Sunday, October 12, 2014

General Robert E. Lee's Last Days

"The end was now drawing near, yet the General uttered no complaint. He was meeting the last enemy as he had met Grant at Appomattox, without parade or ostentation. 
An incident of these last days should be preserved. It was related by Mrs. Tabb Bolling Lee. This former Petersburg belle had been in the habit of rising at a late hour, anywhere perhaps from ten to noon.  Now, on her first visit to her husband's people, she was horrified to learn that breakfast would be ready at seven o'clock and each member of the household was expected at family prayers promptly at 6:45. The first morning, the new arrival jumped into her clothes and hastened down to the parlor to find that the General had finished the "lesson" and was well into the "prayers."  As she slipped in and knelt by his side she felt his arm about her. Without interruption the prayer went on and was concluded.
Next morning the new daughter did not get down to prayers at all, but did manage to be on hand at breakfast. After the meal the General approached and quietly remarked that no day should be lived unless it was begun with a prayer of thankfulness and an intercession for guidance.  "And now, my child," he softly concluded, "unless you get down to morning prayers your old father will give you no more kisses." The punishment was adequate. Thereafter the new daughter was on time for prayers.
The evening of September 28 was raw, damp and unseasonably cold. At that unpropitious hour the vestry of Grace Church met in the unheated building.  After presiding at an extended session the General walked up the hill to his home. Tea awaited him. Slowly moving to his pace at the head of the table, he stood, as was his custom, to ask the blessing. His tongue failed to function. The summons had come. From the couch, in the recess window of the dining room, where they laid him, he did not again move.
The physicians treated him for venous congestion of the brain, and, at first, held out hope for recovery. The symptoms were favorable. He was not paralyzed and could move his arms, legs and body, though with pain. He was entirely conscious. Sometimes he spoke. He answered questions, but in monosyllables. His mind was clear and seemed independent of his body. One day the doctor, seeking to cheer him, referred to Traveler. The General must make haste and get well; Traveler was lonely and was looking for him. The sick man shook his head and closed his eyes.
During the final days there was no death-bed scene, no posing, no sadness of farewell. Silence filled the sorrowing chamber. Toward the end chilliness set in. Powerful restoratives were then administered. The intellect was dimmed. The poise and self-restraint of a life-time vanished. The dying man was on the battle field again, astride his war-horse. "Strike the tent!" he exclaimed, as a great storm swept the valley. "Tell Hill he must come up!"
At nine o'clock on the morning of October 12 the heart ceased to beat, and a great gentleman, please God, was dead."
(Robert E. Lee, A Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, pp. 411-413)