05 August 2014

A Brief History Of Lee Chapel

I've always lived within about a 30 minute drive of Lexington and Lee Chapel located on the campus of Washington & Lee University. I've visited dozens of times since I was in grade school. I've known and become friends with several of the employees over the ensuing decades. I still drop by quite often to sign books of mine which they offer in their museum gift shop. I love the place. With that as a background, I'd like to offer the following brief history of Lee Chapel, which comes from a *talk I gave at Liberty University in 2007.

In Marshall Fishwick’s wonderful mini-biography of General Lee, titled Lee After the War, Fishwick writes:

“Offices are silent biographies of those who spend much of their lives in them.”

As Robert E. Lee’s office was in the basement of Lee Chapel, that office, along with Lee Chapel itself, serves as a silent biography of General Lee as he spent much of his latter life at the Chapel. And you cannot really fully understand one without understanding the other.

Lee Chapel - The Building

2007 marked not only the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Jamestown and not only General Lee’s 200th birthday, but also the 140th anniversary of the construction of Lee Chapel. Construction began in 1867 and, according to tradition, and the records seem to confirm, the order for the Chapel project was Lee’s first official act as President of Washington College. As a side note, I was recently shown a letter written by Lee that some are interpreting as a challenge to the long-held belief that the Chapel was Lee’s idea. If you read the letter carefully, you really don’t come away with that belief, at least I don’t.

The letter was to Colonel Charles Marshall and dated 2 July 1868. The subject matter of the letter is Lee’s displeasure of his name being used for the solicitation of funds for the College President’s house, which he had not approved. The sentence cited as a challenge to Lee being the mastermind behind the Chapel is this:

It is true I caused a plan for a residence for the President of Washington College to be drawn, [comma] as I did for a Chapel, Dormitories, Boarding houses, etc., at the insistence of the Board of Trustees; [semicolon] but it was no more designed for a residence for me than for any succeeding President.
The person who shared this with me, along with at least one other person, seem to believe that Lee’s comment, “at the insistence of the Board of Trustees” refers to all the buildings mentioned. I don’t get that from reading this at all and, as a matter of fact, I come to the exact opposite conclusion. I believe it is pretty clear that that comment is referring back to the residence that was “at the insistence of the Board of Trustees”. Lee simply mentioned the other buildings to show it was not out of the ordinary for him to initiate construction projects on the campus.

(I mention this only because you may see this point raised at some point as many writers, researchers, and historians enjoy challenging long-held notions—even ones that are well established.)

It was early in 1866 that Lee recommended to the Board of Trustees that the original chapel room be converted to classroom use and that the board allocate funds for a new chapel building. Minutes from a meeting of the Committee on Buildings and Grounds in July of 1866 indicate that after considering several alternatives, it was believed “best to return to the original idea of President Lee” and that “it should be a separate building of characteristic architecture, devoted exclusively to religious worship and instruction.” The Trustee’s minutes also note that the committee submitted “a plan prepared by President Lee.” This reference also seems to clearly indicate that the original plan and idea was Lee’s. On July 18, the trustees authorized the construction of the chapel “not to exceed $10,000.” That cost restriction was removed at a later meeting.

Now here there has been some debate and confusion as to whether or not it was General Lee who actually designed the Chapel. Certainly Lee was concerned about anything that impacted the appearance of the college. One indication of Lee’s concern over the campus’s overall appearance is a conversation he once had with Dr. Edward C. Gordon. Gordon served as college treasurer, librarian, proctor, and as an assistant to Lee.

