Washington and Lee University

Robert E. Lee and His Family

Chapter X
GENERAL ROONEY LEE

William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, born at Arlington, May 31, 1837, was named for his mother's uncle, William Henry Fitzhugh of Ravensworth. His familiar name was Rooney. His son, Dr. George Bolling Lee of New York, writing under date of November 2, 1936, gave the following explanation:

My father was known as “Rooney” Lee. When his father was stationed at Fort Hamilton, N.Y., with an Irish Regiment before the war, they had a gardener named Rooney, from the Regiment, who, his brothers and sisters said, my father resembled so closely that they called hint after this Irish gardener. He retained this nickname through the rest of his life.[1] He was at that time five or six years old and it was more the stout figure and shoulders in the resemblance than the face. Also at that time my father had the distal ends of his fourth and middle fingers cut off by a chopping machine one Sunday when he was supposed to be at church or somewhere. These wounds healed up without any trouble.

Rooney Lee attended the school of Rev. George A. Smith, near Alexandria, and later studied under a Mr. McNally in Baltimore and a Mr. Nugent in New York City. In the autumn of 1854 he entered Harvard College where he continued his studies until 1857 when he was appointed a lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the request of Gen. Winfield Scott. On May 8, 1857, General Scott wrote to the Secretary of War, recommending young Lee, then about twenty years old, “of a fine stature and constitution, a good linguist, a good mathematician.” In the same letter Scott declared him to be honorable and amiable, like his father, “and dying to enter the army.” The old General also took occasion to say that he regarded Col. R. E. Lee, who was then on duty against the Comanches, as the very best soldier he ever saw in the field.

Lieut. Rooney Lee's first military service was in command of a detachment of soldiers on their way to join a larger body in Texas. Within the next year he, with his regiment, was in the expedition to Utah, under Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, to bring about a settlement with the Mormons. This expedition was attended with great difficulties and hardships. From Utah the regiment marched to the Pacific Coast. By that time, evidently, Lieutenant Lee desired a respite from field service. Resigning his commission, he returned to Virginia where he married Charlotte Wickham. He then, the same year (1859), settled as a planter on the old Custis estate, known as the White House, in New Kent County, Va.

In the autumn of 1861 Rooney Lee, in the Confederate service, was promoted to major of cavalry and served under his father in western Virginia. He was with Lt.-Col. John A. Washington when the latter was killed at Elkwater in Randolph County, on September 13, 1861. Colonel Washington had recently sold Mount Vernon and located on a large farm in Fauquier County, Va. He was aide-de-camp to General Lee in the campaign among the Alleghanies. On September 17 General Lee wrote of his death:

We met with one heavy loss which grieves me deeply: Colonel Washington accompanied Fitzhugh on a reconnoitering expedition, and I fear they were carried away by their zeal and approached within the enemy's pickets. The first they knew was a volley from a concealed party within a few yards of them. Their balls passed through the Colonel's body, then struck Fitzhugh's horse, and the horse of one of the men was killed. Fitzhugh mounted the Colonel's horse and brought him off. I am much grieved. He was always anxious to go on these expeditions. This was the first day I assented. Since I had been thrown into such intimate relations with him, I had learned to appreciate him very highly.[2]

By December, 1862, Rooney Lee was in command of a brigade of cavalry. On June 9, 1863, in the great cavalry battle of Fleetwood, or Brandy Station, about three o'clock in the afternoon, he was severely wounded. In charge of his brother Robert, his aide-de-camp, he was taken to Hickory Dill, in Hanover County, the home of Mr. W. F. Wickham. There his wife joined him, and his mother and sisters came up from Richmond. About two weeks later a large party of Federal cavalrymen came to Hickory Hill and took him prisoner. He was carried to Fortress Monroe and later to Fort Lafayette, and was held altogether for nine months. After his release he re-entered the Confederate service and took part in the final campaign around Richmond and Petersburg. It appears that he was a major-general when he was taken prisoner. His wife died about the end of 1863, and her two children did not survive their infancy.

Soon after the surrender at Appomattox in April, 1865, General Rooney Lee returned to his farm at the White House in New Kent County. There he and his younger brother Robert put out a corn crop, finishing June 9th. An excellent crop was grown.

