The Franconia section of Fairfax County's Lee District staked its claim to being a major player in American history once again last Saturday with the dedication of a historical marker honoring one of its most colorful and renowned residents.
On a grassy slope just east of Twain Middle School on Franconia Road, a historical marker was unveiled recognizing the accomplishments and contributions of General Fitzhugh Lee, CSA, great grandson of George Mason, grandson of Harry "Lighthorse" Lee and nephew of Robert E. Lee.
In welcoming the crowd to the dedication ceremony, which included descendants of Fitzhugh Lee and Robert E. Lee, Dana Kauffman, Lee District supervisor, said, "So often when folks think of Fairfax County they think of the new communities and the high tech industries. But, it's also important we remember our history and honor key figures in our past."
The marker, sponsored by the Franconia Museum, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and education of Franconia area history, was made possible by contributions from museum members matched by the Fairfax County Historical Commission, according to Phyllis Walker Ford, president, Franconia Museum, Inc. It cost approximately $1,200, she said.
Born at "Clermont," Fairfax County, on Nov. 19, 1835, Lee's boyhood home was located on what is now the Capital Beltway, approximately midway between the Van Dorn Street and Eisenhower Avenue interchanges, said Gregg Dudding, dedication speaker and vice president for education of the museum.
"Fitzhugh Lee attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point while his uncle, Robert E. Lee, was superintendent. But, unlike his uncle, who never had a blemish on his student record and one of the highest ranking ever to graduate, Fitzhugh was always in trouble," Dudding said.
"His uncle had him up twice for misconduct and was about to expel him. But Fitzhugh's classmates prevailed upon Robert E. Lee to keep his nephew in the Academy. He finally graduated in 1856 with a standing of 45th in a class of 49," Dudding said.
Following graduation, he proved to be an outstanding officer, first for the Confederacy and later for the United States Army. He also made a mercurial rise from first lieutenant in May 1861 to major general in August 1862 in the Army of The Confederacy.
Before serving under his famous uncle in the Civil War, Fitzhugh was "seriously wounded while fighting in the Indian wars" and returned to West Point where, "he became an assistant instructor." He resigned from that position to become a 1st Lieutenant in the Confederate service," according to data inscribed on the marker.
The marker also states, "At 27, he was one of the youngest cavalry commanders in the war. Called 'Fitz' he led a brigade through the Antietam Campaign, and at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Wounded at the Third Battle of Winchester, he stayed out of action until the last leg of the war, in which he served as Gen. Robert E. Lee's chief of cavalry corps."
He surrendered his command "right after Appomattox." Following the Civil War, he was elected Governor of Virginia, worked as a farmer, and was appointed consul general in Havana. He also ran for the U.S. Senate but was defeated, Dudding said.
"While [Fitzhugh Lee was] in his 60s, President McKinley called him back to active duty to serve in the Spanish-American War as a major general in the U.S. Volunteer Army," Dudding said. Lee retired in 1901.
As noted on the marker, "He later wrote a biography of his famous uncle, as well as other works about the Civil War." Fitzhugh Lee died on April 28, 1905, in the District of Columbia. His body was later moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, "where many other confederate veterans are buried," Dudding said.
Museum contributors to the marker, as named by Ford during the ceremony and listed in the program were: John Briar, Delores Comer-Frye, William G. Dudding, Rom Evans, Phyllis Walker Ford, Donald Hakenson, Mr. and Mrs. Martin Nilson, Steve Sherman, Edward C. Trexler, and Mr. and Mrs. Donald Walker.