On September 15, 1865, General Lee started for Lexington on Traveller.1 He sent his baggage up the canal and went alone, for it was not yet certain what accommodations could be found for Mrs. Lee and his daughters.
It was a departure that symbolized not for himself only but likewise for the entire South a turning from war and politics to peace and education. Yet he took "the road from Appomattox to Lexington"2 as unostentatiously as if he had been the humblest dominie of the countryside, bound for a backwoods school. He rode slowly, for the way was long and the weather was hot. Early in the afternoon he stopped at the house of a friend and remained there overnight. The next day, the temperature still oppressive, he kept the same schedule. On the third afternoon, he reached the crest of the Blue Ridge, beyond which lay his future home.3 As he looked over into the Valley, was he thinking of Jackson and of Thorough Gap, of Sharpsburg and of Harpers Ferry . . . or p227 of the college up among the hills, and of a peaceful union of all the states that religion and education would insure against a renewal of war? None can answer, but as he had put all his self-discipline into a determination to close his mind to the irrevocable past, is it not probable that his thought was of the future?
At 3 P.M. on September 18, as quietly as he had left Derwent, General Lee rode into Lexington and ended his journey of •108 miles. Astride Traveller, he was dressed in a uniform of gray, from which all the insignia and the Confederate buttons had been submissively removed as the Federals had commanded.4 No escort or companion attended him. He had been invited to be the guest of Colonel S. McD. Reid, senior member of the board of trustees, but as his host was not looking for him until the next day, he rode on toward the town inn, intending to lodge there that night. People at once recognized him. In answer to their salutations, he bowed and took off his hat.5 Some of his former soldiers were loitering in the street — they were to be found everywhere then — and when they saw their old commander approach the hotel, they came up to assist him in dismounting. Professor James J. White, Reid's son-in‑law and a member of the college faculty, happened to turn into the street at the moment and realized that the man on the gray charger must be General Lee. Hurrying forward, he introduced himself and insisted that the General go with him to Colonel Reid's, where everything was ready for him. Lee acquiesced and went off with Professor White — Captain White, as he always called him, for White had borne that title in Confederate service. Lee quickly "broke the ice" by his attention to the children of the household6 and he spent the afternoon and evening socially. The next morning he arose early, wrote a letter to Mrs. p228 Lee before breakfast, and soon was ready to inspect the college he was to direct. He had never before seen it.7
The trustees met on September 20, the second day after General Lee's arrival, with a much larger attendance than usual. A committee was at once appointed to wait on the General and to escort him to the meeting place. On his arrival he was welcomed by the rector and was introduced to the members. After he retired, the trustees discussed a number of measures for his comfort. The president's residence on the campus was occupied in part by a physician of the town, Doctor R. L. Madison, about whose lease there was some contention. One committee was designated to proceed for the recovery of the property, and another was authorized to put the house in habitable condition. The treasurer was instructed to pay immediately to the president one-half of his salary of $1500 that was not due until January. Still other committeemen were to confer with him and to arrange the details of his inauguration. Resolutions were presented for making a public appeal to procure a sufficient endowment to assure the president's salary, regardless of contingency.8 These acts exhibited the trustees' sense of obligation to General Lee. They felt that they owed him the best they could give him because he had been willing to take the presidency, but they felt, at the same time, that they were acting for the whole South in doing him honor. They never relaxed in their consideration for him. Their first concern, after the welfare of the institution, always was for his happiness. The minutes of the board are a continuing record of unremitting kindness.
Use of the president's house could not be regained immediately, and the premises had to be repaired when vacated. Lee did not wish to impose on the hospitality of the Reids, meantime. He was suffering, too, from rheumatism, and he did not like to stir about the town because, when he had ridden quietly down Main Street, a few days after his arrival, the citizens had cheered him loudly. Every impulse prompted him to avoid a repetition of this.9 So, these circumstances all combining and the opening of the college having been postponed in order to give the carpenters p229 more time, the General decided to spend a few days at the Rockbridge Baths, a resort •eleven miles from Lexington.
