Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter IX: A Private Citizen: Receives offers of positions

The Document

My father had been offered, since the surrender, houses lands, and money, as well as positions as president of business associations and chartered corporations.

"An English nobleman," Long says, "desired him to accept a mansion and an estate commensurate with his individual merits and the greatness of an historic family."

He replied: "I am deeply grateful; I cannot desert my native State in the hour of her adversity. I must abide her fortunes, and share her fate."

Until his death, he was constantly in receipt of such offers, all of which he thought proper to decline. He wrote to General Long:

"I am looking for some little, quiet home in the woods, where I can procure shelter and my daily bread, if permitted by the victor. I wish to get Mrs. Lee out of the city as soon as practical."

It so happened that nearly exactly what he was looking for was just then offered to him. Mrs. Elizabeth Randolph Cocke, of Cumberland County, a granddaughter of Edmund Randolph, had on her estate a small cottage which, with the land attached, she placed at his disposal. The retired situation of this little home, and the cordial way in which Mrs. Cocke insisted on his coming, induced my father to accept her invitation.

Captain Edmund Randolph Cocke [Mrs. Cocke's second son who lived with his mother at Oakland] writes me the following:

"Oakland, Virginia, October 25, 1896.

"My mother, whose sympathies for everybody and everything connected with our cause were the greatest and most enlarged of any one I ever knew, thought it might be agreeable and acceptable to General Lee to have a retired placed in which to rest. Having this little house unoccupied, she invited him to accept it as a home as long as he might find it pleasant to himself. The General came up with your mother and sisters about the last of June, General Custis Lee having preceded them a day or two on Traveller. At that time our mode of travel was on the canal by horse-packet: leaving Richmond at a little before sunset, the boat reached Pemberton, our landing, about sunrise. General Custis and I went down to meet them, and we all reached home in time for breakfast. That night on the boat the Captain had had the most comfortable bed put up that he could command, which was offered to your father. But he preferred to sleep on deck, which he did, with his military cloak thrown over him. No doubt that was the last night he ever spent under the open sky. After a week spent here, General Lee removed, with his family, to "Derwent." There he spent several months of quiet and rest, only interrupted by the calls of those who came in all honesty and sincerity to pay their respects to him. Old soldiers, citizens, men and women, all came without parade or ceremony. During this time he rode on Traveller daily, taking sometimes long trips--once I recall, going to his brother's, Mr. Carter Lee's, about twenty miles, and at another time to Bremo, about thirty miles. During the month of August he was visited by Judge Brockenborough, of Lexington, who, as Rector of the Board of Trustees of Washington College, tendered him, on behalf of the Board, the presidency of the college. After considering the matter for several weeks, he decided to accept this position.

"...During that summer he was a regular attendant at the various churches in our neighbourhood, whenever there was a service. I never heard your father discuss public matters at all, nor did he express his opinion of public men. On one occasion, I did hear him condemn with great severity the Secretary of War, Stanton. This was at the time Mrs. Surratt was condemned and executed. At another time I heard him speak harshly of General Hunter, who had written to him to get his approval of his movements, during the Valley Campaign, against General Early. With these exceptions, I never heard him speak of public men or measures."

Next: Compares notes with the Union General Hunter

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee,, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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