Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son
The Reconstruction Period
The General believes in the enforcement of law and order--His moral
influence in the college--Playful humour shown in his letters--His
opinion of negro labour--Mr. Davis's trial--Letter to Mrs. Fitzhugh
Lee--Intercourse with Faculty
Virginia was at this time still under military rule. The
"reconstruction" days were not over. My father had himself accepted
the political situation after the war, and had advised every one who
had sought his advice to do the same. The following incident and
letters will show his acquiescence in the law of the land, and ready
submission to the authorities. In a street disturbance that spring
a student had been shot by a negro, and it was reported that, in case
of the young man's death, the murderer would be summarily dealt with
by his college-mates. Captain Wagner, the military commissioner,
wrote to General Lee informing him of these reports. He received the
"Washington College, Lexington, Virginia, May 4, 1868.
"Captain Wagner, Commissioner District, Lexington, Virginia.
"Sir: Upon investigation of the reports which you communicated to
me yesterday afternoon, I can find no foundation for the apprehension
that the students of Washington college contemplate any attack upon
the man confined in jail for shooting Mr. --- Friday night. On the
contrary, I have been assured by members of the faculty and individual
students that they have heard no suggestion of the kind, and they
believe that no such intention has been entertained or now exists. I
think, therefore, the reports made to you are groundless.
"Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
However, in order to take all precautions and provide against any
disturbance, he wrote as follows to the president of the Young Men's
Christian Association, whom he knew well and trusted, and who was a
man of much influence with his fellow-students:
"Mr. G. B. Strickler,
"President Young Men's Christian Association, Washington College.
"I have just been informed by Captain Wagner, Military Commissioner
of this district, that from information received by him, he had reason
to apprehend that, should the wound received by Mr. --- Friday night
prove fatal, the students of Washington College contemplate taking
from the jail the man who shot him and inflicting upon him summary
punishment. I cannot believe that any such act is intended or would
be allowed by the students of Washington College, thought it is possible
that such an intention may have been spoken of amongst them. I think
it only necessary to call the attention of the students to the report
to prevent such an occurrence. I feel convinced that none would
countenance such outrage against law and order, but that all will
cheerfully submit to the administration of justice by the legal
authorities. As the readiest way of communicating with the students,
at this hour, on Sunday, I have concluded to address you this letter
that through the members of the Young Men's Christian Association the
students generally may be informed of the apprehension entertained by
the military authorities; and I earnestly invoke the students to
abstain from an violation of law, and to unite in preserving quiet
and order on this and every occasion.
"Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
"R. E. Lee."
The young man recovered, there was no disturbance of any kind, nor
was it believed that there would have been, after this appeal from
the president, even if the wound had proved fatal.
"Nor was it a moral influence alone that he exerted in the college.
He was equally careful of the intellectual interests. He watched the
progress of every class, attended all the examinations, and strove
constantly to stimulate both professors and students to the highest
attainments. The whole college, in a word, felt his influence as an
ever-present motive, and his character was quietly but irresistibly
impressed upon it, not only in the general working of all its
departments, but in all the details of each. Of this influence General
Lee, modest as he was, was perfectly aware, and, like a prudent ruler,
he husbanded it with wise economy. He preferred to confine his direct
interposition to purely personal acts, and rarely--and then only on
critical occasions--did he step forward to present himself before the
whole body of students in the full dignity of his presidential office.
On these occasions, which in the latter years hardly ever occurred,
he would quietly post an address to the students, in which, appealing
only to the highest principals of conduct, he sought to dissuade them
from threatened evil. The addresses, which the boys designated as
his 'general orders,' were always of immediate efficacy. No single
case ever occurred in which they failed of instant and complete effect;
and no student would have been tolerated by his fellow-students who
would have dared to disregard such an appeal from General Lee."
[Professor Joynes in "University Monthly".]
