Tuesday, September 4, 2007

R.E. Lee

Labor Day 2007: Part III, Sunday

Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

The grave of Lee's horse, Traveller, outside the Lee Chapel on the grounds of Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

Recumbent Lee, by Edward Valentine. The sarcophagus of Robert E. Lee in the Lee Chapel at Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of the Lee Family Digital Archive.)

Lexington, Virginia, was the destination this past weekend. For those not familiar with Lexington, it lies at the foot of the Blue Ridge. Located in Rockbridge County, Virginia, Lexington was named after the town in Massachusetts where the American Revolution began. Most of the settlers in this valley were German and Scotch-Irish. The town was, among other things, fairly education-conscious and opened Liberty Hall Academy in the town. The town is also home to the nation's first state military academy, Virginia Military Institute (VMI.)

The school eventually fell on hard times and only emerged from ruin because of a generous bequest of $50,000 in stock from George Washington. The school changed its name to Washington College, in recognition of Washington's generosity. During the Civil War, the Union Army burned the neighboring military school--VMI, alma mater and employer of Stonewall Jackson and later George C. Marshall--but refused to burn Washington College because of its namesake. After Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, he rode into Lexington on his warhorse, Traveller, where he assumed the presidency of the college.

At the time Lee arrived in Lexington, the school only had 40 students. By the time of his death in 1872, the student body numbered 400. Lee was so loved, the school changed its name again and to this day it remains Washington & Lee University. For an excellent read of Lee's post-Civil War years, I'd recommend Lee: The Last Years. Lee is laid to rest, along with all of his family, in the R.E. Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee. He lies in a sarcophagus bedecked with a recumbent sculpture by Edward Valentine. Lee's horse, Traveller, is buried outside next to the church.

Photo copyright: Lee Family Digital Archive (Recumbent Lee), D.C. Confidential (All Other Pictures), 09/07.

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