Life of Robert E. Lee as General in the Confederate Army
Henry E. Shepherd


We have followed the several stages of our hero’s life from his birth, January 19, 1807, to his death, October 12, 1870. Every phase of his character has passed in review before us, The Man, The General, The Father, The Husband, The President of a College, the gentleman who might be described in the language applied by Wordsworth to Sir Walter Scott as “the whole world’s darling.” No one of our delineations has approached the matured splendor of the truth, for who can portray the perfect as it is vouchsafed to us in those rare and isolated examples that confront us at intervals of a thousand years? It were the part of wisdom, perhaps, when we encounter it to be silent, and reverently bow the head. The contemplation of a nature such as Lee’s acts like a moral power, and elevates the spiritual ideal of every one who is brought within the range of its influence. A certain consciousness of moral elevation and exhilaration is the result. That which the genius of chivalry embodied in types and shadows rises from the dream-world into the sphere of concrete experience, as the foremost soldier of our modern day, is all courtesy and gentleness to his foes, and in the face of such provocation and justification as civilized war has rarely known refused to inflict vengeance upon those who had desecrated the home of his wife and violated the sepulchres and the sanctuaries of his kindred and his countrymen. “War is hell,” said the Northern hero, Gen. W. T. Sherman. “I could not do it, I could not do it,” replied Lee, when asked why he did not retaliate for the atrocities and infamies of Federal commanders. “If you don’t take down that d—d rebel flag, we’ll blow it to hell with bullets!” said the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic to a Southern lady living in a Pennsylvania town, who on Decoration Day, May 30, 1905, displayed a diminutive Confederate flag over the door of her own home. “We were always taught to salute the enemy’s flag before a battle,” said Robert Lee as he raised his hat and bowed, while a young girl flaunted the Stars and Stripes in his face during the advance of our army to Gettysburg, June, 1863.


It is our conviction, based upon a wide and comparative reading, and observation extending through many lands, varying eras, and historic conditions, antagonistic as well as dissimilar in their nature, that no such character as Lee has been revealed to the world in any stage of its development, ancient or modern. It is the perfect flawlessness of his nature that appeals most powerfully and fascinates most strongly. All the affluent malice of his enemies has never imputed to him an ignoble act or an unchivalric motive. If we except Grant’s strange and undiscriminating estimate, Lee as viewed even by hostile and implacable eyes is among the foremost of those august and abiding figures upon whom the touch of the ages has no power, save to broaden its moral and intellectual stature. Scarce more than a generation has passed since he was laid to rest at Lexington ; yet never, perhaps, has fame expanded more rapidly and with such enhancing pace, into richer and finer light. Those of us who were his contemporaries could not rise to the height of his greatness in the sphere of strategy, in the converse that drew to him the “men of rathe and riper years,” and that nameless but all prevailing charm which attracted the child to his arms, and fixed the eyes of princes, potentates, lords of the intellectual world upon his remote and sequestered home in the Valley of Virginia. The appreciation of such a character as that of Lee is one of the long results of time. The ages that come after us will
note the ceaseless broadening of his fame; we are yet in the elementary stages of the greatness that is awaiting him with the revealing power of the centuries now hidden behind the cloud. Still we may descry dimly, as through a glass darkly, the incomparable grandeur of the future Lee. It is true in a measure that already—

The past does win
A glory from its being far,
And orbs into the perfect star
We saw not when we moved therein.

With greatness of the very highest type, like that of Lee, ceaseless advance is an invariable, perhaps an inevitable characteristic. Envy, malice, and those mysterious fluctuations of sentiment and opinion which seem almost to baffle rational analysis or philosophic solution, may check and retard, but they do not repress its growth. Our Confederate hero has his partial analogue in the ideal statesman of our sovereign poet. It is fame like Lee’s that Milton had in contemplation when he described it as “no plant that grows on mortal soil.” With Lee the line of advance is clearly defined in a felicitous though unconscious prophecy. Of whom can it be said with intenser emphasis or profounder truth,

Moving up from high to higher,
Becomes on Fortune’s crowning slope
The pillar of a people’s hope,
The center of a world’s desire.

The character of Lee, contemplated from the standpoint of religion, presents a fascinating field of investigation, rich in suggestion, inspiring in example. His nature was catholic in the deepest and truest sense of the term. While devotedly attached to his traditional faith, there was never the faintest trace of intolerance displayed toward the religious attitude of others. The cast of his mind rendered him incapable of bigotry, and every attempt to involve him in theological controversy resulted in signal failure. He parried the attack with wonted sweetness of temper, declined it with gracious courtesy or with some happy sally of his abounding good humor. Yet his piety was of the intensest type and his critical familiarity with the text of the English Scriptures has been demonstrated more than once in the course of our narrative. It reveals itself in the unguarded style of his private correspondence, as well as in the exact and professional phraseology which marked his official orders issued to his army in camp, upon the verge of conflict, in the hour when fortune sat upon our banners, or when victory had faded from our eyes. The same note ran through all—the unvarying strain of faith, of reverence pervaded every utterance. One of the last acts of his military career was to present a copy of the Bible to a young man attached to his service at headquarters, Appomattox, April 9, 1865. The recipient of the gift cherishes it with peculiar affection, for it contains the autograph of Lee.

