From the 15 January 1912 issue of The New York Times.


St. Clair McKelway Tells of Conference That Aided Virginia in Days of Reconstruction.


President Granted Virginian’s Plea and Prevented Military Interferene in State’s Election.

St. Clair McKelway, editor of The Brooklyn Eagle, who in the late sixties and during the early years of the first Presidency of Gen. U. S. Grant, was a newspaper correspondent in Washington, told in detail to a reporter for THE TIMES, at his home, 21 Monroe Place, Brooklyn, yesterday afternoon, the story of how Gen. Grant, at the request of Gen. Robert E. Lee, had issued an order that saved Virginia from the worst conditions of reconstruction, which had befallen Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, George, South Carolina, and Florida. This story was briefly told for the first time in The Brooklyn Eagle of last Saturday, in the leading editorial article, written by Mr. McKelway under the caption, “Lee and Grant and Some History.”

In that article Mr. McKelway told how Gen. Grant had instructed Gen. John A. Rawlins, the Secretary of War in his Cabinet, to invite Gen. Lee and two other well known Virginians of that time to visit him and talk over the situation in Virginia, in which State an election for Governor was impending. It was Mr. McKelway who visited Gen. Lee and suggested the conference.

Both Gen. Grant and Gen. Lee requested that the conference should not be made a matter of news, and until last Saturday Mr. McKelway never told the story of that historical meeting. The telling, after a lapse of more than forty years, is the result of the publication of Thomas Nelson Page’s book, “Robert E. Lee, Man and Soldier.” Mr. McKelway, in his article said, referring to Mr. Page, that “the author of the volume cannot know some facts which put both Gen. Lee and the State of Virginia under vital obligations to President Grant, else he could not avoid telling them, and would have been incapable of not telling them.” Mr. McKelway added:

At the request both of Gen. Lee and of President Grant the correspondent published nothing on the subject of his act as an intermediate agency at the time or afterward, as it was feared Congress and politicians of both parties might mar or halt the common purpose of the two great soldiers at the start. Of course the fact of the call of Lee, Hunter, and Early at the White House was published, but the purpose was only a matter of speculation till the result became a fact of history.

That newspaper man was then the correspondent of The World, and likewise sent afternoon dispatches to The Eagle, of which he is now and for long years has been the editor. He thinks that the appearance of Mr. Page’s Life of Lee, the lapse of time, and that course of history now justify the disclosure here made.

What Led to the Conference.

This is the story as told to THE TIMES reporter by Mr. McKelway yesterday afternoon:

“Between 1867 and ’69, after the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and his acquittal,” Mr. McKelway said, “I was often in Washington, and from December, 1869, after the election of Gen. Grant to the Presidency until the end of 1870, I was constantly in Washington. I was at that the assistant Washington correspondent of The New York World. George W. Adams, now dead, was the chief correspondent. Each man looked up his own news, I taking the White House and the Senate and Mr. Adams some of the departments and the House.

“My first wife, who died some years ago, was a Missouri woman who had been raised in Kentucky. Her family originally came from Virginia, where she had relatives and friends. This brought her into relations with Mrs. Myra Clark Gaines, the widow of Major Gen. Gaines, who roomed opposite to us in the old National Hotel. The two ladies became very well acquainted with Mrs. Gaines. She very kindly took a strong liking to me.

“The completion of the reconstruction of Virginia was then going on. The military Governor of the State was Gen. H. H. Wells. The Republican Party had nominated Gen. Wells to be Governor, while another party, which called itself the Conservative, had nominated Gen. Gilbert C. Walker. Gen. Walker was a Union, not a Confederate, officer. At the close of the war Gen. Walker had settled in Norfolk, Va., and gone into business.

“Gen. Walker joined the Conservative Party, which for the purpose of placating Northern sentiment and dividing Republican sentiment in Virginia, nominated him for Governor. The Conservatives believed that Gen. Walker could be elected if Gen. Wells did not use the soldiers, who were in military occupation of Virginia, in politics, unfairly and adversely to the Conservative ticket.

“Such were the conditions in Virginia at that time. Mrs. Gaines believed that Gen. Robert E. Lee ought to see Gen. Grant, who on March 4, 1869, had become President, and that Gen. Lee should ask Gen. Grant to insure fair play between the two parties in Virginia.

“Her idea of getting Gen. Lee and the President together was to give me a letter of introduction to Gen. Lee and for me to see if I could not get from him to President Grant an informal request for a conference at which the two soldiers could talk over the situation in Virginia.[“]

A Day With Gen. Lee.

“I saw Gen. Lee at the home of Mrs. Baldwin, in Georgetown. The Baldwin house was a large one. Mrs. Baldwin and her children were away on a visit, and the house had been placed at the service of Gen. Lee, who was then President of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Va. I met Gen. Lee there.

“A violent storm broke out after I arrived at the Baldwin house, and Gen. Lee and I were detained in the house from 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning until 5 o’clock that afternoon. I had expected to see Gen. Lee for a few minutes only, as I knew he intended to go to church at 11 A.M. But instead we were weather-bound until the storm abated, late in the afternoon. Gen. Lee asked me many questions about Northern opinion in both parties, and I, in turn, asked hm many questions about the division in Southern opinion.

“My father had been a surgeon in a New Jersey brigade during the whole of the war between the States, and that enabled me to talk about the Army of the Potomac pretty closely on the strength of letters that father wrote home, and enabled Gen. Lee to correct from his side some of the impressions I had formed about battles between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.

“When I left Gen. Lee that Sunday afternoon he knew that I would ask Gen. Grant to consent to a conference with him. The next day, a Monday, I do so. Gen. Grant said that he would see what he could do about it, and asked me, as Gen. Lee had asked me, not to make the matter a subject of public news, which I did not, and afterward Gen. Grant, through Gen. Babcock, his military aid, and doubtless Gen. Horace Porter, his private secretary, brought about through Gen. John A. Rawlins, the Secretary of War, the conferene with Gen. Lee.

“I know as a matter of newspaper fact that Gen. Lee requested leave to bring with him to the conference ex-United Sttes Senator R. M. T. Hunter and Gen. Jubal A. Early. Gen. Lee represented the general citizenship of Virginia, Senator Hunter was able to represent the political sentiment of the State, and Gen. Early most certainly the effective military sentiment of Virginia.”The result was that there was no military interference with the election in Virginia, and Gen. Walker was elected Governor and served four years, and after that for a long time conservatism in Virginia had no effective opposition until the late Gen. Mahone headed what was known as the Readjusters, as the Republican Party in Virginia was known in his time. A year and a half after that conference in Washington Gen. Lee died.[“]

Lee’s Dignity and Fairness.

“That storm was a fortunate one for me, as it enabled me to be with him a whole day instead of a few minutes. I have never seen a man more commanding, dignified, and impressive in appearance and yet more natural than was Gen. Robert E. Lee, and I have never seen a man whose bodily and intellectual resemblance to Washington,as has been suggested by historians and artists, was more striking. The impression created was that of a man of great dignity, great simplicity, and precision of statement, without excitement or resentment. There was no bitterness, no recrimination.”

In The Eagle editorial article, Mr. McKelway said that the personality of Lee has never been lost, and “is made only stronger by the flight of years.”