Discussion About the morality of R.E.Lee

Georgia

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Dear James, many thanks for the interesting material – I knew from the elephant in the room in the Lee family. But another thing you said makes me wish that this thread should be closed again as soon as possible.
I too think the whole thing is much to controversial and I really do not want to arouse hard feelings and words.
I also found some other threads which confer in a wider sense to my question - which in itself probably was somehow dumb as too much depends on the personal viewpoint.
And on a second thought I doubt that there really are facts or sources who are able to answer that question - as the question itself asks only about an interpretation of such facts.
Let’s close that thread.
Don’t question yourself for asking. It’s just a very highly debated situation. There are other threads here which are discussing similar concepts so there may be some overlap.
And, you will find that even if the sources are primary ones and were written by well thought of individuals in the forms of a letter or diary entry- some of the members will still put their fingers in their ears while covering their eyes so they don’t have to accept the information.
Preconceived notions run very deep here regardless of historic information which may be contrary.
But, please don’t be upset for asking your question. It’s the only way to learn more about someone or something. The moment you lose your curiosity and quit looking for answers is when you begin to accept what is being pushed upon you.
On the other R.E.Lee threads, I’ve found both positive and negative primary sources. No one who is upholding the negative character sources will go the extra mile to look into the character and situations of those who made the comments. As of now, the positive remarks are far outweighing the negative ones. And, until someone will confirm the situation and the recollection by the person making the negative claims- to me it’s just a piece of counter information waged against someone to bring their character in question. We’re all human and hindsight is always 20/20 so, sometimes, it’s not such a good idea to look too closely at those whom we hold in high regards unless we’re willing to learn the entire truth.
But, until those who are really standing behind this one negative situation which brings his actions into question and can answer those tough questions, I see it no differently than an article which was written to sell papers, much like the tabloids of today.
 
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Scott1967

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Do you have any of these to support your statements or or they "mere opinions" because the OP said he was "tired" of such opinions. I pretty sure you can fill your boots when it comes to primary sources with regards to Lees impeccable record as army commander.

I'm pretty sure you can fill your boots when it comes to primary sources of Lees conduct as an army commander

But it doesn't matter if anyone lists negative sources about Lee as army commander because they will be dismissed outright by the same people over and over again just like in the other thread where eyewitness accounts are deemed false or slandering to Lee's character.

The OP wants and unbiased opinion , He wont get it here imo.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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The OP wants and unbiased opinion , He wont get it here imo.
I think that was a pretty negative response. Since Lee didn’t write his biography and didn’t seem to have any intention to, and the Confederate Official Records are gone, the only surviving primary sources are going to be from the people around Lee and it seems like the OP has certainly had access to those.

The bit I put in about the marriage was from something I read but I can’t remember right now where I read it but it certainly isn’t hidden history. It goes along with what James N. Posted about the Lee’s moving to Alexandria to be closer to relatives to help them.

Even growing up Union, I have NEVER heard Lee trashed up here as being immoral - NEVER and I wasn’t taught all that much CW history in school, as the big focus up here is American Revolutionary history.

He was the man of his times but he was a standout for duty, faithfulness in marriage, consideration, etc. Was he going to ask a freed slave to have dinner with him, no and neither were 99% of any whites, North or South. I don’t know what and were you mean or want this moral thing to go. He was more kind to animals than most men of his time as evidenced by some of his known talks about coming across men beating horses. But that doesn’t mean he set up an army rescue animal society.

I’ve read the letters he wrote to his daughters very carefully. There were deep facets to the man. He was grieved his own sister never spoke to him again by staying in the Union and was angry at him. One daughter stayed behind the lines all through the war - was that planned or not, no one knows and that caused him pain but he never chastised her OR wrote it,that we know about (and that comes directly from the docents at Lee Chapel, and I had read about it).

If you are looking for immorality of an army commander I can point you to any number of Southern OR Northern commanders but I can’t say I see it in Lee.

What immorality in particular are you looking for?
 

Scott1967

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I think that was a pretty negative response. Since Lee didn’t write his biography and didn’t seem to have any intention to, and the Confederate Official Records are gone, the only surviving primary sources are going to be from the people around Lee and it seems like the OP has certainly had access to those.

The bit I put in about the marriage was from something I read but I can’t remember right now where I read it but it certainly isn’t hidden history. It goes along with what James N. Posted about the Lee’s moving to Alexandria to be closer to relatives to help them.

Even growing up Union, I have NEVER heard Lee trashed up here as being immoral - NEVER and I wasn’t taught all that much CW history in school, as the big focus up here is American Revolutionary history.

