Lexington, Va., October 15, 1915.
Forty five years ago today General Robert E. Lee was buried in the basement of the Lee Memorial Chapel, situated on the college campus. Imposing, yet simple, ceremony marked the occasion. General Lee died on Wednesday morning, October 12, 1870, at 9:30 o'clock, in the President's house at Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. The body was conveyed to the chapel on Thursday, October 13, at noon, and the funeral services were held at 1:30 P.M. on Saturday, October 15.
The casket in which General Lee was buried had an interesting history. The greatest freshet in North River (now MAURY RIVER) remembered by the oldest people occurred the first week in October, 1870, when the lumber house at the Point conducted by Archibald Alexander and James D. Anderson on the old canal was washed away, and among the goods stored there was a consignment of metallic caskets for C.M. Koones & Brother, furniture dealers and funeral directors, which had arrived only a few days before the freshet. No casket could be secured in Lexington for General Lee's body, and these caskets at the lumber house were thought of. Search was made along the river with the hope that they might have lodged in some place. One of them was found on the island just below the first dam down the river from East Lexington. It had been caught in a brush pile and was lodged in the forks of a tree.
W.P. Hartigan and J.L. Root, who were cabinet makers with Koones & Brother, secured the casket and brought it to Lexington, and this was used in which to bury the mortal remains
of the great Confederate chieftain. But for this find it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to secure the right kind of a casket, as the canal was practically destroyed, roads ruined, and there was no communication for some time with other towns.
The following report of General Lee's obsequies is reproduced from the Lexington Gazette of October 21, 1870:
"It is done. The remains of the brave soldier, the peerless hero, the great and good man, our noble and beloved President, have been consigned to the grave! We have looked for the last time upon all that was mortal of him, and he now belongs to immortality and to fame. It is our mournful duty here to record the last tribute of respect that has just been paid to his memory.
"According to arrangements of the printed program, at 10 o'clock Saturday, October 15, 1870, the procession was formed at the Episcopal Church, in front of the late President's residence, and, to the sound of solemn music, it moved in appointed order. We here present the order of procession: 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 the Virginia Military Institute, other representative bodies and distinguished visitors, alumni of Washington College, citizens, cadets of Virginia Military Institute, students of Washington College as guard of honor.
"The procession moved, to the sound of solemn music (furnished by the band of the Military Institute), down Washington Street, up Jefferson Street to Franklin Hall, thence to Main Street. In front of the hotel the ranks were opened, and the committee from the Virginia Legislature, the representatives of the faculty and students of the University of Virginia and other distinguished guests, took their appointed place. Moving on, in front of the courthouse, it was joined by the large body of citizens, and thus the long line moved slowly and solemnly down
to the Military Institute. Meanwhile all the bells were tolled, and minute guns were fired from the parapet of the institute. In front of the institute the whole corps was drawn up, with presented arms, and as the procession slowly defiled past, it was joined by the visitors and faculty, who took up their places immediately behind the legislative committee, and by the cadets, who took their places just in front of the students of the college, to whom, as a post of honor, had been assigned the duty of closing the procession. Moving up to the college chapel, the front of the procession was then halted, and while its front was at the chapel door the rear was still in the institute grounds, so great was the number of those that had crowded to do honor to the lamented chief. After the procession had halted, the students, and after them the cadets, were marched to the front and proceeded into and through the chapel, past the remains, where they were drawn up in two bodies on the southern side of the chapel. The procession then moved in and were seated by the marshals. On the platform were the officers of the college and of the Military Institute, the legislative committee and other representatives from abroad. The body of the chapel was appropriately filled by the officers and soldiers who had followed the dead hero through the shocks of battle. The gallery and side blocks were filled with ladies and citizens, while the students and cadets held their post of honor outside in front of the tomb.
"Judge F.T. Anderson and David E. Moore, Sr., trustees of Washington College.
"Ex-Governor John Letcher and Commodore M. F. Maury, for Virginia Military Institute.
"Professor W. Preston Johnston and Professor J. Randolph Tucker, professors of Washington College.
"William L. Prather and Edward P. Clark, students of Washington College.
"Captain J. C. Boude and Captain J. P. Moore, soldiers of Confederate States of America.
"William G. White and Joseph G. Steele, citizens of Lexington."
Vol.41 p.188 Southern Historical Society Papers