Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee (19 January 1807 – 12 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Letter to his wife, Mary Anne Lee (27 December 1856)
- You see what a poor sinner I am, and how unworthy to possess what was given me; for that reason it has been taken away.
- Letter to his daughter after losing Arlington (25 December 1861)
- 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.
- It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.
- 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).
- Negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange and were not included in my proposition.
- To Ulysses S. Grant on why black U.S. soldiers were not be repatriated by the Confederacy, as quoted in Liberty, Equality, Power: Enhanced Concise Edition (2009), California: Cengage Learning, p. 433
- 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 only question on which we did not agree has been settled, and the Lord has decided against me.
- I, Robert E. Lee of Lexington, Virginia do solemn, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the Union of the States thereafter, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithful support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.
- Amnesty oath to the United States (2 October 1865)
- 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.
- Letter to General P.G.T. Beauregard (3 October 1865)
- 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 engagements will not permit me to be present, and I believe if there 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.
- Letter regarding war monuments (1869), as quoted in Personal reminiscences, anecdoates, and letters of gen. Robert E. Lee (1874), by John William Jones, p. 234. Also quoted in "Renounce the battle flag: Don't whitewash history" (26 June 2015), by Petula Dvorak, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. This quote is also given as: "I think it wisest 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."
- 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
- 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)
Quotes about Lee
- 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)
- Robert E. Lee's armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their northern campaign.
- 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'.
- Lee famously marched out of step with cadets because his military days had passed. Several times, he quashed student actions against the Freedmen’s Bureau or African Americans. While he never lamented his Confederate service, he knew that the future lay elsewhere, in a reunited United States. To that cause he gave his last five years.
- 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.
- Robert E. Lee defended the institution of slavery and personally owned slaves. … Lee hagiographers seem to be completely unaware that Lee ever owned slaves… Part of that's just the warping of tidbits they heard elsewhere. It's true that Lee did not own any slaves during most of the civil war, and part of it is, frankly, dishonest fudging. Lee's sixty-three slaves were, in spite of being legally under his control and forced to work on his plantation, not held under his own name, but rather temporarily under his control as an inheritance from his father-in-law, G.W.P. Custis. Other Lee cheerleaders recognize that Lee did own slaves, but give him props for manumitting them. What they leave out of the record is that Custis' will legally required Lee to emancipate the slaves that passed into his control within five years of Custis' death. Custis died October 10, 1857 and his will was probated December 7, 1857, about a year after Lee wrote his letter on slavery. Lee kept the slaves as long as he could, and finally filed the deed of manumission with Court of the City of Richmond on December 29, 1862, five years, two months, and nineteen days after Custis' death. Custis actually gave freedom to his slaves without qualification in his will, the matter of the five years was supposed to be time for Custis' executors to do the legal paperwork for emancipation in such manner as may to, them, seem most expedient and proper. There’s good reason to read the clause as intending for the five years to serve as an upper bound on settling the legal details, not as five more years for driving the slaves for whatever last bits of forced labor could be gotten. Lee, however, did not see it that way, and set the slaves to for his own profit for as long as he could. … Lee never was very big on secession at all... Robert E. Lee is no hero. He was a defender of slavery and a harsh critic of abolitionism. He was also a slaver who brutally punished those who sought their rightful freedom.
- Rad Geek, "Robert E. Lee owned slaves and defended slavery" (3 January 2005), Rad Geek People's Daily
- Rad Greek, is a victim of his own argument he has brought out facts about that many Southerners deny, Lee did own slaves, he was pro-slavery, so what who in the North or the South did not hold or partially hold these beliefs you cannot judge a 19th century individual by todays standards. But at the same time he too fails to research the whole subject. His claim that Lee illegally held Curtis is false. Lee wrote in part "...Custis had left him "an unpleasant legacy." When Lee took over Arlington’s management in 1857, there were 196 slaves living there. Never a working plantation, the house and its grounds were instead an elegant showplace for the Washington treasury, a collection of artifacts associated with the first president. But Custis had entertained lavishly and often, and his finances were in serious disarray at the time of his death. In fact, Lee believed that the three major provisions of Custis’s will were contradictory: the estate was so deeply in debt that there seemed to be no way for Lee to pay off Custis’s creditors, give a $10,000 cash bequest to each of his daughters, and free all the slaves within five years. In frustration, Lee asked the local circuit court to decide whether he was legally obligated to honor Custis’s deadline.[murray] When the justices answered yes, Lee determinedly set about fulfilling his obligations, and he did so by ordering the Arlington people to work harder and longer than they ever had before. The slaves naturally resisted. They knew that Custis’s will guaranteed their freedom, and their behavior, to a man who preferred not to deal with slaves under the best of circumstances, made Lee’s legacy "unpleasant" indeed.
For Lee, at this point a lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Army, insubordination was an affront requiring swift punishment. Yet he disliked open confrontations and found the use of physical force distasteful. When verbal admonishments failed to cow the slaves, he decided to hire out eleven of the worst offenders, six men and five women. Lee intended this act to isolate them from the rest of the community and teach all of the Arlington people the need for servility. It didn’t work. On the contrary, three of the men simply ran away from their new masters and returned home to their families. Lee described the events in a letter to his son, Rooney: "Reuben, Parker, and Edward, in the beginning of the previous week, rebelled against my authority . . . & said they were as free as I was, etc., etc. I succeeded in capturing them however, tied them & lodged them in jail. They resisted till overpowered & called upon the other people to save them."[fellman, 65] According to historian Michael Fellman, the jail referenced was in Alexandria, and Lee had the men whipped by the county sheriff, who routinely carried out such punishments for the local gentry. Over the next year, Lee hired other slaves out, as well, and two of these also ran away and were caught. Though it lasted only two years, Lee’s tenure as Arlington’s master was fraught with strife.
On December 29, 1862, Lee appeared before a justice of the peace in Richmond and signed a document manumitting all of the Arlington people. The Civil War was well underway by this date. Lee had command of the Army of Virginia, Union troops occupied his home and its grounds, and his family had become refugees. Given this context, it is unclear whether Lee was simply honoring the terms of Custis’s will, which stipulated that the slaves be freed that year, or whether felt forced to free them by extenuating circumstances. The claims of cruelty are also unfounded Southerners were not barbarians, as most were Christians they felt a heavy hand harsh and unjust, except for large planation's were usually treated like a child. However the Slave codes dedicated what punishment was required putting the slave owners under harsh penalties if he did not obey the law. Eg. "Any slave attempting to run away and leave the colony (later, the state) received the death penalty. Any slave who evaded capture for 20 days or more was to be publicly whipped for the first offense; branded with an "R" on the right cheek on the second offense; lose one ear if absent for thirty days on the third offense, and castrated on the fourth offense. Owners refusing to abide by the slave code were fined and forfeited their slaves. A runaway slave, refusing to surrender, could be killed without penalty".**
- 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.
- 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.
- On the first day of July 1863, Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet, writing through his adjutant, ordered General George Pickett to bring up his corps from the rear to reinforce the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. The lead elements of the armies of Robert E. Lee and George Meade had come together outside a small Pennsylvania market town called Gettysburg. The clash there would become the most famous battle of the American Civil War, and would be popularly regarded as a critical turning point not just of that conflict, but in American history.
- Lee's decision to take up arms against the United States went against the very things that Washington and his own father stood for.
- This noble man died 'a prisoner of war on parole'. His application for 'amnesty' was never granted, or even noticed, and the commonest privileges of citizenship which are accorded to the most ignorant negro were denied to this king of men.
- It is, in fact, open to question whether Light-Horse Harry was as die-hard as his son claimed in his loyalty to state over nation. The elder Lee had been a fierce nationalist during and after the War for Independence. If, after the ratification of the Constitution and Washington's two terms as president, he had decided that his state was more important than the Union, it is a wonder that he did not shift his political allegiance to the Jeffersonian Republicans, the party that became the beneficiary of the Anti-Federalist legacy. Instead, Light-Horse Harry spoke passionately against the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, in which James Madison and Thomas Jefferson introduced the idea of state nullification of federal laws, denounced Jefferson and his presidency, and, like other Federalists, distrusted the public and feared the growing excesses of 'wicked citizens... incapable of quiet'. If states could override federal laws such as the Alien and Sedition Acts, he predicted, insurrection and disunion would be the result. 'If we love the Union', wrote Light-Horse Harry, 'if we wish peace at home, and safety abroad, let us guard our own bosoms from a flame which threatens to consume all reason, temper and reflection'. He did not condone dis-unionism in his own time, so it was unlikely he would have approved the creation of the Confederate States of America or his son's prominent involvement in fighting a bloody war for the southern nation. ... These were the very things his father had warned his countrymen to avoid at all costs.
- In Gettysburg the African American community braced for the arrival of Lee's men. Some like confectioner Owen Robinson fled, as did Lloyd Watts, who was considered to be a pillar of his church community. It made no difference that both individuals were free men, who had legal papers to prove it. Randolph Johnson chose to stay and attempted to organize a "colored company" in response to the governor's call for local recruits. Though the regiment was not accepted into state service others took part in the defense of a bridge over the Susquehanna River on June 28 against 2,500 Confederate troops in defense of the state capital of Harrisburg. It is likely that the experience of some local blacks in a military setting subsequently led them to Philadelphia, which commenced with the recruiting of blacks into the federal army just days earlier.
- Between 1890 and about 1970, northerners found it less embarrassing to let Dixie tell the story of the cause it lost than to reminisce about the cause they had abandoned. The Civil War had been about something other than states' rights after all. It began as a war to force or prevent the breakup of the United States. As it ground on it became a struggle to end slavery. At Gettysburg in the fall of 1863, Abraham Lincoln was already proclaiming 'a new birth of freedom', black freedom. Conversely, 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 on earthworks throughout the south.
- Lee's army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. They didn't. Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early demanded and got $300,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to at least five million dollars today. Today, however, Frederick boasts what it calls the 'Maryland Confederate Memorial', and the manager of the Frederick cemetery, filled with Union and Confederate dead, told me in an interview, 'Very little is done on the Union side' around Memorial Day. 'It's mostly Confederate'.
- 'The Thin Grey Line' came through Montgomery and Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam in 1862, Gettysburg in 1863, and Washington in 1864. Lee's army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing, and information. This did not happen, although the army did kidnap every African American it came upon, dragging them back into Virginia as slaves. In a further irony, on the courthouse grounds not far from the Confederate monument, a historical marker tells of J.E.B. Stuart's 1863 raid nearby, in which he captured 'as many as a hundred' African Americans and enslaved them, but they are invisible. The marker only mentions the capture of '150 U.S. wagons'. During the first invasion, Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers 'as liberators' when they came through on their way to Antietam, according to historian William F. Howard. During the last invasion, when Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early came through, he demanded and got $300,000 from the leading merchants of Frederick, lest he burn their town, a sum equal to at least five million dollars today.
- James Loewen, "What Does Rockville, Maryland's Confederate Monument Tell Us About the Civil War? About the Nadir? About the Present?" (19 July 2015), History News Network
- 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.
- My name is Wesley Norris. I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Custis. After the death of Mister Custis, General Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy. It was the general impression among the slaves of Mister Custis that on his death they should be forever free. In fact this statement had been made to them by Mister C. years before. At his death we were informed by General Lee that by the conditions of the will, we must remain slaves for five years. I remained with General Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859. We had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the north, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and General Lee notified of our arrest. We remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington. 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. After this my cousin and myself were sent to Hanover Court-House jail, my sister being sent to Richmond to an agent to be hired; we remained in jail about a week, when we were sent to Nelson county, where we were hired out by General Lee's agent to work on the Orange and Alexander railroad. We remained thus employed for about seven months, and were then sent to Alabama, and put to work on what is known as the Northeastern railroad. In January 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom. I have nothing further to say. What I have stated is true in every particular, and I can at any time bring at least a dozen witnesses, both white and black, to substantiate my statements. I am at present employed by the government; and am at work in the National Cemetery on Arlington Heights, where I can be found by those who desire further particulars. My sister referred to is at present employed by the French Minister at Washington, and will confirm my statement.
- Wesley Norris, testimony (1866), as quoted in Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, and Interviews, and Autobiographies, edited by John W. Blassingame, editor, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, pp. 467-468
- Again Rad Greek rather than research anything takes the word of another author. "In this particular case, we seem to have a perfectly balanced argument: we have Robert Lee who privately denies the allegations made against him, and we have someone claiming to be one of his ex-slaves making the allegation. There are no possible independent witnesses to the story; every other party to the incident has a vested interest in advancing one particular half of the narrative. You might have noticed, though, that the Testimony of Wesley Norris is not actually written by Norris. The article notes that it was in fact "taken from the lips of one of his former slaves"; in other words, dictated, not written, by him. In the antebellum South, it had been uniformly illegal for slaves to be literate in all but exceptional circumstances - most ex-slaves in 1866 would not have been able to read and write if they were recently emancipated. As you might be guessing then, this means that the Testimony almost certainly has a white author. Taken on its own then, the Testimony is very difficult to substantiate; does Wesley Norris exist". There is no evidence the individual even existed but his story is clearly false. Posted above are examples of the "Slave Code" which dictated what punishment would be administrated for certain offenses the slave owner had no choice. The original author who claimed to have researched Lees personal papers making new claims has passed away subsequent research cannot find her supposed evidence. Yet these who are want to set a course do so unfairly and without all the facts. No one means to lessen the evils of slavery but "THE FIRST law of the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice." ---- Cicero (106-43B.C.). The original claims are as you see Lee stripped her and whipped her, but when you research this incident you find a receipt to a overseers (the Sheriff who usually would administer punishment for some reason refused) was paid to administer the beating. So they issued an apology they made a error but few people ever notice the retraction or it might be on purpose? Forget we are speaking of Lee, let instead discuss John Doe. Keep in mind this was the 1800s, what did whites to include our President Lincoln think of blacks? ““I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” Further it is well documented a slave owner with a few slaves seldom if ever ordered physical punishment and for a number of reasons; the slave would harder to work, control; the slave would be more likely to flee and most importantly the slave might seek revenge and if you could not afford a overseer then you would be the one to face the music. A slave owner of means hired an overseer to handle slave matters, which would have been beneath the owner and he would never be presented during discipline. It was considered vulgar and beneath one of status. Now please don’t misunderstand this analogy as I am not saying a black was on the level of a pet, I am trying to point out what society at the time thought of physical discipline. That was something along the lines of one of your neighbors mistreating his familys' livestock or pets, demeaning, cruel, a crude violent person. As, I said I have no doubt if slaves had fled and were caught lee or anyone would have ordered them whipped but at the same time I am just as confident that Lee would never have been present.*
- That old man had my division slaughtered at Gettysburg.
- So it was in the civil war. Farragut's father was born in Spain and Sheridan's father in Ireland; Sherman and Thomas were of English and Custer of German descent; and Grant came of a long line of American ancestors whose original home had been Scotland. But the Admiral was not a Spanish-American; and the Generals were not Scotch-Americans or Irish-Americans or English-Americans or German-Americans. They were all Americans and nothing else. This was just as true of Lee and of Stonewall Jackson and of Beauregard.
- The Army of Northern Virginia. Under the superb command of Marse Robert that army's battle flag came close to being a national flag of an independent Confederate States of America. Thank God it did not. But neither were those who fought under that banner executed, imprisoned, permanently disenfranchised, or exiled, as the losers in most other civil wars have been. As Lincoln advised, U.S. Grant, and William T. Sherman 'let 'em up easy'. Thereafter, the battle flag was flown for some bad purposes, as the emblem of the Klan and the Democratic Party's southern wing.
- 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
- 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.
- I think Stone Mountain is amusing, but then again I find most representations of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson outside of Virginia, and, in Jackson's case, West Virginia, to be amusing. Aside from a short period in 1861-62, when Lee was placed in charge of the coastal defense of South Carolina and Georgia, neither general stepped foot in Georgia during the war. Lee cut off furloughs to Georgia's soldiers later in the war because he was convinced that once home they'd never come back. He resisted the dispatch of James Longstreet's two divisions westward to defend northern Georgia, and he had no answer when Sherman operated in the state. It would be better to see Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood on the mountain, although it probably would have been difficult to get those two men to ride together. Maybe Braxton Bragg would have been a better pick, but no one calls him the hero of Chickamauga. Yet Bragg, Johnston, and Hood all attempted to defend Georgia, and they are ignored on Stone Mountain. So is Joe Wheeler, whose cavalry feasted off Georgians in 1864. So is John B. Gordon, wartime hero and postwar Klansman. Given Stone Mountain's history, Klansman Gordon would have been a good choice.
- Lee was the last of the great old-fashioned generals.
- T. Harry Williams, McClellan, Sherman, and Grant, p. 109
- Works by Robert E. Lee at Project Gutenberg
- Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (1904) by Captain Robert E. Lee, His Son
- R. E. Lee : A Biography (1934) by Douglas Southall Freeman
- Brief biography by Stanley L. Klos
- Robert E. Lee - Virginia Monument at Gettysburg
- Obituary in The New York Times (13 October 1870)