Robert E. Lee
Philip Alexander Bruce



OLVIER WENDELL HOLMES was once asked when the education of a child should begin. “Two hundred and fifty years before he is born,” was the reply of that witty and genial philosopher. Of no man who has played a conspicicuous part in American history can it be more justly said that his education began two hundred and fifty years before he first saw the light than of Robert Edward Lee. Nowhere else on our continent previous to the War of Secession had the current of local tradition, costom, habit, thought, and feeling glided on with so little change of character from the date of the earliest settlement as in those counties of Virginia which are washed in bay or river by the daily flow and ebb of the ocean tides. During the long interval between 1607 and 1861, the advance of this ancient area of country within the grooves set for it by the original English colonists had known but one rude shock, the Revolution, and even that would have left hardly a passing trace on the social life but for the disestablishment of the Anglican Church, and the abolition, at the suggestion of the arch-democrat, Jefferson, of the law of primogeniture. The impression on the economic life was smaller still. It was only in a political way that the change was a serious one, and there, not because a new spirit of freedom had been created, but because the ultimate sovereignty had shifted from the King to the Commonwealth.

Lee was the offspring of a society which, in spirit and in framework, had undergone no radical alteration, though it had passed from monarchical to republican institutions. The Virginia of 1807, the year of his birth, was essentially the Virginia of 1707, in spite of its larger population, and its greater accumulation of wealth. It was still a community of plantations remarkable for the simplest of agricultural systems; i.e., the production of a single staple by the hands of slaves. It is true that the bulk of the paternal landed estate no longer descended to the eldest son, but this subdivision made no real difference in the economic life of the people; an equal distribution of property among all the heirs merely put it in the power of more persons to cultivate the social habits and customs of their ancestors.

Many of the Virginians who reached manhood about the time Robert Lee was springing up into a robust and handsome youth, emigrated to the western or southwestern states; but those remaining behind in the old colonial homes, pursued the life which their fathers had led before them for many generations. Means of transportation to remote points were still so few that they rarely journeyed far from the shadow of their own residences and tobacco barns. Season after season and year after year, they tilled the ground; raised thoroughbred horses; intermarried with the members of neighboring families, to whom they were already allied by blood; attended the sessions of their county court, and the services of their church; danced at the country balls; were present at the local races; shot partridges, wild turkeys, and wild ducks in forest, field, or stream; hunted the fox with packs of trained hounds; played cards; adored a pretty woman; and were not averse to a mint julep at any hour of the day.

It was a careless, happy, and bountiful life. Nor was it without its serious side, as shown by the sensitiveness to all matters of personal honor, by the deep reverence for religion, by the respect for womanhood, and by the exalted esteem in which high political service was held. No alien people were pouring into those plantation communities to modify the moral standards, habits, and customs of the inhabitants by their foreign training; no newly enriched were starting up to pervert, by a lavish and vulgar use of wealth, tastes that had been refined by the inherited social culture of generations. English in descent, English in the whole tone of their social life, as far as consistent with republican institutions, the people of Tidewater Virginia, during those years when the character of Robert Lee was forming, were English in their instinctive antipathy to novelty for mere novelty’s sake; in their love of customs and habits descending from the remote past; in their passionate devotion to their homes and to their state; in their hearty recognition of the claims of kindred to the remotest degree; and in the primitive simplicity and strength of their personal qualities. About the hearthstones of tbose old plantations, the old-fashioned virtues of manliness, courage, truth, honor, kindness, and tenderness flourished as luxuriantly as the old-fashioned flowers, whose original seed pehaps had been brought from some manor-house in Surrey or Essex, Norfolk or Devonshire, bloomed on the terraces of the gardens outside.

