Chapter XVIII

 

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Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son


Chapter XVIII
Mrs. R. E. Lee


Goes to Warm Springs for rheumatism--Her daughter Mildred takes typhoid
there--Removes to Hot Springs--Her husband's devotion--Visit of
Fitzhugh and bride to Lexington--Miss Jones, a would-be benefactor of
Washington College--Fate of Washington relics belonging to Mrs. Lee's
family

That summer my father determined to take my mother to the Warm Springs,
in Bath County, Virginia, hoping that the baths there might be of
service to her, and purposing, if she was not benefited, to go to
the Hot Springs, five miles distant.  He was most anxious that his
new daughter should join her there and go with him to any place she
might select and come back with them to Lexington.  In the following
letter to his son he tells of his plans for the summer:

                                "Lexington, Virginia, July 1, 1868.

"My Dear Fitzhugh:  I received yesterday your letter of the 28th
ultimo, and regret very much to learn of Tabb's indisposition.  I
hope that she will soon be well, and I wish very much she would join
us in the mountains and return here with us.  In my letter to her
about the time when she went to her sister's wedding, which I hope
she got, I told her of my wishes on the subject, and believe gave
her our general plans.  I can now say with more distinctness that,
unless something now unforeseen should prevent, I will take your mother
to the Warm Sprints, from the 10th to the 15th inst., and after trying
the water there about two weeks, if not favourable, will take her
over to the Hot.  After seeing her comfortably established, I will
then go anywhere Tabb desires--to the Healing or the White Sulphur
or Sweet.  I intend to go myself to the White Sulphur for about a
fortnight, to drink the water, and will take Mildred with me.  Agnes,
having gone last summer, will not care to go, I presume, and can remain
with her mother.  Mildred has been quite sick for the past week, but
is now much better, and in a week will be strong enough for the journey,
I think.  If not, we shall have to delay our departure a little.
Agnes was also sick on the Eastern Shore of Maryland about three
weeks, and, I am told, looks badly.  She is now at the University
of Virginia, and will be home in a few days and go with us to the
Springs.  You must arrange your plans to suit your interests and
convenience, coming to us when you can and staying as long as you
can.  You know the interest I take in your prosperity and advancement,
which cannot be assured without earnest attention to your business
on your part, and therefore I never urge you to act contrary to your
own judgement in reference to them.  As to my daughter, Tabb, tell
her if she will trust herself to her papa she shall never want anything
he can do for her, and I think she will find the prediction in my
letter to her verified.  She might join us at Goshen and go with us,
or come here.  Why did she not come up with her father?  I went to
see him last evening, but he was out.  Your mother, I presume, has
told you of home affairs.  She has become nervous of late, and broods
over her troubles so much that I fear it increases her sufferings.  I
am therefore the more anxious to give her new scenes and new thoughts.
It is the principal good I anticipate.  Love to Rob.  Custis still
talks of visiting you, but I have not heard of his having fixed the
day of his departure.  He is quite well.  With my best love to my
daughter T--- and the same to yourself, I am,

                  "Most affectionately your father,

                                 "R. E. Lee."

The morning he left Lexington he, while waiting for the stage, writes
as follows to a great favourite of his, a friend of Mildred's, who
had been on a visit to her that summer:

                               "Lexington, Virginia, July 14, 1868.

"...The stage is at the door to carry us to Goshen, and if Mrs. Lee's
strength permits, we hope to reach the Warm Springs to-night.  After
two or three week's trial of its waters we shall go to the Hot, where,
leaving Agnes to take care of her mother, I shall take Mildred to the
White Sulphur, and hope to meet you at Covington and carry you along.
Will you not come?...  Mildred is quite well again and is flying
about this morning with great activity.  Agnes is following with
slower steps, Mrs. Lee is giving her last injunctions to Sam and
Eliza.  Letitia [my mother's maid] is looking on with wonder at the
preparations, and trying to get a right conception of the place to
which she is going, which she seems to think is something between
a steel-trap and a spring-gun.  Custis is waiting to help his mother
into the stage, and you see how patient I am.  To add interest to the
scene, Dr. Barton has arrived to bid adieu and to give Mildred an
opportunity of looking her best.  I believe he is the last rose of
summer.  The others, with their fragrance and thorns, have all
departed...."

