« Escobar on the Mali War | Main | HARPER ON OBAMA: PARTISANSHIP ON STEROIDS »

19 January 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


This is a fascinating and revealing essay. Thank you for sharing.

Bill H

I was raised, in part, by a grandmother who grew up on a plantation in Milliken's Bend, Louisiana. She was Southern to the core and revered only two men who wore grey in that war; her grandfather and Robert E. Lee.

And I can attest to the validity of "...when the name Lee is injected into the argument? The air is stilled."

Maureen Lang

Thank you for posting this, Pat. I've been an admirer of Lee since first reading "The Killer Angels" so many years ago. Every time I've been to Gettysburg my thoughts automatically turn to him, to his strength of character. And to his sorrow.

FB Ali

Many years ago, before I moved to North America, I read Bruce Catton's "A Stillness at Appomattox". I was overwhelmed by the final paragraph of the book, in which he describes the last time the two armies faced each other in the vicinity of the court house. The beauty and pathos of that description was heart-wrenching, especially for a soldier.

I still think it is the finest piece of writing in the English language that I have come across.


FB Ali

Yes, a military sacrament, a moment of grace after the slaughter. The two armies presented arms to each other at the end and then the Confederates lay down their colors and weapons and went home. pat


The men who served under Gen. Lee paid a terrible price. My great great grandfather served in Company G of the 13th Georgia Regiment, the Early Guards, mustered in Early County, Georgia. Their unit fought through most of the Virginia campaign. While the records of the time are not complete, of a roster of 188 names, 24 were killed in battle, 60 died during the war of wounds or disease, 43 were disabled or otherwise discharged, only 13, including my great, great grandfather made it all the way and surrendered at Appomattox. Most of the remaining 48 were captured or there is no clear record of their fate. Only one of those appears to have deserted.

The statistics of the 13th Regiment were not unusual. Given the terrible toll on the men, that the army remained intact and disciplined until the end is the real tribute to Lee's leadership.

Mike Martin, Yorktown, VA

Paul Greenberg is arguably the most gifted writer in the realm of the inky wretches, and a true Southerner through and through. He outdid himself this year and it's always wise to reflect on the old general as a compass for one's own life.

Phil Cattar

Excellent.....................As I wrote here a long time ago,I was lucky enough to have General Lee's grand nephew ,a Clarence Pendelton Lee III as a college professor .I took a number of literature courses from him.Brightest,most knowledgeable,interesting man I ever have ever known.

Hank Foresman

Having grown up in Lexington, where the two Saints of the South rest in splendid repose; attended R. E. Lee Episcopal Church, the ethos of Lee is an integral part of my life growing up. For many years it was Lee the warrior that inspired me; but a number of years ago I read a book on Lee's years at Washington College. I was struck by how he was determined to move beyond the war and to lead those under his charge at Washington College towards a New South. Lee the educator to me and not his military accomplishments defines his life.

Babak Makkinejad


Will some one please explain to me the source of General Lee's popularity?

He has sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, yet he went against it.

And why not Longstreet? Or Stonewall Jackson?



Lee was released from his oath to the US when the US government accepted his resignation in 1861. His character and leadership qualities kept the South alive as a country when nothing else would have done so. pl

Babak Makkinejad

Wasn't the Oath to God? And therefore permanent - regardless of his resignation of the office?

And in what way he kept the "South Alive"? He was a Virginian, what bearing did he have on Texans or Louisianians?


Lee was their leader. It was a time when great men were followed, pre-Horatio Alger.



No, the oath was not to God although God may be called on to witness it. An officer's oath of office is legal, not sacramental. It is binding so long as one holds a commission. Lee resigned his commission and the resignation was accepted by the Secretary of War of the US. He was a former officer of the US Army after that, not a retired officer as I am. I still hold my commission although I am on the retired list of the Army. If Lee's resignation had not been accepted he would not have served in the CSA. That was true of all the Southern Regular Army and Navy officers who resigned and followed their states out of the Union. He and they as well as JF Davis were never tried for treason because they made it clear that their defense would be that secession was legal and that they had not been US citizens when they fought against the US. The US made this plausible by treating the Confederacy as a belligerent and not merely a rebellion. For example, the seceded states were required to be re-admitted to the Union. This implies that they had left the Union. Individual Confederates were required to apply to be re-instated as US citizens. That was true of Lee. He so applied and his citizenship was restored sometime in the 20th Century.

The Confederate army soon came to see itself as a national army for the new country. These were not state militia. I write here of the army itself. In the eastern theater of war they saw Lee as their greatest national leader. You can see this in the behavior of the Texas Brigade of the A of NV in the Wilderness when they demanded that he go to the rear before they would attack. When they did, a Northern observer asked "Who taught them to attack like that, to attack as though life had no meaning?" pl

Babak Makkinejad

OK, thanks.


"His wholeness. His integrity. His unbroken peace within."

I would add to this that the measure of peace Lee achieved was not without cost. Lee could be fierce, as his aides could tell you, and we know that he felt his share of anger, despair, and bitterness after the war and that he did his best to swallow such feelings and discourage those who would indulge in them at the expense of the South and the country, which must have been difficult for such a proud and high-tempered man, even one who spent his life dedicated to duty and self-control.

It was President Ford who restored Lee's citizenship. No president of either party would do so today.



Yes, it is not surprising that he only lived a few years after the war. you are quite right. No American president would now have the courage to resrore his citizenship. pl


I'm so far behind the powercurve, but I'm so glad I drifted back to this splendid piece of writing and the sentiments about a man whose integrity is unquestioned despite the nature of the times. I am reminded of a Spanish saying of relatively more recent provenance: "in civil war, all cats are black, and even the smallest kitten leaves bloody footprints."

Despite the times, R.E. Lee remains snow white in our memories. Thanks for finding that.



Hope you are better. pl

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Blog powered by Typepad