Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Jr.



VIRGINIA was at this time still under military rule. The “reconstruction” days were not over. My father had himself accepted the political situation after the war, and had advised every one who had sought his advice to do the same. The following incident and letters will show his acquiescence in the law of the land, and ready submission to the authorities. In a street disturbance that spring a student had been shot by a negro, and it was reported that, in case of the young man’s death, the murderer would be summarily dealt with by his college-mates. Captain Wagner, the military commissioner, wrote to General Lee informing him of these reports. He received the following reply:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, May 4, 1868.

CAPTAIN WAGNER, Commissioner District,
LEXINGTON, Virginia.

Sir: Upon investigation of the reports which you communicated to me yesterday afternoon, I can find no foundation for the apprehension that the students of Washington College contemplate any attack upon the man confined in jail for shooting Mr. — Friday night. On the contrary, I have been assured by members of the faculty and individual students that they have heard no suggestion of the kind, and they believe that no such intention has been entertained or now exists. I think, therefore, the reports made to you are groundless. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE.

However, in order to take all precautions and provide against any disturbance, he wrote as follows to the president of the Young Men’s Christian Association, whom he knew well and trusted, and who was a man of much influence with his fellow-students:

President Young Men’s Christian Association, Washington College.

I have just been informed by Captain Wagner, Military Commissioner of this district, that from information received by him, he had reason to apprehend that, should the wound received by Mr. — Friday night prove fatal, the students of Washington College contemplate taking from the jail the man who shot him and inflicting upon him summary punishment. I cannot believe that any such act is intended or would be allowed by the students of Washington College, thought it is possible that such an intention may have been spoken of amongst them. I think it only necessary to call the attention of the students to the report to prevent such an occurrence. I feel convinced that none would countenance such outrage against law and order, but that all will cheerfully submit to the administration of justice by the legal authorities[.] As the readiest way of communicating with the students, at this hour, on Sunday, I have concluded to address you this letter that through the members of the Young Men’s Christian Association the students generally may be informed of the apprehension entertained by the military authorities; and I earnestly invoke the students to abstain from an violation of law, and to unite in preserving quiet and order on this and every occasion. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE.

The young man recovered, there was no disturbance of any kind, nor was it believed that there would have been, after this appeal from the president, even if the wound had proved fatal.

Nor was it a moral influence alone that he exerted in the college. He was equally careful of the intellectual interests. He watched the progress of every class, attended all the examinations, and strove constantly to stimulate both professors and students to the highest attainments. The whole college, in a word, felt his influence as an ever-present motive, and his character was quietly but irresistibly impressed upon it, not only in the general working of all its departments, but in all the details of each. Of this influence General Lee, modest as he was, was perfectly aware, and, like a prudent ruler, he husbanded it with wise economy. He preferred to confine his direct interposition to purely personal acts, and rarely—and then only on critical occasions—did he step forward to present himself before the whole body of students in the full dignity of his presidential office. On these occasions, which in the latter years hardly ever occurred, he would quietly post an address to the students, in which, appealing only to the highest principals of conduct, he sought to dissuade them from threatened evil. The addresses, which the boys designated as his “general orders,” were always of immediate efficacy. No single case ever occurred in which they failed of instant and complete effect; and no student would have been tolerated by his fellow-students who would have dared to disregard such an appeal from General Lee.[note 70]

My father had recovered form the spell of sickness of the previous summer at the Old Sweet Springs, which had weakened and depressed him until about the time he attended my brother’s wedding. That marriage had been a great joy to him. His trip there and back, and his visits to “Brandon” and “Hickory Hill,” the change of climate and scene, seeing old friends and new places, had all contributed to benefit his health and spirits. I remember this Christmas of 1867 he seemed particularly bright and cheerful. I give a letter he wrote me after I had left for my home which reflects his playful humour and good spirits:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, January 23, 1868.