He was the man of his times but he was a standout for duty, faithfulness in marriage, consideration, etc. Was he going to ask a freed slave to have dinner with him, no and neither were 99% of any whites, North or South. I don’t know what and were you mean or want this moral thing to go. He was more kind to animals than most men of his time as evidenced by some of his known talks about coming across men beating horses. But that doesn’t mean he set up an army rescue animal society.

I’ve read the letters he wrote to his daughters very carefully. There were deep facets to the man. He was grieved his own sister never spoke to him again by staying in the Union and was angry at him. One daughter stayed behind the lines all through the war - was that planned or not, no one knows and that caused him pain but he never chastised her OR wrote it,that we know about (and that comes directly from the docents at Lee Chapel, and I had read about it).

If you are looking for immorality of an army commander I can point you to any number of Southern OR Northern commanders but I can’t say I see it in Lee.

What immorality in particular are you looking for?

I don't think Lee was Immoral as an army commander i have already stated that , The point i was making is even if a primary source appeared that painted Lee negatively it would be automatically be challenged by the same blinked people trying to tear it to shreds which of course is their right this is a forum with points and counter points but its the same people over and over again.

If someone like yourself had a bad word to say about Lee i would take it very seriously as your impartially is well known.

The fact remains we do like every Historian does we weigh up the evidence and make an opinion based on that and yes we might not agree with each other which is fine but more and more i keep seeing the same members no matter what the sources just blatantly disregarded them and then spew out the same old rhetoric on both sides of the fence.

If the OP is looking for sources that point to Lee in a negative manner while commanding an army he will be hard pressed to find any apart from the few i listed in an above post 13 and i suppose you could debate those to a point but to the best of my knowledge Lee was morally flawless in command of an army.
 

Bruce Vail

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Even a person of good moral character can have lapses.

I am thinking about the execution of ten ANV enlisted men in Sept. 1863. It was a time of growing desertion rates and perhaps justified fear that the the army would disintegrate. Lee enouraged more executions and looked the other way when an unjustified group of executions was carried out in his own army.

A close look at his attitude and practices in disciplining his own men may offer some insight into Lee's overall moral character.
 
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NH Civil War Gal

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I don't think Lee was Immoral as an army commander i have already stated that , The point i was making is even if a primary source appeared that painted Lee negatively it would be automatically be challenged by the same blinked people trying to tear it to shreds which of course is their right this is a forum with points and counter points but its the same people over and over again.

If someone like yourself had a bad word to say about Lee i would take it very seriously as your impartially is well known.

The fact remains we do like every Historian does we weigh up the evidence and make an opinion based on that and yes we might not agree with each other which is fine but more and more i keep seeing the same members no matter what the sources just blatantly disregarded them and then spew out the same old rhetoric on both sides of the fence.

If the OP is looking for sources that point to Lee in a negative manner while commanding an army he will be hard pressed to find any apart from the few i listed in an above post 13 and i suppose you could debate those to a point but to the best of my knowledge Lee was morally flawless in command of an army.
Sorry, sorry,I mistook what you had to say in post 22. Sometimes it’s hard to keep everything straight! Thank you for the compliment and correcting me!
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Even as a person of good moral character can have lapses.

I am thinking about the execution of ten ANV enlisted men in Sept. 1863. It was a time of growing desertion rates and perhaps justified fear that the the army would disintegrate. Lee enouraged more executions and looked the other way when an unjustified group of executions was carried out in his own army.

A close look at his attitude and practices in disciplining his own men may offer some insight into Lee's overall moral character.
I dislike execution for desertions during this time intensely because there seems to have been no standard. Bragg and Jackson come to mind as having been a little too quick and trigger happy with that. Even Southern women wrote about Bragg’s cruelty in that department.

So we would have to come up with an agreed upon standard for execution for desertions and then put each of these commanders in the grid and see how they turnout.
 

danny

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Dear James, many thanks for the interesting material – I knew from the elephant in the room in the Lee family. But another thing you said makes me wish that this thread should be closed again as soon as possible.
I too think the whole thing is much to controversial and I really do not want to arouse hard feelings and words.
I also found some other threads which confer in a wider sense to my question - which in itself probably was somehow dumb as too much depends on the personal viewpoint.
And on a second thought I doubt that there really are facts or sources who are able to answer that question - as the question itself asks only about an interpretation of such facts.
Let’s close that thread.
AMen

But that might not satisfy the slander hungry group trying to justify Sherman
 

James N.

