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GENERAL FRANCIS HENNEY SMITH - AUTOGRAPH LETTER FRAGMENT UNSIGNED 04/03/1861 - HFSID 251271

 

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FRANCIS HENNEY SMITH
Smith handwrote and dated this letter to the Governor of Virginia in 1861 about re-interring the remains of Revolutionary War General Harry Lee at Virginia Military Institute on July 4. This letter is fascinating because the American Civil War broke out nine days after it was dated, and Lee wasn't re-interred until 1913; it indicates that the Civil War caught some people completely off guard.
Autograph Letter unsigned, 2 pages, 5x8 (separate conjoined sheets). Virginia Military Institute, April 3, 1861. Addressed to Governor John Letcher, Richmond, Va. The first two pages of the letter are present; the conclusion and signature are missing, but the portion present is complete in itself. The docket on verso of second page, possibly in Letcher's hand: "F.H. Smith". In full: "I am in rec[eip]t of your esteemed favor of the 1st Inst asking for information relative to the removal of the remains of Gen Harry Lee to Lexington. I think the body should be brought here as early as possible, as it would be inexpedient to go South after the 1 May, on acc[oun]t of climate. I would deposit the body in a vault until the 4 July when the ceremonies of re-interment should be conducted in the usual manner with a full military & Masonic display and the delivery of an appropriate oration of a person selected by yourself. I would advise that a Committee of Gentlemen, say the Speaker of the House of Delegates, the Pres[iden]t of the Senate, the delegate & senator of the county & District in which Gen. Lee was born, the Adjutant General of the state, and one of the officers of the V M Institute be appointed a Committee on the part of the state to attend personally to the removal of the remains to Lexington, & making all the necessary arrangements to convey into effect the intentions of the Legislature. If Gen. Lee was a Mason, one of their body should be added to the Committee. The Corps of Cadets would of course be ready to do all honor to the distinguished dead but it would be inexpedient at this time to send any portion of them for the body. Carter Lee Esq., Capt. S.S. Lee of the U.S. Navy & Col. R.E. Lee of the Army should of course be invited, as the nearest representatives of the deceased." The American Civil War began nine days after this letter was written, and Gen. Harry Lee was not re-interred in Lexington until 1913. After George Washington's death in 1799, at the request of Congress, Virginia Congressman and Major General Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee pronounced the eulogy upon the Revolutionary War General and first President, in which he characterized Washington as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen". Lee died in 1818 at Dungeness, the estate of General Nathaniel Greene's daughter on Cumberland Island, Georgia. He was en route home to Virginia from Barbados where he had tried to regain his health and escape his creditors. He was buried in the Greene family cemetery on Cumberland Island. The Civil War ended plans to remove General Lee's remains to Lexington in 1861. He was finally re-interred in the Lee Memorial Chapel, Washington & Lee University, at Lexington, Virginia on Decoration (now, Memorial) Day, May 30, 1913. SMITH (1812-1890), West Point Class of 1833, was Professor of Mathematics at Hampden-Sydney College from 1837 to 1839 when he was asked to help establish the state's military college, the Virginia Military Institute, and serve as its superintendent. He was appointed Colonel of a Virginia regiment soon after the beginning of the Civil War, shortly after writing this letter. The Virginia Military Institute buildings were destroyed by Union forces under General David Hunter in June, 1864, and Smith took active measures to reconstruct them when he returned to his duties there in 1865. Smith served as superintendent at VMI until he retired in 1889, a few months before his death. VMI, the nation's oldest state-supported military college, is located in Lexington, Virginia, to the north of Washington & Lee University Avenue, on Letcher Avenue named after the Civil War Governor of Virginia. Damp staining along top and bottom pages not affecting legibility. Overall, in fine condition.


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GENERAL FRANCIS HENNEY SMITH  


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GENERAL FRANCIS HENNEY SMITH
Born: October 18, 1812
Died: March 21, 1890



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