Thursday, January 19, 2006
On this day:

Robert E. Lee

(Reprinted from last year.)

General Robert E. Lee was born on this date in 1807. Recognized by many as the greatest of all American military men, Lee holds a special place in the hearts of Americans, whether they be from North or South.

He opposed secession and believed that slavery was a moral and political evil that should eventually be abolished. Nonetheless, when duty called, he responded in the only way he could. On April 20, 1861, just on the heels of Virginia's secession from the Union, Lee wrote to his sister:

The whole South is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have foreborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet in my own person I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native State.

With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword...

On the same day, Lee had also written a letter to his commander, General Winfield Scott, resigning his commission in the U.S. Army - bound by duty to defend his native Virginia.

General: Since my interview with you on the 18th inst. I have felt that I ought no longer to retain my commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted the best years of my life and all the ability I possessed.

During the whole of that time - more than a quarter of a century - I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors and most cordial friendship from my comrades. To no one, General, have I been as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness and consideration, and it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration, and your name and fame shall always be dear to me.

Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.

Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continuance of your happiness and prosperity, and believe me, most truly yours,

R.E. Lee

Lee was a great general and a great man. It is fitting that the country he loved so much still holds him fondly in its memory.