Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XVIII: Mrs. R. E. Lee: Her daughter Mildred takes typhoid there

The Document

A few days after their arrival at the Warm Springs Mildred was taken ill with typhoid fever, and during many anxious weeks my father and Agnes were her only nurses. My mother's room was on the first floor of the "Brockenborough Cottage," my sister's in the second, so she could not get upstairs to her room. Mildred was very fanciful--would not have no one but my father to nurse her, and could not sleep unless she had his hand in hers. Night after night he sat by her side, watching over her and attending to every want with gentleness and patience. He writes to the same young lady, at Mildred's request:

"Warm Springs, Virginia, July 30, 1868.

"...She [Mildred] has been so anxious to write to you, and so uneasy at her inability to do so, that I hope you will permit me to tell you the reason. She has been quite sick and is so still--confined to her bed with low fever, which retains its hold very pertinaciously. she took cold a few days after our arrival, from some imprudence, and she is very much enfeebled. She has been more comfortable the last day or two, and I hope is better, but I presume he recovery will necessarily be slow. You know she is very fanciful, and as she seems to be more accessible to reason from me, I have come be her chief nurse and am now writing in her room, while she is sleeping.... This is a beautiful valley, and we have quite a pleasant company--Mr. and Mrs. Chapman and their three daughters from Alabama; Mrs. Coleman and her two daughters from Baltimore; some ladies from Richmond, Washington, Kentucky, Iowa, etc., and an ever-changing scene of faces. As soon as Mildred is strong enough, we will go to the Hot, after which, if she desires it, I will take her to the White. Mrs. Lee and Agnes are improving slightly, I am glad to say. We hear of many friends at the Hot, Healing, and White, and hope we shall reach these respective waters before they depart.... The Harrisons have written me that they will be here on the 14th proximo, but unless Mildred's recovery is much retarded it will be too late for me to see them. The Caskies will be at the Hot about the same time.... I am,

"Your most sincerely,

"R. E. Lee."

On August 3d from the same place, he writes to my brother Fitzhugh:

"...this was the day I had appointed to go to the Hot, but Mildred is too sick to move. She was taken more than a fortnight since,...and her attack seems to have partaken of a typhoid character. She has had since a low and persistent fever, which retains its hold. She is very feeble, but, in the doctor's opinion, somewhat better. I myself see little change, except that she is now free from pain. I cannot speak of our future movements. I fear I shall have to abandon my visit to the White. Your mother and Agnes are better than when they arrived. The former bathes freely, eats generously, and sleeps sweetly. Agnes, though feeble, is stronger. I am the same, and can see no effects of the waters upon myself. Give much love to my sweet daughter and dear sons. All unite with me in this message.... I am, as ever and always,

"Your father,

"R. E. Lee."

Another letter to my brother, Fitzhugh, from the Warm Springs, tells of his daughter's convalescence. Smith's Island, of which he writes, belonged to my grandfather's estate, of which my father was executor. He was trying to make some disposition of it, so that it might yield a revenue. It is situated on the Atlantic just east of Cape Charles, in Northampton County, Virginia.

"Warm Springs, Virginia, August 14, 1868.

"My Dear Fitzhugh: I received, yesterday, your letter of the 9th, and, as your mother informed you of Mildred's condition, I deferred replying to it until to-day. I am glad to inform you that she is better, and that the doctor pronounces her convalescent this morning. He says her progress must necessarily be slow, but with care and prudence he sees nothing to prevent her recovery, unless something unforeseen occurs. I hope, therefore, we may dismiss our anxiety. As regards Smith's Island, I should be very glad if you could go over and see it, and, if you think proper, make such disposition of it as you and Robert think most advantageous. See Mr. Hamilton S. Neale (Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia) and consult with him on the subject and let me know your determination. I think you will find him kind and intelligent. I have visited the island twice in my life, a long while ago, and thought that, if a person lived on it, he might, by grazing, planting and fishing, make a comfortable living. You and Robert might, if you choose, buy the island from the estate. I fear the timber, etc., has been cut from it. I never thought it as valuable as your grandfather did. You will have to go to Norfolk, take the steamer to Cherrystone, where, I suppose, you can find a conveyance to Eastville. You know Cobb's Island has been a fashionable bathing-place. John Lewis wrote that the beach was delightful and fare excellent, and that they had sail-vessels there at the disposal of visitors. But Mr. Neale and Mr. John Simpkins, the present agent, can put you in the way of visiting the island, and you might carry my sweet daughter, Tabb, over and give her a surf bath. But do not let the mosquitoes annoy her. Give her much love from me. I am writing in Mildred's room, who is very grateful for your interest in her behalf. She is too weak to speak. I hope Rob had a pleasant trip. Tell me Custis's plans. I have not heard from him. Your mother and Agnes unite in love to you, Rob, and Tabb. I have a fan in one hand, while I wield a pen with the other, so excuse brevity. Most affectionately yours, R. E. Lee.

"P.S.--George and Eleanor Goldsborough and Miss Mary G--- express themselves as much pleased with Cobb's Island. I do not know how far it is east of Smith's Island. R. E. Lee."

Next: Removes to Hot Springs

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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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