General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 6

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier


OF the causes of this war, it is not proper in this little volume to speak. That it became necessary must ever be a source of regret to both sections of the country. When Lee returned to Washington, he found the whole country burning with passions which betokened war. South Carolina had seceded, and was soon followed by the States bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. Early in February a government was formed at Montgomery, in Alabama, and the Hon. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, was elected President of the Confederate States. Virginia for some time clung to the Union, which she revered. She could not see it dismembered without an effort for peace. She looked on with sorrow, and could not see her sister States, so long united, tearing themselves apart without interposing to heal the wounds and reunite them. She cried aloud for peace! peace! but it was all in vain. The peace convention at Washington, from which she hoped so much, had failed to promote harmony. The President of the United States had demanded seventy-five thousand men to “put down the rebellion,” of which Virginia was to give her quota to force her sisters of the South into obedience to Federal authority. She must at once decide on her own course, and she did decide to leave the Federal Union, and having decided according to her thorough conviction of right, she did it by an overwhelming vote, and threw her whole influence on the Southern side. And now she stood ready to bare her breast to the impending storm which must sweep over and desolate her from the Potomac to the Roanoke—from Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers. Her sons were ready at the tap of the drum to rush to her defence, and her daughters, with scarcely less patriotism, at once came forward to take their parts in the great trials that awaited them. None but those who witnessed the efforts made by the Southern women in every State of the Confederacy, can realize all that was done and suffered by them in behalf of a cause which seemed to them so just and righteous. In every city, town, village or country neighborhood, they met together in societies with but one object in view—to aid the soldiers. Fair and delicate hands from the highest walks of life were engaged in cutting and sewing the coarsest clothing, knitting socks, and scraping lint for wounds not yet made. Self-denial was added to industry; delicacies were given up; extravagance of dress, and luxurious ease were abandoned. Throughout the four years they never ceased their efforts. The battles being fought, the hospitals demanded their attention—binding up the wounds, soothing the sick, comforting the distressed, praying with the dying, became their mission; and nobly did they fulfil it. The mothers of Sparta, the matrons of Rome, the Florence Nightingales of England, all belonged to the morally sublime; but no women could have excelled the mothers, the wives, the daughters and sisters of our lamented Southern Confederacy. The South was, as it were, walled around by the blockade. She must depend on herself. Alone and unaided by the outside world, nothing was left to her but her own strength, and her calm reliance on the mercy and justice of God. While her daughters buckled on the armor of those dearer to them than life itself, they did it with firm hands and prayerful hearts; and though the unbidden tear might start, the encouraging word and cheering smile were freely given, The loved ones would depart with a cheerful and heartfelt “God bless you” ringing in their ears, while the blanched lips which uttered it would in another moment be pouring out for them in secret the “cry of faith to the ear of mercy.”

Virginia being fairly out of the Union, Robert E. Lee, now in Washington, had a solemn question to decide, and one which stirred up the purest and deepest feelings of his great heart. Must he resign, and give up the flag under which he had been born and educated, had fought and bled, and under which he had gained laurels which could never wither? Must he leave his old comrades in arms, and his old commander General Scott, and fight against them? Or must he draw his sword against his mother, Virginia, against his home and kindred? The decision with most men would have been difficult—doubts and fears would have disturbed them, but with him the governing motive of his life came to his aid. He must do right, and on this great occasion he knew the right, and unhesitatingly pursued it. Every argument which General Scott could offer was powerless to shake his resolution to resign. In answer to his urgent appeals, he replied, “I am compelled to do it. I cannot consult my feelings in this matter.” “My husband,” wrote Mrs. Lee to a friend, about this time, “has wept tears of blood over this terrible war; but he must, as a man and as a Virginian, share the destiny of his State, which has solemnly pronounced for independence.” Accordingly, he wrote from Arlington, on the 20th of April, 1861, the following letter to General Scott, enclosing his resignation:

ARLINGTON, VA., April 20th, 1861.

GENERAL:—Since my interview with you on the 18th instant, I have felt that I ought not longer to retain my commission in the army. I therefore tender my resignation, which I request that you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once, but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted the best years of my life, and all the ability I possessed. During the whole of that time—more than a quarter of a century—I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors, and the most cordial friendship from my comrades. To no one, General, have I been as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness and consideration; and it has always been m y ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry to my grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration; and your name and fame will always be dear to me. Save in defence of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword. Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continuance of your happiness and prosperity, and believe me,

Most truly yours,
R. E. LEE.

Lieutenant-General WINFIELD SCOTT,
Commanding United States Army.

In an affectionate letter written the same day to a sister, who, with her husband, remained in the Union, he says:

I know that you will blame me; but you must think of me as kindly as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I thought right.

Return to Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier