On October 12, 1870, five and a half years after his surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Robert E. Lee -- then president of tiny Washington College in Lexington, Virginia -- died in his bed following a stroke. He was buried three days later in the vault of the campus chapel that he himself had designed and built for the student body.
Lee's death unleashed an outpouring of grief throughout the South and gave rise to numerous poetical tributes to the man many considered the embodiment of all that was good, decent, and noble in the Southern character. One of the most moving of these pieces was written by Will S. Hays.
This poem was found in Cullings from the Confederacy: Southern Poems Popular During the War 1861-5 Including the Doggerel of the Camp. The book was compiled by Nora Fontaine M. Davidson and published by Rufus S. Darby Printing Co., Washington, D.C., in 1903. The dedication reads as follows:
This book is dedicated to all who love the South, but especially to the children of Miss Davidson's School, who untiringly contributed to the funds -- so much needed -- for hospital and other work. These children gave entertainments without number and raised $100.00 for the establishment of the first Confederate hospital in Peterburg [Virginia]. She remembers with pride and gratitude the efforts of these scholars, many of them now staid men and women. They were literally:
"First to rise against oppression ;
First and foremost in secession--
In this glorious Southern land."
"Robert E. Lee"
This page is http://civilwarpoetry.org/confederate/lee/leehays-exp.html
Last modified 18-April-2001