ROBERT EDWARD LEE.
AN ADDRESS. Delivered at the Dedication of the Lee Monument,
BY COLONEL ARCHER ANDERSON.
[This chaste, eloquent, and considerate utterance is worthy of its exalted subject and of
the impressive occasion, and must be conceded a commanding distinction of its gifted and
A people carves its own image in the monuments of its great men. Not Virginians only, not
only those who dwell in the fair land stretching from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, but
all who bear the American name may proudly consent that posterity shall judge them by the
structure, which we are here to dedicate and crown with a heroic figure. For, as the Latin
poet said, that, wherever the Roman name and sway extended, there should be the supulchre
of Pompey, so to-day, in every part of America, the character and fame of Robert Edward
Lee are treasured as a "possession for all time."
And, if this be true of that great name, what shall be said of the circumstances which
surround us on this day of solemn commemoration?
That at the end of the first quarter of a century after the close of a stupendous civil
war, in which more than a million men struggled for the mastery during four years of
fierce and bloody conflict, we should see the Southern States in complete possession of
their local self-government, the Federal Constitution unchanged save as respects the great
issues submitted to the arbitrament of war, and the defeated party - whilst in full and
patriotic sympathy with all the present grandeur and imperial promise of a reunited
country - still not held to renounce any glorious memory, but free to heap honors upon
their trusted leaders, living or dead - all this reveals a character in which the American
people may well be content to be handed down to history.
All this, and more, will be the testimony of the solid fabric we here complete. It will
recall the generous initiative and the unflaging
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zeal of those whole women of the South to whom in large measure we owe this auspicious
day; it will bear its lasting witness as the voluntary offering of the people, not the
governments of the Southern States; and, standing as a perpetual memorial of our great
leader, it will stand not less as an enduring record of what his fellow-citizens deemed
most worthy to be honored.
What kind of greatness, then - it may be fitting on this spot to ask - what kind of
greatness should men most honor in their fellow-men? Vast and varied is the circle of
human excellence - where is our paramount allegiance due?
In that "temple of silence and reconciliation," that Westminster Abbey of
Florence, whither so many paths of glory led, you may read one answer to this question on
the cenotaph of Dante in the inscription: "Honor the sublime poet." These words
the mediaeval poet himself applied to his great master,Virgil. After near six centuries
they still touch some of the deepest feelings of the heaert. And with them come crowding
on the mind memories of a long line of poets, artists, historians, orators, thinkers who
have sounded all the depths of speculation, princes of science, who have advanced the
frontiers of ordered knowledge, of the least of whom it may be said - as Newton's
gravestone records of the greatest - that he was an honor to the race of men. Yes, if you
life were only thought and emotion, if will and action and courage did not make up its
greatest part, men might justly reverence the genius of poets and thinkers above all other
greatness. But strong and natural as is the inclination of those given up to the
intellectual life thus to exalt the triumphs of the imagination and the reason, such is
not the impulse of the great heart of the multitude. And the multitude is right. In a
large and true sense conduct is more than intellect, more than art or eloquence - to have
done great things is nobler than to have thought or expressed them.
Thus, in every land, the most conspicuous monuments commemorate the great actors, not the
great thinkers of the world's history; and among these men of action the great soldier has
always secured the first place in the affections of his countrymen. What means this
universal outburst of the love and admiration of our race for men who have been foremost
in war? Is the common sense of mankind blinded by the blaze of military glory? Or does
some deep instict teach us that the character of the ideal commander is the grandest
manifestation in which man can show himself to man? The power and the fascination of this
ideal are attested by the indulgent admiration
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we bestow on men who, on the one side, grandly fill it out, while, on the other, falling
grievously below it, weighed down by something base and earthly. Thus standing before that
marvellous monument in Berlin, from which Frederick "in his habit as he lived"
looks down in homely greeting to his Prussian people, and seems still to warn them that
the art which won empire can alone maintain it, we forget the selfish ambition, the petty
foibles, the chilling life - we remember only the valor, the consummate skill, the
superhuman constancy of the hero-king. Or if, turning from a career so crowned with final
triumph, we recall how, for lack of a like commander, France in our own day has been
trampled under foot, we may conceive the devotion with which Frenchmen still crowd about
the tomb of Napoleon - a name that, in spite of all its lurid associations, in spite of
all the humilations of the Second Empire, has still had power to lift the French nation,
during these latter years, from abasement and despair.
