD REASON IS ENOUGH.' But I
could not be mistaken about the twinkle in the old hero's eyes!"
Only a few cases required more than one summons to appear at the office.
No instance is known where a student complained of injustice or
harshness, and the effect on his mind was that of greater respect and
admiration for the president.
The new house was approaching completion, and my father was much
interested in the work, going there very often and discussing with
the workmen their methods. That Christmas I spent two weeks in
Lexington, and many times my father took me all over the new building,
explaining all the details of his plan. All of his family were here
together this Christmas except Fitzhugh and his wife, an occurence
rather rare of late years. My father's health was unusually good,
and he was bright and almost gay. He rode out often, taking me with
him, as it was too cold for the girls. He also took me around with
him visiting, and in the mild festivities of the neighbours he joined
with evident pleasure. My visit ended all too soon, and the first
week of January I started back to the "low country." Soon after my
departure, he forwarded a letter to me with the accompanying one of
"Lexington, Virginia, January 14, 1869.
"My Dear Rob: The accompanying letter was inclosed to me by Lawrence
Butler [The grandson of Nellie Custis, my grandfather's sister, who
married Lawrence Lewis, the favourite nephew of Washington] with the
request that I would forward it, as he did not know your address,
and urge you to be present at his wedding. I do not know that I can
say more, except to inform you that he says he has the very girl
for you if you will come on. You must therefore decide the question
according to your best judgment. General Hoke, from North Carolina,
has also sent you his wedding-cards. We have missed you very much
since your departure, and wished you back. I hope you got home
comfortably and found all well. Drive all your work with judgment
and energy, and when you have decided about the house, let me know.
Tell Fitzhugh I have signed the insurance policy and sent it to Mr.
Wickham for his signature, with the request that he forward it to
Grubb & Williams. The weather still continues pleasant, and I fear
we shall suffer for it by the late spring. There has so far been
a great lack of snow, and consequently the wheat is exposed to the
great changes of temperature. We are all as you left us. Custis,
I think, looks better. No news. Mail heavy this morning. Love
to F--- and T---. With great affection,
"R. E. Lee.
"R. E. Lee, Jr."
Some one wrote to General Lee suggesting that General Grant, then
president of the United States, should be invited to Washington College.
His reply was as follows:
"Lexington, Virginia, January 8, 1869.
"My Dear Sir: I am much obliged to you for you letter of the 29th
ult., which I am sure has been prompted by the best motives. I should
be glad if General Grant would visit Washington College, and I should
endeavour to treat him with the courtesy and respect due the President
of the United States; but if I were to invite him to do so, it might
not be agreeable to him, and I fear my motives might be misunderstood
at this time, both by himself and others, and that evil would result
instead of good. I will, however, bear your suggestion in mind,
and should a favourable opportunity offer I shall be glad to take
advantage of it. Wishing you happiness and prosperity, I am, Very
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
A lady living in New York wrote to General Lee in 1867, asking for a
catalogue of Washington College and a copy of its charter and laws.
She wished also to know whether or not the college was sectarian,
and, if so, of what denomination. She intimated that she desired to
make a donation to some institution of learning, and was rather inclined
to select the Episcopal Theological Seminary, near Alexandria, Virginia.
The president sent her the following reply to her letter:
"Lexington, Virginia, June 24, 1867.
"Miss Ann Upshur Jones, No. 156 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y.
"My Dear Madam: I have had the honour to receive your letter of the
17th inst., and I send to your address a catalogue of Washington
College and a copy of its charter and laws. On the thirty-seventh
page of the former, and the eleventh of the latter, you will find what
is prescribed on the subject of religion. I do not know that it ever
has been sectarian in its character since it was chartered as a
college; but it certainly is not so now. Located in a Presbyterian
community, it is natural that most of its trustees and faculty should
be of that denomination, though the rector, president, and several
of the professors are members of the Episcopal Church. It is furthest
from my wish to divert any donation from the Theological Seminary
at Alexandria, for I am well acquainted with the merits of that
institution, have a high respect for its professors, and am an earnest
advocate of its object. I only give you the information you desire,
and wish you to follow your own preferences in the matter. With
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
In 1869 she wrote again, stating that she proposed breaking up
housekeeping, that she had no family to whom to give her books,
furniture, and silver, that she did not wish to sell them nor store
them away, and had therefore determined to present them to the "greatest
living man," and she begged him to accept them, or, if his house was
already furnished, to make use of them in his college. To this letter
"Lexington, Virginia, February 13, 1869.
"My Dear Miss Jones: After long and diligent inquiry I only this
moment learned your address, and have been during this time greatly
mortified at my inability to acknowledge the receipt and disposition
of your valuable and interesting donation to Washington College. The
books were arranged in the library on their arrival, the globes in
the philosophical department, while the furniture, carpets, sofas,
chairs, etc., have been applied to the furnishing of the dais of the
audience-room of the new chapel, to the comfort and ornament of which
they are a great addition. I have yet made no disposition of the
plate and tableware, and they are still in the boxes in which they
came. I inclose the resolution of thanks passed by the Board of
Trustees of the College at their annual meeting, to which I beg to
add my personal acknowledgments and grateful sense of your favour
and kindness to this institution. It would give me great pleasure
if you would visit Lexington at the commencement in June next, the
third Thursday, that I might then show you the successful operation
of the college. Mrs. Lee joins me in sentiments of esteem and regard,
praying that the great and merciful God may throw around you His
protecting care and love. I am, with great respect,
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee.
"Miss Ann Upshur Jones, No. 38 Union Square, New York."
The plate, tableware, and a curious old work-table, for which no
place could be found in the college, valuable only on account of their
antiquity and quaintness, he finally allowed to be called his own.
When my mother hurriedly left her home in the spring of 1861, she
found it impossible to carry away the valuable relics of General
Washington which her father had inherited from Mount Vernon, and which
had been objects of great interest at Arlington for more than fifty
years. After the Federal authorities took possession of the place,
the most valuable of these Mount Vernon relics were conveyed to
Washington City and placed in the Patent Office, where they remained
on exhibition for many years labelled "Captured from Arlington."
They were then removed to the "National Museum," where they are now,
but the card has been taken off. In 1869, a member of Congress
suggested to my mother that she should apply to President Johnson
to have them restored to her. In a letter from my father to this
same gentleman, this bit of quiet humour occurs:
"Lexington, Virginia, February 12, 1869.
"...Mrs. Lee has determined to act upon your suggestion and apply to
President Johnson for such of the relics from Arlington as are in the
Patent Office. From what I have learned, a great many things formerly
belonging to General Washington, bequeathed to her by her father, in
the shape of books, furniture, camp equipage, etc., were carried away
by individuals and are now scattered over the land. I hope the
possessors appreciate them and may imitate the example of their
original owners, whose conduct must at times be brought to their
recollection by these silent monitors. In this way they will accomplish
good to the country...."
He refers to this same subject in a letter to the honourable George
W. Jones, Dubuque, Iowa:
"...In reference to certain articles which were taken from Arlington,
about which you inquire, Mrs. Lee is indebted to our old friend
Captain James May for the order from the present administration
forbidding their return. They were valuable to her as having belonged
to her great-grandmother (Mrs. General Washington), and having been
bequeathed to her by her father. But as the country desires them,
she must give them up. I hope their presence at the capital will
keep in the remembrance of all Americans the principles and virtues
To the Honourable Thomas Lawrence Jones, who endeavoured to have the
order to restore the relics to Mrs. Lee executed, the following letter
of thanks was written:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 29, 1869.
