To only one business enterprise, during the whole of his residence in Lexington, did General Lee give his active support. That was to the Valley Railroad Company. And then he was induced to participate, not for financial benefit to himself, but because he thought the undertaking would help the college and the town.
Lexington was without railroad connection. The nearest station was Goshen, on the Chesapeake and Ohio, •twenty-three miles distant, over a nightmare of a road. As an alternative, the traveller had nothing except the James River and Kanawha Canal, along which the canal boat crept for twelve hours to Lynchburg, •fifty miles away. Lexington people were divided in the opinion as to which route was the worse. Once, when asked by a visitor to recommend the best way from Lexington to the outer world, Lee replied: "It makes but little difference, for whichever route you select, you will wish you had taken the other."1 Lexington had long dreamed of a railroad up the Shenandoah Valley, and after the close of the war actively agitated it. The Baltimore and Ohio, which was interested in the possibilities of the territory, had Colonel James Randolph make a survey in 1866, from Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, southward to Salem, Roanoke County. North of Harrisonburg there already were two stretches of railroad that could easily be joined together and connected with the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio. At Salem the Virginia-Tennessee, now the Norfolk and Western, would be reached. Valley people argued that the construction of a railway from Mount Jackson to Salem, southward by Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Lexington, would open a new and useful north-and‑south route.
p396 The counties along the proposed line were willing, despite their poverty, to market $1,200,000 of securities and to subscribe the proceeds to stock of the corporation. For the purchase of a railroad bond issue, sufficient to cover the rest of the construction cost, the promoters looked hopefully to Baltimore, Md., a sympathetic city enriched by the war and linked already with the Shenandoah Valley by the ties of trade. The leaders of the enterprise arranged, at length, to appear before the business men and council of that city and to present the project formally. They appealed insistently to General Lee to accept them. He had been suffering from a cold that had kept him indoors for a week,2 his duties at home and at the college were heavy,3 and he did not feel he was suited for this sort of undertaking, but he was so importuned that he thought it would appear "ill-mannered and unkind to refuse."4 So, on April 20, 1869, he set out for Baltimore with a delegation that included most of the notables of that part of Virginia.
They reached Baltimore on the evening of April 21,5 and were received with much cordiality. General Lee went to the home of Samuel Tagart, a friend he had met at the White Sulphur. Most of the delegates, of whom there were ten from General Lee's county alone, stopped at the Eutaw House,6 at Fayette and Eutaw Streets. Inevitably, the visit took on something of a public nature. Aside from those who were curious to see a celebrity, numerous Lee and Custis kinsfolk resided in Baltimore, as did many friends who had been cherished since the days of his residence there in 1849‑52. All of them wanted to greet the General again and many of them attended a reception given in his honor by the Tagarts. Lee was anxious, if possible, to avoid a public appearance and to escape all speech-making, and he asked if he might not be excused from attending the gathering of business men and merchants, which was to be one of the main events of the visit. His request was referred to John W. Garrett, president of the Baltimore and Ohio, whose of-operation was more essential p397 to the success of the enterprise than that of anyone else. Mr. Garrett, doubtless realizing that Lee's presence would attract many who would not come otherwise, urged that the General be at the meeting.
On the morning of April 22 the delegation organized by electing General Lee chairman. The mayor and councilmen were introduced, and arrangements were made for two gatherings the next day. Another Virginia delegation, which was urging an extension of the Alexandria, Orange and Virginia road southward from Lynchburg to Danville, was due a hearing that day, also, and had arrived before the spokesman for the Shenandoah. When Lee entered with Albert Schumacker and the members of the reception committee, he was welcomed with handclapping and cheers and was given a seat facing the president's chair. The meeting was duly opened, the visitors were assured a friendly hearing, and General Lee was called upon. But he did not make a speech. Instead, he simply announced that Colonel M. G. Harmon, president of the Valley Railroad, would address the meeting in behalf of that line. Colonel Harmon spoke, the merchants voted a resolution of endorsement, the other committee was heard, its appeal to the city council was similarly approved, and the meeting adjourned. The Baltimore hosts, regardless of their political view, greeted Lee and the Virginians with much cordiality and escorted the General from the room.7 Just nine years before, on that very day, and almost at that very hour, Lee had been ushered out of another crowded hall, in the excited city of Richmond, where he had been given command of the Virginia forces.
That afternoon at 4 o'clock the delegation appeared before the city council, convened for the purpose in the Western Female High School, on Fayette Street, between Paca and Green. Admission was by card, but the building was jammed with an interested audience, of whom a fourth were women. Before this assemblage General Lee had to endure the ordeal of a laudatory p398 introduction — an ordeal he always faced without moving a muscle or showing the least touch of emotion, although inwardly he writhed. When the eulogium was ended, the General read a memorial which he had prepared with care before he left Lexington.8 If the reading was to be accounted a speech, it was much the longest General Lee ever made.
The formal presentation of this paper being the only business before the meeting, the councilman who had introduced the General obligingly announced that opportunity would be given for the ladies to meet him by crossing the platform on which he stood. Then began a gruelling half-hour, the worst, no doubt, that Lee had passed since Appomattox itself. He shook hands with each of the ladies cordially, but he had to listen to all their compliments, and by many of them he was saluted with a kiss. Fond as he was of the company of women, he would have preferred not to meet them in cohorts. The end of the line was reached, at last, however, and Mayor Banks escorted Lee to the street, where another throng greeted him with high huzzahs.9
Cheers did not build railroads. "The delegates have had a pleasant time in Baltimore," said the hostile American, "and will probably go away with plenty of fair promises, of which those made upon the part of the Council are not likely to be fulfilled; certainly not until the banks cease to protest the notes of the city, and it has some money in its treasury."10 A later article in the same paper was even more critical: "The affair was a very successful one if regarded simply as an ovation in honor of General Robert E. Lee, but as a business operation it has been a conspicuous failure. The General of the late 'so‑called' Southern Confederacy has been feted and smiled upon, and banqueted, toasted and hurrahed over to an extent that would have satisfied even Andrew Johnson, and as Mr. Lee has a reputation for personal modesty, must have greatly disgusted him. In fact the whole demonstration was in every particular feature a social and p399 political rather than a business operation. There were crowds everywhere, but they were sympathizers with the Chief of the late rebellion, and not subscribers to Virginia railroads; they bestowed cheers liberally, but will button their pockets tightly when the demand for actual aid is made." The paper went on to argue that Baltimore was not financially in condition to subscribe, and that if she were, Virginia as yet gave no assurance that the investment would be secure.11
General Lee remained in Baltimore a few days after the hearing in order to attend the further meetings of the Virginia committee.12 Besides, there were friends whom he wished to see, and, in addition, a particular mission he had to perform: he wanted to purchase Mrs. Lee a small carriage, in which she could be placed easily and driven comfortably. He found what he desired and wrote her of it with manifest pleasure.13 On Sunday, April 25, he went with his host to Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, on the corner of Saint Paul and Saratoga Streets. Word of his presence in the church spread about that part of the town and brought a great crowd to the door. When he left the building, at the close of the service, all hats were off and he had to walk for a long distance between lines of sympathizing people.14 On Wednesday, April 28, he journeyed out to the country place of his cousin, Mrs. Samuel George, near Ellicott City. Thence he went for a short visit at the nearby home of Washington Peter, a first cousin of Mrs. Lee's and also his own intimate friend.
