No proof yet that Robert E. Lee visited Austin

Reasons for a road renaming in the 20th century questioned.

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.”

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