A life and character such as that of Lee is a demonstration of immortality which far transcends in vital power all the dialectics of the schools. If abstraction fails, the concrete proof is before our eyes. No man, unless he be hopelessly reprobate, can contemplate the revelation set before us in the person and work of Robert Edward Lee and doubt of the doctrine, whether it be true.

We have already referred to the erroneous impression which prevails in regard to the range and the accuracy of Lee’s attainments apart from his professional field—the sphere of military science. It is an error to assume that his acquirements were restricted to the art of war. In the ranges of literature he seems to have fallen heir to the finely cultured tastes of his father, “Light Horse Harry,” and to have been in sympathy with Addison and Pope. Most suggestive is it to the student of psychology as illustrated in literary evolution, to find Lee, the father, warning his son, Charles Carter Lee, against the use of fiction, and Lee, the son, perhaps sixty years later, warning his young daughter, Miss Mildred, against the same tendency. “Read history, works of truth, not novels and romances,” he writes to his child. “Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light.” Have we in this instance the law of heredity exhibited in the family of the Lees, and applying in the sphere of literary affinities? The caution in each case was perhaps directed against the abuse of fiction, rather than its use; against indiscriminate indulgence, rather than designed as an absolute, untempered prohibition. In any event, and upon any supposition, the coincidence of opinion between Lee the father and Lee the son is eminently suggestive. Stranger than all, it seems to me, is the fact that Lee’s edition of the works of his father, “Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States,” published in 1869, has excited so small a share of that intelligent interest which the nature of the theme, the character of the author, and the fame of the editor should naturally have aroused. He that questions the fine literary instinct of Lee, the son, should read his edition of his father’s “Memoirs.” It combines in harmony all the loftier elements of pure literary achievement—the English is chaste, simple, vigorous, the discernment of the editor is reflected in every utterance and every estimate of men or of events. The surpassing interest of the narrative receives an additional charm from the very touch of its commentator; for when has such a hero been the biographer of such another, and that his own father? The story of Lee the elder is invested with an especial fascination apart from the record of his warlike exploits. His mother, an early love of Washington, himself a favorite, almost a pet of the General, probably the most broadly cultured gentleman of the colonial army, and the father of Robert E. Lee. If we except Lee the younger, when have more brilliant stars blended in a single crown than in that of “Light Horse Harry?”

No fact associated with the career of Lee is a cause of more just and profound regret than his inability to write the history of his campaigns from Richmond to Appomattox. Even had the task been entered upon, death would have intervened before its completion had been attained, and in the absence of his own records, all of which were inaccessible to him, from his retreat at Lexington the work would have been impossible of accomplishment, even though life and vigor had been vouchsafed for many years longer. With his official documents destroyed or buried in the vaults of the Government at Washington, a continuous narrative, sustained, comprehensive, minute, was beyond the possibilities. Of this Lee was aware, and with his characteristic sanity of judgment he relinquished all serious thought of engaging in an undertaking the failure of which was foredoomed. Still, the loss to the literature of war and to the cause of historic truth can never be appreciated, save as we recede from the conflict of which Lee was the supremely brilliant and majestic figure. The story of his own campaigns narrated by the foremost captain of modern times would have been marked by a fascination, a magnetic charm above romance. The moral power of Lee’s narrative, however, would have proved its essential strength; the cultured and discerning mind would have accepted its views and acquiesced in its conclusion with invincible faith, for not even the malice of his enemies has cast the faintest shadow upon Lee’s absolute integrity. Contemplated from every point, the absence of a history inspired by Lee himself, setting forth in detail the record of his achievements, is a disaster to the world. More painfully does the want of such a narrative appeal to us as we note the frequent undertone of disparagement and depreciation which is impressed upon the Memoirs of Grant when referring to the character or the strategy of his great antagonist. This strain of depreciation runs through Grant’s entire story. The work is not avowedly, but really, a systematic endeavor to cast into eclipse the brilliance of Lee’s fame, to place our hero on the roll of common men. Whatever may have been its inspiring force, it is a melancholy display of human infirmity, an assault upon the renown and the genius of an adversary who had lain in his grave for more than a decade, conceived, as well as executed, by one who himself stood upon the very threshold of the world behind the vail. Even if it had its origin in the desire to pander to the passions or the malice of our foes, it failed signally of its aim, for the glory of Lee brightens with the passing of the years, and broadening over seas and lands alien to us in speech, in tradition, in ideals, is girdling the whole round earth with its power.