My Dear Robert: I inclose a letter which has just arrived in the mail. It seems to be from a nice young lady, judging from the style and address. I hope she is the right one and that her response is favourable. Put in a good crop, and recollect you may have two to feed after the harvest. We are doing what we can in this region to supply the springs and streams that form the lowland rivers. It is still raining, though the snow and ice have not left us. After your departure, Mr. Gordon brought to me a letter from Fitzhugh to your mother which had come in the Sunday mail and was overlooked among the papers. I am sorry it had not been found before you left, as you would have known their plans. Tell them I am sorry not to have seen them. We miss you very much. “Life” has it all her own way now, and expends her energy in regulating her brother and putting your mother’s drawers and presses to rights. It’s her only vent, and furnishes exercise for body and mind. There is to be a great fête in your mother’s room to-day. The Grace Church Sewing Society is to meet there at 10 A.M.—that is, if the members are impervious to water. I charged the two Mildreds to be seated with their white aprons on and with scissors and thimbles in hand. I hope they may have a refreshing time. Good-bye. Your father,

R. E. LEE.


The second Mildred mentioned here was my father’s niece, daughter of Charles Carter Lee. She was living with my father at this time, going to school, and was, like her cousin the other Mildred, not very fond of her needle. His nickname for her was “Powhattie,” derived, I presume, from her native County of Powhatan. He was very fond of teasing her in his playful way. Indeed, we all enjoyed that attention from him. He never teased any one whom he did not especially like.

To his new daughter I find the following letter, written at this time, in which he shows his affection and admiration for her:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, March 10, 1868.

My Beautiful Daughter: I have been wishing to write to you for a long time, but have supposed that you would be so engrossed with my sons, with their plans and their projects, that you could not lend an ear to your papa. But now I must tell you how much I have thought of you, how much I want to see you, and how greatly I was disappointed at your not getting to see us at the time you proposed. You must not postpone your visit too long, or you may not find us here. Our winter, which has been long and cold, I hope now is over. The gardeners are busy, the grass is growing green, and the atmosphere warm and inspiring. I presume under its genial influence you and Fitzhugh are busy improving your new home. I hope everything is agreeable, and that you are becoming more and more interested in making those around you happy. That is the true way to secure your own happiness, for which my poor prayers are daily offered to the throne of the Most High. I have been summoned to Richmond the third Thursday in this month, as a witness in the trial against Mr. Davis; and though that will be a painful errand for me, I hope that it will give me the pleasure of seeing you. I will endeavour to get down some day to the White House, if it is only to spend Sunday with you. I hope that you will be able to pay some attention to your poor brother Robert. Do not let his elder brother monopolise you altogether. You will have to take care of both till you can find some one like yourself to take Romancoke in hand. Do you think Miss Anne Banister will consent? Mildred, you know, is the only one of the girls who has been with us this winter. She has consequently had her hands full, and considers herself now a great character. She rules her brother and my nephews with an iron rod, and scatters her advice broadcast among the young men of the college. I hope that it may yield an abundant harvest. The young mothers of Lexington ought to be extremely grateful to her for her suggestions to them as to the proper mode of rearing their children, and though she finds many unable to appreciate her system, she is nothing daunted by the obtuseness of vision, but takes advantage of every opportunity to enlighten them as to its benefits. Mary and Agnes are still in Baltimore, and are now at the house of Mrs. Charles Howard. Agnes expects, I believe, to return to the Peters near Ellicott City, and then go over to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to visit the Goldsboroughs and other friends. I hardly think either of them will get back before June. I have recently received a very pretty picture from a young lady of Baltimore, Miss Mary Jones, whom I met last summer at the White Sulphur Springs. In one of my morning rides to the Beaver-dam Falls, near the Sweet Springs, I found her at the foot of the Falls making a sketch of the scene, and on her return home she finished it and has sent it to me. It is beautifully painted and is a faithful representation of the Falls. I think you will be pleased with it when you come up, and agree with me in the opinion that it is the principal ornament of our parlour. I am sorry to inform you that your poor mama ahs been suffering more than usual lately from her rheumatic pains. She took cold in some way, which produced a recurrence of her former pangs, though she is in a measure now relieved. We often wish for you and Fitzhugh. My only pleasure is in my solitary evening rides, which give me abundant opportunity for quiet thought. With a great deal of love to your husband, I am your sincerely attached father,

R. E. LEE.


The next letter I find is a reply to one of mine, in which I evidently had been confiding to him my agricultural woes:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, March 12, 1868.