Before he left for this visit, Reverend John Leyburn called and, in the name of Cyrus H. McCormick, invited Lee to New York to see the inventor. Doctor Leyburn pointed out the advantages to the college from a closer relationship with Mr. McCormick and argued so persuasively that though Lee was anxious to return to Lexington, he agreed to defer a decision until he had been to see Mr. Peter. When the General reached Baltimore again, Doctor Leyburn called to hear his decision. Lee told him that he was grateful for Mr. McCormick's invitation but could not then attempt the journey.
p400 "I think I see, General," said Leyburn, "that the real difficulty lies in your shrinking from the conspicuity of a visit to New York. I can readily understand that this would be unpleasant. But you need not be exposed to any publicity whatever; my friend has given me carte blanche to make all arrangements for your coming. I will engage a compartment in the palace-car of the night train, and will telegraph my friend to meet you with his carriage on your arrival in New York."
Lee replied quickly and with deep feeling: "Oh, Doctor, I couldn't go sneaking into New York in that way. When I go there, I'll go in daylight, and go like a man."
Leyburn, of course, had no answer to this and accepted Lee's refusal as final. But the interview did not end there. The minister was a very interesting man, a very able one, a native of Lexington, long a pastor in the North. He had gone South during the war and after its close had moved to Baltimore, where he had charge of an independent Presbyterian church. Feeling that Leyburn could be trusted and might be able to help the South, Lee continued the conversation and described some of the conditions in the South. He told how the Confederate states had lost much of their best blood. The North had sent some of its finest youths to the front, but had been able to draw so heavily from the immigrant population and from the slums of the city that its losses had not been proportionately so great.
Then the conversation turned to the attitude of the Northern press. Lee expressed his regret that Northern newspapers continued to assert that the object of the war had been to perpetuate slavery. "On this point," wrote Doctor Leyburn in a subsequent report of the interview, "he seemed not only indignant but hurt. He said it was not true. He declared that, for himself, he had emancipated most of his slaves years before the war, and had sent to Liberia those that were willing to go; that the latter were writing back most affectionate letters to him, some of which he received through the lines during the war. He said, also, as an evidence that the colored people did not consider him hostile to their race, that during this visit to Baltimore some of them who had known him when he was stationed there had come up in the most affectionate manner and put their hands into the carriage window p401 to shake hands with him. They would hardly have received him in this way, he thought, had they looked upon him as fresh from a war intended for their oppression and injury."
"So far," said Lee, "from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained."
Again he spoke of the misrepresentation of the South by Northern writers, and said, "Doctor, I think some of you gentlemen that use the pen should see that justice is done us." The conversation was ended only when Rooney Lee, who had just arrived in Baltimore, entered the room.15
Lee's pleasant stay in Baltimore came to a close on May 1, when he travelled with Mr. and Mrs. Tagart to Washington in order to pay his respects to President Grant. This was done on suggestion from the White House. It had been proposed to Lee the previous winter that he invite General Grant to Lexington — doubtless because a visit from the President-elect and a meeting between the two adversaries would win favorable publicity for the college. General Lee had declined. "I should be very glad if General Grant would visit Washington College, when I would endeavor 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, at this time, my motives might be misunderstood, both by himself and others, and that evil would result, instead of good. I will, however, bear your suggestion in mind, and, should a favorable opportunity offer, will be glad to take advantage of it."16 Now that he knew Grant desired to see him, he went without any questionings, and without any loss of equanimity. He had no apologies to make and felt no embarrassment in meeting again the man to whom he had surrendered. Appomattox had put no stigma on his soul. "We failed," he wrote an old friend, not long before he called p402 on Grant, "we failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing."17
It was in this spirit, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Tagart, that he drove to the White House about 11 o'clock, and modestly introduced himself to Robert M. Douglas, Grant's secretary. John Lothrop Motley, the historian and diplomatist, was closeted with the President at the time, but he retired immediately. Grant and Lee shook hands and Grant presented his young secretary, who was a son of Stephen A. Douglas. The meeting was unceremonious and in keeping with the character of the two men, but Douglas saw it revived memories that saddened both of them.
