Lee’s Greatest Victory

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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 neighbor 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.

Benjamin H. Hill on Robert E. Lee

 

 

“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before.

The congregation freezes. Those who have been ready to go forward and kneel at the communion rail remain fixed in their pews. The minister stands in his place stunned and motionless. The black man slowly lowers his body, kneeling at the communion rail.

After what seems an interminable amount of time, an older white man rises. His hair snowy white, head up, and eyes proud, he walks quietly up the isle to the chancel rail.

So with silent dignity and self-possession, the white man kneels down to take communion along the same rail with the black man.

Lee has said that he has rejoiced that slavery is dead. But this action indicates that those were not idle words meant to placate a Northern audience. Here among his people, he leads wordlessly through example. The other communicants slowly move forward to the altar with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation. In the end, America would defy the cruel chain of history besetting nations torn apart by Civil War.”

From “April 1865:  the Month that Saved America”

Racial hatred has been the besetting curse of America.  Robert E. Lee made a step that day to end it.  Something for all Americans to recall on the 207th birthday of General Lee.

 

“The man was loved, the man was idolized,

The man had every just and noble gift.

He took great burdens and he bore them well,

Believed in God but did not preach too much,

Believed and followed duty first and last

With marvellous consistency and force,

Was a great victor, in defeat as great,

No more, no less, always himself in both,

Could make men die for him but saved his men

Whenever he could save them was most kind

But was not disobeyed was a good father,

A loving husband, a considerate friend. “

Stephen Vincent Benet

8 Responses to Lee’s Greatest Victory

  • This is the kind of man we men all need to be like. God help me!

  • 150 years later:
    Greedy, hateful American leaders are moronically rattling many chains of national and global destruction. No such poem could be inspired by them.

    ” … In the end, America would defy the cruel chain of history besetting nations torn apart by Civil War.”

    From “April 1865: the Month that Saved America”

    Racial hatred has been the besetting curse of America. Robert E. Lee made a step that day to end it. Something for all Americans to recall on the 207th birthday of General Lee.

    “The man was loved, the man was idolized,

    The man had every just and noble gift.

    He took great burdens and he bore them well,

    Believed in God but did not preach too much,

    Believed and followed duty first and last

    With marvellous consistency and force,

    Was a great victor, in defeat as great,

    No more, no less, always himself in both,

    Could make men die for him but saved his men

    Whenever he could save them was most kind

    But was not disobeyed was a good father,

    A loving husband, a considerate friend. ”

    Stephen Vincent Benet

  • It’s a moving story. But it seems not everyone has the same take on it.

    http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/front-line/fantasizing-lee-as-a-civil-rights-pioneer

    I suspect the witness it cites was seeing the event through his own racist lens, but I would be interested to hear your take on this counterpoint to your article. BTW, it cites this blog.

  • “I suspect the witness it cites was seeing the event through his own racist lens”
    No doubt, and I do not believe that was Lee’s lens. He said in the immediate aftermath of the war that he rejoiced in the ending of slavery, a practice he condemned in private correspondence prior to the War. He was in favor of enlisting black soldiers during the War and granting freedom to them and their families. He supported a bill after the War for public schools for blacks in Virginia. As President of Washington College after the War he routinely expelled students who attacked blacks. Lee was no abolitionist, and certainly no civil rights pioneer, but he looked upon the ending of slavery with no regrets and he had no use for those who would revel in racial hatred.

  • The tyrant, the pedagogue, the little dictator and the self-aggrandizing despot will use hatreds of any kind to build and perpetuate their fiefdoms and miniscule empires, both feeding and feeding on the fears of his tiny-minded minions.

    Would that there was a way to delete these detestable creatures and remove their stain from the public landscape. However, I’d wager that for every one that’s removed, three more would crop up. It’s the selfish, hateful nature of fallen Man that gives these wrethced howlers momentum, and unfortunately there is no shortage of that.

  • Benjamin H Hill was the great great grandfather of one of my law partners, B. Harvey Hill. Harvey, now retired, was perhaps the most gifted corporate lawyer I have ever known. It is regrettable that he is also a lapsed Catholic.

  • I have a positive opinion of Lee. “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile”, comes to mind. His trepidations regarding the abolition movement were prescient, considering the disastrous outcome of the war, 620,000 deaths, the ruin of many lives and the devastation of a portion of our country the effects of which remain to this day. His statement, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically,” should be understood in terms of the state of things in Africa at the time.

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