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Robert E. Lee

Confederate general in the Civil War
The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.

Robert Edward Lee (19 January 180712 October 1870) was an American soldier known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia (and eventually all the armies of the Confederacy as general-in-chief) in the American Civil War from 1862 until his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865. The son of Revolutionary War officer Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III, Lee was a top graduate of the United States Military Academy and an exceptional officer and military engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. During this time, he served throughout the United States, distinguished himself during the Mexican–American War, served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, and married Mary Custis.

Contents

QuotesEdit

 
It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.
 
We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them.
 
I cannot consent to place in the control of others one who cannot control himself.
 
Don't bring up your sons to detest the United States... Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.
 
Negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange and were not included in my proposition.
 
I think it would be better for Virginia if she could get rid of them.
 
I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.
 
Fold it up and put it away.
 
I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. … Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me.
 
Patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another, and the motive which impels them — the desire to do right — is precisely the same.
 
I am of the opinion that all who can should vote for the most intelligent, honest, and conscientious men eligible to office, irrespective of former party opinions, who will endeavour to make the new constitutions and the laws passed under them as beneficial as possible to the true interests, prosperity, and liberty of all classes and conditions of the people.
 
The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman. … A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.
 
I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.
 
Slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country... I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race... The blacks are immeasurably better off.
 
The education of a man is never completed until he dies.
 
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. ~ Ulysses S. Grant
 
Lee's decision to take up arms against the United States went against the very things that Washington and his own father stood for. ~ Andy Hall
 
On Palm Sunday, at Appomattox Court House, the spirit of feudalism, of aristocracy, of injustice in this country, surrendered, in the person of Robert E. Lee, the Virginian slave-holder, to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and of equal rights, in the person of Ulysses S. Grant, the Illinois tanner. So closed this great campaign in the 'Good Fight of Liberty'. … So the silent captain, when all his lieutenants had secured their separate fame, put on the crown of victory and ended civil war. ~ George William Curtis
 
In pre-war correspondence, Lee castigated the abolitionists for their political activity, and he never showed any qualms about the social order that he would later defend with arms. He also had a few slaves that he inherited as part of a will agreement, with provisions to emancipate those slaves. But in fact, he dragged his heels in complying with the terms of that will. And he never gave a second thought to the fact that his beloved Arlington mansion was run by slave labor. ~ Brooks D. Simpson
 
On their way to and from Gettysburg, Lee's troops seized scores of free black people in Maryland and Pennsylvania and sent them south into slavery. This was in keeping with Confederate national policy, which virtually re-enslaved free people of color into work gangs. ~ James Loewen
  • Madam, don't bring up your sons to detest the United States government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.
    • Advice to a Confederate widow who expressed animosity towards the northern U.S. after the end of the American Civil War, as quoted in The Life and Campaigns of General Lee (1875) by Edward Lee Childe, p. 331. Also quoted in "Will Confederate Heritage Advocates Take Robert E. Lee’s Advice?" (July 2014), by Brooks D. Simpson, Crossroads, WordPress. This quote is sometimes paraphrased as: "Madam, do not train up your children in hostility to the government of the United States. Remember, we are all one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring them up to be Americans."
  • We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them.
    • As quoted in A Life of General Robert E. Lee (1871), by John Esten Cooke
  • I cannot consent to place in the control of others one who cannot control himself.
    • Comment regarding officers who became inebriated, as quoted in Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee (1874) by John William Jones, p. 170
  • Sir, if you ever presume again to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university.
    • After one of the faculty at Washington College in Virginia (now Washington & Lee University) had spoken insultingly of Ulysses S. Grant, as quoted in Lee the American (1912) by Gamaliel Bradford, p. 226
  • The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.
    The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly — the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.
    The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.
    • "Definition of a Gentleman", a memorandum found in his papers after his death, as quoted in Lee the American (1912) by Gamaliel Bradford, p. 233
  • I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South its dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.
    • As quoted in The American Soul : An Appreciation of the Four Greatest Americans and their Lessons for Present Americans (1920) by Charles Sherwood Farriss, p. 63
  • Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.
    • As quoted in General Robert E. Lee After Appomattox (1922), by Franklin Lafayette Riley, p. 18
  • After it is all over, as stupid a fellow as I am can see that mistakes were made. I notice, however, that my mistakes are never told me until it is too late, and you, and all my officers, know that I am always ready and anxious to have their suggestions.
  • Teach him he must deny himself.
    • Lee to a mother who asked him to bless her son, as quoted in R. E. Lee : A Biography, Vol. 4 (1935) by Douglas Southall Freeman, p. 505
  • I should NOT be trading on the blood of my men.
    • On refusing requests to write his memoirs, as quoted in Gentlemen of Virginia (1961) page 188 by Marshall William Fishwick; also cited as possibly apocryphal in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (2004) edited by Elizabeth M. Knowles
  • The education of a man is never completed until he dies.
    • As quoted in Peter's Quotations : Ideas for Our Time (1977) by Laurence J. Peter, p. 175
  • You must be frank with the world; frankness is the child of honesty and courage. Say just what you mean to do on every occasion, and take it for granted you mean to do right … Never do anything wrong to make a friend or keep one; the man who requires you to do so, is dearly purchased at a sacrifice. Deal kindly, but firmly with all your classmates; you will find it the policy which wears best. Above all do not appear to others what you are not.
    • As quoted in Extraordinary Lives : The Art and Craft of American Biography (1986) by Robert A. Caro and William Knowlton Zinsser. Also quoted in Truman by David McCullough (1992), p. 44, New York: Simon & Schuster.-
  • I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony. It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example.
    • Letter to trustees, as quoted in "Honoring Lee Anew" (15 July 2014), by David Cox, A Magazine of Student Thought and Opinion
  • The duty of its citizens, then, appears to me too plain to admit of doubt. All should unite in honest efforts to obilterate the effects of the war and to restore the blessing of peace. They should remain, if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling, qualify themselves to vote and elect to the State and general legislatures wise and patriotic men, who will devote their abilities to the interests of the country and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have endeavoured to practise it myself.

