Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XXI: Failing Health: The General declines lucrative positions in New York and Atlanta

The Document

After General Lee had accepted the presidency of Washington College, he determined to devote himself entirely to the interest and improvement of that institution. From this resolution he never wavered. An offer that he should be a the head of a large house to represent southern commerce, that he should reside in New York, and have placed at his disposal an immense sum of money, he declined, saying:

"I am grateful, but I have a self-imposed task which I must accomplish. I have led the young men of the South in battle; I have seen many of them die on the field; I shall devote my remaining energies to training young men to do their duty in life."

To a request from some of his old officers that he should associate himself with a business enterprise in the South, as its president, he replied with the following letter:

"Lexington, Virginia, December 14, 1869.

"General J. B. Gordon, President, "Southern Life Insurance Company, Atlanta, Georgia.

"My Dear General: I have received your letter of the 3d inst., and am duly sensible of the kind feelings which prompted your proposal. It would be a great pleasure to me to be associated with you, Hampton, B. H. Hill, and the other good men whose names I see on your list of directors, but I feel that I ought not to abandon the position I hold at Washington College at this time, or as long as I can be of service to it. Thanking you for your kind consideration, for which I know I am alone indebted for your proposition to become president of the Southern Life Insurance Company, and with kindest regards to Mrs. Gordon and my best wishes for yourself, I am,

"Very truly yours,

"R. E. Lee."

His correspondence shows that many like positions were made to him.

The Christmas of '69, neither my brother nor myself was with him. Knowing of our plans in that respect, he wrote before the holidays to Fitzhugh, wishing us both the compliments of the season and a pleasant time in the visits we were going to make:

"Lexington, Virginia, December 18, 1869.

"My Dear Fitzhugh: I must begin by wishing you a pleasant Christmas and many, many Happy New Years, and may each succeeding year bring to you and yours increasing happiness. I shall think of you and my daughter and my grandson very often during the season when families are generally united, and though absent from you in person, you will always be present in mind, and my poor prayers and best wishes will accompany you all wherever you are. Bertus will also be remembered, and I hope that the festivities of 'Brandon' will not drive from his memory the homely board at Lexington. I trust that he will enjoy himself and find some on to fill that void in his heart as completely as he will the one in his--system. Tell Tabb that no one in Petersburg wants to see her half as much as her papa, and now that her little boy has his mouth full of teeth, he would not appear so LONESOME as he did in the summer. If she should find in the 'Burg' a 'Duckie' to take his place, I beg that she will send him up to me.

"I duly received your letter previous to the 12th inst., and requested some of the family who were writing about that time to inform you. When I last wrote, I could not find it on my table and did not refer to it. 'The Mim' says you excel her in counting, if you do not in writing, but she does not think she is in your debt. I agree with you in your views about Smith's Island, and see no advantage in leasing it, but wish you could sell it to advantage. I hope the prospects may be better in the spring. Political affairs will be better, I think, and people will be more sanguine and hopeful. You must be on the alert. I wish I could go down to see you, but think it better for me to remain here. To leave home now and return during the winter would be worse for me. It is too cold for your mother to travel now. She says she will go down in the spring, but you know what an exertion it is for her to leave home, and the inconvenience if not the suffering, is great. The anticipation, however, is pleasing to her and encourages hope, and I like her to enjoy it, though am not sanguine that she will realise it. Mildred is probably with you, and can tell you all about us. I am somewhat reconciled to her absence by the knowledge of the benefit that she will be to Tabb. Tell the latter that she [Mildred] is modest and backward in giving advice, but that she has mines of wealth on that subject, and that she [Tabb] must endeavour to extract from her her views on the management of a household, children, etc., and the proper conduct to be observed toward husbands and the world in general. I am sure my little son will receive many wise admonitions which he will take open-mouthed. I have received a letter from your Uncle Carter telling me of his pleasant visit to you and of his agreeable impressions of his nephew and new niece. He was taken very sick in Richmond and delayed there so long that he could not be present at Wm. Kennon's wedding, and missed the festivities at his neighbour Gilliam's and at Norwood. Indeed, he had not recovered his strength when Lucy wrote a few days ago, and her account makes me very uneasy about him. I am glad Rob has so agreeable a neighbour as General Cooke, and I presume it is the North Carolina brigadier [A Virginian--son of General St. George Cooke, of the Federal Army, who commanded a North Carolina brigade in A. P. Hill's corps, A. N. Va.]. When you go to Petersburg, present my kind regards to Mr. and Mrs. Bolling, 'Miss Melville,' and all friends. All here unite with me in love to you, Tabb, and the boy, in which Mildred is included.

"Your affectionate father,

"R. E. Lee.

"General William H. F. Lee."

In a note, written the day after, acknowledging a paper sent to him to sign, he says:

"...I wrote to you yesterday, Saturday, in reply to your former letter, and stated the reasons why I could not visit you. Your mother has received Mildred's letter announcing her arrival in Richmond and will write to her there. I can only repeat my love and prayers that every blessing may attend you and yours. We are as usual.

"Truly and affectionately,

"R. E. Lee.

"General William H. F. Lee."

Next: He suffers from an obstinate cold; local gossip

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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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