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America's Best General?
Author: TriSec    Date: 06/23/2020 12:29:48

Good Morning.

We've been thinking quite a bit about memorials to our past recently - some justified, most of them not. One person stands out among many.


He was born in Virginia in 1807, son of a revered Revolutionary cavalryman. There was only one course for his life, and he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1825. He graduated second in his class, and unusually for a cadet, did not receive any demerits during his tenure.

He started his career in the Army Corps of Engineers, but war soon called, and he fought well and showed flashes of brilliance during the Mexican-American war.

Returning victorious, he took a two-year leave to run his family plantation in Alexandria, Virginia...where he betrayed a promise made by the previous owner to their human property.

Lee's cruelty on the Arlington plantation nearly led to a slave revolt, since many of the slaves had been given to understand that they were to be made free as soon as Custis died, and protested angrily at the delay. In May 1858, Lee wrote to his son Rooney, "I have had some trouble with some of the people. Reuben, Parks & Edward, in the beginning of the previous week, rebelled against my authority—refused to obey my orders, & said they were as free as I was, etc., etc.—I succeeded in capturing them & lodging them in jail. They resisted till overpowered & called upon the other people to rescue them." Less than two months after they were sent to the Alexandria jail, Lee decided to remove these three men and three female house slaves from Arlington, and sent them under lock and key to the slave-trader William Overton Winston in Richmond, who was instructed to keep them in jail until he could find "good & responsible" slaveholders to work them until the end of the five-year period.

Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families and by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.


When war divided the United States, he was the first choice of the Commander-In-Chief to command the Army of the Potomac, which passed for the US Army at the time.

Instead, he chose to betray his country and take up arms against it.

Of course, it's Robert E. Lee.

He was a very complex man - in reading some of the autobiographical facts, it seemed that he was actually opposed to secession, but of course was a longtime supporter of that "peculiar institution". Where today, most Rebels look in the rear-view mirror and try to frame the Civil War as a state's right's issue, Lee was actually more pragmatic.

He knew war would come to his home, and at least simplistically, he resigned in order to take up arms to defend it. In the end, he made the wrong choice. The Southern States lost more than the North in war; their infrastructure was destroyed, farms burned to the ground, and some 258,000 men never returned home.

But why is he so revered today?

After the Civil War ended, that bizarre ability of Americans to forgive and forget took hold quickly. Almost as soon as the war ended, we embarked on what is now called "Reconstruction"...where those persons who took up arms against the country were rehabilitated. Amnesty was given, and in many cases, citizenship was restored.

Amendments were made to the Constitution, ensuring that the ideals that were fought over were codified in law, and the eleven states that seceded eventually had their republican forms of government restored, and all were eventually re-admitted to the Union.

There were no trials or investigations for treason, war crimes, or otherwise. For the most part, anything and everything the South did was swept under the rug, and those states were re-admitted as if nothing happened.

Mr. Lee, however - didn't seem to be included in the general amnesty that followed the war. A first proclamation issued by new President Johnson specifically excluded him and fourteen other members of the former Confederacy.


On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon to persons who had participated in the rebellion against the United States. There were fourteen excepted classes, though, and members of those classes had to make special application to the President. Lee sent an application to Grant and wrote to President Johnson on June 13, 1865:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April '61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Virginia 9 April '65.

On October 2, 1865, the same day that Lee was inaugurated as president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, he signed his Amnesty Oath, thereby complying fully with the provision of Johnson's proclamation. Lee was not pardoned, nor was his citizenship restored.

Three years later, on December 25, 1868, Johnson proclaimed a second amnesty which removed previous exceptions, such as the one that affected Lee.


After he was beaten, Lee himself seemed a changed man. His stance towards blacks and former slaves softened; he testified before Congress in support of reconciliation and reforms, as President of Washington college, he expelled white students that were harassing local black men, and even went so far as to endorse his former adversary, General Grant, in the presidential election of 1870.

Mr. Lee's stature only expanded in the years following his death. In 1874, a Georgia politician named Benjamin Harvey Hill glorified the traitor thusly:

He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbour without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward.


It appears that there has been nothing but looking in the rear-view mirror with increasing adulation and darkening rose-coloured glasses ever since.

Mr. Lee's name remains in place on many facilities throughout the United States, including several at his Alma Mater. It seems incongruous today that an institution charged with teaching officers for the Army of the United States would have buildings named for a traitor. I'm not the only one that thinks this way; Representative Sean Patrick Mahoney (D-NY) has found some small support to rename some facilities at the school.


WEST POINT, N.Y. — The U.S. Military Academy has been asked again to rename buildings honoring Confederate officers like Robert E. Lee by the Democratic congressman who represents the area.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney sent a letter co-signed by 21 other members of Congress to the secretaries of the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense on Thursday saying there shouldn’t be facilities at West Point named for those who “betrayed their Country during the Civil War.”

"It is because of that deep respect for the school and its mission, we believe we must correct the hurtful and outdated practice of honoring at West Point certain Americans who engaged in armed rebellion against the United States in support of racism and slavery," read the letter.

The letter did not provide examples, but West Point has a cadet barracks and a gate named for Lee, the Confederate general who is one of the academy's most famous graduates. Lee also served as West Point's superintendent.

Maloney had sought the barracks name change before, but the issue has become more prominent since George Floyd's death spurred an intense reexamination of statues of historical figures, as well as streets and buildings named for them. Two Congress members in New York City this month requested that Stonewall Jackson Drive and General Lee Avenue at an Army installation in Brooklyn be renamed.


America has had many great generals. While Mr. Lee did start his career under the auspices of the United States, and distinguished himself well under the Stars and Stripes during most of his career, it's those last four years under arms that are problematic.

America's Greatest General? Well...your mileage may vary, but I'll cast my vote with George Patton.
 

7 comments (Latest Comment: 06/23/2020 15:35:25 by livingonli)
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