"Honourable Thomas Lawrence Jones,
"Washington City, District of Columbia.
"My Dear Sir: I beg to be allowed to tender you my sincere thanks
for your efforts to have restored to Mrs. Lee certain family relics
in the Patent Office in Washington. The facts related in your speech
in the House of Representatives on the 3d inst., so far as known to
me, are correct, and had I conceived the view taken of the matter by
Congress I should have endeavoured to dissuade Mrs. Lee from applying
for them. It may be a question with some whether the retention of
these articles is more 'an insult,' in the language of the Committee
on Public Buildings, 'to the loyal people of the United States,' than
their restoration; but of this I am willing that they should be the
judge, and since Congress has decided to keep them, she must submit.
However, her thanks to you, sir, are not the less fervent for your
kind intercession in her behalf, and with highest regards, I am,
with great respect,
"Your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
Washington's opinion of this transaction, if it could be obtained,
would be of interest to many Americans! [These relics were restored
to the family in 1903 by the order of President McKinley.]
Lee's Letters to His Sons
The building of Robert's house--The General as a railroad delegate--
Lionised in Baltimore--Calls on President Grant--Visits Alexandria--
Declines to be interviewed--Interested in his grandson--The Washington
My father, being very anxious that I should build a good house on my
farm, had agreed to supply the necessary means, and was interested
in my plans and estimates. In a letter of February 18th, after a
long and full explanation of the arrangements for the purchase of
Smith's Island by Fitzhugh and myself, he writes:
"...I am glad that you are considering the construction of your house
and taking steps in the matter. Let me know how you advance, the
amount of its cost, etc., and when I can help you.... The fine
weather we have had this winter must have enabled you to advance in
your farm work and put you ahead in that, so you will come out square,
I hope. We are as usual, your poor mother about the same, the girls
well, and I tolerable. All unite in much love.
"Truly and affectionately,
"R. E. Lee."
A week later he writes to me on the same subject:
"Lexington, Virginia, February 27, 1869.
"My Dear Son: I am glad you have obtained a good pair of oxen. Try
to get another pair to work with them. I will make good the deficit
in my contribution. Your fences will be a great advantage to you,
and I am delighted at the good appearance of your wheat. I hope it
will continue to maturity. It is very probable, as you say, however,
that it may fail in the grain. Should you find it so, would it not
be well next year to experiment with phosphates? That must be the
quality the land lacks. Have you yet heard from Mr. West about your
house? What are the estimates? Let me know. The difficulty I fear
now will be that the burning of the bricks may draw you away from
your crops. You must try not to neglect them. What would the bricks
cost if purchased? Ask F--- to cut the lumber for you. I will furnish
the funds to pay for it. I hope the break in the mill will not prove
serious, and that you may be able to make up your delay in plowing
occasioned by the necessary hauling. I am very glad to hear that you
and F--- can visit each other so easily. It will be advantageous to
communicate with each other, as well as a pleasure. I suppose Tabb
has not returned to the White House yet. I am delighted to hear that
she and her boy are so well. They will make everything on the Pamunkey
shine. We are all as usual.
"General Breckenridge [General John C. Breckenridge, of Kentucky,
ex-secretary of War of the Confederate South, had two sons at Washington
College at this time. One of them was since United States Minister
a the Court of St. Petersburg.] is on a visit to his sons and has
been with us to-day. He will return to Baltimore Monday. He looks
well, seems cheerful, and talks hopefully. All unite in love to you,
and your acquaintances inquire regularly after you. I think of you
very often, and wish I were nearer and could assist you. Custis is
in better health this winter than he has been, and seems content,
though his sisters look after him very closely. I have no news and
never have. General B--- saw Fitzhugh Lee in Alexandria. He told him
he was a great farmer now, and when he was away, his father, who had
now taken to the land, showed uncommon signs of management. Good-bye,
my dear son. May you enjoy every happiness prays your affectionate
"R. E. Lee.
"Robert E. Lee, Jr."
The completion of the railroad from the "White House" to "West Point"
made communication between Fitzhugh and myself very easy. On February
11th, my father had become the proud and happy possessor of a grandson,
which event gave him great joy. Mr. West, an architect of Richmond,
had drawn me up plans and estimates for a house. My father had also
sent me a plan drawn by himself. These plans I had submitted to
several builders and sent their bids to him to examine and consider.
In the following letter, he gives me his opinion:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 21, 1869.
"My Dear Rob: I have received your two letters of the 3d and 9th
insts., and would have answered the former before, but had written
a few days before its date, and as our letters had been crossing each
other, I determined to let them get right.
"First, as to Smith's Island, I merely want to fulfil the conditions
of the sale as prescribed in the published notice. I should have
required them of any other purchasers, and must require them of you....
"Now as for the house: The estimates of your bidders are higher
than I anticipated, and I think too high by at least $1,000. You
see, there is about $1,000 difference between the highest and lowest
of their offers you sent me. What does F--- say about it? I am
confident that the could build that house here for but little over
$2,000, including materials, and I could to it there, if I could get
two good workmen. But you are unaccustomed to building, and I would
not advise you to undertake it, unless you could engage a proper
foreman. If, therefore, I were in your place, I should reject all
the offers, unless the one you had not received when you wrote suited
better. I would not, however, give up my house, but procure the
bricks either by purchase or by making them on the ground, as was
most advantageous, and the shingles in the same way, and get all the
lumber and flooring prepared. While preparing the necessary materials,
I would see the builder that made the lowest offer, or any other that
I preferred, and get him to revise his estimate and cut it down, leaving
him a margin for profit; and when satisfied with his offer, accept
it and set him to work.
"Now as for the means: I understood when you were here that you could
manage the materials--that is, make arrangements for procuring the
bricks, lumber, shingles, and flooring. Indeed, you might also get
the lime and sand cheaper, perhaps, than the builder, and make a
deduction on his bill. I can let you have funds to pay your contractor.
If I did not understand you rightly--that is, if you cannot procure
the materials, I can help you in them too. In fact, if you desire so
much, I can let you have the whole amount, $3,500. you can have the
use of it without interest, and return it to me when I require it, or
sooner if you are able, as I take it from the fund I was saving for
a homestead for your mother. At present, I cannot use it, and it is
of no advantage to me, except its possession. Will that suit you?
If it does not, let me know what will, and you shall have that, too.
You must feel that it gives me pleasure to do anything I can for you,
and if I had only myself to consider, you should have it
unconditionally, but I must consider one person above all. I want you
to do, therefore just as you prefer. I want you to have the comfort
of a house, but I do not wish to force one upon you, against your
will or against your judgement. I merely wish you to feel that you
can procure one without inconveniencing me. The only hesitation I
have on the subject is that I think you ought to get a better house
for $3,500 than I fear you will get. The house according to the first
plan, in my opinion, ought not to cost more than that sum. But if
you think the estimate is a fair one, and are satisfied, accept it
and set to work. But consult Fitzhugh, and let me know when you want
the money, and in what sums. Now that is plain, I hope, so keep this
letter for reference, as I have not time to take a copy.
"We are all pretty well. Your mother has been troubled by a cold, but
is over it I hope. The girls are well, and have as many opinions with
as few acts as ever; and Custis is so-so. We have had accounts of
Lawrence Butler's wedding, and all were as gay as a flock of snow-birds.
They regretted your absence. I will ask your mother to send you
reports. I am tolerable and wish I could get down to see you. I had
hoped to go down this spring, but I fear the dilatoriness of the
workmen in finishing the house, and the necessity of my attending to
it, getting the ground inclosed and preparing the garden, will prevent
me. I shall also have to superintend the moving. In fact, it never
seems convenient for me to go away. Give much love to F---, my daughter
Tabb, and grandson. I wonder what he will think of his grandpa. All
unite in love, and I am, as always,
"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee.
