The Marble Man and his wife’s slaves.


"Uncle Bob." as the troops called him)


"It also said that Mr. Custis, while dying, told his slaves that they should be freed immediately, rather than five years on.

Lee challenged that account. In his letter to The Times, he said that “there is no desire on the part of the heirs to prevent the execution” of the will. And he said Mr. Custis, who was “constantly attended” by family members during his final days, had never been heard granting immediate freedom to his slaves.

The Times published Lee’s letter on Jan. 8, 1858, (though the letter itself, written shortly after New Year’s, appears to be mistakenly dated 1857) and said it was “glad” to be corrected on the matter.

The war came three years later.

Lee joined the secessionists in April 1861. He left Arlington House, and the estate was eventually overtaken by Union soldiers. (The dead were buried in its grounds, which would later become the site of Arlington National Cemetery.) Over the course of the conflict, many slaves were hired out or escaped the property.

In 1862, in accordance with Mr. Custis’s will, Lee filed a deed of manumission to free the slaves at Arlington House and at two more plantations Mr. Custis had owned, individually naming more than 150 of them. And in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all people held as slaves in the rebelling states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”  NY Times


It is said of some people that they are a steel fist in a velvet glove.  In this case, perhaps a marble fist in a velvet glove would be more apt.  He was a woman raised boy, schooled by a pacifist Quaker schoolmaster here in Alexandria.  His many family connections arranged an appointment to West Point as a way of educating him in straightened circumstances.  He much regretted the need that had forced him into a military career.

IMO the best books that speak of him are Freeman,s "Robert E. Lee: a biography,"  "Lee's Lieutenants," and Foote's "The Civil War, a narrative."  There is a lot of other material but these stand out for me.  In Myers-Briggs terms I judge him to be an ISTJ. 

He was endlessly, almost painfully courteous, so much so that his reticence in simply ordering people around who needed it was IMO a factor leading to failure in many places.

At the same time, the tiger caged within showed in his cold rages of frustration.  On the battlefield this beast stared at the surrounding world wih great fierceness.  His utterance at Fredericksburg while watching Burnside's blue host advance was typical.  "It is well that war is so terrible or we would love it too much."  And then there is the matter of his attempt to advance in the front line of the Texas Brigade in counter-attack in The Wilderness.  "Drive them, Texans, drive them as you always do…"  They refused to advance until he went to the rear.  One of their sergeants took the reins of the grey horse and led it to the rear as the brigade went forward.

Would he have watched and urged a deputy sheriff to beat run away slaves?  IMO he might have done that. He felt a keen responsibility to guard his wife's extensive property and whatever it was that his children would inherit.  He was the legal guardian of that property under laws then common in the US.  It should be noted that in 1862 he sent papers across the lines manumitting the remaining 150 slaves at Arlington in accordance with the terms of his father in law's will.  Before the war he had required his wife to live on his army pay whenever she was not resident on her property.

He could be very hard.  In Pennsylvania he issued an order to his forces saying that anyone who molested the German farmers in the neighborhood would be severely punished.  Several were shot.  In the dark winter of Mine Run he insisted that a Confederate who had been taken prisoner and had then joined the Union Army to later desert back to his own side, be shot for desertion when he was captured by his own Louisiana Regiment.  The court-martial had recommended mercy, but he insisted.  They shot him tied to a post out in no man's land with Meade's army watching. The man's last words of loyalty to his comrades who were required to kill him are too painful to repeat.

Was he a great general?  IMO he was not.  He was a military engineer who began the war with a rudimentary understanding of tactics but steadily improved until his health broke down in 1864.  His notion that the CSA had to beat the eastern Union Army  on northern soil was suicidal in light of the disparity of resources on the two sides.

No, he was a great soul who seems to have thought nothing of himself and a great leader.  The men of the A of NV followed him to the end with a devotion that no general deserves as the agent of their destruction.

After the war, he was altogether devoted to his family, Washington College and the cause of reconciliation.  

He never wrote memoirs and was opposed to memorialization through statuary.  pl

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85 Responses to The Marble Man and his wife’s slaves.

  1. Sampson with a P says:

    There is a lecture given by Harvard professor Michael Puett on the Chinese philosopher Laozi and the power of morality and selflessness in society. As an example he uses Lincoln. I think that Lee can be another example.

  2. LeaNder says:

    He was endlessly, almost painfully courteous, so much so that his reticence in simply ordering people around who needed it was IMO a factor leading to failure in many places.
    The soldier’s history speaks to the soldier? Paraphrasing a writer who wrote the same about writers ultimately only addressing writers? Or the writer in all us humans?
    Nevermind the fact that Charlotteville is a spot of blue in the red sea of Virginia. To the extend I followed the latest US outroar around here.
    Personally I find Emancipation Park as name pretty ridiculous. Why not leave it alone plus the statue? I haven’t looked into it seriously in its latest variation. But couldn’t it satisfy the Bilderstürmer/iconoclasts/history erasers if there was a little information next to the statue giving a little context to the man and his life? No superman, but a man in his time. Fighting. Realizing matters within his own limited human capacity after?
    Personally, maybe while getting older, I would (semi irony alert) appreciate the equivalent of a copyright law (protection of the dead) of a man’s life in his time, or something protecting his life story against easy narrative misuse by the afterborn. But how would that ever work?

