Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Jr.
MRS. R. E. LEE
GOES TO WARM SPRINGS FOR RHEUMATISM—HER DAUGHTER MILDRED TAKES TYPHOID THERE—REMOVES TO HOT SPRINGS—HER HUSBAND'S DEVOTION—VISIT OF FITZHUGH AND BRIDE TO LEXINGTON—MISS JONES, A WOULD-BE BENEFACTOR OF WASHINGTON COLLEGE—FATE OF WASHINGTON RELICS BELONGING TO MRS. LEE'S FAMILY
THAT summer my father determined to take my mother to the Warm Springs, in Bath County, Virginia, hoping that the baths there might be of service to her, and purposing, if she was not benefited, to go to the Hot Springs, five miles distant. He was most anxious that his new daughter should join her there and go with him to any place she might select, and come back with them to Lexington. In the following letter to his son he tells of his plans for the summer:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, July 1, 1868.
My Dear Fitzhugh: I received yesterday your letter of the 28th ultimo, and regret very much to learn of Tabb's indisposition. I hope that she will soon be well, and I wish very much she would join us in the mountains and return here with us. In my letter to her about the time when she went to her sister's wedding, which I hope she got, I told her of my wishes on the subject, and believe gave her our general plans. I can now say with more distinctness that, unless something now unforeseen should prevent, I will take your mother to the Warm Springs, from the 10th to the 15th inst., and after trying the water there about two weeks, if not favourable, will take her over to the Hot. After seeing her comfortably established, I will then go anywhere Tabb desires—to the Healing or the White Sulphur or Sweet. I intend to go myself to the White Sulphur for about a fortnight, to drink the water, and will take Mildred with me. Agnes, having gone last summer, will not care to go, I presume, and can remain with her mother. Mildred has been quite sick for the past week, but is now much better, and in a week will be strong enough for the journey, I think. If not, we shall have to delay our departure a little. Agnes was also sick on the Eastern Shore of Maryland about three weeks, and, I am told, looks badly. She is now at the University of Virginia, and will be home in a few days and go with us to the Springs. You must arrange your plans to suit your interests and convenience, coming to us when you can and staying as long as you can. You know the interest I take in your prosperity and advancement, which cannot be assured without earnest attention to your business on your part, and therefore I never urge you to act contrary to your own judgment in reference to them. As to my daughter, Tabb, tell her if she will trust herself to her papa she shall never want anything he can do for her, and I think she will find the prediction in my letter to her verified. She might join us at Goshen and go with us, or come here. Why did she not come up with her father? I went to see him last evening, but he was out. Your mother, I presume, has told you of home affairs. She has become nervous of late, and broods over her troubles so much that I fear it increases her sufferings. I am therefore the more anxious to give her new scenes and new thoughts. It is the principal good I anticipate. Love to Rob. Custis still talks of visiting you, but I have not heard of his having fixed the day of his departure. He is quite well. With my best love to my daughter T— and the same to yourself, I am, Most affectionately your father,
R. E. LEE.
The morning he left Lexington he, while waiting for the stage, writes as follows to a great favourite of his, a friend of Mildred's, who had been on a visit to her that summer:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, July 14, 1868.
. . . The stage is at the door to carry us to Goshen, and if Mrs. Lee's strength permits, we hope to reach the Warm Springs to-night. After two or three week's trial of its waters we shall go to the Hot, where, leaving Agnes to take care of her mother, I shall take Mildred to the White Sulphur, and hope to meet you at Covington and carry you along. Will you not come? . . . Mildred is quite well again and is flying about this morning with great activity. Agnes is following with slower steps, Mrs. Lee is giving her last injunctions to Sam and Eliza. Letitia[note 72] is looking on with wonder at the preparations, and trying to get a right conception of the place to which she is going, which she seems to think is something between a steel-trap and a spring-gun. Custis is waiting to help his mother into the stage, and you see how patient I am. To add interest to the scene, Dr. Barton has arrived to bid adieu and to give Mildred an opportunity of looking her best. I believe he is the last rose of summer. The others, with their fragrance and thorns, have all departed. . . .