Surely there must be something superhuman in the genius of a great commander, if it can
make us forgetful of the woes and crimes so often-attending it. How freely, then, may we
lavish our admiration and gratitude, when no allowance has to be made for human weakness,
when we find military greatness allied with the noblest public and private virtue! Here,
at last, in this ideal union is that rare greatness which men may most honor in their
It is the singular felicity of this Commonwealth of Virginia to have produced two such
stainless captains. The fame of the one, consecrated by a century of universal reverence
and the growth of a colossal empire, the result of his heroic labors, has been
commemorated in this city by a monument, in whose majestic presence no man ever received
the suggestion of a thought that did not exalt humanity. The fame of the other, no yet a
generation old and won in a cause that was lost, is already established by that impartial
judgment of foreign nations, which anticipates the verdict of the next age, upon an equal
pinnacle, and millions of our countrymen, present here with us in their thoughts and
echoing back from city and plain and mountain top the deep and reverent voice of this vast
multitude, will this day confirm our solemn declaration that the monument of George
Washington has found its only fitting complement and companion in a monument to Robert
I ventured to say that, if we take account of human nature in all its complexity, the
character of the ideal commander is the grandest manifestation in which man can show
himself to man. Consider
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some of the necessary elements of this great character. And let us begin with its humbler
virtues, its more lowly labors. If we take the commander merely on his administrative
side, what treasures of energy, forecast, and watchfulness do we not see him expending in
the prosaic work of providing the means of subsistence for his army! He is always
confronted on a vast scale with man's elemental and primitive want - his daily bread. The
matter is so vital that he can never commit it entirely to the staff. The control of the
whole subject must be ever in his own grasp.
Then, he must have not only an intimate knowledge of the geography and resources of the
theatre of war as maps and books give them, but an instinct for topography and an unerring
faculty for finding the way by night or day through forest and field, usually to be met
with only in men who pass their whole lives in the open air. To this add a complete
acquaintance with all parts of army work and organization - a very genius for detail, an
artillerist's eye for distance, and an engineer's judgment and invetiveness, with a wide
and critical comprehension of all the great campaigns of history. But he must possess a
still higher knowledge. He must know human nature, he must be wise in his judgment and
selection of his own agents, and especially must he be skilled to read his adversary's
mind and character. Upon this varied and profound knowledge will depend the success of
those large plans embracing the whole theatre of war which soldiers call strategy.
Now, combine all these elements, conceive of them as expanded into genius, and you may
from some idea of the merely intellectual equipment of a great commander. But he might
have all this and be fit only to be a chief of staff.
The business of war is with men; the business of a general is to lead men in that most
wonderful of human organizations, an army- on that dread arena, the field of battle. And
now come into play the qualities of heart and soul. Consecrated to his high office, a
generous, the most patriotic man among his countrymen. He must not only be their greatest
leader - he must know how to make every man in his army believe him to be their greatest
leader. And mere belief is not enough. There must be in him a power to call forth an
enthusiastic and passionate devotion. Of all careers a military life makes the heaviest
demand on the self-effacement and self-sacrifice of those who are to follow and obey. Love
and enthusiasm for a leader are the only forces powerful enough to raise men to this
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Without them an army is a mob, or at most a spiritless machine. With them it becomes
capable of the sublimest exhibitions of valor and devotion.
