A “new” image of Lee–and a mystery for you

From John Hennessy:

Lynchburg Museum System

Our friend Doug Harvey, the director of the Museum System in Lynchburg, passed along today a “new” image of Robert E. Lee from their collection, and we publish it here for the first time in the US (we think). As far as the folks down there (and at the VHS and the Lee Chapel) can tell, this CDV has only been seen publicly once–on a website from Peru without provenance (there must be a story in that, but it’s beyond our reach).

The image dates, apparently, to a postwar visit made by Lee to Lynchburg for an Episcopal Conference (Lee was in Fredericksburg for the same conference in 1869)–it has a Lynchburg backmark. But little else is known. We have some pretty knowledgeable readers out there, and so Doug asked me to put it out for comment and feedback, which we are happy to do.

Anyone have thoughts, ideas, or knowledge that might help?

Update, June 14:  See the comments section below for some thoughtful information. John Cummings’s comment seems to summarize well:

This photograph, in vignette form, is from an almost imperceptible variant of an otherwise well known and widely published image of Lee and appears to have been copied by the Lynchburg photographer, possibly to cash in on Lee’s attendance at the Episcopal Conference in 1869.

John offers this side-by-side comparison:

Though clearly taken at the same sitting, the angle is slightly different.

Another of our long-time readers shares this:

I have this image (in cabinet card format) with the photographer being “Howell, 867 Broadway.” We know that Lee did get his photograph taken by William Roe Howell in New York City, we know that Howell went out on his own in 1867 (before that he had a partner), and so this designation of “Howell, 867 Broadway” would suggest that this image dates from 1867 or later.
The question, of course, is whether the cdv with the Lynchburg backmark was the original, copied by Howell, or whether this image originated with Howell and was copied by the Lynchburg studio.

14 thoughts on “A “new” image of Lee–and a mystery for you

  1. This is a vignette version of a variant from the Levin Handy image (according to LOC) taken May 1869. I will forward you a comparison overlay I have done. Lee turned his head and body ever so slightly. This calls into question the Lychburg backmark and suggests that it was made from a copy of the original “three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing right”.

  2. I have serious doubts regarding the claim by the museum that this picture has been seen publicly only once before. Check out this photo dated 1867, apparently a Matthew Brady work, which has appeared in Lee’s Wiki page since at least last year. It appears that Lee is wearing the same suit, same length of hair, same bowtie, etc. — only difference is the camera angle. I am assessing both photos came from the same sitting. Did Lee visit Brady’s NYC or Washington studio in 1867?

    See here:



    Todd Berkoff

    • I think the point is that the images you share are not the image on this cdv. No one claimed this is from a new sitting or series….just that the folks at VHS and Lee Chapel had not seen this specific view before..

      • This photograph, in vignette form, is from an almost imperceptible variant of an otherwise well known and widely published image of Lee and appears to have been copied by the Lynchburg photographer, possibly to cash in on Lee’s attendance at the Episcopal Conference in 1869.

  3. After a quick search there are lots of contradictory information out there on photos of Lee. One important point: Levin Handy was Matthew Brady’s nephew and assisted his famous uncle on many photos so therein lies the confusion with Brady and Handy photos. Brady in 1894 moved his studio to Handy’s home on 494 Maryland Ave, SW, in Washington two years before Brady’s death (well after Lee’s death in 1870).

    Here is a good collection of Lee over the years: some look very similar to the “new” photo:


  4. Thanks John. Good info. I am not tied to any specific date – could be 1867 or 1869. My point is that this “new” photo from the museum is not new at all and it appears multiple shots of Lee were taken during that same sitting — many of which have been published over the years.

    If we want to confirm the date, we should confirm when Lee traveled to Washington for that committee hearing, if that was indeed why he visited Washington.


  5. I have a copy of the book “Report of the Joint Committee On Reconstruction” published by the GPO in 1866. Robert E. Lee’s testimony was on February 17, 1866. Yet a third date.

  6. As to the “Howell, 867 Broadway” cabinet card, I will point out that the full view image from this sitting does show a tradmark, prop clock that Brady used on the table Lee is seated at. This clock can be found in a good number of Brady studio portraits, securing that the Brady/Handy attribute is correct. As to the date of the sitting, both Roy Meredith’s Mr. Lincoln’s Camera Man (1946), and James D. Horan’s, Mathew Brady – Historian With A Camera (1955), indicate that it was in 1869. Meredith ties it to Lee visiting Grant at the White House, and also claims that his book was the first to publish it and others from the sitting, in book form. Given his 1946 publishing date, that claim may very well be true. Various sources give the date of May 1, 1869 for Lee’s White House visit. The important thing is that the original image was taken by either Brady or Handy in the Washington, D.C. studio. The clock secures that beyond a doubt.

  7. This is a Matthew Brady portrait, made in May 1869 in Washington, DC. It was first recognized and published by the late Mark Katz in 1983 in Civil War Times magazine, April issue. A very similar pose, taken at the same time was recognized by myself (cabinet card with Brady impint in my collection) in 2004 and published in “North South Traders Civil War”, Vol 30, #2. I am completing a manuscript on Lee images for publication and have searched for any photo made by VanNess in Lynchburg or any other photographer when Lee attended the conference there. I need help finding a copy of the composite “Fincastle Wartime Girls”. Don Hopkins, MD

  8. We appreciate your comments on the Lee image. If anyone has the April 1983 issue of CWT and could share a jpeg, that would be most helpful.

    From the group discussion, it appears that this is a Brady studio, Washington, D.C. image. While I notice that the date estimate varies, the 1869 date seems to be in the right zone as Lee has aged considerably in this image.

    We know very little about Franke except that he was in business on Main St. in Lynchburg in 1868, thus the Episcopal Convention theory. Va. Historical Society has a very few images with his backmark. Thanks again for taking this on.

    Doug Harvey
    Lynchburg Museum System

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