Washington and Lee University

Review of Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Note: The following is taken from the February 1905 issue of The Virginia Law Register (volume 10), pp. 958–59

RECOLLECTIONS AND LETTERS OF GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE. By his son, Captain Robert E. Lee. Doubleday, Page & Company. New York: 1904.

The book and the author are “well met.” It would not have done for a man of a cold heart to undertake to handle “Recollections and Letters of Robert E. Lee.” The father was a man of a warm, gentle, kindly and affectionate nature; it would have been very incongruous for a son of a different spirit to attempt to deal with the correspondence. Captain Lee has shown himself admirably suited to the task he undertakes. The book will add to the fame even of General Lee. Every life written of him would leave the impression of his being far removed from all coarseness and harshness; but one will have to read this book to see General Lee in all his greatness—the greatness of his love. Good will is stamped on every page, while many pages are luminous with kindness and affection. Enemies are forgiven, friends are cherished, relatives are enshrined in the inmost soul.

The book shows how well rounded a character General Lee had. In every respect he was great. Men did not have to say of him, he was brave but—; he had military genius but—; he was a patriot but—; he loved his fellow-men but—. Ah, that fatal but; how many characters it has disfigured! The South has the glory of pointing to her representative man and saying to all the world, “There he is, behold him and judge for yourselves.” A civilization that could produce such a man could not have been wanting in any essential element. Just one sentiment of General Lee received into the heart and acted upon in the life would of itself lift a man far above the crowd: “Human virtue should always be equal to human calamity.”

B. H. Hill, of Georgia said, “Lee was Cæsar without his crimes, Bonaparte without his ambition, and George Washington without his crown of success.” Yes, he was without his crown of success; but what is that? An incident, a bauble compared with that Lee had attained. Washington returning in triumph from Yorktown was no more glorious than Lee returning in defeat from Appomattox.