A few days after their arrival at the Warm Springs Mildred was taken ill with typhoid fever, and during many anxious weeks my father and Agnes were her only nurses. My mother's room was on the first floor of the "Brockenborough Cottage," my sister's in the second, so she could not get upstairs to her room. Mildred was very fanciful—would have no one but my father to nurse her, and could not sleep unless she had his hand in hers. Night after night he sat by her side, watching over her and attending to every want with gentleness and patience. He writes to the same young lady, at Mildred's request:
WARM SPRINGS, Virginia, July 30, 1868.
. . . She [Mildred] has been so anxious to write to you, and so uneasy at her inability to do so, that I hope you will permit me to tell you the reason. She has been quite sick and is so still—confined to her bed with low fever, which retains its hold very pertinaciously. she took cold a few days after our arrival, from some imprudence, and is now very much enfeebled. She has been more comfortable the last day or two, and I hope is better, but I presume he recovery will necessarily be slow. You know she is very fanciful, and as she seems to be more accessible to reason from me, I have come be her chief nurse and am now writing in her room, while she is sleeping. . . . This is a beautiful valley, and we have quite a pleasant company—Mr. and Mrs. Chapman and their three daughters from Alabama; Mrs. Coleman and her two daughters from Baltimore; some ladies from Richmond, Washington, Kentucky, Iowa, etc., and an ever-changing scene of faces. As soon as Mildred is strong enough, we will go to the Hot, after which, if she desires it, I will take her to the White. Mrs. Lee and Agnes are improving slightly, I am glad to say. We hear of many friends at the Hot, Healing, and White, and hope we shall reach these respective waters before they depart. . . . The Harrisons have written me that they will be here on the 14th proximo, but unless Mildred's recovery is much retarded it will be too late for me to see them. The Caskies will be at the Hot about the same time. . . . I am, Your most sincerely,
R. E. LEE.
On August 3d from the same place, he writes to my brother Fitzhugh:
. . . this was the day I had appointed to go to the Hot, but Mildred is too sick to move. She was taken more than a fortnight since, . . . and her attack seems to have partaken of a typhoid character. She has had since a low and persistent fever, which retains its hold. She is very feeble, but, in the doctor's opinion, somewhat better. I myself see little change, except that she is now free from pain. I cannot speak of our future movements. I fear I shall have to abandon my visit to the White. Your mother and Agnes are better than when they arrived. The former bathes freely, eats generously, and sleeps sweetly. Agnes, though feeble, is stronger. I am the same, and can see no effects of the waters upon myself. Give much love to my sweet daughter and dear sons. All unite with me in this message. . . . I am, as ever and always, Your father,
R. E. LEE.
Another letter to my brother, Fitzhugh, from the Warm Springs, tells of his daughter's convalescence. Smith's Island, of which he writes, belonged to my grandfather's estate, of which my father was executor. He was trying to make some disposition of it, so that it might yield a revenue. It is situated on the Atlantic just east of Cape Charles, in Northampton County, Virginia.
WARM SPRINGS, Virginia, August 14, 1868.
My Dear Fitzhugh: I received, yesterday, your letter of the 9th, and, as your mother informed you of Mildred's condition, I deferred replying to it until to-day. I am glad to inform you that she is better, and that the doctor pronounces her convalescent this morning. He says her progress must necessarily be slow, but with care and prudence he sees nothing to prevent her recovery, unless something unforeseen occurs. I hope, therefore, we may dismiss our anxiety. As regards Smith's Island, I should be very glad if you could go over and see it, and, if you think proper, make such disposition of it as you and Robert think most advantageous. See Mr. Hamilton S. Neale (Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia) and consult with him on the subject and let me know your determination. I think you will find him kind and intelligent. I have visited the island twice in my life, a long while ago, and thought that, if a person lived on it, he might, by grazing, planting and fishing, make a comfortable living. You and Robert might, if you choose, buy the island from the estate. I fear the timber, etc., has been cut from it. I never thought it as valuable as your grandfather did. You will have to go to Norfolk, take the steamer to Cherrystone, where, I suppose, you can find a conveyance to Eastville. You know Cobb's Island has been a fashionable bathing-place. John Lewis wrote that the beach was delightful and fare excellent, and that they had sail-vessels there at the disposal of visitors. But Mr. Neale and Mr. John Simpkins, the present agent, can put you in the way of visiting the island, and you might carry my sweet daughter, Tabb, over and give her a surf bath. But do not let the mosquitoes annoy her. Give her much love from me. I am writing in Mildred's room, who is very grateful for your interest in her behalf. She is too weak to speak. I hope Rob had a pleasant trip. Tell me Custis's plans. I have not heard from him. Your mother and Agnes unite in love to you, Rob, and Tabb. I have a fan in one hand, while I wield a pen with the other, so excuse brevity. Most affectionately yours,
