Remembering Robert E. Lee

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We
shouldn't let the month of January slip by without paying our respects
to one of finest men our country has produced; Robert E. Lee. January
19, was the 195th anniversary of the birthday of Robert
E. Lee; a very special day, not only for Southerners but for all
Americans who admire true heroes.

Unlike
media created heroes, Lee doesn't have a hint of scandal that has
to be covered up. The facts of his life may be recounted without
modification. Theodore Roosevelt characterized Lee this way: "the
very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking
peoples have brought forth." Lee is also venerated in Europe
as evidenced by this tribute by Winston Churchill: "one of
the noblest Americans who ever lived."

In
1998, a Midwestern college decided to publish a book about the persons
they considered to be six authentic heroes of our nation. They selected
George Washington, Daniel Boone, Louisa May Alcott, George Washington
Carver, Robert E. Lee, and Andrew Carnegie. Excellent choices; a
group of outstanding people and a selection made without kowtowing
to current political trends.

Robert
E. Lee's father was a Revolutionary War hero, a three-time governor
of Virginia and a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Two members of the Lee family risked their lives by signing the
Declaration of Independence. Lee married Mary Custis, great-granddaughter
of George Washington and she inherited Arlington House, Washington's
antebellum estate in Virginia that eventually became home to Lee,
Mary, and their seven children, before being confiscated by Lincoln.
He turned it into a Union cemetary with an eye to making a return
to its owners impossible.

After
graduating from West Point, Lee became a member of the U.S. Army
and began a long and remarkable military career. He distinguished
himself in the Mexican War earning three honorary field promotions.
His accomplishments were many including Assistant to the Chief of
the Engineer Corps and Superintendent of West Point. In later years
he was appointed president of a college in Lexington, Virginia that
was later renamed Washington and Lee University in honor of his
outstanding years of service.

Interestingly,
when the Civil War started, Robert E. Lee was offered the command
of the Union forces, but after his home state, Virginia, seceded,
he resigned from the U.S. Army and joined with the Confederates.
Many people wonder why Lee would turn down the command of the Union
forces and support the Confederacy. But loyalty was one of Lee's
bedrock traits and he couldn't wage war against Virginia and the
South. Also, recent historians are presenting a more balanced view
of the long festering and complex events leading to the Civil War.
(An example being inequitable tariffs – the South paid 87% of the
nation's total tariffs in 1860 alone.) The new research contained
in these books puts a new light on Lee's decision to fight for the
South.

I
suspect that another reason Lee decided to support the South was
President Lincoln's refusal to meet with Southern representatives
to try to reach a compromise to avoid war. Although members of Lincoln's
own cabinet as well as newspapers in America and Europe encouraged
the President to attempt a negotiated settlement, he remained adamant.
Lincoln rejected all requests for discussions that might have led
to a peaceful resolution.

Robert
E. Lee vigorously opposed slavery and as early as 1856 made this
statement: "There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age,
who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral
and political evil." Lee also knew that the use of slaves was
coming to an end. Cyrus McCormick's 1831 invention of the mule-drawn
mechanical reaper sounded the death knell for the use of slave labor.
Before the Civil War began, 250,000 slaves had already been freed.

Robert
E. Lee did not own slaves, but many Union generals did. When his
father-in-law died, Lee took over the management of the plantation
his wife had inherited and immediately began freeing the slaves.
By the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863,
every slave in Lee's charge had been freed. Notably, some Union
generals didn't free their slaves until the ratification of the
Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

During
the Civil War, Union commanders pillaged the South, abusing civilians
in unspeakable ways, destroying railroads and factories, and burning
private homes, public buildings, schools and libraries. Union forces
also slaughtered livestock and decimated crops, after they took
what they wanted.

Periodic
reports detailing their carnage were sent to General Halleck in
Washington who shared them with President Lincoln. In a typical
report issued on September 17, 1863, Union General Sherman added
this comment; "We will remove every obstacle-if need be, take
every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything
that to us seems proper." Halleck showed this report to Lincoln,
who enjoyed it so much that he demanded that it be published.

When
Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania, many Southerners hoped that
he would give the Yankees a taste of their own medicine. But Lee
was a man of integrity. Not only did he prohibit "wanton injury
to private property," he also ordered his soldiers to pay for
any supplies taken from civilians.

Most
histories have treated General Lee kindly, even those written shortly
after the Civil War. This respect accorded to Lee infuriates those
who want to tarnish his reputation, and they have even managed to
force textbook writers to reword their references to Lee and, in
many cases, delete any mention of him.

Also,
some cities have removed portraits and other Lee memorabilia as
a result of pressure from politicos who haven't taken the time to
learn the facts about this famous Southern gentleman. Portraits
and plaques honoring Lee have been slashed and burned, and statues
of the General have been spray-painted with obscenities.

Never
the less, current biographies continue to enhance Robert E. Lee's
well-earned reputation. One journalist, after reviewing many of
these new histories made this comment. "The South may have
succumbed to overwhelming military force, but it triumphed in at
least one sense. It produced perhaps the greatest symbol to come
out of America's most disastrous conflict, someone who combined
combat and moral excellence and who, once defeated, worked to heal
the wounds of war. It is a record that deserves to be retold constantly."

Years
after the war, Lee still commanded respect in both the North and
the South. On one occasion he was approached by a group of businessmen
concerning a questionable commercial venture. After offering the
General $50,000, they told him; "You will have to do nothing.
All we want is the use of your name." Robert E. Lee's response
was what we would have expected;

"Sirs,
my name is the heritage of my parents. It is all I have, and it
is not for sale."

If
I had to pick one American to represent the best values of our nation,
I would choose Robert E. Lee. He stands taller than anyone else.
We must continue to honor him every January on the anniversary of
his birth because;

"Men
of such magnitude are rare in history. They come but once in a century."

January
29, 2002

Gail
Jarvis [send
him mail
] is a CPA living in
Beaufort, SC, an unreconstructed Southerner, and an advocate of
limited government.

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