Word of the expected call had leaked out, and rumor had it that the two were to discuss the policy the government was following in the South.18 This was a wrong impression, of course, but as there exists no full account of the interview by an eye-witness or participant, the exact range of the conversation can only be surmised. It probably consisted only of a brief social exchange, with casual reference to the reasons for Lee's visit to Baltimore.19 In fifteen minutes the two shook hands again and Lee left, to meet Grant no more. Bidding farewell to the friendly Tagarts, the General went to the home of Mrs. Britannia Kennon on Georgetown Heights.20 He dined once with Mrs. Podestad, a kinswoman, wife of the secretary of the Spanish legation, and spent Sunday quietly with Mrs. Kennon.21
On Monday, May 3, or Tuesday, May 4,22 the General went by p403 steamer from Washington to Alexandria. He had passed through the city of his boyhood days on several occasions after the war, but he had never set foot on her streets from the time he left for Richmond in 1861 until he came ashore that day at the boat landing, on his homeward journey from Baltimore, and started to walk to the town house of Mrs. A. M. Fitzhugh of Ravensworth, widow of Mrs. Lee's maternal uncle. Recognized and warmly greeted as he went along, he found at Mrs. Fitzhugh's his sister-in‑law, Mrs. Sydney Smith Lee, and his nephew Fitz, of the cavalry. His brother Sydney soon came up from his farm on the Potomac to meet him. It was the first time they had been together since they had left Richmond after the close of the war.23
Then followed three happy days. General Lee loved Alexandria. "There is no community," he said, "to which my affections more strongly cling than that of Alexandria, composed of my earliest and oldest friends, my kind school-fellows, and faithful neighbors."24 The townspeople had equal regard for him, and when they heard that he was there, they began to call on him in such numbers that they almost swamped Mrs. Fitzhugh's house, which was located on the east side of Washington Street, near the corner of Queen. It became necessary to arrange a reception at a local hotel, Green's Mansion House, on the southeast corner of Cameron and Fairfax Streets.25 Thither General Lee went on foot — the distance was only five squares — a little before 8 o'clock, on the evening of May 4, accompanied by two or three of his old personal friends. There were no flowers, no music, no ceremony. No announcement of the reception had been published, and no invitations had been sent out. The men who had walked with him from Mrs. Fitzhugh's simply arranged for the callers to file past the General as he stood in the hotel parlor. p404 M. D. Corse, an Alexandrian who had commanded one of the brigades in Pickett's division, introduced those who had never met Lee.
Half the town came to greet him. For more than two hours the line was unbroken — old people who remembered his boyhood in the city and still called him "Robert," women whom he had known in his childhood, grizzling men who had been his schoolmates, hundreds who had followed him into battle, young mothers with their infants, girls who looked adoringly into his face and put up their cheeks to be kissed, boys who shook his hand shyly but never forgot that distinction to the end of their days, people of contrary political faith, Republicans, carpet-baggers, scalawags who wished to see the "chief of rebels," even a former slave from Arlington who was overjoyed to salute his one-time master. The callers must have numbered two or three thousand, and some of them, old acquaintances, were much changed. The war had not come visibly to spread fire and to shatter houses in the kindly old town, but it had bent shoulders and saddened hearts. The shadow of empty Arlington lay over all. Still, it was sweet to hear again the "dear, remembered names," to see that courage had not vanished, and to know that hope was not dead.26
Wherever he went on the street there was a joyful and sometimes a dramatic or amusing meeting. When he approached a corner a fat four-year‑old boy stumbled and fell at the curbstone, as he ran to the General.
"Whose little boy was coming to see me?" Lee asked of him, as he picked up the little fellow.
"I am Robert E. Lee Johnston," replied the youngster proudly.
"And this is my little godson," the General said as he kissed him.
Soon afterwards he heard a voice calling, "Marse Robert, Marse Robert." Turning, he saw an old mulatto woman hurrying to him. "I am Eugenia," she said, when she came up, "one of the Arlington slaves."
p405 Lee shook hands warmly. "I wonder if you would not like to have my picture, Eugenia?" he asked when they had talked for a few minutes.
" 'Deed I would, Marse Robert," she answered — and in due time received it by mail.27
Lee spent a night and part of a day at Mrs. Fitzhugh's and had a meeting with the venerable John Janney, who had presided over the Virginia convention when Lee had been made commander of the Virginia forces. These and other activities in the town were followed by a visit to the General's cousin, Cassius F. Lee, on Seminary Hill. He remained there for a night, called on Bishop Johns the next day and saw General Samuel Cooper again — a tragic figure now, an aristocrat in every impulse, brought down in fortune by the losses of the war. That evening, May 6, being Ascension Day, General Lee attended service at Christ Church, accompanied by his brother, Sydney Smith Lee. It was the last time the two ever knelt together.28 He completed a dizzy twenty-four hours with a reception at the home of J. B. Daingerfield, where he had the pleasure of seeing still again some of his oldest personal friends. Here, as everywhere else during the Alexandria visit, the cordiality of the General's greeting was particularly remarked. He was "at home," and free of the reserve that sometimes was hard to distinguish from diffidence.29
The only distasteful personal incident of the visit, so far as is known, was the manner in which a reporter of The New York Herald dogged Lee for an interview, first in Baltimore and then in Alexandria. He finally got into the General's presence, but Lee received him standing and refused to talk. "I shall be glad to see you as a friend," he said, "but request that the visit may not be made in your professional capacity." Lee never talked to newspaper men, and, if he could avoid it, never permitted himself to be quoted in the press. He had been libelled often in the North, and in the South he had suffered many things during the war at the hands of editorial strategists.
On the morning of May 7, the General left for home by the p406 Orange, Alexandria and Manassas Railroad, and arrived on the 8th, after an absence of eighteen days. From Staunton he brought Miss Peyton and his daughter Agnes over to Lexington with him. Had he enjoyed his visit? his family inquired. "Very much," he answered; "but they would make too much fuss over an old rebel."30 More deliberately, he wrote Rooney: "I had, upon the whole, a pleasant visit, and was particularly glad to see again our old friends and neighbors in Alexandria and vicinity; though [I] should have preferred to enjoy their company in a more quiet way."31 When one of his daughters protested that his hat was becoming disreputable, he replied half-grimly, half-jokingly: "You don't like this hat? Why, I have seen a whole cityful come out to admire it!"32
Scarcely was the General at home before he felt compelled to leave once more. The Lexington church had again named him as delegate to the council, which met that year in Fredericksburg, and though examinations were now close at hand, he did not think he should decline.33 He doubtless made the trip down the Chesapeake and Ohio to Hanover Junction and thence up the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac to Fredericksburg.
Word of his coming had spread. The brave little city turned out to do him honor. Although it was nearly midnight when his train arrived, the station was jammed, and as the moon was shining brightly, the people easily recognized the General. Instantly they raised the rebel yell as it had not been heard there since Sedgwick, in May, 1863, had been driven back across the Rappahannock.