R. E. LEE.
P.S.—George and Eleanor Goldsborough and Miss Mary G— express themselves as much pleased with Cobb's Island. I do not know how far it is east of Smith's Island. R. E. LEE.
His daughter being convalescent, he carried out his plan, and went over to the White Sulphur Springs, after he had placed my mother and sisters at the Hot Springs. In a letter from there, on August 28th, he writes:
. . . The place looks beautiful—the belles very handsome, and the beaux very happy. All are gay, and only I solitary. I am all alone. There was a grand fancy masked ball last night. The room was overflowing, the music good, as much spring in the boards as in the conversation, and the german continued till two o'clock this morning. I return to the Hot next week, and the following to Lexington. Mildred is much better, but says she has forgotten how to write. I hope that she will be strong enough to return with me. . . . I am, Truly and affectionately yours,
R. E. LEE.
They all returned to Lexington early in September, in time for the opening of the college. Mildred was still weak and nervous, nor did she recover her normal strength for several months. She was always my father's pet as a little girl, and during this illness and convalescence he had been very tender with her, humoring as far as he could all of her fancies. Not long before that Christmas, she enumerated, just in fun, all the present she wished—a long list. To her great surprise, when Christmas morning came she found each article at her place at the breakfast-table—not one omitted.
His sympathy with all who were suffering, ill, and afflicted was warm and sincere. Colonel Shipp, now superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, was the commandant of cadets when my father came to Lexington. He tells me that the he was ill for some weeks, laid up in his room, which was next to that of my brother Custis. He hardly knew General Lee, and had spoken to him only a few times, but my father went to see him quite often, would sit by him, talk to him, and seemed much interested in his getting well. He said that he would consult Mrs. Lee ("who is a great doctor"), and he finally brought a bottle of something in which sudor-berries were the chief ingredient. Colonel Shipp found out afterward that the sudor-berries had been sent from the White House, and that my mother had concocted the medicine.
On one occasion, calling at Colonel Preston's, he missed two little boys in the family circle, who were great favourites of his, and on asking for them he was told that they were confined to the nursery by croup. The next day, though the weather was of the worst description, he went trudging in great storm-boots back to their house, carrying in one hand a basket of pecan nuts and in the other a toy, which he left for his little sick friends.
To my mother, who was a great invalid from rheumatism for more than ten years, he was the most faithful attendant and tender nurse. Every want of hers that he could supply he anticipated. His considerate fore-thought saved her from much pain and trouble. During the war he constantly wrote to her, even when on the march and amidst the most pressing duties. Every summer of their life in Lexington he arranged that she should spend several months at one of the many medicinal springs in the neighbouring mountains, as much that she might be surrounded by new scenes and faces, as for the benefit of the waters. Whenever he was in the room, the privilege of pushing her wheeled chair into the dining-room and out on the verandas or elsewhere about the house was yielded to him. He sat with her daily, entertaining her with accounts of what was doing in the college, and the news of the village, and would often read to her in the evening. For her his love and care never ceased, his gentleness and patience never ended.
This tenderness for the sick and helpless was developed in him when he was a mere lad. His mother was an invalid, and he was her constant nurse. In her last illness he mixed every dose of medicine she took, and was with her night and day. If he left the room, she kept her eyes on the door till he returned. He never left her but for a short time. After her death the health of their faithful servant, Nat, became very bad. My father, then just graduated from West Point, took him to the South, had the best medical advice, a comfortable room, and everything that could be done to restore him, and attended to him himself.
I can find few family letters written by my father at this time. Those which have been preserved are to my brother Fitzhugh, and are mostly about Smith's Island and the settling up of my grandfather's estate. The last of September he writes:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, September 28, 1868.
