I am not in the business of starting arguments, nor do I enjoy arguing because I find it a waste of time. However, I am deeply troubled by those who would take down monuments of any person who contributed to our nation’s history, no matter who that person was. Like Jesus said to those who brought a woman to him, accusing her of adultery: “…He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her”(John 8:7, KJV).
If we take down every monument of every person who’s done something someone doesn’t like, then hey, I know of only one monument that will likely remain standing in the end. It’s the only monument in America that honors an insect, the Boll Weevil Monument, located in the small town of Enterprise, Alabama. No one is perfect, not even those who helped build our country and make it what it is today.
Recently, I read an article about efforts to take down a monument of Robert E. Lee in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the battle of Antietam was fought in 1862. This battle was the bloodiest single day of the war.
Let me share a few facts about Lee. First, though, let me say that as a historian I don’t take sides in this conflict. I’m only interested in facts and events. And don’t expect me to argue with those who disagree, because I won’t. My list isn’t thorough. But, well, here we go.
- 1. Lee was the son of a famous Revolutionary War hero, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee. Though he was born on a Virginia estate called Stratford Hall, Robert Edward Lee only lived there for the first two or three years of his life. His father fell onto hard times financially and lost most of his wealth. Harry struggled to regain his former wealth, but failed in his attempts. Thus, Robert E. Lee came from a prominent Virginia family. However, he was not wealthy when he grew older. As a professional soldier, he didn’t make a lot of money, not even as an officer.
- His wife was Mary Anna Custis, the only child of George Washington Parke Custis. She was related to Martha Washington, our first president’s wife, through Martha’s first marriage.
- As a cadet at West Point, Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class and never received a demerit. When you compare his scores with Charles Mason, the cadet who finished first, it’s clear that Lee almost beat him for the top spot. Their scores were close. Unlike Lee, Mason never pursued a professional military career.
- Because he was a soldier, Lee didn’t spend a lot of time at Arlington. The Army deployed him to numerous military posts throughout his career. He did spend a few years in Arlington, though, and visited whenever he could. He didn’t own this home till 1857, after his father-in-law died.
- An Army engineer, he designed forts such as Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, which defended the Savannah River. He also served as the superintendent of West Point.
- He was a hero of the Mexican-American War, serving under General Winfield Scott. Lee, in his day, was considered one of America’s finest soldiers.
- Lee was not a brutal slave owner, as some people claim. After he inherited Arlington from George Washington Parke Custis, he freed its slaves in accordance with G.W.P.C.’s will. It didn’t happen as quickly as Lee would’ve wanted it to because his father-in-law was deep in debt, and the Virginia court delayed in settling his father-in-law’s will. Also, by this time his wife Mary was suffering horrible pain from severe arthritis. Until his father-in-law’s estate was settled, Lee hired out the slaves for wages in various parts of Virginia. Upon the will’s execution, he emancipated all of them.
- Though he disliked slavery, he believed loyalty to his state trumped loyalty to the Union, which is why he threw in his lot with Virginia after it seceded. Loyalty to state over the union was a commonly held view in Lee’s era, and at the time, secession wasn’t illegal.
- After the war, he became president of what is now Washington and Lee University. He worked hard to bring reconciliation between North and South.
- He was a deeply religious man. He also had a certain gentleness about him. During the Civil War’s early days, his soldiers called him “Granny Lee.” Once he started winning battles, however, and showed aggressiveness in combat, this mockery turned to admiration and such name-calling ceased.
There are many Union figures I have a lot of respect for as well–General Ulysses S. Grant, Admirals David G. Farragut and Andrew Hull Foote, just to name a few. Getting rid of monuments is not the way to go. Doing this will not change hearts or attitudes — only Jesus can and will do that if we give ourselves to Him. I’m not posting this to start an argument. I’m posting it out of concern for how political correctness, this erasing of history and rewriting it is one of the reasons why our beloved United States is in the trouble that it’s in. I’m for keeping up all the monuments to all the great Americans who made significant contributions to our country, no matter who they are. No man or woman is perfect, but we cannot forget our history–both the bad and the good. And yes, we need to keep the Boll Weevil Monument also, but how and why that monument came about is another story for another day. I might share it in a future post
Stern, Philip Van Doren. Robert E. Lee: The Man and the Soldier. Bonanza Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc., by arrangement with McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1963.
Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, 1970.
5 thoughts on “Robert E. Lee: A Few Facts”
Thanks, Jack, for your article about General Lee. I agree we shouldn’t be demolishing monuments of people who founded our country.
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History is so important, I think more than most people realize. Seeing historical monuments while I was growing up was one of the factors influencing my love of history.
Well written! Thanks for a balanced perspective.
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Thank you, Norma Jean. I always try to be as objective as possible, and especially in matters relating to the American Civil War.
Oops! I said Sharpsburg, Virginia instead of Sharpsburg, Maryland. As long as I’ve studied this war and the fact that I’ve visited that battlefield, I knew better. I was just preoccupied with Lee being in Virginia. I guess it was a “slip of my typing.” Needless to say, I am a little embarrassed. I did make the correction, though.
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