Robert E. Withers

Robert Enoch Withers (September 18, 1821 – September 21, 1907) was an American physician, military officer, newspaperman, politician diplomat, and Freemason. He represented Virginia in the United States Senate and served as U.S. Consul in Hong Kong.

Robert E. Withers
Robert E. Withers - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1881
Preceded byJohn F. Lewis
Succeeded byWilliam Mahone
11th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
January 1, 1874 – March 1, 1875
GovernorJames L. Kemper
Preceded byJohn L. Marye, Jr.
Succeeded byHenry W. Thomas
Personal details
Robert Enoch Withers

(1821-09-18)September 18, 1821
Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.
DiedSeptember 21, 1907(1907-09-21) (aged 86)
Wytheville, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materUniversity of Virginia
Military service
Allegiance Confederate States of America
Branch/service Confederate States Army
Years of service1861–1865
RankConfederate States of America Colonel.png Colonel
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War


Withers was born near Lynchburg, Virginia. He attended private schools and then graduated from the medical department of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1841. He commenced practice in Campbell County. In 1858, Withers moved to Danville, Virginia. While studying at university, Withers was inducted into the freemasons, an organization that he would remain with for life, specifically as a leader in the Knights Templar.

During the American Civil War, he entered the Confederate Army in early 1861 as the major of the 18th Virginia Infantry. He was subsequently promoted to colonel of the regiment, which he commanded until retired because of numerous disabling wounds. He was then appointed to command the Confederate military post at Danville, an administrative position he held until the close of the war.

Following the Civil War, Withers moved back to Lynchburg in 1866 and established the Lynchburg News, a daily paper devoted to the interests of the Conservative Party. He was nominated for Governor of Virginia by that party, but withdrew from the race. He was a presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1872. He was elected the 11th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 1873. He was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1875, to March 4, 1881. He served as the chairman of the Committee on Pensions in the 46th Congress. Withers was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1881, losing to former Civil War general William Mahone of the Readjuster Party.

He was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as the United States consul at British Hong Kong, from 1885–89, when he resigned. He returned to the United States and retired to Wytheville, Virginia. During his retirement, he comprised his personal autobiography, Memoirs of an Octogenarian. He was a distant relative of figures such as George Washington and Robert E. Lee, as well as a direct descendant of Nicolas Martiau, founder of Yorktown, Virginia.

Withers died at the "Ingleside" plantation in Wytheville on September 21, 1907. He was buried in the East End Cemetery.


United States Congress. "WITHERS, Robert Enoch (id: W000659)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on 2008-10-18

Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 1) from Virginia
March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1881
Served alongside: John W. Johnston
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Consul at Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Oliver H. Simons