Can Gen. Robert E. Lee still be considered "A great general and honorable man"?

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I think people lack empathy in these situations. Regardless of what the motivations were for the start of the Civil War, a lot of these mens decisions came down to "Can I march into my hometown, with an army of thousands at my back, and order those soldiers to shoot the people I grew up with?" With as divisive as this country is today, I really don't think people would be so quick to make that decision when actually granted the power. Do you think, if tomorrow, you were handed complete control of the United States Military and told to march into your current town of residence and open fire on anyone and everyone, would you do it? Even if the town was full of awful capitalistic republicans or awful socialistic democrats? Would you really be able to order the deaths of the barber that cuts your hair? The school teachers that taught your kids? Would you be able to fire on Jim, the guy you ate lunch with for 15 years with at the factory? Would you be able to shoot your brother in law? Would you be able to shoot your brother? Think about what people are genuinely asking of Lee here.....

When Lee was offered command of the Union army, that was the decision he was faced with. It was as simple as "I can't march an army into my home town. I would rather defend my home town and all that I know." The guy was married to Washingtons great granddaughter for crying out loud. You couldn't find a more "patriotic American" than Lee in 1860. I think if people put themselves in his shoes for 5 minutes, things wouldn't be so black and white. The debate boils down to; does honor mean "as an officer of the United States army do I obey orders without hesitation and do what I'm asked?" or does honor mean "I am going home to protect my family, my town, and those that I know about."
I agree that Lee was an honorable man who was faced with a tragic choice. Stiil, George Henry Thomas, a man whom I consider not merely honorable, but a hero, was faced with essentially the same choice. Perhaps the difference was in the differing probable influences of their respective wives.
 
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trice

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I think people lack empathy in these situations. Regardless of what the motivations were for the start of the Civil War, a lot of these mens decisions came down to "Can I march into my hometown, with an army of thousands at my back, and order those soldiers to shoot the people I grew up with?" Edited. I really don't think people would be so quick to make that decision when actually granted the power. Do you think, if tomorrow, you were handed complete control of the United States Military and told to march into your current town of residence and open fire on anyone and everyone, would you do it? Even if the town was full of awful capitalistic republicans or awful socialistic democrats? Would you really be able to order the deaths of the barber that cuts your hair? The school teachers that taught your kids? Would you be able to fire on Jim, the guy you ate lunch with for 15 years with at the factory? Would you be able to shoot your brother in law? Would you be able to shoot your brother? Think about what people are genuinely asking of Lee here.....

When Lee was offered command of the Union army, that was the decision he was faced with. It was as simple as "I can't march an army into my home town. I would rather defend my home town and all that I know." The guy was married to Washingtons great granddaughter for crying out loud. You couldn't find a more "patriotic American" than Lee in 1860. I think if people put themselves in his shoes for 5 minutes, things wouldn't be so black and white. The debate boils down to; does honor mean "as an officer of the United States army do I obey orders without hesitation and do what I'm asked?" or does honor mean "I am going home to protect my family, my town, and those that I know about."
I understand what you are saying. I just think the statement of it is a bit over-done. The choice you are describing is not the one that existed in 1860-61. Men were not being asked to murder their friends and family. Men were not being asked to "march into your current town of residence and open fire on anyone and everyone". They were being asked to stand on the side of the law, of the Union they pledged themselves to, and in many cases (all soldiers and public officials) their own personal oaths of loyalty and honor. It was certainly a difficult and emotional choice, but it was not about becoming a murderer.

Lee believed secession was illegal and said so repeatedly during the "Winter of Secession". He thought it was Treason and anarchy. He thought the Founders had never intended such a "right" to exist. He thought Virginia was in the wrong -- but he decided to follow Virginia anyway. He thought he owed loyalty and obedience to the United States -- and he thought that he owed loyalty and obedience to Virginia. He said he had been taught that he owed his loyalty and obedience to Virginia first and so must choose Virginia -- and he understood that was not how everyone felt. Knowing in his own mind that he must violate one loyalty or the other, he chose Virginia. He chose which pain he would suffer.