In the book by Franklin Riley, General Robert E. Lee After Appomattox (which I believe W & L is republishing this year and I highly recommend), Dr. Gordon recalls a telling conversation with President Lee:

Here I may mention his keen sense of the fit, the becoming, the beautiful. This sense was manifested in many ways; in his clothes, his personal neatness, his dealings with other men; in his ideas respecting buildings and grounds. Most of the trees which now adorn the front campus were planted under his direction. I once asked him about the arrangement of these trees. He said: ‘Not in rows: Nature never plants trees in rows. As far as possible imitate Nature.’ He himself selected many of the spots where trees were planted.
So certainly, if Lee was concerned about where and how trees were going to be planted, he would have been intimately involved in the design and location of the Chapel. Local tradition long held that Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, who was at that time teaching in the Engineering Dept. at VMI, assisted his father in the design and drawing of the plans for the Chapel. But the evidence does not totally support this. Although son Custis and certainly, President Lee, had input and review, most historians now believe it was Colonel Thomas Williamson, who was at the time Professor of Civil and Military Engineering at VMI, that actually drew up the plans. A letter from Williamson to his daughter in 1866 notes the following:
“I have been thrown a good deal with General Lee lately. The Buildings Committee of the College got me to design the new Chapel which they are erecting . . .” Williamson goes on to say that, “I have made all the working drawings and written specifications, all of which I had to confer with the General and explain to him.”
Smithsonian Tower
Two plans for the Chapel exist and are in the Lee archives at W & L. The one that was not ultimately chosen is more Gothic in design.
Lee Chapel resembles no other building on campus. It’s Victorian and Romanesque architecture truly sets it apart from any other structure at the school. Some believe that John Renwick’s 1847 design of the Smithsonian in Washington served, at least in part, for the Chapel’s design. There are obvious similarities. 

Local Lexington contractors, Pole and Shields, began work in 1867 and the project was overseen by project manager George W. Pettigrew. 

The building is one and a half stories, with a basement, and a slate roof. The upper walls are constructed of brick believe to have been fired on school grounds. The basement walls are made of native limestone, of which there is an abundance in the Shenandoah Valley, and also believed to have been hewn on site. The structure was completed in 1868 and was dedicated (not consecrated) on Sunday morning, 14 June. The choir from the Lexington Presbyterian Church sang, Lee’s Pastor, Dr. William Nelson Pendleton (artillery commander, cannons, named after the gospels, etc.) gave the address. Later the same day, the Chapel’s first baccalaureate services were held and the address was delivered by Dr. Charles Minnigerode. 

President Lee did not want the school tied to any particular denomination and chapel services were rotated by the pastors of Lexington’s four churches. Each service included singing, scripture reading, and prayer. The Chapel soon became the center and soul of the college and its students.

English Ivy adorns much of the outer brick walls and tradition has it that the ivy was originally brought from George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon. Lee’s connection to Washington, which he was conscious of in life, and which he cultivated, continues in death.

Upon entering Lee Chapel, one immediately 
faces a commemorative marble plaque which memorializes the Liberty Hall Volunteers. The text reads, in part:
Liberty Hall Volunteers
Company I, 4th VA Infantry
Stonewall Brigade CSA.

Total Roll 76, Killed 13, Wounded 26, Died in service 9, Total 48 out of 76, There were 106 volunteers other than alumni. See their names on Rockbridge County's Roll of Honor, County Clerk's Office, Lexington, VA. Casualties among the latter. Killed 14, wounded 20, died in service 6. Total 40 out of 106. Total enrollment 182. Total casualties 88. They fought in thirty two battles from Manassas to Appomattox, where the remnant surrendered with Lee.


[For our altars and firesides or hearths]
The Liberty Hall Volunteers were formed at the outbreak of the Civil War by a group of students and alumni from Washington College. They entered the war in early June 1861 as part of the Fourth Virginia Infantry Regiment under the command of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. They chose the name "Liberty Hall Volunteers" as a reference to the American Revolution and Lexington militia that fought under the same name. One-fourth of these young men were studying for the ministry.

As you enter the main sanctuary, there are a number of other plaques on the walls. They honor students, faculty members, and friends of the University. Some were placed as memorials after the death of the individual, some in honor of great accomplishments.

Then there is Lee's pew: President Lee sat in the front left pew ( as you face the podium) every weekday morning for chapel. Chapel services were optional for students. As Lee observed:

“As a general principle you should not force young men to do their duty, but let them do it voluntarily and thereby develop their characters.”