  3. turcopolier says:

    And what “context” would the left wing city government give him? That he was a racist criminal? pl

  4. mikee says:

    @2 “But couldn’t it satisfy ….”
    Ever try to compromise with a spoiled child?

  5. BabelFish says:

    Pat, the overwhelming image I get is how fond of him his troops were. Marse Robert. I felt that way about my first football coach at St. Ignatius, Emitt Pouliot. He was a deity and I have never had more respect for any man since.

  6. luxetveritas says:

    “No less than Benedict Arnold, Robert E. Lee was a traitor. This became, and remains, my firm conviction.”

  7. turcopolier says:

    Bacevich should stick to the Middle East where he knows something of which he speaks. pl

  8. turcopolier says:

    They did not call him that. Their feeling for him was familial. They fought on for him when all was lost. pl

  9. luxetveritas says:

    Re: Bacevich
    “He holds a Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University, and taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University before joining the faculty at Boston University in 1998.”
    ” He is a former director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations (from 1998 to 2005), now part of the Pardee School of Global Studies.”
    “He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1969 and served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, serving in Vietnam from the summer of 1970 to the summer of 1971. Later he held posts in Germany, including the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment; the United States; and the Persian Gulf up to his retirement from the service with the rank of Colonel in the early 1990s.”

  10. turcopolier says:

    You think I don’t know who he is? I was a professor at West Point. You want to be argumentative? bacevich has the cultural baggage of his regional origins. you are gone. pl

  11. turcopolier says:

    If you want to come here like luxetveritas to be argumetativefor its own sake and try to score points off me I will ban you as I have him. pl

  12. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Fredrick Douglass went to see Abraham Lincoln who then proceeded to tell Douglass that the interaction between European-Americans and African-Americans was mutually injurious and it was best for African-Ame Yvonnericans to go back to Africa.
    Douglass took great umbrage against that. There was the white man telling the Black man – who had been brought against his will to America that he needs to go back where he came from while the White man – who had enslaved him – was to remain in the new continent.
    Now, why wouldn’t the White man go back to where he came from – as an act of penance, I wonder?

  13. Eliot says:

    They’ve never been very good with foreign peoples, and we are a foreign people to them. They hate that we’re different, that we don’t value what they value, and they have always worked to reshape us in their image.
    – Eliot

  14. pl,
    I have always admired RE Lee as an honorable man and military officer. I also never found anything questionable about his decision to resign his commission in the US Army and remain loyal to Virginia. The concept of loyalty to one’s state versus loyalty to the Federal government was far different at that time and heavily weighted towards loyalty to one’s home state. It pains me to see his image and character being associated with the current crop of white supremacists. Those cretins are spitting on his memory.
    Even more than Lee, I admire his fellow Virginian George Thomas. I imagine his experience with the Nat Turner Rebellion at the age of fifteen and his upstate New York wife weighed heavy on his decision to remain with the Union and the US Army. But I think he was an Army officer to the marrow of his bone and his loyalty and love for the Army was central to his decision to remain with the Union. Southerners loudly rail against Thomas for forsaking Virginia and remaining true to the Union although there were many Southerners fighting on the Union side. What sticks in the southern craw most is that Thomas was so damned good at what he did. I imagine that if Lee and Thomas were on the same side, either side, the course and perhaps the outcome of the late unpleasantness would be quite different.

  15. optimax says:

    Too bad about luxetveritas, every body needs an asshole. I think Lao Tzu said that. He’s my favorite philosopher. Simple enough for me to understand.

  16. Ked says:

    We may all learn more about the historical Lee through these recent national events, but I don’t think it matters much regarding the social & political atmosphere that wafts across our country. The statues, those figures, the truth underneath it all … all overwhelmed by the force of belief, perception, ideology and myth. I think it’s helps to decouple the actual history from the theater unfolding among our many stages, actors and audiences.

  17. jonst says:

    L, are you one more, all time, civilian, trying to wave a uniform, and indeed, an honorable, heroic, painful, legacy at me, to get me to conclude that that man is correct about what he says about the future? I served too long in the military–albeit a very short time–to be awed into thinking that a man’s past service and rank means he is *automatically* right about the future. Especially regarding mostly ‘civil’ events and matters. His rank and record earn him a respectful listen to. And not anything more.
    Bacevich wrote: “In this dispute, little space for compromise exists.” Does he even have a clue about the implications of such a statement?

  18. turcopolier says:

    It was late at night. i will un-ban luxetveritas. You are right. Everyplace needs a few. He can be one of ours. he sprung the Bacevich thing on me in a troll attack ans I fell for it. My bad. pl

  19. turcopolier says:

    Yes. Grorge Thomas was a good man but he never was given a position commensurate with his abilities because the north didn’t really trust him. He was Lee’s subordinate in one of the US Cavalry regiments in Texas before the war. In the 1840s he tried to get out oof the Army and was short listed with Stonewall Jackson for the teaching job that Jackson finally got at VMI. If they had the money to hire both you would have seen the ultimate dream team. Lee/Jackson/Thomas. pl

  20. Fred says:

    “Make Colonization Great Again” may be a future post of mine.