My Dear Rob: I am sorry to learn from your letter of the 1st that the winter has been so hard on your wheat. I hope, however, the present good weather is shedding its influence upon it, and that it will turn out better than it promises. You must, however, take a lesson from the last season. What you do cultivate, do well. Improve and prepare the land in the best manner; your labour will be less, and your profits more. Your flat lands were always uncertain in wet winters. The uplands were more sure. Is it not possible that some unbidden guest may have been feasting on your corn? Six hundred bushels are are a large deficit in casting up your account for the year. But you must make it up by economy and good management. A farmer’s motto should be toil and trust. I am glad that you have got your lime and sown your oats and clover. Do you use the drill or sow broadcast? I shall try to get down to see you if I go to Richmond, for I am anxious to know how you are progressing and to see if in any way I can aid you. Whenever I can, you must let me know. You must still think about your house and make up your mind as to the site and kind, and collect the material. I can help you to any kind of plan, and with some ready money to pay the mechanics. I have recently had a visit from Dr. Oliver, of Scotland, who is examining lands for immigrants from his country. He seems to be a sensible and judicious man. From his account, I do not think the Scotch and English would suit your part of the country. It would require time from them to become acclimated, and they would probably get dissatisfied, especially as there is so much mountainous region where they could be accommodated. I think you will have to look to the Germans; perhaps the Hollanders, as a class, would be the most useful. When the railroad shall have been completed to West Point, I think there will be no difficulty in getting the whites among you. I would try to get some of our own young men in your employ. I rode out the other day to Mr. Andrew Cameron’s and went into the field where he was plowing. I took great pleasure in following the plows around the circuit. He had four in operation. Three of them were held by his former comrades in the army, who are regularly employed by him, and, he says, much to his satisfaction and profit. People have got to work now. It is creditable to them to do so; their bodies and their minds are benefited by it, and those who can and will work will be advanced by it. You will never prosper with the blacks, and it is abhorrent to a reflecting mind to be supporting and cherishing those who are plotting and working for your injury, and all of whose sympathies and associations are antagonistic to yours. I wish them no evil in the world—on the contrary, will do them every good in my power, and know that they are misled by those to whom they have given their confidence; but our material, social, and political interests are naturally with the whites. Mr. Davis’ trial was fixed for the last of this month. If Judge Chase’s presence is essential, I do not see how it can take place, unless that of Mr. Johnson is to be postponed. I suppose that will be decided to-day or to-morrow, and then I shall know what to expect. I shall not go to Richmond unless necessary, as it is always inconvenient for me to leave home, and I am not at all well. Your poor mother is also more ailing than she is ordinarily, in consequence of a cold she has taken. But it is passing away, I trust. I must leave you to her and Mildred for all local and domestic news. Custis and the boys are well, and “Powhattie,” I hope has got rid of the chills. We hear regularly from Mary and Agnes, who seem to be enjoying themselves, and I do not think from their programme that they will get back to us till summer. All unite in much love, and I am always, Your father,

R. E. LEE.

This same month he writes a long letter to his daughter Agnes, who was visiting friends in Baltimore. The Annette, Mildred, and Mary he mentions in this letter were the daughters of Charles Henry Carter, of “Goodwood,” Maryland, a first cousin of my father:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, March 28, 1868.

My Precious Agnes: I was so glad to receive your letter, to learn that you were well and enjoying yourself among pleasant friends. I hope that you will soon get through all your visits and come home. Your uncle Smith says you girls ought to marry his sons, as you both find it so agreeable to be from home, and you could then live a true Bohemian life and have a happy time generally. But I do not agree with him; I shall not give my consent, so you must choose elsewhere. I have written to Annette telling her of my alarm for her. Now that Mildred is engaged, and she sees how much Mary is in love, I fear she will pick up an Adonis next, so that she had better run away to the mountains at once. I am glad that you saw Mr. Davis. It is a terrible thing to have this prosecution hanging over him, and to be unable to fix his thoughts on a course of life or apply his hands to the support of his family. But I hope a kind Providence will shield and guide him. You must remember me to all my friends, the Taggarts, Glenns, McKims, Marshalls, etc. . . . As to the young ladies you mention, you must tell them that I want to see them very much, and hope that they will all come to the mountains this summer, and not pass us by in Lexington. When you go to “Goodwood” and the Eastern Shore, do the same there for me, and present me to all by name. Tell sweet Sallie Warwick I think she ought to come to Lexington, if only to show those babies; but in truth I want to see her more than them, so she may leave them with Major Poor,[note 71] if she chooses. You must see everybody you wish and enjoy yourself as much as you can, and then come home. I told Mildred to tell you if you wanted any funds you must let me know and where to send them. I do not know whether she delivered my message. She has become very imperious, and may not think you require any. She has been much exercised of late on the score of servants, but hopes to get some relief on the 1st proximo from the promised change of Miss Mary Dixon to Miss Eliza Cyrus. I hope her expectations may be realised. Little Mildred has had a return of her chills. It has been a sharp attack, and thought it has been arrested, when I left her this morning I feared she might have a relapse, as this is her regular day. She was looking remarkably well before it came on, better than she had ever done, but every coldterminates in this way, however slight it may be. Colds have been quite prevalent, and there have been two deaths among the cadets from pneumonia. Fortunately so far the students have escaped. I am relieved of mine I hope, and your poor mother is, I hope, better. The storm seems to have subsided, and I trust the bright weather may ameliorate her pains. Custis, Mildred, and the boys are well, as are most of our friends in Lexington. . . . Fitzhugh writes that everything is blooming at the “White House,” and that his wheat is splendid. I am in hopes that it is all due to the presence of my fair daughter. Rob says that things at Romancoke are not so prosperous—you see, there is no Mrs. R. E. Lee, Jr., there, and that may make the difference. Cannot you persuade some of those pretty girls in Baltimore to take compassion on a poor bachelor? I will give them a plan for a house if they will build it. . . . All would unite with me in love if they knew I was writing. You ought to be here to enjoy the birds Captain O.C.H. sends us. With much love for yourself, and my poor prayers for your happiness, I am, Your devoted father,

