Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 115 / Number 1
Rediscovered: Robert E. Lee's Earliest-Known Letter
- By Elizabeth Brown Pryor, pp. 108–21
Robert E. Lee's application to the United States Military Academy, long missing from government files, was unexpectedly rediscovered by the author in a San Francisco newspaper from 1886. Printed in facsimile, its autograph and style match the other early letters known to have been written by Lee. On the surface, the document gives just a few biographical details and an overview of Lee's secondary education, with its emphasis on classical studies. But examined more closely, it raises tantalizing questions about Lee's date of birth, his character, and his relationship to his father. It also offers a springboard to examine West Point's influence on Lee and the sometimes ambivalent feelings he had about the academy. Finally, it prods us to consider how this letter, written with the bright hopes of a young man, led to a career choice Lee later said he regretted.