Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Jr.
LETTERS TO MRS. LEE FROM RICHMOND AND SAVANNAH—FROM BRANDON—AGNES LEE'S ACCOUNT OF HER FATHER'S GREETINGS FROM OLD FRIENDS AND OLD SOLDIERS—WILMINGTON AND NORFOLK DO HIM HONOUR—VISITS TO FITZHUGH AND ROBERT IN THEIR HOMES
IT is to be regretted that so little was written by my father while on this trip. In the letters extant he scarcely refers to his reception by the people at different points visited. His daughter Agnes tells more, and we can imagine how tenderly and joyfully he was greeted by his old soldiers, their wives, children and friends. He was very unwilling to be made a hero anywhere, and most reluctant to show himself to the crowds assembled at every station along his route, pressing to catch sight of him.
"Why should they care to see me?" he would say, when urged to appear on the platform of the train; "I am only a poor old Confederate!"
This feeling, natural to him, was probably intensified at that time by the state of his health. On Sunday he writes to my mother of his trip to Richmond and of his stay there:
RICHMOND, Virginia, March 29, 1870.
My Dear Mary: I reached here Friday afternoon, and had a more comfortable journey than I expected. The night aboard the packet was very trying, but I survived it, and the dust of the railroad the following day. Yesterday the doctors, Huston, McCaw, and Cunningham, examined me for two hours, and I believe, contemplate returning to-day. They say they will make up their opinion and communicate it to Doctor Barton, who will write me what to do. In the meantime they desire me to continue his prescriptions. I think I feel better than when I left Lexington, certainly stronger, but am a little feverish. Whether it is produced by the journey, or the toddies that Agnes administers, I do not know. I have not been able to see anybody, nor was I able to get the groceries yesterday. Agnes thinks you will have enough to last till I get back here, when I will select them and send them up. Should you want any particular article, write to Messrs. Bacon & Lewis for it. I saw, yesterday morning, Mr. John Stewart and Miss Mary,[note 84] who had called to see Agnes but found she was out. Miss Mary looked very sweet, and inquired about you all. Agnes rode out there yesterday afternoon and saw all the family. I am told all our friends here are well. Many of my northern friends have done me the honour to call on me. Among them "Brick Pomeroy." They like to see all that is going on. Agnes has gone to church with Colonel Corley. I was afraid to go. The day is unfavourable, and I should see so many of my old friends, to whom I would like to speak, that it might be injurious to me. I was in hopes that Fitzhugh might make his appearance yesterday, when we should have learned all about those below, but he did not. I hear that they are all well, however. I expect to continue our journey to-morrow, if nothing prevents, though I have not yet got the information I desire about the routes. Still, I will get on. I will leave to Agnes to tell about herself. Love to all, Truly,
R. E. LEE.
The next letter that I find is written from Savannah:
SAVANNAH, Georgia, April 2, 1870.
My Dear Mary: I reached here yesterday evening and have borne the journey much better than I expected. I think I am stronger than when I left Lexington, but otherwise can discover no difference. I have had a tedious journey upon the whole, and have more than ever regretted that I undertook it. However, I have enjoyed meeting many friends, and the old soldiers have greeted me very cordially. My visit to dear Annie's grave was mournful, yet soothing to my feelings, and I was glad to have the opportunity of thanking the kind friends for their care of her while living and their attention to her since her death. I saw most of the ladies of the committee who undertook the preparation of the monument and the inclosure of the cemetery, and was very kindly received by all the citizens of Warrenton, and, indeed, at all the towns through which we passed. Yesterday, several gentlemen from Savannah met the train in which we came from Augusta—General Lawton, Mr. Andrew Lowe, Mr. Hodgson, etc., etc. I found they had arranged among themselves about my sojourn, so I yielded at once, and, after depositing Agnes at General Lawton's, I came off to Mr. Lowe's, where I am now domiciled. His house is partially dismantled and he is keeping house alone, so I have a very quiet time. This morning I took a short drive around the city with Agnes and Miss Lawton, and on returning called on Mrs. Elliot, who has her two widowed daughters living with, Mrs. Elliot and Mrs. Habersham. I also went to see Mrs. Gordon, Mrs. Gilmer, and Mrs. Owen, and then returned to the Lowes', where I find he has invited some gentlemen to meet me at dinner—General Joe Johnston, General Lawton, General Gilmer, Colonel Corley, etc. Colonel Corley has stuck to me all the journey, and now talks of going to New Orleans. The weather to-day is rather cool and raw, with an easterly wind, and if it continues I will go on to Florida next week. The woods are filled with flowers, yellow jasmine covering all the trees, etc., and fresh vegetables everywhere. I must leave Agnes to give you all details. The writing-desk is placed in a dark corner in this handsome house, prepared for younger eyes than mine, and I can hardly see what I write. All friends inquire after you, Custis, Mary, and Mildred. Give my love to all, and believe me, Most truly,
R. E. LEE.
MRS. R. E. LEE.