R. E. LEE.

A few days afterward he writes to his son Fitzhugh, who was now established very happily in his new house, and warns him not to depend entirely on sentiment, but to arrange for something material. He also speaks of Mr. Davis and his trial, which was continually being postponed, and in the end was dismissed, and gives him some good advice about importing cattle:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, March 30, 1868.

My Dear Fitzhugh: I was very glad to receive your letter of the 19th, and as you are aware of the order of the court postponing Mr. Davis’s trial till the 14th proximo, I presume that you have not been expecting me down. I see it stated in the Washington Star that the trial is again postponed till May 4th, but I have seen as yet no order from the court. Mr. and Mrs. Davis went from Baltimore to New York on Tuesday last, and were to go on to Canada. He said that he did not know what he should do or what he could turn his hands to for support. As long as this trial is hanging over him, of course, he can do nothing. He can apply his mind to nothing, nor could he acquire the confidence of the business community in anything he might undertake, from the apprehension of his being interrupted in the midst of it. Agnes and Mary saw them as they passed through Baltimore. They say Mr. Davis was well, though he had changed a great deal since they saw him last. I am very glad that you are so pleased with your house. I think it must be my daughter that gives it such a charm. I am sure that she will make everything look bright to me. It is a good thing that the wheat is doing so well, for I am not sure “that the flame you are so rich in will light a fire in the kitchen, nor the little god turn the spit, spit, spit.” Some material element is necessary to make it burn brightly and furnish some good dishes for the table. Shad are good in their way, but they do not run up the Pamunkey all the year. I am glad that you are making arrangements for some cows, and think you are right in getting those of the best breed. It used to be thought that cows from the North would not prosper in that lower country, and indeed cows from the upper part of Virginia did not succeed well, but were apt to become sick and die; and that the surest process to improve the stock was to purchase calves of good breed and cross on the native stock. You must, therefore, be careful and not invest too much. We have had a cold winter, and March has been particularly harsh. Still, vegetation is progressing and the wheat around Lexington looks beautiful. My garden is advancing in a small way. Pease, spinach, and onions look promising, but my hot-bed plants are poor. The new house, about which you inquire, is in statu quo before winter. I believe the money is wanting and the workmen cannot proceed. We require some of that latter article here, as elsewhere, and have but little. . . . I heard of you in Richmond the other day, but did not learn whether my daughter was with you. I wish you would send her up to her papa when you go away. With much love, Your devoted father,

R. E. LEE.

A month later he writes me, telling me that he expects to be in Richmond the following week, and will try to get down to see us; also telling of his garden, and horse, and, as he always did, encouraging, cheering me, and offering help:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, April 25, 1868.

My Dear Rob: Your letter of the 21st is just received. I am very glad that your wheat is improving in appearance, and hope that at harvest it will yield a fair return for your care and labour. Your corn I am sure will be more remunerative than the crop of last year, and I trust that at the end of the year you will find you have advanced in the field of agriculture. Your mule and provender was a heavy loss. You must make it up. Replace the first by a good one and I will pay for it. I hope the warm sun will bring forward the grass to supply the latter. Should I go to Richmond, next week, as I now expect, I will be prepared to pay for the mule, and if I do not I will send you a check for the amount. I am sorry to hear that you have not been well. You must get out of that too. . . . You must refresh yourself when you can by going up to the White House to see your brother and sister. Take a good look at the latter for me. . . . In our garden nothing is up but the hardy plants, pease, potatoes, spinach, onions, etc. . . . Beets, carrots, salsify, etc., have been sown a long time, but are not up, and I cannot put in the beans, squash, etc., or set out the hot-bed plants. But we can wait. I have not been as well this winter as usual, and have been confined of late. I have taken up Traveller, however, who is as rough as a bear, and have had two or three rides on him, in the mud, which I think has benefited me. Mildred sometimes accompanies me. Your mother, I am glad to say, is better. She has less pain than when I last wrote, and is more active on her crutches. . . . Good-bye, my dear son. If I go to Richmond I will try to get to see you. Affectionately your father,

