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Sledd | Philip St. George Cocke, of
Walking in General Longstreet's Shoes | Confederate Wagon Train | General Lee Visits Powhatan
The Other Lee in Powhatan | John Singleton Mosby | Huguenot Springs Hospital
General Lee Visits Powhatan
It had been four long years, years that had taken their toll on virtually every individual in Powhatan County. Suffering through the deaths of loved ones and the deprivation of day-to-day sustenance caused the spirit of the most ardent secessionist to gradually fade. The war was truly four years of indescribable torment.
As news began to spread of General Lee’s surrender, a wave of relief, accompanied by despair, seemed to consume the land. Many families, not knowing if their loved ones were still alive, braced each other for the reprimand from the Federal government that would most certainly be handed them. The apprehension had been building for some time as the gradual collapse of the Confederacy became more and more apparent.
A small group of soldiers entered the northwestern part of Powhatan County April 15, 1865. Just a few days before, on April 9, the group had been involved in one of the greatest moments in world history, the meeting between a group of Northern and Southern soldiers to cease four years of hostilities and go home. Riding with this group of horsemen entering Powhatan was General Robert E. Lee, affectionately known as Marse Robert to his men and Bobby Lee to Union troops.
On his famous horse, Traveller, riding across Muddy Creek at Tamworth, Lee more than likely was taken aback by the mammoth mill still standing. Although nothing has been documented as to his comment, his relief that it had survived the many Union excursions along the James River had to at least draw a comment to his young aide, Walter Taylor, though none was recorded. The party worked its way along present-day Cartersville Road and eventually turned on present-day Huguenot Trail and stopped at Lee’s brother’s home, Windsor.
The well-known story of the general not accepting the comforts of his brother’s home, but camping in the field with his comrades, has been told and re-told. Many reasons have been attributed to his refusing the hospitality, including not wishing to cause any further suffering for his brother’s failing financial condition. Although this thoughtfulness is highly commendable and quite within Lee’s character, one has to surmise that he probably simply wished to remain alone with his thoughts.
After accepting the offer to breakfast with the Gilliam family next door to Windsor, Lee and his group continued their journey on toward Richmond.
Although again never documented, one again has to suspect Lee gazed at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church as he and Traveller rode by, especially as Lee was himself an Episcopalian. Little did he know then that in six years his brother Carter would be buried there.
One also has to suspect that as Lee passed plantations such as Norwood and Keswick, he was disheartened by the evidence of neglect these structures had experienced.
As Lee left Powhatan County, he entered Chesterfield County, eventually following present-day Forest Hill Avenue to the river’s edge. News of his approach reached the city prior to his arrival and the citizenry was prepared to meet him.
Riding through the streets of Richmond was a sight he could scarcely miss seeing. The city was a burned-out shell from a fire ironically started by her own people. As touched as he must have been by the devastation before him, he maintained a soldierly dignity only a gentleman of General Lee’s stature could produce.
Obviously recognizing the weight of the moment, the Northern troops saluted him with full military respect. Lee’s response was without hesitation, and sharp -- valor saluting valor.
Lee approached the rented house on Franklin Street which his wife was occupying and removed his hat, thus bidding farewell to an astonishing military career that just four years earlier he had tried to place behind him.
What was on Lee’s mind at this moment? Beyond the obvious badly needed rest, he did not have any idea what the next day would bring. Although General Grant had been most congenial, Lee had no idea whether he might be immediately put to death, incarcerated, or simply left alone. Fortunately, the latter prevailed, although the constant threat of charges of treason often raised his anxieties.
Penniless and in ill health (it is now known that Lee suffered a heart ailment at Fredericksburg in December 1862), he started to bring his future together. One of the grave misconceptions about Robert E. Lee is that he lost everything he owned as a result of the war, including the magnificent mansion at Arlington National Cemetery. In truth Robert E. Lee never owned a square inch of real estate in his life. At the death of Lee’s father-in-law, the mansion was passed to Lee’s wife and son, Custis, not to the General.
Lee had many offers, most of which were to capitalize on his name. He courteously turned away all offers of this nature. Lee was seeking something different. As many do when life is approaching its twilight years, Lee sought peace of mind. He had never been happy with the military profession he chose, often feeling guilty that his long absences from home had hurt his family and infirm wife. He always regretted this decision. All Lee ever wanted from life was a farm and the ability to derive sustenance from it.
His dream came true two months after Appomattox, when the Cocke family in Cumberland County offered a cottage on Cocke land in Powhatan. Lee accepted the generous offer and for the next two months lived in the little cottage and farmed the land at Derwent.
After the capture of Confederate President Davis the threat of treason haunted Lee, although this stay at Derwent was perhaps the happiest time of his life -- which somewhat explains the man. Always attempting to avoid the attention given him, he thoroughly enjoyed talking to people who did not recognize him. Although this privilege was short in duration, his love for his faithful companion, Traveller, remained constant. They frequently visited Cartersville and occasionally rode to his brother’s home, Windsor. He would often stop to talk to farmers along the way to learn more about the land. These were truly Robert E. Lee’s happiest moments.
The stay at Derwent was short, for in August 1865 he accepted the presidency of a small Valley College in Lexington. The college was called Washington College, now known as Washington and Lee University.
Although Lee’s stay in Powhatan was brief, Powhatan can be proud that Lee’s choice for a home after all had settled was in this county. He was extended many offers, some quite attractive, but it was the simple life of Powhatan County that finally brought Robert Edward Lee to true peace.
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