A few days after their arrival at the Warm Springs Mildred was taken
ill with typhoid fever, and during many anxious weeks my father and
Agnes were her only nurses.  My mother's room was on the first floor
of the "Brockenborough Cottage," my sister's in the second, so she
could not get upstairs to her room.  Mildred was very fanciful--would
not have no one but my father to nurse her, and could not sleep unless
she had his hand in hers.  Night after night he sat by her side,
watching over her and attending to every want with gentleness and
patience.  He writes to the same young lady, at Mildred's request:

                            "Warm Springs, Virginia, July 30, 1868.

"...She [Mildred] has been so anxious to write to you, and so uneasy
at her inability to do so, that I hope you will permit me to tell you
the reason.  She has been quite sick and is so still--confined to
her bed with low fever, which retains its hold very pertinaciously.
she took cold a few days after our arrival, from some imprudence, and
she is very much enfeebled.  She has been more comfortable the last
day or  two, and I hope is better, but I presume he recovery will
necessarily be slow.  You know she is very fanciful, and as she seems
to be more accessible to reason from me, I have come be her chief
nurse and am now writing in her room, while she is sleeping....  This
is a beautiful valley, and we have quite a pleasant company--Mr. and
Mrs. Chapman and their three daughters from Alabama; Mrs. Coleman
and her two daughters from Baltimore; some ladies from Richmond,
Washington, Kentucky, Iowa, etc., and an ever-changing scene of faces.
As soon as Mildred is strong enough, we will go to the Hot, after
which, if she desires it, I will take her to the White.  Mrs. Lee
and Agnes are improving slightly, I am glad to say.  We hear of many
friends at the Hot, Healing, and White, and hope we shall reach
these respective waters before they depart....  The Harrisons have
written me that they will be here on the 14th proximo, but unless
Mildred's recovery is much retarded it will be too late for me to
see them.  The Caskies will be at the Hot about the same time....
I am,

                 "Your most sincerely,

                             "R. E. Lee."
On August 3d from the same place, he writes to my brother Fitzhugh:

"...this was the day I had appointed to go to the Hot, but Mildred is
too sick to move.  She was taken more than a fortnight since,...and
her attack seems to have partaken of a typhoid character.  She has
had since a low and persistent fever, which retains its hold.  She
is very feeble, but, in the doctor's opinion, somewhat better.  I
myself see little change, except that she is now free from pain.  I
cannot speak of our future movements.  I fear I shall have to abandon
my visit to the White.  Your mother and Agnes are better than when
they arrived.  The former bathes freely, eats generously, and sleeps
sweetly.  Agnes, though feeble, is stronger.  I am the same, and
can see no effects of the waters upon myself.  Give much love to my
sweet daughter and dear sons.  All unite with me in this message....
I am, as ever and always,

                 "Your father,

                          "R. E. Lee."

Another letter to my brother, Fitzhugh, from the Warm Springs, tells
of his daughter's convalescence.  Smith's Island, of which he writes,
belonged to my grandfather's estate, of which my father was executor.
He was trying to make some disposition of it, so that it might yield
a revenue.  It is situated on the Atlantic just east of Cape Charles,
in Northampton County, Virginia.

                           "Warm Springs, Virginia, August 14, 1868.