Not a word in disparagement of any Federal commander fell from the lips of Lee or has been left on record as emanating from him. He judged his adversaries with his characteristic subtlety of discernment, and his estimates of their capacity will be accepted as final and abiding by historians of the Northern school. His exposure of the strategic weakness of Hunter, in a letter addressed to that notable vandal in 1865 or 1866, is an exhibition of fine and delicate irony, of which Lee was eminently capable when occasion demanded its use. Hunter had presumed to write to General Lee asking his approval of his method of conducting his campaign in the Valley in June, 1864, and the letter was elicited in response to that request. It was so crushing and effective in its keen, courteous and trenchant sarcasm that a nature even as ignoble as Hunter’s must have been “tented to the quick.” Of Lee’s power in the sphere of historic narration the principal proof lies in his edition of “Memoirs of his Father.” This at least affords an illustration of his capacity as a writer of English—chaste, lucid, direct, effective.[10] It is the style that has in all times marked the great portrayers of military achievement from Thucydides and Cæsar to Napier and Henderson. Had Lee been added to the long and illustrious roll, he would have stood in the front rank; for in none of the masters of war were the essential characteristics of the true historian more perfectly displayed and more harmoniously combined than in the moral and intellectual nature of the Confederate leader. Nearly all the conditions prescribed by Macaulay as entering into the formation of the ideal historian were realized in his mentality, in addition to his rare spiritual insight. Such is the historian that we lost; such would have been the history which was never written.[11]

It is far from probable that the last word has been spoken or the last volume written from the standpoint of Lee’s achievements in the sphere of war alone. In the fierce and penetrating scrutiny of modern methods every advance is a contribution to the fame of Lee. A library devoted to the elucidation of his genius and the analysis of his campaigns has sprung to life within our own memory. Military oracles from over the seas have explored the fields crowned by his deeds. Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Bull Run, Cold Harbor, are as familiar in the mouth of the student of war in England or in Germany as Blenheim to the contemporaries of Marlborough, or Waterloo to our grandparents who recalled the final eclipse of the first Napoleon.

No more appreciative and discriminating estimate of Lee has been given to the world than the latest publication, the work of an English officer, Battine, in his “Crisis of The Confederacy.” In strange and honorable contrast to the austere and impassible temperament imputed by Grant to Lee, the only infirmity in the character of our hero, as it revealed itself to the scrutiny of the Englishman, was his excessive gentleness, his far-reaching sympathy, his pervasive tenderness. This all-embracing development of the kindlier virtues exhibited in the nature of Lee is, from the viewpoint of Battine, an opposing element, a trait antagonistic to his assured success as an executive or administrator, as it tended to interfere with the rigor and severity at times requisite in the control and direction of armies. That the finer and gentler elements were displayed in Lee’s character to an extent without parallel in the series of great commanders is true. That the possession of these ethereal traits proved, on the part of Lee, a force obstructive or subversive of discipline is gainsaid by the incomparable record of the army that he led. No host in the story of war, was in so marked a degree the creation of moral influence. No other commander the world has seen would have attained the same results that Lee achieved with the men that followed his standard—not Wellington, Grant, Moltke, not Washington himself. Troops and chief were correlated in a harmony such as never existed between leader and led. The element of personal faith never played so dominant a part. Every man, the rustic, the gentleman, the mountaineer, the laborer, the scholar, the favorites of the social circle, all trusted in Lee as the very god of war. This prevailing faith in the wisdom, as well as the genius of its chief, that marked our army from Richmond to Appomattox, was a moral power that in large measure superseded the agencies of discipline which prevails in armies constituted upon the models that obtain in European lands. The solidarity, the cohesive bond of Lee’s army centered in Lee himself.

Never has such a power been wielded by a single man. The historian, as he contemplates it, feels a strange blending of admiration and despair; it baffles the resources of speech. When in the painful evolution of the ages, the chronicler is brought face to face with the perfect, is it not the part of wisdom to gaze reverently and be silent regarding it?

Ask me, if you so please, to paint
   Storm winds upon the sea;
Tell me to weigh great Cheops—
   Set volcanic voices free;
But bid me not, my countrymen,
   To picture Robert Lee!

As Saul, bound for Damascus fair,
   Was struck blind by sudden light,
So my eyes are pained and dazzled
   By a radiance pure and white
Shot back by the burnished armor
   Of that glory-belted knight.

His was all the Norman’s polish
   And sobriety of grace;
All the Goth’s majestic figure;
   All the Roman’s noble face;
And he rode the grand exemplar
   Of a great historic race.

And so he passes before us, rising from glory to glory, the noblest exemplar and type of the heroic ideal vouchsafed to the world by the affluent wisdom and bounty of God. Such is Lee, the crowning achievement of Divine skill in the sphere of created man, the master work of the art of heaven. At last in our own Southern civilization we have the rhythmic grace of the Greek blending with the moral harmony of the Christian.