The Colonel Corley mentioned in the above letters had been on General Lee's staff, as chief quartermaster, from the time he assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia until the surrender. His voluntary service as escort on this trip, so delicately offered and performed, was highly appreciated by his old commander. A letter from his daughter to her mother, written the next day, tells many particulars of their journey, but still leaves much to be desired:
SAVANNAH, Georgia, April 3, 1870.
. . . I hardly know where to commence, I have so little time to write. We left Richmond Monday, 2 P.M. We reached Warrenton at ten o'clock and were taken to their house by Mr. and Mrs. White, who met us at the depot. The next morning papa and I drove with Captain White's horses to the cemetery. Mrs. White gave me a quantity of beautiful white hyacinths, which she said were for you, too, and I had brought some gray moss that Kitty Stiles had given me. This I twined on the base of the monument. The flowers looked very pure and beautiful. The place is just as it is in Mr. Hope's picture (which I have). It was a great satisfaction to be there again. We did not go to the springs, a mile off. Returning, we stopped at Mr. Joe Jones's (old Mr. J—'s son). They insisted on our taking dinner. He has eleven children, I think, and there were numberless others there. They loaded me with flowers, the garden full of hyacinths and early spring flowers. Mrs. Jones is a very nice lady, one of those who were foremost in erecting the monument. We then stopped at the farm of the Jones's, who were at the springs when we were there in the autumn of 1862, and Mrs. J— knew me at once, and asked affectionately after you. Saw Patty and Emma—all the daughters married except Patty and the youngest. Mr. J— is very infirm—eighty-three years old. That evening a number of persons came to see us, Mrs. Alston and Miss Brownlow, two others of the committee of ladies. Every one was very kind. Indeed, I wish you could travel with papa, to see the affection and feeling shown toward him everywhere. We spent that night in the sleeping-car, very handsome and comfortable, but the novelty, I suppose, made us wakeful. At Raleigh and another place the people crowded to the depot and called "Lee! Lee!" and cheered vociferously, but we were locked up and "mum." Everywhere along the road where meals were provided the landlords invited us in, and when we would not get out, sent coffee and lunches. Even soldiers on the train sent in fruit, and I think we were expected to die of eating. At Charlotte and Salisbury there were other crowds and bands. Colonel Corley joined us at C., having asked to go to Savannah with us. The train stopped fifteen minutes at Columbia. Colonel Alexander Haskell took charge of the crowd, which in spite of the pouring rain, stood there till we left. General E. Porter Alexander was there, and was very hearty in his inquiries after all of us. His little girl was lifted into the car. Namesakes appeared on the way, of all sizes. Old ladies stretched their heads into the windows at way-stations, and then drew back and said "He is mightily like his pictures." We reached Augusta Wednesday night. The mayor and council met us, having heard a few minutes before that papa was on the train. We were whirled off to the hotel, and papa decided to spend Thursday there. They had a reception the whole of the morning. Crowds came. Wounded soldiers, servants, and working-men even. The sweetest little children—namesakes—dressed to their eyes, with bouquets of japonica—or tiny cards in their little fat hands—with their names. Robert Burwell, of Clarke, who married Miss Clayton there; Randall, author of "My Maryland"; General McLaws, Wright, Gardner, and many others. Saw the Misses Boggs, General B—'s sisters. Miss Rebecca knew Mrs. Kirkpatrick very well, and asked after her. Miss Russell, with whose father and sisters we had been at the White Sulphur, helped us to receive. She is very tall and handsome, and was superb in a white lace shawl, a moire-antique with a train. The Branch brothers rather took possession of me. Melville, who was at the Institute [Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia] and knew the Letchers very well, drove me in and around town—at the rate of a mile a minute. Another brother took me to the "Skating Rink" at night . . . a serenade that night. At some point on the way here Generals Lawton and Gilmer, Mr. Andrew Lowe, and others, got on the cars with us. Flowers were given us at various places. I so much enjoyed the evidences of spring all along our route—more and more advanced as we proceeded. The jasmine, though passing away, was still in sufficient abundance, in some places, to perfume the air. The dark marshes were rich in tall magnolia trees, beautiful red buds, and other red blossoms I did not know. The jasmine and the trees hanging with gray moss—perfectly weird-looking—have been the least luxuriant places in the interim. Savannah is green with live-oaks—and filled with trees and shrubbery. I wish you could see a large marble table in the parlour, where I am writing, with a pyramid of jasmine in the centre and four large plates full at the corners, almost covering the square, all sent me Saturday. The Lawtons are as kind as possible, wanted papa to stay here, but Mr. Andrew Lowe had arranged to take him to his house at bed-time. So he lost the benefit of a serenade from two bands, alternating, which we enjoyed—General Lawton telling the crowd General Lee had retired from fatigue. Papa has borne the journey and the crowds far better than I thought he would and seems stronger. (Monday.) It seems impossible to finish this—I inclose some scraps which will tell our story. Crowds of persons have been coming to see me ever since I came. Saw Mrs. General Johnston—Nannie Hutchenson—of course, and Reverend and Mrs. Moore yesterday. They left to-day. . . . Colonel Corley has taken Corinne[note 85] and me on a beautiful drive this morning to "Bonaventure," which is to be a cemetery, and to several places in its vicinity. I never saw anything more impressive and beautiful than the avenues of live-oaks, literally covered with long gray moss, arching over the roads. Tell Messrs. Owen and Minis I have seen their families, who are very kind to us. General and Mrs. Gilmer asked especially after Custis. . . . We think of going to Florida in a few days. Haven't heard from you.