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I haven't studied Lee in depth, but so far I gather that his morality was influenced by his Protestant religion, especially a kind of Calvinist tradition that sees humans as merely actors on a stage already scripted by the deity. So he might have been motivated to just do his best in the role that was handed to him, whether on a large or small scale, and to trust that his sincerity and piety would make him moral in the eyes of the deity...
I believe that sentiment would be more appropriate in Lee's ablest lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson, who was indeed a Calvinist Presbyterian; Lee himself, on the other hand, was a lifelong Episcopalian, as were other aristocratic Southern leaders like Jefferson Davis and Leonidas Polk, and had also included George Washington.
 

Bruce Vail

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I dislike execution for desertions during this time intensely because there seems to have been no standard. Bragg and Jackson come to mind as having been a little too quick and trigger happy with that. Even Southern women wrote about Bragg’s cruelty in that department.

So we would have to come up with an agreed upon standard for execution for desertions and then put each of these commanders in the grid and see how they turnout.

I'd say execution for desertion alone is unjustifiable, then or now. Lincoln and Davis agreed, at least implicitly, as shown by the large number of pardons they issued. And you are right, there was no uniformity at all in how these punishments were meted out. It seems almost random...
 

Scott1967

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I found this snippet of some negativity on Lee.

Quote:

“And General…”
“Sir?”
“Is it true a colored division was in the assault?”
“Yes, sir.”
Lee stepped closer to Mahone and in an uncharacteristic gesture put a fatherly hand on his soldier. “I want the full honor of war observed. Those who surrender are to be treated as proper prisoners, with respect, their wounded tended to, their officers shown the respect due their rank.”
Mahone looked at him, as if to reply.
“I know what our President has said, but in this army, sir, my orders on this day carry full weight. We are Christian soldiers, sir. Do you understand me? Passions must not rule, even in the heat of battle. If I hear of any atrocities, I will ensure that those involved shall face court-martial and the full penalty of military law.”
He drew Mahone a bit closer. “Do we understand each other, sir?”
There was only one answer Mahone could possibly give to such a man. “Yes, sir.”


Fiction. Absolute fiction. We know exactly how Robert E. Lee felt about the status of black U.S. POWs. Why? Well, because several months later Lee and Ulysses S. Grant exchanged letters on the treatment of captured United States soldiers of African-American descent.

USCT regiments participated in an attack on Forts Gilmer and Harrison southeast of Richmond in late September 1864. One black brigade attacked Fort Gregg, near Fort Gilmer. Several soldiers were captured by Confederates. Soon after the battle, at the beginning of October, Lee proposed an exchange of prisoners to Grant. The Union commander agreed to the exchange, provided it be limited to soldiers captured during the battles in late September. He was very specific as to why: noting that some of the Union POWs in Confederate hands were black, he said: “I would ask if you propose delivering these men the same as White soldiers.”

Lee tried to finesse the issue. Although he was willing “to include all captured soldiers of the U. S. of whatever nation [or] Colour” under my control,” he added that “negroes belonging to our citizens are not Considered Subjects of exchange & were not included in my proposition.” That was enough for Grant: as his government was “bound to secure to all persons received into her Armies the rights due to soldiers,” he declined any exchange that would not include all Union soldiers.

Several weeks later, Grant learned that Confederate forces were employing black U.S. POWs to build fortifications in areas that were within range of Union fire … in short, using those men as human shields. Grant immediately approved Benjamin F. Butler’s proposal to employ Confederate POWs in the same fashion, then confronted Lee with that information.

Lee backed down. He removed the black U.S. POWs from front line labor. He claimed that their use was simply a result of an administrative snafu; however, he added that Confederate law provided for the reenslavement of former slaves now in U.S. military service. They should be returned to their masters “like other recaptured private property.” Meanwhile, he planned to put more U.S. POWs in harm’s way by placing them in a pen at Dutch Gap, which was under Union artillery fire, should Grant not relent with his plans for retaliation.

Grant would have none of this. To him, it was the color of the uniform, not the color of the person in it, that was important. It was, he told Lee, “my duty to protect all persons received into the Army of the United States, regardless of color or nationality.” As Lee had removed the black U.S. POWs from harm’s way, he would do the same with the Confederate POWs under Butler’s control. However, should Lee or his subordinates misuse black U.S. POWs again, Grant promised to retaliate.

End Quote:

I have found some of letters corresponding to this event if anyone can find more and post them would much be appreciated.
 

James N.

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Quote:

... “I know what our President has said, but in this army, sir, my orders on this day carry full weight. We are Christian soldiers, sir. Do you understand me? Passions must not rule, even in the heat of battle. If I hear of any atrocities, I will ensure that those involved shall face court-martial and the full penalty of military law.”