Yet Lee was always there leading by example and, therefore, so were most of the students. He believed, as he wrote when he accepted the Presidency of Washington College that: 

“It is particularly incumbent on those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.”

And admonishing another Professor that:

“One of the best ways that I know of to induce students to attend chapel is to be sure that we attend ourselves.” 

The hand-carved podium on the platform was a gift from some New Orleans friends of General Lee’s in 1868 and I believe the decorative details match those found on the front doors, around the windows, and along the ceiling ribs. The oak leave and acorn carvings on the podium pay tribute to the Lee family’s coat of arms. The straight-backed pews, planed by hand in post-war Lexington, are original, except for the upholstery. At some point in the 1920’s, the straight backs were removed and re-installed at an angle for better comfort.

Then we come to the focal point of the Chapel’s first floor – The Recumbent Lee. 

Edward Valentine, Richmond sculptor, and a friend of the Lees, was chosen by Mrs. Lee to sculpt the statue. Of the designs he submitted she chose a recumbent figure. Valentine began his work at his studio in Richmond, now the Valentine Museum, and announced its completion on April 1, 1875. The statue had taken three years for completion and cost $15,000; $5000 more than what was originally allocated for the construction of the Chapel itself.

Students of Richmond College immediately made application for "the privilege of taking charge of the monument when it is sent up to Lexington and bearing the expenses of its transportation." The generous offer was accepted by officials of Washington and Lee University, and the statue was transported by boat up the James River Canal, accompanied by Richmond College students.

The carefully-guarded figure was turned over to Washington and Lee by the Richmond group and temporarily housed in old north dormitory on the university campus. 

Immediately plans got underway for a mausoleum to contain the statue and the remains of General Lee, which had already been interred in a tomb in the floor of the museum. General Joseph E. Johnston was elected president of the Lee Memorial Association to secure funds for the mausoleum, and on November 29, 1878, General Johnston, assisted by John Randolph Tucker, laid the cornerstone for the structure.

Funds for the construction gave out in two years, before even the roof and the interior had been completed. About $24,000 had already been spent by the association and $5,000 more was needed. The Memorial Association agreed to deed the statue and mausoleum over to the university on condition 

. . . upon the sacred trust that the mausoleum shall be preserved as a perpetual place of sepulture for the remains of General Robert E. Lee and Mrs. Lee and such other members of their family as it may be the pleasure of the family to have interred there . . . 
The proposal was accepted and within a year the mausoleum was completed. The recumbent statue was placed in the chapel, and on June 28, 1883, the unveiling ceremonies were held.
John W. Daniel, Virginia statesman, delivered the dedicatory address in the absence of Jefferson Davis, who was unable to attend because of age and ill-health. More than 10,000 people stood on the university campus to hear the famous orator deliver a three-hour eulogy. Among the invited guests were ex-Confederate soldiers, former cabinet officers of the Confederacy, general officers of the Confederate army and navy, members of General Lee's staff, survivors of the "Stonewall Brigade," Governors of the Southern States, and State officials of Virginia.

At the close of the stirring oration a salute was fired by survivors of the "Rockbridge Artillery" from guns used by Jackson's army at the first battle of Manassas. Then Miss Julia Jackson, daughter of "Stonewall," pulled aside the curtain to reveal the statue to the public --eight years after its completion.

The simple dignity of the memorial won it wide acclaim as soon as it was unveiled, and today it is recognized as one of the finest monuments in marble ever created. The statue represents General Lee asleep in his tent after a battle and seems to reflect a statement Lee once made to Valentine:

“I would like to go to some quiet place in the country and rest.”
Inscribed upon the monument are the simple words:

Robert Edward Lee
January 19, 1809
October 12, 1870

The chapel contains a number of other notable works of art, including the original Peale portraits of Washington and of Lafayette, originally at Mount Vernon. The Washington portrait once hung in Arlington House but was removed by the Lee’s in 1861 for fear that the Yankees would steal it.

