Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XIII: Family Affairs: Distinguished and undistinguished callers at his Lexington home; He advocates early hours

The Document

My uncle, Smith Lee, was farming on the Potomac, and was constantly sending me messages of condolence through my father. Our experiences were the same as all others starting to farm under the new order of things. My father was very hospitable, and it delighted him to have his relatives and friends come and see him. So many kindnesses had been shown to himself and family for the last five years that he greatly enjoyed this, his first opportunity of greeting in his own home those who had so often offered my mother and sisters the shelter of theirs. The country around Lexington was most beautiful, and the climate in the summer and autumn all that could be desired. So, at those seasons, whenever he was at home, there was generally some one visiting him, nearly always relatives or old and dear friends. He entertained very simply, made every one feel at home, and was always considerate and careful of the amusement and welfare of his guests.

People came from all over the world to Lexington to see him. Amongst the visitors from afar were the marquis of Lorne and the Hon. Mr. Cooper, who were on a tour through the United States. They came to Lexington to see General Lee. When they called at the house there happened to be no servant at hand, and my father, meeting them at the door, received their cards. Not having on his glasses, he could not read the names, but ushered the strangers into the parlour, and presented them to Mrs. Lee, without calling their names. My mother thought the tall, slender youth was a new student, and entered into conversation with him as such. Struck by his delicate appearance, she cautioned him against the harsh winter climate of the mountains, and urged him to be careful of his health. On this, Mr. Cooper explained who his companion was, and there was much amusement over the mistake.

The professors and students of the two institutions of learning were constant visitors, especially in the evenings, when young men came to see the girls. If his daughters had guests, my father usually sat with my mother in the dining-room adjoining the drawing-room. When the clock struck ten he would rise and close the shutters carefully and slowly, and, if that hint was not taken, he would simply say "Good night, young gentlemen." The effect was immediate and lasting, and his wishes in that matter, finally becoming generally known, were always respected. Captain W., who had very soon found out the General's views as to the time of leaving, was told on one occasion that General Lee had praised him very much.

"Do you know why?" said the Captain. "It is because I have never been caught in the parlour at ten o'clock. I came very near it least night, but got into the porch before the General shut the first blind. That's the reason he calls me 'a fine young man.'"

A young friend who was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute called on my sisters one evening, and remarked, just for something to say:

"Do you know this is the first civilian's house I have entered in Lexington."

My father was in the room in the room in his gray Confederate coat, shorn of the buttons; also my two brothers, Custis and Fitzhugh, both of whom had been generals in the Confederate Army; so there was quite a laugh over the term CIVILIAN. I have already mentioned how particular my father was about answering all letters. It was a great tax on his time, and some of them must have been a trial to his temper. The following will explain itself:

"Lexington, Virginia, September 5, 1866.

"A. J. Requier, 81 Cedar St., New York.

"My Dear Sir: I am very much obliged to you for your kind letter of the 22d ult. So many articles formerly belonging to me are scattered over the country that I fear I have not time to devote to their recovery. I know no one in Buffalo whom I could ask to reclaim the Bible in question. If the lady who has it will use it, as I hope she will, she will herself seek to restore it to the rightful owner. I will, therefore, leave the decision of the question to her and her conscience. I have read with great pleasure the poem you sent me, and thank you sincerely for your interest in my behalf. With great respect,

"Your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee."

Here is another one of many of a similar character:

"Lexington, Virginia, September 26, 1866.

"Mr. E. A. Pollard, 104 West Baltimore St., Baltimore, Md.

"Dear Sir: I return you my thanks for the compliment paid me by your proposition to write a history of my life. It is a hazardous undertaking to publish the life of any one while living, and there are but few who would desire to read a true history of themselves. Independently of the few national events with which mine has been connected, it presents little to interest the general reader, nor do I know where to refer you for the necessary materials. All my private, as well as public, records have been destroyed or lost, except what is to be found in published documents, and I know of nothing available for the purpose. Should you, therefore, determine to undertake the work, you must rely upon yourself, as my time is so fully occupied that I am unable to promise you any assistance.

"Very respectfully,

"R. E. Lee."

This autumn my sister Mildred paid a visit to our cousins, Mr. and Mrs. George Golsborough, living at "Ashby," near Easton, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She remained away there and elsewhere for several months. My father's letters to her, many of which have been preserved, are most interesting. They show very plainly many beautiful phases of his noble character and disposition:

"Lexington, Virginia, December 21, 1866.

"My Precious Life: I was very glad to receive your letter of the 15th inst., and to learn that you were well and happy. May you be always as much so as is consistent with your welfare here and hereafter, is my daily prayer. I was much pleased, too, that, while enjoying the kindness of your friends, we were not forgotten. Experience will teach you that, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, you will never receive such a love as is felt for you by your father and mother. That lives through absence, difficulties, and times. Your own feelings will teach you how it should be returned and appreciated. I want to see you very much, and miss you at every turn, yet am glad of this opportunity for you to be with those who, I know, will do all in their power to give you pleasure. I hope you will also find time to read and improve your mind. Read history, works of truth, not novels and romances. Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, and, when summoned away, to leave without regret. Your friends here inquire constantly after you, and wish for your return. Mrs. White and Mrs. McElwee particularly regret your absence, and the former sends especial thanks for your letter of remembrance. We get on in our usual way. Agnes takes good care of us, and is very thoughtful and attentive. She has not great velocity, but is systematic and quiet. After to-day, the mornings will begin to lengthen a little, and her trials to lessen. It is very cold, the ground is covered with six inches of snow, and the mountains, as far as the eye can reach in every direction, elevate their white crests as monuments of winter. This is the night for the supper for the repairs to the Episcopal church. Your mother and sisters are busy with their contributions. It is to take place at the hotel, and your brother, cousins, and father are to attend. On Monday night (24th), the supper for the Presbyterian church is to be held at their lecture-room. They are to have music and every attraction. I hope both may be productive of good. But you know the Episcopalians are few in numbers and light in purse, and must be resigned to small returns.... I must leave to your sisters a description of these feasts, and also an account of the operation of the Reading Club. As far as I can judge, it is a great institution for the discussion of apples and chestnuts, but is quite innocent of the pleasures of literature. It, however, brings the young people together, and promotes sociability and conversation. Our feline companions are flourishing. Young Baxter is growing in gracefulness and favour, and gives cat-like evidences of future worth. He possesses the fashionable colour of 'moonlight on the water,' apparently a dingy hue of the kitchen, and is strictly aristocratic in appearance and conduct. Tom, surnamed 'The Nipper,' from the manner in which he slaughters our enemies, the rats and the mice, is admired for his gravity and sobriety, as well as for his strict attention to the pursuits of his race. They both feel your absence sorely. Traveller and Custis are both well, and pursue their usual dignified gait and habits, and are not led away by the frivolous entertainments of lectures and concerts. All send united love, and all wish for your return. Remember me most kindly to Cousins Eleanor and George, John, Mary, Ida, and all at 'Myrtle Grove,' and to other kind friends when you meet them. Mrs. Grady carried yesterday to Mr. Charles Kerr, in Baltimore, a small package for you. Be careful of your health, and do not eat more than half the plum-puddings Cousin Eleanor has prepared for Xmas. I am glad to hear that you are fattening, and I hope you will reach 125 lbs. Think always of your father, who loves you dearly.

"R. E. Lee.

"P.S., 22d.--Rob arrived last night with 'Lucy Long.' He thinks it too bad you are away. He has not seen you for two years.

"R. E. Lee."

Next: His fondness for animals

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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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