Monday, April 14, 2014

The Confederate We'll Never Know


Its been 150 years since Robert E. Lee sat with U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court house and hammered out the the terms of surrender for the ragged remains of the Confederate Army. The American Civil war was a terrible and unforgiving war which took the countless lives of people from both the north and south. The physical numbers of dead and maimed have been repeated over and over in countless books and documentaries for the last 150 years. But it must be mentioned as part of this article to establish a baseline. Approximately 625,000 died in the war. And unknown number of soldiers were wounded, suffered the loss of limbs (by 1870 approx 30% of the state of Georgia's budget went towards purchasing prosthetic limbs for Georgia Soldiers who had been wounded during the conflict.) and suffered mental anguish caused by civil war. The total numbers of Soldiers who suffered from combat related mental illness during this time will never be completely known. Though evidence suggests that the southern Soldier bore the brunt of "battle fatigue" (PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in a post civil war territory, where military occupation by the north became a reality and the southern economy had been decimated by the war. It could be that perhaps the folklore of the half crazed southern cousin found it's roots in the thousands of returning Confederate Soldiers, who because of their war time experience had returned home with shattered mental health. Most Confederate soldiers, much like the soldiers of every war found themselves caught up in the rising tide and upheaval of a nation torn apart by severe partisan politics and the desires of special interest groups of the day. However, with that said, it is indeed very difficult (though so many try) to judge the people who lived during this time period (or any past time period for that mater). Especially from our time period. A time in which partisan opinion moves via the air waves and internet at light speed and personal character assassinations are given out like parking tickets. The civil war stands out in the opinion pool. The reasons for this are clear to some. Because as in every war, the victor write the history. But the reality is that the civil war was anything but black and white. It is in fact the greatest gray area that United States history has ever witnessed.

Enter Robert E. Lee. In southern culture, Lee is indeed bigger than life and has been raised to mythical status. He is not only revered by southerners, but also to many who study military history and the American Civil War. Lee has been referred to as the "marble man". Though  he earned the nick name during his time as a Cadet at West Point due to the fact that he had a squeaky clean reputation. This title stuck after the war. Though  Lee's upbringing also played a huge part in how he conducted himself in life. After all, he had been raised by aristocracy in a time when honor, dignity and decorum were adhered to as a matter of culture.

Robert E Lee's early career was nothing short of exemplary. Lee' advanced very quickly, fought in the war with Mexico, served with the prestigious Army Corps of Engineers and eventually became the superintendent of West Point Military Academy itself.

In October 1859 the enigmatic character John Brown led a band of 21 abolitionists who seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Browns hopes were to incite a slave rebellion. President James Buchanan gave Lee command of detachments of militia, soldiers, and United States Marines, to suppress the uprising and arrest its leaders. By the time Lee arrived that night, the militia on the site had surrounded Brown and his hostages. At dawn, Brown refused the demand for surrender. Lee attacked, and Brown and his followers were captured after three minutes of fighting. Lee's summary report of the episode shows Lee believed it "was the attempt of a fanatic or madman". Lee said Brown achieved "temporary success" by creating panic and confusion and by "magnifying" the number of participants involved in the raid. It was Brown's actions at Harpers Ferry Virginia and his activities in the west particularly the incident at Pottawatomie Creek Kansas, when he and his sons hacked several pro-slavery people to death with broad swords. The attack at Harper's Ferry Va, and Browns actions in the west were a direct cause of the militarization of the south. Acts of violence against not only slavery, but against the south itself and long before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter.  John Brown was by modern standards a terrorist. And the government must have understood this as well because the government moved swiftly and Brown was tried and hung. And just like the acts of modern terrorists, Brown caused panic throughout the south.