From the Chapel, one winds down a set of stairs to a state-of-the-art museum in the lower level which includes Lee's office, a portrait gallery displaying the Washington-Custis-Lee Collection, an exhibition tracing the history and heritage of Washington and Lee University, and a museum shop. Lee's office is preserved much as he left it for the last time on September 28, 1870. The rest of the lower level became the museum in 1928, exhibiting the items once owned by the Lee and Washington families. The eclectic collection includes locks of both George Washington and Robert E. Lee’s hair.

The Lee family crypt is also in the lower level in which are buried Robert E. Lee, his father, his mother, his father (Light-Horse Harry Lee) his wife and children, along with other members of the Lee family. You will find that often visitors leave flowers or flags as a memorial to General Lee.

During Lee's tenure, the downstairs of the Chapel contained his office, the treasurer's office, and a student center run by the YMCA, (organized at Lee’s suggestion in 1867) which became the university library with its 5800 volumes from 1869-1882.
A marble plaque on the floor marks the original burial site of Robert E. Lee. Despite common misperception, Lee was never buried in or under the statue upstairs. The statue was designed as a memorial to Lee after his death. He was originally buried under the floor of the current museum, which was then the college library, until the addition to Lee Chapel was completed in 1883 and he was reburied in the crypt.

Outside of the glass doors are the buried remains of Traveller. Traveller was Lee's legendary horse, purchased by Lee in 1862 for $175 in gold. His faithful companion throughout the War Between the States, Traveller became a well-known figure on the campus of Washington College. He lived in the custom-built stable next to the President's house (which now serves as the garage to the Lee House).

Traveller died in 1871 from lockjaw after stepping on a rusty nail. He was attended by the same doctor that had served Lee in his last hours. Traveller was originally buried on campus but his bones were exhumed to be preserved. They were on display for a number of years on campus before being re-interred at this spot in 1971. The Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy donated the plaque in his memory. Today, people often leave apples, carrots or coins in remembrance of Traveller—as did the faithful Texans.

In the center of the museum are facsimiles of two important letters in the University's history:

• The first letter is from George Washington (June 17, 1798) in which he thanked Liberty Hall Academy for changing its name to Washington Academy as a result of a gift of 100 shares of the James River Canal Company he gave to the institution. This gift was the Academy's first substantial endowment (at the time, the largest gift ever made to a private education institution in America) and was essential to the survival of the struggling classical school.

• The second letter is Lee's acceptance of the presidency in 1865 (August 24, 1865). Lee is also an essential part of the University's history; he increased enrollment, raised money, modernized the curriculum and instituted the honor code that exists today.

There are also pistols given by George Washington to his heir, George Washington Parke Custis, who later gave them to his son-in-law, Robert E. Lee.

Lee Chapel - The History

Since the days of Robert E. Lee, Lee Chapel has been at the heart of life on the campus of Washington and Lee University. Steeped in tradition, the Chapel continues to be a gathering place for the University's most important events.

One piece of history regarding Lee Chapel is not widely known. (This also reveals that the current nasty debate over Lee Chapel isn't the first one.) The structure came very close to being torn down during the 1920’s. Under the presidency of Dr. Henry Louis Smith, many came to view the Chapel as “unattractive and not in architectural harmony with the other fine buildings on campus.” The structure had in fact become a fire hazard and was no longer large enough to fulfill its original purpose—a place where all of W & L’s students could assemble at one time. Smiths’ plan was to raze the Chapel (leaving the crypt intact) and build a new, larger structure. The trustees gave their blessing and he believed he had the support of the Lee family as well. He had also appealed to, and won the support of, the National United Daughters of the Confederacy.

But Smith overlooked one crucial group—the Lexington Mary Custis Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which boasted over 80 members. This chapter included a number of the most prominent women of Lexington and this chapter also operated Lexington’s only hospital. Dissent over destroying Lee Chapel first surfaced among the members of this UDC chapter, but concern soon spread to other Lexingtonians.