My father had recovered form the spell of sickness of the previous
summer at the Old Sweet Springs, which had weakened and depressed him
until about the time he attended my brother's wedding. That marriage
had been a great joy to him. His trip there and back, and his visits
to "Brandon" and "Hickory Hill," the change of climate and scene,
seeing old friends and new places, had all contributed to benefit his
health and spirits. I remember this Christmas of 1867 he seemed
particularly bright and cheerful. I give a letter he wrote me after
I had left for my home which reflects his playful humour and good
"Lexington, Virginia, January 23, 1868.
"My Dear Robert: I inclose a letter which has just arrived in the
mail. It seems to be from a nice young lady, judging from the style
and address. I hope she is the right one and that her response is
favourable. Put in a good crop, and recollect you may have two to
feed after the harvest. We are doing what we can in this region to
supply the springs and streams that form the lowland rivers. It is
still raining, though the snow and ice have not left us. After your
departure, Mr. Gordon brought to me a letter from Fitzhugh to your
mother which had come in the Sunday mail and was overlooked among the
papers. I am sorry it had not been found before you left, as you
would have known their plans. Tell them I am sorry not to have seen
them. We miss you very much. 'Life' has it all her own way now, and
expends her energy in regulating her brother and putting your mother's
drawers and presses to rights. It's her only vent, and furnishes
exercise for body and mind. There is to be a great fete in your
mother's room to-day. The Grace Church Sewing Society is to meet there
at 10 A. M.--that is, if the members are impervious to water. I
charged the two Mildreds to be seated with their white aprons on and
with scissors and thimbles in hand. I hope they may have a refreshing
"R. E. Lee.
"Robert E. Lee."
The second Mildred mentioned here was my father's niece, daughter of
Charles Carter Lee. She was living with my father at this time,
going to school, and was, like her cousin the other Mildred, not very
fond of her needle. His nickname for her was "Powhattie," derived,
I presume, from her native County of Powhatan. He was very fond of
teasing her in his playful way. Indeed, we all enjoyed that attention
from him. He never teased any one whom he did not especially like.
To his new daughter I find the following letter, written at this time,
in which he shows his affection and admiration for her:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 10, 1868.
"My Beautiful Daughter: I have been wishing to write to you for a
long time, but have supposed that you would be so engrossed with my
sons, with their plans and their projects, that you could not lend
an ear to your papa. But now I must tell you how much I have thought
of you, how much I want to see you, and how greatly I was disappointed
at your not getting to see us at the time you proposed. You must not
postpone your visit too long, or you may not find us here. Our winter,
which has been long and cold, I hope now is over. The gardeners are
busy, the grass is growing green, and the atmosphere warm and inspiring.
I presume under its genial influence you and Fitzhugh are busy improving
your new home. I hope everything is agreeable, and that you are
becoming more and more interested in making those around you happy.
That is the true way to secure your own happiness for which my poor
prayers are daily offered to the throne of the Most High. I have been
summoned to Richmond the third Thursday in this month, as a witness
in the trial against Mr. Davis; and though that will be a painful
errand for me, I hope that it will give me the pleasure of seeing you.
I will endeavour to get down some day to the White House, if it is
only to spend Sunday with you. I hope that you will be able to pay
some attention to your poor brother Robert. Do not let his elder
brother monopolise you altogether. You will have to take care of
both till you can find some one like yourself to take Romancoke in
hand. Do you think Miss Anne Banister will consent? Mildred, you
know, is the only one of the girls who has been with us this winter.
She has consequently had her hands full, and considers herself now
a great character. She rules her brother and my nephews with an iron
rod, and scatters her advice broadcast among the young men of the
college. I hope that it may yield an abundant harvest. The young
mothers of Lexington ought to be extremely grateful to her for her
suggestions to them as to the proper mode of rearing their children,
and though she finds many unable to appreciate her system, she is
nothing daunted by the obtuseness of vision, but takes advantage of
every opportunity to enlighten them as to its benefits. Mary and
Agnes are still in Baltimore, and are now at the house of Mrs. Charles
Howard. Agnes expects, I believe, to return to the Peters near Ellicott
City, and then go over to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to visit the
Goldsboroughs and other friends. I hardly think either of them will
get back before June. I have recently received a very pretty picture
from a young lady of Baltimore, Miss Mary Jones, whom I met last summer
at the White Sulphur Springs. In one of my morning rides to the
Beaver-dam Falls, near the Sweet Springs, I found her at the foot of
the falls making a sketch of the scene, and on her return home she
finished it and has sent it to me. It is beautifully painted and is
a faithful representation of the Falls. I think you will be pleased
with it when you come up, and agree with me in the opinion that it
is the principal ornament of our parlour. I am sorry to inform you
that your poor mama ahs been suffering more than usual lately from
her rheumatic pains. She took cold in some way, which produced a
recurrence of her former pangs, though she is in a measure now relieved.