We now approach a question which logically grows out of our discussion, one which, viewed in the light of our dominant lines of political development since the close of the war, acquires an increasing interest, and comes home in the intensest sense to the “business and bosom” of every reflecting man who shared the fate of the Confederacy and sympathized with the cause of Lee. Let us imagine a result at variance with that which occurred, and assume as a mere hypothesis, a mere form of argument, that Lee had triumphed, and that the government of the Confederacy had passed from a provisional and precarious state of effort and struggle into a recognized political entity, having its own autonomy, and constituting one of the great circle of English speaking nationalities conserving the traditions and maintaining the ideals of our ancestral race. The subject is one which seems to be invested with an almost morbid interest for a school of Northern historians, who are prone to thrust its discussion into their narrative in relations and contexts that serve to illustrate only the gratuitous and irrelevant character of the question as presented by the writer. So eager are the typical advocates of the Northern school to intrude the topic and exult in the beneficent sequel to the civilized world which flowed from the conquest of the South, that their very anxiety and obtrusiveness excites a possible shade of doubt in the mind of the dispassionate as to the sincerity of their convictions and the genuineness of their faith in the accuracy of their own reasoning. It may be that the unique infamy of the reconstruction era caused the scales to fall from the eyes of some; in any event, the feverish eagerness to demonstrate to all Christendom the hopeless depravity of our political creed, and the unmitigated blessedness to the cause of humanity and civilization involved in our overthrow are in themselves sufficient to suggest a skeptical attitude in regard to their own assurance of infallible logic, to a mind not eclipsed by partisan passion or paralyzed by blind and ignoble hate. To our apprehension, contemplating the subject with calmness of judgment, the trend of our life since the close at Appomattox, at least four decades ago, has proved a marvelous demonstration of the rectitude of a cause, the political righteousness by which a nation was inspired, such as has been rarely exhibited in the history of the modern world. We commit ourselves to this broad and unqualified proposition with a full consciousness of its import, and with the determination to vindicate to the utmost its accuracy and its truth in the ample light of our political evolution since Lee surrendered.

To vindicate the cause of the South is not merely to vindicate the name and fame of all who followed its standards in the forefront of disaster and with the energy of despair. Such is an essential feature of my task, and imagination cannot conceive a nobler or more inspiring purpose. For me, however, as his biographer, the special and distinctive aim has reference to the vindication of our cause as logically involving a vindication of its foremost hero. The novelty of our method cannot fail to impress the intelligence and appeal to the judgment of every discerning reader. The issues that precede the outbreak of the civil war, tracing their origin to the creation of the government by the formal adoption of a constitution in 1787–89, have proved the theme of endless polemics, of acrid and relentless controversy since the dawn of our national life. The world has grown weary of this strife of tongues; we might ask as Casanbon did in regard to the theological controversies at the Sorbonne, when informed that they had extended over a term of three hundred years, “What have they settled?” Brute force never determines a moral or a logical issue, and the appeal to the sword, the arbitrament of war, leaves the imperishable truth as it found it, serene, august, invincible. We purpose to pass over all the abstractions in the constitutional sphere that were the theme of strife in the age that has vanished. Our reasoning, illustrations and proofs will be drawn from a living present, from contemporary issues, from life that is in motion, not from the dead. And by the application of this method of demonstration, followed to its logical result, we shall endeavor to vindicate the righteousness of our cause, as well as the fame and memory of him who was the very brightness of its glory.


It is an assumption which is widely current in our uncultured and unreflecting contemporary life, that the mere overthrow of the South by the application of material power is a vindication of our enemy, a justification of the cause of the Union. To state it conclusively, the sole criterion of right is one that is purely physical in its character. The argument derived from moral considerations is ignored in our philosophy. All is right, all is commendable that strength can achieve, or armed violence is able to accomplish. The South was overthrown by a surpassing material power, therefore, by the mode of generalizing in vogue, her contention was devoid of foundation in reason, in history, or in equity, her downfall a rational and logical outcome of the supreme ordeal of war. Such is the attitude of conquerors“a form of sophistry unworthy of savages, setting up the incarnate god of material force in the stead of that spiritual power which alone makes for righteousness. There is the strongest reason to believe that had the political independence of the Confederacy become an accomplished result, the States composing it would have developed into a nationality of the foremost rank, rivals of the Northern Confederation even in the sphere of material affluence and commercial expansion. The essential and abiding elements that constitute the true grandeur of republics have existed in the South from the dawn of our history, the genius for administration, the rare political instinct, the gift of statesmanship to an extent never surpassed. These sovereign forces are developed in the amplest measure and in richest versatility as we contemplate the origin and evolution of our Southern life. No people of the modern world is so thoroughly homogeneous in character, so inspired by a unity of aims, aspirations, ideals—social, intellectual, political; unmarred by war, untainted by disaster, unvanquished by defeat. The blood of the South has maintained its character, its historic purity abides unpolluted by the infusion of a foreign element or the assimilation of inferior and decadent types. It is the strangest of hallucinations to assume, as is characteristic of a class of writers and orators common in the North, and not unknown in the South, that had we achieved our independence and established our autonomy, our existence would have been precarious, our history marked by the factional feud, the anarchy and chaos that represent the normal condition of such debased and degenerate races as those that lie in the regions of Central and Southern America. That a people who, in all stages and conditions of development, in every crisis of our national life, have revealed a genius for administration, for the complex problems of political evolution, who have conserved in unmodified vigor the spirit and temper of their English ancestors, should have proved unequal to the task of maintaining their hardly achieved independence and have descended to the plane of a South American state, torn by faction and convulsed by anarchy, is a conclusion that no rational or reflecting mind can for a moment accept. Those who have avowed their belief in this marvelous delusion suggest the venal instinct which dominates their reason, or a titanic ignorance of our Southern history.

