Posted By : manager

Posted : February 26, 2022

By: Rick Hatcher

Oct. 12th is the 150th anniversary of R. E. Lee’s death. Attached is a transcribed copy of a VMI cadet’s letter to his mother about this sad event.


Va. Military Institute Lexington Oct. 16th, 1870 Dear Mother

I expect you have been looking for a letter from me for some time, and in fact, I would have written, but about the time I thought of writing the rains 

“Robert E. Lee,” continued from page 1
& the flood came on, destroying the bridges, canals, & & cutting off communication generally.

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 and all similar black material in Lexington, was used up at once. They had to send on to Lynchburg for more. Every cadet had black crape issued to him, and order was published at once requiring us to wear it as a badge of mourning for six months. The college buildings are draped in black and stay so for the next six months. The battalion flag has [been] heavily draped in black and will stay so for the next six months. The Institute has been hung all around with black. The College to buildings were also almost covered with black. All the churches, and in fact, the town looked as if they had been trying to cover everything with festoons of black cambric and every sort of black that could be procured.

The morning after his death, we marched up and escorted the remains from the house to Washington college chapel, where they lay in “state” until the burial yesterday morning.

After the remains were placed in the chapel on the morning of the 13th, the entire procession was marched through the chapel, past the corpse, which they were allowed to look at, the lid of the coffin having been taken off for the purpose. I saw the general after his death and never saw a greater change that must have taken place in him for a short time before he died. Some days before he was born, I met him in the path leading into town, coming in the direction of the barracks. He was walking and seemed to be the picture of health, and when I saw him in the coffin, he looked to be reduced to half his original size and desperately thin. When first taken with the paralytic stroke, he fell on the dining room floor, a bed was placed under him, and he died where he fell. The doctors forbid anyone to move him. Myself and four other cadets, with Gen. Smith’s* permission, sat up all night with the corpse on Friday night; perfect silence was kept the whole night, no one speaking except in a low whisper. It was considered a great honor to be allowed to sit up with the remains, and a great many applied for the privilege, but one of the college professors on arrival, took only five of us, whom he requested to stay.

The day following, the funeral procession, after marching all around town and through the Institute grounds, formed around the college chapel under the basement floor. The parade was a very large one, a great many persons from a distance being here. Our brass band, with muffled drums, went ahead of the hearse playing the dead march. Cannon of our stationary battery was fired & &. However, the hearse was ideally empty the corpse being all the time in the chapel where it was placed at first.
The flood of which I spoke, did a great deal of damage in this part of the country, carrying off some ten or fifteen houses, some dwelling houses, some warehouses situated at the canal boat leading near here all the bridges on the river were carried off. The canal running to this place entirely ruined, all the locks being torn up and carried off. It was a rare sight to see large houses, bridges, mills & & every sort of lumber go sailing rapidly down the river. Up to a week or two since we could get no mails or anything that had to come from a distance, and it is still very difficult to get provisions. Mails come and regularly go now, as they have fixed ferries for stages & &.

I was made a sergeant in Co. About three weeks ago, and the evening after the first appointment, I was appointed color sergeant. I have to carry the battalion flag and have charge of the col-or guard, do not wear any such accouterments as cartridge box and bayonet scabbard when I am in order of the guard, as the other sergeants have to do but wear only a sword and sash, go to church in the staff, and enjoy various other privileges. Jessie is getting along very well; he seems a general favorite. I had him put in a room with the best new cadets I could find; one of them is a son of Col. Dulaney of Loudon, the others seem very lovely little fellows, and they are all about the same size.

I am getting along pretty well and writing all that I can think of as a present. Let me hear from you soon and know whether or not Gen Smith sent pa the receipt for the deposit.

Your affectionate son W Nalle

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