A new barouche was in waiting to carry the General quickly to the home of his host, Major Thomas Barton.34 Late as it was when he got there, Fredericksburg had no intention of letting his first hour in the town pass unobserved: the Veterans' Band p407 of the Thirtieth Virginia regiment — Corse's brigade, Pickett's division, the very name awakening echoes — turned out and serenaded him royally, before 1 o'clock. The General did not respond with a speech, after the way of politicians, but he sent out his thanks to the musicians, and Major Barton presented them with a bottle of something wherewith to console themselves for the General's silence.35 It was noticeable that in the welcoming crowds the Negroes were as enthusiastic as Lee's own veterans.
A committee of the town's leading men called on the General the next day, when the council was due to open, and asked him if he would consent to hold a reception at the Exchange Hotel, in order that the people of the town might greet him. He declined. Having come to Fredericksburg to attend a religious meeting, he said, he did not think he should make any personal appearance. He would, he added, of course be glad to see any of his friends who called on him privately.36 The people respected the General's wishes and allowed him to attend quietly the sessions of the council. The whole town chuckled, however, at the performance of a new settler, a Northern man, who wanted to see General Lee and had his own ideas of etiquette. He did not know General Lee's host and would not enter the Barton house unbidden, so he rode up with his wife and child and sent in a request that the General would "come out and see him." Lee left the house, walked down to the street, and greeted the trio in the vehicle.37
As usual, the General took no part in the debate of the council, though he was a member of the committee on the state of the church, and of the committee on clerical support.38 He was not present at the session when the council debated the admission of delegates from a colored church, but he was understood to p408 concur heartily in the decision that the representatives should be seated.39
From Fredericksburg, after the council ended on May 29, the General went to Richland, on the Potomac, and paid a two-day visit to his brother and intimate, Sydney Smith Lee, whom he had recently seen in Alexandria. Hurrying back, he reached late in the night of June 1 in time to attend the final examinations. He was rushing about faster than his heart would stand, but he made no complaint and, for the time, felt no ill-effects.
He returned in time for an event to which the family had long been looking forward: the new home — "the president's house," as General Lee always styled it to avoid the impression that it was his own40 — at last, after many delays on account of the college's lack of funds, was finished and ready for occupancy.41 Before going to Fredericksburg, the General had arranged all the details of the final cleaning and preparation.42 On his return he had only to move in. The house had cost something more than the $15,000 originally appropriated for it.43 A two‑story building, with a wide centre hall, it was very comfortable though not architecturally impressive. Mrs. Lee's bedroom was on the first floor, so that she could go directly to the porch. Much to Lee's satisfaction, a commodious brick stable for Traveller adjoined residence. It was gratifying, he said, to be under the same roof with his old friend.44 Other convenient out-buildings and a small greenhouse were included. Water from a large cistern was pumped to a tank under the roof, whence it was distributed by gravity to the rooms below.
THE "NEW" PRESIDENT'S HOUSE AT WASHINGTON COLLEGE,
OCCUPIED BY GENERAL LEE DURING THE LAST SIXTEEN MONTHS OF HIS LIFE
Some of the older trees around the house were planted by him.
The house was occupied by General for only sixteen months and a half, and, except for the sombre fact that he died there, it has fewer associations with him than isº possessed by the "old president's house," the next residence on the hill. Although he manifestly was much interested in the new place, he certainly did not approve so large an outlay by the college, or any luxuries p409 for himself, modest though they were. He probably had much less to do with the design and construction than has been generally supposed. His hand is most to be seen in the ample verandah on three sides of the building, silent evidence, after sixty years, of his thought for Mrs. Lee's comfort in her invalidism.45
It was a place of pleasantness to the Lees. They had more space, larger convenience, and room for every member of the family. The General soon found the spot he liked best — the space in front of the large windows in the dining room, whence he could look across the campus and, in the other direction, over the fields to the mountains that always delighted his eyes.
The first impulse of the family was to share their new home with those friends whose hospitality they had not always been able to return in their first Lexington home. Invitations to their girl friends must have flowed freely from the pens of the Misses Lee. Shortly after commencement, Lee listed six young women guests, "all in the house, with others out of it." He added to Rooney, as one married man to another: The young ladies "are so much engaged with the collegiates that Custis and I see but little of them, but [Robert] could compete with the yearlings, which we cannot."46
One young friend there was whom Lee doubtless wished his daughters might entertain — the brilliant Norvell Caskie, to whom had come both happiness and sorrow, a sharp and sudden sorrow. In the late summer of 1868 her father, James H. Caskie, had died. When his affairs were settled it was discovered that he had met with ruinous losses and that his fortune, which had been large for his day, had been wiped out. Nothing was left for the invalid widow or for Norvell, the only child, who had just become engaged to A. Seddon Jones of Orange County. General Lee knew all these facts and grieved over the distress of Norvell and her mother. He rejoiced that she had found love, but he must have wondered how Norvell would fare on a lonely farm, she who had always lived in ease in a city home of rich culture. He wrote her this letter:
Lexington Va: 14 Jany. 1869.
My dear Miss Norvell
As the day of your nuptials approaches my thoughts revert to you more often & intensely, & I recall the manifold kindnesses of your dear father & Mother, & the affectionate consideration of yourself with increasing gratitude & pleasure
Your future happiness is therefore I assure you a matter of deep concern to me, & this most important event in your life one of great interest. May it prove as happy as I sincerely wish it; may the blessing of kind Heaven accompany you throughout your course on earth, & may a merciful Providence shield you from all evil, & lead you at the end to everlasting joy & peace.