We often wish for you and Fitzhugh. My only pleasure is in my solitary
evening rides, which give me abundant opportunity for quiet thought.
With a great deal of love to your husband, I am your sincerely attached
"R. E. Lee."
"Mrs. William H. Fitzhugh Lee."
The next letter I find is a reply to one of mine, in which I evidently
had been confiding to him my agricultural woes:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 12, 1868.
"My Dear Rob: I am sorry to learn from your letter of the 1st that
the winter has been so hard on your wheat. I hope, however, the present
good weather is shedding its influence upon it, and that it will turn
out better than it promises. You must, however, take a lesson from
the last season. What you do cultivate, do well. Improve and prepare
the land in the best manner; your labour will be less, and your
profits more. Your flat lands were always uncertain in wet winters.
The uplands were more sure. Is it not possible that some unbidden
guest may have been feasting on your corn? Six hundred bushels are
are a large deficit in casting up your account for the year. But
you must make it up by economy and good management. A farmer's motto
should be TOIL AND TRUST. I am glad that you have got your lime and
sown your oats and clover. Do you use the drill or sow broadcast?
I shall try to get down to see you if I go to Richmond, for I am
anxious to know how you are progressing and to see if in any way I
can aid you. Whenever I can, you must let me know. You must still
think about your house and make up your mind as to the site and kind,
and collect the material. I can help you to any kind of plan, and
with some ready money to pay the mechanics. I have presently had a
visit from Dr. Oliver, of Scotland, who is examining lands for
immigrants from his country. He seems to be a sensible and judicious
man. From his account, I do not think the Scotch and English would
suit your part of the country. It would require time from them to
become acclimated, and they would probably get dissatisfied, especially
as there is so much mountainous region where they could be accommodated.
I think you will have to look to the Germans; perhaps the Hollanders,
as a class, would be the most useful. When the railroad shall have
been completed to West Point, I think there will be no difficulty in
getting the whites among you. I would try to get some of our own young
men in your employ. I rode out the other day to Mr. Andrew Cameron's
and went into the field where he was plowing. I took great pleasure
in following the plows around the circuit. He had four in operation.
Three of them were held by his former comrades in the army, who are
regularly employed by him, and, he says, much to his satisfaction
and profit. People have got to work now. It is creditable to them
to do so; their bodies and their minds are benefited by it, and those
who can and will work will be advanced by it. You will never prosper
with blacks, and it is abhorrent to a reflecting mind to be supporting
and cherishing those who are plotting and working for your injury,
and all of whose sympathies and associations are antagonistic to yours.
I wish them no evil in the world--on the contrary, will do them every
good in my power, and know that they are misled by those to whom
they have given their confidence; but our material, social, and
political interests are naturally with the whites. Mr. Davis' trial
was fixed for the last of this month. If Judge Chase's presence is
essential, I do not see how it can take place, unless that of Mr.
Johnson is to be postponed. I suppose that will be decided to-day
or to-morrow, and then I shall know what to expect. I shall not go
to Richmond unless necessary, as it is always inconvenient for me to
leave home, and I am not at all well. Your poor mother is also more
ailing than she is ordinarily, in consequence of a cold she has taken.
But it is passing away, I trust. I must leave you to her and Mildred
for all local and domestic news. Custis and the boys are well, and
'Powhattie,' I hope has got rid of the chills. We hear regularly
from Mary and Agnes, who seem to be enjoying themselves, and I do
not think from their programme that they will get back to us till
summer. All unite in much love, and I am always, Your father,
"R. E. Lee."
