Honoring a Great Man
(Portrait by Theodore Pine, 1904)
Confederate General Robert E. Lee was born on this date in 1807. Lee is one of my favorite characters of the Civil War, and is featured in many of my books. He was so loyal to his homeland that he gave up his commission with the U.S. Army to support Virginia when the Commonwealth seceded from the Union in 1861. This could not have been an easy decision for him. He was career military, and he was President Lincoln’s first choice to lead the Union Army. But because the country was split, Lee went with his heart and declined Lincoln’s offer.
The war wasn’t kind to General Lee. He lost many relatives during the war, and told President Jefferson Davis several times that he did not want to lead the Confederate Army. Inevitably, the South lost, but Lee accepted defeat with grace and humility. He was offered the presidency at Washington College in Lexington, which he accepted. Only five years later, he died of pneumonia, presumably brought on by heart failure.
Robert E. Lee was a true patriot and a devout family man. He held his religious beliefs above all else. His stamina and integrity are admirable, and his leadership ability carried his soldiers through many battles. His men idolized him with love and adoration, and compared him to King Arthur. Lee was one of the greatest generals in American history.
That’s why it is such a shame that the country he fought and suffered so much for has turned against his memory. New Orleans is still debating whether to destroy the statue erected in his honor in that city. This is recurring all over the South. It is disgraceful that such a great man is depicted now in such a dishonorable light. Lee never fought to defend slavery: in fact, he set his slaves free well before the war took place. He did not believe in the institution. He fought under the Stars and Bars to preserve Southern rights and freedom, and as a declaration that his soldiers would fight to save their homes. Lee’s home, Arlington, was taken away from him during the war, but he never wavered in his faith of God and country. It is disgusting how the Stars and Bars for which he fought have been removed from his Chapel and burial place. Shame on you, Virginia, for allowing it to happen.
(General Lee on his horse, Traveller, 1866)
Would that his enemies squirmed in their shame…but alas they have none.
“The commanding general considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the unarmed and defenseless, and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country.”
“It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies…and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth.”
Robert E. Lee
I very much enjoyed reading your story of Robert E Lee and feel as you do, that history is being unfairly changed to portray the Confederate military as unworthy of our appreciation. My wife and I travelled to Lexington last year and went through the chapel and grounds. I felt very honoured just to stand on the ground where General Lee and his family are interred. I went also to the final resting place of General Jackson. It’s extremely disheartening to know people across America will not understand the love and sacrifice these men had in defending their native land.
Thank you, Mr. Smith, for sharing your comment. I really appreciate it.