Hoping that you will not forget us, but will sometimes give us the pleasure of your company
I am with true affection
Your constant friend
R. E. Lee
Miss Norvell Caskie47
The hospitality that Lee would gladly have shared with this fine girl was unostentatious, though occasionally he would serve wine that had somehow survived all the vicissitudes of the family since the days of "Light-Horse Harry."48 The General himself participated in the entertainment of virtually all the guests and, his admirers observed, was able to adapt himself to any company. Even when a deaf old man called in the spring of 1869, the General was not outdone. He took a seat close to his visitor and devoted himself so patiently to conversation that the gentleman went away in high delight.49
If his house guests were girls, Lee always had a gentle raillery and gallant attentions for them, and if they were students from the college, he would sometimes sit for long evenings with them, when the ladies were away, and would talk of everything except the war. One frequent caller from among Lee's "boys" remembered that the General referred only once to the unhappy struggle, and then merely asked to what command the youth had belonged. The boy answered that he had enlisted in A. P. Hill's old regiment p411 and then in the Black Horse Troop. Lee remarked that both had excellent records in the war, and changed the subject.50 If Lee's guests were men, he gave them as much of his time as he could, looked closely after their comfort, and even blacked their boots himself when they left them at their door, thinking a servant would clean them.51 He usually did the marketing for the household and was often to be seen with his basket on his arm. Never would he carry an umbrella on this or any other errand, even in the roughest weather. Scorn of such shelter was one mark of the soldier that he could not yield.52
It was in dealing with his own family that the deep affection of Lee's nature and his social graces most beautifully were displayed. "Once," wrote a former student of the college, "I was at the Lee home on the General's birthday, and was sitting with him when his son, General Custis Lee . . . entered the room. Memory of that meeting can never be effaced, the stately yet gracious greeting of the son and father, the familiar and fond aspiration that he might 'enjoy many happy returns of the day' brought tears to my eyes and brings them still."53 Mrs. Preston, presenting the feminine point of view, recorded: "His tenderness to his children, especially his daughters, was mingled with a delicate courtesy which belonged to an older day than ours, a courtesy which recalls the preux chevalier of knightly times. He had a pretty way of addressing his daughters, in the presence of other people, with a prefix which would seem to belong to the age of lace ruffles and side swords. 'Where is my little Miss Mildred?' he would say on coming in from his ride or walk at dusk. 'She is my light-bearer; the house is never dark if she is in it.' "54
Toward Mrs. Lee his manner was always cheerful and affectionate, mingled now and then with a gentle jest or a polite dissent as her conversation justified. One day he was pacing the floor while Mrs. Lee was talking with a former student, himself an ex-soldier, on the vast difference between the ragged uniforms of the Confederates and the fine equipment of the Federals. "The p412 General . . . paused for a moment, his eyes lighting up, and at the conclusion of her remarks said, as he inclined forward with that superb grace, 'But, ah! Mistress Lee, we gave them some awful hard knocks, with all our rags.' "55 Lee always claimed the honor of wheeling his wife into the dining room for meals, and frequently in the evening, as she sat knitting or mending, he would read aloud to her and to his daughters.56
His own reading was not wide during the years he was at Lexington. ". . . Having myself no library and those which were here having been scattered and broken up," as he wrote one inquirer, he could not consult even familiar books on the history of Virginia or of the American Revolution.57 He made some researches while preparing the introduction to a new edition of his father's memoirs,58 and he used a few printed authorities when writing his letter to Acton. In the spring of 1869 either he or some member of his family studied French history rather extensively.59 As already noted, he read and enjoyed Worsley's translation of the Iliad, which was sent him by the author.60 For the rest, he held principally to the two books that were his companions for more than twenty years, Holy Writ and the Protestant Episcopal prayer book. There was no pretense about his reading. Some books he did not intend to peruse and frankly said so.61 Works on the war he purposely left alone. When David Macrae, a Scotch visitor, repeated a story that Lee and Grant had both read the proofs of a current history of the war, Lee immediately denied it for himself. He had never read a history of the war, he told Macrae, or the biography of any one engaged in it. "My own life has been written," he said, "but I have not looked into it. . . . I do not wish to awaken memories of the past."62
Outside his home, as in it, General Lee felt his social obligations, and without the least touch of the grand seigneur, he p413 showed courtesies to virtually all those who came to Lexington. Besides calling on strangers or parents visiting their sons at college,63 he often went to see the sick of the town, a lad with a broken leg64 as surely as one of his own professors.65 Regard for the ill was a part of his daily life, in the snows of winter and when the students were packing their trunks to go home.
As the session of 1868‑69 closed, a wordy, angry campaign was being conducted over the new state constitution that had been drawn by a motley convention as one of the conditions of Virginia's readmission to the Union. Radicals and Negroes had controlled the convention and, after much wrangling, had drafted a document that provided universal suffrage and in almost the same clause disfranchised thousands of Confederates by paraphrasing the language of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. No person could vote or hold office in Virginia "who had been a senator or representative in congress, or elector of president or vice-president, or who held any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who having previously taken an oath as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof." A three-fifths vote of the legislature was necessary to remove these disabilities. In addition, before any man could take office, the constitution stipulated that he must subscribe to a "test-oath," to the effect that he had not voluntarily aided the Confederacy or held office under it.66
These provisions were far milder than those the extreme radicals had originally adopted, but they would have kept from office in Virginia nearly all those best qualified to fill it. There was danger that conservative white men would vote against the constitution and thereby prolong military rule in Virginia, rather than submit to the enfranchisement of the Negroes and the disfranchisement of themselves. Fortunately, after the convention adjourned, this possibility was suggested: If Virginia would satisfy the first demand of the Radicals by granting the franchise to p414 Negroes, might not Congress be prevailed upon to sanction a separate vote of the people on the offensive sections disfranchising Confederates and prescribing a test oath? If that were done, native white men might cast their ballots for the rest of the new constitution and assure its adoption. This would fulfill the last harsh requirement of the short-sighted Reconstruction Act. Then Virginia might be readmitted to the Union without being delivered for a generation into the hands of the Radicals and the enfranchised blacks. This proposal was duly formulated and was presented to General Grant, who regarded it favorably. Through the patient efforts of an able committee, a separate vote on the disfranchising sections of the new organic law was sanctioned by Congress and was authorized in an executive proclamation of May 14, 1869, which set July 6, 1869, as the date for the election of a governor and a legislature and for the rejection or ratification of the constitution.67
Was it the policy of wisdom for conservative white men to vote for the constitution, less the objectionable clauses, and thereby accept the Negro as a voter, in order to get rid of military rule? Or was it better to stand out against the enfranchisement of the Negro, and to take the chances of the termination of military rule and the rest and of statehood at a later time, in some other way?68 The question was put to General Lee in the midst of the campaign and was answered directly: "I have great reluctance to speak on political subjects," he said, "because I am entirely withdrawn from their consideration, and therefore mistrust my own judgment. I have, however, said in conversation with friends, that, if I was entitled to vote, I should vote for the excision of the obnoxious clauses of the proposed constitution, and for the election of the most conservative eligible candidates for Congress and the legislature. I believe this course offers the best prospect for the solution of the difficulties in which the state is involved, accessible to us. I think all who can should register and vote."69 This letter was not printed, but General Lee's opinion apparently became known and contributed to the desired p415 result. The body of the constitution was ratified, and the two objectionable sections were rejected by approximately 40,000 votes. A governor of moderate views and a conservative legislature were elected.70 On January 26, 1870, the President signed the bill readmitting Virginia to the Union. The next day Military District No. 1 passed into the limbo of unhappy memories.
