• The Lees of Virginia
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  • The Lees of Virginia

The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



Robert E. Lee to Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, 1864 July 24

Camp Petersburg 24 July ’64


I recd this morg dear Mary your note of the 21st & am rejoiced to hear of your daily improvement. You must present my qualifications to Dr & Mrs Cocke for their kindness to you & my sincere wishes for their health & prosperity. Mrs Shippen near whom I am encamped (the lady whom I mentioned to you as having suffered so much from articular rheumatism & which left her, after a severe attack of pneumonia) says that she applied stimulating applications to her joints as she was recovering, that if she had not done so she thinks they would have, become rigid again. She was so weak as to be unable to stand & of Course Could not walk for some time, but her joints remained flexible. I do not know whether you apply anything to your joints or not. Red pepper was a larger ingredient in the application she used, & I think she mentioned having used Belladonna ointment.

Custis has spent a night with me since your departure, & yesterday Fitzhugh & Robert paid me a visit. They all were very well. I was very uneasy the morg after your departure from Richmond & I was fearful that you would be caught in it & suffer. How did you manage? Fitzhugh had recd your letter written before your departure with the gloves, of which he said he stood much in need. Mrs Baker is Correct, the ladies of P[etersburg] have sent me a nice sett of shirts. They were given to me by Mrs Jas: R Branch & her mother Mrs Thos: Branch.1 In fact they have given every thing which I fear they Cannot spare, vegetables, bread, milk, ice cream &c. To day one sent me a nice peach, the first & only one I have seen I think for two years. I sent it to Mrs. Shippen. Mr Platt held service again to day under the trees near my Camp. We had quite a large Congregation of citizens, ladies & gentlemen & our usual number of soldiers. During the service I constantly heard the shells crashing around the houses of Petersburg. Tell Life I send her a letter from one of her friends which I hope gives good account of Custis Morgan. It was imprudent in the winter to send it to my Care as it has prolonged its journey. I also send her a song composed by a french soldier. As she is so learned in that language, I want her to send me a reply in verse. Kiss the girls for me & believe, always yours

R E Lee




1. James Read Branch (1828-1869) was a Confederate artillery officer and a banker. A native of the Petersburg area, he was severely wounded in April of 1864 in North Carolina at the battle of Plymouth. He never fully recovered. He moved back to Richmond and resigned his commission in March of 1865. He was married to Martha Patteson Branch (1831-1908), a native of Petersburg. Lee may be confused as to the connection between the Read and Branch family. Thomas Branch (1802-1888) at the time of the Civil War, was married to Anne Adams Branch (1829-1908), who was his second wife. Martha’s mother was Anne Obedience Turpin Harris (1799-1837), who had been dead for many years. Lee apparently confused the two Annes.    



Source: Transcribed from photocopy of original letter, Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51 c 537, Section 27, Virginia Museum of History and Culture

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2022 June 23   




Robert E. Lee to James Longstreet, 1864 January 16


Camp Orange CtH 16 Jan ‘64



Your letters of the 10 & 11th Inst: were handed to me by Capt Goree last night. I am glad that you are casting about for some way to reach the enemy. If he Could be defeated at some point before he is prepared to open the campaign it would be attended with the greatest advantages. Either of the points mentioned by you would answer. I believe however if Grant could be driven back, & Mississippi & Tenn”: recovered, it would do more to relieve the Country & enspirit our people than the mere capture of Washington. You Know how exhausted the Country is between here & the Potomac. There is nothing for man or horse. Every thing must be carried. How is that to be done with weak transportation on roads in the condition we may expect in March? You know better than I how you will be off in that respect in the West. After you get into Kentucky I suppose provisions can be obtained. But if saddles &c could be procured in time, where can the horses or mules be? They Cannot be obtained in this Section of Country & as far as my information extends not in the Confcy. But let us both quietly & ardently set to work. Some good may result & I will institute inquiries. There is a part of your letter that gives me uneasiness, that in relation to your position.