This same month he writes a long letter to his daughter Agnes, who
was visiting friends in Baltimore. The Annette, Mildred, and Mary
he mentions in this letter were the daughters of Charles Henry Carter,
of "Goodwood," Maryland, a first cousin of my father:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 28, 1868.
"My Precious Agnes: I was so glad to receive your letter, to learn
that you were well and enjoying yourself among pleasant friends. I
hope that you will soon get through all your visits and come home.
Your uncle Smith says you girls ought to marry his sons, as you both
find it so agreeable to be from home, and you could then live a true
Bohemian life and have a happy time generally. But I do not agree
with him; I shall not give my consent, so you must choose elsewhere.
I have written to Annette telling her of my alarm for her. Now that
Mildred is engaged, and she sees how much Mary is in love, I fear
she will pick up an Adonis next, so that she had better run away to
the mountains at once. I am glad that you saw Mr. Davis. It is a
terrible thing to have this prosecution hanging over him, and to be
unable to fix his thoughts on a course of life or apply his hands to
the support of his family. But I hope a kind Providence will shield
and guide him. You must remember me to all my friends, the Taggarts,
Glenns, McKims, Marshalls, etc.... As to the young ladies you mention,
you must tell them that I want to see them very much, and hope that
they will all come to the mountains this summer, and not pass us by
in Lexington. When you go to 'Goodwood' and the Eastern Shore, do
the same there for me, and present me to all by name. Tell sweet
Sallie Warwick I think she ought to come to Lexington, if only to show
those babies; but in truth the want to see her more than them, so she
may leave them with Major Poor [her husband], if she chooses. You
must see everybody you wish and enjoy yourself as much as you can,
and then come home. I told Mildred to tell you if you wanted any funds
you must let me know and where to send them. I do not know whether
she delivered my message. She has become very imperious, and may not
think you require any. She has been much exercised of late on the
score of servants, but hopes to get some relief on the 1st proximo
from the promised change of Miss Mary Dixon to Miss Eliza Cyrus. I
hope her expectations may be realised. Little Mildred has had a return
of her chills. It has been a sharp attack, and thought it has been
arrested, when I left her this morning I feared she might have a
relapse, as this is her regular day. She was looking remarkably well
before it came on, better than she had ever done, but every cold
terminates in this way, however slight it may be. Colds have been
quite prevalent, and there have been two deaths among the cadets from
pneumonia. Fortunately so far the students have escaped. I am relieved
of mine I hope, and your poor mother is, I hope, better. The storm
seems to have subsided, and I trust the bright weather may ameliorate
her pains. Custis, Mildred, and the boys are well, as are most of our
friends in Lexington.... Fitzhugh writes that everything is blooming
at the 'White House,' and that his wheat is splendid. I am in hopes
that it is all due to the presence of my fair daughter. Rob says
that things at Romancoke are not so prosperous--you see, there is no
Mrs. R. E. Lee, Jr., there, and that may make the difference. Cannot
you persuade some of those pretty girls in Baltimore to take compassion
on a poor bachelor? I will give them a plan for a house if they will
build it.... All would unite with me in love if they knew I was
writing. You ought to be here to enjoy the birds Captain O. C. H.
sends us. With much love for yourself, and my poor prayers for your
happiness, I am, Your devoted father,
"R. E. Lee."
A few days afterward he writes to his son Fitzhugh, who was now
established very happily in his new house, and warns him not to depend
entirely on sentiment, but to arrange for something material. He also
speaks of Mr. Davis and his trial, which was continually being
postponed, and in the end was dismissed, and gives him some good advice
about importing cattle:
"Lexington, Virginia, March 30, 1868.
"My Dear Fitzhugh: I was very glad to receive your letter of the
19th, and as you are aware of the order of the court postponing Mr.