R. E. LEE.

R. E. LEE, JR.

My father came to Richmond, summoned to attend the trial of Mr. Davis, but when he arrived he found that it was again postponed. So he went to the White House and spent several days. I came up from Romancoke and stayed with him till he left. It was a great pleasure to him to meet his sons and to see his new daughter in her new home. After his return to Lexington he wrote to her this letter:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, May 29, 1868.

My Dear Daughter: I have been enjoying the memory, ever since my return, my visit to the Pamunkey, and whenever I have thought of writing to you the pleasure I experienced in your company and in that of Fitzhugh and Robert absorbed the moment I could devote to a letter, and other calls made me postpone it. But I have thought of you often, and always with renewed pleasure; and I rejoice at your having around you more comforts and within your reach more pleasures than I had anticipated. I pray that both may be increased and be long continued. There is one thing I regret—that you are so far from us. I know the difficulty of farmers and their wives leaving home. Their success, and in a measure their pleasure, depend upon their daily attention to their affairs, and it is almost an impossibility for us old people to get to you. Yet I trust we may meet this summer some time, and whenever you can you must come and see us. Our small house will never be so full that there will not be room for you, or so empty that you will not be most cordially welcome. Letters received from Mary and Agnes report them still on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where they were detained by the sickness of Agnes. They expected, however, to be able to return to Baltimore last Tuesday, 26th, where, after a few days’ sojourn, they were to go to Mrs. Washington Peter’s. I fear, however, that Agnes might not have been well enough, as she had had an attack of bilious fever and was much prostrated. Should you find yourself in danger of becoming sick, you must come right up to your papa. I know you will pine, but I would rather you should suffer in that way than burn with fever, and while on that subject I will tell you something that may be of comfort: you may reasonably expect Fitzhugh soon to follow, so you will not suffer long. I wish to take your mama to the Warm Springs, and to the Hot or Healing, if she will go, to try to obtain for her some relief; but we will not leave home till the last of June or first of July. I am so much occupied that I feel that I ought never to go away, and every absence accumulates my work. I had a pleasant visit of three days, to Lynchburg, attending the Episcopal Convention, and I have not yet brought up my correspondence, etc. I fear, too, I shall have to go to Richmond next week, as everything seems to portend the certainty of Mr. Davis’s trial. God grant that, like the impeachment of Mr. Johnson, it may be dismissed. If I do go, I fear I shall have no time to visit you. The examinations of the senior classes of the college are now in progress, and after their completion the examination of the undergraduates will commence, and will not terminate till the 15th of June, and the commencement exercises then begin and end on the 18th. So you see how necessary it is for me to be here and that I shall be obliged to hasten back as soon as permitted. I wanted, if possible, to pass one day at “Shirley”—I have not been there for ten years. It was the loved home of my mother, and a spot where I have passed many happy days in early life, and one that probably I may never visit again. But I do not know that I shall be able. We are all as usual, and all would send much love if they knew I was writing. Mildred is very happy in the company of Miss Charlotte Haxall, and Custis retains his serenity of character. Our young members of the family are looking forward to their return to Powhatan as soon as the college exercises close, which I hope will bring some relief to me also. I see that you have been much visited of late, but you know that no one wants to see you as much as I do. Tell Fitzhugh that his old friend, Miss Helen Peters, has come to Lexington, from New York, to pass the summer. See what an attractive place it is becoming. She is now Mrs. Taylor and has brought with her two babies. She is as cordial and affectionate as ever. Give much love to Fitzhugh and Rob, and believe me always your devoted father,

R. E. LEE.


My father was back at the college in full time for the “final examinations.” He always made it a point to be present, and took his full share of sitting in the rooms while the students were working out their papers. When occasion offered, somewhat to the surprise of the learned faculty, he showed himself thoroughly conversant with each and every department. Even with Greek he seems somewhat familiar, and would question the students as to their knowledge of this language, much to their astonishment.