"Robert E. Lee, Jr."
In April, there are two letters written on the same day, to each of
his sons, Fitzhugh and myself. I had determined for many reasons to
postpone building my house for the present, which decision my father
regrets. In the matter of Smith's Island, the arrangements proposed
by my brother and myself for its purchase was agreed to by him:
"Lexington, Virginia, April 17, 1869.
"My Dear Rob: I have written to Fitzhugh, informing him of my agreement
to al the propositions in your joint letter, which I hope will be
satisfactory to you. You can read my letter to him, so I will not
repeat. I am sorry that you have concluded not to build, but if, in
your judgment that is the best course, I must be content. I do not
wish you to hamper yourself with obligations, but to my mind building
in the way proposed would not be onerous to you and would have given
you the use of a house some years prior to the time that you may be
able to erect one, and thus have added to your comfort, health, and
probable ability to increase your resources from your farm. But I
hoe you have decided wisely, and should circumstances occur to cause
you to change your views, you must not fail to let me know; for I
shall at all times stand ready to help you to the extent of my ability,
which I am now obliged to husband, lest I may become a burden to others.
I am very glad to learn that your farm is promising better in the
second cultivation of the fields, and feel assured that if treated
judiciously it will recover its fertility and be remunerative. If you
can perceive that you are progressing, though with a slow and regular
step, you have cause for congratulation and encouragement; for there
are many, I am sorry to say, that are worse off now than when they
commenced at the end of the war, and have to begin again. Industry
with economy must prevail in the end. There seems to be a necessity
for my going to Baltimore next Tuesday, but I feel so poorly now that
I do not know that I shall be able. If I do go, it will interfere
materially with my proposed visit to you and Fitzhugh this spring,
and I fear will put an end to it. I shall be obliged to spend some
days in Alexandria on my return, and could not then delay my return
here. I hope to see you both some time this summer, and, if I cannot
get to you, you must come to me. I have been confined to this house
for more than a week with a bad cold, the effects of which still cling
to me, and thought I am better this morning, I am suffering. Your
mother, too, I am sorry to say, has been suffering from the same cause,
and has had to resort to medicine, as well as myself. You know that
is bad for old people. Agnes has not been well, but Mildred is herself,
and surrounded by her two fresh broods of kittens she would not call
the king her uncle...God bless you, my dear son, prays
"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee.
"R. E. Lee, Jr."
The letter to his son Fitzhugh is mostly upon business, but some of
it relates to more interesting matters:
"Lexington, Virginia, April 17, 1869.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I expect to go to Baltimore next Tuesday, if well
enough. The Valley Railroad Company are very anxious for me to
accompany their delegation to that city with a view of obtaining
from the mayor or council a subscription for their road, and, though
I believe I can be of no service to them, they have made such a point
of it that it would look ill-mannered and unkind to refuse. I wish
I could promise myself the pleasure of returning by the 'White House,'
but I cannot. If I go to Baltimore, I must take time to pay certain
visits and must stop a while in Alexandria. I shall, therefore, from
there be obliged to return here. If I could stop there on my way
to Baltimore, which I cannot for want of time, I would then return
by the 'White House.' I shall hope, however, to see you and Rob
during the summer, if I have to go down immediately after commencement.
But it is so inconvenient for me to leave home now that I cannot say....
Poor little Agnes also has been visited by Doctor Barton of late,
but she is on the mend. 'Life' holds her own. Both of her cats have
fresh broods of kittens, and the world wags cheerily with her. Custis
is well, and Mary is still in New York, and all unite with me in
much love to you and my daughter Tabb and my grandson. I hope the
latter has not formed the acquaintance of his father in the same
manner as Warrington Carter's child.
"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee.
"General Wm. H. Fitzhugh Lee."
In order to induce the city of Baltimore to aid them in building their
railroad from Staunton to Salem, the Valley Railroad Company got
together a large delegation from the counties through which it was
proposed the line should pass, and sent it to that city to lay the
plans before the mayor and council and request assistance. Among
those selected from Rockbridge County was General Lee. Lexington at
this time was one of the most inaccessible points in Virginia. Fifty
miles of canal, or twenty-three of staging over a rough mountain road,
were the only routes in existence. The one from Lynchburg consumed
twelve hours, the other, from Goshen (a station on the Chesapeake &
Ohio Railroad), from seven to eleven. On one occasion, a gentleman
during his first visit to Lexington called on General Lee and on bidding
him good-bye asked him the best way to get back to Washington.
"It makes but little difference," replied the General, "for whichever
route you select, you will wish you had taken the other."
It was, therefore, the desire of all interested in the welfare of the
two institutions of learning located in Lexington that this road should
be built. My father's previous habits of life, his nature and his
tastes made him averse to engaging in affairs of this character; but
because of the great advantage tot he college, should it be carried
through, and a the earnest request of many friends of his and of the
road, he consented to act. General John Echols, from Staunton, Colonel
Pendleton, from Buchanan, Judge McLaughlin, from Lexington, were amongst
those who went with him. While in Baltimore he stayed at the house of
Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Tagart, whom he had met several summers at the
White Sulphur Springs.
The delegation was invited to the floor of the Corn and Flour Exchange,
to meet the business men of the city. My father, for the same reasons
given above, earnestly desired to be excused from this part of the
programme, and asked some of his friends to see Mr. John W. Garrett,
the president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, who had the delegation
in charge, and try to have it so arranged. Mr. Garrett, however, was
"General Lee is a most interesting man; I think he had better come,"
was the message brought back to him.
As he appeared on the floor, which was filled with a great crowd,
he was greeted with deafening cheers, and was soon surrounded by the
thousands who had assembled there to see him. Everywhere that he
appeared in the city he received an ovation. Sunday intervening,
he attended services in the morning at St. Paul's church on Charles
Street. When it became known that General Lee was there, large
numbers collected to see him come out, waiting patiently and quietly
until the congregation was dismissed. As he appeared at the door,
all heads were uncovered and kept so until he had passed through
the long lines extending down the street.
A reception was given by Mr. Tagart in his honour. There his friends
crowded to see him, and the greatest affection and deference were
shown him. He had lived in Baltimore about twenty years before this
time, and many of his old friends were still there; besides, Baltimore
had sent to the Army of Northern Virginia a large body of her noble
sons, who were only too glad to greet once more their former commander.
That he was still "a prisoner on parole," disfranchised from all
civil rights, made their love for him stronger and their welcome
the more hearty. On his return to Lexington, he was asked how he
enjoyed his visit. With a sad smile, he said:
"Very much; but they would make too much fuss over the old rebel."
A few days after he came home, when one of his daughters remonstrated
with him about the hat he was wearing, he replied:
"You don't like this hat? Why, I have seen a whole cityful come out
to admire it!"
There is only a short note to my mother that I can find written during
"Baltimore, April 27, 1869.
"My Dear Mary: I am still at Mr. Tagart's, but propose going
to-morrow to Ella's, and thence to Washington's, which will consume
Wednesday and Thursday. If not obliged to return here, which I cannot
tell till this evening or to-morrow morning, I will then go to
Washington, where I shall be obliged to spend a day or two, and thence
to Alexandria, so I shall not be able to return to Lexington till
the last of next week. What has become of little Agnes? I have
seen many of our old friends, of whom I will tell you on my return.
