PopGlitz on Politics: Robert E. Lee Deserves to be Honored
Confederate General Robert E. Lee is one of the most misunderstood figures in American history. Because of his role as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and titular head of the Confederate military, he has been unfairly maligned. His modern day detractors only focus on this one chapter of his life while ignoring that General Lee had a life before and after the American Civil War (the War Between the States). To discredit him for those four years of life is to highly irrational when the man had many more accomplishments before and after that period.
General Lee has been an icon of the Lost Cause for generations and is the most beloved of Confederate soldiers.
All over the South and even parts of the North, you would find monuments that memorialize him in some way or another. In matter of fact, the elementary school that I attended in first and second grades was named Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Interesting enough; in my hometown of Petersburg, Virginia, three of the elementary schools were named for Confederate generals.
Since the Charlottesville incident, the push to rename these schools has gathered steam along with the push to remove statues that commemorate Confederate war heroes. Many of the advocates for removal and renaming want to wipe out any appearance that there was ever a Confederacy. Many of them claim that removal and renaming would foster greater unity among the nation. However, it is beyond absurd to think that removing statues and renaming schools would magically bring about racial reconciliation.
Of course, not every Confederate soldier should be automatically lionized but by that same token, not every Union soldier should be automatically lionized. There were good men fighting on both sides. We must take each individual case by case. As we look at General Lee, although he fought for the losing side and for a Southern way of life that is completely incompatible with the ethos of today, every American should be appreciative of his role to bringing this country together after the deadliest war in our nation’s history.
Robert Edward Lee was born on January 19, 1807 to Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee (1756–1818) and Anne Hill Carter Lee (1773-1829) at Stratford Hill Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The Lees of Virginia were a very notable family. Harry was a Revolutionary War hero and later served as governor of the state. However, he lost a significant portion of his fortune due to the financial panic of 1896 and also was injured defending a friend against a mob.
Young Robert was left without a father when Harry Lee died in 1818. After Harry’s death, Anne Lee and her children lived a transient life depending on the kindness of relatives who would take them in for extended stays. Anne also suffered from debilitating health conditions as well. Young Robert did not get a stable footing until he was admitted into the much famed West Point Military Academy. Sadly, his mother died the same year that he graduated from West Point.
After graduation, Lee immediately embarked on an illustrious career in the United States Army. For the next three decades, he faithfully served his country and with distinction. One of his greatest achievements was becoming the superintendent of his alma mater, West Point Military Academy, in 1852. As superintendent, he was instrumental in the renovation of the buildings and advancing the curriculum. If he never had served as a commander in the Confederate army, Lee definitely would have been remembered for his successful tenure as superintendent of West Point.
We all know that originally, Lee was against secession and reluctantly resigned from the United States armed forces when his home state of Virginia joined the Confederacy. There is no need for us to go into the four years that he was commander of the Army of Northern Virginia because there have been many books, articles, and documentaries about it. However, few know about what General Lee did after the war to help bring this nation together.
The time immediately after the War was tumultuous and volatile. The following week after Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, Republican President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The newly freed Afro-Americans were experiencing many tribulations in the exercising of their new freedom. Those days were just as dark and bleak as the days during the War.
The end of war did not stop the hostility between the North and the South. In matter of fact, the hatred was compounded with many Southerners being angry and resentful because of their lost. Because of the Southern insurgency, it was quite possible that another war could have broken out unless there was a strong voice of reason to assuage these attitudes.
Only one man commanded enough respect and admiration from both the Union and the Confederacy to help the nation heal from the wounds of war and help to bring reconciliation between the South and the North. That man was none other than Robert E. Lee. As soon as he surrendered to Grant, he called for his fellow Southerners to accept the fact that they are a part of one united country with the North.
During the five years between his surrender at Appomattox and his death at age 63, General Lee was a driving force in reconciling both sides of the conflict. Because he was instrumental in reuniting the United States after that long and bloody civil war, General Robert E. Lee deserves to be honored by the American nation.