This is the only letter from his daughter Agnes, written at this time, that can be found. My father, in his letters to his family, left "details" and "particulars" for her to describe, and doubtless she did so. Unfortunately, there is but this single letter.
On April 17th, he writes again from Savannah to my mother:
My Dear Mary: I have received your letter of the Wednesday after our departure and am glad to hear that you are well and getting on so comfortably. The destruction of the bridge is really a loss to the community, and I fear will inconvenience Mildred in her return. However, the spring is now advancing and they ought to be able to get up the new bridge. I hope I am a little better. I seem to be stronger and to walk with less difficulty, but it may be owing to the better streets of Savannah. I presume if any change takes place it will be gradual and slow. Please say to Doctor Barton that I have received his letter and am obliged to him for his kind advice. I shall begin to-day with his new prescriptions and will follow them strictly. To-morrow I expect to go to Florida, and will stop first at Amelia Island. The visitors to that region are coming out, saying the weather is uncomfortably hot. If I find it so, I shall return. Savannah has become very pleasant within the last few days, and I dare say I shall do as well here as elsewhere. The spring, however, is backward. I believe I told you that I was staying with Mr. Andrew Lowe, who is very kind, and where I am very comfortable. I am going to be separated from Agnes, and have received invitations from several of the inhabitants where we could be united. But it is awkward to change. Agnes has been sick, too, since her arrival, which has made me the more anxious to be with her. You know she is like her papa—always wanting something. She is, however, better to-day, as I learn, though I have not seen her yet. I saw her twice yesterday. She was better then and came down to Mrs. Lawton's room, so I hope she will be well enough to go with me to Amelia Island. The Messrs. Mackay got down from Etowa last evening, both looking very well, and have reopened their old house in Broughton Street, which I am glad of. I have see Mrs. Doctor Elliot and family, the Andersons, Gordons, etc., etc., and all my former acquaintances and many new ones. I do not think travelling in this way procures me much quiet and repose. I wish I were back. . . . Give my love to her [his daughter Mary] and to Custis, and tell the latter I hope that he will be able to keep Sam in the seeds he may require. Praying a merciful God to guard and direct you all, I am, Most affectionately,
R. E. Lee.
P.S.—I received a letter from F—: all well. R.E.L.
Sam was the gardener and man-of-all-work at Lexington. My father took great interest in his garden and always had a fine one. Still, in Savannah, he again writes to his wife acknowledging the letters forwarded to him and commenting on the steps being taken:
SAVANNAH, Georgia, April 11, 1870.
My Dear Mary: I received yesterday your letters of the 3d and 6th, inclosing Reverend Mr. Brantley's and daughter's and Cassius Lee's. I forwarded the petition to the President, accompanying the latter, to Cassius, and asked him to give it to Mr. Smith. Hearing, while passing through Richmond, of the decision of the Supreme Court referred to, I sent word to Mr. Smith that if he thought the time and occasion propitious for taking steps for the recovery of Arlington, the Mill, etc., to do so, but to act quietly and discreetly. I presume the petition sent you for signature was the consequence. I do not know whether this is a propitious time or not, and should rather have had an opportunity to consult friends, but am unable to do so. Tell Custis that I wish that he would act for me, through you or others, for it is mainly on his account that I desire the restitution of the property. I see that a resolution has been introduced in Congress "to perfect the title of the Government to Arlington and other National Cemeteries," which I have been apprehensive of stirring, so I suppose the matter will come up anyhow. I did not sign the petition, for I did not think it necessary, and believed the more I was kept out of sight the better. We must hope for the best, speak as little and act as discreetly as possible.
