THE STIRRING STORY OF
ROBERT E. LEE,
General of the Confederate Armies.
Note: The following is taken from True Stories of Great Americans for Young Americans Telling in Simple Language Suited to Boys and Girls, the Inspiring Stories of the Lives of George Washington . . . Robert E. Lee . . . Thos. A. Edison, by The Famous Writer for Young Americans (W. E. Scull) and Thomas Sheppard Meek (Philadelphia, Chicago, Toronto, 1897; pp. 74–89).
THIS is to tell you the story of Robert E. Lee. Every boy and girl in America knows who he was—a great American soldier.
But he was more than a great soldier, he was a hero, and this is a hero story. Is there any boy or girl who does not like to hear about a hero? You know what a hero is, do you not? It is one who does great deeds in a grand way.
Ever since the world began there have been heroes. Some have been soldiers, some have been kings, some have been just plain, poor men or boys. But the world has liked to hear their stories—from David, the boy who killed Goliath the giant, to George Washington, who delivered his land from tyranny.
In this dear America, which is our native land, we have had many heroes. They have defended us in danger, fought for us in war, cared for us in peace, and every boy and girl in America is told the story of their lives and taught to love and respect and honor them.
ON THE EVE OF GETTYSBURG.—GENERAL LEE DIRECTING THE BATTLE.
It is the story of one of these brave and heroic men that I wish now to tell you—the story of when Robert was a little boy and had to be away from home a great deal hunting for good health; so Robert's mother brought her boy up.
YOUNG LEE RIDING IN FRONT OF “STAFFORD,” VIRGINIA. THE MANSION OF “LIGHT-HORSE” HARRY LEE.
She brought him up well and made a man of him, because she made him true and manly from the start. He was never what boys call a “sissy” just because he was mild and good, but he was a manly, brave, true-hearted little fellow, kind to all about him, always in love with his mother, always obeying her, attentive to his studies, doing his duty in every way as a real boy should.
When Robert was four years old his father moved from his country home at Stafford to the little city of Alexandria, quite near to Washington, the capital of the nation.
There Robert went to school in a queer, old-fashioned, yellow house that is still standing in Alexandria, and is still used for a boy's school. Its right name was Hallowell's School, from the master who kept it; but the boys who went there called it, because of its yellow walls, “Brimstone Castle.”
When Robert was eleven years old his father, the famous “Light-horse” Harry Lee of the American Revolution, died in Georgia, where he had gone for his health. The fatherless boy clung closer to his mother than ever, and determined to do everything he could to help her; but he had such a great respect for his father's memory, and felt so much pride in the deeds his famous father had done in the cause of liberty and his native land, that when the time came for him to decide what he would do when he became a man, he declared he would be a soldier just as his father had been.
So he went to West Point, the famous Military Academy on the banks of the Hudson River, where the United States trains boys to lead its armies and fight its battles.
Robert E. Lee stayed four years at West Point. He entered there as a “pleb,” or new boy, in 1825, when he was eighteen years old, and leaving it, or “graduating” as it is called, as Lieutenant Lee in 1829.
He did finely at that famous school. He was what they called a model cadet—always spick and span in his gray and white soldier suit, always at the head in his studies, always ready in his duties, in his drill, and in all he had to do. He never received a demerit, or bad mark, in all the four years that he was a cadet at West Point. Think of that!
They said, there, that cadet Lee kept his gun so bright and clean that the inspecting officer could fairly see his face in its gleaming barrel and its polished stock.
He was such a fine scholar at West Point that when he got through and graduated he stood second in his class—that is, next to head, you know.
This gave him a chance to choose just where he would like to be in the army when he came out of West Point.
He joined what is called the Engineer Corps, the pick of the whole army.
The Engineer Corps is made up of men who look after building the forts and defences of our harbors, set our river channels straight, and protect the land from the sea as well as from the enemy.
It is a fine position for a young officer, and generally gives him pleasant places to live in and agreeable things to do. Soldiers like it better than being sent off to lonely posts or to watching Indians, and it gives them a fine training in how to do things about forts and fighting.
“ALWAYS TO BE FOUND WHEHB THE FIGHTING WAS THE FIERCEST.”
Lieutenant Lee was stationed at different places along the Atlantic coast. He helped plan and build Fortress Monroe, on beautiful Hampton Roads, in Virginia; he was stationed in Washington in one of the offices of the big War Department; he helped lay out the boundary line between the States of Ohio and Michigan; he looked after the improvement of the harbor of St. Louis, and the changes that were made in the shifting channel of the mighty Mississippi River; he superintended the building of the forts in New York harbor, and, when he got back from a war, which I will soon tell you about, he was made Superintendent of the very place he had gone to school—the Military Academy at West Point; after that he had command of all the United States troops in Texas. He was Second Lieutenant in 1829, then First Lieutenant, then, in 1838, Captain in the regular army—so, you see, he kept going right on in the world, and was a great deal thought of in the army.
