Governor Fitzhugh Lee, by R. A. Brock

Governor Fitzhugh Lee

By R. A. Brock

Note: Robert Alonzo Brock (1839–1914), a native of Richmond who served in the Confederate army, served as Corresponding Secretary and Librarian of the Virginia Historical Society from 1875 to 1892. He also served as secretary of the Southern Historical Society. In addition to writing genealogical articles for the Richmond Standard, Brock wrote and co-wrote books, including the first biographical dictionary of Virginians, and collected mansuscripts related to Virginia history. His collection of more than 50,000 manuscripts and books was acquired by Henry E. Huntington in 1922, but in 2002 the Huntington Library and the Library of Virginia reached an agreement to microfilm the Brock collection and return it to Virginia. The following biography of Fitz Lee is taken from R. A. Brock’s Virginia and Virginians. Eminent Virginians. Executives of the Colony of Virginia.. . . (Richmond and Toledo: H H. Hardesty, Publisher, 1888; vol. 2 pp. 546–49).


If there be aught of assurance of, and incitation to, worthy exemplification in a heritage of lineal record of honor and dutiful action, then might confidence have been held in the career of Fitzhugh Lee, in whom is united the blood of patriots, whose names and deeds are indissolubly and imperishably connected with the history of our Union and of Virginia.

Fitzhugh Lee (or Fitz Lee, as he was familiarly styled in the army, and is still popularly known, and as he subscribed himself until recently), son of Commodore Sydney Smith Lee (a brother of General Robert E. Lee), late of the Confederate States navy, and formerly of the United States navy, was born at “Clermont,” the seat of his grandfather, General John Mason, in Fairfax County, Va., November 19, 1835. His mother, Anne Mason, was the granddaughter of George Mason, of “Gunston Hall,” the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights. She was the sister of Hon. James Murray Mason, of Mason and Slidell fame. The family name of Fitzhugh has been held in cherished recognition in Virginia for two centuries.

Fitzhugh Lee was appointed a cadet at large to West Point Military Academy, July 1, 1852, and was graduated July 1, 1856, and appointed brevet second lieutenant of United States cavalry. Among his class graduates were Generals Samuel S. Carroll, W. P. Sanders, J. W. Forsyth, George D. Bayard, Herman Biggs, Francis M. Vinton, Orlando M. Poe, Miles D. McAllister and John K. Mozart, of the Federal Army, and Generals Wm. H. (“Mudwall”) Jackson and L. L. Lomax, of the Confederate army. His first service was in the cavalry school at Carlisle, Pa., where he remained until January 1,1858, when, at his own request, he was assigned to duty with his regiment, the Second Cavalry, on frontier service; was at Forts Inge and Mason, and Camp Radminezbec, Texas, scouting against the Indians; on May 13,1859, in a combat in Nescatunga Valley, Texas, with the Comanches, was shot through the lungs with an arrow and his life despaired of; later, at Camps Cooper and Colorado, Texas, near the last of which was engaged in a hand to hand combat with the Comanche Indians; in November, 1860, was detached from his regiment and ordered to report to West Point as instructor of cavalry, a complimentary detail. Under his tuition there were several who were subsequently famous as cavalry offlcers—Generals Kilpatrick find Custer being among them; promoted first lieutenant of cavalry March 31,1861; resigned his commission May 31,1861, and offered his services to his native state.

His first service in the Confederate States army was in the Adjutant- General’s department, under General Beauregard at Manassas, and in the battle of July 21,1861, he served on the staff of General Ewell. In September following he was, upon the recommendation of General Joseph E. Johnston (then in command of the army) and General J. E. B. Stuart, commanding its cavalry, made lieutenant-colonel of the First Virginia Cavalry (Stuart’s old regiment), and at the reorganization of that command in April, 1862, near Yorktown, he was elected colonel. On the retreat from Yorktown, Lee’s regiment was given the duty of watching York river, and it was he who first gave information of the flanking movement of Franklin, and of his locating at Barhamsville. Lee personally reconnoitered so close to the enemy that he was enabled to give not only the number but the names of their gunboats and transports. In the succeeding operations around Richmond, Lee was with the command of General Stuart, and participated in all of the enterprises of that officer.

