Guest Post by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.
General Lee died at his home at Lexington , Virginia at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 12, 1870. His last great deed came after the War Between the States when he accepted the presidency of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. He saved the financially troubled college and helped many young folks further their education.
The headline from a Richmond newspaper read:
“News of the death of Robert E. Lee, beloved chieftain of the Southern army, whose strategy mainly was responsible for the surprising fight staged by the Confederacy, brought a two-day halt to Richmond’s business activities.”
The United States flag, which Robert E. Lee had defended as a soldier, flew at half mast in Lexington , Virginia and throughout the United States.
Some write that Robert E. Lee suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on September 28, 1870, but was thought to greatly improve until October 12th, when he took a turn for the worse. His condition seemed more hopeless when his doctor told him, “General you must make haste and get well – Traveller has been standing too long in his stable and needs exercise.”
Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Cadet William Nalle said in a letter home to his mother, dated October 16, 1870:
“I suppose of course that you have all read full accounts of Gen Lee’s death in the papers. He died on the morning of the 12th at about half past nine. All business was suspended at once all over the country and town, and all duties, military and academic suspended at the Institute, and all the black crape and all similar black material in Lexington, was used up at once, and they had to send on to Lynchburg for more. Every cadet had black crape issued to him, and an order was published at once requiring us to wear it as a badge of mourning for six months.”
You can read the entire letter on the Virginia Military Institute website.
The rains and flooding were the worst in Virginia ‘s history on the day General Lee died. The church bells rang as the sad news passed through Washington College, Virginia Military Institute, the town of Lexington and the nation. Cadets from VMI College carried the remains of the old soldier to Lee Chapel where he laid in state.
Memorial meetings were held throughout the South and as far North as New York. At Washington College in Lexington eulogies were delivered by: Reverend Pemberton, Reverend W.S. White – Stonewall Jackson’s Pastor and Reverend J. William Jones. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis brought the eulogy in Richmond, Virginia. Lee was also eulogized in Great Britain.
Many thousands witnessed Lee’s funeral procession marching through the town of Lexington , Virginia, with muffled drums and the artillery firing as the hearse was driven to the school’s chapel where he was buried.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower knew and appreciated our nation’s rich history. President Eisenhower was criticized for displaying a portrait of Robert E. Lee in his office. This was part of his response:
“Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by this nation.”
Robert E. Lee was the hero of the Southern people and admired both North and South of the Mason-Dixon Line. This Christian- gentleman’s last words were, “Strike the Tent.”
By Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.
Freelance writer, author of “When American Stood for God, Family and Country” and a member of the historical group Sons of Confederate Veterans. www.scv.org