Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XI: The Idol of the South: Labours at Washington College

The Document

His duties as president of Washington College were far from light. His time was fully occupied, and his new position did not relieve him from responsibility, care and anxiety. He took pains to become acquainted with each student personally, to be really his guide and friend. Their success gratified and pleased him, and their failures, in any degree, pained and grieved him, and their failures, in any degree, pained and grieved him. He felt that he was responsible for their well-doing and progress, and he worked very hard to make them good students and useful men.

The grounds and buildings of the college soon began to show his care, attention, and good taste. In all his life, wherever he happened to be, he immediately set to work to better his surroundings. The sites selected for his headquarter camps during the war, if occupied for more than a day, showed his tasteful touch. When superintendent at West Point, the improvements suggested and planned by him were going on for the three years he remained there. Very soon after he assumed charge of Arlington, the place showed, in its improved condition, the effects of his energetic industry. The college at Lexington was a splendid field for the exercise of his abilities in this line. The neighbouring Virginia Military Institute soon followed teh example he had set, and after a year the municipal authorities of Lexington were aroused to the necessity of bettering their streets and sidewalks, and its inhabitants realised the need of improving and beautifying their homes. He managed a very large correspondence, answering every letter when possible, the greater proportion with his own hand. To the members of his own family who were away he wrote regularly, and was their best correspondent on home matters, telling in his charming way all the sayings and doings of the household and the neighbours.

My sister Agnes had gone to the wedding of Miss Warwick direct from "Bremo," and was in Richmond when my father sent her two of the first letters he wrote after the arrival of my mother in Lexington:

"Lexington, Virginia, December 5, 1865.

"My Worrying Little Agnes: your letter of the 1st received to-night. I have autographed the photographs and send a gross of the latter and a lock of hair. Present my love to the recipients and thank them for their favours. Sally is going to marry a widower. I think I ought to know, as she refused my son, and I do not wish to know his name. I wonder if she knows how many children he has. Tell Mr. Warwick I am sorry for him. I do not know what he will do without his sweet daughter. Nor do I know what I will do without her, either. Your mother has written--Mildred, too--and I presume has told you all domestic news. Custis is promenading the floor, Rob reading the papers, and Mildred packing her dress. Your mamma is up to her eyes in news and I am crabbed as usual. I miss you very much and hope this is the last wedding you will attend. Good-bye. Love to everybody.

"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee.

"Miss Agnes Lee."

The other is dated nearly a month later, and from this it appears that the wedding so often referred to is about to take place:

"Lexington, Virginia, January 3, 1866.

"My Precious Little Agnes: I sat down to give my dear little Sally-- for she is dear to me in the broadest, highest sense of the word--the benefit of Jeremy Taylor's opinion on hasty marriages. But, on reflection, I fear it would be words lost, for your mother says her experience has taught her that when a young woman makes up her mind to get married, you might as well let her alone. You must, therefore, just thank her for the pretty inkstand, and say that I'll need no reminder of her, but I do not know when I shall make up my mind to stain it with ink. I was very glad to receive your letter of the 26th, and to think that you were mindful of us. I know you do not wish to be away, though you are striving to get as far away as possible. When you reach Norfolk, you will be so convenient to New York, whence steamers depart almost daily for Europe. Let us know when you sail. But I do not write to restrain your movements, though you know how solitary I am without you. I inclose...which, with what I gave Mildred, I hope will answer your purpose. Send me or bring me the photographs I asked for. I like them of the last edition; they seem to take with the little school-girls, and I have nothing else to give them. I hope you will have a safe and pleasant trip. Tell Mr. Warwick I shall sorrow with him to-night--though I believe Mrs. Lee is right. Remember me to all friends, and believe me,

"Your devoted father, R. E. Lee.

"Miss Agnes Lee."

Next: He gains financial aid for it

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

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