I have bought you a little carriage, the best I could find, which I
hope will enable you to take some pleasant rides. All send love.
Give mine to Mildred, and Custis, and all friends. I am just about
starting to Mrs. Baker's.
"Truly and affectionately, R. E. Lee.
"Mrs. M. C. Lee."
The "Ella" mentioned was Mrs. Sam George, of Baltimore, who as a girl
had always been a pet and favourite of my father. She was a daughter
of his first cousin, Mr. Charles Henry Carter, of "Goodwood,"
Prince George County, Maryland, and a schoolmate of my sister Mary.
Their country place was near Ellicott City. He went there to see
her, and from there to "Lynwood," near by, the seat of Washington
Peter, my mother's first cousin and an intimate friend of us all
On Saturday, my father, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Tagart, went to
Washington on an early train. They drove immediately to the Executive
Mansion and called on the President. This meeting was of no political
significance whatever, but simply a call of courtesy. It had been
intimated to General Lee that it would be most agreeable to General
Grant to receive him. Mr. and Mrs. Tagart went with him, and they
met there Mr. Motley, the newly appointed Minister of England. The
interview lasted about fifteen minutes, and neither General Lee nor
the President spoke a word on political matters. While in Washington
my father was the guest of Mrs. Kennon, of Tudor Place, Georgetown
Heights. On Sunday he dined with Mrs. Podestad and her husband, the
Secretary of the Spanish Legation, who were old friends and relatives.
After leaving Washington, he stopped in Alexandria for several days,
as the guest of Mrs. A. M. Fitzhugh. It was at her country place,
"Ravensworth," about ten miles from town, that his mother had died,
and there, in the old ivy-covered graveyard, she was buried. Mrs.
Fitzhugh was the wife of my mother's uncle, Mr. William Henry Fitzhugh,
who, having no children, had made my mother his heir. The intimacy
between "Arlington" and "Ravensworth" was very close. Since Mr.
Fitzhugh's death, which occurred some thirty years prior to this
time, my father and mother and their children had been thrown a great
deal with his widow, and "Aunt Maria," as we called her, became almost
a member of the family. She had the greatest love and admiration for
"Robert," sought his advice in the management of her estate, and trusted
him implicitly. His brother, Admiral Sidney Smith lee, came up from
"Richland," his home on the Potomac near Acquia Creek, to meet him,
and he found at Mrs. Fitzhugh's "Aunt Nannie" [Mrs. S. S. Lee] and
her son Fitz. Lee. This was the first time they had met each other
since their parting in Richmond just after the war.
On his arrival in Alexandria my father had walked up from the wharf
to "Aunt Maria's." He was recognised by a number of citizens, who
showed him the greatest deference and respect. So many of his friends
called upon him at Mrs. Fitzhugh's that it was arranged to have a
reception for him at the Mansion House. For three hours a constant
stream of visitors poured into the parlours. The reception was the
greatest ovation that any individual had received from the people of
Alexandria since the days of Washington. The next day, in Bishop
Johns' carriage, he drove out to Seminary Hill to the home of Mr.
Cassius F. Lee, his first cousin, where he spent the night. In the
afternoon he went to see the bishop and his family--General Cooper
and the Reverend Dr. Packard. The next morning, with Uncle Smith, he
attended Ascension-Day services at Christ church, and was afterward
entertained at a dinner-party given by Mr. John B. Daingerfield.
Before he left Alexandria he called on Mr. John Janney, who was
president of the Virginia Convention in 1861, when, as Colonel Lee,
he appeared before it and accepted the command of the Virginia forces,
organised and to be organised.
One evening a correspondent of the New York "Herald" paid him a visit
for the purpose of securing an interview. The General was courteous
and polite, but very firm. He stood during the interview, and finally
dismissed the reporter, saying:
"I shall be glad to see you as a friend, but request that the visit
may not be made in your professional capacity."
The same correspondent had tried to interview him, for his paper,
while he was in Baltimore, but had failed.
My father was much amused at an occurance that took place during this
visit. Late one afternoon a visitor was announced. As the General
was very tired, Uncle Smith Lee volunteered to relieve him. The
visitor was found to be an Irishwoman, very stout and unprepossessing,
who asked if she could see the General. The Admiral bowed, intimating
that he was the desired person, when she said:
"My boy was with you in the war, honey, and I must kiss you for his
sake." And with that she gave the Admiral an embrace and a kiss.
Mr. Cassius Lee, to whom he told this, suggested that he should take
General Fitz. Lee along to put forward in such emergencies.
My father's first letter after his return to Lexington was the
"Lexington, Virginia, May 11, 1869.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I reached here last Saturday, bringing Agnes and
Miss Peyton with me from Staunton. Found everybody well and Custis
better. I had, upon, the whole, a pleasant visit, and was particularly
glad to see again our old friends and neighbours in Alexandria and
vicinity; though should have preferred to enjoy their company in a
more quiet way. Your Uncle Smith came up to meet me, and your Aunt
Nannie and Fitz. were there. I had not seen them since I parted
from them in Richmond after the war. I wish I could have visited
you and Rob and have seen my daughter and grandson; but that pleasure,
I trust, is preserved for a future day. How is the little fellow?
I was much relieved after parting from you to hear from the doctors
that it was the best time for him to have the whooping-cough, in which
opinion the 'Mim' concurs. I hope that he is doing well. Bishop
Whittle will be here Friday next and is invited to stay with us.
There are to be a great many preparatory religious exercises this
week. A great feeling of religion pervades the young in the
community, especially at the Virginia Military Institute. All send
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee."
Since his establishment in Lexington, General Lee had been a member
of the vestry of Grace (Episcopal) church. At the council of 1868,
which met at Lynchburg, he had been sent as a delegate, and spent
three days there. This year the council was to meet in Fredericksburg,
and he was again elected to represent his church. This was a busy
time with him. The examinations were commencing, his new home was
about ready to move into, and the preparations for the commencement
exercises had to be made; yet he accepted the trust imposed upon him
by his church and took a week out of his valuable time to perform it.
In his next letter to his son, after writing on some Smith's Island
business, he tells him of his proposed journey to Fredericksburg
and of his regret at not being able to visit him as he had intended:
"Lexington, Virginia, May 22, 1869.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: The weather here has been very hard on the corn-
fields, and I hear of many having to be replanted. The wheat, so far,
is very promising, and I am glad to hear that yours and Rob's is
equally so. I have been elected by our little church to represent
it at the coming convention, and have concluded to go. I shall leave
for Fredericksburg Tuesday, June 1st, and shall endeavour while there
to spend a night with your Uncle Smith, the only visit I shall be able
to make him. It is very inconvenient for me to be absent at this time.
The examination of the senior classes is in progress, and I must hasten
back to attend as many as I can. The new house is about finished.
The contractors say they will deliver the keys on Monday, the 31st
inst. I will make arrangements to have it cleaned out during the
week, so as to be able to move in on my return. The commencement,
a busy time with me, is approaching, and we must try to be prepared.
i shall not, therefore, be able to pay you a visit at this time, but
hope Custis and I will be able to do so after the close of the session.
I met Bishop Whittle at Lynchburg last convention, and was much pleased
with him. My favourable impressions were much strengthened and
increased by this visit here.
"I am so glad to learn that my little grandson is getting on so well
with his whooping-cough. You must kiss him and his mother for me. We
are all about the same. Your mother is becoming interested in her
painting again, and is employing her brush for the benefit of our
little church, which is very poor. She yet awhile confines herself
to coloring photographs, and principally to those of General and Mrs.