Smith, like Abraham Lincoln, sought the support of a Lee—Lee’s grandson, Robert E. Lee III, to quell the mounting rebellion, assuming Lee’s support would be a given. But Lee, like his grandfather, refused the offer. Some traits are just in our genes, I suppose. After Lee’s refusal, Smith suggested to Lee’s wife that Lee’s “mind has become confused on this important point.” Mrs. Lee was furious that Smith had suggested that her husband’s mind was “not sound.” So not only did Smith have the very influential local UDC ladies against him, but he had just insulted the only two people who could get his rear-end out of the fire.

But, alas, Dr. Smith’s heated hindquarters were only going to get warmer. After Mrs. Lee’s curt reply and assurances from Lee’s doctor that Lee’s mind was “very clear”, Smith sent another letter stating that “Col. Lee is in no condition to think or remember.”

The opposition grew and a very public and sometimes nasty debate ensued with one trustee stating that he was shocked at the “depths of the ferocity of the opposition.” In my opinion, Smith violated two very important rules in dealing with women:

1.    Never ignore a woman—or group of women—whose support you desire.
2.    Never suggest to a woman
whose support you desirethat her husband is crazy.

The rebellion grew. Articles and editorials opposing Smith’s plan appeared in the Rockbridge County News, whose editor and publisher just happened to be one of the UDC lady’s uncle, Matthew W. Paxton. Other Virginia UDC chapters passed resolutions opposing the destruction of Washington & Lee’s “greatest asset.” One chapter implored the university to leave quote “the Chapel’s sanctity unprofaned.” (Sound familiar?)

W & L countered with an official bulletin patronizing and condescending in tone referring to “the little chapel . . . erected . . . when American architecture had reached its lowest ebb.” And reminding the natives that though they had “learned to love and venerate it” that visitors and strangers from outside the area all noticed “the homeliness of the chapel . . . and its ludicrous tower” causing them to “experience a sense of surprise and depression.” (Sound familiar?)

Obviously, these insults and condescending tone just emboldened the opposition all the more. The Baltimore Sun and the Richmond papers published editorials denouncing Smith’s plan to raze the Shrine of the South—designed by Lee himself.

Smith told trustee William Anderson that they needed to attend the 1922 Virginia UDC convention in Fredericksburg and Anderson responded that he “would rather be dragged through a mud hole or a sewer pipe than go to Fredericksburg.” Smith addressed the convention, but so did Mrs. Robert E. Lee, III stating “Spare, keep and guard the chapel, for in spite of Dr. Smith, the chapel is the shrine and not the tomb and mausoleum alone.”

The debate continued through 1923 and despite Smith seeking a compromise, his repeated insults to the UDC ladies won him no support. The UDC, however, won the support of local Congressman Henry St. George Tucker, all of the women’s clubs, the Confederate Veterans and, finally, the death blow to Smith’s plan came in the form of a rebuke from President Woodrow Wilson who wrote:

“Changes in the Chapel . . . would be an outrageous desecration and bring serious discredit upon the University and the State.”

Shortly thereafter, in the board of trustee’s final act regarding Smith’s plans to tear down Lee Chapel, they issued the following statement:

“Resolved: that in the opinion of the Board, it is inexpedient to proceed further with plans heretofore proposed and discussed in relation to Lee Chapel.” 

W & L student Ollinger Crenshaw noted that:

“After this meeting President Smith and Rector Anderson left the room slowly arm in arm, as if to support each other in their personal Appomattox.”

After the smoke cleared in 1924, the University spent $6000 in fireproofing the Chapel. The UDC’s grassroots efforts saved Lee Chapel and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude.

After this, there were no other major changes or renovations until the 1960’s. Lee Chapel was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and from 1962 to 1963 the chapel was restored through the support of the Ford Motor Company Fund (around $380,000.)