He found there Mrs. Chapman Leigh and Miss Belle Harrison, of Brandon, two of his cousins of whom he was very fond. He played with Mrs. Leigh's children, enjoyed the company of the young women and went on several rides with them. Daily he took the baths, which he found delightful, but he wrote Mrs. Lee: "I feel very solitary and miss you dreadfully."10 Mrs. Leigh and Miss Harrison were his only companions. "I could not trespass on them always," he confided to his wife.11 He must have had evenings of solitude when he had to muster all his self-control "not to be turned aside by thoughts of the past and fears of the future."12
Returning to Lexington on September 30, and taking lodgings at the hotel, General Lee was ready for his inauguration. Of this event, arranged for October 2, the trustees had planned to make a great occasion, by which the college and General Lee's connection with it would be advertised to the country. But the General did not desire the ceremonies to be elaborate, and out of deference to his wishes, unpretentious exercises were held. Faculty, guests, and students assembled a little before 9 A.M. in the physics classroom, on the second floor of the college building next the south dormitory.13 On the hour, the trustees entered with the General. The little company of spectators rose for a moment. Prayer was offered by Reverend W. S. White, the oldest minister of the city, who did not omit to invoke divine guidance for the President of the United States. Then Judge Brockenbrough spoke briefly on the satisfaction of the college at the acceptance of General Lee, whom he eulogized in a few words. Much more he could say, the judge went on, had it not been decided there would be no speech-making. He concluded by calling on a justice of the peace to administer the presidential oath to Lee. The General, who was dressed in gray, had been standing meantime with folded arms, looking at Judge Brockenbrough. Silently he now attached his name to the oath, which had come down from the early days of the school in this odd language: "I do swear that I will, to the best of my skill and judgment, faithfully and truly discharge the duties p230 required of me by an act entitled, 'An act for incorporating the rector and trustees of Liberty Hall Academy,' without favor, affection or partiality." The signed document was forthwith committed to the waiting county clerk to be made a matter of record. This done, Judge Brockenbrough turned over the college keys to General Lee, who said nothing during the short proceedings. A brief handshaking followed, and the General passed with the trustees into his office.14 This was a nearby room which the ladies of Lexington had furnished for him with "new carpet from Baltimore, curtains, etc.," to use Lee's own vague masculine description.15
"I have entered upon the duties of my new office," he wrote, "in the hope of being of some service; but I should prefer, as far as my predilections are concerned to be on a small farm, where I could make my daily bread."16 He quickly established a routine of duty. Arising early at the Lexington Hotel, where he resided until the arrival of his family, he proceeded afoot to the college. Before 7:45 he was at chapel for the fifteen-minute services, which he invited the ministers of the principal Lexington churches to hold in rotation. If the minister failed to appear, Lee waited until a few minutes to the hour and then quietly got up and went to his office. From 8 until 1 or 2 P.M. he usually worked there,17 or attended to other labors on the campus. The afternoons were generally given over to social duties or to exercise, chiefly rides out of town on Traveller. Unless there were religious or academic exercises that he felt called upon to attend, he remained in his room at the hotel after supper. He sometimes found the evenings immoderately long, though he usually retired at 10. In his bantering letters to his daughters there was an undertone of the loneliness he always felt when separated from his family.
Having no clerk in his office and very little help on the campus, he was forced to transact in person even the least important matters of college business. To endless, close economies, he was compelled to give direct, continuing attention. On him fell, likewise, p231 the supervision of all improvements to the grounds and of all repairs to the buildings, which were in dire dilapidation. He regularly visited the classes during recitation, listened for ten or fifteen minutes and then bowed his way out. During examinations he sat for at least an hour with each class of struggling students. Accessible to all callers, he conferred regularly with the professors every week in faculty meetings.
It was vastly different from army days, when he had the indefatigable Taylor and four or five clerks to assist in the "paper work," that was always irksome and occasionally exasperating to him. He probably had not lost his old antipathy for handling documents, but in none of the many accounts of his daily life at Lexington is there so much as a hint that he ever complained. Hard, unpleasant work was part of the burden of the times. He accepted it and simplified it as much as he could by a system of reports, "weekly and monthly — almost military in their exactness — which he required" of every one of the teachers.18 "When the members of the faculty assembled in his office to lay before him the reports for the week just closed, he was invariably found prepared to receive them, having disposed of all the business which those of the week before had imposed on him, and being now in full and cheerful readiness for any work, though much of it was sheer drudgery, which the new reports might require."19
After the faculty came to know him better, some of the members would protest against the amount of work the General performed. The trustees were equally solicitous. He always insisted, in reply, that he owed it to the boys at the most critical time of their lives, and to their parents, also, to give the students the closest care. Besides, he argued, daily administration was required for the success of the discipline he established when he came to the college,20 discipline that centred around what is now styled the "honor system." So far as is known, General Lee had no plans for enlarging the curriculum when he assumed charge of the college, but his own training, his long experience in construction, his four years of hourly grappling with the harsh realities of war, and his knowledge of the needs of the South, combined, p232 very soon, to give him definite opinions concerning the instruction the college would offer. Prior to his presidency the curriculum had covered six subjects. The head of the college had instructed in political economy as well as in philosophy. One professor had Latin, another Greek, a third mathematics, and the fourth "natural philosophy," that is, chemistry and physics. Lee did not frown on any of these subjects. On the contrary, as will appear when the details of his educational policy are fully explained, he was a believer both in the classics and in the pure sciences. But he did not think that these of themselves sufficed to meet the needs of the impoverished South, whose first problems were those of economic recovery and enlarged trade. Accordingly, Lee acquiesced without reservation in a plan that had been under consideration to provide wider training for the students by the immediate creation of five additional departments, two of which represented, in effect, a division of "natural philosophy." The five proposed chairs were in addition to that of "mental and moral science and political economy," which was to be entrusted to a separate instructor, in accordance with the understanding reached when Lee agreed to become president. The new professorships recommended at the first meeting of the trustees after his inauguration were probably designed in part, also, to qualify the college for participation in the "land-grant fund" set up for agricultural and mechanical education under the Federal act of 1862. They were:
1. Practical chemistry, including metallurgy and agricultural chemistry, so that the teaching of chemistry would be entirely separated from that of physics.