Such in outline was the character of the social atmosphere which Robert Lee first breathed. All those particular leanings which this atmosphere tended so strongly to create and promote, were, in his instance, enhanced by his possession, in the highest degree, of every attribute which gave distinction to the social life of Virginia at that time. No man in the state, for example, was of more shining descent, or embraced in the circle of his near kin a larger number of families of extraordinary local distinction and influence; no man in the state was in his birthplace, his early years, and his marriage, associated with homes which enjoyed a greater reputation for generous and charming hospitality, for the highest social breeding, and for the ripest moral and intellectual culture.

His earliest ancestor to establish himself in Virginia, Richard Lee, is thought to have sprung from a family tracing its descent to Lancelot Lee, who took a conspicuous part in the Battle of Hastings; to Lionel Lee, who, at the head of a company of horsemen, followed Richard Cœr-de-Lion to the Holy Land, and won a high reputation for intrepidity at the Siege of Acre; and to Henry Lee, who, during the glorious reign of Elizabeth, received from his sovereign, as a reward for his extraordinary services, the insignia of the Garter. There can now be no doubt that the emigrant belonged to the Lees of Coton, a family of which it has been said that it possessed a high social standing, and enjoyed great influence when the immediate forbears of two-thirds of the members of the present English peerage had not risen from obscurity. Richard Lee, as his portrait, still in existence, shows, bore upon his person every mark and badge of a refined and cultured ancestry; his face, as there pictured, in regularity of feature, in comeliness and strength of expression, and in a certain serene and sedate pride, recalls the noblest of those aristocratic countenances which Vandyke has preserved for posterity on his immortal canvases. Nor did this handsome appearance belie the power of his intellect, or the winning grace of his address; he was conspicuous in the contemporary life of Virginia for personal dignity, polished courtesy, firm courage, high integrity, keen energy, and extraordinary aptitude for practical affairs. During
the course of his career there, he filled all the positions of honor and responsibility which were open to the most distinguished citizens; for many years he occupied a seat in the Council, a place to which only men of the greatest wealth, ability, and rectitude were raised; and for a considerable period also, he was the incumbent of the secretaryship of state, an office in the gift of the King. Tradition affirms that his loyalty remained so unshaken after the first Charles’s death on the scaffold, that he made a voyage across the ocean in order to persuade Charles II, then at Breda, to allow him to erect the royal standard in Virginia.

The emigrant’s son, also known as Richard, was trained in the London Inns-of-Court, and returned to Virginia to take the high place in the Colony’s social and political life held by his father up to the time of his death. Inheriting a valuable estate; having acquired the most thorough education in law which England in that age afforded; and being equally remarkable for the astuteness of his intellect and the graces of his person, the second Richard Lee only followed in the footsteps of every young Virginian of that day in seeking and obtaining an office under the colonial government. For many years, he was a member of the Council, and in that influential position showed so much ability and public spirit, as to win Governor Spotswood’s unstinted approval. “No man in the country,” wrote that official, who enjoyed the best opportunity of correctly estimating the merits of the principal citizens, “bore a fairer reputation for exact justice, honesty, and unexceptional loyalty.” This Richard left a son of the same name, who lived and died in London; but all his children returned to America, one of them, Philip, settling in Maryland, where he became the progenitor of the prominent family of Lees who still reside in that state.

The most distinguished son of the second Richard was Thomas Lee, who long occupied the post of President of the Council, the third member of the family to fill in succession a seat at that board, and who, as its chief officer, served for some time, after the recall of Gooch, as the Governor of the Colony. He was in his day perhaps the most prominent citizen of the entire community; certainly not one exercised a more useful influence on the course of its affairs, or enjoyed the public esteem in higher degree. Not are his claims to remembrance confined to the events of his own career, creditable to him personally, and beneficial to his country’s interests as they were. If no honor were due him for his own public services, his name would be lifted from obscurity by the fact that he was the father of Richard Henry Lee, who, on June 10, 1776, offered in the Continental Congress the famous resolution declaring, “That these united colonies are and ought to be free and independent states”; of Francis Lightfoot Lee, who, with his more famous brother, Richard Henry, signed the great Declaration; and of Arthur Lee, who was associated with Franklin in the memorable mission to France.