But, essential as is this magnetic power in the leader to draw all hearts, to quiet
jealousies, to compel obedience, and to fuse the thoughts and passions of thousands of
individual men into a single mass of martial ardor, all these gifts may be present and the
true commander absent. Politicians have had these gifts, soldiers even have had these
gifts, and utterly failed in the command of armies. To all these rich edowments there must
be added an imperturbable moral courage equal to any burden or buffet of fortune, and
physical intrepidity in its highest and grandest forms - not only the valor which carries
a division commander under orders with overmastering rush to some desperate assault, like
Cleburne's at Franklin, or makes him stand immovable as a stone wall, as Bee saw Jackson
at Manassas, but an aggressive and unresting ardor to fall on the enemy, like that which
burned in Nelson, when he wrote: "I will fight them the moment I can reach their
fleet, be they at anchor or under sail - I will not lose one moment in fighting the French
fleet - I mean to follow them if they go to the Black Sea - not a moment shall be lost in
pursuing the enemy. * * * I will not lese a moment in bringing them to action."
With this fierce passion for fight, the general must unite the selfcontrol, which will
refuse battle or calmly await attack, and, not least, the fortitude which can endure
defeat. For weeks and months he must be ready at any moment of the day or nigh to draw on
these vast resources without ever showing weakness under the protracted strain. And over
and above all there must preside some God-like power, which, in the crisis of strategy or
the storm of battle, not only preserves to the commander all these high faculties, but
actually intensifies and expands them. In those irrevocable moments, when the decision of
an instant may determine the destiny of States, mere talents must spring into genius, and
mind and outward eye send flashes of intuition through the smoke of battle and the dark
curtain on which the enemy's movements are to be read only in fitful shadows. In that hour
of doom, a nation's fate, a people's ransom may be staked on one man's greatness of soul.
It is the recognition in Lee of the principal elements of this high ideal - courage, will,
energy, insight, authority - the organizing mind with its eagle glance, and the
temperament for command broad-based upon fortitude, hopefulness, joy in battle - all
exalted by heroic purpose
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and kindled with the glow of an unconquerable soul; it is, besides and above all, the
unique combination in him of moral strength with moral beauty, of all that is great in
heroic action ith all that is good in common life, that will make of this pile of stone a
sacred shrine, dear throughout coming ages, not to soldiers only, but to all.
"Helpers and friends of makind."
Let a brief recital show that these are words of truth and soberness.
Lee was fortune in his birth, for he sprang from a race of men who had just shown, in a
world-famous struggle, all of the virtues and few of the faults of a class selected to
rule because fittest to rule. His father had won a brilliant fame as a cavalry leader, and
the signal honor of the warm friendship of Washington. The death of
"Light-Horse" Harry Lee when Robert Lee was only eleven years old make the boy
the protector of his mother - a school of virtue not unfitted to develop a character that
nature had formed for honor. It was partly, no doubt, the example of his father's
brilliant service, but mainly the soldier's blood which flowed in his viens, that impelled
him to seek a place in the Military Academy at West Point. He was presented to President
Jackson, and we may well believe the story that the old soldier was quickly won by the
gallant youth, and willingly secured him to the army. I cannot dwell on his proficiency in
the military school, or his early years of useful service in the corps of engineers,
though, doubltess, those practical labors had an important infulence upon the future
leader of that Army of Northern Virginia, so famous for its.
"-looming bastions fringed with fire"-
the creation of the axe and spade.
One asupicious incident of that time I must not pass by - his marriage to the great
granddaughter of Washington's wife. Thus another tie was formed which connected him by
daily associations of family and place with Washington's fame and character. He became, in
some sort, Washington's direct personal representative. Is it fanciful to suppose that all
this had an immediate effect on his nature, so moulded already to match with whatever was
great and noble? It may well be believed that Lee made Washington his mode of public duty,
and, in every important conjuncture of his life, unconsciously, no doubt, but effectively
asked himself the question: "How would Washington have acted in this case?"
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The greater elements of Lee's character must appear in the story of his later life. Let me
try now to give some conception of his noble pereson, his grace, his social charm, his
pure life - of that inborn dignity which with a look could check familiarity or convey
rebuke, of that manly beauty and commanding presence, fitted alike to win child or maiden
and to waken in the sternest soldier an expectation and assurance of pre-eminence and
distinction. It was this which drew from a great master of the art of war, whom a
beneficent Providence still spares to be a model of every manly and martial virtue to the
sons of the youngest soldier who followed his unstained banner, it was the recollection of
the fascination of Lee's manner and person in the days of their early service that drew
from General Joseph E.Johnston these words of vivid and loving description: "No other
yough or man so united the qualities that win warm friendship and command high respect.
