None of His Steps Did Slide

Funeral procession of General Robert Edward Lee in front of Washington Hall and the Lee Chapel, Washington College, Lexington, 15 October 1870. Photograph by Boude & Miley.
Funeral procession of General Robert Edward Lee in front of Washington Hall and the Lee Chapel, Washington College, Lexington, 15 October 1870. Photograph by Boude & Miley.

The authorities of Washington College having tendered to Mrs. Lee the college chapel as a burial-place for General Lee, the offer was accepted; and 1 1/2 o’clock P. M. on the 14th of October was the time fixed on for the removal of the remains from the residence of the deceased to the chapel, where they were to lie in state until Saturday, the 15th of October, the day appointed for the burial. At the hour named, the procession to convey the body was formed under the charge of Professor J. J. White as chief-marshal, aided by assistants appointed by the students. The escort of honor consisted of Confederate soldiers, marshaled by the Hon. J. K. Edmondson, late colonel of the Twenty-seventh Virginia Regiment. Following the escort came the hearse, preceded by the clergy, and attended by twelve pall-bearers, representing the trustees, Faculty, and students of Washington College, the authorities of the Virginia Military Institute, the soldiers of the Confederate army, and the citizens of Lexington. Just in the rear of the hearse, Traveler [sic], the noble white war-horse of General Lee, with saddle and bridle covered with crape, was led by two old soldiers. Then came in order the long procession composed of the college authorities and students, the corps of cadets with their Faculty, and the citizens. The body was borne to the college chapel, and laid in state on the dais; the procession passing slowly by, that each one might look upon the face of the dead. The body, attired in a simple suit of black, lay in a metallic coffin, strewed by pious hands with flowers and evergreens. The chapel, with the care of the remains, was then placed in charge of the guard of honor, appointed by the students from their own number. This guard kept watch by the coffin until the interment, and gave to all who desired it the opportunity of looking once more upon the loved and honored face.

On Friday morning, October 14th, the college chapel was filled at nine o’clock with a solemn congregation of students and citizens, all of whom seemed deeply moved by the simple exercises. Rev. Dr. Pendleton read from Psalm xxxvii. 8-11 and 28-40, and with deep feeling applied its lessons to the audience, as illustrated in the life and death of General Lee. The speaker had for forty-five years been intimately associated with this great and good man as fellow-student, comrade-in-arms, and pastor; and testified to his singular and consistent rectitude, dignity, and excellence under all the circumstances of life, and to that meekness in him that under the most trying adversity knew not envy, anger, or complaint. ‘The law of God was in his heart,’ therefore did ‘none of his steps slide.’ ‘Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.’ The minister powerfully illustrated the text of his discourse in the career of this great and good man, and urged his hearers to profit by the example of this servant of the Lord.

The venerable Dr. White, Stonewall Jackson’s pastor, and the Rev. John William Jones, of the Baptist Church, who had served as chaplain in the Confederate army, and had since been intimately connected with General Lee, followed with brief but interesting remarks on the Christian character of the deceased.

On the 14th of October, General W. H. F. Lee, Captain Robert E. Lee, and other members of the family, arrived; and on this and the following day delegations from the Legislature of Virginia and from various places in the Commonwealth reached Lexington over roads almost impassable from the ravages of the recent great flood. The flag of Virginia, draped in mourning, hung at half-mast above the college, badges of sorrow were everywhere visible, and a general gloom rested on the hearts of old and young.

Saturday, October 15th, was the day appointed for the funeral. A cloudless sky and a pure, bracing air made a suitable close to the splendid and unsullied career of the man who was now to be consigned to the tomb. It was desired to avoid all mere pageantry and display, and that all the honors paid should accord with the simple dignity of the dead. This spirit prevailed in all the proceedings, and gave character to the ceremonies of the day.

It was thought proper that those who had followed his flag should lay the honored body of their chief in its last resting-place, and the escort of honor of Confederate soldiers, much augmented in numbers, and commanded by General B. T. Johnson, assisted by Colonel Edmondson, Colonel Maury, and Major Dorman, was assigned the post of honor in the procession.

The following account of the ceremonies is taken from a newspaper letter, written at the time, by Rev. J. Win. Jones:

‘The order of the procession was as follows:

Escort of Honor, consisting of Officers and Soldiers of the Confederate Army.
Chaplain and other Clergy.
Hearse and Pall-Bearers.
General Lee’s Horse.
The Attending Physicians.
Trustees and Faculty of Washington College.
Dignitaries of the State of Virginia.
Visitors and Faculty of Virginia Military Institute.
Other Representative Bodies and Distinguished Visitors.
Alumni of Washington College.
Cadets Virginia Military Institute.
Students Washington College as Guard of Honor.