But Thomas Lee has still another claim to distinction, which has an even more direct bearing on the subject of the present work;—he built that stately old Virginia manor-house, “Stratford,” where Robert E. Lee was born, and which happily has survived all the vicissitudes of war and revolution. The original residence was destroyed by fire, and in erecting the present mansion, Thomas Lee was assisted by contributions from the East India Company and the Queen of England, a proof of the consideration he enjoyed in the highest quarters for his public services and private virtues.

Among the brothers of Thomas was Henry Lee, the grandfather of “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, and great-grandfather of General Robert E. Lee. “Light-Horse Harry,” by his marriage with Matilda, a granddaughter of Thomas Lee, acquired possession of “Stratford.”

It is seen from this brief account that, long before the Revolution, Robert E. Lee’s ancestors, from generation to generation, had filled the highest posts in the Colony; that, during all that time, they had been conspicuous for integrity, ability, and zeal in the public service; and that their prominence in this sphere of activity was unsurpassed by that of any other family residing in Virginia. Nor was their influence wholly political. Scion of well-known English stock, as was the first Richard Lee, and himself possessed of so many accomplishments, and endowed with so many personal graces, his family, supported by the wealth he had brought over, took a high social position at once; and this position his immediate descendants maintained, not only by their talents, virtues, public services, and expanding estates, but also by repeated intermarriages with the Colony’s most powerful families; such as, for instance, the Corbins, Grymeses, Blands, and Carters. It was due to these wide-spread genealogical ramifications that General Lee shared the blood that flowed in the veins of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Peyton Randolph.

The Lees, conspicuous as they were in colonial times, rose to even greater prominence during the Revolution. A fame previonsly based on local services alone now acquired a wider scope by the family’s association with national events. It was Richard Henry Lee, known as the “American Cicero,” from the surpassing graces of his oratory, who, as already stated, brought in the memorable resolution asserting the Colonies’ freedom, and who, but for his wife’s sickness calling him back to Virginia, would probably have been appointed chairman of the committee which drew up the Declaration, and as such assigned the duty of drafting that instrument. This celebrated state paper, the composition of a kinsman of the Lees through intermarriage with the Randolphs, was signed by two members of the family.

But it was in Henry Lee, father of the Confederate General, that the family, in these critical and tumultuous times, had its most distinguished and useful representative. Tradition asserts that his mother had been loved by the youthful Washington, and that he had even celebrated her charms in verse. Whether this early passion was the real cause of his partiality for the son cannot now be decided; it is more probable that the feeling was aroused by the dashing qualities of the handsome young officer, such as his perfect intrepidity and his love of daring adventure. Having graduated from Princeton College, where he acquired that literary skill which enabled him to write one of the most graphic of Revolutionary memoirs, Henry Lee was about to embark for London, in order to begin the study of law in Inns-of-Court, when news of Concord and Lexington arrived. Although but nineteen years of age, he threw himself into the contest with all the energy, ardor, and enthusiasm of his nature. Raising a company of troopers, a branch of the service irresistibly attractive to him, owing to his skill in horsemanship and his passion for rapid movement, he placed himself at their head, and joined Washington in the North, where he took part in numerous engagements. He was also present at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown; and for his success in carrying out the hazardous enterprise of capturing Paulus Hook was rewarded by Congress with a highly laudatory medal.

It was in the Southern Department that Lee won his greatest reputation for boldness and celerity. That department had already been made famous by the reckless exploits of the partisan leaders, Marion and Sumter; but “Light-Horse Harry,” at the head of his legion, admitted to be the finest body of cavalrymen in the service, equaled those celebrated officers on their own ground in bravery and energy of movement while performing the most dangerous feats of arms. So much did he at all times burn with martial ardor that one of the most distinguished generals associated with him in the South spoke of him as one “who seemed to have come out of his mother’s womb a soldier.” Lafayette, watching his conduct in the field, heaped compliments on his head with French effusion; whilst General Greene, a man not given to profuse or lightly considered praises, described his part in one of these Southern campaigns as being superior in merit to that taken by any other officer of the army.

