The acting assumption seems to be that if only we can erase any memory of the Confederacy and slavery, racism will finally be a thing of the past… [However,] it’s worth pointing out that before we tear men apart, or tear down their statues, we are duty bound to know the facts of the case, no matter our personal feelings toward, or disagreements with, the male in question.
Today marks the anniversary of the passing of General Robert E. Lee – “Marse Robert” (“Master Robert”), to his devoted men – in 1870, just over five years after he had reluctantly surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, in the realization that he had done all he could do, and prolonging the conflict any further would simply result in still more senseless death and destruction.
Although he was the greatest of many great Southern generals (and indeed, among the greatest military leaders of any land and of any time), he had never been a secessionist, and only reluctantly resigned his commission in the United States Army when it became clear that he would have to choose between what he – along with many, both North and South – saw as a voluntary Union of sovereign States, and his beloved home state of Virginia, “the Old Dominion”: it would not be possible to remain loyal to both.
He also was personally opposed to slavery, holding it to be a “great moral and political evil,” but believed that its abolition should be gradual and equitable to all parties concerned – rather than the sudden, violent, and disorganized way in which it actually occurred, which has contributed to both resentment, and many practical problems, ever since. In this, I think he was rather prescient.
At any rate, as the linked post notes,
“This man, known primarily for his dignity, his dedication, and most of all his outstanding leadership and military prowess certainly merits honor. He should be remembered with respect by history, with prayer on the day of his death, as well as being commemorated with statues. Toppling statues of Lee will not remove the shame of slavery from American history. Rather, refusing to recognize nobility among enemies—even historical ones—demonstrates symptoms of a culture purposefully ignorant of history, as well as one unable to dialogue when in disagreement…
“Immediately following the Civil War, though animosity between North and South had hardly died, Lee held the respect of the entire nation. Crocker states, “Soon after the war’s end, he was increasingly regarded not merely as a military genius but as someone to be venerated by the South and by the North, to be venerated, indeed, throughout the Western world as a great man.” His reputation as a world-class tactician, peerless leader, and humble gentleman extends beyond the bounds of this country, and beyond the limits of his own time…
“Therefore, even those who deeply disagree with General Lee ought to stand up for him now, remember him prayerfully on the anniversary of his death, and honor his memory. Rewriting history doesn’t change history or remove its errors, it merely eliminates its lessons along with examples of greatness and nobility. Likewise, failure to recognize nobility and give honor when due gives rise to the very hatred from which racism springs: the inability to recognize goodness in those who are different from oneself—whether that be in appearance, ideas, or nationality. Such an inability has its source in a refusal to dialogue in the pursuit of truth.”
An excellent article – the excerpts quoted above are but snippets. The whole thing is worth a read! And General Lee is worth remembering with respect, indeed (I believe) with reverence. He was a great General, but more than that, he was a great Christian gentleman. In the words of President (and former 5-star General and Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces Europe, in World War Two) Dwight David Eisenhower, when asked why he kept a portrait of General Lee in the Oval Office,
“General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.
“From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.”
Needless to say, I agree with all of the above. General Lee is one of my heroes, and one of my earliest role models. May God bless the memory of “Marse Robert”!