The Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee, For Children, In Easy Words
By Mary L. Williamson


A People’s Hero.

AFTER the death of General Lee, many speeches were made in his praise, and many letters were written telling of the sorrow of his friends. These letters came not only from the South, but from the North, and other lands.

The New York Sun thus closes its notice:

“His death will awaken great grief through the South, and many people in the North will drop a tear of sorrow on his bier. * * * In General Lee, an able soldier, a sincere Christian, and an honest man has been taken from earth.”

The New York Herald said these kind words of him:

“In a quiet autumn morning, in the land he loved so well, and, as he held, he had served so faithfully, the spirit of Robert E. Lee left the clay which it had so much ennobled, and traveled out of this world into the great and unknown land. * * *

“Not to the Southern people alone shall be limited the tribute of a tear over the dead Virginian. Here in the North, forgetting that the time was when the sword of Robert E. Lee was drawn against us, we have long since ceased to look upon him as the Confederate leader, but have claimed him as one of ourselves; for Robert Edward Lee was an American, and the great nation which gave him birth would to-day be unworthy of such a son if she looked upon him lightly.”


The Pall Mall Gazette, London, England, said:

“The news from America, that General Robert E. Lee is dead, will be received with great sorrow by many in this country, as well as by his fellow-soldiers in America.

“It is but a few years since Robert E. Lee ranked among the great men of his time. He was the able soldier of the Southern Confederacy, the leader who twice threatened, by the capture of Washington, to turn the tide of success and cause a revolution which would have changed the destiny of the United States.”

The London Standard gave this tribute to Lee:

“A country which has given birth to men like him, and those who followed him, may look the chivalry of Europe in the face without shame; for the lands of Sidney and of Bayard never brought forth a nobler soldier, gentleman and Christian, than Robert E. Lee.”

He was called “the great captain of his age”—“the great general of the South”—“a good knight, noble of heart and strong of purpose, and both a soldier and a gentleman.”

These beautiful words were said of him in a speech soon after his death:

“General Lee’s fame is not bounded by the limits of the South, nor by the continent. I rejoice that the South gave him birth. I rejoice that the South will hold his ashes. But his fame belongs to the human race. Washington, too, was born in the South and sleeps in the South, but his fame belongs to mankind. We place the name of Lee by that of Washington. They both belong to the world.

“There is one thing more I wish to say before I take my seat. General Lee’s fame ought to rest on its true foundation. He did not draw his sword in the cause of slavery—he did not seek to overthrow the Government of the United States. He drew it in the defense of constitutional liberty. That cause is not dead, but will live forever.”

General W. Preston spoke of him thus:

“I knew him first when he was a captain. * * At that time, General Scott had decided upon General Lee as a man who would make his mark if he were ever called upon to do great work. He never drank, he never swore an oath, but there was never a dispute among gentlemen in which his voice was not more potent than any other; his rare calmness and dignity were above all. When the war came on, he followed his native State, Virginia. * * Scott maintained that Lee was the greatest soldier in the army. * *

“I remember when Scott made use of these words: ‘I tell you one thing, if I were on my death-bed, and knew that a battle was to be fought for my country, and the President were to say to me, “Scott, who shall command?” I tell you that, with my dying breath, I would say Robert Lee. Nobody but Robert Lee! Robert Lee, and nobody but Lee!’ ”

These extracts would not be complete without this one, bearing upon his life as a teacher:

“And it is an honor for all the colleges of the South, and for all our schools, that this pure and bright name is joined by the will of him that bore it with the cause of education. We believe that, so long as the name of Lee is cherished by Southern teachers, they will grow stronger in their work. They will be encouraged to greater efforts when they remember that Lee was one of their number, and that his great heart, that had so bravely borne the fortunes of an empire, bore also, amid its latest aspirations, the interests and hopes of the teacher.”

A great public honor was paid to our hero when the bronze statue by Mercié (Mersea) was unveiled in Richmond.