The United States did not have a very big army in those days, but whenever there was a war it grew quickly. In the year 1846 there came about a war between the United States and its next-door neighbor, the republic of Mexico.
Never mind what it was all about, you will learn that when you study the history of the United States. It was a cruel war, as all war is cruel; but it was a great chance for Americans who wished to be real soldiers to show what they were good for and what they could do.
They did well. They marched into Mexico, which is just the other side of Texas, you know, and they fought so bravely that in less than two years they had conquered Mexico and added to the United States all the land from Texas to California and the Pacific Ocean.
In this war Robert E. Lee made a splendid soldier. He was so brave and gallant, so ready and reliable, that he was always to be found where the fighting was fiercest. And yet he was so gentle and kind that he always struck at the point in the enemy's line where they could be beaten the quickest, so as to finish the fight with the smallest loss of men in killed and wounded.
There was one battle in Mexico in which the young engineer was almost the leader and conqueror. This was the time when he got the best of the Mexicans at a place called Cerro Gordo, high up in the mountains. The Mexican soldiers held the zig-zag road up the mountains. It ran between great cliffs and chasms, and had cannons all along so as to keep the Americans from coming up. But Captain Lee, the engineer, said:
CAPTAIN LEE AT CERRO GORDO.
“If we can't march against them, we must get behind them. I'll try.” He hunted all about for a good place, and at last saw a way by which a sort of a path could be cut through the mountains and come out behind the Mexicans. He did this so carefully, so swiftly and so silently that before the Mexicans knew what they were about he was right upon them.
Captain Lee led the way, and showed the men just what to do. They lowered the cannons by ropes down the steep cliff and hauled them up on the opposite hill-side; they cut, and climbed, and jumped, and dug until they got all the men, all the horses and all the cannons up behind the Mexican line. Then they turned their guns upon the enemy, and so surprised and terrified them that almost without a blow all that part of the Mexican Army surrendered to the American commander, General Scott.
This was one of Captain Lee's victories in Mexico. It was one of the kind he liked, because he had to think it out. It was the best kind of victory, too, for he won it without having to shoot down and kill very many men.
For his courage and his soldiership he was again and again promoted—Captain, Major, Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel. He was on the staff of the commander, Winfield Scott, the General of the American Army; and, after the Mexican war was over. General Scott declared that his success in Mexico was largely due “to the skill, valor and undaunted courage of Robert E. Lee.” That is a good deal to say about one man, is it not, and fine, too?
After the Mexican War was over and all the soldiers had come home again, Colonel Lee was made Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, as I have already told you.
For three years he was in charge there, directing the soldier boys in their studies and their drilling at that splendid military school on the banks of the Hudson. Then he was sent to join the army stationed in Texas. He was Colonel of a cavalry regiment, the same position that his famous father, “Light-horse Harry,” had held in the Army of the Republic. Later on he was placed in command of all the soldiers in what was called the Department of Texas.
While he was home on a long vacation at his beautiful home in Virginia called Arlington, just opposite Washington, the Civil War broke out.
You know what that was, of course—the dreadful and terrible trouble between two parts of our dear native land—the North and the South.
It could not be settled peaceably. Men thought so differently about things that one side would not give in to the other, and so they just had to fight it out.
It was a long and bitter war. Many good and brave men were killed on both sides, and there was sorrow and distress all over the land.
But when the war was over, the people of the United States became better friends than they had ever been before, and there will never be such a war again.
When the war broke out Colonel Robert E. Lee did not know just what to do. But he thought the matter over long and deeply, and then he said: “I cannot fight against my relatives, my children, my home. I have been a soldier of the United States, but I am a son of Virginia, and I must do as my State does.”
He resigned from the United States Army, giving up his position of Colonel, and was made Major-General of the forces of the State of Virginia.
When Virginia went out of the Union—that is, when her people said, “We will not belong to the United States any longer, we will join the Confederate States,” Colonel Lee said, “Then I must go with you.”
He was appointed military adviser to Jefferson Davis, the President of the newly-formed Confederate States—for so the States that went out of the Union called themselves.
A year later he was made Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, and for three years he led the brave Southern soldiers who fought for the Confederacy against the brave Northern soldiers who fought for the Union.
What a splendid leader of those gallant Southern soldiers General Lee was! He knew just where to have them march, just when to have them fight, just what to have them do.