Had the Confederacy become an accomplished reality the new-born nation would have risen to the foremost rank among the English speaking communities of the world. The long-vexed question of slavery would have attained a natural and tranquil solution by gradual disappearance or extinction, such as marked the fate of serfdom and villenage in past ages. Its prolonged existence may be traced above all other influences to the cohesive power imparted to the institution by the ceaseless unrest and implacable energy of Northern fanaticism. Despite the record of affluent horror, of blood and of torture with which romance, fiction, and professional libel have invested the story of Southern slavery, we do not hesitate to affirm, that a richer harvest of crime, defilement and debasement, of remorseless cruelty and political debauchery, followed in the train of negro enfranchisement during the process of a single year, than marked the record of slavery during the two centuries of its historic life.

Let us pass now to consider the effect of Lee’s defeat and the overthrow of the South, not upon our land alone, but upon the country in its broadest and most comprehensive sense, geographical as well as political. Has not the entire tendency of our national development, since the fall of the Confederacy as a foregone result of Lee’s surrender, proved a signal vindication of the justice and righteousness of the issues involved in the cause of the South? This is the thesis which we purpose to consider. We shall bring our story to a close with an inquiry in regard to the possible position, achievement, and influence of our hero, upon the supposition that he had won the field, and that the Confederacy had assumed an abiding place among nations. First of all, it is a proposition which admits of no cavil, and defies disproval, that the conquest of the South has developed an absolute transformation in the essential principles of our government as its inevitable result. To vary the form of our statement, the conquest of the Confederacy and the effacement by military power of the constitutional issues on which it rested its cause, and in whose maintenance its existence was involved, has gone far beyond the aim of those who pursued its armies and crushed its resources until our banners were furled at Appomattox. The whirligig of time has already “brought in his revenges,” and the downfall of constitutional government in the South has had as its logical correlate the downfall of constitutional government in the North. The malady generated in the South as the outcome of the conflict has spread like a moral contagion, until the body politic of the North is thoroughly imbued with its spirit. Every distinctive and cardinal feature of our government as instituted and conserved by the masters of a former age—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Calhoun—has vanished since Lee surrendered the fragments of his hero band in the dawning spring of forty years ago. Not even the external forms, signs of true constitutionalism, survive; these decorous symbols which marked the life of a day that is dead have given place to spectacular display, the appeal to the uncultured fancy, the sensuous instinct, the pomp, pride, and circumstance of vulgar despotism; of tyranny in its incipient stage, that has not yet mastered the graces of courts, the ritual and ceremonialism by which art and pageantry temper and conceal the resistless broadening of autocratic and irresponsible executive power. We blind our eyes to the fact that we as a nation are passing into an imperialism more intense and pervading than that which Germany has developed since the unification of 1871; we hail our rising Caesar, and prostrate ourselves at his foot-stool with every fast coming breach of political continuity, with every encroachment upon sacred precedent. Adulation, homage, incense are the meat on which our Caesar feeds, and by whose nurture he grows. Remorseless centralization has penetrated every sphere of our American life since 1861. They of the North summoned the political Frankenstein into life to serve as a factor in the process of destroying the constitutional liberties of the South; and that accomplished by his aid, the new-born monster turns his hideous front upon his former allies—the creature has passed beyond the control of the creator. The greed of wealth, the quest of material power, the expansion of corporate interests in ever-multiplying forms, the growth of commercial instinct, have all combined as a vast and complex array to obscure the very consciousness of enlightened freedom, of ancient precedent, of individual liberty. Outrages flagrant and infamous in their character, striking at the heart of personal right as made sacred by constitutional guarantee, pass without comment, and are endured with scarcely a remonstrance by their victims. The mania of wealth has effaced from the typical American mind all love of enlightened freedom, all conception of rational liberty assured and made sacred by law. We cheerfully surrender the heritage of our fathers and abdicate all that they won for us, that we may consecrate our untrammeled energies upon stocks and securities, houses and lands, farms and merchandise. Perish freedom: let us lay up much goods for many years. Constitutions are antiquated and obsolete: money is omnipotent and eternal. Such is the dominant American philosophy, the inspiration of our national life, even if it be not consciously and unreservedly avowed.

Lee is overthrown, the South, ever the champion, as well as the conservator of constitutional freedom, is prostrate: the North is in due time and by logical consequence involved in her fate; the blight which fell upon the land at Appomattox is diffused like an epidemic, until the entire American republic is ripe for the imperial theme which now confronts it. Surely, in the retrospect of the past, and in the light of the present, no champion of the South can fail to reflect, though it be more in sorrow than in anger, that the ingredients of our enemy’s poisoned chalice are at last commended by even-handed justice to his own lips.

