The Interment of General Lee’s remains at Arlington
General Lee died October 12, 1870 in Lexington, Virginia, at the age of sixty-three. He was survived by his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, and six of their seven children. Apparently, General Lee’s remains were placed, first, in ground beside the chapel on the campus of Washington College (now Washington & Lee University); then, at some subsequent time, reinterred inside a vault built beneath the chapel.
Instead of an altar, the interior of the chapel contains a stage upon which was set—in 1883—a white marble sarcophagus designed with the image of Lee asleep on its face. The red brick walls surrounding the stage have the Confederate battle flag prominently displayed and there is a portrait of Washington.
General Lee’s wife, Mary Custis, died in Lexington, on November 5, 1873, also at the age of sixty-three. Her mother was a Fitzhugh. Her uncle, William Fitzhugh, owned Ravensworth, a plantation in Western Fairfax County that existed before the Revolution. Her son, Rooney, married a Fitzhugh descendant.
The public record is silent as to her original burial place. Apparently, she was buried in the ground near the chapel, then at some later time her remains were placed in a vault beneath the chapel; then, when the presently existing crypt was built, the remains were reinterred there.
The sculpture of Lee, done by Edward V. Valentine, was made in about 1875, at the behest of the “Lee Memorial Association." When the “Lee Mausoleum" was dedicated at the back of the chapel, in 1883, the statute was placed inside the chapel in a room built for the purpose of housing it. it is probable that Lee’s eldest son, Custis Lee, serving then as President of Washington College, perhaps acting alone or in cooperation with some of his brothers and sisters, caused the sculpture to be made and placed on the chapel stage. Why this was done, what purpose the family intended the sculpture to serve, is a bit difficult to fathom.
General Lee’s sons:
Lee’s second eldest son, William Fitzhugh (“Rooney") Lee, at the time a U.S. Congressman, died on October 15, 1891 at his home at Ravensworth. He was buried there with his grandmothers Fitzhugh and Ann Carter Lee. In 1922, his remains were reinterred in the crypt that had been built behind the Lee Chapel.
Custis Lee died February 18, 1913, at Ravensworth, and his remains interred in the crypt.
Robert E. Lee, Jr., Lee’s youngest son, died October 19, 1914 and his remains placed in the crypt.
General Lee’s daughters:
General Lee’s eldest daughter, Mary Custis Lee, died at a hotel at Hot Springs, Virginia, on November 22, 1918. Like her sisters she never married. At her instruction, her body was cremated and the ashes were brought in an urn to Lexington and placed in the crypt.
Mildred Childe Lee, Lee’s youngest daughter, died in New Orleans, March 27, 1905. Her remains were taken to Lexington and placed in the crypt.
Eleanor Agnes Lee died in Lexington, on October 15, 1873. Her remains were eventually interred in the crypt.
Ann Carter Lee died in 1863, in Warrenton, North Carolina. Her remains were interred in the crypt, in 1994.
General Lee’s father and mother
Light Horse Harry (Henry) Lee, General Lee’s father, died on Cumberland Island, Georgia, in 1818. Several years earlier he had fled the country, to avoid arrest and imprisonment as a debtor. He lived in Cuba until, becoming ill, he crossed the Gulf and took up residence on the property of a Revolutionary War general, Nathaniel Green. In 1913, his remains were interred in the crypt.
Ann Hill Carter Lee was the great granddaughter of King Carter, the owner of Shirly Plantation on the James, one of the richest men in Virginia. She died in 1829 at the Fitzhugh plantation of Ravensworth and it was there that her remains were buried. Sometime thereafter her remains were removed to the crypt.
Oak Hill Mansion at Ravensworth, once a 24,000 acre tobacco plantation,
in Fairfax County, Virginia today
The Chapel Crypt
Should the country in the future offer Lee’s descendants an honored place in Arlington, for the remains of General Lee and his immediate family, no better spot exists for their reinterment than the lawn where Mary Custis Lee’s parents rest.
General Lee Gave Our Country Gettysburg
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About the author:
Joe Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg several times.
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