Famous Death Masks Civil War General Robert E. Lee

About the history of the plastar death mask made of Civil War general Robert E. Lee.


ROBERT E. LEE (1807-1870), U.S. general

From the end of the Civil War in 1865 to his death, Lee served as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Va. His campus residence was the President's House, which he designed, and there he died on Oct. 12, 1870, following an apparent stroke some days previously. His last words, uttered in delirium, were "Strike the tent."

Lawyer-diplomat James Brown Scott gave a copy of Lee's death mask to the Museum of the Confederacy in 1925. The mask, according to Scott, was taken by sculptor Clark Mills "immediately upon General Lee's death. Two copies of it were known to exist, one of which came, last year, into the possession of the American sculptor, the late Paul W. Bartlett, who had intended to use it for making a medallion of General Lee. Mr. Bartlett was good enough to make me two copies of the mask, one of which I would like to keep for myself. . ."Thus at least four copies of the mask existed, though the present whereabouts of three are unknown.

After accepting the mask from Scott, Susan B. Harrison, a regent of the museum, took it to Edward V. Valentine for criticism. Valentine, himself a sculptor who had posed Lee for the general's last sitting in 1870, noted a greater likeness from the side view. According to the sketchy Harrison notes of their conversation, Valentine thought "the nose is too pinched for a life mask--the ear is not correct (altogether)--the nostrils [are] peculiarly shaped--Just over the eyes there is a likeness to Gen. Lee. . . ."

This copy of the mask is still owned and displayed by the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va.

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