About the time the political campaign of 1869 was at its hottest, soon after General Lee returned from Fredericksburg, and on the eve of the college commencement, he completed a labor on which he had long been engaged — the editing of his father's Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department.
The first edition of this book, issued in 1812, had been in two well-printed volumes. In 1827, it will be remembered, a second edition, in one volume, badly printed on poor paper, had appeared. This contained some corrections and additions left in manuscript by "Light-Horse Harry" and many good notes by Major Harry Lee. In 1866 interest in the son created new interest in the sire. A third edition being demanded, Lee began to collect material for it and for a biographical sketch of his father with which he intended to preface the narrative. Charles Carter Lee, oldest living son of "Light-Horse Harry," sent copies of all the letters he had received from his father while he was at Harvard and "Light-Horse Harry" was in the West Indies.71 William B. Reed of Pennsylvania, son of Governor Joseph Reed, gave Lee several letters written during the Revolution.72 At that time Lee seems to have contemplated a general revision of the work and he discussed with Reed the details of a disputed chapter relating to the exploits of Sergeant Major John Champe,73 but he soon gave up all ambitious editorial designs. That same winter he borrowed part of Marshall's Washington and of Sparks' Correspondence of Washington from the library of the Franklin Literary p416 Society,74 and probably prepared the few unimportant references to these works that appear in the introductory sketch.75 He had to put his task aside temporarily and seemingly he did not take it up again until the autumn of 1867, when once more he was consulting Marshall.76 In the spring of 1869 he finished the new material for the book, though even then the concluding paragraphs show some signs of haste. The preface carries June 1, 1869, as the date of its completion. Later in the summer he was bothered by the publisher's insistence that a picture of Lee himself be inserted in the book. The General objected, but finally left the decision to Mrs. Lee, who sided with the publisher.77 Late in 1869 the book was published, and in 1870 it was reissued. Lee's receipts from it were given his brother Carter, who had supplied most of the letters.78
Aside from a table of contents and descriptive headings at the beginning of each chapter, the body of the new edition received very little attention at the hands of General Lee or of any one else. "Light-Horse Harry" Lee's numerous notes to the first edition had been retained in the second, and Major Henry Lee's notes had been signed "Ed." General Lee reprinted both sets and also those that had been contributed to the second edition by Colonel Howard, but he did not explain this anywhere in the book. Shunning the controversy raised by Judge Johnson's Greene79 and softening or omitting the asperities of some of the letters, he added only one note of consequence, that on Sergeant Major Champe.80 This was not signed and might readily have been credited to "Light-Horse Harry" Lee but for the internal evidence. In one instance, a footnote from the second edition, citing an incident on another page, was republished without correcting the page number, which had been wrong when originally inserted. Instead of giving the proper page reference to the second edition, the note was based on the pagination of the first edition.81
p417 The sketch of "Light-Horse Harry" Lee that preceded the text is the longest single composition from the pen of his most distinguished son. Occupying sixty-eight pages and containing nearly 34,000 words, from no point of view can it be accounted an effective piece of writing. The genealogy, which is adapted from that prepared by William Lee in 1771, is uncritical, confused, and laudatory and assumes the direct descent of the Virginia family from Launcelot Lee of London, who came to England with the Conqueror. It is very different in tone from anything General Lee ever wrote about himself. The career of Henry Lee from birth to his enlistment in the Revolutionary army is covered in some 500 words. Circumstances attending his retirement from the army are scarcely touched upon. The whole of his public service, except as it related to military appointments, is handled summarily. Not even the dates of Lee's tenure of office as governor of Virginia are put down. More than a fourth of the sketch is given over to extracts from the letters to Charles Carter Lee that overflow with preachments and pious exhortation. The picture one gets at the end does less than justice to the man and to his record. Reading the sketch, one can understand why Gamaliel Bradford, in citing another paper by Lee, admitted that it went a long way toward reconciling him to the General's failure to write a history of his campaigns.82
The shortcomings of this solitary venture into biography are the more remarkable in view of General Lee's conversation about his father, conversation that was most entertaining and rich in diverting anecdote. Lee's letters, it probably will be agreed, were nearly always smooth, and sometimes were written in a style that makes the reader's heart beat a trifle faster. But when he came to formal composition, most of the grace and all the spontaneity of his style disappeared. What he wrote became ponderous and dull.
Only twice in the outline of his father's life did Lee show his own feelings. In relating how his father went to Stratford a-wooing his cousin Matilda, he stopped to describe the place of his own birth, well-remembered in all its details, though he had not seen it many years. "The approach to the house is on the south, p418 along the side of a lawn, •several hundred acres in extent, adorned with cedars, oaks, and forest poplars. On ascending a hill not far from the gate, the traveller comes in full view of the mansion; when the road turns to the right and leads straight to a grove of sugar-maples, around which it sweeps to the house. . . ." Stratford had about it then, at the end of his life, the glamour that had hung over it when he had been packed into the carriage, with the rest of the family, and had been sent away from that paradise to Alexandria.