"My Dear Fitzhugh:  I received, yesterday, your letter of the 9th,
and, as your mother informed you of Mildred's condition, I deferred
replying to it until to-day.  I am glad to inform you that she is
better, and that the doctor pronounces her convalescent this morning.
He says her progress must necessarily be slow, but with care and
prudence he sees nothing to prevent her recovery, unless something
unforeseen occurs.  I hope, therefore, we may dismiss our anxiety.  As
regards Smith's Island, I should be very glad if you could go over
and see it, and, if you think proper, make such disposition of it as
you and Robert think most advantageous.  See Mr. Hamilton S. Neale
(Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia) and consult with him on
the subject and let me know your determination.  I think you will
find him kind and intelligent.  I have visited the island twice in
my life, a long while ago, and thought that, if a person lived on it,
he might, by grazing, planting and fishing, make a comfortable living.
You and Robert might, if you choose, buy the island from the estate.
I fear the timber, etc., has been cut from it.  I never thought it
as valuable as your grandfather did.  You will have to go to Norfolk,
take the steamer to Cherrystone, where, I suppose, you can find a
conveyance to Eastville.  You know Cobb's Island has been a fashionable
bathing-place.  John Lewis wrote that the beach was delightful and
fare excellent, and that they had sail-vessels there at the disposal
of visitors.  But Mr. Neale and Mr. John Simpkins, the present agent,
can put you in the way of visiting the island, and you might carry
my sweet daughter, Tabb, over and give her a surf bath.  But do not
let the mosquitoes annoy her.  Give her much love from me.  I am
writing in Mildred's room, who is very grateful for your interest in
her behalf.  She is too weak to speak.  I hope Rob had a pleasant
trip.  Tell me Custis's plans.  I have not heard from him.  Your mother
and Agnes unite in love to you, Rob, and Tabb.  I have a fan in one
hand, while I wield a pen with the other, so excuse brevity.  Most
affectionately yours,  R. E. Lee.

"P.S.--George and Eleanor Goldsborough and Miss Mary G--- express
themselves as much pleased with Cobb's Island.  I do not know how far
it is east of Smith's Island.  R. E. Lee."

His daughter being convalescent, he carried out his plan, and went
over to the White Sulphur Springs, after he had placed my mother and
sisters at the Hot Springs.  In a letter from there, on August 28th,
he writes:

"...The place looks beautiful--the belles very handsome, and the beaux
very happy.  All are gay, and only I solitary.  I am all alone.  There
was a grand fancy masked ball last night.  The room was overflowing,
the music good, as much spring in the boards as in the conversation,
and the german continued till two o'clock this morning.  I return to
the Hot next week, and the following to Lexington.  Mildred is much
better, but says she has forgotten how to write.  I hope that she
will be strong enough to return with me....  I am, Truly and
affectionately yours,  R. E. Lee."

They all returned to Lexington early in September, in time for the
opening of the college.  Mildred was still weak and nervous, nor did
she recover her normal strength for several months.  She was always
my father's pet as a little girl, and during this illness and
convalescence he had been very tender with her, humoring as far as
he could all of her fancies.  Not long before that Christmas, she
enumerated, just in fun, all the present she wished--a long list.
To her great surprise, when Christmas morning came she found each
article at her place a the breakfast-table--not one omitted.

His sympathy with all who were suffering, ill, and afflicted was warm
and sincere.  Colonel Shipp, now superintendent of the Virginia Military
Institute, was the commandant of cadets when my father came to
Lexington.  He tells me that the he was ill for some weeks, laid up
in his room, which was next to that of my brother Custis.  He hardly
knew General Lee, and had spoken to him only a few times, but my father
went to see him quite often, would sit by him, talk to him, and seemed
much interested in his getting well.  He said that he would consult
Mrs. Lee ("who is a great doctor"), and he finally brought a bottle
of something in which sudor-berries were the chief ingredient.  Colonel
Shipp found out afterward that the sudor-berries had been sent from
the White House, and that my mother had concocted the medicine.

On one occasion, calling at Colonel Preston's, he missed two little
boys in the family circle, who were great favourites of his, and on
asking for them he was told that they were confined to the nursery
by croup.  The next day, though the weather was of the worst
description, he went trudging in great storm-boots back to their
house, carrying in one hand a basket of pecan nuts and in the other
a toy, which he left for his little sick friends.