‘At ten o’clock precisely the procession was formed on the college-grounds in front of the president’s house, and moved down Washington Street, up Jefferson Street to the Franklin Hall, thence to Main Street, where it was joined, in front of the hotel, by the representatives of the State of Virginia and other representative bodies in their order, and by the organized body of the citizens in front of the courthouse.

‘The procession then moved by the street to the Virginia Military Institute, where it was joined by the visitors, Faculty, and cadets of the Institute, in their respective places. The procession was closed by the students of Washington College as a guard of honor, and then moved up through the Institute and college grounds to the chapel.

‘The procession was halted in front of the chapel, when the cadets of the Institute and the students of Washington College were marched through the college chapel past the remains, and were afterward drawn up in two bodies on the south side of the chapel. The remainder of the procession then proceeded into the chapel and were seated under the direction of the marshals. The gallery and side blocks were reserved for ladies.

‘As the procession moved off, to a solemn dirge by the Institute band, the bells of the town began to toll, and the Institute battery fired minute-guns, which were kept up during the whole exercises.

‘In front of the National Hotel the procession was joined by the committee of the Legislature, consisting of Colonel W. H. Taylor, Colonel E. Pendleton, W. L. Riddick, Major Kelley, Geo. Walker, Z. Turner, H. Bowen, T. O. Jackson, and Marshall Hanger; the delegation from the city of Staunton, headed by Colonel Bolivar Christian and other prominent citizens; and such other delegations as had been able to stem the torrents which the great freshet had made of even the smaller streams.

‘It was remarked that the different classes who joined in the procession mingled into each other, and that among the Boards of the College and Institute, the Faculties, the students and cadets, the legislative committee, the delegations, and even the clergy, were many who might with equal propriety have joined the soldier guard of honor; for they, too, had followed the standard of Lee in the days that tried men’s souls.

‘Along the streets the buildings were all appropriately draped, and crowds gathered on the corners and in the balconies to see the procession pass. Not a flag floated above the procession, and nothing was seen that looked like an attempt at display. The old soldiers wore their ordinary citizens’ dress, with a simple black ribbon in the lappel of their coats; and Traveler [sic], led by two old soldiers, had the simple trappings of mourning on his saddle.

‘The Virginia Military Institute was very beautifully draped, and from its turrets hung at half-mast, and draped in mourning, the flags of all of the States of the late Southern Confederacy.

‘When the procession reached the Institute, it passed the corps of cadets drawn up in line, and a guard of honor presented arms as the hearse passed. When it reached the chapel, where an immense throng had assembled, the students and cadets, about six hundred and fifty strong, marched into the left door and aisle past the remains and out by the right aisle and door to their appropriate place. The rest of the procession then filed in. The family, joined by Drs. Barton and Madison, the attending physicians, and Colonels W. H. Taylor and C. S. Venable, members of General Lee’s staff during the war, occupied seats immediately in front of the pulpit; and the clergy, of whom a number were present, Faculty of the College, and Faculty of the Institute, had places on the platform.

‘The coffin was covered with flowers and evergreens, while the front of the drapery thrown over it was decorated with crosses of evergreen and immortelles.

‘Rev. Dr. Pendleton, the long intimate personal friend of General Lee, his chief of artillery during the war, and his pastor the past five years, read the beautiful burial services of the Episcopal Church. No sermon was preached, and nothing said besides the simple service, in accordance with the known wishes of General Lee.

‘After the funeral services were concluded in the chapel, the body was removed to the vault prepared for its reception, and the concluding services read by the chaplain from the bank on the southern side of the chapel, in front of the vault.

‘There was sung, in the chapel, the 124th hymn of the Episcopal collection; and, after the coffin was lowered into the vault, the congregation sang the grand old hymn,

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord.”

‘This was always a favorite hymn of General Lee’s, and was, therefore, especially appropriate upon this sad occasion.

‘The vault is constructed of brick, lined with cement. The top just reaches the floor of the library, and is double capped with white marble, on which is the simple inscription:


BORN JANUARY 19, 1807;
DIED OCTOBER 12, 1870.

‘This temporary structure is to be replaced by a beautiful sarcophagus, the design of which has been already committed to Valentine, the gifted Virginia sculptor.’

The simple services concluded, the great assemblage, with hearts awed and saddened, defiled through the vaulted room in which was the tomb, to pay the last token of respect to the mighty dead. Thus ended the funeral of General Robert E. Lee.

— Account of the funeral of General Robert E. Lee by Col. William Preston Johnston.

Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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