Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XIX: Lee's Letters to His Sons: The Washington portraits

The Document

These photographs that were being coloured by my mother were from the original portraits of General Washington by Peale and of Mrs. Washington by W---. These paintings hung at Mt. Vernon until the death of Mrs. Washington, and were then inherited by my grandfather, Mr. Custis. They were at "Arlington" till '61, when they were removed to "Ravensworth," where they remained until the end of the war. When they were being sent to Lexington, the boat carrying them on the canal between Lynchburg and Lexington sank. These pictures, with many others belonging to my mother, were very much injured and had to be sent to a restorer in Baltimore, who made them as good as ever, and they were finally safely hung in the president's house in Lexington, and are now in the library of the university. My mother coloured the photographs of these originals, and sold a great many, on account of their association rather than their merit.

There must have been some change of date in my father's plans, for though he said he would start on June 1st for Fredericksburg, his first and only letter from there was written on May 28th:

"Fredericksburg, May 28, 1869.

"My Dear Mary: I reached here Tuesday night, the night after the morning I left you, about twelve o'clock and found Major Barton at the depot, who conducted me to his house. The town seems very full of strangers, and I have met many acquaintances. I have seen no one yet from 'Cedar Grove,' and cannot learn whether any of them are coming. They are no doubt in distress there, for you may have heard of the death of Charles Stuart, on his way from Arkansas. He died at Lynchburg of congestive chills. Harriott Cazenove (his sister) went on to see him, but he died before her arrival. Rosalie, I heard, was at 'Cedar Grove,' Turbeville in Essex. I have delivered all your packages but Margaret's. Cassius Lee and all from the seminary are here. Sally came up from Gloucester, and also Mrs. Taliaferro. But I must tell you of all occurrences upon my return, and of all whom I have met. All friends inquire very particularly and affectionately after you, particularly your cousin, Mrs. ---, who turns up every day at all assemblies, corners, and places, with some anxious question on her mind upon which some mighty--thought to me hidden--importance depends. Fitz. Lee arrived to-day, though I have not seen him yet. If I can accomplish it, I will go to 'Richland' to-morrow, Saturday, and spend Sunday, and take up my line of march Monday, in which event I hope to reach Lexington Wednesday morning, or rather Tuesday night, in the stage from Goshen. I may not be able to get away from the council before Monday. In that case, I shall not arrive before Wednesday night. Tell the girls there are quantities of young girls here and people of all kinds. I hope that you are all well, and that everything will be ready to move into our new house upon my arrival. I am obliged to stop. I am also so much interrupted and occupied that, though I have tried to write ever since my arrival, I have been unable. Love to all.

"Very affectionately,

"R. E. Lee.

"Mrs. R. E. Lee."

"Cedar Grove" was the plantation of Dr. Richard Stuart, in King George County, some fifty miles from Fredericksburg. His wife, a Miss Calvert, of "Riversdale," Maryland, was a near cousin of my mother, had been her bridesmaid, and the two families had been intimate all their lives. All the persons mentioned by my father were cousins and friends, several of them old neighbours from Alexandria and the Theological Seminary near by.

From Fredericksburg, after the completion of his duties at the council, he went to "Richland" on the Potomac, near Acquia Creek, where his brother Smith was then living. This meeting was a great pleasure to them both, for two brothers were never more devoted. This was the last time they saw one another alive, as Smith died two months afterward.

Next: Chapter XX: The New Home in Lexington

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How to cite this article

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

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