Emerging from the Revolution with a brilliant reputation for skill and daring, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, as he continued to be known long after his military exploits had come to an end, survived to acquire an almost equally brilliant reputation for eloquence as a debater, and for wisdom in public counsel. Chosen as a member of the state convention of 1778, he, in the following year, was elected to Congress, and later became Governor of the commonwealth. It was at the request of Congress, after Washington’s death, that he delivered the address containing the famous description of that great man “as first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” As a member of the Virginia Assembly of 1798–99, Lee was one of the most active and zealoas supporters of the celebrated resolutions touching states’ rights which were passed by that body. “The Alien and Sedition Laws,” he exclaimed during the debate, “are unconstitutional. Virginia has a right to object. Virginia is my country; her will I obey, however lamentable the fate to which it may subject me,” a sentiment that reëchoed in the heart of his son sixty-one years later. Equally characteristic of that son was another utterance of the father. “No consideration on earth,” he declared, “could induce me to act a part, however gratifying to me, which could be construed into disregard or faithlessness to this commonwealth.” Nevertheless, his readiness to respond to a call of the national government when the public safety was in jeopardy was shown by his acceptance of the chief command of the expedition for the suppression of the Whiskey Insurrection in Pennsylvania, and also by the offer of his sword in 1812 to aid in the repulse of the British invaders.

Injured during a mob’s attack on the residence of Mr. Hanson, the editor of the Federalist Republican (a paper published in Baltimore), with whom he happened to be stopping at the time, Lee never recovered, although he sought to restore his shattered health by a long sojourn in the West Indies. At last, in despair of any permanent improvement, he decided to return home; but the progress of his disease was so rapid that, during the northward voyage, he was forced to disembark at Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia. At this place, in an embowering grove of magnolia, orange, olive, and live-oak, and hedged about by bosks of sub-tropical shrubbery, was “Dungeness,” the beautiful home of his old comrade-in-arms, General Nathanael Greene, now being occupied by the latter’s daughter, who received the invalid with all the tenderness which would have been shown by her father, had he been alive. Here under this hospitable roof, with his dying gaze directed through the open window of his sick-room toward the shores of that mainland, rising beyond the shining waters of the Sound, which his own exploits, many years before, had helped to make historic ground, Henry Lee breathed his last; and here in a corner of the island overshadowed by trees and perfumed by flowering plants, he was buried.

One of the most impressive scenes recorded in the life of General Robert E. Lee was the last visit which he paid to the grave of his father. This happened during the first year of the war, at the time when he was in charge of the defenses along that line of coast. “He went alone to the tomb,” says the officer who accompanied him to the island, “and, after a few moments of silence, plucked a flower, and slowly retraced his steps, leaving the lonely grave to the guardianship of the crumbling stones, and the spirit of the restless waves that perpetually beat against the neighboring shore.”

Such were some of the more immediate ancestors of Robert E. Lee on the paternal side. And these were only the most conspicuous representatives of a wide and powerful family connection of the same name. Whether they filled seats in the Colonial Council, like the first two Richard Lees; or served as the President of that body or as Governor of the Colony, like Thomas Lee; whether they were members of the national Congress, like Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee; or sat in the Cabinet, like Charles Lee, Attorney-General under Washington; or served in both field and civil office, like Henry Lee, their public careers were marked by a conscientious and successful performance of every duty imposed on them by their respective positions.

