Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter X: President of Washington College: Mrs. Lee's invalidism

The Document

Colonel Ellis, President of the James River and Kanawha Canal Company, placed at my mother's disposal his private boat, which enabled her to reach "Bremo" with great ease and comfort, and when she was ready to go to Lexington the same boat was again given her. It was well fitted up with sleeping accommodations, carried a cook, and had a dining-room. It corresponded to the private car of the present railroad magnate, and, though not so sumptuous, was more roomy and comfortable. When provisions became scarce we purchased fresh supplies from any farm-house near the canal-bank, tied up at night, and made about four miles an hour during the day. It was slow but sure, and no mode of travel, even at the present day, could have suited my mother better. She was a great invalid from rheumatism, and had to be lifted whenever she moved. When put in her wheel-chair, she could propel herself on a level floor, or could move about her room very slowly and with great difficulty on her crutches, but she was always bright, sunny-tempered, and uncomplaining, constantly occupied with her books, letters, knitting, and painting, for the last of which she had a great talent.

On November 20th my father writes to her from Lexington:

"I was very glad to hear, by your letter of the 11th, of your safe arrival at 'Bremo.' I feel very grateful to Col. Ellis for his thoughtful consideration in sending you in his boat, as you made the journey in so much more comfort. It is indeed sad to be removed from our kind friends at 'Oakland,' who seemed never to tire of contributing to our convenience and pleasure, and who even continue their kindness at this distance. Just as the room which I had selected for you was finished, I received the accompanying note from Mrs. Cocke, to which I responded and thanked her in your name, placing the room at her disposal. The paint is hardly dry yet, but will be ready this week, to receive the furniture if completed. I know no more about it than is contained in her note. I was also informed, last night, that a very handsome piano had been set up in the house, brought from Baltimore by the maker as a present from his firm or some friends. I have not seen it or the maker. This is an article of furniture that we might well dispense with under present circumstances, though I am equally obliged to those whose generosity prompted its bestowal. Tell Mildred I shall now insist on her resuming her music, and, in addition to her other labours, she must practise SEVEN hours a day on the piano, until she becomes sufficiently proficient to play agreeably to herself and others, and promptly and gracefully, whenever invited. I think we should enjoy all the amenities of life that are within our reach, and which have been provided for us by our Heavenly Father.... I am sorry Rob has a return of his chills, but he will soon lose them now. Ask Miss Mary to disperse them. She is very active and energetic; they cannot stand before her.... I hope Agnes has received my letter, and that she has made up her mind to come up to her papa. Tell her there are plenty of weddings here, if she likes those things. There is to be one Tuesday--Miss Mamie Williamson to Captain Eoff. Beverley Turner is to be married the same night, to Miss Rose Skinker, and sweet Margaret will also leave us. If they go at three a night, there will soon be none of our acquaintances left. I told Agnes to tell you to come up whenever most convenient to you. If the house is habitable I will take you there. If not, will bring you to the hotel.... I wish I could take advantage of this fine weather to perform the journey...."

Next: Chapter XI: The Idol of the South

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee, http://www.historyofwar.org/sources/acw/lee_letters/chapter10h.html, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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