2. Experimental philosophy and practical mechanics, including mechanics, mechanical drawing and architecture. This became, in substance, the chair of physics.
3. Applied mathematics, including analytical mechanics, astronomy, civil engineering and building.
4. Modern languages, including French, German, Spanish, and Italian.
5. History and literature, including modern history, English literature and rhetoric, philosophical grammar and comparative philology.21
p233 Funds for the establishment of these chairs were not available. Part of the endowment was yielding nothing. Only some fifty students had registered on the day the session was scheduled to open,22 and though the number was increasing fast, there was no assurance that the tuition fees they paid would suffice to provide new salaries. Still, with General Lee as their leader, the trustees were ready to undertake expansion, and if they could not have immediately all the desired new chairs, they would fill three forthwith and would wait for better times. Physics, or natural philosophy, was set up as a distinct department, and chemistry was given the same independent status. This meant a net increase of one. A professor of applied mathematics was named, to inaugurate what later became the school of engineering. Instruction in modern languages was extended, and philology was linked temporarily with them in a new department.23 General Lee was especially anxious that Spanish should be taught at the college. He had not forgotten what he had learned of that language in Mexico,24 and he was convinced that the relations of the United States with Spanish-speaking countries were destined soon to become much closer.25
To help in meeting the expense of the new departments and to insure the future of the college, the trustees promptly began the endowment solicitation that had been authorized the previous summer. General Lee wrote several letters to support this undertaking26 but otherwise he apparently had little to do with it, and by present-day standards he would not be accounted a good "academic beggar." The trustees had their own endowment committee, which named the financial agents and directed their work. These representatives began a widespread quest for funds, and, considering the poverty of the times, they gathered in sizable sums. Most Southerners who possessed any means were certain to listen when an appeal was made for "General Lee's College," as it soon was called.
An effort was made, also, to prevail upon the state to appropriate to the college some of the land-grant funds from the Federal p234 Government. General Lee furthered this, as much as he could,27 but his particular duty was to see that available monies were spent economically so as to yield the last cent of return.
It was gray, unpleasant work and it consumed many, many hours. If an old fence was torn down, General Lee saw to it that the timber was preserved. Even worn-out tools he would not permit to be thrown away. When a faculty member started to open a new, wrapped catalogue, in order to look up some disputed point, Lee interposed and handed him one that had been used before. Even after the college had passed the worst poverty of 1865‑1866, Lee was incensed to find that a maul had been made of a part of a felled locust tree he had intended for use as a gate post. Sometimes his wrath overflowed at stupid carelessness and small waste. He might spare the immediate offender, but the next comer was certain to find him in bad humor, though he always made subsequent amends for being savage.28
Taxing as was this new life, General Lee found time to answer the multitude of letters that reached him on subjects unrelated to the affairs of the college. Punctilious in his correspondence, he never left a letter unanswered when he thought the writer would expect a reply. Some solicited help, some sought positions, and some asked for letters of recommendation. In a typical instance, a former officer inquired if there was any prospect of getting a professorship at Washington College. The General replied sympathetically: "I am very sorry to hear of the difficulties which surround you and of the losses you have sustained. It adds another to the long list of those in whose welfare and happiness I take deep interest. It will always give me pleasure to serve you, and should I find any opportunity of securing an eligible position, will at once ask and let you know. In the meantime you must work zealously at what offers and not be discouraged at disappointments which beset us all. The country is full of good men seeking employment, which adds to the difficulty of securing it, and the objections made by the authorities to all who have been engaged p235 in the war add further obstacles. Agriculture therefore at present, seems to offer the only pursuit for obtaining a living, and it is this fact which has turned the attention of so many to it. I am sorry to say there is no position at Washington College, to be filled. . . . I will write at once to Mahone, who I believe has again charge of the S[outh] Side R. R. to know if there are any vacancies with him. . . . I send you the paper you desire, which I hope will answer your purpose."29 To another he mailed a desired statement of service in the Army of Northern Virginia and added: "I hope it may answer your purpose. But I think an old engineer-officer ought to make a good farmer; and I advise you not to abandon such an honorable and independent pursuit, until you are very sure you can do better."30 Letters asking for help continued to reach him from all parts of the South, until the very end of his life.31
