Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

 Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

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In the latter part of September, he mounted Traveller and started alonefor Lexington. He was four days on the journey, stopping with somefriend each night. He rode into Lexington on the afternoon of thefourth day, no one knowing of his coming until he quietly drew up anddismounted at the village inn. Professor White, who had just turnedinto the main street as the General halted in front of the hotel,said he knew in a moment that this stately rider on the iron-graycharger must be General Lee. He, therefore, at once went forward, astwo or three old soldiers gathered around to help the General down,and insisted on taking him to the home of Colonel Reid, the professor'sfather-in-law, where he had already been invited to stay. My father,with his usual consideration for others, as it was late in theafternoon, had determined to remain at the hotel that night and go toMr. Reid's in the morning; but yielding to Captain White's (he alwayscalled him "Captain," his Confederate title) assurances that all wasmade ready for him, he accompanied him to the home of his kind host.

The next morning, before breakfast, he wrote the following letter tomy mother announcing his safe arrival. The "Captain Edmund" and "Mr.Preston" mentioned in it were the sons of our revered friend andbenefactress Mrs. E. R. Cocke. Colonel Preston and Captain Frank wereher brother and nephew:

"Lexington, September 19, 1865.

"My Dear Mary: I reached here yesterday about one P.M., and on ridingup to the hotel was met by Professor White, of Washington College, whobrought me up to his father-in-law's, Colonel Reid, the oldest memberof the trustees of the college, where I am very comfortably quartered.To-day I will look out for accommodations elsewhere, as the Colonelhas a large family and I fear I am intruding upon his hospitality. Ihave not yet visited the college grounds. They seem to be beautifullylocated, and the buildings are undergoing repairs. The house assignedto the president, I am told, has been rented to Dr. Madison (I believe),who has not been able to procure another residence, and I do not knowwhen it will be vacated, nor can I tell you more about it. I sawMrs. and Colonel Preston, Captain Frank, and his sister. All the familyare well. I shall go after breakfast to inquire after my trunks. Ihad a very pleasant journey here. The first two days were very hot,but, reaching the mountain region the third day, the temperature wasmuch cooler. I came up in four days' easy rides, getting to mystopping-place by one P.M. each day, except the third, when I slepton top of the Blue Ridge, which I reached at three P.M. The scenerywas beautiful all the way. I am writing before breakfast, and mustbe short. Last night I found a blanket and coverlid rather lightcovering, and this morning I see a fire in the dining-room. I havethought much of you all since I left. Give much love to the girls andCustis and remember me to all at 'Oakland.'

"Most affectionately yours, R. Lee.

"Mrs. Lee."

When he first arrived, the family, very naturally, stood a little inawe of him. This feeling, however, was soon dispelled, for his simpleand unaffected manners in a short while put them at ease. There weresome little children in the house, and they and the General at oncebecame great friends. With these kind and hospitable friends hestayed several days. After being present at a meeting of the boardof trustees, he rode Traveller over to the Rockbridge Baths--elevenmiles from Lexington--and from there writes to my mother, on September25th:

"...Am very glad to hear of Rob's arrival. I am sorry that I missedseeing the latter, but find it was necessary that I should have beenpresent at the meeting of the board of trustees on the 20th. Theyadjourned on the eve of the 21st, and on the morning of the 22d Irode over here, where I found Annie and Miss Belle [Mrs. Chapman Leighand Miss Belle Harrison, of Brandon, both very dear friends and cousinsof my father].... The babies [Mrs. Leigh's] are well and sweet. I havetaken the baths every day since my arrival, and like them very much.In fact, they are delightful, and I wish you were all here to enjoythem.... Annie and Belle go in two, and sometimes three, times a day.Yesterday I procured some horses and took them up to the top of JumpMountain, where we had one of the most beautiful views I ever saw.To-day I could get but one horse, and Miss Belle and I rode up HaysCreek Valley, which possessed beauties of a different kind. I shallreturn to Lexington on the 29th. I perceive, as yet, no change in myrheumatic affection.... Tell Custis I am much obliged to him for hisattention to my baggage. All the articles enumerated by him arrivedsafely at Colonel Reid's Thursday morning early. I also received thepackage of letters he sent.... I hope he may receive the appointmentat the V. M. I. Everyone interested has expressed a desire he shoulddo so, and I am more desirous than all of them. If he comes by land,he will find the route I took very pleasant, and about 108 miles,namely: 'Bremo'--Dr. Wilmer's--Waynesboro'--Greenville. He will findme at the Lexington Hotel.... I wish you were all here with me. Ifeel very solitary and miss you all dreadfully. Give much love tothe girls and boys--kind remembrances to Mrs. P., Miss Louisa, andMrs. Thos. I have no news. Most affectionately, R. Lee.

"P.S.--Annie and Belle send a great deal of love to all. L."

These little excursions and the meeting with old friends and dearcousins were sources of real enjoyment and grateful rest. The painsof the past, the worries of the present, and the cares for the futurewere, for the time being, banished. My father earnestly desired aquiet, informal inauguration, and his wish was gratified. On October2, 1865, in the presence of the trustees, professors and students, aftersolemn and appropriate prayer by the Rev. W. S. White, D. D., theoldest Christian minister in the town [the father of Professor (or"Captain") White], he took the oath of office as required by the lawsof the college, and was thus legally inaugurated as its president.

On October 3d he wrote my mother:

"...I am glad to hear that Rob is improving, and hope you had thepleasure of seeing Mr. Dana [Our old pastor of Christ's Church,Alexandria, the trusted friend of my grandmother and mother, who hadbaptised all the children at Arlington].... The college openedyesterday, and a fine set of youths, about fifty, made their appearancein a body. It is supposed that many more will be coming during themonth. The scarcity of money everywhere embarrasses all proceedings.General Smith informs me that the Military Institute will commenceits exercises on the 16th inst.; and that Custis was unanimously electedto the chair of Civil Engineering [The Virginia Military Institute, aState institution, modelled after the U. Military Academy at WestPoint, was located in Lexington, and its grounds adjoined those ofWashington College. Since its foundation in 1839, unto this time,General F. H. Smith had been its superintendent.]. I am living atthe Lexington Hotel, and he must come there if he comes up.... Theladies have furnished me a very nice room in the college for my office;new carpet from Baltimore, curtains, etc. They are always doingsomething kind.... I came up September 30th from the Baths. Annieand Miss Belle still there and very well. They expect to be here onthe 10th.... You tell me nothing of the girls. I hope Agnes is gettingstrong and fat. I wished for them both at the Baths. Annie and Bellewere my only companions. I could not trespass upon them always.The scenery is beautiful here, but I fear it will be locked up inwinter by the time you come. Nothing could be more beautiful than themountains now....

"Most affectionately, R. Lee."

Watch the video: Recollections And Letters Of General Robert E. Lee By His Son by Robert E. LEE, JR. Part 12


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