The slate roof was removed and each piece was numbered so that they could be replaced in their original location. The rotting wood rafters were replaced with steel beams and the original pine floors were replaced with concrete on both levels. The brick and limestone exteriors were untouched. The Chapel was rededicated on October 11th, 1963 (one day before the anniversary of Lee’s death) by Robert E. Lee IV.

Another major renovation of the Lee Chapel Museum was completed in 1998, with an anonymous donation of $1 million and a matching gift from alumnus Jack Warner. This commemorated the University's 250th anniversary in 1999.

Lee Chapel - The Legacy

Today, Lee Chapel sees 60,000 visitors annually. Many pass through not fully appreciating the rich spiritual legacy and history of this building. This beautiful historic building, filled with its tradition and heritage, remains a gathering place for lectures, memorial services, concerts, and, yes, a place for spiritual reflection. The Chapel continues to preserve Lee’s legacy of honor, civility, and faith, as well as his hope for the future. 

Back to Lee's office.

So what was Lee’s office like on the last day he occupied it? The room is simple, 15 x 18 and originally had a simple pine floor of random widths, only one item adorned the walls—a map of Augusta County, drawn by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Stonewall’s mapmaker. No other prints or decorations. There was a small cast-iron stove attached to the fireplace in the corner. The room was painted white.

The furnishings were not elaborate. The largest item in the room is a book case that originally served as a sideboard, given to Lee by an admiring Virginia lady. Included in the book case are worn copies of Webster’s Dictionary, a French, English, and Greek grammar books, and an algebra book. All show the tell-tale signs of frequent use. There is also a copy of this book: 

Our Children in Heaven by William Holcombe published in 1868. Lee, sadly, knew about that subject.

On the fireplace mantel were 3 faded pictures: George Peabody, who was a Northern friend of Lee’s, an unidentified Confederate family, and a picture of George Washington. Beside the large round table that served as Lee’s desk is a large wicker basket, hand-woven and given to Lee by a black Lexington woman.

All of the chairs are simple with wicker seats, there was a Victorian walnut secretary, a leather couch, (a gift) and end table upon which sat an oil lamp. Lee’s leather chair, another gifted item, is at the table. The table-desk is veneered with a glass top with pens, ink, papers, and other items neatly arranged.

This austere room was the command center of the school and Lee’s administration. Here he planned the school’s activities, admonished wayward students, convened counsels of advice with his colleagues. Here he spent many hours of solitude contemplating his past and his present charge.

Someone once observed a visibly moved General Lee leaving a chapel service while serving as President of Washington College. When the observer inquired of Lee if something was wrong, Lee replied, “I was thinking of my responsibility to Almighty God for these hundreds of young men.”

Lee’s daily practice was to rise early, have his private devotions and prayers; then prayers with his family at breakfast. After breakfast, Lee would walk the short distance to the Chapel and always arrived promptly for the 7:45 service. The service began 8. He would then descend to the lower level and to his office.

On the day Lee took ill, he had nothing on his agenda for the ay other than the mundane duties of his office and a vestry meeting at Grace Church in the afternoon.

He answered a letter that day that he had received that from Samuel H. Tagart. In Lee’s response, he noted that in response to a question about his own health:

"I am much better . . .  my pains are less and my strength greater. In fact, I suppose I am as well as I shall be.”

Maybe Lee thought of the words he had written just one year before:

 “Death in its silent, sure march is fast gathering those whom I have longest loved, so that when he shall knock at my door, I will more willingly follow.”

Perhaps he leafed through the pages of Our Children in Heaven, purchased by Lee the previous year as the title no doubt reminded him of his beloved Annie who died during the war at the age of 23.

Lee finished and sealed a letter, completed his morning's work, and was leaving his office when he ran into sophomore Percy Davidson. Davidson had come with him a small picture of Lee, which a Lexington girl had asked him to get the Lee to autograph. Davidson realized Lee was leaving and suggested he would come back some other time. "No," Lee responded, "I will go right back and do it now." He returned to his office and signed his name for the last time.

