American Heroes, Myth and Reality

By Marshall W. Fishwick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The Lost Cause: Robert E. Lee

"A Prince once said of a Monarch slain, 'Taller he seems in Death.'"

--Ancient folk tale

When finally the smoke of battle cleared, this much was certain: the North had the victory, but the South had Robert E. Lee.

Almost a century after he took arms against the Union, Lee is today viewed as one of our greatest, if not our greatest, soldier, and a personification of the Lost Cause. His military defeats are considered inconsequential compared to his spiritual victories. Of all Americans, he comes closest to our conception of a true aristocrat.

Born in 1807 at Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee led a life that was simple and unswerving--that, of a soldier, a Christian, and a gentleman. After graduating from West Point in 1829, he served as army engineer, an officer in the Mexican war, and the superintendent of West Point. His Federal troops suppressed John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. When offered the field command of the Union army, he resigned his post to lead Virginia's troops in the Confederate army. Brilliant victories took him eventually to Gettysburg, from which he was forced to retreat. Thereafter he was on the defensive. In 1865, two months after being appointed commander-in-chief of all the Confederate forces, he surrendered his army at Appomattox. A civilian again, he became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. In 1870, five years after assuming this academic post, he died. This is the brief history of the most admired Southerner in American history.

Lee legends have an unmatched mellowness and tenderness.

-73-

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