Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XXIII: A Round of Visits: To Mrs. Lee from the Hot Springs

The Document

He remained at Lexington only for a short time, as it was decided that he should go to the Hot Springs, Virginia, where he could try their famous waters for his rheumatism. On the day of his arrival he writes to my mother:

"Hot Springs, Bath County, Virginia, August 10, 1870.

"My Dear Mary: We reached here this morning about 9:30 A. M., Captain White and I, after as pleasant a journey as we could have expected. After taking the cars at Goshen, the old route by Milboro' rose up so strong before me that we determined to adhere to it. Reached the Bath Alum about 4:00 P. M., where we passed the night and were in luck in finding several schools or parts of them rusticating on alum-water. Mrs. Heath was in charge of the detachment from Dr. Phillips's [a well known girl's school at Staunton]. They presented a gay and happy appearance. This morning we breakfasted at the Warm and had the attention of Richard. There is a small party there, Admiral Louis Goldsborough and his wife and Miss West amongst them. Here thee is quite a company. Mrs. Lemmon from Baltimore, her daughter Mrs. Dobbin, Mrs. General Walker, wife of the ex-Secretary of War of the Confederacy, Mrs. and Miss. Sivent, etc., etc.

"Dr. and Mrs. Cabell are here, and the Tandys and Mrs. Mac regret that you are not with me...I saw Mrs. Maise at the Warm, and her sister from Kentucky, Mrs. Tate. Rev. Mr. Mason and the Daingerfields have a girls' school in the village. The Warm seems to be retrograding. I hope the new man, Edward, has arrived. Tell him to take good care of the cow, and ask the girls to see to he and the garden, etc. I saw Mrs. Caskie at the Baths. She looks very well. Her niece, Gay, is with her, a pretty child. Mrs. Myers and her children are also there. Mrs. Asher also. Small company, but select. All pleased with Mr. Brown [the manager of the hotel]. Tell the girls I have no one to rub me now. Shall miss them in this and other ways much. Dr. Cabell says I must continue my medicines and commence with the hot spout to-morrow. He has great confidence in the waters, and says that 95 out of 100 patients that he has treated have recovered. I shall alternate the spout with the boiler. But he says the great error is that people become impatient and do not stay long enough. I hope I may be benefited, but it is a tedious prospect. I hope that you all will continue well. If you wish to go to the Baths, or to come here, you must do so and write me what you want, if there is anything I can do or get for you. Give love to all the girls and remembrances to all friends. Tell our neighbours that I was so occupied the last days I was in Lexington that I had not time to bid them adieu. If you want more money let me know. God bless you and preserve you all. Good-bye, dear Mary.

"Most truly,

"R. E. Lee.

"Mrs. M. C. Lee."

The Richard mentioned had been lately his house servant at Lexington, and Edward was a new man he had engaged for the garden and stable. The letters written to my mother and others of his family from the Hot Springs at this time were frequent, and I give them in full, as they tell all we know now of his visit there:

"Hot Springs, Bath County, Virginia, August 14, 1870.

"My Dear Mary: I received this morning the last letters forwarded by you. The first batch arrived yesterday. I am glad to hear that you all continue well. I hope my letter of the 10th, announcing my arrival, has reached you. It should have done so, it seems to me, previously to your note of Friday. I have but little more to say than I had them. I have taken four baths, Hot Spout, which seems to agree with me very well, but it is too soon yet to look for results. I receive the water on my shoulder, back, and chest. The sensation is pleasant, and so far I have succeeded in preventing taking cold. The atmosphere, however, is damp, and temperature variable. When the sun shines, it is hot; but when it rains, which is the usual condition of the weather, the former the exception, it is cool. Mrs. Sledge and party are here, the former improved. She was much better, went over to the White and Sweet, retrograded, and returned. Will stay here September. Many of our invalids are improving. Society has a rather solemn appearance, and conversation runs mostly on personal ailments, baths, and damp weather. There were some pretty tableaux last evening. The Misses Tardy, Mrs. Dobbin, and the little girls, the performers. Mr. Washington [William Washington, a well known painter of that day, who was for a short time professor of painting and drawing at the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington] is here. He looks well, is quiet, and has been copying points of scenery in the neighbourhood. I do not know whether he was in search of health or the picturesque. The latter is more easily found in these mountains than the former. Captain White is well and sends remembrances to all. I hope Edward has arrived and is an improvement on the present occupant of the situation. If he does not present himself, retain Henry till I come. I will endeavour to find some one. You do not mention the cow; she is of more interest to me than the cats, and is equally destructive of rats. I am glad the girls are well; what are they troubling about now? I wish they were with me. I find many ladies here for neuralgia. Mrs. General Walker has been much benefited, also others. If little Agnes should desire to try the effects of the waters, tell her to come on, I will take care of her. I suppose Tabb will go with her husband. I am sorry Fitzhugh is complaining. I have written to Rob and Miss Lottie [Miss Charlotte Haxall, afterward Mrs. Robert E. Lee, Jr., who died in 1872]. I heard of Charles Carter's [Charles Carter, of "Goodwood," Maryland, was my father's first cousin. Mildred and Ella, two of his daughters] passing up the road to the White, and Mildred preceded him a week. Ella, I hear, is much improved. I shall not go to the White unless specially called by something now unknown, but will remain here till the end of the month, if I find it profitable, and then return to Lexington. I hope the college is prospering. What does Mrs. Podestad say? I understand that Markie Peter [Mrs. Peter was a near cousin of my mother, and with her as a little girl our associations had been very near] and child are occupying her old quarters at the Lomaxes near Warrenton. I have a merry time with my old cronies, tell Mildred. I am getting too heavy for them now. They soon drop me. I am getting uneasy about Edward and Blanche. The reverses of the French, which seem to be light, appear to have demoralised the nation. May God help all in affliction and keep and guard you and all with you, is my constant prayer.