  21. Donald says:

    I think the traitor epithet is an anachronism and unfair. But it is also a mistake because the accusation shifts the focus away from slavery and racism.. Lee was a man of his time and his society in particular and if he was a Christian gentleman to whites, he was nothing of the kind to blacks. I wouldn’t demonize him, but he is remembered for ( paraphrasing Grant) fighting valiantly for one of the worst causes in history.
    Here is a piece on the cruelty of Lee.

  22. Quartered Safe Out Here says:

    “He was endlessly, almost painfully courteous.” Maybe so but there was a 19th century convention of issuing orders in that manner. E.g. “The Captain’s complements and would Lieutenant Hornblower repair to the bridge at his convenience” And more recently, I’m pretty sure that most of us here have received tasks preceded by: If you get a chance, would you mind…..
    Both clearly orders. Ignore them at your peril. Perhaps Lee could have used the flat of his sword but his nature and the conventions of his time, plus certain senior commanders, worked against him.

  23. turcopolier says:

    Your cited piece is palpably anti-Southern propaganda. Is that supposed to persuade or merely shame? pl

  24. turcopolier says:

    All that is true but IMO there is no doubt that he carried this diffidence to such an extreme that when he did not have subordinates like Jackson they often “interpreted” his orders to the detriment of the pursuit of victory. Stuart’s famous “joy ride” in the Gettysburg Campaign is an example as is the way Longstreet neither asked to be relieved nor fully accepted his orders on the third day there. pl

  25. LondonBob says:

    I think you are being too harsh on Lee. He still won many victories against the odds, as well as when shorn of Jackson and against someone of Grant’s stature. Whilst I do sympathise with the criticisms of his grand strategic vision (how much influence did he actually have?) as well the criticisms by Longstreet, that he was overly aggressive and failed to appreciate the value of the defensive, I don’t think that should detract from his achievements. Paradoxically those achievements being to ultimately prolong the war longer than would have been the case otherwise.

  26. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, amazing conceit.

  27. Donald says:

    Colonel, if I were writing that piece I would try to be nuanced, but I posted it because there are two sides to Lee and both of them are real. He really was valiant and courteous and torn by dual loyalties, which is part of why I wouldn’t use the traitor accusation. But for blacks he was the representative of one of the cruelest social systems in history. For me he is an example of a basically good man whose values were distorted by the system in which he grew up. I sometimes wonder how future generations will judge us.
    As I said in my post yesterday, there are so many issues right now we should be discussing. The last thing we needed was another front on the culture war. We continue to support the Saudi bombing in Yemen, for example, and children are starving and yet the country is focused on statues. Even from a civil rights perspective the statues just shouldn’t rank anywhere near the top of anyone’s agenda and yet there they are.

  28. turcopolier says:

    If you really think that chattel slavery in the US and CS was the cruelest system of racial oppression in history you are sadly ignorant of the history of man’s inhumanity to man. pl

  29. mike says:

    Colonel & TTG –
    I agree on General Thomas. He and Lee and Jackson would have made a dream team for the South. Somehow though I doubt Thomas would ever have considered leaving the Union.
    The real dream team IMHO was General Grant and Commodore (later Admiral) Foote. Together they invented Joint Army/Navy Operations in the River War of the West. Their cooperation at Forts Henry and Donelson doomed east/west Confederate supply lines on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Earlier Commodore Foote had supported Grant at the battle of Belmont and saved Grant’s life by evacuating him from Missouri while under fire. Later Foote’s replacements continued those Joint Army/Navy Ops on the Mississippi River at Island #10, Fort Pillow, Memphis, and Vicksburg; thereby splitting the Confederacy.

  30. jonst says:

    Donald wrote: ” I sometimes wonder how future generations will judge us”. As all ‘future generations judge the ‘past’. By that future generations’ standards, whatever they might happen to be. At the moment. And that, more often than not, leads to condemnation, not judgment. For example, the way we judge the appeasers of Hitler et al. Can we put ourselves in the shoes of leaders of exhausted, war weary nations? And hopelessly faltering ones at that, in comparative economic/birthrate terms. Those appeasers were raised by the builders of Empires. Now they knew they were in the business of shutting down Empires. They loathed to hasten this process. Surely they might have had second thoughts if they saw where their respective nations would end up, in the grand scale of things. But they did not have such a vision. We–the present judges don’t need to feel constrained by this lack of vision. We know how the ‘novel’ ends. And by that outcome we judge the past.

