In March of 1861, newly elected President Abraham Lincoln had just taken office. By then, Southern secession was well under way. Mr. Lincoln already knew he'd decide to raise an army large enough to invade the South and force it back into the Union.
He called in the much-admired Gen. Winfield Scott, who was ready to retire. Mr. Lincoln asked him who the most capable officer to replace him was. Without hesitation, Gen. Scott made reference to Col. Robert E. Lee as an outstanding choice. Word was sent to Col. Lee that he was at the top of the list for the job to replace Gen. Scott.
Even though Gen. Lee was against secession and spoke of a possible war that might last for four years in a letter to his daughter, he was a Virginian first and foremost. He had to side with his native state. He ultimately said, "I could have taken no other course without dishonor."
Much of his military prowess existed in the exemplary character he portrayed to his own men. This character came from his deeply held religious views. Just as he had achieved an impeccable record as a student at West Point, he equally did so in his personal life. When he could have stayed in the warmth and comfort of someone's nearby home, he chose to live with less comfort in his tent headquarters. Unlike the leaders of Union armies invading the South, his officers were told to punish any troops who pillaged or treated civilians unfairly.
At the end of the conflict, just days before the surrender, when Confederate forces had little food, one Confederate general suggested to cut the rations of captured Union soldiers. Gen. Lee immediately chastised this suggestion and ordered the same rations to be given them.
Back in Richmond after the surrender, his minister spoke harshly toward the victors in regard that Mr. Lee might be imprisoned. After the service, Gen. Lee remarked that whatever was to happen was in the Lord's hands. He knew there was a time of hardships to come, but he also knew harsh rhetoric was not useful.
A study of this man's life would be a useful means to teach about true character... His birthday was Jan. 19.
Dr. Robert L. Gordon, North Augusta, S.C.
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