With Lee fell the American republic: with the overthrow of self-government in the South, the death of constitutional freedom was in due time assured. The form survived, the spirit fled. Appomattox was the happy prologue to the swelling act of our imperial theme. Already the field is white unto the harvest. The ripe fruits of a triumph over law, precedent, and sacred covenant are beginning to be plucked by the hands of the victor. Our Confederate Sampson was stricken by his enemies, but by a surpassing irony of fate they are enveloped in his doom and their political habitation is left unto them desolate. Verily, they who pursued the South unto her death “have sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

We turn again to the story of Lee as intimately and indissolubly linked with the fortunes of our people during the five years vouchsafed to him subsequent to the close of the civil war. We shall then consider as the final stage of our somewhat varied narrative, the possibilities that might have burst out into sudden blaze had the aspirations of the South passed from hope to accomplished result. In other words, what would have been Lee’s record had the Confederacy achieved its independence and acquired an assured place among the nations of the earth? That he would have retained his prominence as the foremost figure of the rising state admits of no doubt. Unforeseen conditions, novel problems, the process of adjustment on the part of the newborn nation might have developed in his genius and character—possibilities of achievement not even suspected, undreamed of gifts and faculties, civic and administrative, such as war does not foster nor the vocation of the soldier summon into aggressive activity. For Lee was potentially great in other fields than war; a mind so marked in all its phases by symmetry and equilibrium, had in reserve the forces that make for success in every sphere. His self-control is scarcely paralleled in the records of supreme masters of the art of strategy: in adversity or in triumph, at Fredericksburg or at Gettysburg, he was lord of himself. At Appomattox he wore more the air of a conquering hero at the climax of some masterful achievement, than that of a vanquished leader to whose fortunes there adhered only the starving fragments of a fading host.

That Lee might have proved himself an element of exceeding strength as a political leader may be assured. The supposition is not abritrary, but in perfect accord with his ancestral record. Statesmanship was in the blood of the Lees. There were Richard Henry, Francis Lightfoot, Arthur, and above all, “Light Horse Harry.” Oratory, the gift of administration, the political faculty were inherent in the race; in some, dormant and undeveloped, as the conditions which call for their exercise did not arise save in rare and isolated instances. Henry Lee was Governor of Virginia, and Robert Edward Lee is said to have declared that the only function of a political character to which he aspired was that which his father had honored. Dignities and distinctions far transcending this in rank and in importance would have been accorded him by the grateful nation whose autonomy he had achieved, whose freedom he had won. It would be an easy task to suggest a parallel between the political career of Lee as contemplated by the imagination and that of him who was the victor at Appomattox, as presented in the serene and passionless light of history. As a political administrator it is the part of charity to characterize Grant as an almost untempered failure. So of the victor of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, whose political career was an unceasing struggle against every rational advance in the sphere of civic right or religious freedom. Each clouded his soldierly renown by an unrelieved display of administrative incompetency; and one, overwhelmed by financial disaster, dedicated his failing energies to the task of minimizing the greatness and depreciating the character of his antagonist. Such was not Robert Lee; no word of disparagement in regard to Grant ever fell from his lips. When he introduces his name it is in terms of courtesy and respect. With Grant there is the almost unvarying implication of a sneer, and nothing seems more keenly to arouse his animosity than the fact, admitted by himself, that the press and the discriminating sentiment of the North cherished for Lee’s
capacity as a general the highest appreciation and regard. This appears to have attained almost the height of the sin that hath not forgiveness.

Were I asked to indicate among all the brilliant and multiform phases that make part of the life of Lee which appeals most powerfully to my own sensibilities and arouses my admiration, love, affection, to the highest climax, I should designate the five closing years at Lexington, without hesitation or reserve. “Those five years,” like the final lustrum in the life of Arthur Hallam, were the “richest yield” in the complex career of Robert Edward Lee. In the limited time that he was spared to us after the cessation of actual war, Lee was a center of moral and political gravity for the entire South. Mr. Davis was a captive; Lee was our sole available hope. The land in its season of agony and despair, turned to him as to a city of refuge. Many who had followed his fortunes, in the day of their calamity, contemplated a resort to lands far South of our own—Mexico and South America. Some sought sanctuary in European capitals, others in remote climes in the distant orient. When Lee was asked what were his intentions in regard to abandoning the South and seeking a home in some distant country, he replied, “I think the South requires the aid of her sons now more than at any period of her history. As you ask my purpose, I will state that I have no thought of abandoning her unless compelled to do so.” These words, which should be wrought in characters of gold, were the note of reviving hope to thousands during the era of conclusion and anarchy that followed the war; their influence in preparing the way for the rescue of our land from the grasp of the spoiler can never be reckoned. For Lee, to adopt the language of his own father in regard to Washington, was “first in war,” and preeminently “first in peace.” That he grows in the affection of his countrymen of the South with the flight of the years is borne out by daily contact and observation in the heart of our social circles, and in the expansion of our intellectual and material life. The name of Lee is a wand to conjure with in every phase and sphere of our complex modern development. The kings of the commercial realm hail him as the power that asserted the supremacy of law, order, and tranquillity during the days of impending anarchy and disintegration. An allusion to his name, the suggestion of his memory, elicits an outburst of applause in every Southern school from Maryland to the far-off States that border the Gulf of Mexico. Eulogy and panegyric have exhausted the resources of speech in tributes to his genius and in delineating the graces of his character. Even his enemies concede to him a measure of regard such as has never been bestowed upon any son of the South, approaching very closely, in some notable illustrations, the boundary of reverence and affection. His name was placed upon the roll in the American Temple of Fame, along with his antagonist, Grant; scarcely a protest was heard. The faint and feeble note of opposition was lost in the far-reaching chorus of concurrence and approval.


