Behind the Battle for a Statue: Robert E. Lee's Conflicted Legacy
August 16, 2017
Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War & Harvey Wasserman / Solartopia
What if these words by Robert E. Lee were added to the monument that bears his name in Charlottesville's Emancipation Park? "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 interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained." Still, while Lee could be gracious and chivalrous, his core was medieval.
Robert E. Lee's Conflicted Legacy
Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
(August 14, 2017) -- In the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy, the question arises whether any of the neo-Confederate white supremacists flailing Nazi banners and protesting the planned removal of a statue commemorating General Robert E. Lee were familiar with the general's written ruminations.
Some of Gen. Lee's quotations might draw some startled reactions if they were added to the base of the controversial statue that currently sits in Charlottesville's newly renamed Emacipation Park.
If just the first of the following quotations were added to the monument, it might provide a reason to keep the statue in place -- a compromise that might bridge some of the dangerous social divisions that are fueling a new Civil War within American society.
Quotes from Gen. Robert E. Lee
* 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 interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained.
* I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.
* Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.
* It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it.
* [W]e made a great mistake in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers
* [T]here is no more dangerous experiment than that of undertaking to be one thing before a man's face and another behind his back.
* You must study to 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 that you mean to do right.
* A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.
* The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He can not only forgive; he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which imparts sufficient strength to let the past be put the past.
* 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 neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.
* Both sides forget that we are all Americans. I foresee that our country will pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation, perhaps, for our national sins.
* Whiskey --I like it, I always did, and that is the reason I never use it.
Robert E. Lee's Treason Still Divides and Kills
Harvey Wasserman / Solartopia & Smirking Chimp.com
(August 14, 2017) -- Yet another deadly firestorm now swirls around Robert E. Lee. As his statues head to the ash heap, a life defined by slavery, betrayal, and slaughter again divides our nation.
Lee was an icon of the Confederacy and the architect of its defeat. He was a traitor to the United States of America. He cost humanity uncounted lives . . . right up to now.
Lee's gentlemanly portraits are a surface illusion. He could be gracious and chivalrous, a dashing strategist and later a beloved college president . . . . But his core was medieval and obsolete. He was the ultimate undertaker of a culture of death.
Robert was the son of Henry "Lighthouse Harry" Lee, a Revolutionary officer descended from Virginia’s early slaveowners. But in the early 1800s he served a year in debtor’s prison, and died when Robert was eleven, leaving the family disgraced and in dire straits.
Robert excelled in mathematics and graduated West Point near the top of his class. He served as an engineer and pathfinder in the American conquest of Mexico, where he fought alongside US Grant, who would ultimately defeat him.
In 1859, Lee arrested and hung John Brown after his legendary attempt to deliver weapons from the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, to a slave revolution.
In personal letters, Lee questioned secession and doubted chattel slavery. But bitter controversy still surrounds his treatment of the slaves on his own plantation.
Abraham Lincoln offered Lee a high command in the Union army. Instead, he led southern armies against the nation of his birth. That act of treason cost countless lives and still divides our nation.
Though his first commands were mixed, Lee was a far superior tactician to most early Union generals. His key campaigns protected Richmond, threatened Washington DC, and inspired the Confederacy to press ahead. But victory fed Lee’s arrogance. In July, 1863, while foolishly attacking the north at Gettysburg, he ordered the legendary "Pickett's Charge" that cost some 7,000 lives in a matter of moments, breaking the back of the Confederate Army.
As the slaughter dragged on, droves of poor whites fled Lee’s army. To combat desertion, he ordered a mass hanging, and marched his infantry past the corpses. Thankfully, at war's end, Lee resisted calls for a prolonged guerrilla resistance. He surrendered himself and his army intact.
Lincoln and Grant never put him on trial. They gave his defeated troops safe haven, rations and the freedom to return to their farms -- with their personal weapons -- for spring planting. It was among the most magnanimous and far-sighted amnesties ever granted by a conquering army.
In defeat, Lee advocated moderate treatment for freed blacks but opposed their right to vote. His own franchise was stripped along with ownership of the family estate, which became Arlington National Cemetery.
As an individual, Lee radiated charisma and grace. But the treatment of his own slaves, his military defense of America's "peculiar institution" and his treasonous attack on the nation of his birth make him one of America's most murderous criminals. That statues still stand to him anywhere is an affront to our standing as a human community. That beloved individuals like Heather Heyer should die in his wake is all too consistent with the life he led.
Heather’s racist murder in Charlottesville, and the death two Virginia police officers along with her, form a tragic epitaph to the decisions Robert E. Lee made and the slaughter he helped perpetrate.
Harvey Wasserman's History of the US is at www.harveywasserman.com, where his America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Organic Spiral of US History will soon be published.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.