Lexington 15 Nov 1870
I have long intended to write to you, my dear Lettie, ever since I heard of the death of Rosa’s dear little boy, but was prevented by many things. What a sorrow it must have been to them & to you all, & you never saw him. I know what a joy a baby is in a house & it was her first. You must give my affectionate love to her & tell her I have often thought of her. Will she not come & see you all this winter or some of you go to her? The sympathy of friends is very grateful to us when we know it is sincere & in my trouble dear Lettie. I feel that it is all heartfelt that there is no feigned grief for him who all mourn who could appreciate true excellence & though it is very sad for me to lose the strong arm & loving heart on which I have leaned for so many eventful years, yet I mourn not for him but for myself. It never crossed my mind for one moment that I could outlive him, that a life so valueless as mine could be spared & his taken so important to his family & country, but God knows what is best for us all, & I am content. I would not recall him if I could. The toils of his crowded & eventful life are ended, & had he succeeded in gaining the cause which cost him so much labor & sacrifice, he could not have been more beloved & lamented than he is now only the Hero of a lost cause, yet as the blood of the Martyrs built up the Church so may the sacrifice of this Martyr yet produce fruit for his country that we know not of “God moves in a mysterious way. His wonders to perform.”
My husband’s last day on earth was crowded with cares & labors for others & when late in the evening he reached home & sunk back in his chair unable to articulate a word. I saw in the look of resignation on his face as he sat perfectly calm & upright waiting the arrival of the physicians that he knew the summons had come & though from the nature of his disease he did not express his feelings, never smiled & rarely spoke yet he never expressed a single thought or anxiety for aught, but lay calmly & quietly awaiting his end. Once when Agnes urged him to take some medicine, which he always seemed to take with great repugnance he said quite plainly “tis no use” but took it as it was ordered. When he became so much better that they were being hopeful of his recovery. The Dr said “you must soon mount your favorite grey.” He shook his head very emphatically & looked upward. He knew us all welcomed us with a warm pressure of the hand, & seem to like us around him, especially Custis who was a most efficient nurse. He slept a great deal & the last 48 hours the Dr assured us was in insensible to all pain & after a long night of breathing heavily & went to rest with one deep long sigh. I cannot even now realize that he has gone. I listen for his step at the usual time & when he does not enter feel my sad disappointment. We had determined to remain here this winter, & if Custis accepts the Presidency of the College may continue to make it our home for some years. I have been quite sick for more than 3 weeks, first with a bilious attack & then a violent inflammation of my left ankle & foot which was so painful that I could scarcely turn in bed & had to be lifted in & out of it; & still though it is much better, I spend part of every day in bed & sit with my limbs spread out before me in such an uncomfortable position that I write with difficulty, which must be my apology for this letter. The girls all desire to be particularly & kindly remembered to you & all your family & to Rosa to express their deep sympathy. Also remember as to Mrs. Meredith & other kind friends. Do you ever hear anything of the Buford’s now? or of poor Nat Burwell. Did he ever get the little dress? We have had the most beautiful weather ever known since that dreadful storm which commenced just about the hour when my husband was taken as if the very elements were in convulsive throbs weeping with us, & since the skies have been radiant with beauty as rejoicing over the freed spirit in his glorified mansion. Would I had been able my dear Lettie to detail to you all the circumstances attend his last moments but I cannot now & will only subscribe myself.
Your faithful friend,
M. C. Lee
The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 4, M2009.392-3, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2015 October 7
Rosalie (1849-1911) was Letitia’s sister.