The reverend Dr. Brantley was invited by the faculty of the college to deliver the baccalaureate sermon next June, and I invited him and his daughter, in the event of his accepting, to stay with us. Do you know whether he has accepted? I should have gone to Florida last Friday, as proposed, but Agnes was not well enough. She took cold on the journey or on her first arrival, and has been quite sick, but is better now. I have not seen her this morning, but if she is sufficiently recovered we will leave here to-morrow. I have received a message saying that she was much better. As regards myself, my general health is pretty good. I feel stronger than when I came. The warm weather has also dispelled some of the rheumatic pains in my back, but I perceive no change in the stricture in my chest. If I attempt to walk beyond a very slow gait, the pain is always there. It is all true what the doctors say about its being aggravated by any fresh cold, but how to avoid taking cold is the question. It seems with me to be impossible. Everything and anything seems to give me one. I meet with much kindness and consideration, but fear that nothing will relieve my complaint, which is fixed and old. I must bear it. I hope that you will not give over your trip to the "White House," if you still desire to make it. I shall commence my return above the last of April, stopping at some points, and will be a few days in Richmond, and the "White House" if able. I must leave to Agnes all details. Give much love to Custis, Mary, and Mildred. Tell the latter I have received her letters. Remember me to all friends. Most sincerely yours,
R. E. LEE.
MRS. R. E. LEE.
After visiting Cumberland Island and going up to the St. John's River as far as Palatka, and spending the night at Colonel Cole's place near there, they returned to Savannah. Colonel Cole was on General Lee's staff as chief commissary during the time he commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, and was a very dear friend of us all:
SAVANNAH, Georgia, April 18, 1870.
My Dear Mary: I have received your letter of the 13th, and am glad to learn that you propose visiting the "White House," as I feared my journey might prevent you. I am, however, very anxious on the subject, as I apprehend the trip will be irksome and may produce great inconvenience and pain. I hope you received my letter of the 11th, written just before my departure for Florida. In case you did not, I will state that I forwarded your petition to Cassius Lee as received, not thinking my signature necessary or advantageous. I will send the money received from the "University Publishing Company" to Carter, for whom I intend it.[note 86] I returned from Florida Saturday, 16th, having had a very pleasant trip as far as Palatka on the St. John's. We visited Cumberland Island, and Agnes decorated my father's grave with beautiful fresh flowers. I presume it is the last time I shall be able to pay to it my tribute of respect. The cemetery is unharmed and the grave is in good order, though the house of Dungeness has been burned and the island devastated. Mr. Nightingale, the present proprietor, accompanied me from Brunswick. Mr. Andrew Lowe was so kind as to go with us the whole way, thinking Agnes and I were unable to take care of ourselves. Agnes seemed to enjoy the trip very much, and has improved in health. I shall leave to her all details. We spent a night at Colonel Cole's, a beautiful place near Palatka, and ate oranges from the trees. We passed some other beautiful places on the river, but could not stop at any but Jacksonville, where we remained from 4 P.M. to 3 A.M. next morning, rode over the town, etc., and were hospitably entertained by Colonel Sanderson. The climate was delightful, the fish inviting and abundant. We have returned to our old quarters, Agnes to the Lawtons' and I to the Lowe's. We shall remain here this week, and will probably spend a few days in Charleston and Norfolk, if we go that way, and at "Brandon" and "Shirley" before going to the "White House," where we shall hope to meet you. I know of no certain place where a letter will catch me before I reach Richmond, where the doctors desire me to spend a few days that they may again examine me. Write me there whether Fitzhugh is too full to receive us. It will depend upon my feelings, weather, etc., whether I make the digression by Norfolk. Poor little Agnes has had, I fear, but little enjoyment so far, and I wish her to have all the pleasure she can gather on the route. She is still weak and seems to suffer constantly from the neuralgia. I hope I am better, I know that I am stronger, but I still have the pain in my chest whenever I walk. I have felt it also occasionally of late when quiescent, but not badly, which is new. To-day Doctors Arnold and Reed, of this city, examined me for about an hour. They concur in the opinion of the other physicians, and think it pretty certain that my trouble arises from some adhesion of the parts, not from injury of the lungs and heart, but that the pericardium may not be implicated, and the adhesion may be between the pleura and ——, I have forgotten the name. Their visit was at the urgent entreaty of friends, which I could not well resist, and perhaps their opinion is not fully matured. I am continuing the prescriptions of Doctors Barton and Madison. My rheumatic pains, either from the effects of the medicine or the climate, or both, have diminished, but the pain along the breast bone ever returns on my making any exertion. I am glad Mildred has returned so well. I hope that she will continue so. After perusal, send this letter to one of the children to whom you may be writing, that Doctors Barton, etc., may be informed how I am getting along, as I have been unable to write to them or to any one at Lexington. I have so many letters to write in answer to kind invitations, etc., and so many interruptions, that my time is consumed. Besides, writing is irksome to me. Give my love to Fitzhugh, Tabb, and Robert and to Custis, Mary, and Mildred when you write. Agnes said she was going out to return some of her numerous visits to-day, and I presume will not be able to write. She has had but little comfort in her clothes. Her silk dress was spoiled on the way, and she returned it to Baltimore, but has learned that they can do nothing with it, so she will have to do without it, which I presume she can do. I hope you may reach the "White House" comfortably. I will apprise you of my movements from time to time. I hope my godson will know you. Tell him I have numbers of his namesakes since I left Virginia, of whom I was not aware. I hope they will come to good. With great affection,