To my mother, who was a great invalid from rheumatism for more than
ten years, he was the most faithful attendant and tender nurse.  Every
want of hers that he could supply he anticipated.  His considerate
fore-thought saved her from much pain and trouble.  During the war
he constantly wrote to her, even when on the march and amidst the most
pressing duties.  Every summer of their life in Lexington he arranged
that she should spend several months at one of the many medicinal
springs in the neighbouring mountains, as much that she might be
surrounded by new scenes and faces, as for the benefit of the waters.
Whenever he was in the room, the privilege of pushing her wheeled
chair into the dining-room and out on the verandas or elsewhere about
the house was yielded to him.  He sat with her daily, entertaining
her with accounts of what was doing in the college, and the news of
the village, and would often read to her in the evening.  For her his
love and care never ceased, his gentleness and patience never ended.

This tenderness for the sick and helpless was developed in him when
he was a mere lad.  His mother was an invalid, and he was her constant
nurse.  In her last illness he mixed every dose of medicine she took,
and was with her night and day.  If he left the room, she kept her
eyes on the door till he returned.  He never left her but for a short
time.  After her death the health of their faithful servant, Nat,
became very bad.  My father, then just graduated from West Point,
took him to the South, had the best medical advice, a comfortable room,
and everything that could be done to restore him, and attended to him
himself.

I can find few family letters written by my father at this time.  Those
which have been preserved are to my brother Fitzhugh, and are mostly
about Smith's Island and the settling up of my grandfather's estate.
The last of September he writes:

                          "Lexington, Virginia, September 28, 1868.

"My Dear Fitzhugh:  Your report of the condition of Smith's Island
corresponds with my own impressions, based upon my knowledge of the
island and the reports of others.  I think it would be advantageous,
under present circumstances, to make sale of the island as soon as a
fair price can be obtained, and I have so instructed Mr. Hamilton S.
Neale, who has consented to act as my agent....  I should like this
while matter arranged as soon as possible, for my life is very
uncertain, and its settlement now may avoid future difficulties.  I
am very glad to hear that you and Rob have continued well, and that
my daughter is improving.  Give my love to them both.  The loss of
your fine cows is a serious one, and I believe you will have to
procure them in your vicinity and improve them.  Get some calves this
fall of a good breed.  We hope that we shall see you this fall.  Your
mother is as comfortable as usual, and Mildred is improving.  Custis,
Mary, and Agnes are well, and all would send love, did they know I
was writing.

                  "Very affectionately your father,  R. E. Lee."

This autumn he had a visit from his nephew, Edward Lee Childe.  Edward
lived in Paris, and had crossed over in the summer to see my father
and mother.  He made a very pleasant impression on everybody, and
was much pleased with his visit.  Here is a letter written by my
father to my brother just after Edward left:

                            "Lexington, Virginia, October 14, 1868.

"My Dear Fitzhugh:  I have returned to Mr. Hamilton S. Neale the
advertisement of the sale of Smith's Island, with my approval, and
have requested him to advertise in the Northern and Richmond papers,
etc., and to send out such other notices as he deems best calculated
to attract attention to the property, and to take every measure to
enhance the value of the island and to procure for your grandfather's
estate the full benefit of the sale....  I have heard from Mr. Compton
that my daughter Tabb has returned to the White House in improved
health, which I am very glad of.  I hope that you will soon be able
to bring her up to see us.  Do not wait until the weather becomes too
cold.  Our mountain atmosphere in winter is very harsh.  So far, the
weather has been delightful.  Your cousin Edward left us last Thursday
evening on his way to see you.  We enjoyed his visit greatly.  Agnes
and I rode down to the Baths last Saturday to see the Harrisons, and
returned Sunday evening.  They were well, and somewhat benefited by
their visit.  Mr. George Ritchie's death no doubt threw a shade of
sadness over the whole party on Mrs. Harrison's account, though all
were charming and Miss Belle very sweet.  We are about the same--your
poor mother comfortable, Mildred improving.  All would unite in love
to you and yours, did they know I was writing.  Give much love to
my dear daughter, Tabb, and tell her that I want to see her very much.

