Mrs. Robert E. Lee Recalls Her Husband's Last Days

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tmh10

Major
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Pipestem,WV
Date:
September 28, 1870 to October 12, 1870
Location:
ROCKBRIDGE, Virginia
Tags:
Health/Death, Civil War
Course:
"Civil War and Reconstruction," Juniata College
On the morning of Wednesday, October 12, 1870, General Robert E. Lee passed away from pneumonia while surrounded by his family at home in Lexington, Virginia. General Lee gained celebrity from his service as a general in the Confederacy during the Civil War. The pneumonia followed a stroke that had occurred two weeks earlier. Despite death looming, Lee maintained composure that he accumulated over his lifetime during his last two weeks of life. Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis, described her husband’s last two weeks in a letter to a dear friend.

General Lee suffered a stroke on Wednesday, September 28, 1870 after attending a meeting at his church. He returned home to have tea with his awaiting family. Mary Custis Lee remarked “You have kept us waiting a long time. Where have you been?” He did not reply. Instead, he stood as if he was about to say grace, but he did not utter a word. Lee quietly sat back down in his seat with a breath of resignation. Mrs. Lee said “That look was never to be forgotten, and I have no doubt he felt that his hour had come…”

Doctors promptly arrived to aid the ailing Lee and remained by his side over the last two weeks of his life. Mary Custis explained that, “He never smiled and rarely attempted to speak, except in his dreams, and then he wandered to those dreadful battle-fields.” At one point, Lee began to feel better. A doctor said “You must soon get out and ride your favorite gray!” referring to his horse, Traveller. The General did not reply as he closed his eyes and shook his head emphatically. He was stubborn about taking his medicine, saying once to his daughter Agnes, “It’s no use,” even though he would always take it afterwards.

In his final hours, Lee slept a great deal. It became more certain to doctors and his family that his case was hopeless. His pulse stet weak and rapid as his breathing grew heavier. Despite his tiredness, he was still able to recognize his family, and he loved having them around, greeting them with all with a gentle press to their hands. Slightly after nine o’clock on the morning of October 12, he at last sank to rest as his eyes closed to the world. The old hero had lost his final battle as a deep sigh drew across his face. “What a glorious rest was in store for him!” said Mrs. Lee.

After death, Lee’s image was still resented by some Northerners because they viewed him as a traitor for siding with the Confederacy during the Civil War. For generations of Southerners, he became a symbol of the virtues of the Old South. At Washington College in Virginia, Lee served as president and publicly deprecated violence. After his death, the college changed its name to Washington and Lee College. Today, Lee is remembered not only as a brilliant military leader, but also for his postwar conduct.

http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/4838
 

diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
Thanks for posting that. Mrs. Lee had that 'look' very much burned into her mind - she really believed that was the moment her husband's spirit departed. His body just got stubborn about going with it!

Some think his last words were what he said at the church meeting. They had a project needed a few more dollars and were wrangling over how to get it. Lee listened for a while and then his stomach told him supper was waiting! "I will give that sum," he said and left for home. Those may have been his last words. A cadet met him on the way and asked for his autograph - the cadet related that Lee said nothing, simply signed his name. That certainly isn't like Lee! Apparently, somewhere between the church and the cadet, Lee had the stroke.
 
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tmh10

Major
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Pipestem,WV
Actually, I've always thought "I will give that sum" was a better set of last words for Lee than the famous "Strike the tent". Lee certainly gave a BIG sum for Virginia and the Confederacy.
It seemed to be a big thing back then of "The last words." In reality the person in question may not have been in any condition to give last words to live up to expections. Im convinced that some last words were contrived for public consumption.
 

diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
It seemed to be a big thing back then of "The last words." In reality the person in question may not have been in any condition to give last words to live up to expections. Im convinced that some last words were contrived for public consumption.
Indeed so! The last words, in those days, were thought to sum up a person's life. Could be so... Nelson's famous last words were "Thank God I have done my duty." The real ones were "God and my country" and that did sum up what he was all about. But he was a military man and must have military last words! Lee's "Strike the tent!" was perfect for the great general who was now moving on to that eternal battlefield. Lee had never wanted to be a military man - he'd wanted to be a doctor! Forrest's last words rather bothered people because they, too, were not military or warrior-like. "Call my wife" sounded a little flat and you'll never find it chiseled on a monument! However, it was perfect. All that Forrest did was for her - his marriage was a great love story.
 
