Shown is perhaps one of the most historic photographs ever taken at what is now The Greenbrier. It was taken in 1869 and labeled “Robert E. Lee With Former Union and Confederate Leaders.” For more than 100 years the photograph was misunderstood, and some of the men shown were improperly identified. Not until 1935 did the scholar Leonard L. Mackall sort it out. Mackall wrote, “…of all those standing only General Beauregard is correctly indicated, the other seven names being wrongly placed and also partly incomplete or entirely inaccurate.”
Of particular interest are three men in the photograph: Lee, George Peabody, and William Wilson Corcoran. Peabody, an international banker and philanthropist from Massachusetts, was ill and joined his friend, banker, and philanthropist, William Wilson Corcoran, for a rest at the resort. It was the first time that Lee and Peabody had met, but they and Corcoran shared an interest in education. Lee was president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) and in 1867 Peabody had endowed a $2 million (about $43 million in today’s dollars) Peabody Education Fund to promote public schools in the Confederate states. West Virginia was added to the eleven confederate states due to its rate of poverty. Peabody’s fund was the first large public education fund in the United States. Although Corcoran may be best known for establishing the Corcoran Gallery, he was a generous supporter of education. Possibly as a result of the chance meeting in White Sulphur Springs, Peabody donated $60,000 (just over $2 million in today’s dollars) to underwrite a mathematics professorship at Washington College. Corcoran was also a benefactor of the college.
Peabody died shortly after meeting Lee, who died the following year. Too ill to attend Peabody’s funeral, Lee sent his photograph to be buried with Peabody.
Shown in the photo: standing, General James Conner, General Martin W. Gary, Major General Beauregard, General Alexander R. Lawton, General Henry A. Wise, and General Joseph L. Brent; seated, Blacque Bev (Turkish Minister to the USA), General Robert E. Lee, George Peabody, William Wilson Corcoran, and Judge James Lyons.
Photo from Wikimedia.
Sources: The West Virginia News, General Robert E. Lee and Philanthropist George Peabody by Franklin and Betty Parker; Leonard Mackall by Lawrence C. Wroth, The Springs of Virginia by Perceval Reiniers.