Apr 20, 1861: Lee resigns from U.S. Army

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Barrycdog

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Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States army two days after he was offered command of the Union army and three days after his native state, Virginia, seceded from the Union.

Lee was a loyal son of Virginia. His official resignation was only one sentence, but he wrote a longer explanation to his friend and mentor, General Winfield Scott, later that day. Lee had fought under Scott during the Mexican War (1846-48), and he revealed to his former commander the depth of his struggle. Lee spoke with Scott on April 18, and explained that he would have resigned then "but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted the best years of my life and all the ability I possess." Lee expressed gratitude for the kindness shown him by all in the army during his 25-year service, but Lee was most grateful to Scott. "To no one, general, have I been as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness and consideration..." He concluded with this poignant sentiment: "Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword."

But draw it he would. Two days later, Lee was appointed commander of Virginia's forces with the rank of major general. He spent the next few months raising troops in Virginia, and in July he was sent to western Virginia to advise Confederate commanders struggling to maintain control over the mountainous region. Lee did little to build his reputation there as the Confederates experienced a series of setbacks, and he returned to Richmond when the Union gained control of the area. The next year, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia after General Joseph Johnston was wounded in battle. Lee quickly turned the tables on Union General George B. McClellan, as he would several other commanders of the Army of the Potomac. His brilliance as a battlefield tactician earned him a place among the great military leaders of all time.

http://thomaslegion.net/roberteleesresignationletter.html

http://www.scoop.it/t/on-this-day/p/1635915285/2012/04/20/lee-resigns-from-u-s-army-history-com-this-day-in-history-4-20-1861

http://thismightyscourge.com/2010/04/20/robert-e-lee-resigns-from-the-u-s-army/

http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/arho/exb/Military/ARHO-5623-Copy-of-RE-Lee-Le.html

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=lee+resigns+from+u.s.+army&qpvt=Lee+resigns+from+U.S.+Army&FORM=VDRE

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0412/75369.html

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/LettersWinfiedScott.htm

http://www.researchhistory.org/2011/04/20/civil-war-apr-20-1861-lee-resigns-from-u-s-army/

http://iowatrooppantry.blogspot.com/2012/04/this-day-in-history-lee-resigns-from-us.html

http://sesquicentennialmadness.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/robert-e-lee-resigns-his-commission-in-the-us-army/

http://research.archives.gov/description/300383

http://blog.chron.com/txpotomac/2010/02/today-in-texas-history-robert-e-lee-resigns-u-s-army-commission-returns-to-virginia-from-texas/

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/letter-from-robert-e-lee-to.html

http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20110419/COLUMNIST/110419574
 

WJC

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Some will recall Lee's views shared in a letter written January 23, 1861 to his son Custis:
The South, in my opinion, has been aggrieved by the acts of the North, as you say. I feel the aggression, and am willing to take every proper step for redress. It is the principle I contend for, not individual or private benefit.
As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and institutions, and would defend any State, if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It was intended for “perpetual union,” so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession. Anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the other patriots of the Revolution.…Still a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved, and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and save in defense will draw my sword on none.​
<J. William Jones, Life and Letters of Robert Edward Lee, Soldier and Man. (New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1906), pp. 120-121.>
 

uaskme

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After the War Started, the Firing on Sumpter and Lincoln’s Call for Troops, The Ifs and Whys of Secession were Mute Points. The South was going to be Invaded and Southerners viewed the War as a Defensive War. If the Federal Government commits to Invade a State, does that not Invalidate Union? Couple of States tried to stay Neutral but ended up having to commit to 1 side of the other.
Edited.
 
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Viper21

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So one has to sit idly by, & watch their family, & home be violated in order to be a saintly conciliator..? Sounds more like cowardice to me. While Lee was definitely against secession pre war, he also was against the government using force to keep the union together.

I'm curious as to how many who point fingers at Lee would choose their own family over the government today...... hopefully, we'll never know definitively.....
 

5fish

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Some of his fellow soldiers have already resigned by now so Lee already decided in these words what he was going to do. He to was going to leave.... So maybe the story about him agonizing about leaving the army was bunk... It seems in January of 1861 he had already made up his mind...
 
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thomas aagaard

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No words more important than the last ten: and save in defense will draw my sword on none.

I think it's pretty clear how Lee felt. Right, wrong, or indifferent. The line is drawn at defending one's family, & home. Lee is far from the only man in history to do something he may have disagreed with in theory, or even principal but, not at the expense of defending himself or his family. I'm sure many today would choose defending their family first as well....
But the union was not dissolved.
He accepted promotion to full colonel in March 1861... and as part of this he repeated his oath as an officer.
The just weeks later he resigned to join a rebellion / another state that was at war with the union.

That is to me not the actions of an Honorable man. I understand why he did it but he was clearly not willing to put Union above Virginia, and as such he should not have accepted the promotion.
 
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thomas aagaard

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The South was going to be Invaded and Southerners viewed the War as a Defensive War. If the Federal Government commits to Invade a State, does that not Invalidate Union? Couple of States tried to stay Neutral but ended up having to commit to 1 side of the other.
There was no invasion. The legally elected government was putting down an illegal insurrection.
As an officer it was his duty to help defend the Union.

Or if we accept secession as legal. Then the CSA attacked the US when they fired on fort Sumter.
In both cases Lee resigned instead of doing his duty as a US officers. as he had sworn to do, in mach 1861.

Other men from virginia like Scott and George Thomas stayed true to their oath.
 

