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Fitzhugh Lee

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Duty is the sublimest word in the English language”

Fitzhugh Lee, 1835–1905.  Confederate Cavalry General.  Autograph Letter Signed, Fitzhugh Lee, one page, 8” x 10”, with integral leaf attached, on stationery of the Consulate General of the United States, Habana, [Cuba], February 6, 1897.  With original envelope in Lee’s hand.

Lee, the nephew of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, replies to student’s request that he furnish an autographic letter to be placed in one of ‘six large albums’ . . . in which are to be found ‘the letters of many of the great & good men and women of the world.’”  He answers, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that “I am not a great man & am very far from being a good woman & yet I venture to send the following sentiment—‘Duty is the sublimest word in the English language’.”

Lee led Confederate cavalry forces in several principal actions during the Civil War.  Among them were the Battle of First Bull Run, the Maryland Campaign of 1862, the Battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns of 1864.  General J.E.B. Stuart’s report following Gettysburg praised no officer in his command except Lee, whom he called one of the finest cavalry leaders on the continent, and richly [entitled] to promotion.”  Lee was promoted to Major General on August 3, 1863.

In 1896, President Grover Cleveland appointed Lee Consul General at Havana, from which he wrote this letter, with duties of a diplomatic and military character added to the usual consular business.  As Consul General, he dealt with the diplomatic difficulties inherent in Cuba’s dispute with Spain, which culminated in the explosion in Havana harbor of the USS Maine, which was anchored there to protect American interests in Cuba.  Upon the declaration of war between the United States and Spain, Lee resigned as Consul General to enter the Army as a Major General of the United States Volunteers, one of three former Confederate generals to do so.  

Lee has boldly penned and signed this letter and addressed the envelope in black.  The letter shows some toning from touching another item in the album in which it was housed for more than a century.  There is a small collector’s pencil note in the blank margin at the lower left, and there are mounting traces on the backs of both the front and integral leaves.  Overall the letter is in fine condition, as is the accompanying envelope.




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