Many of his former comrades wrote him in answer to his request for material to be used in his projected book on the Army of Northern Virginia. "I hope both you and Johnston," he told Beauregard, "will write the history of your campaigns. Everyone should do all in his power to collect and disseminate the truth in the hope that it may find a place in history, and descend to posterity."32 The assembling of material was not to be an easy task, soon finished, because, as he wrote a Northern publishing house, "It will be some time before the truth can be known, and I do not think that period has yet arrived."33 Despite difficulties, he held to his undertaking during 1866, because he believed he owed it to his men to chronicle their deeds. He is reported to have said to some of his friends, "I shall write this history, not to vindicate p236 myself, or to promote my own reputation. I want that the world shall know what my poor boys, with their small numbers and scant resources, succeeded in doing."34 Whenever he learned of their new achievements in spite of dark adversity his admiration for them increased. An associate at Washington College told the General one day that he had seen a maimed and once-affluent veteran at work ploughing a field in cheerful spirit, grateful that he had one arm left and a chance to use it. "What a noble fellow!" said Lee. "But it is just like one of our soldiers! The world has never seen nobler men than those who belonged to the Army of Northern Virginia." Hearing, again, of a young former officer who had accepted work as an express-porter and was toiling good-humoredly under a man who had been his subordinate in military service, Lee exclaimed: "He deserves more credit for that than for anything he ever did in the army!"35 When one of his old lieutenants reported to the General that he was winning the battle against poverty, Lee always answered with enthusiasm. "I am much gratified at the reception of your letter," he wrote Major George Duffey, "and greatly pleased to learn your success and prosperity in the prosecution of your business. I hope all of our friends may go to work as zealously as you have done and labor as diligently."36 Later, when one of his chaplains started to make a tour of several Southern states, Lee told him: "You will meet many of my old soldiers during your trip, and I wish you to tell them that I often think of them, try every day to pray for them, and am always gratified to hear of their prosperity."37
In all these letters to former associates, if the occasion permitted, Lee preached his doctrine of conciliation, nor did he allow the mounting hostility of Northern politicians to discourage him. He wrote General Cadmus Wilcox: "I fear the South has yet to suffer many evils, and it will require time, patience, and fortitude, to heal her affliction."38 But, facing that, he kept straight on, with p237 hope in his heart and with moderation his unfailing counsel. "I would suggest that you leave out all the bitter expressions against the North and the United States government," he once remarked to a minister who was reporting a fiery speech delivered at the college. "They will do us no good under our present circumstances, and I think such expressions undignified and unbecoming."39 Similar sentiments, not so plainly put, appeared in many earnest letters to his friends. They were voiced, also, in the conversations that turned, in spite of him, to the war and its outcome.
One such conversation was with Herbert C. Saunders, a British literary traveller who came to Lexington in November, 1865, and spent an evening with him at the hotel. Lee had a deep admiration for the achievements of the Anglo-Saxon race40 and had always been appreciative of English sympathy.41 He received Saunders cordially, and in the course of their talk explained freely, as he always would, the treatment that had been accorded the prisoners of war he had taken, for he regarded the charges of cruelty to these men as a reflection on his personal honor.42 The discussion then turned to the Southern view of slavery, to the attitude of neutrals toward the Confederacy, and to the disparity of numbers in the principal engagements fought in Virginia.
Lee told why such scant results sometimes followed his victories. "The force which the Confederates brought to bear," Saunders reported, "was so often inferior to that of the Yankees that the more they followed up the victory against one portion of the enemy's line the more did they lay themselves open to being surrounded by the remainder of the enemy. He likened the operation to a man breasting a wave of the sea, who, as rapidly as he clears a way before him, is enveloped by the very water he had displaced."
Saunders must have been most tactful in his questioning, for he prevailed upon the General to talk of Appomattox: "He spoke of p238 the final surrender as inevitable, owing to the superiority in numbers of the enemy. His own army had, during the last few weeks, suffered materially from defection in its ranks, and, discouraged by failures and worn out by hardships, had at the time of the surrender only 7892 men under arms, and this little army was almost surrounded by one of 100,000. They might, the General said with an air piteous to behold, have cut their way out as they had done before, but, looking upon the struggle as hopeless, I was not surprised to hear him say that he thought it cruel to prolong it." When Saunders rose to go, at 11 o'clock, "he begged me to stay on, as he found the nights full long."
Subsequently, Saunders sent Lee an account of this interview and requested permission to publish it. As Lee read over the manuscript43 he noted that the Britisher had been in some doubt as to Lee's opinion of the right of secession. Regarding this, opposite the appropriate paragraph, Saunders had written: "Query C'd you frame this so as to represent yr real views? . . ." Lee read on:
"This right [of secession]44 he [Lee] told me he always held as a constitutional maxim and I believe I am not doing injustice to him when I say that the conviction that one man cannot, for many years together, hold his own against four or five, [(] a conclusion which recent events have brought forcibly to his mind)45 has not by any means persuaded him that his interpretation of the Constitution was a wrong one. As to the policy of secession on the part of the South he was at first distinctly opposed to it and it was not until Lincoln issued a proclamation for 75,000 men to invade the South which he deemed so clearly unconstitutional that he had no longer any doubt what course his loyalty to the Constitution and to his State required of him."