Washington, which are sold very readily. The girls are well, and have
Miss Peyton with them still. Custis, I hope, is better. He is getting
over some of his confinement with his classes now, which I hope will
be of benefit to him. Give my love to Robert and tell my daughter
Tabb I long to see her. All unite with me in affectionate love. I am,
"Truly your father,
"R. E. Lee."
These photographs that were being coloured by my mother were from the
original portraits of General Washington by Peale and of Mrs. Washington
by W---. These paintings hung at Mt. Vernon until the death of Mrs.
Washington, and were then inherited by my grandfather, Mr. Custis.
They were at "Arlington" till '61, when they were removed to
"Ravensworth," where they remained until the end of the war. When they
were being sent to Lexington, the boat carrying them on the canal
between Lynchburg and Lexington sank. These pictures, with many others
belonging to my mother, were very much injured and had to be sent to
a restorer in Baltimore, who made them as good as ever, and they were
finally safely hung in the president's house in Lexington, and are
now in the library of the university. My mother coloured the
photographs of these originals, and sold a great many, on account of
their association rather than their merit.
There must have been some change of date in my father's plans, for
though he said he would start on June 1st for Fredericksburg, his first
and only letter from there was written on May 28th:
"Fredericksburg, May 28, 1869.
"My Dear Mary: I reached here Tuesday night, the night after the
morning I left you, about twelve o'clock and found Major Barton at
the depot, who conducted me to his house. The town seems very full
of strangers, and I have met many acquaintances. I have seen no one
yet from 'Cedar Grove,' and cannot learn whether any of them are
coming. They are no doubt in distress there, for you may have heard
of the death of Charles Stuart, on his way from Arkansas. He died
at Lynchburg of congestive chills. Harriott Cazenove (his sister)
went on to see him, but he died before her arrival. Rosalie, I heard,
was at 'Cedar Grove,' Turbeville in Essex. I have delivered all your
packages but Margaret's. Cassius Lee and all from the seminary are
here. Sally came up from Gloucester, and also Mrs. Taliaferro. But
I must tell you of all occurrences upon my return, and of all whom I
have met. All friends inquire very particularly and affectionately
after you, particularly your cousin, Mrs. ---, who turns up every day
at all assemblies, corners, and places, with some anxious question
on her mind upon which some mighty--thought to me hidden--importance
depends. Fitz. Lee arrived to-day, though I have not seen him yet.
If I can accomplish it, I will go to 'Richland' to-morrow, Saturday,
and spend Sunday, and take up my line of march Monday, in which event
I hope to reach Lexington Wednesday morning, or rather Tuesday night,
in the stage from Goshen. I may not be able to get away from the
council before Monday. In that case, I shall not arrive before
Wednesday night. Tell the girls there are quantities of young girls
here and people of all kinds. I hope that you are all well, and that
everything will be ready to move into our new house upon my arrival.
I am obliged to stop. I am also so much interrupted and occupied
that, though I have tried to write ever since my arrival, I have
been unable. Love to all.
"R. E. Lee.
"Mrs. R. E. Lee."
"Cedar Grove" was the plantation of Dr. Richard Stuart, in King George
County, some fifty miles from Fredericksburg. His wife, a Miss Calvert,
of "Riversdale," Maryland, was a near cousin of my mother, had been
her bridesmaid, and the two families had been intimate all their lives.
All the persons mentioned by my father were cousins and friends, several
of them old neighbours from Alexandria and the Theological Seminary
From Fredericksburg, after the completion of his duties at the council,
he went to "Richland" on the Potomac, near Acquia Creek, where his
brother Smith was then living. This meeting was a great pleasure to
them both, for two brothers were never more devoted. This was the
last time they saw one another alive, as Smith died two months
The New Home in Lexington
Numerous guests--Further sojourns at different Baths--Death of the
General's brother, Smith Lee--Visits to "Ravensworth" and "The White
House"--Meetings with interesting people at White Sulphur Springs--
Death of Professor Preston
On my father's return to Lexington the new house was ready. It adjoined
the one he had been occupying, so the distance was not great and the
transfer was easily accomplished. It was much larger and more
comfortable than the one given up. My mother's room was on the first
floor and opened out on the veranda, extending three sides of the
house, where she could she could be rolled in her chair. This she
enjoyed intensely, for she was very fond of the open air, and one
could see her there every bright day, with Mrs. "Ruffner," a much
petted cat, sitting on her shoulder or cradled in her lap. My father's
favourite seat was in a deep window of the dining-room, from which
his eyes could rest on rolling fields of grass and grain, bounded by
the ever-changing mountains. After his early and simple dinner, he
usually took a nap of a few minutes, sitting upright in his chair, his
hand held and rubbed by one of his daughters. There was a new stable,
warm and sunny, for Traveller and his companion, "Lucy Long," a
cow-house, wood-shed, garden, and yard, all planned, laid out, and
built by my father. The increased room enabled him to invite a great
number to visit him, and this summer the house was full.
In answer to a letter from me on business, which reached him during
commencement week, he writes:
"Lexington, Viriginia, June 19, 1869.
"My Dear Son: I have just receive your letter of the 10th, and have
only time for a word.... I hope all things are going well with you
both. With the improvement of your farm, proceeds will increase,
and, with experience, judgment, and economy, will augment greatly.
You will have to get married if you wish to prosper, and must therefore
make arrangements to build your house this fall. If I live through
this coming week, I wish to pay you and F--- a visit the week following,
about July 1st. I am trying to persuade Custis to accompany me, but
he has not yet responded. I am very much occupied with examinations,
visitors, arrangements, etc.
"All are well, and would send love if accessible. Mildred is full of
housekeeping and dresses, and the house is full of young ladies--Misses
Jones, Albert, Burwell, Fairfax, and Wickham; others in expectation.
"Affectionately your father,
"R. E. Lee.
"Robert E. Lee, Jr.
Ten days later, he writes to his son, Fitzhugh, giving up his proposed
visit to him at this time, expressing his regrets at the necessity,
and telling his reasons for so doing:
"Lexington, Viriginia, June 30, 1869.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: This is the day that I had proposed to visit you,
but I find it impossible to get away. I find a great deal to do in
closing up the past session and in preparing for the new. In addition,
our college officers have all been changed--proctor, clerk, treasurer,
librarian--and the new incumbents enter upon their duties to-morrow.
I shall have to be with them some days to initiate and install them.
That would only delay me, but then on the 15th proximo the Educational
Association of Virginia will meet here, and I should not be able to
return in time. As I have never attended any of their meetings when
elsewhere, if I were to go away when appointed here it would look as
if I wished to avoid them, which is not the case. After that is over,
I must locate your poor mother at the Baths [Rockbridge Baths], which
she has made up her mind to visit, and prepare to go myself to the
White Sulphur, the waters of which I want to drink for three or four
weeks. So I do not see how I could get to the Pamunkey before fall.
I want to get there very much to see you all, and, as far as my
personal predilections are concerned, would rather go there than to
the White; but the doctors think it would not be so beneficial to me,
and I am obliged now to consider my health. I propose, therefore,
that you bring Tabb and the baby up to the mountains and leave them
either at the Baths with 'the Mim' or with me, if you cannot remain.
Tell Rob, if he can, he must also come and see us. If he were here,
now, he would find very pleasant company, Misses Jones, Albert,
Kirkland, Burwell, Fairfax, and Wickham, all in the house, with others
out of it. They are so much engaged with the collegates that Custis
and I see but little of them, but he could compete with the YEARLINGS,
which we cannot. Tell my daughter Tabb, her father is here, very well,
and dined with us yesterday. Give my much love to grandson. He must
not forget me. I have a puppy and a kitten for him to play with.
