Remembering Robert E. Lee

12 Oct

Robert E. Lee died 140 years ago today, October 12, 1870.

Each day at lunch, when the weather cooperates, I take about a 40 minute walk from my office near the Capital, down along with Richmond Canal Walk out to Brown’s Island. At the end of Island and just across from the American Civil War Center at Tredegar Ironworks is a walking bridge, or a partial bridge. The bridge commemorates the fall of Richmond. Carved into the planks are quotes from those affected by the siege of the Capital of the Confederacy. First among them, a quote from Robert E. Lee.

“It is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight.”
General Robert E. Lee to Jefferson Davis.

It is difficult for many to understand the respect and admiration of Robert E. Lee, one of the most brilliant military minds of his time. for that reason, he was offered a commission by President Lincoln, but declined and returned to his native Virginia.

Yes, Lee fought for a losing cause, and for a cause that defended the buying and selling of fellow human beings. That much cannot be ignored. But it will not be debated here.

When he died Lee was serving as President of then Washington University. Not long after, the name was changed to Washington and Lee University.

Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity, a man of deep faith and his adversaries recognized that. While at Washington University Lee recruited students from the north and stated that “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student be a gentleman.” In post war politics, lee supported civil rights and a system of free public schools for blacks.

The day of his passing the headline in a Richmond paper read:

“News of the death of Robert E. Lee, beloved chieftain of the Southern army, whose strategy mainly was responsible for the surprising fight staged by the Confederacy, brought a two-day halt to Richmond’s business activities.”

Lee’s last words were “Strike the Tent.”

Robert Edward Lee
January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870


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