  31. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Donald does have a point regarding Yemen. Cholera and famine are killing many hundreds of thousands there, perhaps a million or more, mostly children and old people. Those conditions were brought on by the Saudis, and are still supported by the US. Yet the Saudis are not even going after Yemeni based al Qaeda, but only the Houthis. What bad blood does the US have against the Houthis? None that I know of, other than neocon infatuation with anti-Iranian policies.
    Yet the MSM and the alt-right media ignore the deaths due to starvation and disease in Yemen and instead focus on marble and bronze.

  32. turcopolier says:

    what has that to do with American chattel slavery? pl

  33. optimax says:

    What I like about men is we are quick to anger and quick to forget. That was the way it was with the men on the railroad. The women on the other hand never forgot a word I spoke in anger, even when I had forgotten the incident.

  34. turcopolier says:

    I disagree. If he had had a faculty job at VMI he would in my opinion have stayed with the South as all the others did, every one. pl

  35. Stephanie says:

    It is a sad thing but you can’t believe everything you read in these articles. Lee had to return to Arlington after the death of his father-in-law to manage the estate and Custis’ other properties, which were the inheritance of his sons and in very poor shape. Lee was thus placed, through no wish of his own, into the position of the bad guy who has to make everyone go back to work. Again, this was not to enrich himself but to fulfill the terms of the will and see to the inheritance of his children. I do not blame the Custis slaves for bitterness. It’s likely that at some point or other their late master had dropped hints they would all be manumitted when he died. There were a number of very pale slaves on Arlington and Custis was believed to be responsible for at least some of them. As Lee wrote, “He has left me an unpleasant legacy.”
    Wesley Norris, who provided the story about the whipping and the brine, also claimed that he had to escape through the Union lines to freedom, when Federal records showed he had a pass from Lee’s son Custis. He was freed on time like the other Arlington slaves. Doesn’t mean the whipping didn’t take place as reported, only that he was capable of omitting relevant facts or embellishing. He may have felt no cause to be grateful and one would understand that.

  36. Stephanie says:

    “Paradoxically those achievements being to ultimately prolong the war longer than would have been the case otherwise.”
    Brian Holden Reid writes much the same thing in his account of the war for the Casson series, and Reid thinks very highly of Lee’s generalship, as do other modern commentators. It is interesting to consider that had Davis not replaced Johnston with Lee after Seven Pines, the war is over in a year or so with the peculiar institution damaged but still intact. As it was, by the end of the war the Confederacy was just Lee and his veterans.

  37. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Legal slavery in America ended over 150 years ago. And good on us for ending it. The tragedy in the Yemen is going on as we speak.

  38. turcopolier says:

    you are sounding very sanctimonious. the US should not support SA in Yemen, should never have. I have been very cler about that. See my post “Will Saudi Arabia survive the Yemen War?” pl

  39. turcopolier says:

    Johnston was badly wounded at Seven Pines. He had to be replaced with someone and Lee was at hand at JF Davis’ adviser pl

  40. mike says:

    Colonel –
    About Thomas and VMI you may be right. But he had a close relationship with Lee at both West Point and in the 2nd Cavalry. And in Mexico he served closely with Bragg. Yet none of those relationships changed his mind.

  41. turcopolier says:

    Were you ever married? pl

  42. mike says:

    Colonel –
    I am aware of and have always applauded your opinion on Yemen.

  43. turcopolier says:

    The way this worked was that at the beginning of the WBS the North inherited the armed forces of the US, less the officers who resigned and went South after their resignations were accepted by Sec. of War. Few Southern US officers then serving on the frontier went to the Confederate Army as it was formed. I believe Thomas was in Texas when secession occurred. On the Southern side the volunteer wartime army was built from scratch from militia units as a base plus other units started from scratch. Most of the officer billets for field grades were politically appointed by the state’s political establishment. The two national governments had no authority in that. Company officers were elected by the men on both sides for the period of enlistment of the unit (a year, two years. three years or the duration) So, if you lacked political “pull” of some kind and you were a regular officer on active duty you were not going to be given a volunteer commission as a major, lieutenant colonel or colonel. Thomas was a Regular Army major serving with the 2nd US Cavalry when war broke out. So, once again you would have to know if Thomas had that kind of “pull” in Virginia to know how really pure his motive in sticking with the North were. After all, he did apply for the job of Commandant of Cadets at VMI just a few months before Sumter. He did not get the job. As I previously mentioned he had tried to get the science professor job that TJ Jackson held but had not been able to get that one either. So, I would conclude that he did not have that kind of “pull.” The offer from Governor Letcher of the job of chief of ordnance for the state’s forces was not much of an offer. How he got a commission in the US Volunteers is still a mystery to me. Grant got his through political influence as did TJ Jackson on the other side. There is a lot more to say of course. pl

  44. Riley says:

    Lee took an oath as a US military officer to defend the Constitution of the United States. He accepted a commission to fight against his country and that government and by the end of the war had killed more American soldiers than any foreign enemy before or since.
    “I think that Lee should have been hanged. It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine character and acted conscientiously. These facts have nothing to do with the case and should not have been allowed to interfere with just penalties. It’s always the good men who do the most harm in the world.” Henry Adams

  45. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Thomas’s biographer C J Einolf states that even though he was only a Major in the regulars when the war started, he was promoted to LtCol within two weeks and to Colonel a week after that. And then three months later was appointed as a Brigadier in the volunteers. Not sure by whom, but probably from Kentucky-born General Robert Anderson, pro-slavery and a former slave owner, who after Fort Sumter became Commander of the Department of Kentucky (later the Department of the Cumberland). Or perhaps Thomas’s influence came from Winfield Scott. Thomas after all was brevetted three times in Mexico. And he was one of the very rare officers at that time who had experience in three branches: artillery, infantry, and Cavalry.