About the middle of June, 1862, Stuart executed his famous raid around the army of McClellan as it lay in front of Richmond, and Lee, with his regiment, was selected to accompany him, sharing with one other regiment and a battalion the hazards of that feat, which “blazed the way for Jackson’s subsequent flank movement.” After the battles around Richmond more cavalry was brought from southern states and formed into a second brigade under General Wade Hampton, and Stuart was promoted to the rank of major-general and assigned to the command of the division, Lee being promoted to brigadier-general and to the command of Stuart’s old brigade, composed of the 1st, 3d, 4th, 5th and 9th regiments of Virginia cavalry, with a battery of horse artillery under Captain James Bunthed. In the latter part of 1863 the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia was divided into two divisions of three brigades each, and Hampton and Lee promoted to command them, the two being under Stuart as senior major-general. The skill and courage evinced by Fitz Lee occasioned the repeated mention of his name in the exact reports of the commander-in-chief of the Army of Northern Virginia, made it familiar to the public, and the latter, in May, 1863, soon after the battle of Chancellorsville, in a letter, thus warmly commended him: “Your admirable conduct, devotion to the cause of your country, and devotion to duty, fill me with pleasure. I hope you will soon see her efforts for independence crowned with success, and long live to enjoy the affection and gratitude of your country.” Again, he wrote: “Your division has always had a high reputation. It must not lose it.”

In the disastrous battle of Winchester Fitz Lee was conspicuous in his gallantry, exposing himself in every part of the field. Three horses were shot under him, one his beautiful mare, Nelly Gray, a favorite of the command, and at last he was brought to ground by a minie-ball which pierced his thigh. He was kept from duty by this wound for several months. In the spring of 1865 he was summoned to Richmond, and, by order of the commanding general, placed in command of the cavalry corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was one of the three corps commanders (the others being Gordon and Longstreet) who, with General Robert E. Lee, composed the council of war just before the surrender at Appomatox C. H., April 9, 1865. The cavalry, having cut their way through the enemy’s lines, to save their horses, before the surrender, General Fitz Lee, thus without a command, remained to share with his loved commander and relative the cares and trials of the bitter closing act of a resplendent drama.

The war over, he turned his attention as earnestly to a peaceful vocation as he had been devoted in arms, and is said to have literally put “his hands to the plough.” He first farmed at “Richland,” in Stafford county, and later near Alexandria, Va. Accepting the result of the war, General Lee endeavored by genial influence to aid as far as in him lay the fraternization of the late contending sections, and in his utterances and engaging presence, it is claimed, has accomplished much in the cause of conciliation. His address at the Bunker Hill Centennial was widely commended. At the Yorktown Centennial in 1881 he was a conspicuous figure. At the inauguration of President Cleveland he commanded the Virginia Brigade, and received a continuous and enthusiastic recognition. In several visits north and the west since, he has been welcomed with the utmost cordiality. On November 3, 1885, he was elected Governor of Virginia over the republican nominee, John Sargeant Wise, by a majority of about sixteen thousand, and took his seat January 1, 1886. The administration of Governor Lee, which has comprehended a serious wrangle by the English bondholders over the state debt, has been conservative and generally judicious. Governor Lee was urged as an available candidate for the nomination of Vice-President by the late National Democratic Convention. Governor Lee has a bright blue eye, and is of genial presence. Rather below medium stature, and originally of slight physique, he has developed into a figure, Napoleonic in bulk. He is happily married, and has an engaging household. He married Miss Ellen Bernard, daughter of George Fowle, Esq., of Alexandria, Va., and has five children: Ellen Fowle, Fitzhugh, George Dashiell, Nannie Fitzhugh and Virginia, the last named after the state, having been born in the gubernatorial mansion.

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