Washington and Lee University

Robert E. Lee and His Family

Chapter XIII
GLIMPSES

HOW TALL?

In a monograph on Col. Heros von Borcke issued some years ago by the Historical Publishing Co., Inc., at Charlottesville, I found (on page 5) this statement: “He was over six feet four inches tall—as tall as Rooney Lee, they told him” (at Richmond).

In order to get definite and reliable information, I wrote to Gen. Rooney Lee's younger son, Dr. George Bolling Lee, of New York City, and he, very graciously and promptly, under (late of October 24, 1935, wrote me as follows:

Your letter of October 22nd received this morning, with the enclosure of the snapshot of the lawn at Ravensworth, for which I thank you.

In regard to General R. E. Lee, I have always understood that he was just under six feet and weighed from 165 to 170 pounds. His eldest son, Gen. Custis Lee, was just about the same height and weight. My father, Gen. W. H. F. Lee, was six foot two in stocking feet. As a young man he was tall and slender, later in life he became stout due to lack of exercise, heart and kidney trouble. He weighed in the neighborhood of 220 pounds. His younger brother, R. E. Lee, was about five foot ten and weighed around 165 pounds. My own brother, Col. Bob Lee, was six foot three in stocking feet and weighed from 215 to 225 pounds. I am about five feet ten inches, and was thin up to a few years ago, weighing around 120 to 125, later following an attack of typhoid fever my weight varied from 180 to 190 pounds, bath weight.

This information is off hand but f do not think you will find it much out of the way.


SPEC AND HIS MOTHER

Spec was a black-and-tan terrier. His mother was rescued by General (then Captain) Lee from a watery grave. While Captain Lee was stationed at Fort Hamilton, near New York City, he was one day crossing the Narrows towards Staten Island. He saw a small animal struggling feebly in the water and at once had his boat pulled alongside. When lifted from the water it proved to be a handsome little dog with cropped cars and a short tail. Evidently it had fallen or been thrown from a passing vessel. Captain Lee took her home where she was welcomed with delight by the children. She was named Dart, the name suggested, perhaps, by her skill in catching rats. Between her and the family cat, the rats which infested the house and stables were killed or driven away.

Spec was born at Fort Hamilton and became a great favorite with Captain Lee as well as with the children. The Captain would not allow his tail or ears to be cropped. Spec accompanied the family everywhere, even to church on Sunday. Inasmuch as the children gave more attention to Spec than to their devotions, it was decided that he had better be left at home; so the next Sunday he was penned in an upstairs room. But Spec found an open window—it was summer time—and after looking out wistfully for a while he decided to try a high jump. Notwithstanding the distance to the ground he landed without injury and joined the family just as they were entering the church. His persistence prevailed—after that he was not excluded from the sacred precincts. When his master returned from Mexico, after an absence of two or three years, Spec was the first to recognize him and was extravagant in his manifestations of delight.

A lady visitor one day remarked: “Everybody and everything—his family, his friends, his horse, and his dog—loves Colonel Lee.”

Spec would willingly have gone with his master to Mexico—or anywhere else. “'Tell him,” said Captain Lee, writing to Custis, “I wish he was here with me. He would have been of great service in telling me when I was coming upon the Mexicans. When I was reconnoitering around Vera Cruz, their dogs frequently told me by barking when I was approaching them too nearly.”


FUN AND FIRMNESS

Of his father his youngest son wrote:

At forty-five years of age he was active, strong, and as handsome as he had ever been. I never remember his being ill. I presume he was indisposed at times; but no impressions of that kind remain. He was always bright and gay with us little folk, romping, playing, and joking with us. With the older children, he was just as companionable, and I have seen him join my elder brothers and their friends when they would try their powers at a high jump put up in our yard. The two younger children he petted a great deal, and our greatest treat was to get into his bed in the morning and lie close to him, listening while he talked to us in his bright, entertaining way. This custom we kept up until I was ten years old and over. Although he was so joyous and familiar with us, he was very firm on all proper occasions, never indulged us in anything that was not good for us, and exacted the most implicit obedience.[1]


HIS HORSES

Grace Darling was a chestnut mare of fine size and great power. Captain Lee bought her in Texas on his way to Mexico in 1846. He rode her all through the campaign in Mexico, where she was shot seven times. Returning from Mexico, he brought her on the boats up the Mississippi and the Ohio to Wheeling. From there his man Jim Connally brought her the remainder of the way overland. In the spring of 1862 Grace Darling, then advanced in age, was at the White House in New Kent County, Va., and there fell into the hands of the Federals. In Mexico Colonel Lee purchased a pony for his small son Rob. This pony was shipped in a sailing vessel from Vera Cruz to Baltimore, and there, a little later, Rob, under the instruction of Jim Connally, learned to ride him. This pony was pure white and about fourteen hands high. His name was Santa Anna. Jim used to tell Rob that he (Jim) and Santa Anna “were the first men on the walls of Chapultepec.”