This, of course, was not accurate. It indicated, first of all, that Lee in 1861 had hesitated between adhering to the Union and accepting the action of his state in withdrawing from it. He could not let that stand. Saunders was wrong, also, in stating that Lee had "always" held the right of secession as a "constitutional maxim." On the contrary, at the approach of the conflict, as he had plainly said at the time, Lee had regarded secession simply as p239 revolution, and he had believed that if moderation had been exercised on both sides, there would have been no occasion to exercise the right of revolution. Saunders must be assured of this. Besides, the Englishman's parenthetical remarks were a bit flamboyant, and his reference laid too much emphasis on Lee's personal views, and, inferentially, on the divergence between those views and the theory of secession that had been held in 1861 by many Southerners. Lee accordingly took his pen and, precisely as he had edited Marshall's drafts of military reports, he eliminated Saunders'sº flourishes and made the references to himself as nearly impersonal as he could. His corrected version of the passage read:
"This right he told me was always held as a constitutional maxim at the South. As to its exercise at the time on the part of the South he was distinctly opposed, and it was not until Lincoln issued a proclamation for 75,000 men to invade the South which was deemed clearly unconstitutional that Virginia withdrew from the U. States."
This statement was literally correct, was not ostentatiously personal, and was not calculated to revive old differences or to bring Lee unpleasantly before the public.46 A few other errors of no great consequence in Saunders's interview he noted and corrected, but, at the end, he decided to withhold consent to the publication. He wrote the author: "I have an objection to the publication of my private conversations, which are never intended but for those to whom they are addressed. I cannot, therefore, without an entire disregard of the rule which I have followed in other cases, and in violation of my own sense of propriety, assent to what you propose. I hope, therefore, you will excuse me. . . . In the hasty p240 perusal which I have been obliged to give the manuscript inclosed to me, I perceive many inaccuracies, resulting as much from my imperfect narrative as from misapprehension on your part. Though fully appreciating your kind wish to correct certain erroneous statements as regards myself, I prefer remaining silent to doing anything that might excite angry discussion at this time, when strong efforts are being made by conservative men, North and South, to sustain President Johnson in his policy, which, I think, offers the only means of healing the lamentable divisions of the country, and which the result of the late convention at Philadelphia gives great promise of doing."47
Not all his correspondence was in serious strain. General David Hunter wrote General Lee to ask his opinion on two points: The raid he had made in 1864, Hunter explained — it was the raid during which Washington College was looted — had been undertaken to prevent the dispatch of 40,000 men with whom the Federals had been told General was preparing to reinforce General Johnston. Had the raid served that purpose? And further, did not Lee think Hunter had adopted the most feasible line of retreat when he had gone westward through the mountains, instead of northward, down the Shenandoah Valley?
It was an opportunity General could not resist, for Hunter had been one of the most incompetent of generals and the most inveterate of partisans, and his raid had been a classic in military mismanagement. Lee relied very courteously that Hunter's information had been erroneous. "I had no troops to spare General Johnston, and no intention of sending him any — certainly not forty thousand, as that would have taken about all I had. As to the second point, I would say that I am not advised as to the motives which induced you to adopt the line of retreat which you took, and am not, perhaps, competent to judge of the question; but I certainly expected you to retreat by way of the Shenandoah p241 Valley, and was gratified at the time that you preferred the route through the mountains to the Ohio — leaving the Valley open for General Early's advance into Maryland."48
Still more of humor appeared in his answer to a spiritualist who asked his opinion on some military question. He replied that soldiers might differ as to the answer. His own judgment was poor at best, and as the spiritualists had the power to communicate with all the great captains of the past, he could not obtrude his opinion in such company.49
The hardest letter Lee had to write that winter was one in answer to Mrs. "Stonewall" Jackson. On a visit to Lexington she brought for his perusal the manuscript of a Life of her dead husband, written by his former chief of staff, Major R. L. Dabney. Lee read it over, as he said, for the delight of the narrative, but had neither the heart not the time to review critically the long text; yet when Mrs. Jackson asked for its return, Lee could not wholly overlook the fact that in his zeal for the fame of its chief, Major Dabney had unintentionally made some claims that were at variance with Lee's knowledge or his recollection of the facts. This was true of the proposed attack after Malvern Hill and of the operations against the Federals who had attempted to capture the reserve artillery when the army had recrossed from Maryland to Virginia at the end of the Sharpsburg operations. Still more was Dabney mistaken in his representation of the incidents leading to Jackson's march around the right flank of Hooker in the greatest of all his achievements. Lee had the task of correcting error without seeming in any wise to discredit his beloved Jackson. With great care, on January 25, 1866, he wrote a tactful correction, but the very circumstances of its composition made the letter seem vague to those unfamiliar with the operations.50
In correspondence, college duties, and a very simpleº social life, the autumn of 1865 wore away and the winter came. Custis was with the General at the hotel now, having been elected professor p242 of civil engineering at the Virginia Military Institute,51 but Mrs. Lee and her daughters had not yet come,52 as their house was still unready. Lee pushed the repairs as rapidly as he could, watching every detail and reporting regularly to Mrs. Lee. Carpets and curtains rescued from Arlington by Mrs. Britannia Kennon of Tudor Place were sent down to Lexington. As no furniture was available in Lexington, a little, a very little, was purchased in Baltimore. A piano was presented by its admiring manufacturer. Mrs. Edmund Randolph Cocke asked the privilege of equipping Mrs. Lee's room. Servants of a sort were procured. Some of the ladies of Lexington put on the "last touches" of domesticity.