        "Truly and affectionately your father,

"General W. H. Fitzhugh Lee.              R. E. Lee."

In a few days, he writes again, still about Smith's Island, but adds
much about the family and friends:

                             "Lexington, Virginia, October 19, 1868.

"My Dear Fitzhugh:  I received your letter of the 12th the day I last
wrote to you.  I am glad we agree that $--- should be the minimum
limit for the price of Smith's Island.  You will see by my letter
referred to that it has been so fixed.  December 22d is the day proposed
by Mr. Neale as the time of public sale, which was approved by me,
though I feared the notice might be too short.  Still there are good
reasons for the sale being made without unnecessary delay.  I think
November, which you suggest, would not afford sufficient notice.  I
would recommend that you and Robert attend the sale, and be governed
by circumstances in what you do.  I would go myself, but it would be
a long, hard journey for me at that season of the year, and I do not
see any material good that I can do.  Mr. Neale kindly offered to meet
me at Cherrystone landing and take me to his house, but I shall decline
in your favour.  I am sorry that Edward did not get down to see you,
for I wanted him to see my daughter, Tabb.  I am sure he has seen none
like her in Paris.  He left here with the purpose of visiting you and
his uncle Smith, and I do not know what made him change his mind.  I
hope that you will get in a good crop of wheat, and get it in well.
The latter is very important and unless accomplished may deprive you
of the whole benefit of your labour and expense.  We shall look
anxiously for your visit.  Do not put it off too late or the weather
may be unfavourable.  Our mountain country is not the most pleasant
in cold weather, but we will try and make you warm.  Give my love
to Tabb, and tell her I am wanting to see her all the time.  All
unite in love to her and you.  Your mother is about the same, very
busy, and full of work.  Mildred is steadily improving, and is able
to ride on horseback, which she is beginning to enjoy.  Mary and
Agnes very well.  We see but little of Custis.  He has joined the
mess at the institute, which he finds very comfortable, so that he
rarely comes to our table to breakfast now.  The rest of the time he
seems to be occupied with his classes and studies.  Remember me to Rob.
I hear of a great many weddings, but his has not been announced yet.
He must not forget his house.  I have not, and am going to take up
the plan very soon.  Mildred says a good house is an effective card
in the matrimonial game.  She is building a castle in the air.  The
Harrisons propose leaving the Baths to-morrow.  George arrived a week
ago.  I did not get down Saturday to see them as I wished.  I hope
the health of the whole party has been improved.  I wish I could
spend this month with you.  That lower country is delightful to me at
this season, and I long to be on the water again, but it cannot be.
With much love,

         "R. E. Lee.

"General Wm. H. Fitzhugh Lee."

The last of October he went to Staunton on some business.  He rode
Traveller, and Colonel Wm. Allan rode with him.  It was the time of
the Augusta Agricultural Fair, and while there he visited the exhibition
and was received by the people with great demonstrations of delight.
A student standing by remarked dryly:

"I don't see why the Staunton people make all this to do over General
Lee; why, in Lexington, he SENDS for me to come to see him!"

In a letter of November 2d he mentions this little journey:

"...I have recently paid a visit to Staunton and saw the young people
there.  They seemed very happy in their fair, and the beaux with their
belles.  I rode over on Traveller and was accompanied by Colonel Allan.
The former was delighted at the length of the road, and the latter
relieved from an obstinate cold from which he was suffering.  On the
second morning, just as the knights were being marshalled to prove
their prowess and devotion, we commenced our journey back to Lexington,
which we reached before nine P. M., under the light of a beautiful
moon."