  46. Tidewater says:

    Tidewater to All,
    If you look into the background of the plans by Governor McAuliffe and other Virginia politicians to allow Virginia localities the right to independently make their own decisions about whether to keep or to remove Civil War Memorials within their own jurisdictions, I think that it is pretty clear now that there going to be some shocking surprises in the public sphere as to how these nihilist schemes, as, for example, the decision made by City Council here for the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee, are actually going to play out at law. It’s blowback time.
    On April 5,2017, the Charlottesville insurance carrier, the Virginian Municipal League (VML) sent the City a letter informing it that VML will decline to provide coverage in the litigation that has been set in motion by the decision of City Council to remove the statue from Lee Park, now so abruptly, perhaps only temporarily, renamed Emancipation Park.
    VML stated in the letter that its policy had exclusions which allow the company to refuse any claims that are the consequence of criminal acts, or of fraud, or of willfully violating state, federal, and local laws.
    Does VML think that Charlottesville City Council is acting irresponsibly, gone rogue? It doesn’t look good to me.
    Further, one wonders whether VML has had a good business relationship with Charlottesville as its insurer. It should be noted that on November 18, 2016, Judge Norman K. Moon, of the United District Court for the Western District Court of Virginia, Charlottesville Division, in Roanoke, gave a Memorandum Opinion ruling in favor of Joseph Draego, plaintiff in Case No. 3:16-cv-00057, a freedom of speech case against the City of Charlottesville, stemming from how he had been treated by City Council–his efforts to speak at a hearing having been interrupted and cut off and he being forcibly ejected. Judge Moon’s opinion is 44 pages long. I have been reading into it, and I understand a lot of it, but what I don’t understand is this: The Court Docket has 37 different itemized successive orders, minutes, conferences, etc. all of which took place over many months. These are all billable hours. Question: how much did VML have to pay out? I think that it could have been a lot. I think it could have been over a hundred thousand for something that could have been avoided by allowing the man to have his say for three uninterrupted minutes.
    I repeat, no one seems to have come up with what all this cost. Why not?
    So it looks like VMS is cutting its losses with some bolshie dimwits. And given what is now coming down on the Ville, it looks like VMS acted wisely and I cannot help but wonder if the taxpayers here are going to be asked to pony up for some lost court cases in future. (Were the police waiting for orders which never came? And why didn’t the orders come?) And this includes me.
    Then there is the decision of Judge Richard E. Moore, presiding judge of the Charlottesville Circuit Court, on May 2, 2017, issuing a six month temporary injunction finding “the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits.”
    Judge Moore has stated that he thinks that the Lee Monument falls under the protection of Virginia statute 15.2-1812: Memorials for War Veterans. Experienced lawyers observing the case have said that Judge Moore’s ruling is “unassailable.” (Of course, if it goes up to the Fourth Circuit, guess who pays for it.)
    Judge Moore gave a very strong statement: it is “clearly a war memorial.”
    If Charlottesville City Council loses the Lee statue case, that surely means that no Virginia locality is free to do anything at all with their Confederate and other veterans memorials except obey the law. “If such [the memorials] are erected it shall be unlawful for the authorities of the locality or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments so erected, or to prevent its citizen from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation and care of same…”
    If seems to me that the attack on the War Memorials of the Confederacy at least here in Virginia is going to run right into a brick wall. And what then are the radical white and black politicians going to do then?
    The statues are going to stay.

  47. dilbert dogbert says:

    With all the hubbub about statues this letter might be of interest:
    Best to All.

  48. Mark Logan says:

    He won many victories, yes, but the same might be said for Custer. A man with whom IMO had nothing in common with Lee…besides audacity.
    Semi-aside, the chapter in Jubal Early’s book about the war on Chancellorsville is worth a quick read. It shows how Jubal, that bad old man, felt about Lee, an interesting thing to contemplate. But more than that it’s a very funny story at it’s core. Early leading his men towards Lee at that time could have only meant one thing to Lee, and that thing was awful to contemplate indeed. If he had any non-grey hairs left…that was it for them!
    Audacity..great until it isn’t but nothing works without some degree of it, I guess.