All send love.
"Truly your father,
"R. E. Lee."
"General William H. Fitzhugh Lee."
In a letter dated Lexington, Viriginia, July 9th, he gives a further
account of his plans for the summer:
"...I have delivered your letter to Mildred, who has just returned
from a visit to the University of Virginia, where she saw a great many
persons and met with a great deal of pleasure. She ought to be, and
I believe is, satisfied with commencements for this year, having
participated in three. I am sorry to tell you that I cannot go
down to the Pamunkey this summer as I had intended;... I had hoped
to be able, after the conclusion of the commencement exercises of
Washington College, to visit the Pamunkey, and to return by the 15th
inst. so as to be present at the Convention of the Teachers of Virginia,
which assembles here on that day; but I was detained here so long
that I found I would be unable to accomplish what I desired. Custis,
who was to have accompanied me, will go down in a day or two....
"About the 20th of this month I shall go to the Rockbridge Baths with
Mrs. Lee, who wishes to try the waters again, and after seeing her
comfortably located, if nothing prevents, I shall go with Mildred
and Agnes to the White Sulphur for a few weeks.... It is delightfully
quiet here now. Both institutions have closed, and all are off enjoying
their holiday. I should like to remain, if I could. Colonels Shipp
and Harding have gone to get married, report says. Colonel Lyle and
Captain Henderson, it is said, will not return. Captain Preston
having been appointed professor at William and Mary, we shall
necessarily lose him, but Colonel Allen will be back, and all the rest.
We are as well as you left us. The girls had several friends at
commencement. All have departed except Miss Fairfax and Miss Wickham.
The election is over and the town tranquil."
The quiet and rest which he so much desired, and which he was enjoying
when he wrote, did not long remain his. He had just gotten my mother
comfortably settled at the Baths, when he received the news of the
sudden death of his brother Smith. He went at once to Alexandria,
hoping to be in time for the burial. From there he writes my mother:
"Alexandria, July 25, 1869.
"My Dear Mary: I arrived here last evening, too late to attend the
burial of my dear brother, an account of which I have clipped from
the Alexandria Gazette and inclose to you. I wish you would preserve
it. Fitz. and Mary went up to 'Ravensworth' the evening of the funeral
services, Friday, 23d, so that I have not seen them, but my nephew
Smith is here, and from him I have learned all particulars. The
attack of his father was short, and his death apparently unexpected
until a short time before it occurred. Mary [General Lee's eldest
daughter] was present, and I hope of some comfort to her uncle and
assistance to her aunt. Fitz. came here the afternoon of his father's
death, Thursday, 22d, made all arrangements for the funeral, went out
to 'Ravensworth' to announce the intelligence to our aunt. He
carried down, Friday morning, on the steamer, Mrs. Cooper and Jennie,
to stay with his mother, and returned that afternoon with his father's
remains, which were committed to earth as you will see described.
"John returned the next morning, yesterday, in the mail-boat, to his
mother, with whom Dan stayed. Robert arrived this morning and has
gone to 'Ravensworth' to announce my arrival. I shall remain here
until I see or hear from Fitz., for, as you will see by the Gazette's
account, the last resting-place of the body has not been determined
upon. Fitz., I understand, wishes it interred at Hollywood, Richmond;
Nannie a the cemetery here, where her father, mother, and daughter
are buried; and Mrs. Fitzhugh at 'Ravensworth.' I think Nannie's
wishes should be consulted. I shall probably leave to-day or to-morrow,
and, after seeing all that remains to us of our dear brother deposited
in its last earthly home, and mingling my sorrow for a brief season
with that of his dear wife and children, I shall return to you.
Please send the letter after perusal to Agnes and Mildred, as I shall
be unable to write to them. I am staying at the Mansion House. Our
Aunt Maria did not come down to the funeral services, prevented, I
fear, by her rheumatic attack. May God bless us all and preserve us
for the time when we, too, must part, the one from the other, which
is now close at hand, and may we all meet again at the foot-stool of
our merciful God, to be joined by His eternal love never more to
"Most truly and affectionately,
"R. E. Lee.
"Mrs. M. C. Lee."
The loss of his brother was a great sorrow to him. They were devoted
to each other, having always kept warm their boyish love. Smith's
admiration for and trust in my father were unbounded, and it was
delightful to see them together and listen to the stories of the happy
long ago they would tell about each other. No one could be near my
Uncle Smith without feeling his joyful influence. My sister Mary,
who knew him long and well, and who was much attached to him, thus
"No one who ever saw him can forget his beautiful face, charming
personality, and grace of manner which, joined to a nobility of
character and goodness of heart, attracted all who came in contact
with him, and made him the most generally beloved and popular of men.
This was especially so with women, to whom his conduct was that of
a preux chevalier, the most chivalric and courteous; and, having no
daughters of his own, he turned with the tenderest affection to the
daughters of his brother Robert."
After all the arrangements connected with this sad event had been
completed, my father went up to "Ravensworth" to see "Aunt Maria,"
who had always been a second mother to his brother. There, amid the
cool shades of this lovely old home, he rested for a day or two from
the fatigues of travel and the intense heat. During this visit, as
he passed the room in which his mother had died, he lingered near the
door and said to one present:
"Forty years ago, I stood in this room by my mother's death-bed! It
seems now but yesterday!"
While here he determined to go back to Lexington via Richmond, and
to run down thence to the "White House" to see his grandson. He
arrived there on Friday, July 30th. On Sunday he wrote to my mother:
"White House, New Kent, August 1, 1869.
"My Dear Mary: I arrived here on Friday last and found them all well.
Our daughter Tabb has not been altogether well, and shows its effects.
Her baby, I think, would also be improved by mountain air. I have
therefore persuaded her to accompany me and join you at the Baths.
We shall leave Richmond, if nothing prevents, on Tuesday morning, 3d
inst., and hope to reach the Baths that evening in the stage from
Goshen. I have written to Mr. Peyton, requesting him to prepare a
good room for Tabb and her little family as near you as convenient,
and trust we may reach there in health and comfort at the time
appointed. I hope I shall find you well and comfortable, and Markie
in the enjoyment of every good. How are the poor little children?
My previous letters will have informed you of everything important.
I will supply all omissions when I see you. Custis is here, much
improved. I have not yet seen Rob. Farmers here are threshing out
their wheat, which occupies them closely. Fitzhugh's is turning
out well, and he hopes to gather a fair crop. Robert came up last
Wednesday with his friend Mr. Dallam, and went down Thursday. He was
very well. Custis arrived Saturday week. Mr. Kepler is here and will
preach at St. Peter's this morning. I hope to attend. Mr. Kepler
says his health is much improved. Fitzhugh doses him with cholagogue.
Good-bye. Affectionately yours,
"R. E. Lee."
St. Peter's was the old Colonial church a few miles away, in which
General Washington and Mrs. Custis were married about one hundred years
prior to this time. Mr. Kepler, the pastor, preached there twice a
month. He lived in Richmond, and, to keep him free from fever-and-ague,
my brother dosed him freely with cholagogue whenever he came down
into the malarial country. I came up from Romancoke Sunday morning,
arriving in time to be present at the christening of my nephew, which
ceremony was decided on rather hurriedly in order that the grandfather
might stand as godfather. After returning from the morning service
at St. Peter's, where we all went, it was decided that the mother and
child should go to the mountains with my father. As there were some
preparations for the summer to be made, his daughter and her baby
went to Petersburg that afternoon, agreeing to meet the General in
Richmond Monday night and start for the Rockbridge Baths Tuesday
morning. On Monday, he writes to a friend, with whom he had intended
to stop for a day on his way back to Lexington:
"White House, New Kent County, August 1, 1869.