Davis's trial till the 14th proximo, I presume that you have not been
expecting me down. I see it stated in the Washington 'Star' that
the trial is again postponed till May 4th, but I have seen as yet no
order from the court. Mr. and Mrs. Davis went from Baltimore to New
York on Tuesday last, and were to go on to Canada. He said that he
did not know what he should do or what he could turn his hand to for
support. As long as this trial is hanging over him, of course, he
can do nothing. He can apply his mind to nothing, nor could he
acquire the confidence of the business community in anything he might
undertake, from the apprehension of his being interrupted in the midst
of it. Agnes and Mary saw them as they passed through Baltimore.
They say Mr. Davis was well, though he had changed a great deal since
they saw him last. I am very glad that you are so pleased with your
house. I think it must be my daughter that gives it such a charm.
I am sure that she will make everything look bright to me. It is a
good thing that the wheat is doing so well, for I am not sure 'that
the flame you are so rich in will light a fire in the kitchen, nor
the little god turn the spit, spit, spit.' Some material element
is necessary to make it burn brightly and furnish some good dishes
for the table. Shad are good in their way, but they do not run up
the Pamunkey all the year. I am glad that you are making arrangements
for some cows, and think you are right in getting those of the best
breed. It used to be thought that cows from the North would not prosper
in that lower country, and indeed cows from the upper part of Virginia
did not succeed well, but were apt to become sick and die; and that
the surest process to improve the stock was to purchase calves of
good breed and cross on the native stock. You must, therefore, be
careful and not invest too much. We have had a cold winter, and
March has been particularly harsh. Still, vegetation is progressing
and the wheat around Lexington looks beautiful. My garden is advancing
in a small way. Pease, spinach, and onions look promising, but my
hot-bed plants are poor. The new house, about which you inquire, is
in statu quo before winter. I believe the money is wanting and the
workmen cannot proceed. We require some of that latter article here,
as elsewhere, and have but little.... I heard of you in Richmond
the other day, but did not learn whether my daughter was with you.
I wish you would send her up to her papa when you go away. With much
"Your devoted father, R. E. Lee."
A month later he writes me, telling me that he expects to be in Richmond
the following week, and will try to get down to see us; also telling
of his garden, and horse, and, as he always did, encouraging, cheering
me, and offering help:
"Lexington, Virginia, April 25, 1868.
"My Dear Rob: Your letter of the 21st is just received. I am very
glad that your wheat is improving in appearance, and hope that at
harvest it will yield a fair return for your care and labour. Your
corn I am sure will be more remunerative than the crop of last year,
and I trust that at the end of the year you will find you have advanced
in the field of agriculture. Your mule and provender was a heavy
loss. You must make it up. Replace the first by a good one and I
will pay for it. I hope the warm sun will bring forward the grass
to supply the latter. Should I go to Richmond, next week, as I now
expect, I will be prepared to pay for the mule, and if I do not I
will send you a check for the amount. I am sorry to hear that you
have not been well. You must get out of that too.... You must refresh
yourself when you can by going up to the White House to see your
brother and sister. Take a good look at the latter for me.... In
our garden nothing is up but the hardy plans, pease, potatoes, spinach,
onions, etc.... Beets, carrots, salsify, etc., have been sown a long
time, but are not up, and I cannot put in the beans, squash, etc., or
set out the hot-bed plants. But we can wait. I have not been as well
this winter as usual, and have been confined of late. I have taken
up Traveller, however, who is as rough as a bear, and have had two
or three rides on him, in the mud, which I think has benefited me.
Mildred sometimes accompanies me. Your mother, I am glad to say, is
better. She has less pain than when I last wrote, and is more active
on her crutches.... Good-bye, my dear son. If I go to Richmond I
will try to get to see you.
"Affectionately your father,
"R. E. Lee."
"R. E. Lee, Jr."
My father came to Richmond, summoned to attend the trial of Mr. Davis,
but when he arrived he found that it was again postponed. So he
went to the White House and spent several days. I came up from
Romancoke and stayed with him till he left. It was a great pleasure
to him to meet his sons and to see his new daughter in her new home.
After his return to Lexington he wrote to her this letter:
"Lexington, Viriginia, May 29, 1868.
