After a restful night’s sleep, my son and I were ready for another five hour drive to get to my hometown of Rocky Mount, NC where my parents were eagerly awaiting our arrival. But like any of our trips, we had a few stops to make along the way and one of those stops was less than fifteen minutes away. But before heading out of town we decided to take a very quick tour of Lexington, VA. Lexington sits in the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia in between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. Lexington has a strong connection to the Civil War and as such the city contains many historical sites and museums related to the war which draws thousands of tourists each year. In addition to tourism, Lexington’s economy is fueled by its connection to two higher educational institutions. The Virginia Military Institute, which was established in 1839, is a state supported military college and has been regarded as the "West Point of the South." Lexington also has the ninth oldest educational institution in the US, Washington and Lee University, established in 1749.
My son wanted to see the "Army Men" so we took a quick drive through the campus of VMI. It was a Sunday so there wasn’t that many people on campus, but there were a few. Cadets dressed in their white pants and gray jackets could be seen walking across campus or performing some type of military drill. We drove by the "Barracks", a five story building that resembles a castle which houses all of the cadets at VMI. We noticed some cadets walking toward Washington and Lee University which abuts the VMI campus.
Just like VMI, Washington and Lee University is a small school of just over 2000 students. In 1796, the university was struggling financially and George Washington gave an endowment which helped keep the school operating. The university was renamed Washington College in his honor. After the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee became President of Washington College and soon after his death, the university’s name was changed to Washington and Lee.
As a student of history, especially the Civil War, I wanted to visit Lee Chapel on the university’s campus. The chapel was built in 1868 at the request of Robert E. Lee. Lee Chapel draws visitors each year as it is the final resting place of Robert E. Lee. Buried underneath the chapel in a crypt are the general, his wife, their seven children, and his parents. Because it was an early Sunday morning, the chapel was closed for tours and I was unable to go inside. And although I was not able to pay my respects to General Robert E. Lee, he probably would have preferred that I pay my respects to something more important, his favorite horse. Traveller, as he is called, was General Lee’s favorite horse during the Civil War. When his master died in 1870, Traveller was led behind the casket draped in black. A year later, Traveller died and his remains were eventually buried outside the Chapel. On his grave, visitors may find coins and apples usually left by students at the university. There is a tradition that students will leave coins and apples to Traveller with the hope that they will be compensated with good fortune in their studies.
Before leaving Lexington, we had to make one more stop to honor another great Civil War Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson. The cemetery which bears his name is located on South Main Street in downtown Lexington, less than a mile from VMI and Washington and Lee University. Located in the middle of the cemetery surround by a wrought iron fence, lies an enormous headstone with a statue of Stonewall Jackson on top of it. Many of his family members are buried alongside him.
I wish we had had more time to visit Lexington and the different museums and shops and not to mention, restaurants, but we saw some and the rest will have to wait for another trip.