Shortly after the death of General Lee, a few ladies met in a parlor in Richmond and formed a society known as the Ladies’ Lee Monument Association. Their plan was to erect a monument in Richmond to the memory of the great chief, and to collect funds for this purpose from the entire South. They began at once their labor of love. Though the South was at that time very poor, the people gave gladly of their small means until the Ladies’ Association had collected over fifteen thousand dollars.

Almost at the same time, another “Lee Monument Association” was formed of the old soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, which had General Jubal A. Early for its president. The ladies of the Hollywood Memorial Association were asked to help, and they proved great workers in the cause.

I cannot tell you the many ways in which these and other societies worked to raise the money, but at last there was enough in the treasury to erect the statue.

In the meantime, General Fitzhugh Lee was made Governor of Virginia, and he at once began to take measures to bring about the erection of the monument. By his efforts a “Board of Managers” was appointed, whose work was to choose the design, the artist, and the site for the monument. The Allen lot, in the western part of the city, was at last chosen for the site, and was accepted as the gift of Mr. Otway Allen, June 18th, 1887. It was then the duty of the Board to find a sculptor worthy to execute this great work.

After many trials, the Board selected Monsieur Mercié, a Frenchman, who was both a painter and a sculptor of note. In the summer of 1887, the best photographs of General Lee, as well as one of his shoes and his uniform, were sent to the sculptor. A small spur, such as General Lee wore, was taken over to France by Miss Randolph, who was one of the Board of Managers. Monsieur Mercié old her that when General Lee’s shoe was sent to him, there was no one in his household, except his twelve-year-old boy, with a foot small enough to wear it.

In working out the likeness to General Lee, Monsieur Mercié had the good fortune to have Miss Mary Lee, who was then in Paris, as a critic of his work.

On the 27th of October, 1887, the cornerstone was laid with splendid rites, and on the 3rd of May, 1890, the statue reached Richmond by way of New York. It was packed in three boxes. On the 7th of May, each box was placed in a separate wagon, from which waved the flags of Virginia and the Confederacy. Then, one wagon was drawn by men of the city, one by old soldiers, and one by women and girls—the fine lady and her humble sister standing shoulder to shoulder. They went through the city, pulling the ropes amid the cheers of twenty thousand people, until they came to the spot where the statue was to stand. Such was their love for Lee! The monument in all is about sixty-one feet in height, and cost sixty-five thousand dollars. It shows the General mounted upon his war-horse, Traveler. His feet touch the stirrups lightly, after the manner of the Southern horsemen. He is clad in a plain uniform. A sash girds his waist, and the sword of a cavalry officer hangs from his side. He holds the bridle reins in his left hand, while in his right is his hat, which he grasps as if he had just taken it off to ac knowledge the cheers of his men, through whose ranks we may suppose him to be passing.

The day decided upon for unveiling the statue was Friday, May 29th, 1890.

From North, South, East and West, people thronged to do honor to the great chief.

All the city was then thinking of one man—Lee, just as, twenty-five years before, all their hopes had turned to him.

On that day, the sun rose bright and the people with it. Soon, the noise of tramping feet and the tap of the drum were heard, and ere long the glitter of bayonets, the flashing of sabers and the waving of flags told that the line was forming. The streets were crowded, and rang with cheers as some noted soldier rode by or an old Confederate flag was waved.

At noon, the long line was formed on Broad street, and the parade began. Every window, doorway, and even the house-tops along the line of march, were filled with people eager to see the great parade, which stretched through the streets four miles in moving mass.

General Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of the hero who had been one of his most daring cavalry generals during the war, and who had formerly been Governor of Virginia, was chief marshal of the parade. Cheer after cheer arose as he rode by, wearing the slouch hat of a cavalryman. “Our Fitz,” as his men loved to call him, “was himself again.”