He then left his office for the last time, walked slowly to his home, and took a short nap.
Despite his wife’s pleadings, and suffering from a cold, Lee insisted on going to the vestry meeting, but told her that wished he “did not have to go and listen to all that powwow.” As he left his home, daughter Mildred was playing on the piano Mendelssohn’s “Funeral March.” He walked to the church, just a few steps from his home, through the rain, wearing only his military cape. There was no heat in the building, it was cold and damp and some noted that Lee’s face was flushed, despite the cool, damp air. Lee chatted cordially with the other vestrymen and then promptly at 4 o'clock, Lee called the meeting to order.

They decided what should be done about a new church building, the vestrymen began a discussion about raising William Pendleton's salary. Everyone contributed; but the total still came up short by $55, right much more than those who already had given had pledged. Lee said softly, "I will give that sum." Perhaps doing so as much out of a desire to help his old friend as a desire to end the boring vestry session and return home to his family.

Returning home, Lee stood at the head of the supper table to offer grace, but was unable to speak. Doctors were summoned, a sick room was prepared and over the next 36 hours it rained 14 inches. On October 7 and 8, the Northern Lights were seen in the night sky--a rare occurrence in the Shenandoah Valley. According to Douglas Southall Freeman, “some saw in it a beckoning hand.” A Lexington women took from a bookshelf a copy of The Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers and pointed with eerie assurance to a passage that read:

All night long the northern streamer
Shot across the trembling sky:
Fearful lights, that never beckon
Save when kings or heroes die.”
On the 12th of October, Lee uttered his last words, “Strike the tent” and the Christian warrior passed into eternity.

Virginia Military Institute Cadets are (not sure if this is still the case, but it was in very recent years) still instructed to salute as they approach Lee Chapel. Every year on the anniversary of Lee’s death, the Chapel’s bells toll 19 times matching the 19 gun salute given to an officer of Lee’s rank, reminding everyone in Lexington of the solemn moment. Every year, the Sons of  Confederate Veterans hold memorial services in the Chapel on the Saturday following Lee-Jackson Day. Each year, the University honors Lee on his birthday, January 19th, with a Founder’s Day program. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend that ceremony on Lee’s 200th birthday.

So Lee Chapel’s legacy continues. But we must never forget that the legacy of Lee Chapel is the legacy of Robert E. Lee.

I’d like to leave you all with the words of Marshall Fishwick:
Forget the Lee of battle, and see the old man moving among Lexington’s children. Forget the general in gray, and see the old fellow in the black suit moving back and forth between his home and his chapel. Focus sharply on this man. For this is Robert E. Lee.
For a complete history and description of Lee Chapel, I recommend Doug Bostick's Memorializing Robert E Lee: The Story of Lee Chapel.

*Note: The text for this post was taken from a talk I gave at Liberty University in 2007. Some of the text was originally taken and quoted verbatim from other authors' works and duly attributed and cited during my talk. I've tried to make sure that was done here, but I may have missed a passage or two as the original files were corrupted in a computer crash a couple of  years ago and I've had to attempt to "piece" it back together from scattered notes and a corrupted Word document. Both were missing some citations. I just wanted to disclose that in case I missed giving proper credit where due. I apologize in advance if I failed to do so and will make prompt correction if an omission is realized.


Chaps said...

Very, very nice talk. Many thanks. When we moved to Virginia from Camp Lejeune in 1995, one of the first weekends, my son (then 12) and I drove the route of Jackson's Valley Campaign then finished at Lexington. We visited the Jackson House and Lee Chapel. It was a drizzly day and we were the only ones there. Looking at the artifacts and sitting in Lee's pew was almost overwhelming.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Chaps. It is indeed a special place, thus the moniker: "Shrine of the South."

Eddie said...

Thank you for this very excellent and informative post.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

You're welcome.

ropelight said...

Thank you. I learned quite a bit. Also, I'm in agreement about the meaning of General Lee's letter. In addition to the reasons you cite, it's wrongheaded to imagine Lee would object to the use of his name to raise funds for a project he supposedly masterminded.