Other men chose differently. George Thomas was a Virginian, had fled with his family when the Nat Turner Rebellion raged near his home, had attended West Point and served in the US Army all his life just as Lee had. Instead of joining Virginia in rebellion, he chose to honor his oath and obligation by serving his country.

Neither choice was easy. Both men suffered for their decisions. I doubt either man would agree with your statement of what the debate boils down to.
 
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I understand what you are saying. I just think the statement of it is a bit over-done. The choice you are describing is not the one that existed in 1860-61. Men were not being asked to murder their friends and family. Men were not being asked to "march into your current town of residence and open fire on anyone and everyone". They were being asked to stand on the side of the law, of the Union they pledged themselves to, and in many cases (all soldiers and public officials) their own personal oaths of loyalty and honor. It was certainly a difficult and emotional choice, but it was not about becoming a murderer.

Lee believed secession was illegal and said so repeatedly during the "Winter of Secession". He thought it was Treason and anarchy. He thought the Founders had never intended such a "right" to exist. He thought Virginia was in the wrong -- but he decided to follow Virginia anyway. He thought he owed loyalty and obedience to the United States -- and he thought that he owed loyalty and obedience to Virginia. He said he had been taught that he owed his loyalty and obedience to Virginia first and so must choose Virginia -- and he understood that was not how everyone felt. Knowing in his own mind that he must violate one loyalty or the other, he chose Virginia. He chose which pain he would suffer.

Other men chose differently. George Thomas was a Virginian, had fled with his family when the Nat Turner Rebellion raged near his home, had attended West Point and served in the US Army all his life just as Lee had. Instead of joining Virginia in rebellion, he chose to honor his oath and obligation by serving his country.

Neither choice was easy. Both men suffered for their decisions. I doubt either man would agree with your statement of what the debate boils down to.

I don't think you can claim to know what either man would have boiled this down to. I suppose they weren't emotional creatures 157 years ago, though. So you're right. It probably didn't boil down to something that simple. You clearly have your position in the matter

"Other men chose differently. George Thomas was a Virginian, had fled with his family when the Nat Turner Rebellion raged near his home, had attended West Point and served in the US Army all his life just as Lee had. Instead of joining Virginia in rebellion, he chose to honor his oath and obligation by serving his country."

Edited. I don't think this was a great political massive debate. I think this was 100% emotional and all the armchair quarterbacks on this thread really want to make it more complicated than that, when it wasn't. We, as humans, are dumb emotional creatures who do dumb Edited. all the time AGAINST direct evidence of something being better for us. Why would this massive decision be anything but emotional?
 
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trice

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I don't think you can claim to know what either man would have boiled this down to. I suppose they weren't emotional creatures 157 years ago, though. So you're right. It probably didn't boil down to something that simple. You clearly have your position in the matter

"Other men chose differently. George Thomas was a Virginian, had fled with his family when the Nat Turner Rebellion raged near his home, had attended West Point and served in the US Army all his life just as Lee had. Instead of joining Virginia in rebellion, he chose to honor his oath and obligation by serving his country."

You sir, are 100% pro union/united states and that's great! Some of us may have actually had think about it longer than "I am 100% dedicated to this Union no matter what!"
There is no need for me to boil them down. The position I outlined for Robert E. Lee is well known and completely verifiable from his own statements and writings. He discussed it with other men while still serving in the United States Army -- this includes the brother of Major Anderson of Ft. Sumter fame, who was sent to Texas by Winfield Scott to discuss the matter with him and others long before Virginia declared for secession. George Thomas' position is well known as well.

Edited.
 
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I believe he can be. First of all, being a "great general" is, in my mind, dependent upon tactics and leadership ability, not necessarily the cause the person was fighting for. But that aside, he was an honorable man, and one choice that in hindsight may not have been the best shouldn't stop him from being viewed as such. We also need to remember that, at the time, the choice he made to resign from the United States Army was a reasonable one. People almost always put their state before their country in those days. He shouldn't be demonized because he didn't want to fight against his home and his family. It seems like most people seem to forget that he had a life outside the Civil War. That one war is not a reflection of his whole person or character.
 


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