1850sEdit

  • The Abolitionst... must see that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means and suasion.
    • Speech in the Senate (3 March 1854); Quoted in: Douglas Southall Freeman (2008) Lee, p. 93
  • In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.

1860sEdit

  • I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honour for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labour, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It is intended for 'perpetual Union,' so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession: anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and all the other patriots of the Revolution. … Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and, save in defense will draw my sword on none.
  • Since my interview with you on the 18th I have felt that I ought not longer retain my commission in the Army … It would have been presented at once, but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted all the best years of my life, and all the ability I possessed … I shall carry with me to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration and your name and fame will always be dear to me. Save for defense of my native state, I never desire again to draw my sword.
    • Letter to General Winfield Scott (20 April 1861) after turning down an offer by Abraham Lincoln of supreme command of the U.S. Army; as quoted in Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee (1875) by John William Jones, p. 139
  • What a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbours, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that, on this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace. … My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.
    • Letter to his wife on Christmas Day, two weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg (25 December 1862).
  • I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.
    • Remark to his son, G. W. Custis Lee (March 1865), as quoted in South Atlantic Quarterly [Durham, North Carolina] (July 1927)
  • I am glad to see one real American here.
    • To Ely S. Parker at Appomattox Court House (9 April 1865), as quoted in The Life of General Ely S. Parker: Last Grand Sachem of the Iroquois and General Grant's Military Secretary Buffalo, by Arthur C. Parker, New York: Buffalo Historical Society, 1919, p. 133
  • The questions which for years were in dispute between the State and General Government, and which unhappily were not decided by the dictates of reason, but referred to the decision of war, having been decided against us, it is the part of wisdom to acquiesce in the result, and of candor to recognize the fact.
    • Letter to former Virginia governor John Letcher (28 August 1865), as quoted in Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee (1875) by John William Jones, p. 203
  • The interests of the State are therefore the same as those of the United States. Its prosperity will rise or fall with the welfare of the country. The duty of its citizens, then, appears to me too plain to admit of doubt. All should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war, and to restore the blessings of peace. They should remain, if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling; qualify themselves to vote; and elect to the State and general Legislatures wise and patriotic men, who will devote their abilities to the interests of the country, and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have endeavored to practice it myself.
    • Letter to former Virginia governor John Letcher (28 August 1865), as quoted in Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee (1875) by John William Jones, p. 203
  • True patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another, and the motive which impels them — the desire to do right — is precisely the same.
  • I think it would be better for Virginia if she could get rid of them.
    • Speech to the Joint Congressional Committee on Reconstruction (1866), as quoted in "Testimony Lee before the Congressional Joint Committee on Reconstruction" (17 February 1866), by Robert E. Lee, Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction at the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866), pp. 135-6
  • I am of the opinion that all who can should vote for the most intelligent, honest, and conscientious men eligible to office, irrespective of former party opinions, who will endeavour to make the new constitutions and the laws passed under them as beneficial as possible to the true interests, prosperity, and liberty of all classes and conditions of the people.
    • Letter to General James Longstreet (29 October 1867), as quoted in Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (1924), p. 269.
  • My experience through life has convinced me that, while moderation and temperance in all things are commendable and beneficial, abstinence from spiritous liquors is the best safeguard of morals and health.
    • Letter to a "Friends of Temperance" society (9 December 1869); as quoted in Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee (1875) by John William Jones, p. 170

1870sEdit

  • "Honesty in its widest sense is always admirable. The trite saying that 'honesty is the best policy' has met with the just criticism that honesty is not policy. The seems to be true. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy."
    • "Memoirs of Robert E. Lee" by A. L. Long (1886)
  • "Those who oppose our purposes are not always to be regarded as our enemies. We usually think and act from our immediate surroundings. The better rule is to judge our adversaries from their standpoint, not from ours."
    • "Memoirs of Robert E. Lee" by A. L. Long (1886)
  • So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the south. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.
    • Statement to John Leyburn (1 May 1870), as quoted in R. E. Lee : A Biography (1934) by Douglas Southall Freeman.
  • My experience of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them, or indisposed me to serve them; nor in spite of failures, which I lament, of errors which I now see and acknowledge; or of the present aspect of affairs; do I despair of the future.
    The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.
    • Letter to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Marshall (September 1870)


AttributedEdit

  • Fold it up and put it away.
    • Not verified. The apparent source is this op-ed in the Roanoke Times, dated 14 July 2014, by David Cox (who was rector of R. E. Lee Memorial (Episcopal) Church in Lexington from 1987-2000):
      • "Someone wrote me of a woman asking Lee what to do with an old battle flag. Lee supposedly responded, 'Fold it up and put it away.' Though I’ve not verified the account, it is consistent with his letters and acts of his last years. He was always looking ahead."


MisattributedEdit

  • Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.
    • Letter purportedly written to his son, G. W. Custis Lee (5 April 1852); published in The New York Sun (26 November 1864). Although the “Duty Letter” was presumed authentic for many decades and included in many biographies of Lee, it was repudiated in December 1864 by “a source entitled to know.” This repudiation was rediscovered by University of Virginia law professor Charles A. Graves who verified that the letter was inconsistent with Lee's biographical facts and letter-writing style. Lee's son also wrote to Graves that he did not recall ever receiving such a letter. “The Forged Letter of General Robert E. Lee”, Proceedings of the 26th annual meeting of the Virgina State Bar Association 17:176 (1914)
  • Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in my right hand.
    • Supposedly made to Governor Fletcher S. Stockdale (September 1870), as quoted in The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, pp. 497-500; however, most major researchers including Douglas Southall Freeman, Shelby Dade Foote, Jr., and Bruce Catton consider the quote a myth and refuse to recognize it. “T. C. Johnson: Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, 498 ff. Doctor Dabney was not present and received his account of the meeting from Governor Stockdale. The latter told Dabney that he was the last to leave the room, and that as he was saying good-bye, Lee closed the door, thanked him for what he had said and added: "Governor, if I had foreseen the use these people desired to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox, no, sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in this right hand." This, of course, is second-hand testimony. There is nothing in Lee's own writings and nothing in direct quotation by first-hand witness that accords with such an expression on his part. The nearest approach to it is the claim by H. Gerald Smythe that "Major Talcott" — presumably Colonel T. M. R. Talcott — told him Lee stated he would never have surrendered the army if he had known how the South would have been treated. Mr. Smythe stated that Colonel Talcott replied, "Well, General, you have only to blow the bugle," whereupon Lee is alleged to have answered, "It is too late now" (29 Confederate Veteran, 7). Here again the evidence is not direct. The writer of this biography, talking often with Colonel Talcott, never heard him narrate this incident or suggest in any way that Lee accepted the results of the radical policy otherwise than with indignation, yet in the belief that the extremists would not always remain in office”.
  • Tell Hill he must come up … Strike the tent.
    • Reported as his last words. There are suggestions that Lee's autobiographer, Douglas Southall Freeman embellished Lee's final moments; as Lee suffered a stroke on September 28, 1870. Dying two weeks later, on October 12, 1870, shortly after 9 a.m. from the effects of pneumonia. Lee's stroke had resulted in aphasia, rendering him unable to speak. When interviewed the four attending physicians and family stated "he had not spoken since 28 September..."

