Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

 Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

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When my mother hurriedly left her home in the spring of 1861, shefound it impossible to carry away the valuable relics of GeneralWashington which her father had inherited from Mount Vernon, and whichhad been objects of great interest at Arlington for more than fiftyyears. After the Federal authorities took possession of the place,the most valuable of these Mount Vernon relics were conveyed toWashington City and placed in the Patent Office, where they remainedon exhibition for many years labelled "Captured from Arlington."They were then removed to the "National Museum," where they are now,but the card has been taken off. In 1869, a member of Congresssuggested to my mother that she should apply to President Johnsonto have them restored to her. In a letter from my father to thissame gentleman, this bit of quiet humour occurs:

"Lexington, Virginia, February 12, 1869.

"...Mrs. Lee has determined to act upon your suggestion and apply toPresident Johnson for such of the relics from Arlington as are in thePatent Office. From what I have learned, a great many things formerlybelonging to General Washington, bequeathed to her by her father, inthe shape of books, furniture, camp equipage, etc., were carried awayby individuals and are now scattered over the land. I hope thepossessors appreciate them and may imitate the example of theiroriginal owners, whose conduct must at times be brought to theirrecollection by these silent monitors. In this way they will accomplishgood to the country...."

He refers to this same subject in a letter to the honourable GeorgeW. Jones, Dubuque, Iowa:

"...In reference to certain articles which were taken from Arlington,about which you inquire, Mrs. Lee is indebted to our old friendCaptain James May for the order from the present administrationforbidding their return. They were valuable to her as having belongedto her great-grandmother (Mrs. General Washington), and having beenbequeathed to her by her father. But as the country desires them,she must give them up. I hope their presence at the capital willkeep in the remembrance of all Americans the principles and virtuesof Washington...."

To the Honourable Thomas Lawrence Jones, who endeavoured to have theorder to restore the relics to Mrs. Lee executed, the following letterof thanks was written:

"Lexington, Virginia, March 29, 1869.

"Honourable Thomas Lawrence Jones,

"Washington City, District of Columbia.

"My Dear Sir: I beg to be allowed to tender you my sincere thanksfor your efforts to have restored to Mrs. Lee certain family relicsin the Patent Office in Washington. The facts related in your speechin the House of Representatives on the 3d inst., so far as known tome, are correct, and had I conceived the view taken of the matter byCongress I should have endeavoured to dissuade Mrs. Lee from applyingfor them. It may be a question with some whether the retention ofthese articles is more 'an insult,' in the language of the Committeeon Public Buildings, 'to the loyal people of the United States,' thantheir restoration; but of this I am willing that they should be thejudge, and since Congress has decided to keep them, she must submit.However, her thanks to you, sir, are not the less fervent for yourkind intercession in her behalf, and with highest regards, I am,with great respect,

"Your obedient servant,

"R. Lee."

Washington's opinion of this transaction, if it could be obtained,would be of interest to many Americans! [These relics were restoredto the family in 1903 by the order of President McKinley.]