Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XI: The Idol of the South: He gains financial aid for it

The Document

The latter part of January my father was sent by the board of trustees to Richmond to converse with the Committee on Education of the Virginia Legislature, then in session, as to some funds of the State held by Washington College. His mission was, I believe, successful, and great material aid was gained. He remained no long than was absolutely necessary, and, returning to his duties at Lexington, encountered a severe snow-storm. The difficulties he had to overcome are described in the following letter to his daughter Agnes, whom he had met in Richmond, and who had gone from there to visit some friends in Norfolk:

"Lexington, Virginia, January 29, 1866.

"My Precious Little Agnes: I have received your letter of the 17th, transmitting the photographs, for which I am very much obliged. I returned the one for Miss Laura Lippett, whom I wish I could see once again. It would be more agreeable to me than any photograph. I had quite a successful journey up, notwithstanding the storm. The snow increased as we approached the mountains, and night had set in before we reached Staunton. The next morning, before sunrise, in spite of the predictions of the wise ones, I took passage on the single car which was attached to the locomotive, and arrived at Goshen about 10 A. M., where, after some little encouragement, the stage-driver attached his horses to the stage, and we started slowly through the mountains, breaking the track. On reaching the Baths, the North River was unfordable, but I was ferried across in a skiff, with all my bundles (I picked up two more in Staunton and one at Goshen) and packages, and took a stage detained on the opposite bank for Lexington, where I arrived in good time. I found all as well as usual, and disappointed at not seeing you with me, though I was not expected. I told them how anxious you were to come with me, and how you wanted to see them, but that you looked so wretchedly I could not encourage you. I hope you are now in Norfolk, and that the fish and oysters will fatten you and cure your feet!... But get strong and keep well, and do not wear yourself out in the pursuit of pleasure. I hope you will soon join us, and that Lexington may prove to you a happy home. Your mother is a great sufferer, but is as quiet and uncomplaining as ever. Mildred is active and cheerful, and Custis and I as silent as our wont. Major Campbell Brown is here on a visit. I am surprised to find him such a talker. I am very sorry to find that Preston Cocke has been obliged to leave on account of his health. I have one comfort: my dear nephew will never injure himself by studying. Do not be alarmed about him.... Remember me to Colonel Taylor, all his mother's family, his wife, the Bakers, Seldens, etc. I know none of the latter but the Doctor, for whom I have always had a great esteem. Your mother, brother, and Mildred send their best love and kindest wishes. I am always,

"Your devoted father, R. E. Lee.

"Miss Agnes Lee."

It was at Dr. Seldon's house that my sister was visiting. He had been very kind in offering assistance to my father and mother. I remember well the supper given me and several of my comrades when we were coming back from the surrender, and while the Doctor and his family were refugees at Liberty, now Bedford City, Va. Stopping there one night, weary and hungry, while looking for quarters for man and beast, I got a note asking me and my friends to come to their house. An invitation of that kind was never refused in those days. We went and were treated as if we had been sons of the house, the young ladies themselves waiting on us. In the morning, when we were about to start, they filled our haversacks with rations, and Mrs. Selden, taking me aside, offered me a handful of gold pieces saying that she had more and that she could not bear to think of my father's son being without as long as she possessed any.

The love and devotion shown my father by all the people of the South was deeply appreciated by him. He longed to help them, but was almost powerless. I think he felt that something could be done in that direction by teaching and training their youth, and I am sure this idea greatly influenced him in deciding to accept the presidency of Washington College. The advantages to the South of a proper education of her youth were very evident to him. He strongly urged it wherever and whenever he could. In a letter written at this time to the Reverend G. W. Leyburn, he speaks very forcibly on the subject:

"So greatly have those interests [educational] been disturbed at the South, and so much does its future condition depend upon the rising generation, that I consider the proper education of its youth one of the most important objects now to be attained, and one from which the greatest benefits may be expected. Nothing will compensate us for the depression of the standard of our moral and intellectual culture, and each State should take the most energetic measures to revive the schools and colleges, and, if possible, to increase the facilities for instruction, and to elevate the standard of learning...."

Again, in a letter to General John B. Gordon, written December, 1867, he says:

"The thorough education of all classes of the people is the most efficacious means, in my opinion, of promoting the prosperity of the South. The material interests of its citizens, as well as their moral and intellectual culture, depend upon its accomplishment. The text- books of our schools, therefore, should not only be clear, systematic, and scientific, but they should be acceptable to parents and pupils in order to enlist the minds of all in the subjects."

In a letter to a friend in Baltimore he is equally earnest:

"I agree with you fully as to the importance of a more practical course of instruction in our schools and colleges, which, calling forth the genius and energies of our people, will tend to develop the resources and promote the interests of the country."

Next: Worsley's translation of Homer dedicated to him

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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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