"Lexington, Virginia, September 28, 1870.
"My Dear Mr. Tagart: Your note of the 26th reached me this morning, and see how easy it is 'to inveigle me into a correspondence.' In fact, when a man desires to do a thing, or when a thing gives a man pleasure, he requires but small provocation to induce him to do it. Now I wanted to hear how you and Mrs. Tagart were, what you were doing, and how you had passed the summer, and I desired to tell you so. That is the reason I write. In answer to your question, I reply that I am much better. I do not know whether it is owing to having seen you and Doctor Buckler last summer, or to my visit to the Hot Springs. Perhaps both. But my pains are less, and my strength greater. In fact, I suppose I am as well as I shall be. I am still following Doctor B---'s directions, and in tie I may improve still more. I expect to have to visit Baltimore this fall, in relation to the Valley Railroad, and in that event I hope to see you, if you will permit me. I am glad to hear that you spent a pleasant summer. Colonel --- and I would have had a more agreeable one had you been with us at the Hot, and as every place agrees so well with Mrs. Tagert, I think she could have enjoyed as good health their as at Saratoga, and we should have done better. Give my sincere regards to Mrs. Tagart, and remember me to all friends, particularly Mr. ---. Tell --- his brother is well and handsome, and I hope that he will study, or his sweethearts in Baltimore will not pine for him long. Captain --- is well and busy, and joins in my remembrances. Mrs. Lee and my daughters unite with me in messages to you and Mrs. Tagart, and I am most truly yours, R. E. Lee.
When my brother Fitzhugh and I reached Lexington, my father was no more. He died the morning of our arrival--October 12th. He had apparently improved after his first attack, and the summoning of my brother and myself had been put off from day to day. After we did start we were delayed by the floods, which at that time prevailed over the State. Of his last illness and death I have heard from my family.
The best account of those last days was written by Colonel William Preston Johnston for the "Personal Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee," by the Rev. J. W. Jones, published in 1874. Colonel Johnston was an intimate friend of the General and a distinguished member of the faculty of his college. He was also one of the watchers by his dying bedside. I, therefore, give it in full:
"The death of General Lee was not due to any sudden cause, but was the result of agencies dating as far back as 1863. In the trying campaign of that year he contracted a severe sore throat, that resulted in rheumatic inflammation of the sac inclosing his heart. There is no doubt that after this sickness his health was more or less impaired; and although he complained little, yet rapid exercise on foot or on horseback produced pain and difficulty breathing. In October, 1869, he was again attacked by inflammation of the heart-sac, accompanied by muscular rheumatism of the back, right side, and arms. The action of the heart was weakened by this attack; the flush upon the face deepened, the rheumatism increased, and he was troubled with weariness and depression.
"In March, 1870, General Lee, yielding to the solicitations of friends and medical advisors, make a six-weeks' visit to Georgia and Florida. He returned greatly benefited by the influence of the genial climate, the society of friends in those States, and the demonstrations of respect and affection of the people of the South; his physical condition, however, was not greatly improved. During this winter and spring he had said to his son, General Custis Lee, that his attack was mortal; and had virtually expressed the same belief to other trusted friends. And, now, with that delicacy that pervaded all his actions, he seriously considered the question of resigning the presidency of Washington College, 'fearful that he might not be equal to his duties.' After listening, however, to the affectionate remonstrances of the faculty and board of trustees, who well knew the value of his wisdom in the supervision of the college and the power of his mere presence and example upon the students, he resumed his labours with the resolution to remain at his post and carry forward the great work he had so auspiciously begun.
"During the summer he spent some weeks at the Hot Springs of Virginia, using the baths, and came home seemingly better in health and spirits. He entered upon the duties of the opening collegiate year in September with that quiet zeal and noiseless energy that marked all his actions, and an unusual elation was felt by those about him at the increased prospect that long years of usefulness and honour would yet be added to his glorious life.
"Wednesday, September 28, 1870, found General lee at the post of duty. In the morning he was fully occupied with the correspondence and other tasks incident to his office of president of Washington College, and he declined offers of assistance from members of the faculty, of whose services he sometimes availed himself. After dinner, at four o'clock, he attended a vestry-meeting of Grace (Episcopal) church. The afternoon was chilly and wet, and a steady rain had set in, which did not cease until it resulted in a great flood, the most memorable and destructive in this region for a hundred years. The church was rather cold and damp, and General Lee, during the meeting, sat in a pew with his military cape cast loosely about him. In a conversation that occupied the brief space preceding the call to order, he took part, and told with marked cheerfulness of manner and kindliness of tone some pleasant anecdotes of Bishop Meade and Chief-Justice Marshall. The meeting was protracted until after seven o'clock by a discussion touching the rebuilding of the church edifice and the increase of the rector's salary. General Lee acted as chairman, and, after hearing all that was said, gave his own opinion, as was his wont, briefly and without argument. He closed the meeting with a characteristic act. The amount required for the minister's salary still lacked a sum much greater than General Lee's proportion of the subscription, in view of his frequent and generous contributions to the church and other charities, but just before the adjournment, when the treasurer announced the amount of the deficit still remaining, General Lee said in a low tone, 'I will give that sum.' He seemed tired toward the close of the meeting, and, as was afterward remarked, showed an unusual flush, but at the time no apprehensions were felt.