"My Dear Daughter: I have been enjoying the memory, ever since my
return, my visit to the Pamunkey, and whenever I have thought of
writing to you the pleasure I experienced in your company and in that
of Fitzhugh and Robert absorbed the moment I could devote to a letter,
and other calls made me postpone it. But I have thought of you often,
and always with renewed pleasure; and I rejoice at your having around
you more comforts and within your reach more pleasures than I had
anticipated. I pray that both may be increased and be long continued.
There is one thing I regret--that you are so far from us. I know the
difficulty of farmers and their wives leaving home. Their success,
and in a measure their pleasure, depend upon their daily attention to
their affairs, and it is almost an impossibility for us old people to
get to you. Yet I trust we may meet this summer some time, and whenever
you can you must come and see us. Our small house will never be so
full that there will not be room for you, or so empty that you will
not be most cordially welcome. Letters received from Mary and Agnes
report them still on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where they were
detained by the sickness of Agnes. They expected, however, to be able
to return to Baltimore last Tuesday, 26th, where, after a few days'
sojourn, they were to go to Mrs. Washington Peter's. I fear, however,
that Agnes might not have been well enough, as she had had an attack
of bilious fever and was much prostrated. Should you find yourself
in danger of becoming sick, you must come right up to your papa. I
know you will pine, but I would rather you should suffer in that way
than burn with fever, and while on that subject I will tell you
something that may be of comfort: you may reasonably expect Fitzhugh
soon to follow, so you will not suffer long. I wish to take your
mama to the Warm Springs, and to the Hot or Healing, if she will go,
to try to obtain for her some relief; but we will not leave home till
the last of June or first of July. I am so much occupied that I feel
that I ought never to go away, and every absence accumulates my work.
I had a pleasant visit of three days, to Lynchburg, attending the
Episcopal Convention, and I have not yet brought up my correspondence,
etc. I fear, too, I shall have to go to Richmond next week, as
everything seems to portend the certainty of Mr. Davis's trial. God
grant that, like the impeachment of
Mr. Johnson, it may be dismissed.
If I do go, I fear I shall have no time to visit you. The examinations
of the senior classes of the college are now in progress, and after
their completion the examination of the undergraduates will commence,
and will not terminate till the 15th of June, and the commencement
exercises them begin and end on the 18th. So you see how necessary
it is for me to be here and that I shall be obliged to hasten back as
soon as permitted. I wanted, if possible, to pass one day at
'Shirley'--I have not been there for ten years. It was the loved home
of my mother, and a spot where I have passed many happy days in early
life, and one that probably I may never visit again. But I do not
know that I shall be able. We are all as usual, and all would send
much love if they knew I was writing. Mildred is very happing in
the company of Miss Charlotte Haxall, and Custis retains his serenity
of character. Our young members of the family are looking forward
to their return to Powhatan as soon as the college exercises close,
which I hope will bring some relief to me also. I see that you have
been much visited of late, but you know that no one wants to see you
as much as I do. Tell Fitzhugh that his old friend, Miss Helen Peters,
has come to Lexington, from New York, to pass the summer. She is now
Mrs. Taylor and has brought with her two babies. She is as cordial
and affectionate as ever. Give much love to Fitzhugh and Rob, and
believe me always your devoted father,
"R. E. Lee.
"Mrs. Wm. H. Fitzhugh Lee."
My father was back at the college in full time for the "final
examinations." He always made it a point to be present, and took his
full share of sitting in the rooms while the students were working on
their papers. When occasion offered, somewhat to the surprise of the
learned faculty, he showed himself thoroughly conversant with each
and every department. Even with Greek he seems somewhat familiar,
and would question the students as to their knowledge of this language,
much to their astonishment.