The Farewell Address of Lee to his army should be preserved in every Southern home, treasured in every Southern heart, and diligently learned in every Southern school. In text-books designed for use in the South, a place of special distinction is sometimes accorded to Lincoln’s Address at Gettysburg, November, 1863. It would be relevant to inquire how many pupils in the schools of the South have read Lee’s address to his troops, April 10, 1865, or have access to books in which is recorded his last official utterance to the Army of Northern Virginia. It is a characteristic document, containing about 195 words, and is marked by that manliness, simplicity, and trust in the divine guidance which are reflected in the personal letters, as well as the official orders of Lee to his army. In addition, it is a model of pure English, free from ostentation, clear, vigorous, and capable only of a single meaning. We insert it in full.

April 10th, 1865.

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection. With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. LEE,

At the time of his surrender Lee was fifty-eight years of age. As a brilliant refutation of a much-vexed contemporary theory in regard to the decline or decadence of mental power after the age of forty has been attained, it is wise to bear in mind the history of our hero. Lee was approaching sixty at the time that he assumed the presidency of Washington College. As he entered upon the duties and complex cares of his novel sphere, in circumstances the most trying to faith and courage that the imagination can conceive, his intellectual vigor, instead of succumbing to adverse environments and unforeseen conditions, seemed to develop new energies and to reveal faculties whose existence was unsuspected. It has already been intimated that his five closing years were the especial crown of glory that marks with its brilliance a life whose climax was the most appealing and impressive of all its multiform phases.

Then came the end, my countrymen,
   The last thunderbolts were hurled.
Worn out by his own victories
   His battle-flags were furled
And a history was finished
   That has changed the modern world.

As some saint in the arena
   Of a bloody Roman game,
As the prize of his endeavor,
   Puts on an immortal frame,
Through long agonies our Soldier
   Won the crown of martial fame.

But there came a greater glory
   To that man supremely great
(When his just sword he laid aside
   In peace to serve his State),
For in his classic solitude
   He rose and mastered fate.

More than that, Lee’s final struggle from Petersburg to Appomattox takes rank not merely as one of the foremost achievements of his own genius, but is conceded an assured place among the most brilliant episodes in the records of modern warfare. Nine thousand starving men yielded the palm to 150,000 who had never known want, to whom gaunt hunger was a myth, whose material comfort rose to affluence, for the resources of the world lay at their disposal. Surely if glory lights with its luster the story of Appomattox, its halo rests not upon the heads of those who remained masters of the field. It was not the burden of years that crushed the great heart of our hero. Up to the time of his death his mental eye was not dimmed, his natural force not abated. The soul sank under the sufferings of his own people, the untempered agony of the vanquished South. So far as his gift of genius, his strategic mastery is involved, the Lee of Appomattox and of Lexington may be reckoned even greater than the Lee of Chancellorsville and Cold Harbor. It is the fiery furnace of adversity, heated seven times, which constitutes the final and irrevocable criterion of ideal greatness, and, estimated by this standard of determination, Lee is the sovereign hero of all the ages. Compare Napoleon at St. Helena with Lee at Lexington; the one eating out his heart in misanthropic repinings, in malevolence and morbid retrospection; the other, a prisoner on parole, dedicating his versatile powers and his boundless moral influence to the recovery of the South, to the restoration of her desolate places, and to the intellectual training and equipment of her sons.

Before the closing, we wish to vindicate our hero from a reflection that is cast upon his fame with a persistence of energy and a disregard of truth which has its origin in malice and its inspiration in ignorance. It is asserted by historians and partisans of the Northern school that Lee’s campaign of 1864 was simply a struggle against despair, the expiring agony of a foredoomed cause, and that from the disaster to our arms at Gettysburg, Lee was merely the center of a fading cause, the champion of a forlorn hope. Within days that are scarcely passed over, this delusion has found advocates in the press of the North and champions in its pulpits. Many grave ethical lessons have been drawn by Northern moralists from a condition that never existed, from a past that was never present. In this, as in so many signal instances that rise to memory, strong delusion has seized upon our enemies, that they should cling with invincible tenacity to a falsehood which is its own refutation. From the viewpoint of strategic skill and versatility of genius, Lee’s campaign of 1864, the Wilderness to Petersburg, is the most brilliant of his exploits, if not the most marvelous exhibition of resourcefulness in the face of consummate obstacles that marks the developments of modern war. His defense of Richmond and Petersburg concentrated the eyes of all Christendom, and elicited the spontaneous tributes of his enemies. “Lee’s defensive warfare,” says Fiske, the intense and unrelenting enemy of the South, “was among the most wonderful things in history, and imposed upon people’s imaginations, till they were almost ready to forget that even he could not hold out indefinitely without a Confederacy behind him.” Yet this record was attained in the face of conditions that would have paralyzed the energies and prostrated the moral force of all save that select and august company, that rare assemblage which embraces the roll of the world’s immortals in the sphere of war-like achievement. Jackson had passed into the heavens in May, 1863; Longstreet was put out of combat in the first shock of the
encounter at the Wilderness; Stuart met his fate a week later at Yellow Tavern; and Lee himself was the victim of a prolonged and painful malady. During a part of this campaign, while he was foiling the movements of Grant’s massive columns, Lee was unable to mount his horse, and was conveyed in an ambulance from point to point on the field as the exigencies of the occasion required his personal presence.