"...I had promised myself the pleasure of seeing you on my way to
Lexington, of spending with you one short day to cheer and refresh
me; but I shall travel up in a capacity that I have not undertaken
for many years--as escort to a young mother and her infant, and it
will require the concentration of all my faculties to perform my
duties even with tolerable comfort to my charge.... I go up with
my daughter, I may say this time, too, my youngest daughter [his
daughter-in-law, Mrs. W. H. F. Lee], to place her with her mama at
the Rockbridge Baths, the waters of which I hope will invigorate
both mother and child, who have been wearied and weakened by the
long attack of whooping-cough from which the latter has suffered.
I came down from Richmond to spend Sunday and was fortunate enough
to find here my three sons, but I am sorry to say but one daughter....
Most truly yours,
"R. E. Lee."
Monday night was spent in Richmond. It was soon known that General
Lee was at the Exchange Hotel, and great numbers came to call upon
him, so that he was compelled to hold an informal reception in the
large parlours. The next day, with his "new daughter" and her baby,
he started for the Baths, where they arrived safely the same night.
Then he proceeded to carry out his original plan for the summer, and
went with his two daughters to the White Sulphur Springs. From there
he writes to his wife:
"White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, West Virginia,
"August 10, 1869.
"My Dear Mary: I received this morning your addenda to Annie Wickham's
letter inclosing Custis's. I also received by same mail a letter
from Mr. Richardson, reiterating his request to insert my portrait
in my father's Memoirs, saying that it was by the desire 'of many
mutual friends' on the ground of its 'giving additional interest to
the work, and increasing its sale.' That may or may not be so; at
any rate, I differ from them. Besides, there is no good portrait
accessible to him, and the engraving in the 'Lee Family' I think
would be an injury to any book. His recent proposition of inserting
my portrait where the family history is given takes from it a part
of my obligation, and if it were believed that such an addition would
add to the interest of the book, I should assent. I have so told
him, and that I would write to you for your suggestions, and to ask
whether you could send him a portrait worth inserting. What do you
"There is to be a grand concert her to-night for the benefit of our
church in Lexington. It is gotten up by Miss Mary Jones and other
kind people here, and the proposition is so favourably received that
I hope a handsome sum will be realised.
"The girls are well. I do not know how long they will continue so.
They seem to be foot-free. A great many visitors were turned off
last night--no room for them! A grand ball in honour of Mr. Peabody
is to come off to-morrow, after which it is supposed there will be
more breathing-space. I have seen Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ridgely of
'Hampton' since I wrote, also numerous other acquaintances. I should
prefer more quiet. How is my daughter Tabb? Mother and son are
improving, I trust. I hope you and Markie are also doing well. No
change in myself as yet. The girls would send love if I could find
them. Affectionately yours,
"Mrs. R. E. Lee. R. E. Lee."
A few days later he writes:
"White Sulphur Springs, August 14, 1869.
"My Dear Mary: I received last night your letter of the 13th--very
prompt delivery--and ma very glad to learn of the well-doing of all
with you. I am particularly pleased to hear that our daughter and
grandson are improving, and should you find them not benefiting I
wish you would urge them to try some other springs, for I have it
greatly to heart that they should receive all possible advantage from
their summer trip. I hope Markie will be benefited by the Red Sweet.
The water is considered a great tonic, but I fear none will be warm
enough for her but the HOT. If I cannot get over to see her, I will
notify her of our departure from here, which will be in about two
weeks. I have received a letter from Fitz. Lee, saying that Mary would
leave 'Richlands' last Tuesday, 10th inst., for 'Ravensworth,' which
I presume she did, as his letter was postmarked that day at Acquia
Creek, and was probably mailed by him, or one of the boys, on
putting her aboard the mail-boat. You will be glad to learn that
the proceeds of the concert for our church at Lexington netted $605,
which has been subsequently increased to $805 by Messrs. Corcoran
and Peabody with a donation of $100 from each. For all of this I am
"As regards the portrait for Mr. Richardson, you must do as you please.
I shall not write to him any more on the subject. Unless the portrait
is good and pleasing, I think it will be an injury to the book. I
have had a visit since commencing this letter from a Mr. William BATH,
of New Orleans, who showed me a wreath, made in part, she says, of
my, your and Mildred's hair, sent her by you more than two years ago.
She says she sent you a similar one at the time, but of this I could
tell her nothing, for I recollect nothing about it. She says her
necessities now compel her to put her wreath up to raffle, and she
desired to know whether I had any objection to her scheme, and whether
I would head the list. All this, as you may imagine, is extremely
agreeable to me, but I had to decline her offer of taking a chance
in her raffle.
"Miss Mary Jones has gone to the Sweet. Tell Miss Belle I wish she
were coming here. I shall be glad to see Mrs. Caskie. Mildred has
her picture. The girls are always busy at something, but never ready.
The Stuarts have arrived. Mrs. Julia is improving perceptibly. Love
"R. E. Lee."
The "Markie" referred to in each of the above letters was Martha Custis
Williams, a great-niece of my grandfather, Mr. Custis, who had for
many years lived at Arlington with her uncle. The "little children"
were her motherless nieces, whom she had brought that summer to the
mountains for their health. General Lee had been engaged for some
time in bringing out a third edition of his father's "Memoirs of the
War of '76 in the Southern States." It was now in the hands of his
publisher, Mr. Richardson, of New York. To this edition he had added
a sketch of the famous "Light Horse Harry," written by himself. It
was to his publisher's proposition of placing his portrait in the
"Introduction" to the new work that he at first objected, and then
agreed, as stated in the two letters just given. The season of '69
is still noted in the annals of the White Sulphur as having had in
its unusually large company so many noted and distinguished men. Mr.
George Peabody and Mr. W. W. Corcoran, the two great philanthropists,
were among them and helped to enlarge the receipts of the concert for
the benefit of the little Episcopal church in Lexington, of which
General Lee was a member and a vestryman.
by the last of August he was back again in Lexington, making
arrangements for the home-coming of his wife and her party from the
Baths. Here is part of another letter written soon after his arrival
home, some lines of which (apparently relating to the servants) have
been partially obliterated by time:
"Lexington, Virginia, August 31, 1869.
"My Dear Mary: I received this evening your note by Miss Mays. You
had better come up whenever agreeable to your party...we can only
try them and make the best of them. Alice, when she gets well, will
return if wanted. If Cousin Julia [Mrs. Richard Stuart, of 'Cedar
Grove'] will return with you, you can see her here as well as there,
and we can all have that pleasure. If she will not, you had better
remain with her as long as she will stay. Mrs. Pratt died to-day
at 12:30 P. M.
"I received a letter to-day from Edward Childe saying that he and
Blanche would leave Liverpool in the 'Fava' on September 4th, and
after spending a few days in the North, would come to Lexington.
He will probably reach Boston about September 15th, so that they may
be expected here from the 20th to the 30th of September. I am anxious
for them to see our daughter and grandson and all our sons. Give
my best love to all with you. The girls would send love, but a
'yearling' and a 'leader of the herd' ["Yearling" was a term that
originated with us just after the war (when many of the students were
ex-soldiers), to distinguish the real boys from the "Confeds." From
that expression, a professor came to be called a "leader of the
herd." It was a form of speech that we had kept up amongst ourselves.]
occupy them. Affectionately yours,
"R. E. Lee."
