Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XXI: Failing Health: He is advised to go South in the spring of 1870; Desires to visit his daughter Annie's grave

The Document

After waiting all winter for the improvement in his health, my father, yielding at last to the wishes of his family, physician, and friends, determined to try the effect of a southern climate. It was thought it might do him good, at any rate, to escape the rigours of a Lexington March, and could do no harm. In the following letters to his children he outlines his plans and touchingly alludes to the memory of his daughter Annie, who died in 1862 and was buried at Warrenton Springs, North Carolina:

"Lexington, Virginia, March 21, 1870.

"My Dear Daughter: The doctors and others think I had better go to the South in the hope of relieving the effects of the cold, under which I have been labouring all the winter. I think I should do better here, and am very reluctant to leave home in my present condition; but they seem so interested in my recovery and so persuasive in their uneasiness that I should appear obstinate, if not perverse, if I resisted longer. I therefore consented to go, and will take Agnes to Savannah, as she seems anxious to visit that city, or, perhaps, she will take me. I wish also to visit my dear Annie's grave before I die. I have always desired to do so since the cessation of active hostilities, but have never been able. I wish to see how calmly she sleeps away from us all, with her dear hands folded over her breast as if in mute prayer, while her pure spirit is traversing the land of the blessed. I shall diverge from the main route of travel for this purpose, and it will depend somewhat upon my feelings and somewhat upon my procuring an escort for Agnes, whether I go further south.

"I am sorry not to be able to see you before I go, but if I return, I hope to find you here well and happy. You must take good care of your mother and do everything she wants. You must not shorten your trip on account of our departure. Custis will be with her every day, and Mary is with her still. The servants seem attractive. Good-bye, my dear child. Remember me to all friends, and believe me,

"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee.

"Miss Mildred Lee."

"Lexington, Virginia, March 22, 1870.

"My Dear Fitzhugh: Your letter of the 17th inst. has been received. Lest I should appear obstinate, if not perverse, I have yielded to the kind importunities of my physicians and of the faculty to take a trip toward the South. In pursuance of my resolution, I shall leave here Thursday next in the packet-boat, and hope to arrive in Richmond on Friday afternoon. I shall take with me, as my companion, Agnes, who has been my kind and uncomplaining nurse, and if we could only get down to you that evening we would do so, for I want to see you, my sweet daughter, and dear grandson. But as the doctors think it important that I should reach a southern climate as soon as practicable, I fear I shall have to leave my visit to you till my return. I shall go first to Warrenton Springs, North Carolina, to visit the grave of my dear Annie, where I have always promised myself to go, and I think, if I accomplish it, I have no time to lose. I wish to witness her quiet sleep, with her dear hands crossed over her breast, as if it were in mute prayer, undisturbed by her distance from us, and to feel that her pure spirit is waiting in bliss in the land of the blessed. From there, according to my feelings, I shall either go down to Norfolk or to Savannah, and take you if practicable on my return. I would ask you to come up to Richmond, but my movements are unknown to myself, as I cannot know the routes, schedules, etc., till I arrive there, but I have promised not to linger there longer than necessary; so I must avoid temptation. We are all as usual. Your mother still talks of visiting you, and when I urge her to make preparations for the journey, she replies rather disdainfully she has none to make; they have been made years ago. Custis and Mary are well, and Mildred writes that she will be back by April 1st. We are having beautiful weather now, which I hope may continue. From

"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee."

To his daughter Mildred he writes again, giving her the minutest details as to the routes home. This is very characteristic of him. We were always fully instructed, all the roads of life were carefully marked out for us by him:

"Lexington, Virginia, March 23, 1870.

"My Dear Daughter: I wrote to you the other day, telling you of my intention of going South and of my general plan as far as formed. This morning your letter of the 21st arrived.... I hope you will get back comfortably and safely, and if you can fall in with no escort, you had better go as far as Alexandria, the first stage of your journey. Aunt Maria, Cassius Lee, the Smiths, etc., would receive you. If you wish to come by Goshen, you must take the train from Alexandria on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, so as to arrive here about twelve o'clock at night. By taking the train from Alexandria on the alternate days, Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, you will reach Staunton that evening by four P. M., remain all night, and come over by daylight the following day in the stage. By taking the train from Alexandria to Lynchburg, Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, you will reach there the same afternoon, about four P. M., then go IMMEDIATELY to the packet-boat, and you will arrive here next morning. This last is the EASIEST route, and the best if you find no escort. Tell all the conductors and captains that you are my runaway daughter, and they will take care of you. I leave to-morrow evening on the packet-boat. I told you that Agnes would accompany me. Tell my cousins Washington, Jane, and Mary that I wish I were going to see them. I should then anticipate some pleasure. But the doctors say I must turn my face the other way. I know they do not know everything, and yet I have often had to do what I was told, without benefit to myself, and I shall have to do it again. Good-bye, my dear daughter. All unite in love.

"Your affectionate father, R. E. Lee.

"Miss Mildred Lee."

Next: Chapter XXII: The Southern Trip

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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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