It is believed that this writing chair was the setting for the most pivotal moments in Robert E. Lee’s life. On April 20th, 1861 Lee wrote two very important letters. One was addressed to the Secretary of War tendering his resignation from the United States Army; the other to his mentor, General Winfield Scott, explaining his decision. Lee’s resignation had come after much deliberation. Tensions between the north and south had been high for many months when in January, 1861 Lee wrote to his wife from Texas that “As far as I can judge from the papers we are between anarchy and Civil War. May God avert us from both.”
On April 17, Col. Lee was asked to meet with Abraham Lincoln’s representative, Francis P. Blair. He offered Lee command of the army that would invade the southern states. Lee declined this offer and years later would recall “stating, as candidly and courteously as I could, that, though opposed to secession and deprecating war I could take no part in an invasion of the southern states.”
Once Lee learned of Virginia’s secession he knew his final decision had to be made. Should he fight for the United States Army, with which he had been for 32 years or fight for Virginia, his family’s home for over 200 years? On the night of April 19th, 1861, the Lee family, along with relatives and friends, anxiously gathered downstairs at Arlington House while Lee secluded himself in his bedchamber. For hours he paced the floors until he made his decision to resign his commission in the US Army and offer his services to the south. The chair is on exhibit in the Lees’ bedchamber.
Wood, canvas. H 117, W 68, Depth 64 cm
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, ARHO 2255