Tag Archives: Robert E. Lee

Monuments?

In order for the nation to figure out its future, it must first figure out its past–in particular, the appropriateness of monuments to the Confederacy.

Let’s start with one authoritative source, Robert E. Lee. Lee, a top graduate of West Point who had served in the US Army for 32 years. As a commissioned officer, he had taken an oath to the US Constitution. He chose–albeit difficultly–to disregard his oath, choosing Virginia, his state, over the United States of America, his country.

After the war, “He swore allegiance to the Union and publicly decried southern separatism, whether militant or symbolic.”

“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.”

Many of the Confederate monuments were not erected until the late 1800s and early 1900s. While the stated purpose was to honor those who fought, many–including myself–believe that it was a blatant trumpeting of white supremacy.

Why are the number of people who today condemn the monuments increasing? The list of reasons is long and growing, but let’s look at one–just one–reason.

Treason.

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty, typically to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.[1]

The Southern states took up arms and engaged in war against their own nation. The individuals involved were traitors–Lee, Jackson, Bragg, and all the others. They may have been brilliant, but they were still traitors. In other times or countries, such as England, traitors were subjected to the horrors of being drawn, hanged until they were almost–but not quite–dead, eviscerated while still alive, decapitated and their bodies divided into quarters.

Such is not the American way. Instead, the Southerners were welcomed back, if they chose–like Lee–to once again honor their nation.

However, there is no good, logical, rationale reason to build monuments to traitors.

(Thanks to PBS and Wikipedia for much of this material. Links are embedded for your convenience.)

 

 

Anti-Heroes

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There have been articles written about removing the names of certain historical figures from various public facilities. I’m speaking of significant figures from the American Civil War who fought for the Confederacy against the Union. To some these were traitors. To others, they were historical figures in spite of their allegiance.

First and foremost (on the least popular side) might be Nathan Bedford Forrest, who (depending upon which historian you follow) started the Ku Klux Klan, or didn’t start the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was a “social club” that had a little problem with beating, lynching, burning buildings and people who were not white, or were Jewish, or Catholic, or anything except proper Southern men.

On the more popular side, you would find Robert E. Lee, who declined command of the Union Army because he refused to fight against his native Virginia. He married a lady whose lineage went to George Washington’s stepson. He was very dynamic when defending Virginia; much less assertive when venturing into the North.

The logical argument is that these were traitors who fought against the United States, so therefore, they should not be honored.

I can understand that argument, but it is not complete.

They are also part of our history – just like Dred Scott.

We are humans. Washington, Jefferson, Lee and Grant were humans. John Adams was as wonderful and as imperfect as they come.

As imperfect (and that term is extremely charitable) beings, we fail and we fall. If we’re strong, or stubborn, or wise, we pick ourselves up again and try to do better.

Fortunately these failings eventually succumbed to heroes like Rosa Parks or Medger Evers or Dr. Martin Luther King.

As Americans, they’re all part of the story. It’s not an easy story, but it’s a good one. Working together, it should be agreat one.

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Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King in the background

Gettysburg

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It used to be a common requirement for students to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. If you’re not familiar with it, try this link. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/gtsburgaddress.htm

The Battle of Gettysburg is generally accepted as the turning point in America’s Civil War. The Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia crossed into the Northern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania, with the first engagement on 1 July 1863. On 4 July, General Lee called for the Confederate Army to retreat. Over 50 thousand soldiers – representing both sides – were killed, wounded or missing. It took nearly two weeks to bury the dead. The priority was to bury the Northern dead, so many Confederate soldiers were unable to be moved due to the summer heat and decomposition, so they were buried where they fell. The Union soldiers did not fare much better, originally being buried in shallow graves. A proper cemetery was deemed appropriate.

The National Cemetery was dedicated on 19 November 1863. President Abraham Lincoln’s speech followed a rousing two hour oration by Edward Everett. Lincoln’s speech was barely two minutes.

Few today know who Everett was much less what he said.

Lincoln’s few words are remembered and revered.