Your Cavy I hope will keep you informed of any movement against you. After the Completion of the Va: & Ten: R. R. you will be able to retire with ease & you had better be prepared in case of necessity. If the enemy follow with the assistance of Genl Jones, you may be able to hit him a hard blow. I would suggest that you have the Country examined, routes explored, & strong positions ascertained & improved. There is some report of a projected movement of the enemy next spring by the route from Knoxville & the abandonment of this to Richmond. It is believed that such a movement will be as successful as that by Grant on Vicksburg. As they have not been able yet to overcome the 80 miles between Washington & Richmond by the shortest road, I hope they will not be able to accomplish the more circuitous route. Not knowing what they intended to do & what Genl Johnston Can do, has prevented my recommending your return to this army. After hearing that you were in comfortable quarters & had plenty of provisions & forage, I thought it was best you should remain where you are till spring, or until it was determined what could be done. I hope you will be able to recruit your Corps. In reference to that how would Genl Buckner answer for the command of Hoods division, at least until it is seen whether he ever can return to it? You may recollect just before you went west, certain promotions in the arty of this army were agreed on, & that it was desired to promote Col Alexander as chief of your corps to the rank of Brig: Genl, provided Col Walton could get service south. This I could not accomplish at the time, nor have I been able to do so since not wishing the officers in the other Corps to be promoted without advancing those in years, so that their relative rank might be preserved. I have refrained from sending in the recommendations, but the season of active operations is approaching & I wish the organization perfected. I see by an order of yours that Col Alexander has been appd chief of arty of your corps. Is it permanent or temporary & do you wish him promoted? As some change in your opinion of the relative merits of the officers with you may have been made by your service west. I enclose a copy of the promotions proposed in your corps, as you may not have one. It was arranged upon the supposition the Col Walton could be assigned to other duty. If he cannot, he & Major Eschelman will be the field officers of the Washn Arty. Genl Pendleton has proposed an exchange between Col Cabell & Lt Col Lightfoot. I do not know whether that can be accomplished. Let me hear from you as soon as convenient. With kind regards to yourself & all with you, I am very truly yours

R E Lee





Source: Photocopy of original letter, Helen M. Taylor Collection, Section 6, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2019 May 1                

Robert E. Lee, Jr., to Mildred Childe lee, 1861 January 10

Transcription in progress.

Robert E. Lee to Charles Carter Lee, 1831 June 15

Old Point

15th June 1831         


My dear Carter

The day has been fixed & it is the 30th June, I can tell you I begin to feel right funny when I count my days, especially when I consider the novel situation in which I shall be placed. However Nym says “Things must be as they may & that’s the certain of it”1 which is a good doctrine too. Can you come on to see it well done? But you must not put yourself to the least inconvenience on my account. But as you talk of coming on in August perhaps, you may get through your business before. At any rate, try & come on before the end of July if possible, for as it is not expected of Engr Officers to be absent from their Posts when the works are carried on, I only applied for a Furlough of one month now & will take some others in the Winter. I expect to leave here in the Potomac2 on the 29th & reach Alexa Thursday morning, go out to Arlington in the afternoon, dress &c. I am told there are to be six pretty Bridesmaids Misses Mason, Mary G. Marietta Angela, Julia & Brittania & you could have some fine Kissing. As you know what a fellow you are at these weddings. I got the other day the kindest letter from Cousin Anna you ever read, which of itself shews that she is much better. But I have since heard that she Miss Mary G.3 & Smith4 have gone down to Arkindale5 which is a greater Proof. Poor Anne6 is quite sick in Baltimore & though I do not know, I fear it is occasioned by her hand. How I do wish for money on many accounts but particularly that she might be able to spend the Summer on the seashore, as I believe Bathing gives her more relief than any thing else. I spent a day at shirley last week & saw there Uncle Wms. Bernard, Wms. Jr. Charles & sweet little Cousin Nancy Randolph. Sir Hill is just the same as ever, cursing farming, low grounds etc.  For he has been so unfortunate as to have his Embankments broken down by the Storm & his corn crop entirely destroyed, & after mending up his dikes & replanting, It was attacked by a species of worm that destroyed his whole field & at this late day he has not five stalks standing. Harvest is so near that he cannot replant. Cousin Mary is in quite precarious health & has entirely lost her appetite, in so much that she does not eat a single ‘thing’ all day, saving a little milk & water in the morning. She looks very thin & badly at present, But I hope will recover from her trip to Fauquier. Uncle Wms says we must wind up our affairs this summer & is the Best person in the World. Bernard is going to Fauquier & then to Philadelphia. We are in grand preparation here for the reception of the President & eight Gentleman of his suite who are expected next saturday & will spend some days over at the Rip Raps to enjoy the Sea Breeze &c. Maj. Eaton, Genl Macomb &c are of the Party. Shirley has gone home but was to return to Richmond in two weeks after he left it. Miss Ella has not got down, though is daily expected. Sweet Charles has had the Ague & Fever as also ‘his wife’ But have now recovered & talks of taking her to Fauquier. There is nothing new here & very cleverly hot. Visitors are beginning to arrive & every Boat & in the course of Time we shall have a plenty. I have not received my clothes yet & unless Frost has despatched them before this arrives, can you contrive to get them on by land, as the Sea is very uncertain & the time is short. I wish you had all the suits in N. York & money besides. So Good Bye & Believe me yours as ever