For he was full of sympathy and kindness, genial and fond of gay conversation and even of
fun * * * while his correctness of demeanor and language and attention to all duties,
personal and official, and a dignity as much a part of himself as the elegance of his
person, gave him a superiority that every one acknowledged in his heart."
It was this which made Lord Wolseley say of him as he saw him in later years: "I have
met many of the great men of my time, but Lee alone impressed me with the feeling that I
was in the presence of a man who was cast in a grander mould, and made of different and
finer metal than all other men. He is stamped upon my memory as a being apart and superior
to all others in every way."
Thus endowed to command the love and respect of every human being that came into his
presence fully equipped in every military art, temperate, pure, healthful, brave,
consciously following duty as his pole star, and all unconsciously burning with ardor to
win a soldier's fame, he entered upon that war with Mexico, which was destined to prove a
training-ground for the chief leaders in the conflict between the States. There he soon
gave proof of great qualities for war.
But I may stay only to mention one incident in which he displayed such rare force of will,
such aggressive and untiring enterprise as at once marked him out for high command. It was
just before the battle of Contreras. Scott had learned through Lee's reconnoissance that
the Mexican position could be attacked in rear by a difficult movement across a pathless
and rugged volcanic field called the "Pedregal." A painful march had brought the
turning division at night-fall
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to the decisive point, and Lee waas called into council by the division commander. The
council sat long. At last, about nine at nith, it resolved on Lee's advice upon an attack
at dawn. But it was essential that communication should be established with Scott's
headquarters. Lee declared his purpose to effect this communication, and through the
stormy night, alone and on foot, with enemies on either hand, he pushed his way across
that volcanic waste, comparable only in the difficulties it presented to some Alpine
glacier rent with yawning chasms. He won his way to Scott by midnight. At daybreak column
heard their comrades' guns. They fell on the Mexican rear. A brief and bloody resistance
served only to heighten the triumph of American skill and valor. The position was won, and
Contreras, to the eye of history, prefigures Chancellorsville.
General Scott described this exploit of Lee's as "the greatest feat of physical and
moral courage performed by any individual, in his knowledge, pending the campaign."
History will record, as Scott himself nobly admitted, that Lee was Scott's right arm in
I may not dwell on the round of engineering duties which Lee discharged with exactness and
fidelity during the years following the Mexican war. Of more interest is his first actual
command of troops, on his appointment as lieutenant-colonel of the famous Second cavalry
serving in Texas. This frontier service of three or four years was important in developing
his military character, though it may seem an inadequate preparation in the details of
command, when compared, for instance, with Wellington's long apprenticeship in India. But
genius has many schools, and an earnest observant mind quickly grasps the lessons of
A dark cloud of war was now threatening to burst over a hitherto peaceful country. The
routine of frontier administration and Indian police must have seemed but idle child's
play amid the fierce passions of that rising tempest of civil strife. No man who could
think could think of anything but the impending danger. And Lee, the son of a leader of
the Revolution, closely linked by descent and association with the men who won American
independence and made the American Constitution, Lee, inheriting along with the most
ardent love of the Union a paramount loyalty to his native State, now saw himself obliged
to make his choice and take his side in an irrepressible conflict. No more painful
struggle ever tore the heaert of a patriot. He had served the whole country in a gallant
army, which commanded
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all his affection. He, better than most men, knew the great resources of the North and
West. He had sojourned and labored in every part of the land, and could appreciate the
harguments drawn from its physical characteristics, from its great river systems and
mountain ranges, for an indissoluble union. He knew Northern men in their homes; he knew
the bravery of the Northern soldiers who filled our regular regiments in Mexico. He was
above the predjudices and taunts of the day, which belittled Northern virtue and courage.
