"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."
General Robert E. Lee's Visit to Wilmington
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers
In early 1870, Lee was serving as President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, and had decided upon a recuperative visit to Savannah, Georgia after experiencing chest pains and general exhaustion. Traveling by rail on March 24th via Richmond, Lynchburg, Raleigh, Salisbury, Charlotte, Columbia, Augusta, he was met in Savannah by the largest crowd ever to assemble in that city. After a short visit to Cumberland Island below Savannah to visit the grave of his father, Light-Horse Harry Lee, he continued on to Jacksonville, Florida.
Returning to Savannah, Lee began the return journey by train to Charleston, and then onward to Wilmington, arriving there on April 28th. According to "Lee: The Last Years," Charles Flood, 1981, Lee left Wilmington by train on the morning of April 30th, bound for Portsmouth, Virginia. Taking the ferry to Norfolk, he continued on to Richmond, and then home to Lexington.
Here are two accounts of his visit here:
“On April 28, 1870, Wilmington received a very distinguished visitor, General Robert E. Lee. General Lee was said to have come at the instance of General (Raleigh E.) Colston, who carried his (Cape Fear Academy) cadets to Meares Bluff (Navassa) to escort him to the city. The general was entertained at the home of Honorable George Davis, ex-Attorney General of the Confederacy, on North Second Street where he received the cadets and citizens who called to pay their respects. The cadets were later marched on parade for General Lee on North Third Street, and, standing on the porch of Major C.P. Bolles at 215 North Third Street, he delivered a brief but inspiring address to them." (The Book of Wilmington, Andrew J. Howell, Wilmington Printing Company, 1930)
Lee About the Time of His Wilmington Visit
The General's arrival in Wilmington is narrated John D. Bellamy, US Congressman in 1898:
"In the year 1870, General Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate Commander in Chief, made a tour of the South and on his return came through Wilmington. At that time I was Captain of the Wilmington Military Company. We met the train on which
General Lee came at the present site of Navassa, my Company being clad in its best uniforms, with their muskets, bayonets and swords splendidly polished! We were accompanied by a delegation
of the most prominent people in Wilmington.
Also with us was the Honorable George Davis, who had been a member of the Confederate Senate and Attorney General in
Jefferson Davis's cabinet. We met General Lee and escorted him
from Navassa on the train. Reaching the depot on Front Street,
we formed ranks and followed the carriage in which General Lee
and Mr. Davis rode to the latter's residence on Second Street
between Walnut and Red Cross, where General Lee was entertained until the next day. He then proceeded on his return trip to Richmond.
It was a great honor conferred on me to have been Captain of the Cadet-Corps that escorted General Lee, and was reviewed by him in front of Mr. Davis's residence! The people of Wilmington thronged the balconies and streets to show their profound respect, reverence and love for the great Confederate leader and chieftain."
(Memoirs of an Octogenarian, John D. Bellamy, 1941)
The Cadet-Corps Bellamy captained was from the Cape Fear Academy, a military school begun in Wilmington in 1868 by General Raleigh E. Colston, who served as a Brigadier under Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia. General Colston was assisted at the Academy by Frank H. Alfriend, biographer of Jefferson Davis, and the school was operated in the Hill residence on Grace Street between 3rd & 4th Streets. In April 1870, General Lee addressed the assembled cadets from the front porch of Major C.P. Bolles residence at 215 North Third Street and "each member of the Corps enjoyed the honor of an introduction and a cordial handshake of the hand of the old General."
About the Author
Bernhard Thuersam is the Executive Director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute in Wilmington. A native of Niagara Falls, New York, he has been a devoted student of world history since 1958 and
is a former Chairman of the Cape Fear Museum Board of Trustees.
Contact him at email@example.com
©2006 Cape Fear Historical Institute