Viper21

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But the union was not dissolved.
He accepted promotion to full colonel in March 1861... and as part of this he repeated his oath as an officer.
The just weeks later he resigned to join a rebellion / another state that was at war with the union.

That is to me not the actions of an Honorable man. I understand why he did it but he was clearly not willing to put Union above Virginia, and as such he should not have accepted the promotion.
At the time, Virginia had voted against secession. Lee didn't change his personal course of action until AFTER Ft Sumter, AND Lincoln's call for troops. Lee resigned 20 April 61. Days after Lincoln's plan, & only 3 days after Virginia secession convention voted FOR secession.

WJC posted a decent play by play of the events awhile back....

" It was only when he met with Francis P. Blair on April 18 that Lee's course became clear. Blair told him that Lincoln was going to enforce the law with a large army and that he was authorized by Lincoln to offer Lee command of that army. Lee described his reaction, "I declined the offer he made me to take command of the army that was to be brought into the field, stating as candidly and as courteously as I could, that though opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States"

As Mr. Gallagher mentioned, Mr. Freeman relates that Lee's decision was by no means an easy one.
When, in March, 1861, he returned to Washington, it appeared that Virginia would not secede. A Constitutional amendment, preserving slavery in the states where it currently existed, had been approved by the House of Representatives on February 28, 1861 and had just received the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate.
<Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee, a Biography. (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons,. 1934), Vol. I, p. 433.>

Even as late as April 3 it appeared that a clash would be avoided over Fort Sumter. On April 4 a test vote in the Virginia convention showed a majority of two-to‑one against secession. <Freeman, Vol. I, p. 434>

It was only when he met with Francis P. Blair on April 18 that Lee's course became clear. Blair told him that Lincoln was going to enforce the law with a large army and that he was authorized by Lincoln to offer Lee command of that army. Lee described his reaction, "I declined the offer he made me to take command of the army that was to be brought into the field, stating as candidly and as courteously as I could, that though opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States."<Freeman, Vol. I, p. 437>
 

wausaubob

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There was no invasion. The legally elected government was putting down an illegal insurrection.
As an officer it was his duty to help defend the Union.

Or if we accept secession as legal. Then the CSA attacked the US when they fired on fort Sumter.
In both cases Lee resigned instead of doing his duty as a US officers. as he had sworn to do, in mach 1861.

Other men from Virginia like Scott and George Thomas stayed true to their oath.
If Colonel Lee was unwilling to fight against Virginia, he was obligated to request to be relieved from his oath. One might think of von Clauswitz, who I believe asked for and was granted permission to fight for the Russians and against Napoleon.
If Lee had been denied his request, which I doubt would have happened, he would have been obligated to take a rear echelon post.

Secession skips all of those niceties, which is one of the reasons the secessionists started the war earlier than their physical readiness indicated.
 
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wausaubob

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Maybe Lee's duty to his friends and fellow Virginians was to dissuade them from a tragic error. But he did not see it as leading to death and destruction on the scale that followed. No one did.
 
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WJC

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The letter of January 23, 1861 provides both a passionate rebuttal of the frenzied arguments of secessionists and a rationale for his support of Virginia's later decision.
 

WJC

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Some of his fellow soldiers have already resigned by now so Lee already decided in these words what he was going to do. He to was going to leave.... So maybe the story about him agonizing about leaving the army was bunk... It seems in January of 1861 he had already made up his mind...
Thanks for your response.
You are not the first to suggest this. The oft-quoted paragraph sharing his intent to "return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and save in defense will draw my sword on none" has the appearance of a well-placed excuse for possible later actions.
 
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58th Virginia

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So one has to sit idly by, & watch their family, & home be violated in order to be a saintly conciliator..? Sounds more like cowardice to me. While Lee was definitely against secession pre war, he also was against the government using force to keep the union together.

I'm curious as to how many who point fingers at Lee would choose their own family over the government today...... hopefully, we'll never know definitively.....
Well stated.
 

5fish

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Still a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved, and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and save in defense will draw my sword on none.
As I pointed out earlier Lee had already made up his mind in January of 1861, by the comments above...

April 4th Virginia passes the Ordnance of Secession

April 12th Ft Sumter is fired upon by the Confederacy(After being conned by Lincoln)

April 15th Lincoln call up 75,000 troops

April 2oth Lee resigns from the U S Army...

Read his letter, he foreshadowed his path he was going take if a set of events happened and those events came to pass and he resigned. By April 15th the union was dissolved and swords were called upon to save the union... Lee resigns to share the miseries with his people and to defend them.

I do not think he agonized over resigning as history leads us to believe for just read his letter he already had a plan...
 
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58th Virginia

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April 4th Virginia passes the Ordnance of Secession
Virginia's Ordinance of Secession was April 17th.

What happened on April 4th was:

--"Virginia's government called for a special convention to decide Virginia's position on secession. On April 4, 1861, the convention voted eighty-eight to forty-five against seceding from the United States."--
 

5fish

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Virginia's Ordinance of Secession was April 17th.

What happened on April 4th was:

--"Virginia's government called for a special convention to decide Virginia's position on secession. On April 4, 1861, the convention voted eighty-eight to forty-five against seceding from the United States."--
Thanks but the time stills holds....
 

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***Posted as Moderator***
It appears from the many off-topic and argumentive posts that this thread has outlived its usefulness as a civil discussion.
This thread is closed until further notice.
 
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