The horse that General Lee usually rode in the late summer and early autumn of 1861, while campaigning in western Virginia, was named Richmond. The General remarked in one of his letters to his daughters that Richmond had not been accustomed to the fare or the treatment he was then receiving, but that he got along tolerably well, without much superfluous flesh.

While on this campaign of 1861 in western Virginia, General Lee acquired Traveler. He was a handsome iron-gray, with black points—main and tail very dark—sixteen hands high. He was born near White Sulphur Springs and was five years old when General Lee purchased him. His endurance was remarkable—he appeared to be almost tireless. Captain Rob Lee tells how he carried General Lee around the Third Army Corps, 20,000 men, in a review near Orange in the late summer of 1863. He says. “Traveler started with a long lope, and never changed his stride.” One by one the General's escort dropped out, but Traveler raced on without a check around to the starting point. The circuit was nine miles.

Among the other horses that General Lee had at different times were Brown Roan, Ajax, and Lucy Long. On his rides out from Lexington on Traveler, the General was often accompanied in one of his daughters on Lucy Long. In her name one can no doubt perceive a touch of General Lee's humor. The name was evidently suggested by the refrain of the old song, “Take your time, Miss Lucy, Take your time, Miss Lucy Long.” She was a sorrel, about fifteen hands high, and had a fast walk, an easy pace, and a short canter. She lived to he 33 years old. She was then chloroformed because Gen. Custis Lee, to whom she had descended, thought she had ceased to enjoy life.


“FROM THE PRESENCE OF LEE”

From noon until two o'clock, on January 19, 1907, in Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia, the centenary of General Lee's birth was celebrated. At that time it was my privilege to listen to three distinguished men who had known Lee. Dr. Edwin A. Alderman, president of the University, presided over the meeting; the three chief speakers were Professor Milton W. Humphreys, Professor Charles A. Graves, and Dr. W. W, Smith, president of the Randolph-Macon system of schools.

Dr. Smith had been a soldier under Lee. He presented three brief pictures from his own observation: (1) Lee stopping to speak to (not rebuke) a soldier boy sitting by the roadside reading a letter from home, and so much absorbed that he failed to salute or even notice the commander-in-chief and his staff as they came up; (2) Lee coming to the front at the “Bloody Angle” to lead a charge, but going to the rear at the urgent solicitation of his men; (3) Lee at Farmville, only a few days before Appomattox, in his disappointment on learning that his orders for the collecting of provisions for his troops had not been carried out. The first picture Dr. Smith labeled “Lee the Gentleman”; the second, “Lee the Duty-Doer”; the third, “Lee the Burden-Bearer.”

Dr. Graves said, among other things, that when General Lee died (October 12, 1870) he was three times president: president of Washington College, president of the Rockbridge Bible Society, and president of the Valley Railroad. He remarked that General Lee advocated “temperance in all things” except in reference to intoxicating liquors—in reference to these he favored total abstinence.

Dr. Graves and Dr. Humphreys were both students or assistant teachers in Washington College when General Lee was president.

Professor Humphreys began his address by quoting the celebrated words of Wade Hampton, uttered forty years before: “I come from the presence of Lee.” It drew applause. Dr. Humphreys said that General Lee once told him that he (Lee) had made a great mistake in his early life by attending a military school. “Persons have told me,” continued Dr. Humphreys, “that I must be mistaken in this; but certainly I am not; for nothing he ever said made a deeper impression upon me.”

Mentioning some trivialities, Dr. Humphreys said that people often wondered about General Lee's hair and beard—they always seemed to be about the same, never longer, never shorter. How was it managed? Finally, he said, it was learned that General Lee was his own barber—that he kept a pair of scissors on his dressing table and at frequent intervals would clip off a little here and a little there.

This story is somewhat inconsistent with Henry Boley's statement[2] that James Jackson, “Deacon,” as he was known, was General Lee's barber. However, it is not difficult to see that both accounts may be true.

Professor Graves had an extended lecture on General Lee, which I heard him deliver several times. One incident that he related impressed me—how General Lee prevented a lynching. A horse thief, a notorious character, had been captured and lodged in the Lexington jail. One night a number of men came riding into Lexington from different directions—one or two on this road, one or two on another, until a large number, some from considerable distances, had assembled. They proceeded to the jail and demanded the keys. At the head of a flight of steps, in front of a door, stood the old jailer, holding the keys to the prison above his head and pleading with the mob to refrain from violence. I think Professor Graves said that one or two prominent citizens of the town came up and appealed to the crowd to let the law take its course, without noticeable effect. The mob was angry and seemed determined upon action. A gray-bearded man was seen moving quietly about in the crowd, speaking first to one group and then another, and after a while the men on the outskirts began to walk away; then others followed, until finally the crowd was dispersed. “They could not,” concluded Professor Graves, “break the law in the face of Marse Robert.”


[Notes]

[1] See “Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee,” by his son, Captain Robert E. Lee, 1924, page 9.

[2] See “Lexington in Old Virginia,” by Henry Boley. 1936, pages 204, 205.


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