At this time his son Fitzhugh and his new daughter paid their long-
promised visit, which he enjoyed immensely.  My mother and sisters were
charmed with her, and the entire community vied in paying her attention.
My father was proud of his daughter-in-law and much gratified at his
son's marriage.  He was delighted with the manner in which she adapted
herself to the ways of all her new relations, with her sweet attention
to my mother, and, above all, with her punctuality.  She had been
warned beforehand by her husband that, to please his father, she must
be always ready for family prayers, which were read every morning by
him just before breakfast.  This she succeeded in doing, never failing
once to be on time.  As breakfast was at seven o'clock, it was no small
feat for one not accustomed to such early hours.  She said afterward
that she did not believe that General Lee would have an entirely high
opinion of any person, even General Washington, if he could return to
earth, if he were not ready for prayers!  After a delightful visit of
three weeks my brother and his wife returned home.  Just as the latter
was packing, my father came into her room and filled all the space in
the top of her trunk with pecan nuts, which some friends had sent him
from the South.

The hour fixed for the service in the college chapel was, as I have
said, a quarter to eight o'clock every morning except Sunday.  In the
three winter months, December, January, and February, it was one hour
later.  As the president never failed to attend, when not prevented
by sickness or absence, it was necessary to have an early breakfast.
After chapel he went to his office and was seated at his desk by eight
o'clock, where he remained, unless called out by public business, till
two P.M.  This room was open to all in the college who had business
with him.  The new students were required to report to him here in
person, and from their first interviews we obtained a knowledge of
the young men of which he availed himself in their future career in
the college.  As president, he was always disposed to be lenient with
students who were reported for disorderly conduct or for failure in
their studies or duties.  He would say to the faculty, when they
seemed to think it necessary to send a student home:

"Don't you think it would be better to bear with him a little longer?
Perhaps we may do him some good."

Being sent for to this office was anything but pleasant to the students.
Lewis, one of the janitors, went around with the names of those the
president wanted to see, written by his own hand on a long slip of
paper.  He carried the paper in one hand, a pencil in the other, and
when he could find the one he wanted in a crowd of his comrades, he
took special pleasure in serving his notice, and would say in his
solemn, sepulchral voice:

"Mr. ---, the president wants to see you at the office."

Then Mr. --- took the pencil and made a cross-mark opposite his name,
which was evidence of his having received his summons.  What transpired
at these interviews was seldom known, except as the student himself
might reveal it; for unless it became necessary to summon the delinquent
a second time, the president never alluded to the subject.  An old
student writes me the following account of his experience in the
president's office:

"I was a frolicsome chap at college, and, having been absent from class
an unreasonable number of times, was finally summoned to the General's
office.  Abject terror took possession of me in the presence of such
wise and quiet dignity; the reasons I had carefully prepared to give
for my absence stood on their heads, or toppled over.  In reply to
General Lee's grave but perfectly polite question, I stammered out a
story about a violent illness, and the, conscious that I was at that
moment the picture of health, I hastened on with something about leaving
my boots at the cobbler's, when General Lee interrupted me:  'Stop,
Mr. M---,' he said; 'stop, sir!  ONE GOOD REASON IS ENOUGH.'  But I
could not be mistaken about the twinkle in the old hero's eyes!"

Only a few cases required more than one summons to appear at the office.
No instance is known where a student complained of injustice or
harshness, and the effect on his mind was that of greater respect and
admiration for the president.

The new house was approaching completion, and my father was much
interested in the work, going there very often and discussing with
the workmen their methods.  That Christmas I spent two weeks in
Lexington, and many times my father took me all over the new building,
explaining all the details of his plan.  All of his family were here
together this Christmas except Fitzhugh and his wife, an occurence
rather rare of late years.  My father's health was unusually good,
and he was bright and almost gay.  He rode out often, taking me with
him, as it was too cold for the girls.  He also took me around with
him visiting, and in the mild festivities of the neighbours he joined
with evident pleasure.  My visit ended all too soon, and the first
week of January I started back to the "low country."  Soon after my
departure, he forwarded a letter to me with the accompanying one of
his own:

                            "Lexington, Virginia, January 14, 1869.