Quotes about LeeEdit

  • General Lee now rode up and down the lines encouraging the men and ordering them to hold their fire until the enemy came within full range. He seemed, as I thought, to manifest some uneasiness. As he was passing by my company he told the men to keep cool. They turned round and laughed at him. His face reddened a little and with a smile he remarked, "Boys, I believe you are cooler than I am; you need no encouragement." Someone told him he had better dismount or he would be shot. He replied that he had been in seventeen battles and he was not born to be killed by a d----d Yankee.
    • Flavel Clingan Barber, Holding The Line: The Third Tennessee Infantry (1994), p. 82.
  • Robert E. Lee once said 'it is good that war is terrible, otherwise men would grow fond of it.' This is not an issue upon which we should have war. Our people do not need to bleed the color of red Georgia clay. This is an issue that demands cool heads and moderate positions. Preserving our past, but also preserving our future. And not allowing the hope of partisan advantage to prohibit the healing of our people.
  • Why is it so hard for people to just say Robert E. Lee fought for a despicable cause and doesn't deserve our admiration?
    • Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine, in Twitter post (22 June 2014)
  • The proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Lee, given as authority for such a policy. My first hour of despondency will be the one in which that policy shall be adopted. You cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers. The moment you resort to negro soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you; and one secret of the favor with which the proposition is received in portions of the army is the hope that when negroes go into the Army they will be permitted to retire. It is simply a proposition to fight the balance of the war with negro troops. You can't keep white and black troops together, and you can't trust negroes by themselves. It is difficult to get negroes enough for the purpose indicated in the President's message, much less enough for an Army. Use all the negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don't arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong. But they won't make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier. Better by far to yield to the demands of England and France and abolish slavery and thereby purchase their aid, than resort to this policy, which leads as certainly to ruin and subjugation as it is adopted; you want more soldiers, and hence the proposition to take negroes into the Army. Before resorting to it, at least try every reasonable mode of getting white soldiers. I do not entertain a doubt that you can, by the volunteering policy, get more men into the service than you can arm. I have more fears about arms than about men, For Heaven’s sake, try it before you fill with gloom and despondency the hearts of many of our truest and most devoted men, by resort to the suicidal policy of arming our slaves.
    • Howell Cobb, regarding suggestions that the Confederates turn their slaves into soldiers (1865). As quoted in Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), Hugh Chisholm, editor, 11th ed., Cambridge University Press. Also quoted as 'You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong'.
  • On Palm Sunday, at Appomattox Court House, the spirit of feudalism, of aristocracy, of injustice in this country, surrendered, in the person of Robert E. Lee, the Virginian slave-holder, to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and of equal rights, in the person of Ulysses S. Grant, the Illinois tanner. So closed this great campaign in the 'Good Fight of Liberty'. So the Army of the Potomac, often baffled, struck an immortal blow, and gave the right hand of heroic fellowship to their brethren of the west. So the silent captain, when all his lieutenants had secured their separate fame, put on the crown of victory and ended civil war. As fought the Lieutenant-General of the United States, so fight the United States themselves, in the 'Good Fight of Man'. With Grant's tenacity, his patience, his promptness, his tranquil faith, let us assault the new front of the old enemy. We, too, must push through the enemy's Wilderness, holding every point we gain. We, too, must charge at daybreak upon his Spottsylvania Heights. We, too, must flank his angry lines and push them steadily back. We, too, must fling ourselves against the baffling flames of Cold Harbor. We, too, outwitting him by night, must throw our whole force across swamp and river, and stand entrenched before his capital. And we, too, at last, on some soft, auspicious day of spring, loosening all our shining lines, and bursting with wild battle music and universal shout of victory over the last desperate defense, must occupy the very citadel of caste, force the old enemy to final and unconditional surrender, and bring Boston and Charleston to sing Te Deum together for the triumphant equal rights of man.
  • Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.
  • Lee, the result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C.S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
 
What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it.
  • I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me, while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War. When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier's blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview. What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.
  • He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbour without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward.
    • Benjamin Harvey Hill, U.S. Congressman from 1875 to 1882, in an address before the Southern Historical Society, Atlanta, Georgia, February 18, 1874. As quoted in Senator Benjamin H. Hill of Georgia; His Life, Speeches and Writings (1893) by Benjamin Harvey Hill Jr., p. 406
  • Lee at Gettysburg who decided to attack, attack, attack, even though he knew that it was going to result in thousands of deaths. He made that decision because he thought it necessary in order to win that battle. And in turn perhaps to win the war, to accomplish his objectives. It's not quite so crude as 'the end justifies the means', but I think that all of these extremely difficult decisions, which in the context of a war do mean life and death for tens of thousands of people or destruction of property and the ruin of lives, were made on the grounds of absolute necessity in a crisis situation, not only a war but in some respects a revolutionary situation. The same kinds of things I suppose could be applied to any of the great revolutions in history, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and so on.
  • Lee's problem, wrote the British military historian Sir Liddell Hart, was that he always went on the attack. A wiser course might have been to combine defensive strategy with defensive tactics, "to lure the Union armies into attacking under disadvantageous conditions." He was a general who "would rather lose the war than his dignity." Sure enough, he lost the war and preserved his dignity so well that he has gone down in history a martyr, our most overrated general.
    • Seymour Morris Jr., American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks (2010), p. 160
  • Whereas Grant and Sherman had no compunctions about laying waste to farms and doing harm to civilians standing in their way, Lee did. "It is well that war is so terrible," he said, "lest we grow too fond of it." As his armies advanced northward and captured farms, he instructed his soldiers that whatever food they took from the farmers, they pay for it. He, not grant, won the moral advantage recognized by history.
    • Seymour Morris Jr., American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks (2010), p. 161
  • Had he been the Northern general, Lee- like George Washington, a Southerner presiding over a Northern country- would have been in a unique position to bridge the gap betweeen the two sides and unify a war-torn nation. Worshipped by his men, he exuded calm leadership. Nominated for U.S. President in 1868, he would have made a far better president than his wartime opponent, Ulysses Grant. As it turned out, the bitterness of the defeated Southerners because of Grant's and Sherman's slash-and-burn methods resonated for a full century- a long time for America.
    • Seymour Morris Jr., American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks (2010), p. 161
  • Theodore Roosevelt, certainly a serious student of history and able to see both sides, being a Northerner with a Southern mother, said Robert E. Lee was our greatest American. Winston Churchill, even more adept at history, said the same. So, too, did Eisenhower. In a 1954 speech to the Boy Scouts of America, President Eisenhower cited Lee as one of his heroes.
    • Seymour Morris Jr., American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks (2010), p. 161
  • We were immediately taken before General Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away. We frankly told him that we considered ourselves free. He then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget. He then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mister Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by General Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty. We were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us. Accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered. General Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, an injunction which he did not fail to heed. Not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, General Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.
  • Lee is the greatest military genius in America, myself not excepted.
    • Winfield Scott, Union general, as quoted in Life of General Robert Edward Lee (1870), by C. Stoctly Errickson, p. 35
  • Although Lee was an enthusiastic and hardworking officer, his promotions in the Army came slowly. Sometimes he may have been discouraged, but he never gave up. His work as an Army engineer was outstanding, but it was in the Mexican War that he distinguished himself in combat. His commander, General Winfield Scott, praised him highly. His reputation as a soldier grew with the years. Justs fter Lincoln's call for troops, he was offered command of the Union Army. This was the highest goal that any American officer could reach, but Robert E. Lee refused to accept it. Lee's conscience would not permit him to bear arms against his native state. He resigned from the United States Army. Lee's loyalty to the Union was great, but his loyalty to Virginia was greater. He did not want to fight against the United States, but if duty required him to defend his native state, he was determined to do so. When Virginia chose him as the commander of her forces, he accepted the offer on April 23, 1861, and threw all his talents into her defense. Robert E. Lee represented the best of Virginia's traditions and ideals.
    • Francis Butler Simkins, Spotswood Hunnicutt, Sidman P. Poole, Virginia: History, Government, Geography (1957), p. 411-412
  • In 1864, black Union troops were involved in operations against Lee's army outside Richmond and Petersburg, and some of them are taken prisoner. Lee puts them to work on Confederate entrenchments that are in Union free-fire zones. When Grant gets wind of this, he threatens to put Confederate prisoners to work on Union entrenchments under Confederate fire unless Lee pulls out. So Grant was willing to embrace an eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth retaliation policy based upon Confederate treatment of black prisoners. For Grant, it was the color of the uniform, not the skin, that mattered... The Lee myth. Lee being above slavery, Lee being in fact anti-slavery, is essential to the neo-Confederate argument that it's not about race, it's not about slavery. They've done a very good job of covering up Robert E. Lee's actual positions on this... In pre-war correspondence, Lee castigated the abolitionists for their political activity, and he never showed any qualms about the social order that he would later defend with arms. He also had a few slaves that he inherited as part of a will agreement, with provisions to emancipate those slaves. But in fact, he dragged his heels in complying with the terms of that will. And he never gave a second thought to the fact that his beloved Arlington mansion was run by slave labor.
  • Once we understand that the flags in question are those of an army, we can have a more intelligent discussion about what those armies did, such as the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia was under orders to capture and send south supposed escaped slaves during that army's invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863.
  • According to my notion of military history there is as much instruction both in strategy and in tactics to be gleaned from General Lee's operations of 1862 as there is to be found in Napoleon's campaigns of 1796.
    • Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley

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