Robert E. Lee's Peaceful Excursions to Baltimore

By Fritz, Donald T. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 28, 1996 | Go to article overview

Robert E. Lee's Peaceful Excursions to Baltimore


Fritz, Donald T., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Virginius Dabney, distinguished author, editor and journalist, wrote: "We Virginians modestly admit our superiority to citizens of all other American states." Most Southerners will agree that Robert E. Lee fits this mold.

Lee, with his noble and commanding presence, was the model of a soldier. He radiated dignity, good manners, unassuming modesty, consideration, tact and, most important, good humor, just a few of the "ingrained" qualities of the Virginia character. If ever there existed a consummate Virginian, Robert E. Lee fit the description.

Marylanders, however, might be interested to know that he spent a lot of time in Baltimore.

After distinguishing himself in three major battles during the war with Mexico, Lee earned promotions from captain to colonel. After that war, Lee, an engineer, was ordered to Baltimore to supervise the construction of Fort Carroll in the Patapsco River and within sight of Fort McHenry. The new fort was named after Marylander Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the longest-surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Lee lived in Baltimore much of the time from 1849 through 1852. His years in the city were pleasant because his sister, Ann Kinloch Lee Marshall, lived there with her minister-turned-lawyer husband.

Some years later, preceding the War Between the States, Lee sent Ann an explanatory letter in which he told her why he had made his heart-searching decision to go with his native state, Virginia, and the Confederacy. Lee's brother-in-law and nephew served in the Union army during that conflict.

In 1849, Lee had to return to Arlington from Baltimore for about a month to recuperate from what probably was a case of malaria, apparently contracted from the mosquitoes breeding at the Sollers Point flats on which Fort Carroll would be built.

An interesting event happened to Lee in late 1849, when representatives of a Cuban revolutionary junta, based in New York City, journeyed to Baltimore. They informally offered the then-colonel the opportunity to lead a revolution in Cuba. (Lee's father, Light-Horse Harry Lee had gone to the West Indies in voluntary exile years after the American Revolution.)

Lee turned down the offer. The expedition failed. If Lee had led the unsuccessful revolution, he probably would have ended up before a Spanish firing squad.

The years 1850-51 found Lee continuing his engineering supervision at Fort Carroll. A diving bell to assist in the laying of granite foundations had been devised. Hundreds of piles were driven and thousands of yards of concrete poured.

Lee carried on a lively and fatherly correspondence during his stay in Baltimore with his son Custis, a cadet at the Military Academy at West Point. Through written words of encouragement and recommendations, Lee assisted his son through several ticklish encounters with academy authorities.

The Lees always spent the Christmas season at Arlington, but Lee's children recalled their years in Baltimore as among the most serene in their lives.

While in Baltimore, Lee and his family lived in the 900 block of Madison Avenue and attended Mount Calvary Church, also on Madison Avenue. The Lees attended many social and semiofficial functions in the city.

After more than three years in Baltimore, Lee received orders to report to West Point, where on Sept. 1, 1852, he became superintendent.

His next visit to Baltimore was in April 1869, four years after Appomattox.

Briefly, leaders of an enterprise attempting to secure railroad expansion in the Shenandoah Valley, including a spur into Lexington, Va., appealed insistently to Lee to accompany them to Baltimore.

The idea included meetings with business leaders, primarily John W. Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad, and the mayor and city council of Baltimore. The city had been heavily involved in trade with the Shenandoah Valley since the war.

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