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Lee ~ An Exemplary Career

Today marks Robert E. Lee's 212th birthday.

This was posted last year in the Civil War Trust's (now American Battlefield Trust) Facebook feed:

Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia on this day, January 19, 1807, 211 years ago. Receiving his education at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Lee graduated 2nd in a class of 46 in 1829. Along with four of his classmates, Lee completed his studies at West Point without earning a single demerit. Entering the Army’s Corps of Engineers, Lee went on to have an exemplary career, constructing fortifications and serving as one of Winfield Scott’s most capable aides in Mexico. When the Civil War began in 1861, Lee chose to side with the South. After commanding Confederate forces in West Virginia in the war’s early months, Lee became Jefferson Davis’s military adviser in Richmond. When Gen. Joseph E. Johnson was wounded during the Peninsular Campaign in June 1862, Lee was chosen to replace him. Embarking on a bold counter-offensive, Lee drove Gen. George McClellan’s army away from Richmond. He then turned north and defeated John Pope at Second Manassas. Lee commanded the legendary Army of Northern Virginia throughout the remainder of the war, earning further victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and stymying Federal attempts to capture Richmond before finally surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House.




adjective: exemplary

1. serving as a desirable model; representing the best of its kind."an award for exemplary community service"


perfect, ideal, model, faultless, flawless, impeccable, irreproachable

And the following excerpts are taken from the Lee biography page at ABT:

Because of his reputation as one of the finest officers in the United States Army, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the command of the Federal forces in April 1861. Lee declined and tendered his resignation from the army when the state of Virginia seceded on April 17, arguing that he could not fight against his own people.
Lee renamed his command the Army of Northern Virginia, and under his direction it would become the most famous and successful of the Confederate armies. This same organization also boasted some of the Confederacy's most inspiring military figures, including James Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson and the flamboyant cavalier J.E.B. Stuart. With these trusted subordinates, Lee commanded troops that continually manhandled their blue-clad adversaries and embarrassed their generals no matter what the odds. 

And this . . .

General Grant's memoirs about his feelings regarding Lee's surrender:

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.

And . . .

I turned about, and there behind me, riding between my two lines, appeared a commanding form, superbly mounted, richly accoutered, of imposing bearing, noble countenance, with expression of deep sadness overmastered by deeper strength. It is none other than Robert E. Lee! ... I sat immovable, with a certain awe and admiration. ~ Union General Joshua Chamberlain at Appomattox. 

And . . .

He was one who, though famous, was not honeycombed with ambition or tainted with cunning or cant, and though a soldier and wearing soldier’s laurels, yet never craved or sought honors except as they bloomed on deeds done for the glory of his lawfully constituted authority; in short a soldier to whom the sense of duty was a gospel and a man of the world whose only rule in life was that life should be upright and stainless. I cannot but think Providence meant, through him, to prolong the ideal of the gentleman in the world . . . It is easy to see why Lee has become the embodiment of one of the world’s ideals, that of the soldier, the Christian, and the gentleman. And from the bottom of my heart I thank Heaven . . . for the comfort of having a character like Lee’s to look at. ~ Union General Morris Schaff referring to Lee’s surrender at which Schaff was present.

 And . . .

On a quite autumn morning, in the land he loved so well, and, as he held, served so faithfully, the spirit of Robert Edward Lee left the clay which it had so much ennobled, and traveled out of this world into the great and mysterious land. The expressions of regret which sprang from the few who surrounded the bedside of the dying soldier, on yesterday, will be swelled today into one mighty voice of sorrow, resounding throughout our country, and extending over all parts of the world where his great genius and his many virtues are known. For not to the Southern people alone shall be limited the tribute of a tear over the dead Virginian. Here in the North, forgetting that the time was when the sword of Robert Edward Lee was drawn against us—forgetting and forgiving all the years of bloodshed and agony—we have claimed him as one of ourselves; have cherished and felt proud of his military genius as belonging to us; have recounted and recorded his triumphs as our own; have extolled his virtue as reflecting upon us—for Robert Edward Lee was an American, and the great nation which gave him birth would be today unworthy of such a son if she regarded him lightly. Never had mother nobler son. In him the military genius of America developed to a greater extent than ever before. In him all that was pure and lofty in mind and purpose found lodgment. Dignified without presumption, affable without familiarity, he united all those charms of manner which made him the idol of his friends and of his soldiers, and won for him the respect and admiration of the world. Even as, in the days of his triumph, glory did not intoxicate, so, when the dark clouds swept over him, adversity did not depress. From the hour that he surrendered his sword at Appomattox to the fatal autumn morning, he passed among men, noble in the quiet, simple dignity, displaying neither bitterness nor regret over the irrevocable past. He conquered us in misfortune by the grand manner in which he sustained himself, even as he dazzled us by his genius when the tramp of his soldiers resounded through the valleys of Virginia. And for such a man we are all tears and sorrow today. Standing beside his grave, all men of the South and men of the North can mourn with all the bitterness of four years of warfare erased by this common bereavement. May this unity of grief—this unselfish manifestation over the loss of the Bayard of America—in the season of dead leaves and withered branches which this death ushers in, bloom and blossom like the distant coming spring into the flowers of a heartier accord. ~ Editorial from the New York Herald the day after Lee’s death.

And . . .

I tell you, sir, that Robert E. Lee is the greatest soldier now living, and if he ever gets the opportunity, he will prove himself the greatest captain of history. ~ Union General Winfield Scott, just before the War Between the States.

Scott's assessment is correct (as history so plainly reveals) and it is why Lincoln first offered command of the Union army to Lee.

Carry on.

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