General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 5

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier


IT was in the summer of 1853, in old Christ Church, Alexandria, during one of his visits to his family at Arlington, that he renewed his baptismal covenant, and openly enlisted under the banner of the Cross, engaging to “continue Christ’s faithful servant and soldier unto his life’s end.” It was in that old church, picturesque in its antique beauty, ivy-covered, and surrounded by trees the growth of more than a century—the church where Washington worshipped from week to week, after his retirement to Mount Vernon, and whose square pew is now kept just as he left it, the association never having been destroyed by the desecrating hand of “modern improvement,”—in that church in which his sainted mother worshipped, in which he had been taught the Catechism by Bishop Meade, and trained to “Remember his Creator in the days his youth,” that Colonel Robert E. Lee was confirmed by Bishop Johns. He approached the chancel with a daughter on each arm, who knelt with their father for the same holy purpose. He was then in his forty-sixth year. From his childhood, the desire of his life seems to have been to do right. His unselfish devotion to his mother; his course at West Point, in which he seems to have kept himself unspotted from the world; his almost blameless course in the army and in domestic life, would seem to indicate that the early seed of religion, so earnestly sown, had taken deep root, and that the motives of his conduct were purified by Divine grace. Of his reasons for not being earlier a professed Christian, we know nothing; we only know that now, while quietly resting from the active duties of his soldier’s life, he felt that he must, as a Christian, confess Christ before men; and there never was to his dying day a “sliding in his steps.”

We cannot follow him through his rapid promotion in the army. After having been three years in the honorable post of Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, West Point, we find him, in 1855, commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel, in full rank, of the Second Regiment of Cavalry. The Colonel of that regiment was the lamented Albert Sydney Johnston, afterwards General in the Confederate service, who fell, in the zenith of his fame, on the field of Shiloh. In that year (1855) he was sent to Texas, and was often actively engaged in Indian warfare, and remained there till his recall at the breaking out of the Civil War in 1861.

In 1859 Colonel Lee returned to Arlington on furlough, and while there he was called away from his family to take part in what is known as the “John Brown raid.” On the night of the 16th of October, a band of conspirators, led by a desperado named John Brown, who had been notorious in the North-West territories as an offender against the laws, attacked Harper’s Ferry, for the purpose of taking possession of the United States Armory, which contained about fifty thousand small arms. The avowed purpose was to arm the slaves of the State, and to incite them to insurrection. Several citizens were fired on and killed, and others taken prisoners. The news of the outbreak was at once telegraphed to Washington, and the militia of the surrounding country were ordered out, to put down the insurrection. President Buchanan dispatched a battalion of marines, under the command of Colonel Lee, to arrest the rioters. Brow and his men had retreated to the engine-house, and fortified it. They had with them a number of the prisoners. This house Colonel Lee immediately on his arrival surrounded, to prevent the escape of Brown, but deferred the attack until next morning, lest the captive citizens might be injured. At daylight on the 18th, Colonel Lee sent his aid, Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart, to demand the surrender of the insurgents, promising to protect them from the violence of the citizens. Brown refused. Finding that nothing but force could avail, Colonel Lee ordered the attack; and the marines by a gallant assault captured the building and its inmates, several of whom were killed or wounded. Brown was among the latter. The marines lost one man killed, and one wounded; but providentially none of the citizens captured by Brown were injured. Colonel Lee protected his prisoners from the enraged citizens, until orders were received from Washington to turn them over to the Virginia authorities; and having performed the duty assigned him, he returned to Washington. At the expiration of his furlough he joined his regiment in Texas, where he remained until he was recalled to Washington, in 1861.

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