R. E. LEE.
MRS. R. E. LEE.
From the following letters—all that I can find relating to this part of the journey—it appears that the travellers started for Virginia, stopping at Charleston, Wilmington, and Norfolk. Of their visit to Charleston I can find no record. He and Agnes stayed at the beautiful home of Mr. Bennet, who had two sons at the college, and a lovely daughter, Mary Bennet. I remember Agnes' telling me of the beautiful flowers and other attentions lavished upon them.
At Wilmington they spent a day with Mr. and Mrs. Davis. His coming there was known only to a few persons, as its announcement was by a private telegram from Savannah, but quite a number of ladies and gentlemen secured a small train and went out on the Southern Road to meet him. When they met the regular passenger-train from Savannah, General Lee was taken from it to the private one and welcomed by his many friends. He seemed bright and cheerful and conversed with all. He spoke of his health not being good, and on this account begged that there would be no public demonstration on his arrival, nor during his stay at Wilmington.
On reaching that place, he accompanied Mr. George Davis[note 87] to his house and was his guest during his sojourn in the city.
Mrs. Davis was a Miss Fairfax, daughter of Dr. O. Fairfax, of Alexandria, Virginia. They had been and were very old and dear friends and neighbours. The next morning my father walked out and called on Bishop Atkinson, with whom he had been well acquainted when they both lived in Baltimore, some twelve years before, the one as rector of St. Peter's (Episcopal) church, the other as Captain of the United States Engineers, in charge of the harbour defenses of the city.
There was a dinner given to my father that day at Mr. Davis's home, and a number of gentlemen were present. He was looking very well, but in conversation said that he realised there was some trouble with his heart, which he was satisfied was incurable.
The next day, May 1st, he left for Norfolk, Virginia, where Dr. and Mrs. Selden were the kind entertainers of his daughter and himself. Agnes told me that in going and returning from church the street was lined with people who stood, hats off, in silent deference. From Norfolk they visited "Lower" and "Upper Brandon" on the James River, the homes of the Harrisons; then "Shirley," higher up the river. Then they proceeded by way of Richmond to the "White House," my mother having arrived there from Lexington a short time previously. The General wrote from "Brandon" to his wife:
"BRANDON," May 7, 1870.
My Dear Mary: We have reached this point on our journey. Mrs. Harrison and Miss Belle are well and very kind, and I have been up to see Mr. William Harrison and Mr. George and their families. The former is much better than I expected to find him, and I hope will recover his health as the spring advances. The ladies are all well, and Miss Gulie is very handsome. Agnes and I went over to see Warrenton Carter and his wife this morning. They are both very well, and everything around them looks comfortable and flourishing. They have a nice home, and, as far as I could see, everything is prospering. Their little boy was asleep, but we were invited in to see him. He is a true Carter. Mrs. Page, the daughter of General Richardson, is here on a visit, and Mrs. Murdock, wife of their former pastor, arrived this morning. We are to go up to Mr. George Harrison's this evening, where the children are to have some tableaux, and where we are expected to spend the evening. In Norfolk we saw all our friends, but I did not succeed in getting out to Richard Page's as I desired, on account of the heavy rain on the appointed day and engagements that interfered on others. Agnes and Mrs. Selden rode out, however, and saw all the family. Everybody inquired kindly after you, down to Bryan, and all sent their love. "Brandon" is looking very beautiful, and it is refreshing to look at the river. The garden is filled with flowers and abounds in roses. The yellow jasmine is still in bloom and perfumes the atmosphere. I have not heard from you or from Lexington since I left Savannah. I hope all are well. I am better, I trust; am getting fat and big, but am still rigid and painful in my back. On Tuesday night I expect to go to "Shirley," and on Thursday, 12th inst., to Richmond, and on Friday to the "White House," unless I hear that you are crowded, in which case I will submit myself to the doctors for two or three days, as they desire, and then go down. Agnes now says she will accompany me to the "White House," so that I shall necessarily pass through Richmond, as our baggage renders that route necessary. Therefore, unless something unforeseen prevents, I shall be with you on Friday next. All unite in love. Agnes, I hope, is better than when she left Lexington, but is not strong. You must give a great deal of love to Fitzhugh, Tabb, my grandson Robert, and all with you. Most truly and affectionately,
