Folks, as someone much wiser than me has said, assertions that are “not supported by the historical record and simply throw more fuel on today’s incendiary and misinformed national uproar about the origins, aftermath and memory of the Civil War” are not helpful.
PLEASE, I implore you, learn facts, learn what you think you know, inside and out and do not let ignorance and misinformation spread. Stand up to the revisionists and the apologists. They may buy “The Lost Cause” myth, the nobility of traitors who fought to tear our nation apart for the singular purpose of creating a slave republic, but don’t you buy it! Allow me give you some good reference material to fight back with.
In reading the writings of Robert E. Lee you will come to the irrefutable conclusion that yes, “Lee did believe that persons of African descent were inferior to white people.” He may have spoken against slavery as an evil (but of course more evil for the white race) and he may have allowed slaves in his control to be taught to read the Bible (which they believed condoned slavery), but he was as racist as anyone in the confederacy. The awful truth of his refusal to swap prisoners if it included black Union troops he had captured is another telling part of his mentality.
Sure, he could make it sound sympathetic, but in the end, he made war on his own nation to keep slavery: “In a letter written to his wife in 1856, Lee described slavery as “a moral & political evil,” but went on to qualify that it was “a greater evil to the white man [my emphasis] than to the black.” He then resorted to the time-worn ad hominem attack on people of African descent: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known and ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”
It is also patently false to claim Lee thought states rights were more important than the Union and that he simply stood with his native Virginia. He made that choice against his families wishes, against his mentors wishes and from all accounts, against his own oath to the Constitution and 25 years of service to the United States, not Virginia!
Lee wrote in January 1861 “I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and institutions, and would defend any State if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. … I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It was intended for ‘perpetual union.’” His attempts to parse following Virginia as opposed to the confederacy are just rhetoric.
He fully understood the very simple definition of treason that was in the US Constitution he had sworn an oath to defend then, and the definition is the same now: Article III Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
“The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.”
Who, better than Lee, with his family history and his own service knew the power, might and determination of the United States Army, as well as the weaknesses of the confederate rebellion?
Another fact the revisionists overlook is that the United States never accepted secession, never acknowledged the confederacy as a separate entity. They were and remained, states in rebellion and all laws, taxes and issues remained.
It is true that no matter how long and hard Lee drove his soldiers, nor how much the south sacrificed for them to do so, Lee became a god-like figure to them. He knew this. And that knowledge as well as being acutely aware of his crimes against the Union and signing an “Amnesty Oath” he tried to tell the South not to make the iconography they were determined to raise.
“I think it wiser,” the retired military leader wrote about a proposed Gettysburg memorial in 1869, “…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated,” Lee wrote of an 1866 proposal, “my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”
“At his funeral in 1870, flags were notably absent from the procession. Former Confederate soldiers marching did not don their old military uniforms, and neither did the body they buried.”
Historians say Lee thought the nation would heal best without reminders of the confederacy and without the division it would create. He was so right! They say Lee “didn’t want a cult of personality for the South.” But that is just what the South delivered.
Through a long and concerted effort, the United Daughters of the Confederacy started erecting monuments and revising the bloody rebellion as a wronged South, enobled to fight for their rights in a hostile nation. And that narrative took. It is wrong, but it stays. It stays because the monuments stay.
You know what else stayed? The KKK, formed by former confederates and meant to terrorize former slaves. That white nationalism is still here doing damage today and they revere the confederate icons above all.
You know what else the South did after Lee was gone and could not have spoken against it? When the Reconstruction Troops were withdrawn, the Black Codes and the Jim Crow era of subjugation began the replacement for slavery. The night riders, the public lynching parties, the deep segregation and disenfranchisement of the entire black race. And the former confederates made it happen.
As the monuments went up, the Civil Rights Movement was beginning too. From Julian Carr’s speech at the dedication of “Silent Sam” a confederate monument in NC: “The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South – When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God.”
“I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.”
Think long and hard what you are praising, what you are perpetuating and how the confederate hate and rebellion is still affecting our nation these 155 years later.