Discussion When did Lee become a CSA nationalist.

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Andersonh1

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http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/People/Robert_E_Lee/FREREL/4/17*.html#Acton_letter

It will be remembered that in 1861 Lee knew little about the constitutional involvements of secession. In one of his few known references to the subject, he confused the preamble of the Articles of Confederation with that of the Constitution of 1787. He went with Virginia on her secession because his whole background, his training, and his social and family ties led him to feel instinctively that his first allegiance, at a time of tragic but inescapable choice, was to her.17 He held that in her secession Virginia carried him with her. As he fought for the Southern cause, however, he came to see its meaning. Sacrifice clarified it. One cannot say when or how — whether it was by his own reading, or through the debates in winter quarters, or from the contagion of political belief — but Lee absorbed the Southern constitutional argument and was convinced by it. "All that the South has ever desired," he wrote in January, 1866, "was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved; and that the government, as originally organized, should be administered in purity and truth."18 Speaking of his own course, he wrote: "I had no other guide, nor had I any other object than the defense of those principles of American liberty upon which the constitutions of the several states were originally founded."19 To a friend in the West he wrote in 1869 what in 1866 undoubtedly was his opinion: "I was not in favor of secession, and was opposed to war; in fact . . . I was for the Constitution and the Union established by our forefathers. No one now is more in favor of that Constitution and that Union; and, as far as I know, it is that for which the South has all along contended. . . ."​
 
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thomas aagaard

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Bruce Vail

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http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/People/Robert_E_Lee/FREREL/4/17*.html#Acton_letter

It will be remembered that in 1861 Lee knew little about the constitutional involvements of secession. In one of his few known references to the subject, he confused the preamble of the Articles of Confederation with that of the Constitution of 1787. He went with Virginia on her secession because his whole background, his training, and his social and family ties led him to feel instinctively that his first allegiance, at a time of tragic but inescapable choice, was to her.17 He held that in her secession Virginia carried him with her. As he fought for the Southern cause, however, he came to see its meaning. Sacrifice clarified it. One cannot say when or how — whether it was by his own reading, or through the debates in winter quarters, or from the contagion of political belief — but Lee absorbed the Southern constitutional argument and was convinced by it. "All that the South has ever desired," he wrote in January, 1866, "was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved; and that the government, as originally organized, should be administered in purity and truth."18 Speaking of his own course, he wrote: "I had no other guide, nor had I any other object than the defense of those principles of American liberty upon which the constitutions of the several states were originally founded."19 To a friend in the West he wrote in 1869 what in 1866 undoubtedly was his opinion: "I was not in favor of secession, and was opposed to war; in fact . . . I was for the Constitution and the Union established by our forefathers. No one now is more in favor of that Constitution and that Union; and, as far as I know, it is that for which the South has all along contended. . . ."​
This suggests that he was not a southern nationalist at all.

I don't think it is a criticism of Lee to say that he had no deeply felt principles on this subject, but was simply carried away by the extraordinary events of 1860-61. Certainly, a large part of the rest of the country was...
 

diane

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Of course Lee was a Southern nationalist - he became one the moment he resigned his commission in the US army and signed up to serve in the CSA. I do hope no one is confusing the term with anything modern. Maybe it's more accurate to call Lee a Southern patriot.
 
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Deleted User CS

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By that token what did officers and men from Virginia see themselves as? Did they see themselves not being from Virginia?
Leftyhunter
No. I would think they would see themselves first as Virginians depending on the individual. For example, if I was living during the time of the civil war since I was born in Pennsylvania I certainly would see myself as a Pennsylvanian first as opposed to someone simply from the North. When turning down command of U.S. forces didn't Lee say that he would never raise a sword to his native Virginia? David.
 

leftyhunter

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No. I would think they would see themselves first as Virginians depending on the individual. For example, if I was living during the time of the civil war since I was born in Pennsylvania I certainly would see myself as a Pennsylvanian first as opposed to someone simply from the North. When turning down command of U.S. forces didn't Lee say that he would never raise a sword to his native Virginia? David.
When Lee said that he was most likely thinking he would not raise a sword against his fellow slave owners. Yet George Thomas a slave owning Virginian did not resign his commission and became a Major General in the Union Army.
Is the only way to be loyal to Virginia is to fight to enslave fellow Virginians?
It just depends on how one views loyalty of one's state.
Leftyhunter
 
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Greywolf

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I believe Lee certainly was a CSA nationalist, maybe not at first but later on he understood that it wasn't just Virginia and that ALL had to be given to secure victory. Food for the army, transportation, conscription, etc. above the needs of the individual states and people for that matter. It seems obvious to me that Davis and Lee were in agreement on this and Lee knew for Virginia and her way of life to survive, the CSA must come first. If I had to guess I'd say late 1862 or early 1863, but could have been sooner.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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This excerpt I cut from the article (thanks @Thomas aagard) really puts a new light for me on how I view Lee. I'm rather surprised he took such a financial gamble with his estates by joining the CSA, especially where Arlington is. He had to know that it would be almost immediately confiscated and other lands deeper in Virginia would be used up by war, i.e., White House.

I'm surprised by his getting all twisted about George Washington's grand-nephew getting shot on picket. I can see why he grieves, but he states it like this person was known to the Union picket and was purposefully cut down because he was Washington's grand-nephew - it seems very petulant to me frankly. Putting anyone in that position could get anyone shot. He knew that.