R. E. LEE.
P.S.—Monday. Your note of the 6th with Colonel Allan's letter has just been received. I am very sorry to hear of Tabb's sickness. I hope that she will be well by the time of my arrival. I shall be glad to see Markie. R. E. LEE.
MRS. R. E. LEE.
On the same date, he writes to his daughter Mildred at Lexington:
"BRANDON," May 7, 1870.
My Dear Daughter: Miss Jennie is putting up her mail and says that my letter must go with it, so I have but a few minutes to inform you that we have reached this point on our way home. We stayed a day in Wilmington with the Davises after leaving Charleston, and several with the Seldens in Norfolk, and shall on Tuesday next go up to "Shirley," and then to the "White House." Agnes threatens to abandon me at "Shirley," and I wish that you were there to take her place. I am better, I hope, certainly am stronger and have less pain, but am far from comfortable, and have little ability to move or do anything, though am growing large and fat. Perhaps that is the cause. All here are well and send love. Miss Belle very sweet; all very kind. I rode yesterday to the other "Brandons," and saw all the inhabitants. Captain Shirley spent the day here. Mr. Wm. Harrison much better, and Miss Gulie very pretty. They have some visitors. It is quiet and delightful here, the river is beautiful. Agnes will write when she finds "time," which is a scarce commodity with her. I had intended to write before breakfast, the longest portion of the day, but walked out and forgot it. We have little time after breakfast. Give much love to Mary and Custis. I hope that you are all well and comfortable. I was very glad to receive your letter the morning I left Savannah, and I hope that "Mrs. Smith" and Traveller are enjoying themselves. I hope to get back to Lexington about the 24th, but will write. After paying my visit to the "White House" I will have to spend some days in Richmond and at the doctors' request, as they wish to examine me again and more thoroughly. I hope all are well at the college. Remember me to all there and in Lexington. With affectionate love, Your father,
R. E. LEE.
MISS MILDRED LEE.
The "White House," my brother's home at that time, is on the Pamunkey River, about twenty-five miles north of "Shirley." From my father's letter it is evident he had thought of driving over, instead of going by boat and rail through Richmond. This plan was abandoned when his daughter determined to accompany him, as a lady's baggage, even in those days, was too voluminous for private conveyance. Mr. Wm. Harrison lived at "Upper Brandon" and Mr. George Harrison at "Middle Brandon." The mistress of "Lower Brandon," the old historic home, was Mrs. Isabella Ritchie Harrison, widow of the late George Harrison. Miss Jennie, referred to in the above letter, was Miss Virginia Ritchie, sister of Mrs. Harrison. She had succeeded in having a post-office established at "Lower Brandon" and herself made postmistress. This was done for the convenience of the "Brandons" and the immediate neighbourhood. The proceeds Miss Jennie gave to the "Brandon" church.
Of his visit to "Shirley," his mother's home when she was a girl, and where she was married to "Light Horse Harry," I can find no account written at the time. It is a few hours from "Brandon" to "Shirley" by steamer on the beautiful James, and they arrived there Tuesday, May 10th, and left the following Thursday by steamer for Richmond. So says the Home Journal kept at "Shirley." All the country came to see him, and there was a large party to dinner. One of the daughters of the house, then a young girl, says:
I can only remember the great dignity and kindness of General Lee's bearing, how lovely he was to all of us girls, that he gave us his photographs and wrote his name on them. He liked to have us tickle his hands, but when Cousin Agnes came to sit by him that seemed to be her privilege. We regarded him with the greatest veneration. We had heard of God, but here was General Lee!
My mother was now at the "White House." I will here introduce portions of a letter of the 9th and 13th of May from her to her daughter in Lexington, telling of my father's arrival on the 12th:
"WHITE HOUSE," May 9, 1870.
