13th October 1870
I ought to have written to you sooner, my dear Carter but in the very uncertain state of the mails, I knew it was most likely you would not get my letter for a week & the blow was so sudden; so unexpected till the last few days, for though I had been anxious all the time still my sanguine temperament made me hope against hope, & you know physicians are never candid entirely. They had thought him as I wrote you much better & without any alarming symptoms, until Sunday evening. On the morning of that day I sat by him more than two hours with his hand resting in mine & he slept as sweetly & gently as an infant. He has never seemed disposed to talk when I was present, since his first seizure but Custis says once or twice in the night he had attempted to converse with him but he could only catch a few words once, my name, once Robs. Sunday evening, the Drs. were uneasy about him the next morning he was worse slept almost continually & all the efforts they made to produce a movement over his bowels were of no avail. Tuesday evening, he was so much worse that the Dr. advised us not to retire, they had been keeping him up all day with them with stimulants, beef tea & milk toddy & during the early part of the night I sat up with all of us around his hand in mine wet with the dews of death, though quite warm till about 2 oclock when I was so exhausted I laid down & slept 2 hours. He was breathing heavily & the Dr. said utterly unconscious of all around him but might live 10 or 12 hours longer. At 2, I went in again but saw no perceptible change & about half past 6, came in my room to take a little refreshment when I returned I saw a change hands were becoming cold & the struggles for breath much more intense at last ended in a continuous moan. Still the Dr. assured us he was perfectly insensible to all suffering, we silently & sorrowing all sat round, the Dr. put a cloth dipped in cold water on his head & soon after with one sigh one long breath he expired; gently at the last half parting. Oh the agony of that hour & I had always felt that he could not die at least before me, he whose life was so important to so many while mine was comparatively worthless, but God in his infinite wisdom & love has at length given him rest from his active & eventful life & we are left to mourn not for him, but for ourselves left without such a protector, such a guide such an example of all that was noble & excellent. His country will mourn him. Everything has been done here to honour him & the coffin has just left the door to be placed in a vault in the chapel till I have a house or designate some place where I would prefer to have him finally placed. My future plans are uncertain except for this winter I shall remain here. The trustees have formally offered me this house to consider & use as my own but I have declined accepting it only for the present, we have telegraphed for Fitzhugh & Rob & hope they may get it in time as the funeral ceremonies will take place on Saturday morning in the chapel, we have delayed so long in the hope that the boys may get here. Poor Mary who is in Detroit visiting Sarah Macomb I fear will not get here as I got a letter from her this morning saying she had not heard from me & hers was a week getting here. I have written to her 3 times but our mails are very uncertain & even the telegraphs, or I should have sent one to you. Give much love to your family. I trust you may long be spared to them tho at our time of life we should feel that our summons may come at any moment must come ere long & make ready to meet it, oh how dark would have been our hopes for our beloved Robert had we not know him to have been a consistent Christian for he was not able during his illness of 2 weeks to express a single thought or feeling tho he was perfectly himself at first & knew us all. Custis says I must give his love to you all in which the girls unite with their sympathy & he says he wrote to you sometime ago about Henry & hope you received the letter, why does not Henry stick to farming I thought he was fond of it. It seems about the only occupation left for our young men besides engineering & that requires more preparation & study which I suppose the state of Henry’s eyes would prevent I have written you a long letter but knew you would like to know all the particulars of the last moments.
Source: Typescript of photocopy of original letter, vertical files, Jessie Ball DuPont Library, Stratford Hall. Original held by University of Virginia Special Collections Library.
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 March 22