- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

RICHMOND — Five years after the discovery of two wooden trunks holding letters and other writings by Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Virginia Historical Society is making most of the materials available to researchers.

The trunks also contained legal papers, travel souvenirs, financial records and small artifacts that were collected by Lee’s eldest daughter, Mary Custis Lee.

They were found in 2002 at Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust Co., in Alexandria.

Mary Custis Lee’s heirs chose the Historical Society as stewards of the collection, which historians consider significant because the Confederate general never wrote a memoir.

“One of the great things about this collection for me is, it’s very broad in terms of what we can learn about Lee,” said E. Lee Shepard, the society’s director of manuscripts and archives. “It’s not just the Civil War, though there is good Civil War content.”

Other subjects covered in the writings, he said, include Lee’s time on the Texas frontier before the war and his presidency after the war at Washington College — now Washington & Lee, in Lexington, Va.

The collection includes materials from other Lee family members, Mr. Shepard said, including “many of the female members of the family, who were interesting in their own right.” The oldest item dates to 1694.

Mr. Shepard said Mary Custis Lee, the unofficial family archivist, stowed the trunks at the bank because she had an account there. She died in 1918, and the trunks were not rediscovered by family members and bank officials until 84 years later.

Charles F. Bryan Jr. said that “there have been few moments as spectacular as the discovery of the Mary Custis Lee trunks” in his 20 years as president and chief executive officer of the historical society.

Most of the writings will be available to researchers beginning May 31. Mr. Shepard said Lee family members held back about 5 percent of the materials for further private research, but he expects most of the items to be made available eventually.

Historian and author Elizabeth Brown Pryor, who already has examined some of the collection, will discuss the materials and her book, “Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters” today at noon at the society’s Richmond headquarters.

Mrs. Pryor will share what the letters and other private papers disclosed about Lee’s religious beliefs, his views on slavery, his father, his time at West Point and his decision to side with the South during the Civil War.

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