The mother of Robert E Lee, the second wife of “Light-Horse Harry,” was Ann Hill Carter, of Shirley. The Carters, unlike the Lees, were unable to trace a distinguished lineage in England; nor had they, since their transplantation, produced many men conspicuous for talent and public service. But in Robert Carter, popularly known as “King Carter” from the vast, area of his estates, the number of his slaves, indentured servants, and dependents, and his lordly deportment, the family could claim one of the most remarkable of those magnates of colonial Virginia, who, in the character of their possessions and surroundings, in their manner of life, their social tastes, political ambitions, and general disposition of mind, closely resembled the great English land-owners of that day. From this picturesque and commanding personality, who added to the influence of a very large fortune the power of high official position, since he was, for many years, President of the Council, the various branches of the Carter family were descended. For generation after generation, they were able to retain and even to increase their property in spite of the size of their households and their bountiful hospitality. Several of the most ancient and famous of the colonial homes belonged to them, such as “Shirley” on the James River, and “Sabin Hall” on the Rappahannock. They had, in the course of two centuries, intermarried with members of all the principal families, and it was only a skilful genealogist who could unravel the skein of consanguinity uniting them with the Lees, Fitzhughs, Burwells, Beverleys, Pages, Randolphs, Harrisons, and a dozen other strains equally prominent in the social life of colony and state alike.

If the influence of a distinguished ancestry not infrequently shapes the descendant’s character, equally strong must be the influence of an ancient homestead which recalls whatever was most beautiful, romantic, and inspiring in the social life of the past, or noblest and most impressive in the successive owners’ careers. Robert Lee’s childhood and youth were associated with perhaps the two most interesting colonial mansions of Virginia; namely, “Shirley” and “Stratford.” He was born in 1807 at “Stratford,” the home of his father in Westmoreland County, that county which had given birth to Washington, Richard Henry Lee, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, and James Monroe; while in the adjacent King George, James Madison had first seen the light. There exists nowhere else in the United States so small an area of country which has been so fertile in the production of celebrated men.

The old manor-house of “Stratford,” a typical colonial residence of the highest class, was built with a solidity that seemed to assure its descending to the eldest son under the law of primogeniture for many generations. The partitions up to the height of the second story stood two and a half feet in thickness, and beyond that, two feet. Within these ample walls seventeen rooms were embraced, a number designed more for the gratification of hospitable tastes than for the needs of a large family. In addition, there was a spacious entry hall. From the roof, was plainly visible the broad expanse of the Potomac, reaching far up into the land; while across the stream rose the hazy and wooded shores of Maryland. Plantations of oak, cedar, and maple surrounded the house.

“Stratford” was one of the colonial homes which appealed so irresistibly to Thackeray’s imagination during his visit to Virginia, and which led him to say that the history of Queen Anne’s age could be more sympathetically and intelligently written under such a roof tree, with its crowding memories of the past, than under that of an English manor-house, even though of equal antiquity. It was just such a home as inspired The Virginians,—just such a home, indeed, as he makes Esmond reside in after crossing the sea.

Three generations of Lees had occupied “Stratford” before the birth of the family’s most celebrated member. It was as if Robert Lee had come into the world in some old Shropshire manor-house where his forbears had first seen the light, lived, and died, one after another, during a long period of time. The room where he first drew breath was the one in which Richard Henry and Francis Light-foot Lee, the Revolutionary patriots, had been born; and as he began to note surrounding objects, he observed on every wall portraits of famous statesmen and soldiers of his own blood; in every apartment, furniture invested with the charm of remote colonial associations; on every sideboard, silver plate and china of the like age; and on every bookshelf, English classics transmitted from the same distant times. All these varied objects spoke to his childish mind with equal vividness of the long descent of his family, and of its distinguished connection with the history of England, Virginia, and the United States; nor was the impression derived from the use of his own eyes the less deep because, with characteristic exaggeration, the old negro servants were, for his amusement and instruction, in the habit of descanting on the greatness of his family’s past.