"My Dear Rob:  The accompanying letter was inclosed to me by Lawrence
Butler [The grandson of Nellie Custis, my grandfather's sister, who
married Lawrence Lewis, the favourite nephew of Washington] with the
request that I would forward it, as he did not know your address,
and urge you to be present at his wedding.  I do not know that I can
say more, except to inform you that he says he has the very girl
for you if you will come on.  You must therefore decide the question
according to your best judgment.  General Hoke, from North Carolina,
has also sent you his wedding-cards.  We have missed you very much
since your departure, and wished you back.  I hope you got home
comfortably and found all well.  Drive all your work with judgment
and energy, and when you have decided about the house, let me know.
Tell Fitzhugh I have signed the insurance policy and sent it to Mr.
Wickham for his signature, with the request that he forward it to
Grubb & Williams.  The weather still continues pleasant, and I fear
we shall suffer for it by the late spring.  There has so far been
a great lack of snow, and consequently the wheat is exposed to the
great changes of temperature.  We are all as you left us.  Custis,
I think, looks better.  No news.  Mail heavy this morning.  Love
to F--- and T---.  With great affection,

                   "Your father,

                          "R. E. Lee.

"R. E. Lee, Jr."

Some one wrote to General Lee suggesting that General Grant, then
president of the United States, should be invited to Washington College.
His reply was as follows:

                             "Lexington, Virginia, January 8, 1869.

"My Dear Sir:  I am much obliged to you for you letter of the 29th
ult., which I am sure has been prompted by the best motives.  I should
be glad if General Grant would visit Washington College, and I should
endeavour to treat him with the courtesy and respect due the President
of the United States; but if I were to invite him to do so, it might
not be agreeable to him, and I fear my motives might be misunderstood
at this time, both by himself and others, and that evil would result
instead of good.  I will, however, bear your suggestion in mind,
and should a favourable opportunity offer I shall be glad to take
advantage of it.  Wishing you happiness and prosperity, I am, Very
respectfully,

                      "Your obedient servant,

                                 "R. E. Lee."

A lady living in New York wrote to General Lee in 1867, asking for a
catalogue of Washington College and a copy of its charter and laws.
She wished also to know whether or not the college was sectarian,
and, if so, of what denomination.  She intimated that she desired to
make a donation to some institution of learning, and was rather inclined
to select the Episcopal Theological Seminary, near Alexandria, Virginia.
The president sent her the following reply to her letter:

                               "Lexington, Virginia, June 24, 1867.

"Miss Ann Upshur Jones, No. 156 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y.

"My Dear Madam:  I have had the honour to receive your letter of the
17th inst., and I send to your address a catalogue of Washington
College and a copy of its charter and laws.  On the thirty-seventh
page of the former, and the eleventh of the latter, you will find what
is prescribed on the subject of religion.  I do not know that it ever
has been sectarian in its character since it was chartered as a
college; but it certainly is not so now.  Located in a Presbyterian
community, it is natural that most of its trustees and faculty should
be of that denomination, though the rector, president, and several
of the professors are members of the Episcopal Church.  It is furthest
from my wish to divert any donation from the Theological Seminary
at Alexandria, for I am well acquainted with the merits of that
institution, have a high respect for its professors, and am an earnest
advocate of its object.  I only give you the information you desire,
and wish you to follow your own preferences in the matter.  With
great respect,

        "Your obedient servant,

                       "R. E. Lee."

In 1869 she wrote again, stating that she proposed breaking up
housekeeping, that she had no family to whom to give her books,
furniture, and silver, that she did not wish to sell them nor store
them away, and had therefore determined to present them to the "greatest
living man," and she begged him to accept them, or, if his house was
already furnished, to make use of them in his college.  To this letter
he replied:

                           "Lexington, Virginia, February 13, 1869.