Richmond, in Virginia, was the capital of the Confederate States, just as Washington is the capital of the United States. General Lee surrounded it with forts and defended it so skilfully that the Northern soldiers could not get into it, though they tried again and again, and whenever they tried to get through any of the approaches to the city, General Lee would march his soldiers against them and fight long and desperately.
Boys, when they play at any good game, like a boy to be their leader. You can do so much better if you have someone to follow, someone who shows you what to do.
It is just so with men—especially with soldiers—and General Lee was just such a leader.
His soldiers learned to love him and look up to him almost as you do to your own fat her. They called him “Marse Bob” and “Uncle Bobby” —not to his face, of course, but when they talked together about him. He was so kind, and patient, and gentle; he was always trying to help them, and cared for them so much that, they knew he was their friend, even when he made them march the longest, and even when he made them fight the hardest.
But a soldier has to fight, you know. That is why lie is a soldier, and, although General Lee was always calm, and quiet, and gentle in speech and manner, he was a great soldier and sometimes a tierce fighter.
One day, when there was a terrible battle raging, he saw his soldiers beaten back by the Union troops from a place he wished them to keep. “They must not lose it,” he said, and he waved his sword above his head and dashed to the front to lead his soldiers into the battle again. But his men knew that General Lee's life was precious; that if he were killed there would be no one to lead them to victory.
“No, no, General!” they cried; “Go back! Go back, Lee, to the rear! We'll take it!”
And when he dropped back, he saluted his soldiers for their love and care for him, and pointed at the Union line with his sword.
“Forward,” he said, and his men charging forward, thinking of their brave and gallant leader, won back the place from which they had been driven.
Once when his own son, who was also the commander of a large Confederate force of cavalry (as his father and grandfather had been, you know), was in danger of being surrounded by a great force of the enemy, his father, the General, cried out cheerfully, “Keep your men together, General, I'll get you out of this,” and he did.
“General,” a young officer shouted, dashing up to him, just as a great battle was to begin, “The Federals are advancing.” General Lee looked at him with a funny smile, enjoying the young officer's excitement. “Well,” he said, just as cool and calm as you please, I did hear firing, and I was just beginning to think it was time some of you lazy young fellows were coming to tell me what it was all about.”
And I suppose that made the young officer laugh right on the edge of that battle, and to get from his calm and cool General all the more courage to do his best.
So, you see, while he was brave and serious, he could see the funny side of things, too, and did all he could to make his soldiers bright as well as brave, hopeful when things went wrong, calm in the midst of danger. This is what makes a real soldier, you know.
The North had more men and more money than the South; they kept on fighting, too, for neither side was willing to give in. But the North for a long time could get no soldier who was as great a general as Lee.
On the third day of June, 1862, he was made General of the Army of Northern Virginia. That post he held through the war, under that name he led the Southern soldiers to battle and often to victory, while, by his wise way of directing his men, he kept the Northern troops away from Richmond for nearly three years.
He won the Battle of Malvern Hill, he won the Second Battle of Bull Run, he won the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Twice he marched his soldiers into the Northern lines, and at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, in 1863, he fought a terrible two-days' battle which called for all the strength and all the skill of General Meade, the Northern leader, to turn it into a victory for the Union.
Four generals of the Union led the armies against him in four great attempts to defeat and conquer him. But each time Lee was more than a match, and they fell back from Richmond, defeated.
At last, in the beginning of the year 1864, General U. S. Grant, who had been a successful leader of the Union soldiers in the West, was called to the East to take command of the armies of the United States. Then there came a change.
General Grant knew all about General Lee. They had both been in the Mexican War. He knew that to win he must do his very best. When someone asked him how long it would take him to get to Richmond, General Grant said, “Well, about four days, if General Lee is willing; if he isn't, well, it's going to take a good deal longer.”
And it did. General Lee did object; he objected with guns and swords and men, and the soldiers of the North and the soldiers of the South fought many terrible battles. The fighting grew fiercer and hotter. Grant would never give up, but kept pressing on. Bit by bit the Union soldiers drew about Richmond; bit by bit the Confederate soldiers gave way, as their money, their strength and their numbers began to fail. But they fought gallantly still. General Lee was watchful and determined. His eyes saw every weak spot in the Union line; he could spread out his brave but tired and hungry soldiers so as to make the best show, and his men loved him so well and followed him so willingly that he was able to keep up the fight longer than any other general could have done. Never before in all the world had so many men been brought face to face in battle, and dreadful battles they were, there in the swamps and woods and fields of Virginia, in the year 1864. It was because both sides were brave men, and because brave and great generals led them, that these battles were so fierce, for Grant was bound to win and Lee was bound not to let him.
“HE WAVED HIS SWORD ABOVE HIS HEAD AND DASHED TO THE FRONT.”
