From the Prattville Dragoons January 2017 Camp Dispatch Newsletter:
On Monday, January 16, Alabama will celebrate the birthday of one of its greatest heroes. General Robert Edward Lee was born January 19, 1807, the son of Revolutionary War General “Light Horse” Harry Lee. Robert attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating second in his class, and served with distinction on the staffs of John Wool and Winfield Scott in the Mexican War, where his abilities were first noted. When war broke out in 1861 Winfield Scott offered him command of all Union forces. Lee, who well knew the horrors of war, declined to take up arms against his native state. In a letter to his sister he stated: “With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, and my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword.”
The short space of this article does not permit us to review the military genius that outmaneuvered a Union force superior in numbers and resources for three years. Instead, let us focus on the character of Robert E. Lee that made him a hero north and south for years after his demise. What led a man who was offered the command of an Army he had served and loved to decline an office that would provide him honor and riches?
Lee was a man of honor and deep religious conviction. He opposed both secession and slavery. However, coming from a family that was instrumental in the establishment of the Union he knew well the premises upon which it had been established. States established the Union. States had the right to leave if they so desired. Furthermore, no state or section of the union had the right to economic gain at the expense of the others. Still, he shuddered at the thought of war. In his own words,
“Northern politicians will not appreciate the determination and pluck of the South, and Southern politicians do not appreciate the numbers, resources, and patient perseverance of the North. Both sides forget that we are all Americans. . .”
Why then did he fight to defend slavery? Answer: He did not! Again in his own words:
“There are few in this enlightened age who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. . .I think it is a greater evil to the white rather than the colored race. . .Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy.”
In short, Lee believed slavery would abolish itself as it indeed did in Central and South America a short time later. War would benefit only northern industrialists, not African slaves. He was right on both counts.
After the war, Lee was one of the few who took seriously Lincoln’s promise to “bind up the nation’s wounds.” Working as he characteristically did, he repeatedly refused lucrative offers that would have made him financially comfortable. His reply to one such offer was, “My good name is the only thing I have saved from this war and that, Sir, is not for sale.” He died October 12, 1870.
Camp Dispatch – Vol 16 No 1 Page 2
So what? Why bother explaining all this? What does all this mean now? Today, as young people search for heroes and leaders, they would do well to look to a man whose word was his bond and who was guided solely by principle and religious conviction, rather than monetary gain. In short, they would do well to emulate the virtues, convictions and example of this great man who died admired by both the people he led and those he fought against. They would do well to emulate Robert E. Lee.
Today, the Sons of Confederate Veterans still revere the challenge given us by our founder, General Stephen Dill Lee: "To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the Cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier's good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved, and which you also cherish, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish. Remember, it is your duty to see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations.”
--Lieutenant Commander Harold Grooms