On the morning of December 2, 1865, after one disappointment, General Lee had the pleasure of welcoming his wife and his daughters at the packet landing, •a mile and a quarter from the town. They arrived aboard the private boat of the president of the canal, and were accompanied by Robert E. Lee, Jr., who was recuperating from malaria, contracted while he was raising a fabulously fine crop of corn at the White House.53 Riding on Traveller, with the family in a carriage, General Lee escorted them to the house, where the thoughtful wife of a member of the faculty had arranged breakfast.
With great interest the young people went over the old residence. Mrs. Lee's quarters were both comfortable and attractive, for Mrs. Margaret Preston, a poet of some distinction, had designed the furniture, which a one-armed Confederate veteran had made with much skill. The new Stieff piano stood almost alone in its glory in the parlor. Some of the other rooms were embarrassingly bare. The Arlington carpets, made for more spacious rooms, had all been tucked in around the walls. Although the best had been made of scant materials, the effect of the extemporized furnishings was, on the whole, somewhat odd.
In a few hours the house was made more intimate. The family silver had been sent to Lexington for safe-keeping during the war, p243 and on the approach of Hunter's raiders had been buried by a sergeant at the Virginia Military Institute. Robert was now sent over to assist in digging up the cutlery and urns the young people had known since infancy. He returned with them, quickly enough, but when he opened the two chests, the contents were found to be much blackened and for the time could not be used. General Lee was not to be outdone; he opened his old camp chest and brought out the pewter plates and the knives and the forks with which he and his headquarters mess had eaten their scant fare. A shortage of chairs developing, he produced his old camp stools.54
These reminders of the war were not out of place: the house itself had associations with the struggle. Prior to the war it had been occupied by the then president, Reverend George Junkin, D.D. One of his daughters had married a sombre religious professor in the Virginia Military Institute across the hill, and he had come to live with his wife's parents.55 The sentimental no doubt felt that something of the spirit of that soldier, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, abode where Lee dwelt. In the building where Jackson had dwelt Lee thought often of his brilliant lieutenant. "It is as pleasant as profitable to contemplate his character, to recall his patriotism, his piety, and his unselfish nature," he wrote a preceptor of Jackson's youth.56
The spirit of the stern Jackson might linger in the house, and his old chieftain might be the tenant at law, but from the first it was apparent that the real commander-in‑chief on that front was Mrs. Lee. She asserted her authority with promptness. Nearly all Lexington flocked to the house to welcome the family and to pay tribute to General Lee. One evening, when the place was thronged and Lee was in animated conversation with a distinguished guest, Mrs. Lee broke in with a command from the rolling chair. "Robert," she said, "Herbert Preston has lost his cap; will you go back into the back parlor and see if he has left it p244 there?" Obediently he who had sent 70,000 men a-marching broke off his talk and left the room to search for the head covering which the youngster, in strict accordance with the habit of small boys, had put down and had forgotten. The spectators were shocked at Mrs. Lee's temerity; the General said nothing. In fact, he submitted as cheerfully to domestic authority as ever he had to Congress and President. With his family about, his spirits rose visibly. "My father appeared bright and even gay," wrote Robert E. Lee, Jr., who had not seen him since the day at Pampatike. The General went to work vigorously to make the house attractive for his family. As soon as the weather permitted, he planted shrubs and roses, set out trees, repaired the stable, built walks, and prepared a vegetable garden. "In a short time," chronicled the son, "we were quite comfortable and very happy."57 There were no regrets in the family because he had declined an offer of $10,000 a year to act as titular head of an insurance company, while remaining at the college.58
1 Cf. Mrs. Lee to Miss Mason [Sept. 14, 1865]: "He starts tomorrow enº cheval for Lexington. He prefers that way, and besides, does not like to part even for a time from his beloved steed, the companion of many a hard-fought battle" (Avary: Dixie After the War, 149).