Fitzhugh took us on a delightful drive this morning, dear Mildred, to Tunstall's, where we got your letter, and Markie got nine, including yours, so we were much gratified with our excursion. The road was fine, with the exception of a few mud-holes, and the woods lovely with wild flowers and dogwood blossoms and with all the fragrance of early spring, the dark holly and pine intermingling with the delicate leaves just brought out by the genial season, daisies, wild violets, and heart's-ease. I have not seen so many wild flowers since I left Arlington. . . .
Thirteenth.—I determined, after commencing this, to wait and see your papa, who arrived last evening with Agnes. He looks fatter, but I do not like his complexion, and he seems still stiff. I have not yet had time to hear much of their tour, except a grand dinner given them at Mr. Benet's. Your papa sends his love, and says he will be in Lexington somewhere about the 24th. . . . There is no news. The country becomes more lovely each day. The locust trees are in full bloom, and the polonia, the only tree left of all that were planted by poor Charlotte and myself. How all our labours have come to naught. The General has just come in. Robbie is riding on his knee, sitting as grave as a judge. He says now "Markie," "Agnes," and many other words, and calls me "Bonne Mama." We expect Rob this morning. . . . Yours affectionately,
M. C. LEE.
At this time my father was persuaded to make me a visit. He had been invited before, when at different times he had been to the "White House," but something had hitherto always prevented his coming; now he decided to come. My "Romancoke" farm was situated in King William County, on the opposite side of the Pamunkey River, and some fifteen miles east of "White House." We arrived there in the afternoon, having come down by the steamer, which at that time ran from "White House" to Baltimore. "Romancoke" had been always a dependency of the "White House," and was managed by an overseer who was subordinate to the manager on the latter estate. There was on it only a small house, of the size usual in our country for that character of property. I had taken possession in 1866, and was preparing to build a more comfortable residence, but in the meantime I lived in the house which had been occupied by the different overseers for about seventy-five years. Its accommodations were very limited, simple, and it was much out of repair. Owing to the settling of the underpinning in the centre, it had assumed a "sway-backed" outline, which gave it the name of the "broken-back house." No repairs had been attempted, as I was preparing to build a new home.
My father, always dignified and self-contained, rarely gave any evidence of being astonished or startled. His self-control was great and his emotions were not on the surface, but when he entered and looked around my bachelor quarters he appeared really much shocked. As I was much better off in the matter of housekeeping than I had been for four years, I flattered myself that I was doing very well. I can appreciate fully now what he must have felt at the time. However, he soon rallied and concealed his dismay by making kindly fun of my surroundings. The next day at dinner he felt obliged to remark on my china, knives, and forks, and suggested that I might at least better my holdings in that line. When he got back to Richmond he sent me a full set of plated forks and spoons, which I have been using from that day to this. He walked and drove over the farm, discussed my plans for improvement, and was much interested in all my work, advising me about the site of my new house, new barns, ice-house, etc. He evidently enjoyed his visit, for the quiet and the rest were very refreshing.
About thirty miles, as the crow flies, from my place, down York River, is situated, in Gloucester County, "White Marsh," an old Virginia home which then belonged to Dr. Prosser Tabb, who with his wife and children was living there. Mrs. Tabb was a near cousin of my father, and as a little girl had been a pet and favourite. His affection and regard for her had lasted from his early manhood. He had seen but little of her since the war, and when "Cousin Rebecca," as we called her, learned he was to be at the "White House," she wrote begging him to pay her a visit. This he had agreed to do if it was possible.
While at the "White House," we had consulted together as to the best method of accomplishing this trip, and we determined to make it from "Romancoke." So I drove him to West Point, and there got aboard the Baltimore steamer, taking my horse and trap with us. At Cappahoosic, a wharf on the York, we landed and drove the nine miles to "White Marsh," arriving at "supper time," as we still say in Virginia—i.e., about 7:30 P.M.
When General Lee got off on the wharf, so great was the desire of the passengers and crew to see him, that they all went to the side of the boat, which caused her to list so that I was unable to get my horse out through the gangway until the captain had ordered every one to the other side. As the sun went down, it became chilly and I drove quite rapidly, anxious to get my father out of the night air as soon as possible. He said nothing at the time, nor did I know that he noticed my unusual speed. But afterward he remarked on it to several persons, saying:
I think Rob drives unnecessarily fast.