The other passage in which Lee the man showed himself through the work of Lee the author was in a quotation from a letter of "Light-Horse Harry" Lee's. His friend James Madison had written in 1792 to know whether Lee would consider the command that subsequently was given St. Clair, to subdue the Indians on the Miami and the Wabash. "Light-Horse Harry" had expressed willingness to go but had acknowledged regret at the prospect of leaving "my native country," as he styled Virginia. "No consideration on earth," he wrote, "could induce me to act a part, however gratifying to me, which could be construed into disregard or forgetfulness of this Commonwealth."83 In republishing the letter General Lee italicized this sentence. Passing on to describe his father's efforts for a union of all the states, he concluded: "Although his correspondence at this time, as well as the course of his life, proves his devotion to the Federal government, yet he recognized a distinction between his 'native country' and that which he had labored to associate with it in the strictest bonds of union."84 Like sire, like son!
Slow as was the preparation of this new edition of his father's Memoirs, General Lee's accumulation of material for a history of his own campaigns lagged still more.85 In 1866 he was pleased at the prospect of getting copies of his correspondence with President Davis. "[They] will be of great use to me," he said, "and enable me to speak more fully of movements and their results."86 He was disappointed in this hope, however,87 and found much difficulty in locating other documents,88 especially those relating p419 to the matter he most desired to establish accurately, namely, the comparative strength of the Union and Confederate armies. "If the truth were told just now," he said to Macrae in the spring of 1868, "it would not be credited."89 He did not believe an impartial history could be written at so early a date,90 and he was discouraging to biographers.91 Sometimes when he was urged to undertake the book, he protested that he would be obliged to relate facts that would cause the conduct of others to be subjected to criticism and censure.92 Although he never wholly abandoned his project, he accumulated few reports and returns after 1866 and made no start at composition.93 His available letters contain nothing to confirm Jones's statement94 that Lee applied to the War Department for copies of his official papers and met with a denial. It is certain that Lee had not done this as late as July, 1868.95
1 R. E. Lee, Jr., 346; 1 Macrae, 220 ff.
2 R. E. Lee to John Woodbridge, MS., April 5, 1869; Lee's MS. Letter Book; R. E. Lee to R. E. Lee, Jr., April 17, 1869; R. E. Lee, Jr., 344‑45.
3 Cf. Lee to Robert R. Carter, MS., April 7, 1869: "I can rarely leave here, so much am I occupied with my helpless wife and large college duties" (Shirley MSS.).
4 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, April 17, 1869; R. E. Lee, Jr., 345.
5 Baltimore American, April 22, 1869.
6 Baltimore Sun, April 23, 1869.
7 Baltimore Sun and Baltimore American, April 24, 1869. For these references to The Baltimore Sun and for other information regarding General Lee's visit to Baltimore, the author is indebted to Doctor Milton Offutt of Johns Hopkins University. See also Baltimore Gazette, quoted in Richmond Dispatch, April 26, 1869.
9 Baltimore Sun, April 24, 1869. The Gazette is quoted in The Richmond Dispatch of April 26, 1869, as stating that these ceremonies occurred at the Corn Exchange, but this may have been due to misreading on the part of the man who clipped the item. The account in The Sun doubtless is correct.
10 Baltimore American, April 24, 1869.
11 Baltimore American, April 25, 1869, p1.
12 Baltimore Sun, April 27 and April 28, 1869.
13 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Lee, April 27, 1869; R. E. Lee, Jr., 348.
14 R. E. Lee, Jr., 347.
15 John Leyburn in 30 Century, 166‑67. Doctor Leyburn wrote in 1885, sixteen years after the interview, but as he gave all the circumstances of General Lee's visit with absolute accuracy, there is no reason to doubt his direct quotations.
16 R. E. Lee to unnamed correspondent, Jan. 8, 1869; Jones, 270.
17 R. E. Lee to Geo. W. Jones, March 22, 1869; Jones, 273‑74. The "failure" in the context, was in "our struggle for States rights and constitutional government." He used somewhat the same phrase, in a letter of March 26, 1869, when he expressed sympathy with a man in Wyoming whose son fell fighting under Stuart "in the struggle of the Southern States for the right of constitutional government" (Jones, 275. Cf. R. E. Lee to C. W. Law, Sept. 27, 1866, Jones, 220, ". . . The justice of that cause, constitutional government." Cf. also R. E. Lee to C. F. Lee, June, 1870: ". . . their defence of the rights which they believed were guaranteed by the constitution," Page's Robert E. Lee, Man and Soldier, 668).
18 National Intelligencer, April 29, 1869.
20 National Intelligencer, May 3, 1869; Alexandria Gazette, May 4, 1869. The latter paper noted that Mrs. Kennon's husband had been killed in the explosion on the Princeton. An excellent sketch of Mrs. Kennon is given in Moore: The Family Life of Washington.
21 R. E. Lee, Jr., 349; Alexandria Gazette, loc. cit.
22 National Intelligencer of May 3 said he would leave that day. On May 5 it said he had left on May 4. The more probable date is May 3.
23 R. E. Lee, Jr., 350, 352.
24 R. E. Lee to General M. D. Corse, et al., March 13, 1870; Jones, 176.
25 The Fitzhugh house no longer exists. The old building and the grounds were bought by W. F. H. Finke, who built a new residence on the corner. The building was demolished, part of the site was utilized by Mr. Pinke, and part was sold to C. C. Carlin, who made it the northern portion of his lawn. Directly opposite the Fitzhugh house was the home of Benjamin Hallowell, to whom General Lee had gone to school. Green's Mansion House was operated as a hotel for many years and later as apartments. It surrounds the Carlyle House, long famous and much visited by tourists. For the identification of these sites the author is indebted to Honorable C. C. Carlin of Alexandria, Va.
26 Alexandria Gazette, May 5, 1869. "It was more like a family meeting than anything else," this paper commented, "for we regard General Lee as one of our Alexandria boys. . . . We have never seen a more lovely exhibition of the grateful and unbought homage of the heart to worth and high character than was exhibited last evening."
27 MS. Note of the late Mrs. Mary G. Powell, graciously prepared for the writer, 1927.
28 Alexandria Gazette, May 6, 1869; R. E. Lee, Jr., 350‑51.
29 Cf. Alexandria Gazette, May 7, 1869.
30 R. E. Lee, Jr., 348.
31 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, May 11, 1869; R. E. Lee, Jr., 352.