At an early age, Robert accompanied his parents to Alexandria, whither they removed to obtain for their children educational advantages not afforded in the country at that day. But there are many evidences that the boy, as he grew older, spent some

of his time each year at “Stratford.” There still lingered in Westmoreland the habits and customs which the gentry had inherited from their English forefathers. General Lee, in later life, was fond of describing the ardor with which, as a youth, he engaged in open air sports: how he passed many hours in the chase, not infrequently on foot, and yet without fatigue, as he had become so inured to every form of rough exertion; how he acquired skill in horsemanship, which stood him in such stead as a soldier, by constant exercise on horseback unmindful of the weather; and how he cultivated an eye for topography by exploring field, wood, and stream. Doubtless, by these early diversions, he increased that natural vigor of constitution which enabled him, in the vicissitudes of his military career, to bear so many hardships, and to endure so many privations without apparent detriment to his health.

After the seizure of “Arlington” by the Federal government, and the conversion of its park into a national cemetery,—an act which would make it untenable as a private residence even if Mrs. Lee should recover possession of the property,—the General’s mind turned fondly toward his birthplace, as a possible home for his family. “ ‘Stratford,’ ” he wrote, in 1861, to a daughter who had recently been visiting the spot, “is endeared to me by many recollections, and it has always been the desire of my life to purchase it. And now that we have no other home, and the one we so loved has been forever desecrated, that desire is stronger with me than ever. The horse-chestnuts you mention in the garden were planted by my mother. You do not mention the spring, one of the objects of my earliest recollections. How my heart goes back to those early days!” And a few weeks afterward, he wrote to his wife in the same strain: “In the absence of a home, I wish I could purchase ‘Stratford.’ That is the only other place I could go to, now accessible to us, that would inspire us with feelings of pleasure and local love.”

Robert seems to have accompanied his mother whenever she visited her former home. There the various objects on the walls and about the quaint apartments recalled the history of her family as vividly as the like at “Stratford” recalled the history of his father’s. “Shirley” was perhaps even richer in ancestral memorials than the old mansion on the Potomac, whether consisting of pictures, furniture, china, plate, or books. Among these pictures was to be observed the portrait, not only of “King Carter,” but also of Alexander Spotswood, the great-grandfather of Robert’s mother, that accomplished governor who had fought at Blenheim under Marlborough’s eye, and had led the Knights of the Golden Horse-Shoe to the crest of the Blue Ridge to look down on the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah, then a verdant paradise for elk and bison. Through Spotswood, General Lee was a direct descendant of Robert Bruce. The greet age of “Shirley,” as well as the variety and unique character of its contents, all served to remind the boy at that susceptible stage of his life of the distinguished part which his mother’s family had played in Virginia’s past. All the influences of the spot, like those of “Stratford,” tended to increase his love of that free and active existence which had so long been led by the country gentry of his native state. Here were presented the same opportunities for the enjoyment of field sports; such as, pursuing the hare, deer, or fox; shooting partridges in the stubble, or duck and geese on the river; fishing in the creeks; rowing, walking and riding on horseback.

These early associations fostered in General Lee a thorough sympathy with all those feelings, habits, customs, and points of view that characterized the country gentleman of Virginia before the destruction of the old order. He himself was a perfect representative of the very noblest type of that extinct race of men,—a race simple and wholesome in tastes, dignified in bearing, courteous and hearty in manner, but proud and sensitive in spirit, and instinctively resentful of all unwarranted interference with their rights. He retained to the last his skill in horsemanship, his love of animals, his interest in trees and plants, his discriminating eye for landscapes, and his sound judgment in detecting the lay of ground, which served him so well in the course of his defensive campaigns. In a letter to one of his sons, he wrote that it did him “good to go to the ‘White House,’ ” the home of General W. H. F. Lee on the Pamunkey, “and see the mules walking round and the corn growing.” And during the brief interval between his surrender at Appomattox and his acceptance of the president of Washington College, this longing to escape to the quiet and secluded occupations of country life breaks out again and again in his correspondence. “If I only had a little farm!” he repeats almost pathetically. Amidst the pressing cares and responsibilities of his collegiate position, he still hoped that his life would end as it had begun under the roof of his own country home, surrounded by all those objects and scenes that endeared such a spot to the hearts of the old Virginians. In his last years at Lexington, he was often seen, during his afternoon rides in the vicinity of the town, conversing with farmers at work in the fields about the growing crops and the prospect of a bountiful season.