My Dear Fitzhugh: Your report of the condition of Smith's Island corresponds with my own impressions, based upon my knowledge of the island and the reports of others. I think it would be advantageous, under present circumstances, to make sale of the island as soon as a fair price can be obtained, and I have so instructed Mr. Hamilton S. Neale, who has consented to act as my agent. . . . I should like this whole matter arranged as soon as possible, for my life is very uncertain, and its settlement now may avoid future difficulties. I am very glad to hear that you and Rob have continued well, and that my daughter is improving. Give my love to them both. The loss of your fine cows is a serious one, and I believe you will have to procure them in your vicinity and improve them. Get some calves this fall of a good breed. We hope that we shall see you this fall. Your mother is as comfortable as usual, and Mildred is improving. Custis, Mary, and Agnes are well, and all would send love, did they know I was writing. Very affectionately your father,
R. E. LEE.
This autumn he had a visit from his nephew, Edward Lee Childe. Edward lived in Paris, and had crossed over in the summer to see my father and mother. He made a very pleasant impression on everybody, and was much pleased with his visit. Here is a letter written by my father to my brother just after Edward left:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, October 14, 1868.
My Dear Fitzhugh: I have returned to Mr. Hamilton S. Neale the advertisement of the sale of Smith's Island, with my approval, and have requested him to advertise in the Northern and Richmond papers, etc., and to send out such other notices as he deems best calculated to attract attention to the property, and to take every measure to enhance the value of the island and to procure for your grandfather's estate the full benefit of the sale. . . . I have heard from Mr. Compton that my daughter Tabb has returned to the White House in improved health, which I am very glad of. I hope that you will soon be able to bring her up to see us. Do not wait until the weather becomes too cold. Our mountain atmosphere in winter is very harsh. So far, the weather has been delightful. Your cousin Edward left us last Thursday evening on his way to see you. We enjoyed his visit greatly. Agnes and I rode down to the Baths last Saturday to see the Harrisons, and returned Sunday evening. They were well, and somewhat benefited by their visit. Mr. George Ritchie's death no doubt threw a shade of sadness over the whole party on Mrs. Harrison's account, though all were charming and Miss Belle very sweet. We are about the same—your poor mother comfortable, Mildred improving. All would unite in love to you and yours, did they know I was writing. Give much love to my dear daughter, Tabb, and tell her that I want to see her very much. Truly and affectionately your father,
R. E. LEE.
In a few days, he writes again, still about Smith's Island, but adds much about the family and friends:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, October 19, 1868.
My Dear Fitzhugh: I received your letter of the 12th the day I last wrote to you. I am glad we agree that $— should be the minimum limit for the price of Smith's Island. You will see by my letter referred to that it has been so fixed. December 22d is the day proposed by Mr. Neale as the time of public sale, which was approved by me, though I feared the notice might be too short. Still there are good reasons for the sale being made without unnecessary delay. I think November, which you suggest, would not afford sufficient notice. I would recommend that you and Robert attend the sale, and be governed by circumstances in what you do. I would go myself, but it would be a long, hard journey for me at that season of the year, and I do not see any material good that I can do. Mr. Neale kindly offered to meet me at Cherrystone landing and take me to his house, but I shall decline in your favour. I am sorry that Edward did not get down to see you, for I wanted him to see my daughter, Tabb. I am sure he has seen none like her in Paris. He left here with the purpose of visiting you and his uncle Smith, and I do not know what made him change his mind. I hope that you will get in a good crop of wheat, and get it in well. The latter is very important and unless accomplished may deprive you of the whole benefit of your labour and expense. We shall look anxiously for your visit. Do not put it off too late or the weather may be unfavourable. Our mountain country is not the most pleasant in cold weather, but we will try and make you warm. Give my love to Tabb, and tell her I am wanting to see her all the time. All unite in love to her and you. Your mother is about the same, very busy, and full of work. Mildred is steadily improving, and is able to ride on horseback, which she is beginning to enjoy. Mary and Agnes very well. We see but little of Custis. He has joined the mess at the institute, which he finds very comfortable, so that he rarely comes to our table to breakfast now. The rest of the time he seems to be occupied with his classes and studies. Remember me to Rob. I hear of a great many weddings, but his has not been announced yet. He must not forget his house. I have not, and am going to take up the plan very soon. Mildred says a good house is an effective card in the matrimonial game. She is building a castle in the air. The Harrisons propose leaving the Baths to-morrow. George arrived a week ago. I did not get down Saturday to see them as I wished. I hope the health of the whole party has been improved. I wish I could spend this month with you. That lower country is delightful to me at this season, and I long to be on the water again, but it cannot be. With much love,