It was On April 18, 1861, that Lee was met at the home of Francis Blair, Sr., a journalist, who told Lee that he was being offered command with the rank of Major General by Secretary of War Cameron and President Lincoln. Lee correctly anticipating that Virginia would join the Confederacy refused because it would mean that he would be leading an invasion of Virginia.  If we must judge Lee from the Present, it is important to reflect on these words from a modern President, Barrack Obama. On July 13, near the end of a campaign speech at a firehouse in Roanoke, Va., President Barack Obama told an audience that "if you've got a business - you didn't build that. Someone else made it happen." So who may have built Lee's life?  Surely the families and voters of Virginian did. His own family who a mere eighty years before had helped to found a nation. A nation that stepped up and stopped tyranny in it's tracks. And now Lee watched as a very strong federal entity was taking form. And Lee must have realized the cross roads at which he stood. If we must judge Lee from a modern perspective, a good choice may be to assess Lee's decisions by what lay before him and after affect, one such idea is put fourth by the Writer Stephen Covey in which he states;

Begin With The End In Mind

 ‘Begin With The End In Mind’.  This translates to understanding what is really important to you and work to achieve that, rather than a single destination.  Reflecting on who I am, some of the scripts I use to direct my day-to-day behavior I adopted from my parents. To an extent, I absorbed those scripts as I formed my Parent Ego State, therefore I have become what I am by default rather than by explicit design. To a greater or lesser extent our long term mission is shaped either by accepting scripts by default or by trying to shape how we behave and act. 

Lee certainly had a solid grip how he wanted things to unfold, what type of reputation he would have earned had he turned against his own state, his own people and his own family. And how that decision would have affected not only himself, but the well being of his family and Decendants.


From our perspective today many historians are trying to bury the memory of Robert E. Lee and to place the final label of "traitor" upon his breast. Many examples of this have appeared in recent years. For example;

Fox News (Dec 18th 2013)Reported that the US Army War college was contemplating removing the portraits of both Robert E Lee and Stone Wall Jackson from public view. And they questioned why men who fought against the United States should have a place in U.S, Military history. This is an astounding revision, considering the fact that both Lee and Jackson went to West Point and Lee eventually commanded there and Jackson worked diligently and graduated 17th out a class of 59 Cadets.

Another Example;
On July 31st 2011, a writer and self identified historian by the name of Glenn Lafantasie published the article; "The Confederate We Still Don't know" 150 years after Robert E. Lee took command of the South's army, his descendants are intent on keeping his secrets.
"  The article appeared online at  And was in response to Dr. Lafantasie's efforts to secure the papers and letters belonging to Robert E. Lee and currently under the ownership and protection of his family. Lee's Decendent's  declined LaFantasies requests for access to Lee's personal papers and writings. A fact to which LaFantasie writes;
"Still, it would nice to know more about the man who decided to violate his solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution by taking up arms against the United States — the nation his idol George Washington and his father Light-Horse Harry Lee fought to sustain in the American Revolution. Robert E. Lee is important historically because he devoted himself to a cause that was, at its core, anti-American; yet he — among countless other Confederates — was convinced that he acted only as a paragon of patriotism. It’s the essential delusion of every traitor. The truth is, though, that we will never really know Robert E. Lee until his family allows researchers to have complete access to his papers."

Considering the plain fact, that revisionists have attempted, and will continue to attempt to erase history and to use personal information to defame Lee. Why would his decendants risk their own names and reputations and the reputation of their current families? Especially in a society that has learned how to make a quick buck on immoral thought and unethical behavior.

 For he will smile 
And give you, with unflinching courtesy, 
Prayers, trappings, letters, uniforms and orders,
Photographs, kindness, valor and advice, 
And do it with such grace and gentleness 
That you will know you have the whole of him 
Pinned down, mapped out, easy to understand-- 
And so you have.
 All things except the heart 
The heart he kept himself, that answers all. 
For here was someone who lived all his life 
In the most fierce and open light of the sun, 
Wrote letters freely, did not guard his speech, 
Listened and talked with every sort of man, 
And kept his heart a secret to the end 
From all the picklocks of biographers.

by Steven Vincent Benét


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