Lee Letter Program

In 2011 William Francis Smith and his son Leith donated to the Alexandria Library a box of papers from the Cazenove family. Both families had a long association with Alexandria and each other. The Messrs.’ Smith brought to the library’s attention one particular letter in their donation that deserved special attention, and underlined the Cazenove’s close relations with still another prominent Alexandria family, the Lees. This was an 1862 letter from Robert E. Lee to William Cazenove in which the general gently but firmly declined the Alexandria businessman’s offer of service as part of Lee’s “military family.” Instead, General Lee sent his fellow Alexandrian’s offer of service to the Confederate Quartermaster Department. As a merchant and businessman of longstanding and prominence in his native town, William quickly became a captain and spent the remainder of the war gathering materials for the Virginia and Confederate war efforts.


The letter was introduced to the Alexandria Public at an event in January 2012. Robert K. Krick, noted author and former Chief Historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania national Military Park was the speaker. Mr. Krick enthralled his audience with a spirited talk on Robert E. Lee and his modern detractors. This lecture and the introduction of the letter served as the first event of the Alexandria Library’s year–long celebration of its seventy-five years as a public institution.