The conquerors themselves have admitted before the universe their hopeless inability to cope with his legions upon terms remotely approaching to equality in strength of numbers or affluence of resources. He who has stood rapt before the Lion of Lucerne, marvelous as a creation of art, as a commemoration of surpassing valor and devotion, has seen the allegory, the symbol, the unconscious prophecy of the Army of Northern Virginia. Within its lines as common soldiers or perhaps as officers of lowly degree, were men upon whom sat the fairest graces of nature and of culture, even if a seemingly envious fate had withheld from them the gifts of fortune. Is it unreasonable to hope that at some day not in the remote future there shall be added to the riches of the world’s literature an adequate, comprehensive, and truthful narrative of the army whose name and fate are linked with the memory of Lee, that they “may live with the eternity of his fame”?

No rational mind for a moment questions the surpassing soldierly greatness of Lee. Eulogy cannot add to its luster, detraction cannot impair it, even malice and envy have ceased to assail his preeminence.

We have striven to portray the man in those several endearing and exalted relations ordained of God, which reveal in its richest fulness, in its intensest significance, the inner life of the human spirit—in other words, Lee as a Husband, a Father, as a Gentleman, a Christian; Lee at his own fireside, at his family altar; in the house of prayer, as a vestryman of his church, laboring with almost his latest breath for the increase of his pastor’s salary; Lee hopeless in regard to the restoration of his own health, yet acquiescing in a proposed journey to the South that he might be enabled to visit the grave of his daughter; Lee writing reverently and affectionately to the teacher of his youth; Lee drawing the children to his arms; Lee watching with tender and unfailing care his invalid wife, the Mary Custis of his dawning manhood, commemorating their wedding-day amid the carnage that marked the long-drawn siege of Petersburg; Lee avowing his purpose never to abandon the South in the hour of her calamity, unless driven into exile; Lee refusing emoluments, dignities, the allurements of corporate wealth, that he might dedicate his powers to repairing the waste places. Such is the character that we have endeavored to portray.

No one of the heroes of the modern world appeals so powerfully to the shaping spirit of the poet, as well as the creative impulse of the artist. His physical conformation is in itself a theme for those who have wrought dreams in stone or in marble. All the ideals are concretely illustrated in the manly beauty that revealed itself in a form upon which every “god had seemed to set his seal.” The rhythmic charm, the symmetry, the harmony in detail are there. I have sometimes endeavored to portray to my consciousness the rapture with which Michael Angelo would have looked upon the figure of our Confederate chief. A colleague who was in daily contact with Lee declared that he had never known him to assume an awkward position. And upon this miracle of bodily development there had been poured a double portion of the divine spirit. The earthly tabernacle was like unto that of Lancelot, but the soul was that of Arthur. As we recede from times of which we form a part, the life, character, and achievements of Lee will be invested with novel charm, and acquire a richer luster. The dramatist, the moulder of the epic, the re-creative imagination of the historian, the idealizing touch of the monarch of fiction will present the story in its multiform phases, and a literature affluent in its richness and fadeless in its fascination will associate its art and its potency with the memory of our hero. Portraitures, such as masters of historic narration have added to the splendor of a world literature, and delineations such as will assume rank with the creations of Tacitus and Clarendon will be drawn of Lee. Some Thackeray will be inspired by his story, and invest with ideal touches the visit of the dying father to the grave of his daughter. There will come a day when a Lee anthology will hold rank among the rarest creations of the poetic spirit in our English speech.


Among all the creations through whose agency the spirit of art has endeavored to embody its conception of the person and character of Lee, none, in the judgment of the writer, approaches in felicity of design, as well as grace of execution, the recumbent statue by Valentine in the chapel of Washington and Lee University. The consecration and the artist’s dream are wrought into the marble which leaped to life at the touch of our Southern sculptor. I have looked on recumbent statues such as appeal to the traveler or student in those ancient lands whose heritage is the art of the ages—many of them the works of masters whose fame has circled the globe,—yet the fascination of our native hand has not abated and the glory of his dream in marble has not faded in the broader light of an ampler day. As I contemplate with a sense of rapture this revelation through his subtle touch of the inner soul and the outward form of our peerless chief, there flashes to memory those words, long since classic, of our “bright but uneffectual angel” of poetry,

He lives, he wakes,—’tis Death is dead, not he.

The greatest of moral forces is the concrete truth, the truth embodied in a living record, and illumined with that loveliness of perfect deeds which in ethical inspiration and didactic motive is stronger and richer unto good than all the fantasies of poetic thought. As the final result of our analysis, which has embraced every one of the higher and nobler relations through whose agency the human spirit asserts its power, or displays its frailty, we see unfolded in the life of Robert Edward Lee, not only the consummate flower of our American civilization, but the purest revelation of chivalric temper, knightly grace, and heroic ideal that has been vouchsafed to the world. To us of the South, Arthur is no more a dream wrought by romantic fervor, a longing for a glory that eludes the grasp and vanishes into light. Its halo has become a historical reality, faith passing into sight, and type into antitype, in the genius and character of Lee.

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