Robert E. Lee
It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy. Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death. It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach; for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it. From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth. In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth. But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.
Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884
I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865. Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox. We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history. The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war. The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south. Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated. All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.
Grant in his memoirs wrote, “When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag.”
Lee so appreciated the generosity of the terms of surrender given by Grant, that for the remainder of his life he would never allow a word of denigration about Grant to be spoken in his presence.
..”Attention Texas Brigade” was rung upon the morning air, by Gen. Gregg, “the eyes of General Lee are upon you, forward, march.” Scarce had we moved a step, when Gen. Lee, in front of the whole command, raised himself in his stirrups, uncovered his grey hairs, and with an earnest, yet anxious voice, exclaimed above the din and confusion of the hour, “Texans always move them.”
…never before in my lifetime or since, did I ever witness such a scene as was enacted when Lee pronounced these words, with the appealing look that he gave. A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around, and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heart-felt tears. Leonard Gee, a courier to Gen. Gregg, and riding by my side, with tears coursing down his cheeks and yells issuing from his throat exclaimed, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.”
Private Robert Campell, 5th Texas Infantry
The fighting erupted early on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness. Grant assumed that Hill’s corps had been fought out on the first day and could be overrun with a strong attack. At 5:00 AM Hancock attacked with three divisions, with two in support. By 6:00 AM Hill’s corps was in full retreat and disaster loomed for Lee. At that time the 800 man Texas Brigade, perhaps the elite fighting unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Longstreet’s corps arrived and saved the day. Longstreet launched a two division counterattack up the Orange Plank Road, with the Texans, who suffered 650 casualties, leading the attack on the north side of the Road.
This action by the Texan Brigade, and similar actions on many other fields, caused Lee to treasure the unit as his shock troops. This caused Lee to deny a request by the Governor of Texas in February of 1865. The request and the denial are contained in this letter from Jefferson Davis to the Governor of Texas: Continue reading
“I have but to show him my design, and I know that if it can be done it will be done. Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose.”
Robert E. Lee on Stonewall Jackson
Of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, nicknamed Stonewall by General Barnard Bee at the battle of Bull Run, it was said he lived by the New Testament and fought by the Old. Certainly throughout his life he was a convinced Christian. As a young man he would attend services of various Christian denominations. In Mexico, during his service in the Mexican War, he attended mass, although sadly he did not convert to Catholicism. Instead he eventually became a Presbyterian. His Bible was his constant companion, and he would often speak of God and theological matters in private conversation.
Jackson in his professional life was a soldier. Just before the Civil War he was a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (science) and artillery instruction at the Virginia Military Institute. As a teacher he made a good soldier. His lectures were rather dry. If his students seemed to fail to grasp a lecture, he would repeat it the next day, word for word.
His home life was a mixture of sorrow and joy. His first wife died in childbirth along with their still-born son, a tragedy that would have crushed many a man less iron-willed than Jackson. His second marriage, like his first, was happy, but heartache also haunted it. A daughter died shortly after birth in 1858. A second daughter was born in 1862, Julia, shortly before Jackson’s own death in 1863. His wife would spend a widowhood of 52 years, dedicated to raising their daughter, cherishing the memory of her husband, and helping destitute Confederate veterans. For her good works she became known as the Widow of the Confederacy. Their daughter Julia would marry and have children before her early death of typhoid fever at age 26. Her two children had several children and there are many living descendants of Jackson.
He and his second wife established and taught a Sunday school for black slaves. At the time it was against the law in Virginia to teach slaves to read, but apparently that is precisely what Jackson and his wife did. One of the last letters he ever posted was his regular contribution he mailed off throughout the war for the financial support of the Sunday school for slaves he and his wife had founded. Continue reading
When the blue-coated
Unprepared ranks of Howard saw that storm,
Heralded by wild rabbits and frightened deer,
Burst on them yelling, out of the whispering woods,
They could not face it. Some men died where they stood,
The storm passed over the rest. It was Jackson’s storm,
It was his old trick of war, for the last time played.
He must have known it. He loosed it and drove it on,
Hearing the long yell shake like an Indian cry
Through the dense black oaks, the clumps of second-growth pine,
And the red flags reel ahead through the underbrush.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
The plan having been made for the flank attack against Hooker, it remained for Jackson to execute it. For a very long day he and his corps marched along the front of Hooker’s massive army’s front and into the rear of the right of his army. Numerous reports came to Hooker from Union units reporting movement by a large number of Confederates to their front. Hooker, now firmly ensconced in the pleasant land of wishful thinking, chose to interpret these reports as evidence that Lee was retreating. Hooker had his army sit idle that day, the day when he could have crushed Lee with overwhelming numbers.
Lee described Jackson’s march in his official report of the battle on September 21, 1863: Continue reading
On the evening of May 1, 1863, General Robert E. Lee knew several facts about the military situation confronting him:
1. His army was between two forces, Hooker with approximately 70,000 men at Chancellorsville and Sedgwick south of Fredericksburg with approximately 40,000 men. Confronting Sedgwick he had Early with about 11,000 men and confronting Hooker Lee had around 40,000 men.
2. If Sedgwick and Hooker attacked aggressively Lee’s army could be destroyed between them.
3. Neither Sedgwick nor Hooker had demonstrated much appetite for attack. Hooker had launched a brief attack the morning of May 1, but had quickly called it off, Hooker being content to defend against Lee.
4. Lee now had the initiative, ceded to him miraculously by the man who commanded a combined force more than twice the size of Lee’s.
5. What to do with the initiative was the question. How could Lee overcome such a grave disparity in numbers? Continue reading
I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865. Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox. We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history. The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war. The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south. Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated. All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox. Continue reading
They do not know what they say. If it came to a conflict of arms, the war will last at least four years. Northern politicians will not appreciate the determination and pluck of the South, and Southern politicians do not appreciate the numbers, resources, and patient perseverance of the North. Both sides forget that we are all Americans. I foresee that our country will pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation, perhaps, for our national sins.
Robert E. Lee
Something for the weekend. Further evidence of what a wild and wacky place the internet truly is! Quotations from Robert E. Lee teamed up with the Beatles song Let it Be. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the video, although for share emotional impact, and a nice recreation of what Lee meant to the ragged, indomitable troops in the Army of Northern Virginia, nothing can top this scene from Gettysburg: Continue reading