The guests rode in open carriages, and among them were Misses Mary and Mildred Lee; and General W. H. Fitzhugh Lee, wife and sons. They were followed by band after band of volunteer troops from all the Southern States, in the following order: South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Maryland, District of Columbia, Alabama, West Virginia and Virginia. Behind these marched the veterans—men who had fought in the Civil War, and who came from all parts of the South. Brave men were there from Texas, the far-off “Lone Star State.” With the veteran troops from Louisiana was “the old war-horse” Longstreet, who had led the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia; and at the head of the Georgia men was the tried and true Gordon. Gallant sons of Florida, Mississippi and Alabama were in line with the brave men of North and South Carolina. Veterans from Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia were also there to honor the memory of their leader.

Whenever and wherever these veterans were seen, they were greeted with hearty cheers. Some were clad in their old gray uniforms, faded and worn, and in many cases, full of bullet-holes. Here and there along the line could be seen the old and tattered flags of the Confederacy.

After the veterans, came the civic orders in Richmond, the students of Washington and Lee University, and the corps of cadets from the historic Virginia Military Institute.

The cross-bars and battle-flags of the Confederacy floated in the breeze by the side of the “Stars and Stripes,” which meant that the people of the United States were one nation.

As the line moved along the streets decked with floating flags and gay bunting, the sound of the many feet was lost in loud and hearty cheers that arose from doors, house-tops and crowded sidewalks.

At last, the throng at the grandstand heard the roll of the drum and the nearing din of the parade, and soon the bright line swept into view. The crowd was so dense that persons on the grandstand could not be seen by those on the ground. Ringing cheers arose, not once, but time and time again, as the great men took their places on the stand, and it was as late as 3:45 o’clock P.M. when Governor McKinney stepped forward to make the opening speech.

Then there was prayer by Rev. Dr. Minnigerode, who was rector of St. Paul’s church during the war, at which church General Lee worshiped when in Richmond.

When the prayer ended, the band played Dixie, the war-song of the South, with whose strains the old soldiers had so often been thrilled as they marched into battle. Then there was a great noise which at last wore itself away, and General Early rose and spoke a few words of cheer to the old soldiers.

The orator of the day was Colonel Archer Anderson, who pictured scene after scene in the life of General Lee with great force and clearness. Again the grand hero seemed to live and act in their midst—to lead them on to victory or to teach them how to bear defeat.

When the speaker took his seat, amid cheers, General Joseph E. Johnston arose and with two old soldiers marched to the base of the monument. Each of the soldiers carried a battle flag, tattered and torn by shot and shell. When the monument was reached, General Johnston pulled the rope, and one part of the veil fell off. Another pull brought off the rest of the veil, and the splendid statue was in plain view of the eager multitude. A score of old soldiers mounted its base and waved their old Confederate flags in loyal, eager love for their dead chief. Mighty cheers broke from the watching throng, like the wild breaking of a storm, but at last they died away.

Up there, against the blue sky, kissed by the rays of the setting sun, in the midst of his own people, was the matchless face and form of Lee.

Some wept, others shouted, but all thanked God that he had given to America such a son as Lee.

Seldom had men looked on such a scene before. At last the crowd went slowly away, leaving their hero in bronze to keep silent watch over the city he loved so well. Beneath him were the homes of his friends, and beyond, in “Hollywood” and “Oakwood,” Richmond’s “cities of the dead,” were the graves of his fallen heroes, and far away, across and a-down the James, were his battlefields.

As time rolls on, statue and city will pass away. But the name and virtues of Robert E. Lee will never die, for they are written in the history of his country and in the Book of Life, and will live beyond the shores of Time.

Monsieur (mōsyur´), a French word for Mr.
Sincēré´, honest.
Acknowledge (aknŏl´eg), to own a gift or favor.
Pōt´ent, strong, having power.
Sĭd´ney, an English patriot.
Bayard (bä´yär´), a French hero.
Pā´triot, one who loves his country.

Tell about—

A great honor paid to Lee.
The laying of the corner-stone.
The monument.
The parade.
The unveiling.
The undying fame of Lee.


Return to The Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee, For Children, In Easy Words