On November 28, 1867, Gen. Rooney Lee married his second wife, Mary Tabb Bolling, of Petersburg. In 1874 he moved to Ravensworth in Fairfax County, Va., which he inherited under the will of his mother's uncle, William Henry Fitzhugh, for whom he had been fumed. There he lived until his death, October 15, 1891. By his second marriage he had two sons: Robert Edward, born at Petersburg, February 11, 1869, and George Bolling, born at Lexington, August 30, 1872. He was much interested in agriculture and was president for some years of the Virginia Agricultural Society. As such he was ex officio a member of the first board of visitors of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College at Blacksburg in 1872. From 1875 to 1878 he served in the Virginia Senate, and from March 4, 1887, to March 3, 1891, he was a member of the national House of Representatives in Washington.

THE WILL OF GENERAL ROONEY LEE.

I, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, of Ravensworth, County of Fairfax, State of Virginia, do make this my last Will, revoking all others which may have heretofore been made by me. 1. I desire that my Executors shall erect a suitable monument and to cost not less than One thousand Dollars over the grave of my wife whose remains lie buried with her two children in the old Cemetery at Richmond, Virginia. 2. I bequeath all of my personal and real Estate of every nature, kind, and description and wheresoever situated to my wife Mary Tabb Lee during her life, and at her death to be divided between my two sons R. E. Lee Jr. and George Bolling Lee, provided they or their children are alive, at the death of their Mother. Should neither of my sons or their children be alive at their Mother's death, without having devised the Estate bequeathed to them, the said Estate shall pass and descend to my heirs at law. But should either of my sons die prior to their Mother leaving no issue of their body and without having devised the property given them by my will, the same shall descend to the survivor or to the children of the survivor of them. No. 3. Should my dear wife at any time desire to marry again, then upon the occurrence of that event, it is my will that the income from my entire Estate shall be divided between my wife and two sons, share and share alike, and shall so continue to be divided as aforesaid until the death of my wife, when my entire Estate shall descend to my sons as provided in clause 2 of my will.

4. I hereby appoint Robt. Edwd. Lee Jr. and George Bolling Lee my Executors and request that they be allowed to qualify without security. It is my desire that my friend Mr. Jas. M. Love of Fairfax, Virginia, be consulted as Counsellor by my said Executors.

W. H. F. Lee (Seal) Witness my hand and seal this . . . . . day of August 1891.
Mildred C. Lee
R. E. Lee
J. M. Love

Admitted to record in Fairfax County Court, November Court, 1891. (See Fairfax County Will Book F2, pages 340, 341.)

It is probable that the witnesses, Mildred C. Lee and R. E. Lee, were the sister and brother of the testator.

Chimneys at Ravensworth, Fairfax County, Va., after the
fire of 1924. Photo in 1926 by Dr. Hazel Davis. Later a good-sized
house was built with the bricks of these old chimneys.

Photo by J. W. W. in 1935.

The Old Brick Barn at Ravensworth, Fairfax County, Va.
Dating from the time of the Fitzhughs and Lees.

MRS. ROBERT E. LEE in LATER YEARS

Ravensworth, on Accotink Creek, about five miles southeast of Fairfax C. H., the home of Gen. Rooney Lee and later of his brother, Gen. Custis Lee, is enhanced with numerous historic associations extending over an eventful century. It was at Ravensworth that General Lee's mother spent her last days. She died there in 1829 and was buried in the old ivy-covered graveyard. When Mrs. Lee (General Lee's wife) left Arlington in May, 1861, she went first to Ravensworth. General Lee visited there in 1869, 1870, and at other times. The old house burned in 1924. The huge chimneys stood as landmarks for some time, then were torn down and the bricks used in constructing a new house, much smaller. When I was there in October, 1935, the old brick barn still remained to witness of by-gone days, and the splendid trees still cast their shadows over the broad lawn.[3]


[Notes]

[1] It is probable that the name Rooney was continued to distinguish him from his cousin, Fitzhugh Lee, who also was a major-general of cavalry in the Civil War. Rooney's father and mother, and in later life the other members of his family too, willed him Fitzhugh.

[2] For more about Colonel Washington, the reader referred to “The Washingtons and Their Homes,” by John W. Wayland 1944, pages 297–310.

[3] For additional items about Ravensworth and reproductions of photographs made in 1935, see “Historic Homes,” by John W. Wayland, pages 556–559.


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