Lee may not have drawn the blueprints for the Chapel but he was certainly the moving force behind the project, and it's clear from Professor Williamson's note to his daughter that Lee closely monitored construction plans as they were developed.

The story of the Richmond College students is particularly fascinating, not only for their interest and dedication, but also for their batteau trip up the James (a special interest). What an adventure. One imagines that at Glasgow they went North on the South River (now the Murray) and then up Woods Creek to the W&L campus. I've seen what remains of the locks on the upper James and they're surprisingly narrow. It had to be one heck of a trip and for such an important and splendid mission. I would have volunteered.

Who were the faithful Texans, and what was their connection to Traveler?

I'll forgo the opportunity to further flay Dr Henry Smith. You, Mrs Lee, and the ladies of the UDC have already applied the lash rather handsomely.

Your post has inspired me, next time I'm in Ol' Virginny I'll be sure to visit the campus and pay my respects to the great man in honor to his memory and in gratitude for his service.

Again, thanks for the history lesson.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Rope. Yes, the objection over use of his name was for the President's (Lee's) home. Yes, as I love Virginia rivers and the adventure they offer, I would have volunteered as well. I've canoed and kayaked the Maury several times - notably last year when I, along with a buddy, explored the remains of some of the canals below Lexington.

"Who were the faithful Texans, and what was their connection to Traveler?"

Every year on Lee Jackson Day, a group of Texans (I believe SCV members) make the pilgrimage from the Lone Star state to pay tribute to Lee, as well as Traveller. They always leave a bouquet of yellow roses at both grave markers. The tradition is for Lee's admiration of Texans' fighting spirit and bravery in the heat of battle and, I believe, is motivated by this event:

"Among the most thrilling episodes of the Civil War occurred on May 6, 1864, in the Wilderness. . . . "The cannon thundered, musketry rolled, stragglers were fleeing, couriers riding here and there in post-haste, minnies began to sing, the dying and wounded were jolted by the flying ambulances, and filling the road-side, adding to the excitement the terror of death . . . . About this time, Gen. Lee, with his staff, rode up to Gen. Gregg—'General what brigade is this?' said Lee. 'The Texas brigade,' was General G's. reply. 'I am glad to see it,' said Lee. 'When you go in there, I wish you to give those men cold steel—they will stand and fire all day, and never move unless you charge them,' 'That is my experience,' replied the brave Gregg. By this time an aide from General Longstreet rode up and repeated the order, 'advance your command, Gen. Gregg.' And now comes the point upon which the interest of this 'o'er true tale' hangs. 'Attention Texas Brigade' was rung upon the morning air, by Gen. Gregg, 'the eyes of General Lee are upon you, forward, march.' Scarce had we moved a step, when Gen. Lee, in front of the whole command, raised himself in his stirrups, uncovered his grey hairs, and with an earnest, yet anxious voice, exclaimed above the din and confusion of the hour, 'Texans always move them.' . . . A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around . . . . Leonard Gee, a courier to Gen. Gregg, and riding by my side, with tears coursing down his cheeks and yells issuing from his throat exclaimed, 'I would charge hell itself for that old man.' It was not what Gen. Lee said that so infused and excited the men, as his tone and look, which each one of us knew were born of the dangers of the hour.

With yell after yell we moved forward, passed the brow of the hill, and moved down the declivity towards the undergrowth—a distance in all not exceeding 200 yards. After moving over half the ground we all saw that Gen. Lee was following us into battle—care and anxiety upon his countenance—refusing to come back at the request and advice of his staff. If I recollect correctly, the brigade halted when they discovered Gen. Lee's intention, and all eyes were turned upon him. Five and six of his staff would gather around him, seize him, his arms, his horse's reins, but he shook them off and moved forward. Thus did he continue until just before we reached the undergrowth, not, however, until the balls began to fill and whistle through the air. Seeing that we would do all that men could do to retrieve the misfortunes of the hour, accepting the advice of his staff, and hearkening to the protest of his advancing soldiers, he at last turned round and rode back."