  49. Colonel,
    There was a dispute in England over memorials – the Rhodes statue at Oxford. The issues were more clear cut, and the dispute in that case not as damaging nor the consequences so tragic, but in its essentials it was the same.
    I do not see that logic or fairness can solve the question of whether this or that monument should stay. How can logic help here? There are no initial premises on which all can agree. Instead we each start from our own individual mix of loyalties, prejudices and conviction. Those are our premises and if those conflict so will our conclusions.
    Logic out of the reckoning the question is only whether feelings on both sides are so strong and the conflict so severe that give and take is impossible. In this case the answer to that is “yes” and therefore the question now is which side is going to win.
    Or rather, how far the winning is going to go.
    I read the article by Bacevich linked to above. It is a repellent article in that it employs the device of tendentious assumption that is the mark of the journalist rather than the scholar. From it, though, the question of consistency arises. If Lee’s statue at Charlottesville must go, why not the Lee Gate at West Point?
    The descendants of the Southerners who fought the North so tenaciously now form a part of the US armed forces. I would imagine that for them removing such symbols would be as damaging as insisting that the Scottish Regiments in the British Army should no longer wear kilts or use bagpipes. Worse, in fact, in that it would be telling them that their own heritage was morally reprehensible.
    The argument from consistency could go yet further. We hear of suggestions that portraits should be removed in Congress. How can one justify any memorials to slave owners at all? Indeed, if we are to impose the customs and morality of the present on figures from the past there is little from the past that could remain.
    Even the most partisan politician could scarcely insist on that so at some point the process of telling the past to behave itself has to stop. Therefore to the question of how far the winning has to go the answer has to be, only as far as is unavoidable. From the President’s statements it looks as if he has arrived at that conclusion. I do not follow the American scene that closely but it looks as if no other American politician has.
    That issue aside I suspect we’re all hoping you’ll find occasion to write more on the American Civil War. The facts we can get from anywhere but the insights not.

  50. Stephanie says:

    Yes, I know the circumstances.

  51. Merasmus says:

    How about the simple fact that he was a traitor? This seems to have been completely lost in the debate. There’s lots of frankly ridiculous back and forth about whether he was a nice guy or really believed in slavery or blah blah blah. None of that ultimately matters. He and the rest of the CSA turned against their government, split the nation in half, and attacked first on top of that. They committed treason, to the very letter of the definition given in the Constitution. That they did it in defense of the institution of owning other human beings, whether explicitly or defacto while claiming some other reason as their motivation (it varies from person to person), is merely the turd cherry on top of a mountain of shit. We shouldn’t have bases or parks named after any of these traitors, much less monuments to them, any more than we should have monuments to Benedict Arnold (he actually has exactly one; it’s of his foot and doesn’t mention him by name).

  52. LeaNder says:

    Who is us? Or we, by the way?

  53. turcopolier says:

    IMO the states had and have the right to secede from the United States. You must be a citizen of the US to commit treason against the US. He, and the other citizens of the seceded states were no longer US citizens and therefore were not traitors to the US. This question has been discussed many time here on SST over the last 12 years. Your intervention on this point is annoying. pl

  54. LeaNder says:

    This might be a response that goes over my head. Not least since I didn’t even look into the NYT article seriously. To be quite honest.
    Pat’s challenge is always something I am interested in: historical context.
    Hornblower looks interesting. Never read Forester, admittedly. Or am I missing something?
    Both clearly orders. Ignore them at your peril. Perhaps Lee could have used the flat of his sword but his nature and the conventions of his time, plus certain senior commanders, worked against him.
    Leaving the military context, if I may. While studying English literature I made a lot of excursion outside my defined field into history, philosophy and and yes, occasionally the respective theological seminaries. But my grasp of American versus British history was definitively always admittedly quite limited.
    At this point in time, besides I am more struggling with ethical duties, absent an order given, for longer now. I would assume that Pat recognized my limits in the field of orders quite early. But nevertheless never banned me. That’s why left is close to context in his feedback.
    Concerning luxetveritas’ Bachevich article. For whatever reason, misguidedly no doubt. … That’s how I read him anyway:
    My complaint about Lee—I admit this to my everlasting shame—was not that he was a slaveholder who in joining the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery. It was that he had thereby engineered the killing of many thousands of American patriots who (whatever their views on slavery and race) wished simply to preserve the Union. At the beginning of the Civil War, Lee famously remarked that he could not bring himself to take up arms against his home state of Virginia. This obliged him to take up arms against the very nation that as a serving officer he had sworn to defend?
    In a nutshell, there shouldn’t have been a civil war. The South should have been given a chance to change slowly or adopting to a changing time and “context”. …
    On that basis, I can understand he responds the way he did above to the arbitrary chosen quote of Lee the traitor. Which may not have been too well reflected.

  55. turcopolier says:

    Lee was available at hand. He was a full general. I suppose that had someone else been available at short notice the choice might have been different. pl

  56. LeaNder says:

    Which may not have been too well reflected.
    As member of the SST community, I must be slightly biased towards Pat by now and not Bachevic in this “context”. Meaning did Bachevic reflect his usage of traitor for Lee seriously? At this point in time and space? Didn’t he put on lense of the happily born after?
    Unfortunately erasing history is a more general sport? No? Like the Buddah statues blown up by the Taliban?

