The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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America Remembers Robert E. Lee

Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.    

January 8, 2005


"All the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established by our Forefathers, should be preserved, and that the government, as originally organized, should be administered in purity and truth." -- Robert E. Lee

Why do Americans continue to remember their past?

Perhaps it is because it was a time when truth was spoken.  Men and women took their stand to give us the freedoms we now enjoy.  God bless those in military service, who do their duty around the world for freedom.

The Hall of Fame for great Americans opened in 1900 in New York City.  One thousand names were submitted, but only 29 received a majority vote from the electors.  General Robert E. Lee, 30 years after his death, was among those honored.  A bust of Lee was given to New York University by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Let America not forget January 19, 2005, the 198th birthday of General Robert E. Lee.

Robert E. Lee was born at Stratford House, Westmoreland County, Virginia, on January 19, 1807.  The winter was cold and fireplaces were little help.  Robert's mother, Ann Hill (Carter) Lee, was suffering from a severe cold.

Ann Lee named her son Robert Edward after her two brothers.

Robert E. Lee undoubtedly acquired his love of country from those who had lived during the American Revolution.  His father, "Light Horse" Harry, was a hero of the revolution and served as governor of Virginia and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Members of his family also signed the Declaration of Independence.

Lee was educated in the schools of Alexandria, Virginia.  In 1825, he received an appointment to West Point Military Academy.  He graduated in 1829, second in his class and without a single demerit.

Robert E. Lee wed Mary Anna Randolph Custis in June 1831, two years after his graduation from West Point.  Robert and Mary had grown up together.  Mary was the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted son of George Washington.

Mary was an only child; therefore, she inherited Arlington House, across the Potomac from Washington, where she and Robert raised seven children.

Army promotions were slow.  In 1836, Lee was appointed to first lieutenant.  In 1838, with the rank of captain, Lee fought valiantly in the War with Mexico and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec.

He was appointed superintendent of West Point in 1852 and is considered one of the best superintendents in that institution's history.

President-to-be Abraham Lincoln offered command of the Union Army to Lee in 1861, but Lee refused.  He would not raise arms against his native state.

War was in the air.  The country was in turmoil of separation.  Lee wrestled with his soul.  He had served in the United States Army for over 30 years.

After an all-night battle, much of that time on his knees in prayer, Robert Edward Lee reached his decision.  He reluctantly resigned his commission and headed home to Virginia.

Arlington House would be occupied by the Federals, who would turn the estate into a war cemetery.  Today it is one of our country's most cherished memorials, Arlington National Cemetery.

President John F. Kennedy visited Arlington shortly before he was assassinated in 1963 and said he wanted to be buried there.  And he is, in front of Robert E. Lee's home.

Lee served as adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and then commanded the legendary Army of Northern Virginia.  The exploits of Lee's army fill thousands of books today.

After four terrible years of death and destruction, General Robert E. Lee met General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, and ended their battles.  He told his disheartened comrades, "Go home and be good Americans."

Lee was called Marse Robert, Uncle Robert and Marble Man.  He was loved by the people of the South and adopted by the folks from the North.

Robert E. Lee was a man of honor, proud of his name and heritage.  After the War Between the States, he was offered $50,000 for the use of his name.  His reply was "Sirs, my name is the heritage of my parents.  It is all I have and it is not for sale."

In the fall of 1865, Lee was offered and accepted the presidency of troubled Washington College in Lexington, Virginia.  The school was renamed Washington and Lee in his honor.

Robert E. Lee died of a heart attack at 9:30 on the morning of October 12, 1870, at Washington-Lee College.  His last words were "Strike the tent."  He was 63 years of age.

He is buried in a chapel on the school grounds with his family and near his favorite horse, Traveller.

A prolific letter writer, Lee wrote his most famous quote to son Custis in 1852: "Duty is the sublimest word in our language."

On this 198th anniversary let us ponder the words he wrote to Annette Carter in 1868: "I grieve for posterity, for American principles and American liberty."

Winston Churchill called Lee "one of the noblest Americans who ever lived."  Lee's life was one of service and self-sacrifice.  His motto was "Duty, Honor, Country."

God Bless America!

"The Wit and Wisdom of Robert E. Lee", edited by Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr. (1997) Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.

"Mrs. Robert E. Lee", by Rose Mortimer Ellzey MacDonald (1939 First Edition) The Athenaum Press, Boston.  (1998) American Foundation Publications, Stuart's Draft, Virginia.

"Robert E. Lee", by Philip Van Doren Stern (1963) Bananza Books, New York.


Copyright Copyright 2020 by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr. & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Calvin E. Johnson, Jr. recently began writing historical and political commentary on the internet; his columns have appeared on several popular internet sites, including the Macon Telegraph, and America's Voices.  A native of Georgia, he lives near the historic town of Kennesaw, home of the locomotive "The General" from the War Between the States.  You can e-mail Calvin at

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