Myth of a kindly General Lee

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WJC

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That's an interesting question, really. A lot of people followed Lee's lead - a lot of fence sitters might not have joined the Confederate cause. It does make one wonder how affairs would have turned out in Virginia if Lee had not left with the government of his state. Plenty of Unionists in West Virginia!
It seems Lee had three choices. (1) He could have remained loyal to the United States, retained his commission and served where ordered. (2) He could have resigned, joined the rebels and fought against the United States. (3) He could have resigned his commission, stayed at home and not served either side.
Some argue that he actually intended to follow (3), but was later convinced to follow (2). But the timing of his resignation and subsequent actions, when compared with the timing of Virginia's secession and seizure of Federal military installations argues against this. Lee knew on the morning of April 19, 1861 that Virginia had seceded:
To his mind that meant the wreck of the nation, "the beginning of sorrows," the opening of a war that was certain to be long and full of horrors. But of all that he thought and felt in the first realization that his mother state had left the Union, his only recorded observation is one he made to a druggist when he went into a shop to pay a bill. "I must say," he remarked sadly, "that I am one of those dull creatures that cannot see the good of secession."​
<Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934), p. 439.>
He wrote his letter of resignation that night.In a seperate letter to his friend General Scott, he stated, "Save in defence of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword." <Freeman, p. 442>
Though I don't doubt that he hoped conflict could be avoided, but it was clear that "the Federal Government, for its part, would certainly take prompt action since the state just across the river from its capital had left the Union." <Freeman, p. 440>
Did he lie? No. Doubtless he had no desire to fight again. But knowing Virginia's course, and the likelihood he would be asked to serve the rebel cause, he certainly 'left that door open'.
 
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wausaubob

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And by the end of the war, when he realized the terms that Grant was willing to offer to begin the winding down of the war, Lee wondered out loud to Grant if needless fighting could have been avoided by discussing similar terms in March 1865.
 

Georgia Sixth

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Well, it's good to read something nice about Longstreet for a change, but the context is wrong. There was no contrast between Lee and Longstreet. As opposed to the slanting article, Lee was not the evil brute, nor was Longstreet the secret abolitionist. Both had their values, both were products of the times and conditions they lived in and both had to cope with changed conditions after the war - trying to live their lives accordingly, which must have been much more difficult than it reads after 150 years. Both deserve our respect.
Wonderful post! Sehr gut!
 
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Georgia Sixth

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Big surprise; Atlantic and former Salon and Village Voice writer doesn't like Lee and smears him. People on the site who don't like Lee still don't like him and still mad at the way Grant has been treated. Rinse and repeat.
Are you in some way related to my daughter, Sarcasma? Seriously, I increasingly am suspect of those who complain of the insidious political schemings of people who are labelled now as creating a Lost Cause Myth. I do believe they protest too much and, in fact, are projecting their own political motives onto those who lived a long time ago.
 

unionblue

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Ub, at some point this one-note reply to every discussion doesn't really contribute much to the conversation, does it? We all know quite well that slavery was immoral. I doubt very much any of us disagree with you on that. It's a given, and saying "slavery was legal" is not a defense of immorality, it's a reminder. Sometimes it's useful to discuss the implications of that legality when we're trying to understand what our ancestors did and what motivated them.
I agree.

And when I stop seeing such as a one-line answer to paragraphs of historical evidence, I'll suspend my use of such.
 
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cash

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Y'know, once you figured Forrest wouldn't let his only son enlist in the war so you didn't believe a 14 year old kid would be where he was...but you don't seem to have a problem believing Lee would shoot at his three sons. Don't see how they could have done otherwise than join the rebels.
I suppose some might believe mischaracterizing is better than no characterizing.

They could all have stayed loyal to the United States.
 

diane

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I suppose some might believe mischaracterizing is better than no characterizing.

They could all have stayed loyal to the United States.
That's true! Which is why the Lee family is important. A large number of people went with Lee. Just about every other general in the ANV was some sort of a cousin...!
 
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diane

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Robert E. Lee's life illustrates how a good man can make one decision under the influence of those around him, and that one decision ruins everything. Would King Lear be the apt comparison?
Sometimes Lee puts me more in mind of Hamlet - especially his father's ghost popping up all the time!
 