  57. turcopolier says:

    If I understand you correctly, your complaint against Lee is that he was too good at what he did and therefore prolonged the war with accompanying loss of life? pl

  58. turcopolier says:

    People with Confederate ancestors are everywhere in the enlisted ranks of the US armed forces and in numbers disproportionate to their share in the US population. The officer corps is more balanced because of deliberate structuring of the origins of entrants. At West Point I lived on Lee Road. There is a very large stained glass window of Pickett’s Charge in the cadet mess. How will they deal with that? Can you have a depiction of that event without the Confederates? pl

  59. LondonBob says:

    I happened to be reading John Selby’s book on Jackson, my father picked up a whole bunch of obscure history books over the years, and he mentions a Texan Senator asking the surviving Confederate generals in 1907 their opinion of who the greatest Confederate commander was. Almost all went for Lee, but Johnston (Joe obviously) and Jackson got two votes each. Jackson received the most secondary notice than was received by any other general.

  60. turcopolier says:

    By 1907 Lee had become the essence of what some Northerneres contemptuously call the “lost cause” mentality. Such an outcome in a poll of the old guys was inevitable by then. pl

  61. Nightsticker says:

    Col Lang,
    Pulling down statues is in the same tradition
    as burning books. It is interesting to see who
    currently encourages it.
    Deo Vindice
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  62. LeaNder says:

    If I understand you correctly, your complaint against Lee is that he was too good at what he did and therefore prolonged the war with accompanying loss of life? pl
    No, not in the least, Pat. As outsider I have no definitive opinion on the US civil war. Much less on General Lee.

  63. turcopolier says:

    Deo Vindice pl

  64. turcopolier says:

    You misunderstand the nature of the oath a commissioned officer takes when he accepts appointment in the US Army. The oath is legal and contractual. It is NOT sacramental. It does not leave an indelible mark on your soul. Lee resigned his commission in the US Army and Secretary of War Floyd accepted it and discharged him from the service. His previous oath to the US became a historical artifact at that point. I, OTOH, am still an officer of the US Army although on the retired list ad am bound by my oath. pl

  65. turcopolier says:

    Now, that all makes sense to me. Thomas’ two superiors in the 2nd US Cavalry Regiment (or 5th if they had een re-numbered by then) were AS Johnston and Lee. They had both defected and the two positions were vacant. Promotions in the Regular Army were by vacancy within your regiment and not by vacancies on a national basis. So, promoting Thomas into these ranks makes sense, and … this might keep him from defecting as well. The idea that Anderson, the hero of Ft. Sumter, could have got him appointed a BG in the Volunteers also makes sense. If Thomas had stayed in the Regulars he probably but not necessarily would have ended the war as a colonel. pl

  66. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Thomas was not alone. Historians Downing, Current, Williams, Freehling and Sutherland say that up to 100,000 white southerners fought for the Union.

  67. turcopolier says:

    Sure. Does that include Kentuckians, Missouri people, Maryland, what became West Virginia and other culturally Southern areas in states that stayed in the Union? There were, of course Confederate units from all those states as well as quite few originally Northern people who were Confederate officers. LTG Pemberton was one. MG Martin Smith who was Lee’s chief engineer was another. And of course there was Jed Hotchkiss Jackson’s topographic engineer. I suppose we could also count Captain Quantrill as well. and there was “Maryland” Steuart, etc. pl

  68. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Missouri yes and all of the other secessionist states, but not Kentuck and Maryland. Union volunteers from those two states were reportedly in addition to the 100,000.

  69. turcopolier says:

    You seem mightily worked up about this thing. Rebelmania? pl

  70. Nightsticker says:

    Riley,Col Lang
    According to Freeman the oath that Lee took upon
    entering into military service was
    “The oath taken by Robert E. Lee upon his admission to West Point on September 25, 1825 is as follows:
    “I, Robert E. Lee, a cadet born in the State of Virginia, aged 18 years and 9 months, do hereby acknowledge to have this day voluntarily engaged with the consent of my mother to serve in the Army of the United States for a period of five years, unless sooner discharged by proper authority. And I do promise upon honor that I will observe and obey the orders of the officers appointed over me, the rules and articles of war, and the regulations which have been or may hereafter be established for the government of the Military Academy.” [Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography, Vol. 1, page 51]”
    I have never been able to locate a reference to another oath
    taken by him in US military service. [if anyone on SST is aware
    of one I would greatly appreciate a reference.]
    Deo Vindice
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  71. turcopolier says:

    He would have taken another, different oath when he was commissioned. DV pl

  72. turcopolier says:

    Why would I care how many Southerners fought for the Union? How many of those were drafted? pl

  73. Stephanie says:

    Opinions differ, sometimes in the same family. Charles Francis Adams, Henry’s brother, wanted a statue of Lee in Washington after the war and celebrated Lee on the occasion of his centennial. CFA was a colonel in the U.S. Army, while HA served as his father’s private secretary in London, trying to foil Confederate diplomatic effort and intrigues.

