Remembering the Greatness of Lee
January 19 was the birthday of Robert E. Lee, perhaps the most revered general in American history despite being on the losing side in an uncivil war. Lee’s brilliant military tactics were often successful against the substantial manpower and logistical advantages of his Union adversaries. Lee, however, considered his victories to be the result of the uncommon valor of his Confederate soldiers. Lee was, to be sure, an inspiring leader, but he was man of great humility, whose leadership style with his subordinates could best be described as a form of shepherding. Lee also attributed many of his successes to his dedicated lieutenant, Lt. Gen.Thomas H. “Stonewall” Jackson. The famed British Field Marshall, Frederick Sleigh Roberts, sometimes referred to as “Kiplings General,” because of Rudyard Kipling’s admiration for him expressed through the common British soldiers of his poetry, called Jackson “one of the greatest natural military geniuses the world ever saw.” Indeed, some of Jackson’s military achievements under Lee can only be described as spectacular. Both men were also well known for their sincere and dedicated Biblical faith. In fact, Lee had many subordinates who distinguished themselves in both faith and battle, but we do not have space to speak of them here.
Six Southern states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia still celebrate Lee’s birthday as a state holiday in conjunction with the birthday of Martin Luther King. Yet in the last two decades, Lee’s memory has been slowly shoved aside in those and other Southern states. Much of this has to do with the demonization of Southern heritage by the establishment media, which too few elected officials in the South now have the courage to challenge. They have allowed the valor and character of Lee, Jackson, many other Southern leaders, and the Confederate soldier to be buried under the blanket of political correctness—the modern era’s totalitarian shackle on free speech. The great tragedy of this suppression is that our country has in recent decades fallen into a moral and spiritual tailspin. The whole nation desperately needs to recover rather than suppress examples of heroic courage and character.
Following Lee’s death at his home in Lexington, Virginia, on October 12, 1870, former Confederate President Jefferson Davis gave a eulogy of him at a memorial meeting in Richmond on November 3. This was probably the largest gathering of Confederate generals and officers since the end of the war. In the course of his speech, he gave this praise of Lee:
“This good citizen, this gallant soldier, this great general, this true patriot, had yet a higher praise than this or these; he was a true Christian.”
John Brown Gordon, Confederate Lieutenant General and later Governor and U.S. Senator from Georgia, said this of Lee:
“Intellectually, he was cast in a giant mold. Naturally he was possessed of strong passions. He loved the excitement of war. He loved grandeur. But all these appetites and powers were brought under the control of his judgment and made subservient to his Christian faith. This made him habitually unselfish and ever willing to sacrifice on the altar of duty and in the service of his fellows…He is an epistle, written of God and designed by God to teach the people of this country that earthly success is not the criterion of merit, not the measure of true greatness.”
When told that his chaplains were praying for him daily, Lee responded:
“I can only say that I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.”
Responding to public praise, Lee said,
“I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me. I know too well my weakness, that our only hope is in God.”
In General Order Number 83, April 13, 1863, he wrote:
“Soldiers! We have sinned against Almighty God. We have forgotten His signal mercies, and have cultivated a revengeful, haughty, and boastful spirit. We have not remembered that the defenders of a just cause should be pure in His eyes; that our times are in His hands; and we have relied too much on our own arms for the achievement of our independence. God is our only refuge and strength. Let us humble ourselves before Him…”
To a friend who condemned the North at the end of the war, Lee said,
“I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and I have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.”
The self-appointed Political Correctness Police have tried to push Lee aside because of slavery, but they know neither Lee nor the real causes of the tragic Un-Civil War. Lee believed slavery was an evil influence on both master and slave and wanted to see an end to it. Before the war, Lee inherited some slaves from his father-in-law, but after assuring that they were able to prosper on their own, he freed them. Lee showed courtesy and respect for people regardless of rank or color and never spoke disparagingly of any race.
We need to bring Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and many other Southern patriots back to their place in American history. The survival of the whole nation depends on it.