"Uncle Bob." as the troops called him)
"It also said that Mr. Custis, while dying, told his slaves that they should be freed immediately, rather than five years on.
Lee challenged that account. In his letter to The Times, he said that “there is no desire on the part of the heirs to prevent the execution” of the will. And he said Mr. Custis, who was “constantly attended” by family members during his final days, had never been heard granting immediate freedom to his slaves.
The Times published Lee’s letter on Jan. 8, 1858, (though the letter itself, written shortly after New Year’s, appears to be mistakenly dated 1857) and said it was “glad” to be corrected on the matter.
The war came three years later.
Lee joined the secessionists in April 1861. He left Arlington House, and the estate was eventually overtaken by Union soldiers. (The dead were buried in its grounds, which would later become the site of Arlington National Cemetery.) Over the course of the conflict, many slaves were hired out or escaped the property.
In 1862, in accordance with Mr. Custis’s will, Lee filed a deed of manumission to free the slaves at Arlington House and at two more plantations Mr. Custis had owned, individually naming more than 150 of them. And in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all people held as slaves in the rebelling states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” NY Times
It is said of some people that they are a steel fist in a velvet glove. In this case, perhaps a marble fist in a velvet glove would be more apt. He was a woman raised boy, schooled by a pacifist Quaker schoolmaster here in Alexandria. His many family connections arranged an appointment to West Point as a way of educating him in straightened circumstances. He much regretted the need that had forced him into a military career.
IMO the best books that speak of him are Freeman,s "Robert E. Lee: a biography," "Lee's Lieutenants," and Foote's "The Civil War, a narrative." There is a lot of other material but these stand out for me. In Myers-Briggs terms I judge him to be an ISTJ.
He was endlessly, almost painfully courteous, so much so that his reticence in simply ordering people around who needed it was IMO a factor leading to failure in many places.
At the same time, the tiger caged within showed in his cold rages of frustration. On the battlefield this beast stared at the surrounding world wih great fierceness. His utterance at Fredericksburg while watching Burnside's blue host advance was typical. "It is well that war is so terrible or we would love it too much." And then there is the matter of his attempt to advance in the front line of the Texas Brigade in counter-attack in The Wilderness. "Drive them, Texans, drive them as you always do..." They refused to advance until he went to the rear. One of their sergeants took the reins of the grey horse and led it to the rear as the brigade went forward.
Would he have watched and urged a deputy sheriff to beat run away slaves? IMO he might have done that. He felt a keen responsibility to guard his wife's extensive property and whatever it was that his children would inherit. He was the legal guardian of that property under laws then common in the US. It should be noted that in 1862 he sent papers across the lines manumitting the remaining 150 slaves at Arlington in accordance with the terms of his father in law's will. Before the war he had required his wife to live on his army pay whenever she was not resident on her property.
He could be very hard. In Pennsylvania he issued an order to his forces saying that anyone who molested the German farmers in the neighborhood would be severely punished. Several were shot. In the dark winter of Mine Run he insisted that a Confederate who had been taken prisoner and had then joined the Union Army to later desert back to his own side, be shot for desertion when he was captured by his own Louisiana Regiment. The court-martial had recommended mercy, but he insisted. They shot him tied to a post out in no man's land with Meade's army watching. The man's last words of loyalty to his comrades who were required to kill him are too painful to repeat.
Was he a great general? IMO he was not. He was a military engineer who began the war with a rudimentary understanding of tactics but steadily improved until his health broke down in 1864. His notion that the CSA had to beat the eastern Union Army on northern soil was suicidal in light of the disparity of resources on the two sides.
No, he was a great soul who seems to have thought nothing of himself and a great leader. The men of the A of NV followed him to the end with a devotion that no general deserves as the agent of their destruction.
After the war, he was altogether devoted to his family, Washington College and the cause of reconciliation.
He never wrote memoirs and was opposed to memorialization through statuary. pl