A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee
by John Esten Cooke
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"There have, however, been other generals of genius as brilliant, of courage and endurance hardly less distinguished. How many men have ever displayed the perfect simplicity of nature, the utter absence of vanity or affectation, which belongs to the truest and purest greatness, in triumph or in defeat, as General Lee has done? When Commander-in-Chief of the Southern armies, he moved from point to point, as duty required, with less parade than a European general of division, wearing no sword, attended by no other staff than the immediate occasion demanded, and chatting with a comrade or a visitor with a simple courtesy which had in it no shade of condescension. Only on one occasion does he seem to have, been accoutred with the slightest regard to military display or personal dignity; and that, characteristically, was the last occasion on which he wore the Confederate uniform—the occasion of his interview with General Grant on April 9, 1865. After the war he retired without a word into privacy and obscurity. Ruined by the seizure and destruction of his property, which McClellan protected, and which his successors gave up to ravage and pillage, the late Commander-in-Chief of the Southern armies accepted the presidency of a Virginia college, and devoted himself as simply and earnestly to its duties as if he had never filled a higher station or performed more exciting functions. Well aware of the jealous temper of the party dominant in the North, and anxious, above all things, to avoid exasperating that temper against his conquered countrymen, he carefully abstained from appearing in any public ceremony or taking any overt part in political questions. His influence has been exerted, quietly but steadily, in one direction, with a single view to restore harmony and good-will between the two sections, and to reconcile the oppressed Southerners to the Union from which he fought so gallantly to free them. He has discountenanced all regretful longings after the lost visions of Southern independence; all demonstrations in honor of the 'conquered banner;' and has encouraged the South to seek the restoration of her material prosperity and the satisfaction of her national feelings in a frank acceptance of the result of the war, and a loyal adhesion to the Federal bond. It was characteristic and worthy of the man that he was among the first to sue for a formal pardon from President Johnson; not for any advantage which he personally could obtain thence, but to set the example of submission to his comrades-in-arms, and to reconcile them to a humiliation without which the conquerors refused them that restitution to civil rights necessary to any effort to retrieve their own or their country's fortunes. Truer greatness, a loftier nature, a spirit more unselfish, a character purer, more chivalrous, the world has rarely, if ever known. Of stainless life and deep religious feeling, yet free from all taint of cant and fanaticism, and as dear and congenial to the Cavalier Stuart as to the Puritan Stonewall Jackson; unambitious, but ready to sacrifice all at the call of duty; devoted to his cause, yet never moved by his feelings beyond the line prescribed by his judgment; never provoked by just resentment to punish wanton cruelty by reprisals which would have given a character of needless savagery to the war—both North and South owe a deep debt of gratitude to him, and the time will come when both will be equally proud of him. And well they may, for his character and his life afford a complete answer to the reproaches commonly cast on money-grubbing, mechanical America. A country which has given birth to men like him, and those who followed him, may look the chivalry of Europe in the face without shame; for the fatherlands of Sidney and of Bayard never produced a nobler soldier, gentleman, and Christian, than General Robert E. Lee."

We may add to these the following just remarks upon the occupation to which General Lee devoted himself at the close of his military career, from


"Surely it should be a cause of thankfulness and encouragement for those who are teachers, that their profession has received this reflection of glory and honor from this choice of his, from this life, and from this death. And it is enduring honor for all the colleges of the South, and for all our schools—an honor in which all may share alike without jealousy—that this pure and bright name is inseparably connected by the will of him that bore it with the cause of education, and is blended now with that of Washington in the name of one of our own institutions of learning. We think that so long as the name of Lee is honored and loved among us, our Southern teachers may rejoice and grow stronger in their work, when they remember that he was one of their number, and that his great heart, that had so bravely borne the fortunes of a great empire, bore also, amid its latest aspirations, the interests, the anxieties, and the hopes of the unpretending but noble profession of teaching.

"To leave this out of the account would be, indeed, to do sad injustice to General Lee's own memory. And that, not only because his position in this profession was of his own choice, and was steadily maintained with unchanging purpose to the end of his life, but also because the acknowledgment of his service here is necessary to the completeness of his fame. In no position of his life did he more signally develop the great qualities of his character than in this; and it may truly be said that some of the greatest can only be fully understood in the light of the serene patience and of the simple and quiet self-consecration of his latest years. It was then that, far from the tumult of arms and from the great passions of public life, with no great ambition to nerve his heart, nor any great events to obscure the public criticism of his conduct, he displayed in calm and steady light the grandest features of his character, and by this crucial test, added certain confirmation to the highest estimate that could have been formed of his character and of his abilities. It was indeed a 'crucial test' for such a man; and that he sustained it as he did is not among the smallest of his claims to the admiration of his countrymen. No tribute to his memory can be just that does not take this last great service into the account; and no history of his life can be fairly written that shall not place in the strongest light his career and influence as President of Washington College."

And we may appropriately close with the following thoughtful words from the pen of


"In the darkest hour of our trials, in the very midst of our deepest affliction, mourning over the loss of the noble Lee, Heaven sends to us as consolation the best sign of the times vouchsafed in many a day. It addresses the heart, rent as it is in surveying the desolations around us, as the rainbow upon the breast of the receding storm-cloud when its power and fury are over.

"That sign is the unmistakable estimation in which the real merits and worth of this illustrious chieftain of the cause of the Southern States is held by all classes of persons, not only in the South, but in the North.

"Partisans and leaders, aiming at the overthrow of our institutions, may, while temporarily in high places, by fraud and usurpation, keep up the false cry of rebel and traitor; but these irrepressible outburstings of popular sentiment, regarding no restraints on great-occasions which cause Nature to speak, show clearly how this cry and charge are regarded and looked upon by the masses of the people everywhere.

"Everywhere Lee is honored; not only as a hero, but as a patriot. This is but the foreshadowing of the general judgment of the people of the whole United States, and of the world, not only upon Lee, but upon all of his associates who fought, bled, and died in that glorious cause in which he won his immortality. That cause was the sovereign right of local self-government by the people of the several States of this continent. That cause is not dead! Let it never be abandoned; but let its friends rally to its standard in the forum of reason and justice, with the renewed hope and energy from this soul-inspiriting sign that it lies deeply impressed upon the hearts of the great majority of the people in all sections of this country.

"In these popular manifestations of respect and veneration for the man who won all his glory in maintaining this cause, present usurpers should read their doom, and all friends of constitutional liberty should take fresh courage in all political conflicts, never to lower their standard of principles."


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