"My Dear Miss Jones:  After long and diligent inquiry I only this
moment learned your address, and have been during this time greatly
mortified at my inability to acknowledge the receipt and disposition
of your valuable and interesting donation to Washington College.  The
books were arranged in the library on their arrival, the globes in
the philosophical department, while the furniture, carpets, sofas,
chairs, etc., have been applied to the furnishing of the dais of the
audience-room of the new chapel, to the comfort and ornament of which
they are a great addition.  I have yet made no disposition of the
plate and tableware, and they are still in the boxes in which they
came.  I inclose the resolution of thanks passed by the Board of
Trustees of the College at their annual meeting, to which I beg to
add my personal acknowledgments and grateful sense of your favour
and kindness to this institution.  It would give me great pleasure
if you would visit Lexington at the commencement in June next, the
third Thursday, that I might then show you the successful operation
of the college.  Mrs. Lee joins me in sentiments of esteem and regard,
praying that the great and merciful God may throw around you His
protecting care and love.  I am, with great respect,

             "Your obedient servant,

                          "R. E. Lee.

"Miss Ann Upshur Jones, No. 38 Union Square, New York."

The plate, tableware, and a curious old work-table, for which no
place could be found in the college, valuable only on account of their
antiquity and quaintness, he finally allowed to be called his own.

When my mother hurriedly left her home in the spring of 1861, she
found it impossible to carry away the valuable relics of General
Washington which her father had inherited from Mount Vernon, and which
had been objects of great interest at Arlington for more than fifty
years.  After the Federal authorities took possession of the place,
the most valuable of these Mount Vernon relics were conveyed to
Washington City and placed in the Patent Office, where they remained
on exhibition for many years labelled "Captured from Arlington."
They were then removed to the "National Museum," where they are now,
but the card has been taken off.  In 1869, a member of Congress
suggested to my mother that she should apply to President Johnson
to have them restored to her.  In a letter from my father to this
same gentleman, this bit of quiet humour occurs:

                           "Lexington, Virginia, February 12, 1869.

"...Mrs. Lee has determined to act upon your suggestion and apply to
President Johnson for such of the relics from Arlington as are in the
Patent Office.  From what I have learned, a great many things formerly
belonging to General Washington, bequeathed to her by her father, in
the shape of books, furniture, camp equipage, etc., were carried away
by individuals and are now scattered over the land.  I hope the
possessors appreciate them and may imitate the example of their
original owners, whose conduct must at times be brought to their
recollection by these silent monitors.  In this way they will accomplish
good to the country...."

He refers to this same subject in a letter to the honourable George
W. Jones, Dubuque, Iowa:

"...In reference to certain articles which were taken from Arlington,
about which you inquire, Mrs. Lee is indebted to our old friend
Captain James May for the order from the present administration
forbidding their return.  They were valuable to her as having belonged
to her great-grandmother (Mrs. General Washington), and having been
bequeathed to her by her father.  But as the country desires them,
she must give them up.  I hope their presence at the capital will
keep in the remembrance of all Americans the principles and virtues
of Washington...."

To the Honourable Thomas Lawrence Jones, who endeavoured to have the
order to restore the relics to Mrs. Lee executed, the following letter
of thanks was written:

                             "Lexington, Virginia, March 29, 1869.

"Honourable Thomas Lawrence Jones,

"Washington City, District of Columbia.

"My Dear Sir:  I beg to be allowed to tender you my sincere thanks
for your efforts to have restored to Mrs. Lee certain family relics
in the Patent Office in Washington.  The facts related in your speech
in the House of Representatives on the 3d inst., so far as known to
me, are correct, and had I conceived the view taken of the matter by
Congress I should have endeavoured to dissuade Mrs. Lee from applying
for them.  It may be a question with some whether the retention of
these articles is more 'an insult,' in the language of the Committee
on Public Buildings, 'to the loyal people of the United States,' than
their restoration; but of this I am willing that they should be the
judge, and since Congress has decided to keep them, she must submit.
However, her thanks to you, sir, are not the less fervent for your
kind intercession in her behalf, and with highest regards, I am,
with great respect,

             "Your obedient servant,

                             "R. E. Lee."

Washington's opinion of this transaction, if it could be obtained,
would be of interest to many Americans! [These relics were restored
to the family in 1903 by the order of President McKinley.]

 

 

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