"Lee the Virginian indisputably held center stage during this dramatic period. As he put it to his sister Anne Lee Marshall, “I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.” Yet many members of Lee’s extended family were staunch Unionists, including Anne and many cousins. Moreover, approximately a third of all Virginians who had graduated from West Point remained loyal to the United States. Among the six Virginian colonels in U.S. service in the winter of 1861, only Lee resigned his commission. In short, many Virginians, including some who were very close to Lee, did not abandon the United States during the secession crisis."

Yet, by joining the CSA, Lee cut himself off from almost all close family and those relations were never repaired. I'm starting to see a more racist aspect to all this then I ever considered before.
 

Andersonh1

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Yet, by joining the CSA, Lee cut himself off from almost all close family and those relations were never repaired. I'm starting to see a more racist aspect to all this then I ever considered before.
I've read your post several times, and I don't understand where the racial part of the equation is coming from. Can you elaborate?
 
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NH Civil War Gal

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I've read your post several times, and I don't understand where the racial part of the equation is coming from. Can you elaborate?
By a more racist outlook I mean more of what Gary Gallagher talks about - maintaining the status quo as in the following paragraphs by G.G.

"A desire to maintain racial control figured most prominently in Lee’s Southern identity. Often portrayed as opposed to slavery, he in fact accepted the peculiar institution as the best means for ordering relations between the races and resented Northerners who attacked the motives and character of slaveholders and seemed willing, or even eager, to disrupt racial stability in the Southern states. In late December 1856, he ruminated at considerable length to his wife on the topic. “slavery as an institution,” he wrote, “is a moral and political evil in any country. It is useless to expiate on its disadvantages.” But he also believed slavery was “a greater evil to the white than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strongly for the former.” The fate of enslaved millions should be left in God’s hands: “Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery controversy.”

"
.......Lincoln’s proclamation laid out “a savage and brutal policy,” stated Lee with simmering anger, “which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction….” Lee’s use of “degredation,” “pollution” and “social system”—words often deployed by white Southerners in antebellum discussions about the possible consequences of abolitionism—highlight the degree to which Lincoln’s policy menaced more than the integrity of the Confederate political state.".
 

Bruce Vail

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Of course Lee was a Southern nationalist - he became one the moment he resigned his commission in the US army and signed up to serve in the CSA. I do hope no one is confusing the term with anything modern. Maybe it's more accurate to call Lee a Southern patriot.
Yes, Southern Patriot is a good description. It's vague, as it needs to be.

If he was not a secessionist before the war, and he was not a secessionist after the war, then I don't think he can accurately be called a southern nationalist. There must be some material from his post-war letters to shed more light on this...
 

NH Civil War Gal

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I'm also confused by Lee defending "the social system" because in other things I've read, but can't put my hand to at the moment, he wasn't fond of the deep south planters and fire-eaters driving policy.
 
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diane

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I'm also confused by Lee defending "the social system" because in other things I've read, but can't put my hand to at the moment, he wasn't fond of the deep south planters and fire-eaters driving policy.
I think it's because the social system he was talking about was the aristocracy he came from. A place like Arlington could not exist without slaves to bring in money to support it. His Virginia class was mellow and much older than the Deep South, like Mississippi. They were more likely to be newly rich, newly upper class people like Forrest! This class didn't particularly like Lee's class, either. Whichever it was, though, they both depended on slavery to maintain this social structure. And, he did wish the fire-eaters would put a sock in it...:x3:
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Much more than the younger CSA officers, Lee had traveled and been Superintendent of West Point and shouldn't have been naive. In light, past readings, I thought I read where Mrs. Lee was more Unionist leaning. Diane, (all can answer of course but she has amazing knowledge!), what do you think really motivated him to take a gamble that he must have known he would eventually lose?

He lost everything - his home, his sibling, his extended family, his position in the US Army. If it is true that Winfield Scott said, "he had guessed it would be so and hoped it wouldn't" (paraphrased), what did Scott see that really motivated Lee to walkaway from everything? The more I read about this, the less sense it actually makes.
 

jackt62

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Rather than being defined as a CSA nationalist, Lee's entire persona was defined by his connection to the Virginian aristocracy and his dedication to his family history. In this he took enormous pride and perhaps a feeling of superiority. This connection was totally rooted in the economic and cultural system that existed in Virginia, certainly supported by the system of slavery, but also rooted in the ideals of the American revolution for which his father fought. That is why his decision to renounce his US army oath, while painful, could never be in doubt for Lee, when the alternative was to turn his back on his Virginian heritage.
 
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diane

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Oh, I've always thought it was his family's place in Virginia and his duty to fight for the principles of the Founders - some of whom were near kin, like dear old dad! I'm not so sure Lee knew he would lose - it was a gamble and it would cost, but the US itself had gained independence from Britain. Britain was powerful - the colonies were like little tiny toothless ankle biters! You mentioned Washington's grand-nephew - the Washington connection was very important in Lee's thinking, and not just his. Lewis Washington was captured by John Brown and taken to Harpers Ferry - Brown was very impressed with the Washington memorabilia he found in Lewis' home, which included a set of pistols Lafayette had given George and the general's sword. This Brown put on and was wearing when he was captured. John A Washington was Lewis' nephew (I think!) and was on Lee's staff - he was killed by a Unionist guerrilla in West Virginia, which is where his family estate was. That may be the death you were alluding to - there's a huge likelihood the bushwhacker knew who John Washington was.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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I didn't know that about the bushwhacker which explains Lee's comments. I thought it was a random picket post shooting in the dark. The Washington connection to Lee's thinking does make more sense. Still a huge gamble and the cost was extremely high as it turned out.

I was in Harpers Ferry this weekend (on my little trip) but I didn't find anything in the NPS museum signs about Lewis or John Washington. Thank you for that information!
 
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