32 R. E. Lee, Jr., 348.
33 He mistook the date and had to leave a week earlier than he had intended. He thought (R. E. Lee, Jr., 353) that he had to be in Fredericksburg the first week in June, but the council actually met the last week in May.
34 This house, V. M. Fleming informed the writer, was on the site of the present (1934) Princess Anne Hotel. The residence was built by James Maury (letter of V. M. Fleming, Dec. 14, 1927).
35 Richmond Enquirer and Examiner, May 28, 1869; Richmond Whig, May 31, 1869, quoting The Fredericksburg News.
36 Richmond Whig, May 29, 1869. The committee included John L. Marye, J. Horace Lacy, J. H. Kelley, Elliott M. Braxton and others whose names were not given in the report.
37 Fredericksburg News, quoted in The Richmond Whig, May 31, 1869. Cf. M. D. Conway in 17 Magazine of American History, 469.
38 Richmond Dispatch, May 28, 1869, and information supplied, from the Journal of the Council, by Reverend George MacLaren Brydon, historiographer of the diocese of Virginia.
39 Richmond Dispatch, May 29, 1869.
40 Jones, 177.
41 The Lexington Gazette as long previously as Sept. 16, 1868, had reported the house completed.
42 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, May 22, 1869; R. E. Lee, Jr., 353.
43 Trustees' Minutes, June 24, Aug. 20, 1869.
44 William and Mary Quarterly (new series), vol. 6, 283‑84.
45 R. E. Lee, Jr., 357; Richmond Whig, May 31, 1869. The constructors were Messrs. Pole and Shields.
46 R. E. Lee to W. H. F. Lee, June 30, 1869; R. E. Lee, Jr., 359. The yearlings, it will be remembered, were the students who had not served in the army.
47 Caskie MSS. This friendship between Lee and Norvell Caskie is treated somewhat more fully in Freeman: "Lee and the Ladies," Scribner's Magazine, November, 1925.
48 Joynes, in Cent. U. S. C., 31.
49 Jones, 236.
50 William and Mary Quarterly (new series) vol. 6, 285.
51 Mrs. Andrews: Scraps of Paper, 203‑4.
52 MS. Memoirs of S. M. Yonge.
53 W. W. Scott in William and Mary Quarterly (new series) vol. 6, 285‑86.
54 Mrs. Preston, 286.
55 E. A. Moore, 219‑20.
56 Jones, 402; Mrs. Preston, 276.
57 R. E. Lee to Jeremiah Colburn, MS., April 2, 1867; Bryan MSS., placed at the writer's disposal, with characteristic courtesy, by John Stewart Bryan of Richmond, Va.
59 For an interesting analysis of Lee's reading at Lexington, see Riley, 157 ff.
61 Cf. the story (Jones, 283) of his answer to the agent who wanted him to recommend a book he had left with him. "You must excuse me, sir," said Lee, "I cannot recommend a book I have not read, and never expect to read."
62 1 Macrae, 220 ff. This material first appeared in The Glasgow Herald and was partially reprinted in The Savannah Daily Republican, April 9, 1870, p1, col. 2.
63 Jones, 236.
64 McDonald, 6.
65 Joynes, in Cent. U. S. C., 22; R. E. Lee, Jr., 324‑25.
66 Eckenrode, 101‑2.
67 Eckenrode, 121.
68 Involved in the discussion, also, was the objection of conservatives to the over-elaborate and expensive plan of county government proposed in the constitution. Some thought this so bad as of itself to justify the electorate in rejecting the entire document.
69 R. E. Lee to unnamed correspondent, June 11, 1869; Jones, 231.
70 Eckenrode, 125.
71 C. C. Lee to R. E. Lee, July 25, 1866; Henry Lee's Memoirs, 56.
72 R. E. Lee to Wm. B. Reed, Aug. 30, 1866; Jones, 254.
73 Lee had some of the manuscript on his office desk one day when two of his professors began denouncing the iniquities of the Reconstruction Acts. The General turned to his papers and read a few lines of Hafiz on generosity and tolerance. He quoted the source, explained that Hafiz was a Mussulman, and asked: "Ought not we who profess to be guided by the principles of Christianity rise at least to the standard of this Mohammedan poet, and learn to forgive our enemies?" (Jones, 197‑98). "Light-Horse Harry" Lee had quoted a very stilted translation of the original in the last letter he had written Carter (Henry Lee's Memoirs, 76).
74 Riley, 179.
75 Henry Lee's Memoirs, 17, 18, 38, 42, 45, etc.
76 Riley, 180.
77 R. E. Lee, Jr., 365‑66, 367.
78 R. E. Lee, Jr., 398.
80 Henry Lee's Memoirs, 411, cf. ibid., 2d edition, 284.
81 Henry Lee's Memoirs, 292 n. The reference should be to page 284, not to p356. In the second edition this note occurred on p185, and the reference was to p. "356 ante," though the incident was given on p178.
82 Bradford: Lee the American (ed. of 1927), 151.
83 Henry Lee's Memoirs, 45.
84 Henry Lee's Memoirs, 46.
86 R. E. Lee to W. H. Taylor, May 25, 1866; Taylor's General Lee, 311.
87 R. E. Lee to W. H. Taylor, Dec. 28, 1866; Taylor's General Lee, 311.
88 1 Argyll, 167; R. E. Lee to Sir J. D. Acton; 1 Acton's Correspondence, 304.
89 1 Macrae, 222.
91 Cf. R. E. Lee to unnamed correspondent, Dec. 7, 1869; Jones, L. and L., 441; "The few incidents of interest in which I have been engaged are as well known to others as to myself, and I know of nothing I could say in addition." He wrote E. A. Pollard: ". . . There are but few who desire to read a true history of themselves" (Sept. 26, 1866; Jones, 165).
92 Jones, 181.
93 As late as June, 1870, he wrote to Cassius F. Lee in answer to a tender of information (Thomas Nelson Page: Robert E. Lee, Man and Soldier, 668‑69).
94 Jones, 181.
95 R. E. Lee to General Wm. S. Smith, July 27, 1868: "I have understood that the Confederate military records are in one of the bureaus at Washington" (Jones, 268).
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Robert E. Lee
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 26 Feb 11