The 1st Gathering of the ROBERT E LEE FELLOWSHIP: An After-Action Report

Forty men and women, hailing from fourteen states, gathered in Fredericksburg, Virginia, July 23-25, for the first annual gathering of the newly formed Robert E. Lee Fellowship. At the opening session on Thursday evening, CWEA president Bob Maher "handed the gavel" to Jay Jorgensen, who agreed to serve as the Fellowship's president. Jay offered a compelling power-point presentation on "Twelve People Who Greatly Influenced Robert E. Lee." Stephen Lee Ritchie, who agreed to serve as the Fellowship vice-president, spoke next - about the vision of the Fellowship and its goals for the future. Steve then provided an orientation for the two day tour that would follow on the theme of Robert E. Lee: The Early Years, a program that he had designed.

 On Friday morning, with George Denny of NBA Coach at the wheel of our charter bus, we set forth into the Northern Neck region of Virginia to visit George Washington's birthplace, Wakefield. Here we discussed the geographical proximity of the two family seats, Wakefield - the Washington’s, and Stratford Hall - the Lee’s, and the family friendships that resulted. As we passed by the site of the Pope’s Creek Anglican (Episcopal) Church we also discussed the ties of both families to that denomination and to churches in the area. Our tour of the Washington birthplace was led by a very well-informed and considerate National Park Service historian, Bill Ethridge.

From there, we drove south to Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of the Lee family and the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. As we stepped down off the bus we were met by nationally renowned historian James I. "Bud" Robertson who would spend the rest of the day with our group. After a hearty lunch, we took a tour of The Great House and museum  and then drove 10 miles over to the home of Bud and Betty Robertson on the banks of the Potomac River where Betty and her sister and brother-in-law had waiting for us a lavish array of hors d'oeuvres with a full bar. Our attendees took considerable delight in touring the home, and viewing its memorabilia and Bud's archives - and engaging in some bird-watching as well: a lively nest of ospreys have made their home at the Robertson's.

That evening, after a buffet dinner back at our hotel in Fredericksburg, Bud  gave us a talk on Robert E. Lee in his post-war years, focusing on Lee's time as president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. Bud held us spellbound as he spoke about Lee as a figure of reconciliation both in the North and the South, a figure of reason against a backdrop of highly charged emotion on both sides that had caused the war and plagues our nation today.  He also spoke passionately about the dangers of political correctness to our national heritage and the perpetuation of our country.

The next morning, we boarded the bus and drove north to Alexandria, Virginia and took a leisurely stroll through the old-town section. Standing in front of the Lee home on Orinoco Street, we discussed the years that Lee spent there as a child and a young man. We discussed his familiarity with his father’s old friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, who visited his mother in her home - and also his preparation for the West Point entrance exams in the adjoining school of Benjamin Hallowell.  We also stood before the Lee-Fendall house, which was built by Philip Fendall in 1784 on a lot that had been owned by his cousin, “Light Horse” Harry Lee, General Lee’s father. Twentieth century labor leader, John L. Lewis later owned the house and died there in 1969.

As our tour proceeded, we saw and discussed the Stable and Ledbetter Apothecary Shop where Colonel Robert E. Lee first learned of Virginia’s secession, and the Alexandria Academy where Robert Lee received the majority of his schooling under vaunted educator William Leary. And we stood before the first home the Lee’s occupied in Alexandria after leaving Stratford, on Cameron Street barely a half-block from Christ Episcopal Church where Washington had served on the vestry and where Robert E. Lee and two of his daughters would be confirmed a half century later.

After lunch in the Christ Church annex, we drove on to Arlington National Cemetery, boarded the tram and went up into the cemetery. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we witnessed the changing of the guard, and then walked over to see the rarely visited Confederate Memorial. Our final stop was at Arlington House - the Robert E. Lee Memorial, which sits high atop the cemetery with a commanding view of Washington, DC. Here, occurred for us the only disappointment of the tour - we drew as a docent a young NPS historian who openly expressed a strong  animus toward Robert E. Lee. The group, more or less, held its collective tongue and there was some head-scratching as to why an individual with such an attitude and grim perspective had been assigned to lead a tour of this iconic site named the Robert E. Lee Memorial!

Overall, the first annual gathering of the Robert E. Lee Fellowship was a resounding success. Attendees affirmed that they gained a better appreciation of Robert E. Lee - and that they had a good time. Most of all, they were touched by the generous hospitality of Bud and Betty Robertson for opening their home to us.

Click Here and Here for more pictures of this event - all courtesy of ARCHIE CLARK.

The 2nd Annual Gathering of the Robert E. Lee Fellowship will be held July 21-23, 2016, in Lexington, Virginia, on the theme of Robert E. Lee: The Post-War Years. Click Here for information. In the meantime, you are invited to become a Charter Member of the Robert E. Lee Fellowship. Simply send an e-mail to 1807relee@gmail.com. Include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address. You will receive periodic bulletins on Fellowship events, book reviews, and other information pertinent to the life and times of Robert. E. Lee. No Dues are required.