R. E. Lee


[This letter is addressed to C. C. Lee, Counsellor at Law, No. 15 Pine Street, New York. The return address is R. E. Lee, 1831 June 15. This letter is postmarked Jun 16. However the town is not distinguishable.]






1. Lee is referring to a character and a line in Henry V, Act 2, Scene 1.

2. Frigate built in 1822. It was decommissioned in 1877.

3. Mary Caroline Goldborough (1808-1890), the adopted daughter of Anne Maria Goldborough Fitzhugh (1796-1874), the widow of William Henry Fitzhugh (1792-1830).

4. Smith is Sidney Smith Lee, Robert E. Lee’s brother.

5. “Arkindale” was owned by William Henry Fitzhugh (1792-1830) of Ravensworth plantation. Fitzhugh was the uncle of Mary Ann Randolph Custis Lee. Arkindale is today an unincorporated community in Stafford County, Virginia. In 1850, the slaves at Arkindale were freed according to Fitzhugh’s will. Fitzhugh, who was a member of the American Colonization Society, asked that the freed slaves be sent back to Africa.

6. Lee’s sister Anne Kinloch Marshall, who married into a Baltimore family.




Source: Scan of original letter, The Papers of Robert E. Lee, University of Virginia Special Collections, Charlottesville

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 March 29

"The Importance of the Library in Historic Restoration," 1980 October 11

The Importance of the Library in Historic Restoration

By Clifford Waller Barrett


Address at the Dedication of the Jessie Ball duPont Memorial Library

Stratford Hall Plantation

Westmoreland County, Virginia

October 11, 1980


It is indeed a great day when a library is dedicated at a national shrine. Naturally, all of us who are devoted to the administration of our historic landmarks fully realize the importance of restoring them as faithfully as possible, maintaining them and making them available to the public at large under the best possible conditions. The ladies involved here at Stratford have performed nobly in this respect and have earned the commendation of all dedicated to this form of national service. 

But, beyond the restoration and the proper exhibition of the noble mansions that have housed the great men of our history, there is a further responsibility that devolves on the caretakers. This relates to the gathering of the published and written materials which reflect as faithfully as possible the patterns of the lives of the men themselves. Of course, we try to capture the essence of their daily lives by acquiring and exhibiting as many as possible of the household appurtenances, the furniture, china, silver, pictures present during the times of the builders and their descendants. How well this phase of curatorship has been done at Stratford becomes abundantly clear as one wanders through the elegant rooms of the mansion and, indeed, a candlelight tour gives one the eerie feeling that he is attending a reception given by Thomas and Hannah Lee.

But, as the saying goes, man does not live by bread alone and a faithful restoration of the domestic milieu, albeit appealing, only presents one side of the coin. We must strive to give our visitors some idea of the intellectual and the moral patterns of their lives, the course of their educations, the development of their characters and their philosophies. How can we best carry out this aim? I think the answer is by making available the kind of books they read, the papers they published, the recorded opinions of their peers and the historic commentaries on their lives and times, in fact, the kind of material that is gathered and preserved in a library. It is therefore a matter for rejoicing that this aspect of national shrine administration has been given a great impetus here by the gift of the Jessie Ball Dupont Library and that this is now coupled with the gift of books and papers relating to the Lees by members of that illustrious clan. May I add that, in my experience, the establishment of a facility of this kind invariably acts as a magnet for the flow of additional material.

I believe we can take satisfaction in the fact that administrators of our great Virginia houses have been aware of the importance of library facilities. At Monticello, for example, there has been a continuing effort to obtain the same editions of the books that were on the shelves in Mr. Jefferson’s time. The original volumes were dispersed after his death but a great many have been recovered and are now at the Library of Congress. At Mount Vernon, separate library quarters are used to gather all possible material relating to the building and remodeling of the mansion and the care of the gardens and farms. For the library room in the house itself, efforts are being made to secure as many as possible of the same editions of the books used by Washington, just as had been done at Monticello. At Gunston Hall there has been constructed a separate building with library facilities and considerable progress has been made in procuring books relating to George Mason. Kenmore now has a separate building with library space. So, all in all, the Old Dominion has made a significant advance in recent years in gathering and preserving materials that will further illuminate the lives of great Virginians.