Fiction. Absolute fiction. We know exactly how Robert E. Lee felt about the status of black U.S. POWs. Why? Well, because several months later Lee and Ulysses S. Grant exchanged letters on the treatment of captured United States soldiers of African-American descent.
I would observe that the subjects are really quite different, the quote concerning the ethical treatment of captives as not to be wantonly slaughtered nor otherwise mistreated, and the exchange with Grant as in regard to the legal status of former slaves.
 

Scott1967

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I would observe that the subjects are really quite different, the quote concerning the ethical treatment of captives as not to be wantonly slaughtered nor otherwise mistreated, and the exchange with Grant as in regard to the legal status of former slaves.

I think the author was trying to prove a point James as they both came from the same article if you read slightly below the initial quote concerning Mahone and Lee.
 

Quaama

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I'm pretty sure you can fill your boots when it comes to primary sources of Lees conduct as an army commander

But it doesn't matter if anyone lists negative sources about Lee as army commander because they will be dismissed outright by the same people over and over again just like in the other thread where eyewitness accounts are deemed false or slandering to Lee's character.

The OP wants and unbiased opinion , He wont get it here imo.

Oh I think we can find some good words about General Lee's character outside the Confederacy. Here's a few (includes two from post-war Presidents).
From General Sherman [link]
" ... General Wolseley describes his personal acquaintance in 1862 with that famous man, the great impression made by his graceful manner and profound intelligence, and concludes with the following paragraph: “When all the angry feelings roused by secession are buried with those which existed when the Declaration of Independence was written, when Americans can review the history of their last great rebellion with calm impartiality, I believe all will admit that General Lee towered far above all men on either side in that struggle. I believe he will be regarded, not only as the most prominent figure of the Confederacy, but as the great American of the nineteenth century, whose statue is well worthy to stand on an equal pedestal with that of Washington, and whose memory is equally worthy to be enshrined in the hearts of all his countrymen.”

As I happen to be one of the very few survivors of the great Civil War in America who had a personal and professional acquaintance with the chief actors in that grand drama, I am compelled to join issue with General Wolseley in his conclusion, while willing to admit nearly all his premises."

Arthur Freemantle's (Coldstream Guards) diary in relation to Lee's General Orders No. 72 [Diary link]
I returned to camp at 6 P. M, Major Moses did not get back till very late, much depressed at the ill-success of his mission. He had searched all day most indefatigably, and had endured much contumely from the Union ladies, who called him a "thievish little rebel scoundrel," and other opprobrious epithets. But this did not annoy him so much as the manner in which every thing he wanted had been sent away or hidden in private houses, which he was not allowed by General Lee's orders to search. He had only managed to secure a quantity of molasses, sugar, and whisky. Poor Moses was thoroughly exhausted; but he endured the chaff of his brother officers with much good humor, and they made him continually repeat the different names he had been called. He said that at first the women refused his Confederate "trash" with great scorn, but they ended in being very particular about the odd cents.

29th June, Monday.--We are still at Chambersburg. Lee has issued a remarkably good order on non-retaliation, which is generally well received; but I have heard of complaints from fire-eaters, who want vengeance for their wrongs; and when one considers the numbers of officers and soldiers with this army who have been totally ruined by the devastations of Northern troops, one cannot be much surprised at this feeling.
I went into Chambersburg again, and witnessed the singular good behavior of the troops towards the citizens. I heard the soldiers saying to one another, that they did not like being in a town in which they were very naturally detested. To any one who has seen as I have the ravages of the Northern troops in Southern towns, this forbearance seems most commendable and surprising. Yet these Pennsylvanian Dutch*
* This part of Pennsylvania is much peopled with the descendants of Germans, who speak an unintelligible language.
don't seem the least thankful, and really appear to be unaware that their own troops have been for two years treating Southern towns with ten times more harshness. They are the most unpatriotic people I ever saw, and openly state that they don't care which side wins, provided they are left alone. They abuse Lincoln tremendously.

President T Roosevelt [link]
General Lee has left us the memory, not merely of his extraordinary skill as a General, his dauntless courage and high leadership in campaign and battle, but also of that serene greatness of soul characteristic of those who most readily recognize the obligations of civic duty. Once the war was over he instantly undertook the task of healing and binding up the wounds of his countrymen, in the true spirit of those who feel malice toward none and charity toward all; in that spirit which from the throes of the Civil War brought forth the real and indissoluble Union of to-day. It was eminently fitting that this great man, this war-worn veteran of a mighty struggle, who, at its close, simply and quietly undertook his duty as a plain, everyday citizen, bent only upon helping his people in the paths of peace and tranquillity, should turn his attention toward educational work; toward bringing up in fit fashion the younger generation, the sons of those who had proved their faith by their endeavor in the heroic days.
There is no need to dwell on General Lee's record as a soldier. The son of Light Horse Harry Lee, of the Revolution, he came naturally by his aptitude for arms and command. His campaigns put him in the foremost rank of the great captains of all time. But his signal valor and address in war are no more remarkable than the spirit in which he turned to the work of peace once the war was over.

