General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, CSA (and later and for a time, all Confederate forces), was one of my first heroes and role models, and he remains so to this day. He was not only a great general (if I ever speak of “the General,” without further modification, I am speaking of Lee), but a great Christian gentleman.
But although he was a great man, he was not a perfect man: those who do not understand how both statements can be true understand little of human nature, or indeed of the nature of reality. The linked article does not whitewash the General, but it definitely shows his greatness. Well worth a read, and I commend it, dear readers, to your attention.
One note: I am not a huge fan (to put it mildly) of Federal Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. He permitted, if not actually enabled, the horrific actions of Sherman and Sheridan; and he was little more caring for his own men than for his opponents, being willing to sacrifice his own soldiers in a most callous fashion to obtain his victories: it is not without reason that he was nicknamed “Butcher Grant,” by Northern journalists.
But he was not entirely without honour, either, at least toward people he considered to be personal friends – as he apparently did General Lee, with whom he had served in the Mexican War. It is well-known that he gave honourable terms to the surrendering Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, even allowing the Confederate soldiers to keep their rifles (a major concession, for a defeated army).
What is less well-known is his personal intervention on Lee’s behalf, after the War, as recounted here:
“Later, when Lee was indicted for treason by a federal grand jury, with the threat of arrest and possible execution hanging over him, he appealed to Grant, noting that the terms of his army’s surrender included the stipulation—drafted by Grant himself—that ‘each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.’
“Grant concurred with Lee’s interpretation and urged Lee to apply for a federal pardon, which Grant said he would endorse. Lee did so, sending the documents to Grant, who indeed forwarded them on to President Andrew Johnson with his endorsement. (The application would be ‘lost,’ and Lee’s citizenship would not be restored until 1975—but that is another story.) What Lee did not know was that Grant quietly let it be known that he would resign from the army if Lee were to be arrested.”
I believe in giving credit where due, and this action is certainly to Grant’s credit. I will only add that it’s a shame his sense of honour was not a bit more general. But, again, human nature is what it is…