• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



Va Military Institute

Lexington Oct 16th 1870



Dear Mother[1]

I expect you have been looking for a letter from me for some time, and in fact I would have written, but about the time I thought of writing the rains & the flood came on, destroying bridges, canals &c&c cutting off communication generally.

I suppose of course that you have all read full accounts of Gen Lees death in the papers. He died on the morning of the 12th at about half past nine, all busness was suspended at once all over the country and town, and all duties, military & accademic suspended at the Institute, and all the black crape and all similar black material in Lexington, was used up at once, and they had to send on to Lynchburg for more. Every cadet had black crape issued to him, and an order was published at once requiring us to wear it on a badge of mourning for six months. The battallion flag was heavily draped in black, and is to stay so for the next six months. The Institute has been hung all around with black. The College buildings were also almost covered with black. All the churches, and in fact, the town looked as if they had been trying to cover everything with festoons of black cambric, and every sort of black that could be procured.

The morning after his death we marched up and escorted the remains from the house to Washington College Chapel, where they lay in “state” until the burial yesterday morning.

After the remains were placed in the chapel on the morning of the 13th, the entire procession was marched through the chapel past the corpse, which they were allowed to look at. The lid of the coffin having been taken off for that purpose. I saw the General after his death and never saw a greater change than must have taken place in him a short time before he died. Some days before he was taken, I met him in the path leading into town, coming in direction of the barracks. He was walking and seemed to be the picture of health, and when I saw him in his coffin, he looked to be reduced to half his original size, and desperately thin. When first taken with the paralytic stroke, or whatever it was, he fell on his dining room floor, a bed was placed under him and he died where he fell. The doctors forbid anyone to move him. Myself and four other cadets with Gen. Smith’s permission, sat up all night with the corpse on Friday night, perfect silence was kept the whole night, no one speaking except in a low whisper. It was considered a great honor to be allowed to sit up with the remains, and a great many applied for the privilege but one of the college professors on arrival, took only five of us, whom he requested to stay. The day following the funeral procession, after marching all around town and through the Institute grounds, formed around the college chapel and he was buried in the chapel under the floor of the basement. The procession was a very large one, a great many persons from a distance being here. Our brass band with muffled drums, went ahead of the hearse playing the dead march. Cannon of our stationary battery were fired &c.

The hearse however was perfectly empty the corpse being all the time in the chapel where it was placed at first.

The flood of which I spoke, did a great deal of damage in this part of the country, carrying off some ten or fifteen houses, some dwelling houses, some ware houses situated at the canal boat landing near here all the bridges on the river were carryed off and the canal running to this place entirely ruined, all the locks being torn up and carryed off. It was a rare sight to see large houses, bridges, mills &c&c every sort of lumber go sailing at a rapid rate down the river. Up to a week or two since, we could get no mails or any thing that had to come from a distance, and it is still very difficult to get provisions. Mails come and go regularly now, as they have fixed ferries for stages &c.

I was made a sergeant in Co A about three weeks ago, and the evening after the first appointment, I was appointed color sergeant. I have to carry the battalion flag and have charge of the color guard. do not wear any such accoutrements as cartridge box and layout scabbard, when I am in charge of the guard, as the other sergeants have to do, but wear only a sword and sash, go to church in the staff, and enjoy various other privileges. Jessie is getting along very well. he seems to be a general favorite. I had him put in a room, with the best new cadets that I could find. one of them is a son of Col Dulaney, of Loudon, the others seem very nice little fellows, and they are all about the same size.

I am getting along pretty well I think, and I written about all that I can think of at present. Let me hear from you soon and let me know whether or not Gen Smith sent pa the receipt for the deposit.

Your affctnate son

           W Nalle[2]





Source: Photocopy of original from Virginia Military Academy Archives, vertical files, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall



Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 February 10


[1] Columbiana Major Nalle (1824-1893), the wife of Thomas Botts Nalle (1807-1893).

[2] William Nalle was born ca. 1848 in Culpeper, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1872. He became a civil engineer and farmer. He served in the 4th Virginia Infantry during the Spanish-American War. He also served on the Board of Visitors at VMI from 1898-1906. He died on 1911 July 30 in Culpeper, Virginia.

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