No proof yet that Lee vis­ited Austin

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - INSIGHT - By Michael Barnes mbarnes@states­ Con­tact Michael Barnes at 512-445-3970 or mbarnes@states­ Twit­ter: @outand­about

As the Austin City Coun­cil dis­cussed a street name change, we asked if Robert E. Lee ever took the route of Robert E. Lee Road in Austin. A lively dis­cus­sion en­sued on­line.

When the road was rechris­tened for the Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral dur­ing a rush of Lost Cause nos­tal­gia in the early 20th cen­tury, Aus­tinites be­lieved the tale of Lee’s visit. Sev­eral lead­ing lights from that pe­riod were sure that Lee headed out, per­haps on a road-build­ing as­sign­ment, to Fort Ma­son along the River Road, part of which zagged above Bar­ton Springs in the 1850s.

Yet, that ap­pears to be in se­ri­ous ques­tion. Now we are left to won­der if Lee ever even vis­ited Austin dur­ing the Indian Wars. He cer­tainly did not dur­ing the ear­lier Mex­i­can War.

His­tory ad­vo­cate Judge Bob Perkins has made a thor­ough search through Carl Coke Ris­ter’s au­thor­i­ta­tive 1946 “Robert E. Lee in Texas” (University of Ok­la­homa Press), which is based on Lee’s di­aries and mil­i­tary records. For a more com­plete ver­sion of his re­port, go to the Austin Found blog.

“I must say it never says a word about Austin,” Perkins writes. “All the forts and mil­i­tary camps are named, as is San An­to­nio and other cities where he trav­eled. The book cov­ers in minute de­tail where he went and when, and it never says he came to Austin.”

Perkins re­ports that Lee did road work dur­ing the Mex­i­can War in South Texas, but that was the last time he did so. Dur­ing his re­turn to the state in 1856, Lee made a wide swerve around Austin on mil­i­tary roads oth­ers had laid out in 1851.

On his next trip, he trav­eled from In­di­anola to San An­to­nio, then on to Fred­er­icks­burg. He also served as the tem­po­rary com­man­der in San An­to­nio in 1860.

After also go­ing over the in­con­sis­ten­cies in the 20th-cen­tury ac­counts, Perkins con­cludes: “He was never in Austin.”

“Robert E. Lee in Texas,” writ­ten by Carl Coke Ris­ter in 1946 (pa­per­back ver­sion below), is based on Lee’s di­aries and mil­i­tary records and makes no men­tion of Lee be­ing in Austin.

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