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.
For more documents by these signers click the names below:
GENERAL FRANCIS HENNEY SMITH
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