President D Eisenhower [link]
General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.
 

Quaama

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I found this snippet of some negativity on Lee.

Quote:

“And General…”
“Sir?”
“Is it true a colored division was in the assault?”
“Yes, sir.”
Lee stepped closer to Mahone and in an uncharacteristic gesture put a fatherly hand on his soldier. “I want the full honor of war observed. Those who surrender are to be treated as proper prisoners, with respect, their wounded tended to, their officers shown the respect due their rank.”
Mahone looked at him, as if to reply.
“I know what our President has said, but in this army, sir, my orders on this day carry full weight. We are Christian soldiers, sir. Do you understand me? Passions must not rule, even in the heat of battle. If I hear of any atrocities, I will ensure that those involved shall face court-martial and the full penalty of military law.”
He drew Mahone a bit closer. “Do we understand each other, sir?”
There was only one answer Mahone could possibly give to such a man. “Yes, sir.”


Fiction. Absolute fiction. We know exactly how Robert E. Lee felt about the status of black U.S. POWs. Why? Well, because several months later Lee and Ulysses S. Grant exchanged letters on the treatment of captured United States soldiers of African-American descent.

USCT regiments participated in an attack on Forts Gilmer and Harrison southeast of Richmond in late September 1864. One black brigade attacked Fort Gregg, near Fort Gilmer. Several soldiers were captured by Confederates. Soon after the battle, at the beginning of October, Lee proposed an exchange of prisoners to Grant. The Union commander agreed to the exchange, provided it be limited to soldiers captured during the battles in late September. He was very specific as to why: noting that some of the Union POWs in Confederate hands were black, he said: “I would ask if you propose delivering these men the same as White soldiers.”

Lee tried to finesse the issue. Although he was willing “to include all captured soldiers of the U. S. of whatever nation [or] Colour” under my control,” he added that “negroes belonging to our citizens are not Considered Subjects of exchange & were not included in my proposition.” That was enough for Grant: as his government was “bound to secure to all persons received into her Armies the rights due to soldiers,” he declined any exchange that would not include all Union soldiers.

Several weeks later, Grant learned that Confederate forces were employing black U.S. POWs to build fortifications in areas that were within range of Union fire … in short, using those men as human shields. Grant immediately approved Benjamin F. Butler’s proposal to employ Confederate POWs in the same fashion, then confronted Lee with that information.

Lee backed down. He removed the black U.S. POWs from front line labor. He claimed that their use was simply a result of an administrative snafu; however, he added that Confederate law provided for the reenslavement of former slaves now in U.S. military service. They should be returned to their masters “like other recaptured private property.” Meanwhile, he planned to put more U.S. POWs in harm’s way by placing them in a pen at Dutch Gap, which was under Union artillery fire, should Grant not relent with his plans for retaliation.

Grant would have none of this. To him, it was the color of the uniform, not the color of the person in it, that was important. It was, he told Lee, “my duty to protect all persons received into the Army of the United States, regardless of color or nationality.” As Lee had removed the black U.S. POWs from harm’s way, he would do the same with the Confederate POWs under Butler’s control. However, should Lee or his subordinates misuse black U.S. POWs again, Grant promised to retaliate.

End Quote:

I have found some of letters corresponding to this event if anyone can find more and post them would much be appreciated.

Quite a few quotes there but no source. Who said those words and where do they come from?
 

Scott1967

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Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Thanks but does the author provide actual sources for either of them?

The original links are from https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/robert-e-lee-and-union-black-pows/#:~:text=Several soldiers were captured by,the battles in late September.&text=Lee backed down.

I would also like to add i too would like to see the sources for his writings but like i said before finding any moral negativity about Lee in command is like finding a needle in a haystack.
 

Georgia

Sergeant
@Quaama,
If I’m reading the reference properly, Kevin Levin was discussing a book about the crater written by Newt Gingrich and another author.
Knowing he was referencing a book co-authored by Newt might give me pause.
Here’s his online location. http://cwmemory.com/
I get the feeling he writes from a conjectured point of view.

Here’s a third person’s take on the backing of historical books-
 
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