R. E. LEE.
GENERAL WM. H. FITZHUGH LEE.
The last of October he went to Staunton on some business. He rode Traveller, and Colonel Wm. Allen rode with him. It was the time of the Augusta Agricultural Fair, and while there he visited the exhibition and was received by the people with great demonstrations of delight. A student standing by remarked dryly:
I don't see why the Staunton people make all this to do over General Lee; why, in Lexington, he sends for me to come to see him!
In a letter of November 2d he mentions this little journey:
. . . I have recently paid a visit to Staunton and saw the young people there. They seemed very happy in their fair, and the beaux with their belles. I rode over on Traveller and was accompanied by Colonel Allen. The former was delighted at the length of the road, and the latter relieved from an obstinate cold from which he was suffering. On the second morning, just as the knights were being marshalled to prove their prowess and devotion, we commenced our journey back to Lexington, which we reached before nine P.M., under the light of a beautiful moon.
At this time his son Fitzhugh and his new daughter paid their long-promised visit, which he enjoyed immensely. My mother and sisters were charmed with her, and the entire community vied in paying her attention. My father was proud of his daughter-in-law and much gratified at his son's marriage. He was delighted with the manner in which she adapted herself to the ways of all her new relations, with her sweet attention to my mother, and, above all, with her punctuality. She had been warned beforehand by her husband that, to please his father, she must be always ready for family prayers, which were read every morning by him just before breakfast. This she succeeded in doing, never failing once to be on time. As breakfast was at seven o'clock, it was no small feat for one not accustomed to such early hours. She said afterward that she did not believe that General Lee would have an entirely high opinion of any person, even General Washington, if he could return to earth, if he were not ready for prayers! After a delightful visit of three weeks my brother and his wife returned home. Just as the latter was packing, my father came into her room and filled all the space in the top of her trunk with pecan nuts, which some friends had sent him from the South.
The hour fixed for the service in the college chapel was, as I have said, a quarter to eight o'clock every morning except Sunday. In the three winter months, December, January, and February, it was one hour later. As the president never failed to attend, when not prevented by sickness or absence, it was necessary to have an early breakfast. After chapel he went to his office and was seated at his desk by eight o'clock, where he remained, unless called out by public business, till two P.M. This room was open to all in the college who had business with him. The new students were required to report to him here in person, and from their first interviews we obtained a knowledge of the young men of which he availed himself in their future career in the college. As president, he was always disposed to be lenient with students who were reported for disorderly conduct or for failure in their studies or duties. He would say to the faculty, when they seemed to think it necessary to send a student home:
Don't you think it would be better to bear with him a little longer? Perhaps we may do him some good.
Being sent for to this office was anything but pleasant to the students. Lewis, one of the janitors, went around with the names of those the president wanted to see, written by his own hand on a long slip of paper. He carried the paper in one hand, a pencil in the other, and when he could find the one he wanted in a crowd of his comrades, he took special pleasure in serving his notice, and would say in his solemn, sepulchral voice:
Mr. —, the president wants to see you at the office.
Then Mr. — took the pencil and made a cross-mark opposite his name, which was evidence of his having received his summons. What transpired at these interviews was seldom known, except as the student himself might reveal it; for unless it became necessary to summon the delinquent a second time, the president never alluded to the subject. An old student writes me the following account of his experience in the president's office:
I was a frolicsome chap at college, and, having been absent from class an unreasonable number of times, was finally summoned to the General's office. Abject terror took possession of me in the presence of such wise and quiet dignity; the reasons I had carefully prepared to give for my absence stood on their heads, or toppled over. In reply to General Lee's grave but perfectly polite question, I stammered out a story about a violent illness, and then, conscious that I was at that moment the picture of health, I hastened on with something about leaving my boots at the cobbler's, when General Lee interrupted me: "Stop, Mr. M—," he said; "stop, sir! One good reason is enough." But I could not be mistaken about the twinkle in the old hero's eyes!