WJC

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As much as we hate to admit it, slavery was an American institution, protected by the Constitution and the courts until the passage of the 13th amendment changed that. It was a national sin, not a regional one.
It was, indeed, a "national sin", but one which- by 1860- the people of eighteen of the 33 states had recognized and admitted their 'sin' and taken steps to redeem themselves.
Those who attempt to rationalize slavery as something 'everybody did' often neglect this important point....
 

WJC

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I have always wondered what was sticking in Pickett's craw, at Gettysburg, he was gung ho to lead the charge.
Supposedly, the allegations of a rift between Pickett and Lee are unfounded. as summarized in a letter from author and historian Clifford Dowdey, October 5, 1957:
"There seems no real factual support for the alleged animosity between Pickett and the Old Man, or for Lee's dismissal of Pickett. Apparently all we have to go on for the dismissal is that Walter Taylor wrote Fitz Lee that he had written such an order, and Mosby seems to be the chief witness for any actual exchange of coldness between Pickett and Lee after the war. Pickett, like any man with a strong personality (say, J.E.B. Stuart) made enemies as easily as he made friends but that the glory that accrued to him for Gettysburg aroused a jealousy in men who had never liked him (as Hunton, Haskell and Otey), and they felt compelled to denigrate him."​
<http://www.pickettsociety.com/mosby.html>
 
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WJC

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And by the end of the war, when he realized the terms that Grant was willing to offer to begin the winding down of the war, Lee wondered out loud to Grant if needless fighting could have been avoided by discussing similar terms in March 1865.
Sad, indeed, particularly for those who died during those last days and their loved ones.
I assume you are referring to Maj. General Edward Ord’s idea, supported by Longstreet, to bring Grant and Lee together in a semi-social event (wives were to be included), to discuss ending hostilities. As Longstreet described it:
On his [Ord's] side they thought the war had gone on long enough; that we should come together as former comrades and friends and talk a little. He suggested that the work as belligerents should be suspended; that General Grant and General Lee should meet and have a talk; that my wife, who was an old acquaintance and friend of Mrs. Grant in their girlhood days, should go into the Union lines and visit Mrs. Grant with as many Confederate officers as might choose to be with her. Then Mrs. Grant would return the call under escort of Union officers and visit Richmond; that while General Lee and General Grant were arranging for better feeling between the armies, they could be aided by intercourse between the ladies and officers until terms honorable to both sides could be found.​
James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox; memoirs of the Civil War in America. (Philadelphia, PA: L. B. Lippincott, 1896), p. 584.
Davis was initially opposed to such discussions between the two generals, but relented. On the other hand, Lincoln was initially in favor, until Stanton reminded him that he could not delegate the responsibility of negotiating an end to the rebellion. With that, the proposal died.
 

WJC

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And by the end of the war, when he realized the terms that Grant was willing to offer to begin the winding down of the war, Lee wondered out loud to Grant if needless fighting could have been avoided by discussing similar terms in March 1865.
Journalist Sylvanus Cadwallader claimed that when Grant and Lee met in the morning of April 10 at Appomattox, “Lee stated that if Grant had assented to a meeting which he had proposed some weeks before, peace would undoubtedly have resulted there-from.” <Sylvanus Cadwallader, Three Years with Grant as Recalled by War Correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader. (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955), p. 334.>
 
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Mdiesel

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Had Lee gone with the Union, would his sons have been shooting at him or would they have gone with the Union as well?
Probably shooting at him...

I think about John Gibbons. He was from North Carolina & remained loyal to the Union, even becoming one of its greatest warriors. His own brothers faught for the Confederacy & no doubt despised him. He attempted to correspond with family & his letters went unanswered. Then think of General Thomas, a Virginian fighting for the Federals. His family turned this portrait to the wall, refusing even to look upon his face.

I don't know in that situation, time & place how I would react either. But I can tell you it would have taken a great deal of resolve to cut all those family ties.
 

Mdiesel

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Get the pirates but keep the clippers! :D They loved those and always tried to get them.

I don't think the mob knew - or cared - who Lee was. His fame had died down quite a bit and he no longer had the dashing reputation he once had, and he was in his mid-fifties. I think he got mashed, slashed and thoroughly trashed because he was there.
Maybe the mob didn't know who he was but those who set him up sure did... some know him from the Contental Army where the Marylanders had a great presents. Remember shots had been fired. It was a volatile situation & Harry Lee & his constituents gave themselves up to men/authorities they trusted.
 
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