The Richmond History Podcast

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Robert E Lee and Mathew Brady

Robert E Lee behind 707 E Franklin St.

Seven days after his surrendered to US Grant at Appomattox Court House, Robert E. Lee returned to his house in Richmond, VA.  The day was April 16, 1865, Easter Sunday.  The house was 707 E. Franklin St.  Lee was a paroled prisoner whenhe arrived in the city with five of his advisers.  The Richmond Whig described the scene as:

Passing rapidly through the city, he was recognized by but a few citizens, who raised their hats, a compliment which was in every case returned, but on nearing his residence, the fact of his presence having spread quickly, a great crowd rushed to see him, and set up a loud cheering, to which he replied by simply raising his hat. As he descended from his horse, a large number of persons pressed forward and shook hands with him. This ceremony being gotten through with by the General as quietly and unostentatiously as possible, he retired into his house and the crowd dispersed.2

He reluctantly agreed to the meeting with Matthew Brady four days later on April 20, 1865.
On the lower back porch of Lee's House at 707 E Franklin St Brady took six photos of Lee.1  Brady asked Lee to wear the same uniform that he wore when he surrendered to Grant, but  the coat in the photos has the wreath-less three-star rank insignia of a colonel, not the one his family had identified as his general's coat from Appomattox.1
Seated Lee by Matthew Brady, April 16, 1865
Brady was already a famous photographer before documenting the Civil War.  He had already made his name photographing famous people including presidents.  During the war he was more of a "project manager".3  He supervised photographers that fanned out over the country working for him or he would buy negatives form freelancers.3   The photos, printed by Brady, however, were sold as a "Photograph by Brady".3  These pictures of Lee were taken by Brady.
Brady recalled in 1891, "It was supposed that after his defeat it would be preposterous to ask him to sit, but I thought that to be the time for the historical picture.  He allowed me to come to his house and photograph him on his back porch in several situations. Of course I had known him since the Mexican War when he was upon Gen. Scott's staff, and my request was not as from an intruder",4 but it still took the co-operation of Mrs. Lee to have Robert's photo taken.3 
707 E Franklin St, Richmond, VA now the VA Home Builders Assosiation

These pictures should be viewed in context.  The smell of defeat must have been rivaled only by the charred smell that must have lingered from the evacuation fire from only a couple weeks earlier that burned some 60 blocks of downtown Richmond.  The Virginia State Capital which was also the Confederate Capital, was as visible from his house as the fallen soldiers that died in a loosing cause must have been visible in his mind.  Among the casualties of the war was Lincoln, shot two day before these photos were taken.  I always thought these photos looked noble, but in the context they seem far more sad.
right, General George Washington Custis Lee(Lee's Son) middle Lee, right, Colonel Walter Taylor (Lee's aid)  April 16, 1865 

** This is a revised post. A typo in my notes got may days mixed up.  Sorry for any inconvenience.  Above is corrected, this is the original text:
Seven days after his surrendered to US Grant at Appomattox Court House, Robert E. Lee had a meeting at his house in Richmond, VA.  The day was April 16, 1865, Easter Sunday.

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  1. In your first and fourth photo, (I'll be the cliché one to say) someone wrote the word, "DEVIL" as graffito. View that blown up here: Shows you that not everyone liked him.