We were expected, and were met at the door by all the family and guests. A hearty welcome was given us. After supper he was the centre of the circle in the drawing-room, and made the acquaintance of the children of the house and of the friends and relatives of the family who were there. He said little, but all listened eagerly to what he did say, and were charmed with his pleasant smile and gracious manner. "Cousin Rebecca" introduced him to her son-in-law, Captain Perrin, mentioning that he had been wounded in the war and was still lame from the effects. The General replied that at any rate he was all right now, for he had a pair of strong young feet to wait upon him, indicating his young wife.
As was customary in this section of Virginia, the house was full of visitors, and I shared my father's room and bed. Though many a year had passed since we had been bedfellows, he told me that he remembered well the time when, as a little fellow, I had begged for this privilege. The next day he walked about the beautiful gardens, and was driven over the plantation and shown the landscapes and water views of the immediate neighborhood. Mr. Graves, Dr. Tabb's overseer, who had the honour of being his coachman, fully appreciated it, and was delighted when my father praised his management. He had been a soldier under the General, and had stoutly carried his musket to Appomatox, where he surrendered it. When told of this by Dr. Tabb, my father took occasion to compliment him on his steadfast endurance and courage, but Graves simply and sincerely replied,
Yes, General, I stuck to the army, but if you had in your entire command a greater coward than I was, you ought to have had him shot.
My father, who was greatly amused at his candour, spoke of it when he got back from his drive saying "that sort of a coward makes a good soldier."
That the drive had fatigued him was quite apparent to Cousin Rebecca, who begged him to go and lie down to rest, but he declined, though, finally, at her request, he consented to take a glass of wine. Mrs. Tabb was anxious to give a general reception that day in his honour, so that all the old soldiers in the country could have an opportunity of shaking hands with him, but at the General's request the idea was abandoned.
Several persons were invited to meet him at dinner, among them the Rev. Mr. Phillips, an Englishman, the rector of Abingdon, an old Colonial church in the country. He and his wife were ardent admirers of General Lee, and had often expressed a great desire to see him, so Mrs. Tabb kindly gave them this opportunity. They were charmed with him, and, writing to their friends in England, declared:
The greatest event in our lives has occurred—we have seen General Lee.
One of his young cousins, in talking with him, wondered what fate was in store for "us poor Virginians." The General replied with an earnest, softened look:
You can work for Virginia, to build her up again, to make her great again. You can teach your children to love and cherish her.
I was struck with the tenderness of his manner to all these cousins, many of whom he had never seen before, and the real affection and interest he manifested toward them. He seemed pleased and touched by their love and kindness. I think he enjoyed this visit, but it was plain that he was easily fatigued.
To catch our steamer the next morning, an early start was necessary. Arrangements were made the night before, and all good-byes said, for we had to leave the house about five o'clock. That night he was very restless and wakeful, and remarked that it was generally so with him whenever he had to get up at an unusual hour, as he was always uneasy lest he might be late. However, we got off in full time—made the connection with our steamer, and returned immediately to the "White House." I left the steamer at West Point to take my horse home, after which I joined him at the former place.
After a short stay at the "White House," he started for Lexington, stopping over in Richmond for a few days. From there he writes to his daughter Mildred in Lexington:
RICHMOND, Virginia, May 23, 1870.
My Precious Daughter: I came up from the "White House" this morning with Agnes, but she threatens to divorce herself from me, and we have already separated. She is at Dr. Fairfax's and I am at Mr. Mcfarland's. She promises, however, to see me occasionally, and if I can restore our travelling relations even at costly sacrifice I shall be happy to take her along with me. I find I shall be detained here too long to take the Wednesday's boat from Lynchburg, but, if not prevented by circumstances now not foreseen, I shall take the Friday's boat, so as to reach Lexington Saturday morning, 28th inst. If Sam is well enough, and it should be otherwise convenient, he could meet me with Lucy and the carriage or with Traveller. If not, I will get a seat up in the omnibus. Your mother proposes to leave in the boat for Bremo on the 1st proximo, spend one week there, and then continue her journey to Lexington. Agnes has not yet made up her mind whether she will go with me, her mother, or remain for a while. I hope to find you well, though alone. I must reserve all accounts till we meet, which I am very anxious should take place as soon as practicable. I am improving, I think, in general health, but cannot tell certainly as to the difficulty in my chest, as I have been unable to test my progress. I had a pleasant visit to F— and Robert, and enjoyed rest there, which I wanted. Love to Custis and kind regards to all friends. I hope that I shall find all well and doing well. All at the "White House" send love. Poor Tabb is still sick. Markie Williams is with your mother. Robert came up with us, but returns this evening. I have seen Dr. Houston this morning, and I am to have a great medicine talk to-morrow. Your devoted father,
R. E. LEE.
MISS MILDRED LEE.
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