"Truly and affectionately,

"R. E. Lee.

"Mrs. M. C. Lee."

"Hot Springs, Bath County, Virginia, August 19, 1870.

"My Dear Mary: I received this morning your letters of the 14th and 18th, inclosing Dr. Buckler's, and was informed by Colonel Turner that he had brough the package to which you referred. He has not yet sent it to me, but, no doubt, will in time. I am sorry that Edward has not kept his engagement, for I liked his appearance and recommendations, though perhaps they are deceptive. You had better retain Harry till I come, unless you fall in with a better. I am glad that you are all well. You have such industrious little daughters that I am sure all will go well. Thank Agnes for her letter and say to her that I have not seen Mr. Vanmeter or Blair, but gave the letter to the former to Colonel White, who will send it to him when he finds out his position. Mr. Thom arrived this morning and Mr. John Jones and family rode over from the Healing. They are there for a sick child. My old friend, Dr. Broaddus, and the Reverend Mr. Jones also presented themselves.... I have been trying the Boiler for four days--and the Spout the five preceding. I do not perceive any benefit yet, though some little change in the seat of my pains. I will continue till the middle of next week, the 29th, when, if no decided improvement takes place, I think of going over to the Healing. Dr. Houston thinks that it will be beneficial, whereas, Dr. Cabell recommends this. I am obliged to be in Staunton on the 30th ult. to attend a meeting of the Valley Railroad Company, so I shall leave here on the 29th for that purpose. After getting through with that business, I shall return to Lexington. I am sorry that I shall be called away, but I fear my stay here would be of no avail. Colonel White is well and sends regards to all. I am glad that the cow is better. She stands next in my affections to Traveller.... I hope that Agnes's neuralgia is better, and as she has not accepted my proposition I presume she declines. Hot bathing is not agreeable to me either in its operations or effects, but I see daily evidences of its good results on others. I wish that it suited your case. You must try and get some one in Sally's place if Tabb, etc., come, and make them all comfortable. If you want more money, let me know in time. Send over to Mr. Leyburn for the flour, when you want it. Mr. Bowie, I suspect, can arrange it for you. I fear Captain Brooks's house will not be ready for occupancy this fall. I hope that General Smith will begin Custis's in time. I heard of him on his way to Edward Cocke's the other day. Mr. Washington is still here. Better, I think. Again love to all.

"Most truly and affectionately,

"R. E. Lee.

"P.S.--Mr. Turner has just sent me the package.

"R. E. L."

To his son Fitzhugh, who was at the "White House" with his family:

"Hot Springs, Bath County, Virginia, August 20, 1870.

"My Dear Fitzhugh: I am very sorry to learn from your letter of the 18th, received this morning, that Tabb is sick. I hope that it will be of short duration and that she will soon throw off the chills. The mountain doctors, however, do not understand them as well as the lowland, and are apt to resort to the old practice. I wish that I could get to the White to see you, but my time is too limited, owing to the late day that I was able to leave Lexington. I propose staying here till the 29th inst., which will only make my sojourn here two and a half weeks, and then going to Staunton, where I am obliged to attend a meeting of the Valley Railroad Company on the 30th. I hope that I shall not be detained there longer than a day or two, when I will return to Lexington, where I hope to find you all. You must tell Mr. and Mrs. Podestad, Mr. Carter, Ella, etc., how sorry I am not to see them at the White, but that I hope they will call at Lexington. I wrote to Ella on my first arrival here, but presume my letter failed to reach her. You did not mention how her health was. I am much concerned at Tabb's indisposition, but am glad to hear that the baby is well. Give my love to both, and I trust you will all be benefited by the mountain air. My personal health is good, but I see no change in my rheumatic attack, which is principally confined to my chest and back. I inclose a note from your mother, transmitted on the supposition that I would write to you. Professor White is with me and I have some few acquaintances, but I am anxious to return. I am glad that Bertus has had a short visit to the Orange. He says that he will come to Rockbridge in September. Custis will be there by the first, and we shall all, I hope, be together again.


"R. E. Lee."

Next: Tired of public places

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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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