"Mrs. M. C. Lee."
This session of Washington College opened with very favourable
prospects. The number of students was larger than ever before, every
southern, and some northern States being represented. The new chairs
of instruction which had been instituted were now in good working
order, their professors were comfortably established, and the entire
machinery of the institution was running well and smoothly. The
president commenced to see some of the results of his untiring energy
and steady work. He had many plans which lack of funds prevented
him from carrying out. One of them was a School of Commerce in which
a student, while following the branches which would discipline and
cultivate the mind, might also receive special instruction and
systematic training in whatever pertained to business in the largest
sense of the term. Another was a School of Medicine, the plan for
which, with full details, was drawn up under his eye, and kept in
readiness until the funds of the institution should permit of its
being carried into effect.
His meeting with Mr. Peabody at the White Sulphur Springs attracted
that gentleman's attention to the college and to his work as its
president. To a request for his photograph to be placed in the Peabody
Institute among the friends of its founder, he sends with the likeness
the following note:
"Washington College, Virginia, September 25, 1869.
"F. Poole, Secretary Peabody Institute, Peabody, Massachusetts.
"Dear Sir: In compliance with your request, I send a photograph of
myself, the last that has been taken, and shall fell honoured in its
being placed among the 'friends' of Mr. Peabody, for, though they can
be numbered by millions, yet all can appreciate the man who was
illustrated his age by his munificent charities during his life, and
by his wise provisions for promoting the happiness of his
"Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
My father's family was now comfortably established in their new home,
and had the usual number of friends visiting them this autumn. In
due time Edward Childe, Blanche, and "Duckie," their little dog,
arrived and remained for a week or two. The last-named member of
the party was of great interest. He was very minute, very helpless,
and received more attention than the average baby. He had crossed
the Atlantic in fear and trembling, and did not apparently enjoy the
new world. His utter helplessness and the great care taken of him
by his mistress, his ill-health and the unutterable woe of his
countenance greatly excited my father's pity. After he went away, he
often spoke of him, and referred to him, I find, in one of his letters.
During this trip to America, Edward and his wife, carrying the wretched
"Duckie" with them, paid their visit to the "White House."
This autumn the "little carriage" my father mentioned having purchased
for my mother in Baltimore was put into use. He frequently drove out
in it with my mother, his new daughter, and grandson. "Lucy Long,"
under his guidance, carefully carried them over the beautiful hills
around Lexington. One afternoon, while paying a visit with his
daughter, Tabb, to Colonel William Preston Johnston, who lived two
miles down the river, in pulling up a steep ascent to the front door,
"Lucy" fell, choked into unconsciousness by too tight a collar. My
father jumped out, hastily got off the harness, and on perceiving
the cause of the accident reproached himself vehemently for his
carelessness and thoughtlessness. He was very much distressed at
this accident, petted his mare, saying to her in soothing tones that
he was ashamed of himself for having caused her all this pain after
she had been so faithful to him.
His rides on Traveller in which he delighted so much were not so
frequent now. He was not so strong as he had been through the spring
and summer, and, indeed, during November he had a very severe attack
of cold, from which he did not recover for several weeks. However,
during the beautiful days of October he was often seen out in the
afternoons on his old gray. His favourite route was the road leading
to the Rockbridge Baths. A year previous to this time, he would
sometimes go as far as the Baths and return in an afternoon, a trip
of twenty miles. A part of this road led through a dense forest.
One afternoon, as he told the story himself, he met a plain old soldier
in the midst of these woods, who, recognising the General, reined in
his horse and said:
"General Lee, I am powerful glad to see you, and I feel like cheering
The General replied that this would not do, as they were all alone,
only two of them, and there would be no object whatever in cheering.
But the old soldier insisted that he must, and, waving his hat about
his head, cried out:
"Hurrah for General Lee!" and kept repeating it. As the General rode
away he continued to hear the cheers until he was out of sight.
On another afternoon, as Professors White and Nelson, taking a horseback
ride, approached the summit of a long hill, they heard behind them
the sound of a horse's feet running rapidly. In a few moments General
Lee appeared on Traveller at full speed. On joining his friends he
reined up and said:
"I thought a little run would be good for Traveller."
He often gave his horse a "breather," as he called it. The animal
was so strong and powerful that he chafed at restraint, and, unless
ridden regularly and hard, had a very disagreeable, fretful trot.
After a good gallop up one of the long Rockbridge hills he would
proceed at a quiet walk.
The tenderness in my father's heart for children I have already often
remarked upon. One afternoon two little girls, the daughters of two
of his professors, were riding on a gentle old horse up and down one
of the back streets of the town, fearing to go too far from home.
The General, starting out on his afternoon ride, came up with them,
and knowing them well, said gaily:
"Come with me, little girls, and I will show you a beautiful ride."
Only too delighted, they consented to go. He took them out beyond
the fair-grounds, from which point there is one of the grandest
stretches of mountain scenery in the world. One of the little maidens
had her face tied up, as she was just recovering from the mumps. He
pretended that he was much alarmed lest his horse should catch them
from her, and kept saying:
"I hope you won't give Traveller the mumps!" and "What shall I do if
Traveller gets the mumps?"
An hour later, this party was seen returning, the two little girls in
sun-bonnets on the one old, sleepy horse, and General Lee by their
side on Traveller, who was stepping very proudly, as if in scorn of
his lowly companion. My father took the children to their homes,
helped them dismount, took a kiss from each, and, waving a parting
salute, rode away. It was such simple acts of kindness and
consideration that made all children confide in him and love him.
Soon after the attack of cold mentioned above, he writes to his son
Fitzhugh, then at the "White House" with his family:
"Lexington, Virginia, December 2, 1869.
"My Dear Fitzhugh:... Your letters to Custis told us of your
well-doing. I want to see you all very much, and think the sight of
my daughter and grandson would do me good. I have had a wretched
cold, the effects of which have not left me, but I am better. The
doctors still have me in hand, but I fear can do no good. The present
mild weather I hope will be beneficial, enabling me to ride and be
in the open air. But Traveller's trot is harder to me than it used
to be and fatigues me. We are all as usual--the women of the family
very fierce and the men very mild. Custis has been a little unwell,
but is well regulated by his sisters. Neither gaiety nor extravagance
prevails amongst us, and the town is quiet. Our community has been
greatly grieved at the death of Mr. Frank Preston, to whom I was much
attached and for whom I had a high esteem. Give my love to Bertus.
Tell him I hope Mrs. Taylor will retain one of her little daughters
for him. She always reserves the youngest of the flock from Custis,
as he is not particular as to an early date.
"Your affectionate father,
"R. E. Lee.
"General William H. F. Lee."
Frank Preston, at the time of his death, was professor of Greek at
William and Mary College. He had been, prior to his appointment to
that position, an assistant professor at Washington College. He was
a native of Lexington, a son of Colonel Thomas L. Preston, who was
for so long a time professor at the Virginia Military Institute. A
brilliant scholar, trained in the best German universities, and a
gentleman in the highest sense of the word. Frank had served his
State in the late war, and had left an arm on the heights of Winchester.
On hearing of his death, President Lee issued the following
"Washington College, November 23, 1869.
"The death of Professor Frank Preston, a distinguished graduate, and
late Associate Professor of Greek in this college, has caused the
deepest sorrow in the hearts of the institution.
"Endowed with a mind of rare capacity, which had been enriched by
diligent study and careful cultivation, he stood among the first
in the State in his pursuit in life.
"We who so long and so intimately possessed his acquaintance, and