How I Met General Robert E. Lee
J. L. Minor
Note: The following is taken from the July 1934 issue of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (volume 42), pp. 241–43.
HOW I MET GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE
By Dr. J. L. Minor, Cordova, Tenn.
I was living with my parents at Mountain Top, during the year of 1867, when I was about ten years old. My older brother attended the Dinwiddie School at Greenwood, Virginia, going down in the morning and returning in the afternoon. The Mountain Top Inn was in Rock Fish Gap, located in a small cove on the west side of the Gap, about 16 miles west of Charlottesville, Virginia.
I led a lazy, irregular life—just as all boys do. Efforts of my mother and an invalid relative taught me the rudiments of an education adapted to a child of my age. This occupied little of my time. The grizzled and kindly “Uncle” Mose, a dark mulatto, furnished me most of my amusement, as he attended to the stable, horses and cows. Horses were my hobby. I rarely missed an opportunity of riding one to water, or when unhitched from the plow, the wagon, etc.
The Inn was primarily intended for a summer resort, but was open at any time for casual travelers, who wished a meal or to spend the night, and they were not infrequent, for the Inn was on a thoroughfare midway between Charlottesville on the east and Staunton on the west, with a tunnel through the Blue Ridge Mountains below Rock Fish Gap.
One afternoon, I think October 14, 1867 (my birthday), a gentleman rode up to the front gate on a handsome horse and asked Uncle Mose, with whom I was, if he could spend the night. Uncle Mose said, “Yes—yes sir,” with much gusto, and proceeded to unsaddle the horse and throw the saddle on the palings near the front gate, and taking the halter started for the stable. The gentleman said he wished to go himself, as he desired to inspect the stabling and the stall, and taking the halter in his hand, we all—the gentleman, Uncle Mose and Jimmie (as Uncle Mose always called me)—went to the stable and the stall, which were satisfactory. The gentleman observed a small raw surface on the shoulder of the horse and said it was of no importance, as it was only a galled place from the saddle and would soon pass away. I told him that I knew what would heal it (Uncle Mose's lore), and that was the moss from a nearby chalybeate spring. The gentleman said that the moss was an astringent, and something of an antiseptic was useful; and leading the horse by the halter we all went to the spring. I bared my arm and plunging my hand and arm into the water soon had a small mass of the moss which I handed to him, and he put it carefully on the sore, and taking the halter started again for the stable. Probably he noticed the longing expression on my face, for he said, “Jimmie, don't you want to ride back to the stable?” Grabbing the clothing about the back of my neck with one hand he took hold of the seat of my trousers with the other and threw me on the horse's back, and we took the horse to the stable and returned to the Inn. There was no one around, and we seated ourselves on the steps which led to a porch the length of the house, and talked of anything that came to my mind, for I was allowed to do as I pleased.
One of the subjects discussed was my hound dog “Donder”, who was trailing some small animal—a rabbit or fox. I explained that I could not tell the difference in the cry of the hound, as between the two. He said, when the hound is after a fox it is continuous, depending as it does upon the speed and strength of the animal, whereas with the wily br'er rabbit, it was interrupted.
Next, my brother returned from school, coming in the front gate and passing my friend and myself went to the dining-room for his second lunch. It seems that he had observed the silver letters “R.E.L.” on the back of the saddle. He told this to two elderly maiden ladies. It excited general curiosity, and I observed peeping and whispering going on, and that excited my curiosity.
It seems that the two ladies had met Colonel Lee at the White Sulphur Springs years before, and the subject of their peeping and whispering was as to the identity of their former White Sulphur Springs friend and the present guest. They evidently decided that they were the same, for they came down the steps where the guest and myself were chatting and said, “We once met Colonel Lee at the White Sulphur Springs and I believe that our friend of the White Sulphur is none other than General Lee.” He said quietly, “Yes, I am General Lee, but I am sorry to have been recognized, as such, for I am now simply a citizen of the United States, on my way to Lexington to arrange with the authorities of Washington College as to my becoming associated with that institution.”
We all know that he assumed the presidency of the institution which later became Washington and Lee University.
We had supper, and the General was told that it was in the same room in which the famous meeting was held by Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, years ago, which was evidently interesting, as it had to do with establishment of the University of Virginia, the idol of the sage of Monticello.
* * * *
I had met General Lee as a companionable man, and I had ridden on Traveler!