Stratford, however, is a unique situation. Its history encompasses an entire family of distinguished men, as compared with houses that, essentially, relate to one individual such as Mount Vernon to George Washington, Monticello to Thomas Jefferson, Gunston Hall to George Mason, Montpelier to James Madison, Oak Hill to James Monroe and the John Marshall House in Richmond. A glance at the genealogical chart of the Lees, beginning with Thomas the builder, reveals the names of fourteen Lees who performed distinguished services for the State and the Nation. Six were born at Stratford. The only family whose record compares remotely with that of the Lees is the Adams family of Massachusetts.

This enviable record of service begins with the builder himself. Thomas Lee served on the Virginia Council as presiding officer and was referred to as the President of Virginia, thus capping a lifetime of public service. This progenitor built here at Stratford this mansion of dignity, elegant proportions and of such massive construction that it has withstood the ravages of nearly two and a half centuries. Of the other Lee houses—Mount Pleasant, Lee Hall, Belleview, Cobb’s Hall and Chantilly—all have disappeared.

It has been said of Thomas Lee that when he died in 1750, and I quote—from the eminent historian, Burton J. Hendrick—“most of the Virginians who were to become builders of the new United States—such as Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Wythe—were living, but they were young men or children, whose future even the most visionary prophet could not have predicted. When events, a dozen years after—were to call these paladins to their destined tasks, they were to find co-workers in a group of brothers, sons of Thomas Lee who at the time of their father’s death, were children at Stratford or schoolboys in England. When these [sons] did their part in establishing independence and hastening national expansion they were carrying into practice the new American sprit that was an inheritance from the first proprietor of Stratford.”

Of the sons of Thomas, perhaps the outstanding was Richard Henry Lee. As a young man he attempted to join Braddock and George Washington in the ill-fated expedition to the Allegheny. Lee, who had been born in the same month as Washington, was rebuffed and, thenceforth, he devoted himself not a legislative career that lasted from 1757 in the House of Burgesses, the Continental Congresses, the Congress and the Senate of the United States until his death in 1794. In the House of Burgesses his presence has been described as noteworthy with his slim and graceful figure of six feet, his left hand wrapped in a black silk handkerchief—he had lost the fingers in an accident—and he was acknowledged one of the finest speakers in the assembly. Saint George Tucker wrote—“the fine powers of language, united with that harmonious voice, made me sometimes think that I was looking at some being inspired with more than mortal powers of embellishment.”

At the Continental Congress Lee was considered seriously for the Chairmanship of the Committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. The palm went to Jefferson, but it should be noted that on July 2nd, two days before the adoption of the Declaration, a resolution proposed by Richard Henry Lee and seconded by John Adams was adopted. The measure stated:

That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, and they are absolved of all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them, and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be, totally dissolved. These words clearly foreshadow the preliminary phrasing of Jefferson’s famous Declaration.

‘During the debate an old Tory called out to Adams—

It is a machine for the fabrication of independence.”

Adams replied—

It is independence itself.” ’

Perhaps the unhappiest period of Richard Henry Lee’s life was during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 at Philadelphia and the Virginia Ratifying Convention at Richmond. He was unable to bring himself to sign the Constitution and at Richmond he entered the lists against his old friends, George Washington, James Madison, John Marshall and George Wythe. His efforts to prevent ratification failed and Virginia joined New York as the last two states to approve. Lee became one of the first two senators from Virginia to the new union.

Richard Henry’s brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee, was actively involved in Virginia in the struggle for independence and became a member of the Second Continental Congress where he strongly supported Richard Henry in the national effort. John Adams wrote in his diary—(Francis) Lee is a brother of our old friend, Richard Henry, sensitive and patriotic as the rest of the family.”

It is no denigration of the successful efforts of the venerable Benjamin Franklin to secure the aid of France for the Colonies to point out that the services of Arthur Lee were of the greatest assistance to him. Lee, the youngest brother of Richard Henry, was appointed by Congress to initiate these difficult negotiations. Arthur and his brother, William, older by one year, were established in London as physician and merchant and, like the signers of the Declaration, they were called upon to make notable sacrifices and undergo serious risks for the cause. Arthur fully understood the nuances of the relations between Spain under the rule of Charles III and France under his nephew, Louis XVI. He realized the necessity of getting joint action from the two nations and his conduct of these delicate negotiations paved the way for Dr. Franklin’s success. William supported these efforts by his mission to Germany and Austria.