Only a few cases required more than one summons to appear at the office. No instance is known where a student complained of injustice or harshness, and the effect on his mind was that of greater respect and admiration for the president.
The new house was approaching completion, and my father was much interested in the work, going there very often and discussing with the workmen their methods. That Christmas I spent two weeks in Lexington, and many times my father took me all over the new building, explaining all the details of his plan. All of his family were here together this Christmas except Fitzhugh and his wife, an occurence rather rare of late years. My father's health was unusually good, and he was bright and almost gay. He rode out often, taking me with him, as it was too cold for the girls. He also took me around with him visiting, and in the mild festivities of the neighbours he joined with evident pleasure. My visit ended all too soon, and the first week of January I started back to the "low country." Soon after my departure, he forwarded a letter to me with the accompanying one of his own:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, January 14, 1869.
My Dear Rob: The accompanying letter was inclosed to me by Lawrence Butler[note 73] with the request that I would forward it, as he did not know your address, and urge you to be present at his wedding. I do not know that I can say more, except to inform you that he says he has the very girl for you if you will come on. You must therefore decide the question according to your best judgment. General Hoke, from North Carolina, has also sent you his wedding-cards. We have missed you very much since your departure, and wished you back. I hope you got home comfortably and found all well. Drive all your work with judgment and energy, and when you have decided about the house, let me know. Tell Fitzhugh I have signed the insurance policy and sent it to Mr. Wickham for his signature, with the request that he forward it to Grubb & Williams. The weather still continues pleasant, and I fear we shall suffer for it by the late spring. There has so far been a great lack of snow, and consequently the wheat is exposed to the great changes of temperature. We are all as you left us. Custis, I think, looks better. No news. Mail heavy this morning. Love to F— and T—. With great affection, Your father,
R. E. LEE.
R. E. LEE, JR.
Some one wrote to General Lee suggesting that General Grant, then president of the United States, should be invited to Washington College. His reply was as follows:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, January 8, 1869.
My Dear Sir: I am much obliged to you for you letter of the 29th ult., which I am sure has been prompted by the best motives. I should be glad if General Grant would visit Washington College, and I should endeavour to treat him with the courtesy and respect due the President of the United States; but if I were to invite him to do so, it might not be agreeable to him, and I fear my motives might be misunderstood at this time, both by himself and others, and that evil would result instead of good. I will, however, bear your suggestion in mind, and should a favourable opportunity offer I shall be glad to take advantage of it. Wishing you happiness and prosperity, I am, Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
A lady living in New York wrote to General Lee in 1867, asking for a catalogue of Washington College and a copy of its charter and laws. She wished also to know whether or not the college was sectarian, and, if so, of what denomination. She intimated that she desired to make a donation to some institution of learning, and was rather inclined to select the Episcopal Theological Seminary, near Alexandria, Virginia. The president sent her the following reply to her letter:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, June 24, 1867.
MISS ANN UPSHUR JONES,
No. 156 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y.
My Dear Madam: I have had the honour to receive your letter of the 17th inst., and I send to your address a catalogue of Washington College and a copy of its charter and laws. On the thirty-seventh page of the former, and the eleventh of the latter, you will find what is prescribed on the subject of religion. I do not know that it ever has been sectarian in its character since it was chartered as a college; but it certainly is not so now. Located in a Presbyterian community, it is natural that most of its trustees and faculty should be of that denomination, though the rector, president, and several of the professors are members of the Episcopal Church. It is furthest from my wish to divert any donation from the Theological Seminary at Alexandria, for I am well acquainted with the merits of that institution, have a high respect for its professors, and am an earnest advocate of its object. I only give you the information you desire, and wish you to follow your own preferences in the matter. With great respect, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
In 1869 she wrote again, stating that she proposed breaking up housekeeping, that she had no family to whom to give her books, furniture, and silver, that she did not wish to sell them nor store them away, and had therefore determined to present them to the "greatest living man,"" and she begged him to accept them, or, if his house was already furnished, to make use of them in his college. To this letter he replied:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, February 13, 1869.