  74. Nightsticker says:

    Col Lang,
    I have always thought that that was most
    likely the case. In the event you come across
    a specific reference would greatly appreciate
    having it.
    My own inquiries, from secondary sources, shows
    that the officer oath of 1830 was
    “I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.”
    It seemed to me that this was likely the oath he took.
    Interesting to note the plural accusative case “them” rather
    the the currently popular singular when referring to the
    United States. Virginia was one of “them”, as were the other
    seccessionist States.Also no mention of the constitution.
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  75. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Rebelmania? No my father was a Virginian. just think it is time we stopped fighting this 150+ year-old conflict. There were good men on both sides.

  76. turcopolier says:

    I have been a student of this war and the period it is embedded in all my life. I am not going to stop “re-fighting” it to assuage the feelings of those who are obviously intent on eradicating the memory of the Southern participants in that war. Your father was a Virginian? Ah, did you and he differ on this? p

  77. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Quantrill? I thought he was a Confederate guerrilla, or did he have a brother fighting for the Union?
    Hopefully the CSA never graced him with a commission. He was not one of the ‘good-men-on-both-sides’ I mentioned earlier.

  78. mike says:

    Colonel –
    No, he respected Lee, and so do I.

  79. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Montgomerry Meigs, the QM general of the US Army who was responsible for turning Lee’s Arlington estates to national cemetary, was a Georgian, and he did what he did precisely because he was a Southerner who didn’t share Lee’s views. One can go for years talking about complexities of different people who did what they did. (e.g. ppl like Gardner, Pemberton, Pike, Dahlgren, or even de Polignac–not even an American–on the other side).

  80. turcopolier says:

    William Quantrill was from Ohio. he held a field commission as a captain for a while under the Partisan Ranger Act until stripped of his rank by the Confederate government. BTW he used African Americans as scouts in recons in Kansas towns that he raided. The Northern inhabitants never figured that out. pl

  81. mike says:

    K_H_C –
    “Prince Polecat” as his American troops called him was complex for sure. I always wondered how his division fared later in the French Prussian War.

  82. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Nightsticker @ #74,
    This tracks the change between the usage that had it as “these United States”, to that that had it as “the United States”.
    To the victor go the spoils, I guess, at least in the terminology. But the struggle for Federalism against the all powerful UniState continues.

  83. turcopolier says:

    mike et al
    Another interesting guy was Heros von Borcke, a Prussian volunteer officer on JEB Stuart’s staff of the cavalry division of the ANV. He was so big that they had a hard time finding horses big enough for him. Some guy in Ohio uses his name here. I just happened to think Sweeney the Division Banjo Major as Stuart called him. The staff would ride on down the road with Sweeney playing and leading them in song. That fit right in with Stuart’s self image. pl

  84. kao_hsien_chih says:

    I was always fascinated by the Dahlgrens–a Union admiral on one hand, a Confederate general on the other. Things get interesting with the Confederate Dahlgren feuding with Davis early on and being let go, and later, the son of the Union admiral leading an assassination mission on Davis and all the controversy it caused.

  85. Tom Forehand, Jr. says:

    Did Robert E. Lee have Wesley Norris and other runaway slaves whipped?
    I have seen NO PROOF that Lee had any of these slaves whipped. There are only anonymous accusations and one non-anonymous accusation which seems to have been made by Wesley Norris in an attempt to help his father get financial gain.
    After the war, Wesley Norris gave an incomplete and no doubt exaggerated account of his runaway story as a slave. In that account, he claimed that Lee had him and two other runaways whipped. So, why would Norris come out with his account WHEN he did? My answer: to help his father get land (a financial gain)!
    Ms. Pryor claimed that Wesley Norris had nothing to gain by telling his story after the war. Was she correct?
    I believe that the Norris family had a lot to gain materially by exaggerating this runaway slave story and wrongly picturing Lee as a slave whipper. At the very time the Wesley Norris story received wide, geographical distribution in the newspapers, his father was petitioning Congress to get ten acres of land from the Arlington Estate.
    It seems that the allegation, of Lee’s whipping Norris, was well timed as part of a campaign to emotionally influence Congress to give Wesley Norris’ father this “land.” So, the Norris family did have a lot to gain by libeling Lee as a slave whipper. Why didn’t Ms. Pryor mention this Norris family attempt to get land? After all, she did an amazing amount of detailed research into the Norris allegation?
    Also, did the large amount of money, Lee spent on recovering these runaway slaves, prove that he paid someone to whip them? Absolutely not! And, to boot, this is a rank speculation on the part of Ms. Pryor.
    Why does this large amount prove nothing? What Lee paid is very much in line with the advertised prices for the recovery of three runaway slaves in the state of Maryland (where Norris and others were apprehended). Also, the incomplete Norris account does not mention a fourth person who seems to have been captured along with the three Norris runaways. If Lee had to pay for that fourth person’s capture, this would have cost him even more money. So, Ms. Pryor’s speculation about this larger amount of money, indicating a whipping, seems to prove nothing and certainly does not prove that Robert E. Lee had anyone whipped, IMO.
    Tom Forehand, Jr.
    Robert E. Lee’s Lighter Side
    Robert E. Lee’s Softer Side
    (Both published by Pelican Pub.)

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