2 This phrase originated, as far as the writer knows, with Professor S. C. Mitchell of the University of Richmond.
3 General Lee's stopping places on the journey to Lexington cannot be established in order. Inquiry generously made by G. M. Dillard and by Jackson Beal of Scottsville, Va., make it reasonably certain that he spent one night at Stony Point, the home of the Reverend Philip Slaughter. There is also a tradition in Albemarle that he stayed at Plain Dealing, the home of Bishop Wilmer, but this tradition probably confuses his visit to Wilmer in August with his ride to Lexington in September. In 3 Confederate Veteran, 321, the statement is made that he came one evening on his journey to a house from which the master was absent. Without introducing himself, he asked if he might spend the night there. The mistress of the home hospitably agreed and made her unknown guest welcome. When the farmer returned, he was delighted to recognize the General. This probably occurred on the evening when Lee was near the crest of the Blue Ridge, as it is stated that Lee had previously sought shelter at several other places where hospitality had been declined. This could hardly have happened on any of the larger estates east of the mountains, where he would almost certainly have been known and welcomed.
4 Mrs. Preston (loc. cit., 272‑73) stated on the authority of Professor J. J. White that Lee was dressed in white linens, but this account is second-hand. In her reminiscences, Mrs. Angus McDonald, who saw General Lee as he passed her door, affirmed that he wore gray, which would seem more appropriate for a dusty journey. Mrs. McDonald's recollections, which are a prime historical source for many incidents of Lee's residence in Lexington, were published in part in General Lee after Appomattox, by Hunter McDonald. His article appeared originally in 9 Tenn. Hist. Mag., 87‑101, and was reprinted as a pamphlet, cited hereafter as McDonald. References are to the pagination of the reprint, not of the original publication. Mention of General Lee's appearance on his arrival is in McDonald, 5.
5 McDonald, 5.
6 So observed Reverend H. M. Field, a guest in the house at the time, quoted in E. J. Lee, 423.
7 The details of the journey to Lexington are given in this letter to Mrs. Lee, Sept. 19, 1865; R. E. Lee, Jr., 184.
8 Trustees' Minutes, Sept. 20‑21, 1865.
9 Riley, 67; 3 Confederate Veteran, 321.
10 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Lee, Sept. 25, 1865, R. E. Lee, Jr., 185‑86.
11 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Lee, Oct. 3, 1865, R. E. Lee, Jr., 188.
13 F. A. Berlin, in Riley, 42.
14 New York Herald, Oct. 7, 1865, p1, col. 5.
15 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Lee, Oct. 3, 1865; R. E. Lee, Jr., 187.
16 R. E. Lee to R. H. Chilton, MS., Oct. 6, 1865; Chilton Papers.
17 This schedule was an hour later in December, January, and February (Jones, 99, 104, 111, 123, 124; Joynes in Cent. U. S. C., 26).
18 Joynes, Cent. U. S. C., 24.
19 J. L. Kirkpatrick in Jones, 104.
21 Trustees' Minutes, Oct. 24, 1865.
22 Riley (op. cit., 39n) mistook the enrollment of 1864‑65 for that of 1865‑66 and wrongly gave the number as twenty-two. For the correct figure, see Lee to Mrs. Lee, Oct. 3, 1865, R. E. Lee, Jr., 187.
23 Jones, 89.
24 D. Gardiner Tyler in Riley, 130.
25 Joynes in Cent. U. S. C., 29.
27 Trustees' Minutes, Oct. 24, 1865; R. E. Lee to John B. Baldwin, MS., Nov. 22, 1865, Archives of Washington and Lee University. For these two references and for a careful review of General Lee's connection with the new curriculum, the writer is indebted to the late Dean H. D. Campbell.
28 E. C. Gordon in Riley, 79 ff. Gordon cited (p80) a characteristic example.
29 R. E. Lee to R. H. Chilton, Oct. 6, 1865. Chilton Papers.
30 R. E. Lee to unnamed correspondent, May 25, 1866, Jones, 252. For other endorsements by Lee of former officers, see that of Colonel J. R. Hagood in Mixson, 122; that of Major H. B. McClellan, MS., Aug. 29, 1865, H. B. McClellan MSS.; and that of Major George Duffey, MS., July 21, 1870, for copy of which the writer makes grateful acknowledgment to Mrs. Thomas P. Bryan, of Richmond. In every instance Lee shaped the terms of his endorsement to his knowledge of the man's qualifications and character. He gave no "blanket endorsements."
31 Cf. R. E. Lee to Walter H. Taylor, March 26, 1868; Taylor's General Lee, 311. For an interesting case of assistance to a woman who claimed a kinship of which Lee knew nothing, see R. E. Lee to Hill Carter, MS., April 17, April 25, May 18, May 29, 1868; Shirley MSS.