The commencement exercises of the college began about June 1st and lasted a week. At this time, the town was crowded with visitors, and my father had his house full, generally of young girls, friends of my sisters who came to assist at the “final ball,” the great social event connected with this college exercise. He seemed to enjoy their society as much as the young men did, though he could not devote so much time to them as the boys did, and I know that the girls enjoyed his society more than they did that of their college adorers. On the occasion of an entertainment at his house, in going amongst his guests saying to each group something bright and pleasant, he approached a young lady, a great belle, completely surrounded by her admirers—students, cadets, and some old “Confeds.” He stopped and began to rally her on her conquests, saying:

You can do as you please to these other young gentlemen, but you must not treat any of my old soldiers badly.

Those who have never known him cannot imagine the charm of his manner, the brightness of his smile, and the pleasant way he had of speaking, especially to young people and little children. His rebukes to the young were administered in the kindest, gentlest way, almost persuasively, but he could be stern when the occasion demanded. Colonel William Preston Johnston, a member of his faculty and a very dear and trusted friend, says:

In his intercourse with his faculty he was courteous, kind, and often rather playful in manner. We all thought he deferred entirely too much to the expression of opinion on the part of the faculty, when we would have preferred that he should simply indicate his own views or desire. One characteristic of General Lee I noted then and have often recalled: I never saw him take an ungraceful posture. No matter how long or fatiguing a faculty meeting might be, he always preserved an attitude in which dignity, decorum, and grace were united. He was a very well built man, with rounded body and limbs, and seemed without the slightest affectation of effort to sit or stand or walk just as a gentleman should. He was never in a hurry, and all his gestures were easy and significant. He was always an agreeable companion. There was a good deal of bonhomie and pleasantry in his conversation. He was not exactly witty, nor was he very humorous, though he gave a light turn to table-talk and enjoyed exceedingly any pleasantry or fun, even. He often made a quaint or slightly caustic remark, but he took care that it should not be too trenchant. On reading his letters one discovers this playful spirit in many of them, as, for instance, in his letter to the spiritualist who asked his opinion of Von Moltke and the French war. He wrote in reply a most courteous letter in which he said that “the question was one about which military critics would differ, that his own judgement about such matters was poor at best, and that inasmuch as they had the power to consult (through their mediums) Cæsar, Alexander, Napoleon, Wellington, and all of the other great captains who had ever lived, he could not think of obtruding his opinion in such company.” General Lee did not talk politics, but he felt very deeply the condition of the country, and expressed to me several times in strong terms his disapproval of the course of the dominant party.

There is a story told of my father which points to his playful manner here alluded to. At a certain faculty meeting they were joking Mr. Harris, who so long and so ably filled the chair of Latin, about his walking up the aisle of the Presbyterian church with the stem of his pipe protruding from his pocket. Mr. Harris took out the offending stem and began cutting it shorter. My father, who had been enjoying the incident, said:

No, Mr. Harris, don’t do that; next time leave it at home.

Sometimes he deemed it advisable to be a little stern. One of the young professors went off for a few days without asking the president’s permission. On his return the General met him very stiffly, saying:

Mr. —, I congratulate you on your return to your friends and duties. I was not aware of your absence until I heard it by chance.

Mr. — told this on himself, and added that it was the last time he ever went away without a formal leave of absence. His particularity in little things has often been commented on. He applied it to all his affairs. Dr. Kirkpatrick, Professor of Moral Philosophy, came into the president’s office and asked for a certain paper. My father told him where it could be found. After a while, turning to the doctor he said:

“Did you find the paper?”

“Yes, General,” replied the Doctor.

“Did you return it to the place where you found it?”

“Yes, General.”

At another time he asked Professor Harris to look at a catalogue on the table. The Professor took up a new one, wrapped ready for the mail, and was about to tear the cover off, when my father, hastily handing him one already opened, said:

“Take this, if you please.”

My mother used to say that he could go, in the dark, and lay his hand on any article of his clothing, or upon any particular paper, after he had once arranged them, provided they had not been disturbed. One of his “quaint or slightly caustic remarks,” alluded to by Colonel Johnston, I recall as told to me. He met a lady friend down in the town, who bitterly complained that she could get nothing to eat in Lexington suitable for Lent—no fish, no oysters, etc.

“Mrs. —,” the General replied, “I would not trouble myself so much about special dishes; I suppose if we try to abstain from special sins that is all that will be expected of us.”

Return to Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee