Dr. Brandon Beck continued his presentation to the Dragoons for their September 11, 2014 camp meeting on Robert E. Lee and his struggles with the decision to follow his home state of Virginia in joining the Confederacy. Lee believed secession was revolution in the same way as George Washington did seventy years prior. It should be remembered that the United States was just 74 years old at the time of the War Between the States while the Commonwealth of Virginia was 152 years old. Lee idolized George Washington and carried his sword throughout the War. After the firing on Ft. Sumter, Lee wrote his son Custis, paraphrasing, "I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution but the country cannot be preserved by the sword and if Virginia secedes he will follow with his sword and if need be with his life". And indeed, Lee had a couple of close calls during the War including by a sniper in 1862.
Lee hoped Lincoln would compromise and extend the Missouri line westward. Lincoln gave conflicting messages regarding meddling in the state institutions saying, "The greatest of crimes would be the armed invasion of another state no matter the pretext." While in Texas, Lee received orders relieving him of his command there and ordering him to Washington DC to meet with General Scott. Lee knew he would not be returning to Texas so he packed all of his belongings in an Army ambulance including his field tent and cot and basic appointments. Lincoln's inauguration was the first of any U.S. President not attended by any Custis or Lee. Virginia had multiple votes regarding secession but each was defeated as Virginia believed much as Lee that unless provoked or forced, Virginia should not secede. Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward assured all the Southern states that Ft. Sumter would be evacuated but that proved to be a lie.
Lee was a Southern moderate. He didn't like slavery but defended it's legality. He believed in the legality of secession and was taught so at West Point. When he saw Texas secede, he feared Virginia would soon follow. Virginia was afraid that the federal government would coerce the state to remain in the Union and potentially use Virginia as a platform from which to invade the South. April 1861 saw an incredible pace of events. On the 4th of April, Virginia voted 88-45 not to secede. Also on the 4th of April, Lincoln directed a relief convoy to resupply Ft. Sumter. On the 6th of April, Lincoln warned the Governor of SC of his intention. On the 7th of April General Beauregard restricted resupplies to Ft.Sumter and on the 12th of April opened fire on the fort and the convoy precipitating the conflict to War. On the 17th and 18th of April, Francis Blair and Winfred Scott invited Lee to their respective residences in Washington and speaking for Lincoln, offered Lee a Major General position in command of the Union Army but Lee indicated that although opposed to secession, he could not oppose his home state of Virginia. Lee went home and prayed and subsequently penned his resignation of his U.S. Army commission saying it was the most difficult decision of his life. Coincidentally, on April 17th, unbeknownst to Lee at the time, Virginia voted to secede from the Union. On the 19th of April, Lee wrote a letter to his family. He wrote his wife saying it was better to make up our minds to a great loss and hoping to see Stratford and Arlington again but, that would never happen. On April 20th, Lee went to his church, Christ Episcopal and that evening a letter was given to him from the Governor of Virginia asking him to come to Richmond to discuss the defense of Virginia and the capitol.
Lee never regretted his actions, never viewed that he had a choice and that he only did his duty and could have taken no other course without dishonor.