The commencement exercises of the college began about June 1st and
lasted a week. At this time, the town was crowded with visitors, and
my father had his house full, generally of young girls, friends of my
sisters who came to assist at the "final ball," the great social
event connected with this college exercise. He seemed to enjoy their
society as much as the young men did, though he could not devote so
much time to them as the boys did, and I know that the girls enjoyed
his society more than they did that of their college adorers. On the
occasion of an entertainment at his house, in going amongst his guests,
he approached a young lady, a
great belle, completely surrounded by
her admirers--students, cadets, and some old "Confeds." He stopped
and began to rally her on her conquests, saying:
"You can do as you please to these other young gentlemen, but you must
not treat any of my OLD SOLDIERS badly."
those who have never known him cannot imagine the charm of his manner,
the brightness of his smile, and the pleasant way he had of speaking,
especially to young people and little children. His rebukes to the
young were administered in the kindest, gentlest way, almost
persuasively, but he could be stern when the occasion demanded. Colonel
William Preston Johnston, a member of his faculty and a very dear
and trusted friend, says:
"In his intercourse with his faculty he was courteous, kind, and often
rather playful in manner. We all thought he deferred entirely too
much to the expression of opinion on the part of the faculty, when we
would have preferred that he should simply indicate his own views
or desire. One characteristic of General Lee I noted then and have
often recalled: I never saw him take an ungraceful posture. No matter
how long or fatiguing a faculty meeting might be, he always preserved
an attitude in which dignity, decorum, and grace were united. He was
a very well built man, with rounded body and limbs, and seemed without
the slightest affectation of effort to sit or stand or walk just as
a gentleman should. He was never in a hurry, and all his gestures
were easy and significant. He was always an agreeable companion.
There was a good deal of bonhomie and pleasantry in his conversation.
He was not exactly witty, nor was he very humorous, though he gave a
light turn to table-talk and enjoyed exceedingly any pleasantry or fun,
even. He often made a quaint or slightly caustic remark, but he took
care that it should not be too trenchant. On reading his letters one
discovers this playful spirit in many of them, as, for instance, in
his letter to the spiritualist who asked his opinion of Von Moltke
and the French war. He wrote in reply a most courteous letter in
which he said that 'the question was one about which military critics
would differ, that his own judgement about such matters was poor at
best, and that inasmuch as they had the power to consult (through
their mediums) Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Wellington, and all of
the other great captains who had ever lived, he could not think of
obtruding his opinion in such company.' General Lee did not talk
politics, but he felt very deeply the condition of the country, and
expressed to me several times in strong terms his disapproval of the
course of the dominant party."
There is a story told of my father which points to his playful manner
here alluded to. At a certain faculty meeting they were joking Mr.
Harris, who so long and so ably filled the chair of Latin, about his
walking up the aisle of the Presbyterian church with the stem of
his pipe protruding from his pocket. Mr. Harris took out the offending
stem and began cutting it shorter. My father, who had been enjoying
the incident, said:
"No, Mr. Harris, don't do that; next time leave it at home."
Sometimes he deemed it advisable to be a little stern. One of the
young professors went off for a few days without asking the president's
permission. On his return the General met him very stiffly, saying:
"Mr. ---, I congratulate you on your return to your friends and duties.
I was not aware of your absence until I heard it by chance."
Mr. --- told this on himself, and added that it was the last time he
ever went away without a formal leave of absence. His particularity
in little things has often been commented on. He applied it to all his
affairs. Dr. Kirkpatrick, Professor of Moral Philosophy, came into
the president's office and asked for a certain paper. My father
told him where it could be found. After a while, turning to the doctor
"Did you find the paper?"
"Yes, General," replied the Doctor.
"Did you return it to the place where you found it?"
At another time he asked Professor Harris to look at a catalogue on
the table. The Professor took up a new one, wrapped ready for the
mail, and was about to tear the cover off, when my father, hastily
handing him one already opened, said:
"Take this, if you please."
My mother used to say that he could go, in the dar, and lay his hand
on any article of his clothing, or upon any particular paper, after
he had once arranged them, provided they had not been disturbed. One
of his "quaint or slightly caustic remarks," alluded to by Colonel
Johnston, I recall as told to me. He met a lady friend down in the
town, who bitterly complained that she could get nothing to eat in
Lexington suitable for Lent--no fish, no oysters, etc.
"Mrs. ---," the General replied, "I would not trouble myself so much
about special dishes; I suppose if we try to abstain from SPECIAL SINS
that is all that will be expected of us."