It has now been 215 winters since Robert E. Lee first saw light of cold January day, at Stratford Hall, ancestral home of the Lees in Westmoreland County, VA. They had existed, in Virginia, for more than 200 years before he had been born. The founding of the larger United States had only come into existence just 31 before he was born. This country of sovereign, independent states led by many of his kinsmen with pen (Richard Henry Lee – signer of the Declaration of Independence and first Senator of the Commonwealth of Virginia) and with sword (his own father Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee). The presence of this newest son of the renown Revolutionary War hero belied the future of a man whose life and accomplishments would eclipse those of his father by the time of his passing 63 Autumns later in 1870.
We all know of the life this mortal man lived who seemed to be larger in fame and character than even the heroes of Ancient Greece and Rome. His broken childhood, his growth into being a young man, his skills as a military officer and engineer during nearly 40 years of service in peace time. The loneliness of distance assignments from home, border fights with Indians, engineering skills, in projects, still seen today in many parts of the country, and during service to his two counties in two wars.
He never set himself higher than his soldiers to not share gifts presented to him then passed to his ragged men. He always thought of them and their needs before his own. He shared in the privations of those who served under his leadership and authority. The sharing of a pauper’s rations predominately of parched or ground corn and pork for the most part, not a feast delicacies and bounty as others thought officers’ positions required. He slept in the elements as his men, in a captured enemy tent not the warm hearth of a commandeered house but less than a hand full of times; at the behest or offering of the owner in all his time in the field. He pressed the government petitioning, demanding, and pressing always for food, blankets, socks, clothes, hats, anything to ensure his men had their needs met and small comforts that he felt they were afforded for the sacrifices that they were enduring for their country.
In orders and recognitions shared with his men, for their courage, valor, resilience, and fortitude though battle, marches, and all manner of hardships endured for their cause. Lee always openly thanked God for the blessing of His shield and buckler in victories won on the battlefield. Lee’s active fanning the flames of revival when the Spirit of the Lord swept through his army from late 1862 on. Lee praise of the Lord’s provision and shelter when disaster befell his army and humbly yield, to His will, when the contest was decided.
The devastation of Appomattox; of how it tore at his heart and soul to yield to those people after the long struggle and losses in the attempt to wrest their freedom from a country they wanted to peacefully separate from to the bloodletting of 4 long years of war. The desire for restored peace and to rebuild his beloved Southland for a better future for those to follow.
His post war career as an educator and president of a small, financial destitute college in far off Lexington to aid in rebuilding of his devastated homeland and her shattered sons broken in defense of home and hearth. His molding of men all the while by his vigor of mind in self-denial and self-control, high intelligence, unblemished unassailable moral character, personal example as a humble servant of the living God and of his personal knowledge of and trust in his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as living out the Lord’s will and seeking his guidance in word and prayer. He molded hearts by honor ingrained by personal example before their eyes and in the education befitting those future leaders and teachers to untold generations out into the future.
His submission to the end of life and eternity that awaited in those shorting days of early Autumn in the sleepy mountains that was his final earthly home. His personal example of courage and fortitude, his desire to make others better and yield to the highest eternal authority by trusting and knowing that all will be made right in the end.
His overarching love of his family all his life. His mother Ann Carter Lee, his siblings Henry IV, Charles Carter, Sydney Smith, Algernon, Anne, Philip, Catherine, and Lucy. His wife Mary and their 3 sons (Wash, Rooney, Robert, Jr.) and 4 daughters (Anne, Agnes, Mary, and Mildred). His acceptance of duty as husband, father, and man with all that entailed these roles. Honor demanded the highest of personal character and morals both in public before all eyes and especially in private when God alone may see and know the thoughts and feelings of his mind, soul, and flesh.
Acclaimed for most of the intervening years, since 1870, as among the greatest of Americans and Christians. He was revered by men and women. Their children bearing his name as an honor to him. Towns, counties, streets, memorials raised, ships named, and many other memorials offered and created to remember him and call to mind his place in the pantheon of history not only the United States or the American South, but in the entire world.
Now our countrymen have turned on him. He whose character and life are there for the world to see and know mocks him, laughs at his name, foams at the mouth to tear down his memory, and erase him from time and history…but we all know that cannot be done. He whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and is in glory before his Lord and King is now beyond ridicule. He lives where moth cannot eat, nor time rust away he who is now eternal with his God!
His memory will never die! We read of his exploits. We know of his triumphs, his glory, his sorrow, and his tragedy. We are obligated to pass this knowledge on to the next generation beyond our own and speak aloud of who he was and is even now; for the written Word of God speaks of what becomes of those who trust in the Lord for their atonement and salvation alone.
It is because of these things that the enemy of all our eternal souls makes war on the likes of Robert Edward Lee; because he reflected the Lord in all he did both flawed and well before the Lord. Those people do not want any of that seen, heard, or learned of because light is greater than darkness, good greater than evil, humility greater than pride, honor greater than disgrace, virtue greater than iniquity, and life greater than death. We remember these things about General Lee who he was here in his time and his place in the consciousness of the present hedonistic age in which we live. The world would do well to follow suit to reflect on this man and what he can teach us to the betterment of our society and humanity.
The words of that fellow, native North Carolinian, Richard M. Weaver, wrote clearly and succinctly spells out these truths regarding the memory of the past, those who lived there, and a warning to, we, the living, to remember the past and learn from those, like R. E. Lee, who came before us:
“…society is a mysterious incorporation, which includes the past, the present, and the future generations in one whole. Recollections of the example of those who have departed this life influence our daily action just as certainly as do our present concerns and our speculation about the future. Only a fool tells himself that the past is dead...The words that we speak here about the departed are tribute in return for what they have given.”
It is all these things that drew a little boy (me) over 40 years ago to the deeds and life of this flawed, yet great man of Christ. The learning of a life where a father was absent, and Lee knew of his mother’s love and the embrace of family to salve his gentle spirit as a child. The desire to do right for the sake of it and being pleasing to God. His letters, deeds, and full life all have inspired me since to cling to this manly example and to strive for a life well lived as he did using his example to build on to better myself and develop into this, my ideal of what a Christian, Southern man should strive to be for himself and others every single day of my life.
Alitheia a native North Carolinian and a proud direct descendant of Confederate and Revolutionary War soldiers. He passionately reads and studies the histories, literature, and poetry of his home state and the American South. He enjoys fishing, nature walks, and spending time with his wife and children.