32 R. E. Lee to G. T. Beauregard, Oct. 3, 1865; Jones, 207. For other letters on the same theme, see ibid., 181, 208.
33 R. E. Lee to Scranton and Burr, Oct. 25, 1865; Jones, 245.
34 Jones, 180.
35 1 Macrae, 185. It was perhaps typical of the spirit of the times that the express-porter's new superior was as deferential to his employee as if the two had still been in the army at their old grades.
36 Lee to Major George Duffey, MS., June 14, 1867, loaned the writer by Mrs. Thomas P. Bryan of Richmond.
37 Jones, 322, 323.
38 R. E. Lee to G. T. Beauregard, Oct. 3, 1865; R. E. Lee to C. M. Wilcox, Dec. 23, 1865; Jones, 207‑8.
39 Jones, 197.
40 R. E. Lee to W. H. Nettleton, May 21, 1866: ". . . to no race are we more indebted for the virtues which constitute a great people than to the Anglo-Saxon" (Jones, 251).
41 Cf. R. E. Lee to C. W. Law, Sept. 27, 1866: "The good opinion of the English people as to the justice of that cause, constitutional government, is highly appreciated by the people of the South . . ." (Jones, 220).
42 Jones, 192. Cf. R. E. Lee to Mrs. Jefferson Davis, Jan. 23, 1866; Jones, 212.
43 In August, 1867; R. E. Lee, Jr., 229.
44 This does not begin a paragraph in the original.
45 The beginning of this parenthesis does not appear in the text.
46 Judge R. W. Winston, who found at Washington and Lee University this interesting document, put upon it in his Robert E. Lee, 392 ff., a different interpretation than that here given. Judge Winston held that Lee never believed in secession at any time. To escape the charge of a contradiction between this theory and Lee's argument on secession in the "Acton letter" (see infra, p302) the judge suggested that perhaps Lee did not compose the communication to Sir John Acton. It will be pointed out in a note on p304 that some of the material used in the "Acton letter" was in General Lee's desk at the time of his death, and apparently had been studied by him. This would seem to dispose of the theory of a different authorship, though Lee may have received assistance from some constitutional lawyer in preparing the paper. Apart from that, however, it suffices to say that even if Lee had not himself written the "Acton letter" he would not have signed a statement that misrepresented his views of a vital constitutional question. Lee corrected Saunders for averring that he believed in secession before the war. If a literary assistant had been wrong in stating after the war that Lee then believed secession had been a constitutional right, Lee would certainly have corrected him, too.
47 R. E. Lee to Herbert C. Saunders, Aug. 22, 1866: R. E. Lee, Jr., 230‑31. The date, it will be noted, was nine months after the interview. The "late convention at Philadelphia" met on Aug. 14, 1866, and organized a new party to support the conservative and conciliatory policy of the President in opposition to the radicals (Dunning: Reconstruction, Political and Economic, 75). Lee persisted in his refusal to appear in the public eye, whether through newspapers, magazines, or books. He repeatedly declined to assist prospective biographers (Jones, 165, 166, 246) and he never gave an interview to a reporter (see, as typical, the incident in Jones, 283; see also, infra, p405).
48 Quoted, in part, in Jones, 240‑41.
49 Jones, 239. For other examples of Lee's miscellaneous correspondence, see Jones, 254; Lee to unnamed correspondent, MS., March 11, 1867, Library of Congress; Lee to F. Johnston, Salem, Va., MS., March 4, 1869; Draper MSS., 5ZZ, 99, State Hist. Soc. of Wisconsin, kindness of Miss Iva A. Welch.
51 R. E. Lee to Mrs. Lee, Oct. 3, 1865; R. E. Lee, Jr., 187; same to same, Nov. 30, 1865; ibid., 202.
52 Lee to C. G. Memminger, Nov. 27, 1865, Capers: Life of C. G. Memminger, 377‑78.
53 General Lee had offered to assist Robert with his education, after the war, and if his son did not desire that, he urged him to start farming for himself at the White House on a moderate scale (R. E. Lee, Jr., 191).
54 All the details are from R. E. Lee, Jr., 189 ff.
55 C. A. Graves in Riley, 24. Another of Doctor Junkin's daughters had married Colonel J. T. L. Preston of Virginia Military Institute.
56 Jones, 158. Cf. Lee's letter of Aug. 21, 1869, to Q. D. Julio of St. Louis, declining to accept a picture of the last meeting of Lee and Jackson, because he wished the painter to have all the profit from his work (Jones, 275). See Jones, 157, for a letter from Lee to Mrs. Jackson, forwarding Jackson's overcoat.
57 R. E. Lee, Jr., 204, 205.
58 "Excuse me, sir," he had said, when he found that the company's representative simply wanted the use of his name, "I cannot consent to receive pay for services I do not render" (Jones, 174). See also R. E. Lee to unnamed correspondent, May 21, 1866 (Jones, 175). For another insurance offer, see Winston, 367.
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