But when, at last, all hope of successfully defending Richmond was gone, when the brave chieftain had tried to break his way through the lines of Union soldiers, who now surrounded his army, and had failed, when he saw that to keep up the fight any longer was only a useless killing of men, a thing he always hated and tried to stop, then General Lee laid down his sword and surrendered himself and his army to his great foeman, General Grant, a man as gentle, as honorable and as kindly hearted as was he.
It was a sad day for General Lee, when he at last determined to give up the battle.
At first, when one of his soldiers saw how useless it would be to fight any longer, and told the General that he ought to surrender, the grand old soldier straightened himself up and said:
“Surrender? No, sir. I have too many good fighting men for that.”
But General Grant had more, and so, as I told you, General Lee saw this at last, and to stop the killing of any more brave men, he gave it up—that is, he surrendered.
It all came to an end at last at a place called Appomattox Court House, in Virginia. It was on the ninth day of April, 1865. The two Generals met between the lines at a farm-house near an apple orchard, and talked it all over. Both were glad to stop fighting; both were proud of the heroism of their own men, and proud, also, of the courage of the other side, for all were Americans.
General Grant said to General Lee, “If yon will only promise for yourself and your soldiers not to fight any more against the United States, that is all I ask.”
General Lee promised, and so the greatest civil war that ever was fought was ended in the kindest way just because both the leaders were great as well as good, and when they made a promise would keep it.
Then General Lee rode back to his army and told his men what he had done. “The war is over,” he said.
But when his soldiers heard it, although they were hungry and sick and tired out and weary with so much fighting, they crowded about their good General when he came back from arranging things with General Grant, and cried like children.
“General, take back that word,” cried one. “We'll die, but we won't surrender.”
General Lee looked on the brave men lovingly.
“No, no,” he said. “We have done all brave men can do. If I let another bravo man be killed I should be a murderer. Go home to your wives and children; whatever may be my fate, you will be safe. God bless you all. Good-by!”
And then he turned and went into his tent.
After President Lincoln was killed, there was some fear that the new President would do some harm to General Lee, because he had been the leader of the Confederate soldiers. But General Grant stood up boldly and said:
“You must not touch him. I gave him my solemn promise that he should not be touched, and you must not let me break my word.”
So the great and terrible Civil War in the United States came to an end. Peace was in the land, and as men looked back and thought it all over, the one man who stood out before all the world as the greatest soldier of the South in all that long and bloody war was Robert E. Lee, the General of its Army, the son of brave “Light-horse” Harry Lee.
When peace came and the soldiers had nothing to do in the way of war, General Lee went home a poor man. He had lost almost all he owned in those four dreadful years of war.
But the people of his own State loved and honored him so much that they made him the head of one of the best schools in Virginia—Washington College. And as soon as it was known that General Lee was to be the President of the College, young men flocked to it so that they might say they had General Lee for a teacher. He was as good a lesson himself as anything they could learn from books. Do you know how? He was so fine a man that they looked up to him and tried to be as good and true and noble as he was.
For five years he lived as President of Washington College. Then, on the twelfth day of October, 1870, he died, there among his students and his books, a noble old man of sixty-three.
He was a great soldier and a great man. He was such a good man, too. He loved little children dearly and always saluted every boy or girl who bowed or courtesied to him as he rode through the streets on his splendid big horse, “Traveler.”
Once he came upon some boys he knew who were quarreling. Indeed, they called each other names, and began to fight.
“Oh, General!” cried a little girl, running up to him, “please don't let them fight.”
The General took the boys by the shoulder.
“Come, boys, boys!” he said, gently. That isn't nice. There is some better way to settle your quarrels than with your fists.”
And how he did love little girls.
“Where is my little Miss Mildred?” he would ask when he got home from a ride or a walk, as the night was coming on. “She is my light-bearer. The house is never dark if she is in it.”
Was not that a sweet and pretty way to speak about his little daughter? Do you wonder that the children all loved him?
What made General Lee a great soldier was because he knew how to lead a smaller number of soldiers against a larger number and defeat the enemy by not letting them know what he was doing until he had done it.
This is what is called strategy. It was by this that General Washington won many battles in the Revolution, and in the same way General Lee was victorious over and over again in the Civil War.
But he won quite as much by his great, gentle heart as by his flashing sword. After the war was over people loved him dearly, and since his death they have loved him even more, because, as they look back and see how good and grand a man he was, they forget that he failed; they only remember how hard he tried and how well he did. All through the South he loved so well and which loved him so much, statues, to-day, are being built to keep alive the memory of his life.
To-day, North as well as South, all America honors him, and as the years go by the boys and girls, who, as they grow up, will hear his name and know his story, will think of him not as Lee the Confederate General, but as Robert E. Lee, the soldier, the gentleman, the American.