My Dear Miss Jones: After long and diligent inquiry I only this moment learned your address, and have been during this time greatly mortified at my inability to acknowledge the receipt and disposition of your valuable and interesting donation to Washington College. The books were arranged in the library on their arrival, the globes in the philosophical department, while the furniture, carpets, sofas, chairs, etc., have been applied to the furnishing of the dais of the audience-room of the new chapel, to the comfort and ornament of which they are a great addition. I have yet made no disposition of the plate and tableware, and they are still in the boxes in which they came. I inclose the resolution of thanks passed by the Board of Trustees of the College at their annual meeting, to which I beg to add my personal acknowledgments and grateful sense of your favour and kindness to this institution. It would give me great pleasure if you would visit Lexington at the commencement in June next, the third Thursday, that I might then show you the successful operation of the college. Mrs. Lee joins me in sentiments of esteem and regard, praying that the great and merciful God may throw around you His protecting care and love. I am, with great respect, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
MISS ANN UPSHUR JONES,
No. 38 Union Square, New York.
The plate, tableware, and a curious old work-table, for which no place could be found in the college, valuable only on account of their antiquity and quaintness, he finally allowed to be called his own.
When my mother hurriedly left her home in the spring of 1861, she found it impossible to carry away the valuable relics of General Washington which her father had inherited from Mount Vernon, and which had been objects of great interest at Arlington for more than fifty years. After the Federal authorities took possession of the place, the most valuable of these Mount Vernon relics were conveyed to Washington City and placed in the Patent Office, where they remained on exhibition for many years labelled "Captured from Arlington." They were then removed to the "National Museum," where they are now, but the card has been taken off. In 1869, a member of Congress suggested to my mother that she should apply to President Johnson to have them restored to her. In a letter from my father to this same gentleman, this bit of quiet humour occurs:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, February 12, 1869.
. . . Mrs. Lee has determined to act upon your suggestion and apply to President Johnson for such of the relics from Arlington as are in the Patent Office. From what I have learned, a great many things formerly belonging to General Washington, bequeathed to her by her father, in the shape of books, furniture, camp equipage, etc., were carried away by individuals and are now scattered over the land. I hope the possessors appreciate them and may imitate the example of their original owners, whose conduct must at times be brought to their recollection by these silent monitors. In this way they will accomplish good to the country. . . .
He refers to this same subject in a letter to the honourable George W. Jones, Dubuque, Iowa:
. . . In reference to certain articles which were taken from Arlington, about which you inquire, Mrs. Lee is indebted to our old friend Captain James May for the order from the present administration for their restoration to her. Congress, however, passed a resolution forbidding their return. They were valuable to her as having belonged to her great-grandmother (Mrs. General Washington), and having been bequeathed to her by her father. But as the country desires them, she must give them up. I hope their presence at the capital will keep in the remembrance of all Americans the principles and virtues of Washington. . . .
To the Honourable Thomas Lawrence Jones, who endeavoured to have the order to restore the relics to Mrs. Lee executed, the following letter of thanks was written:
LEXINGTON, Virginia, March 29, 1869.
HONOURABLE THOMAS LAWRENCE JONES,
Washington City, District of Columbia.
My Dear Sir: I beg to be allowed to tender you my sincere thanks for your efforts to have restored to Mrs. Lee certain family relics in the Patent Office in Washington. The facts related in your speech in the House of Representatives on the 3d inst., so far as known to me, are correct, and had I conceived the view taken of the matter by Congress I should have endeavoured to dissuade Mrs. Lee from applying for them. It may be a question with some whether the retention of these articles is more "an insult," in the language of the Committee on Public Buildings, "to the loyal people of the United States," than their restoration; but of this I am willing that they should be the judge, and since Congress has decided to keep them, she must submit. However, her thanks to you, sir, are not the less fervent for your kind intercession in her behalf, and with highest regards, I am, with great respect, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE.
Washington's opinion of this transaction, if it could be obtained, would be of interest to many Americans![note 74]
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