CIVIL WAR OP-ED: Last Farewell to Robert E. Lee

By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Lee's Tomb, Lexington, VA
Lee's Tomb, Lexington, VA
The United States flag flew at half-mast when Robert E. Lee died!

Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University is the site of annual programs paying tribute to Robert Edward Lee. On Monday, October 14, 2013 a program commemorating the Washington College presidency of Robert E. Lee on the 143rd anniversary of his death will feature War Between the States historian Frank O’Reilly. The lecture entitled "Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome: Robert E. Lee's Greatest Victory at Chancellorsville" will begin at 12:15 p.m.

The New York Times reported:

(Intelligence was received last evening of the death at Lexington, Va., of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the most famous of the officers whose celebrity was gained in the service of the Southern Confederacy during the late terrible rebellion.)---New York Times, October 13, 1870.

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October 12th is the 143rd anniversary of the passing of Robert E. Lee whose memory is still dear in the hearts of many people around the world.

General Lee died at his home at Lexington, Virginia at 9:30 AM on October 12, 1870. His last great deed came after the War Between the States when he accepted the presidency of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. He saved the financially troubled college and helped many young people further their education.

Some write that Robert E. Lee suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on September 28, 1870, but was thought to greatly improve until October 12th, when he took a turn for the worse. His condition seemed more hopeless when his doctor told him, "General you must make haste and get well---Traveller---has been standing too long in his stable and needs exercise."

It’s written that the rains and flooding were the worse of Virginia's history on the day General Lee died.On Wednesday, October 12, 1870, in the presence of his family, Lee quietly passed away.

The church bells rang as the sad news passed throughout Washington College, Virginia Military Institute, the town of Lexington and the nation. Cadets from VMI College carried the remains of the old soldier to Lee Chapel where he laid in state. Many buildings and homes were covered in black crepe for mourning.

Memorial meetings were held throughout the South and as far North as New York. At Washington College in Lexington eulogies were delivered by: Reverend Pemberton, Reverend W.S. White--Stonewall Jackson’s Pastor and Reverend J. William Jones. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis brought the eulogy in Richmond, Virginia. Lee was also eulogized in Great Britain.

Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Cadet William Nalle said in a letter home to his mother, dated October 16, 1870;

“I suppose of course that you have all read full accounts of Gen Lee’s death in the papers. He died on the morning of the 12th at about half past nine. All business was suspended at once all over the country and town, and all duties, military and academic suspended at the Institute, and all the black crape and all similar black material in Lexington, was used up at once, and they had to send on to Lynchburg for more. Every cadet had black crape issued to him, and an order was published at once requiring us to wear it as a badge of mourning for six months.” Read more at:

Robert E. Lee’s last words were, "Strike the Tent."

The Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans joins the nation in commemorating the Sesquicentennial--150th Anniversary of the War Between the States now through 2015. See additional information at:

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Johnson is a speaker, writer of short stories, author of book “When America stood for God, Family and Country” and Chairman of the National and Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Confederate History and Heritage Month committee.
He lives in Kennesaw, Georgia, near Atlanta.

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