Another characteristic of the old Virginia life was planted deeply in his nature by these early associations, a characteristic which, as we shall see, largely influenced his conduct at the most critical hour of his career:—no man felt a warmer interest in his relative’s welfare; no man recognized with more generous kindness all the claims of kinship, however remote. The reader of his correspondence is struck with the great number of persons whom he referred to as “cousin.” No one in Virginia had more cousins than he, and no one cherished more sympathetically the tie of blood which bound him to this large circle.

It a deep love of all that was typical of the finer aspects of life in his native state was first instilled into his mind and heart by the influences about him in his childhood and youth, that love, if it were possible, was made deeper yet by his marriage and by his long association with that noble home which still looks down from the heights of Arlington. As the son of his father and mother, he shared in all that was most distinguished in the family history of the Old Dominion. If anything could have added further social prestige to a name already identified with such brilliant achievements in peace and war, it would have been a connection with the family who were the nearest representatives of Washington. Mary Custis, General Lee’s wife, was the daughter of G. W. P. Custis, and Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter by her first marriage. Her grandmother was Eleanor Calvert, of Lord Baltimore’s family, and a descendant of the Lees of Ditchley, England. Mary Custis was her parents’ only surviving child, and heiress to a large estate, including, among other valuable properties, the “White House,” on the Pamunkey, where Washington and Mrs. Custis passed the first days of their married life. “Arlington,” where she was born, and where all her early years were spent, was adorned with numerous portraits and contained many relics brought from Mount Vernon,—portraits and relics forever associated with Washington’s fame and with the great events of the Revolution. The residence was built after a classical model, with large Doric columns in front supporting the weight of the projecting roof. From its massive and stately portico, the spectator could see at a distance a wide expanse of the Potomac and the city of Washington, features and scenes recalling so much that was glorious or sacred in the career of “the Father of his Country.” Beyond was a background of hills and forests. The house was embosomed in noble groups of trees, except where the lawn sloped gently to the fertile low-grounds along the river.

“Arlington” was General Lee’s home down to the beginning of the war; here, with his family, he spent his time when he was stationed at Washington or was off military duty in the West. During this long interval, with the exception of the last two years, Mr. Custis was alive, and “Arlington” was the scene of the most refined and lavish entertainment The high position of the Custis family as one of the oldest and wealthiest in the state, connected by marriage with Washington, and united by ties of kinship with all the prominent families of both Virginia and Maryland, threw around the spot an extraordinary social distinction. There survived in undiminished grace and beauty that social spirit, which, in early times, had given an unsurpassed charm to “Stratford” and “Shirley.” “Arlington’s” nearness to Washington enabled its hospitable owner to receive, not only the most eminent citizens of the United States, but also famous foreigners visiting the capital. Friends and relatives were always stopping in the house. After Mr. Custis’s death. Colonel Lee, as executor, assumed the management of the estate, and in this capacity showed the same delight in country pursuits and diversions that had always distinguished him. He did not disguise the keen pang which he felt in leaving his beautiful home when the war began. At its close, “Arlington” was hardly recognizable as the same spot. The shell of the house alone stood in its original stateliness, and its precious contents, so intimately associated with the fame of Washington, had been dispersed. The spreading groves had been cut down for fire-wood; while the graves of Federal soldiers, in silent rank upon rank, broke the sloping surface of the former verdant lawns.

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