Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter X: President of Washington College: He prepares for the removal of his family to that city

The Document

In addition to his duties as college president, my father had to make all the arrangements for his new home. The house assigned him by the college was occupied by Dr. Madison, who was to move out as soon as he could. Carpenters, painters and glaziers had to be put to work to get it into condition; furniture, carpets, bedding to be provided, a cook procured, servants and provisions supplied.

My mother was an invalid and absent, and as my sisters were with her, everything down to the minutest details was done by my father's directions and under his superintendence. He had always been noted for his care and attention to the little things, and that trait, apparent in him when a mere lad, practised all through his busy and eventful life, stood him in good stead now. The difficulties to be overcome were made greater by the scarcity and inaccessibility of supplies and workmen and the smallness of his means. In addition, he conducted a large correspondence, always answering every letter. To every member of his family he wrote continually, and was interested in all our pursuits, advising and helping us as no one else could have done. Some of his letters to my mother at this time show how he looked into every matter, great or small, which related to her comfort and welfare, and to the preparation of her new home. For example, on October 9th he writes:

"...Life is indeed gliding away and I have nothing of good to show for mine that is past. I pray I may be spared to accomplish something for the benefit of mankind and the honour of God.... I hope I may be able to get the house prepared for you in time to reach here before the cold weather. Dr. Madison has sent me word that he will vacate the house on the 16th inst., this day week. I will commence to make some outside repairs this week, so as to get at the inside next, and hope by the 1st of November it will be ready for you. There is no furniture belonging to the house, but we shall require but little to commence with. Mr. Green, of Alexandria, to whom I had written, says that his manufacturing machinery, etc., has been so much injured that, although it has been returned to him, he cannot resume operations until next year, but that he will purchase for us anything we desire. I believe nothing is manufactured in Richmond--everything comes from the North, and we might as well write to Baltimore at once for what we want. What do you think? I believe nothing of consequence is manufactured here. I will see this week what can be done...."

And again, a few days later, he writes:

"...I hope you are all well, and as comfortable as can be. I am very anxious to get you all here, but have made little progress in accomplishing it so far. Dr. M. expects to vacate the house this week, but I fear it is not certain he can do so.... I engaged some carpenters last week to repair the roof, fences, stable, etc., but for want of material they could not make a commencement. There is no lumber here at hand. Everything has to be prepared. I have not been in the house yet, but I hear there is much to be done. We shall have to be patient. As soon as it is vacated, I will set to work. I think it will be more expeditious and cheaper to write to Renwick [of Baltimore] to send what articles of furniture will be required, and also to order some carpets from Baltimore...."

In a postscript, dated the 17th, he says:

"The carpenters made a beginning on the house yesterday. I hope it may be vacated this week. I will prepare your room first. The rest of us can bivouac. Love to all. Most affectionately, R. E. Lee."

On October 19th:

"...I have been over the house we are to occupy. It is in wretched condition. Mrs. M. has not yet vacated it, but I have some men at work, though this storm has interrupted their operations and I fear little will be done this week. I think I can make your room comfortable. The upstairs is very convenient and the rest of the house sufficiently so. I think you had better write at once to Brit [the "Brit" mentioned here is Mrs. Birtannia Kennon, of "Tudor Place," my mother's first cousin. She had saved for us a great many of the household goods from Arlington, having gotten permission from the Federal authorities to do so, at the time it was occupied by their forces] to send the curtains you speak of, and the carpets. It is better to use what we have than to buy others. Their use where originally intended [Arlington, to that beloved home my mother still hoped to return] is very uncertain. They have been tossed about for four years, and may be lost or ruined. They can come by express to Lynchburg, and then up the canal, or by Richmond. The merchants say the former is the best way--much more expeditious and but little more expensive."

Advice to Robert Junior

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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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