As the Declaration of Independence passed into history and the war was in progress, the torch of the Lees was being handed to another branch of the family known as the Leesylvania Lees. The head of this branch was Henry, son of builder Thomas’s younger brother, Henry and Mary Bland. Incidentally, Mary was the sister of Richard Bland, the noted Virgnia statesman, pronounced by Jefferson—“the most learned and logical man of those who took prominent lead in public affairs.” Young Henry was fortunate in his choice of a wife, Lucy Grymes who, like other Lee wives became the mother of famous sons. Among her progeny were Henry (Light-Horse Harry) Lee, Charles Lee, Attorney-General of the United States and Richard Bland Lee, the congressman principally responsible for placing the Federal Capital in Washington.

Light-Horse Harry Lee brought about the joining of the two branches of Lees at Stratford by his marriage to Matilda, the daughter of the oldest of Thomas’s sons, Philip Ludwell Lee. In the absence of male heirs, Matilda inherited Stratford Plantation. Harry’s career had begun in a blaze of glory with a spectacular role in the Revolutionary War. From the beginning he enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. After the successful storming of a strong point located at what is now Jersey City he was promoted by the General to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. His subsequent exploits were performed in the Southern theatre under the command of General Nathanael Greene. Harry strongly favored pressing the campaign against the British troops in Georgia and the Carolinas. He felt that this would lure Cornwallis to move against Lafayette’s small forces in Virginia. The plan worked and Cornwallis moved on Virginia while Harry performed brilliantly at engagements at Fort Motte, Guilford Courthouse and Eutaw Springs. The final result was that Cornwallis, bottled up on the Yorktown peninsula and confronted by the junction of Washington’s and Lafayette’s forces, was obligated to surrender. In referring to the Southern campaign, General Greene wrote Congress in 1782—“I am more indebted to this officer (Harry Lee) than to any other for the advantages gained over the enemy in the operations of the last campaign and should be wanting in gratitude not to acknowledge the importance of his success.”                

         Harry now returned to his bride, Matilda, and Stratford. In 1788 he emerged as a strong supporter of Washington and Madison in urging the ratification of the new Constitution. His brilliant performance as a speaker and debater at the Convention in Richmond led to his election as Governor of Virginia for three terms. His beloved wife, Matilda, died in 1790, and three years later, he married Ann Hill Carter of Shirley Plantation, once again uniting the Lees with a famous Virginia Family. In 1794 Washington appointed him Major-General to lead the forces put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. Through his friendship with Washington he was elected to Congress in 1799 and his last gleam of fame came when he uttered his eulogy of Washington known to every schoolboy—“first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Thenceforth, his path lead steadily downward—unwise speculations, unpayable debts, imprisonment, exile and death on lonely Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Matilda, recognizing the utter incompetency of Harry in financial matters, had bequeathed Stratford to their son, Henry. This led to unmitigated disaster as Henry turned out to be a tragically unstable character. Through his actions, the reign of the Lees at Stratford was ended and the estate passed out of the hands of the family forever.

The vigorous and fruitful growth of the Lee clan, incalculably beneficial to the State and Nation now seemed arrested but there sprang up from that ancient root stock one more individual who earned lasting fame and whom we may justifiably call the noblest of them all. Robert Edward Lee. At this point we need not add one more panegyric to the thousands devoted to that great man, so beloved throughout the nation and so famed throughout the civilized world.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we salute the Lees at their home place, Stratford, and today we give thanks for an important step forward in the preservation of the records of that immortal clan in the dedication of the Jessie Ball Dupont Library. May we invoke Heavenly blessings on that great lady for whom it is named and prophesy for it a long and successful service.    



CLIFFORD WALLER BARRETT is internationally known as a bibliophile and philanthropist. A native Virginian, he is a member of a family renowned for many generations for intellectual prowess and civic service in his State. Mr. Barrett is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the founder of the Barrett Library of American Literature. The gift of his collection of Americana, including his rare assemblage of the manuscripts and works of Robert Frost, has added lustre to the already distinguished Alderman Library. Mr. Barrett is Honorary Library Advisor to the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association.




Source: Stratford Hall Archives

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2021 October 5


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