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diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
There's another interesting thing, too, about Lee's death - he died of the same thing Stonewall Jackson did. Pneumonia. That medicine he objected to taking really was doing no good, and a lot of harm. Because he couldn't swallow very well, most of that and whatever food he had was going into his lungs. Stonewall was shot and Lee had a stroke, but they both died of pneumonia!
 
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tmh10

Major
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Pipestem,WV
There's another interesting thing, too, about Lee's death - he died of the same thing Stonewall Jackson did. Pneumonia. That medicine he objected to taking really was doing no good, and a lot of harm. Because he couldn't swallow very well, most of that and whatever food he had was going into his lungs. Stonewall was shot and Lee had a stroke, but they both died of pneumonia!
It seems pneumonia was the culprit in several deaths in those days. It seems an injury or illness made the paitient susceptible to it.
 

diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
So true. It's a little sad to think that with today's medicine Lee would likely have survived. But, if he had the type of stroke they suspect he had, his quality of life would have been much less. A friend of my parents had something similar happen - he lived another fifteen years but could never speak another word. He mainly stayed in his living room chair - he'd been very active before but it seemed as if he had gone but his body didn't know it! :cry:
 

tmh10

Major
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Pipestem,WV
So true. It's a little sad to think that with today's medicine Lee would likely have survived. But, if he had the type of stroke they suspect he had, his quality of life would have been much less. A friend of my parents had something similar happen - he lived another fifteen years but could never speak another word. He mainly stayed in his living room chair - he'd been very active before but it seemed as if he had gone but his body didn't know it! :cry:
It is sad he had that symptom. It is just luck of the draw. My mother in law had a major stroke 30 years ago and all the doctors forcast doom and gloom. Today she is 91 years old and can still live in her house alone. Family all around, as she is checked on several times a day, but she is as sharp of mind as anyone and does not want anybody to stay with her.
 
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diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
It is sad he had that symptom. It is just luck of the draw. My mother in law had a major stroke 30 years ago and all the doctors forcast doom and gloom. Today she is 91 years old and can still live in her house alone. Family all around, as she is checked on several times a day, but she is as sharp of mind as anyone and does not want anybody to stay with her.
Auntie was like that - she had such a major stroke they thought she'd be gone during the night. She's fine, now! Just a little gimpy on her left side. She is Mom's younger sister - 82. Her older sister we had to evacuate last summer due to the fires. She still is in her home and still is fetching her own wood and feeding the chickens and chopping her wood. It's all charred timber around her and she's 30 miles from the nearest neighbor, but she won't have it any other way. I usually check on her once a week, but I'm just one of a hundred kin who do that! Any time any of us have food, or have made up some casserole or something, it usually finds its way to Alma. My middle kid brought her a whole Hefty bag of clothes - got her size from me. She was delighted and just loved sorting through all of them, seeing what looked good on her! Typical Indian - she picked all the super bright colors! :smug:
 

tmh10

Major
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Pipestem,WV
Indeed so! The last words, in those days, were thought to sum up a person's life. Could be so... Nelson's famous last words were "Thank God I have done my duty." The real ones were "God and my country" and that did sum up what he was all about. But he was a military man and must have military last words! Lee's "Strike the tent!" was perfect for the great general who was now moving on to that eternal battlefield. Lee had never wanted to be a military man - he'd wanted to be a doctor! Forrest's last words rather bothered people because they, too, were not military or warrior-like. "Call my wife" sounded a little flat and you'll never find it chiseled on a monument! However, it was perfect. All that Forrest did was for her - his marriage was a great love story.
The historians and press of the time found it unthinkable that the last words or thoughts of a civil war hero would be of his family or anything but the war. The last words reports I take with a grain of salt in most cases.
 
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