He knew that, with slight external differences, there was a substantial identity of the
American race in all the States, North and South. He was equally above the weak and
passionate view of slavery as good in itself, into which the fanatical and
unconstitutional agitation of the Abolition party had driven many strong minds in the
South. He regarded slavery as an evil which the South had inherited, and must be left to
mitigate and, if possible, extirpate by wise and gradual measures. He, if any man of that
time, was capable of weighing with calmness the duty of the hour. With him the only
question then, as at every moment of his spotless life, was to find out which way duty
Against the urgent solicitations of General Scott, in defiance of the temptations of
abmition - for the evidence is complete that the command of the United States Army was
offered to him - in manifest sacrifice of all his pecuniary interests, he determined that
duty bade him side with his beloved Virginia. He laid down his commission, and solemnly
declared his purpose never to draw his sword save in behalf of his native State.
And what was that native State to whose defence he henceforth devoted his matchless sword?
It was a Commonwealth older than the Union of the States; it was the first above of
English freedom in the Western World; it was the scene of the earliest organized
leegislative resistance to the encroachments of the nother country; it was the birthplace
of the immortal leader of our Revolutionary armies, and of many of the architects of the
Federal Constitution; it was the central seat of that dectrine of State sovereignty
sanctioned by the great names of Jefferson and Madison; it was a land rich in every gift
of the earth and sky - richer still in its race of men, brave, frugal, pious, loving
honor, but fearing God; it was a land hallowed then by memories of an almost unbroken
series of patriotic triumphs, but now after the wreck and ruin of four years of
unsuccessful war, consecrated anew by deeds of heroism and devotion, whose increasing
lustre will borrow
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a brighter radiance from their sombre backnground of suffering and defeat. And this day
and on this spot, with heightened pride and undiminished love, the sons of that Old
Dominion may still salute her in the patriot Roman's verse-
"Salve magna parens frugum, Saturnia tellus,
This was the land that Lee defended.
Accepting the commission of major-general of the forces of Virginia, he soon passed by the
necessary and rapid sway of events into the service of the Confederate States. Virginia
had become the battle-ground on which the Confederacy was to win or lose its independence,
and Lee could only defend Virginia as a general of the Confederate army.
During the early months of the war he labored uncessingly and with success in the
organization of those armies, which stemmed and dashed back the first flood of invasion.
Here his patience, his careful and minute attention to details, his knowledge of men, and
particularly of those officers of the old army who espoused the Southern cause, his
through military preparation, and, more than all esle, his conviction that thet war would
be long and desperate, made him an invaluable counsellor of the Confederate Executive. His
co-operation with the more fortunate generals, chosen to lead armies in the field, was
zealous and cordial, and he did not murmur when at last, in August, 1861, his turn for
active service came in what promised to be at thankless and inauspicious duty.
The Confederate arms had been unfortunate in Northwestern Virginia. Garnett had been
overwhelmed and defeated. Loring, with large reinforcements, had not pressed forward to
snatch the lost ground from an enemy weakened by great detachments. So Lee was sent to
Valley Mountain to combine all the elements of our strength, and by a stroke of daring
recover West Virginia. The Confederate President was convinced that he was the leader for
such a campaign - the opinion of the army and of the people enthuiastically confirmed his
Lee quickly mastered the problem before him by personal reconnoissances, and lad his plans
with skill and vigor. But the attack on Cheat Mountain, which a year later would have been
a brilliant success, ended in failure and mortification. Lee was able to show to the
public but one of the hight qualities of a great general - magnanimity
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under dissapointment and defeat. His old comrades of the Mexican war knew him; the
Confederate President knew him and still believed in him; but the verdict of the general
public on Robert Lee in the winter of 1861-62 might have been summed up in the historians'
judgment of Galba, who "by common consent would have been deemed fit to command, had
he never commanded."
In such a school of patience and self-control was our great leader destined to pass the
first fourteen months of the war.
The first day of "Seven Pines" had been fought, the fierce temper and stern
valor of the Army of Northern Virginia had been established, a brilliant success had been
won on our right by Longstreet and D.H.Hill, and General Johnston, about nightfall, was
arranging a vigorous and combined attack for the morrow. At that moment, Johnston, whose
body was already covered with honorable scars, was stricken down by two severe wounds, and
the army was deprived of its leader.
On the afternoon of the next day, about five miles below Richmond, Lee assumed command of
that army called of Northern Virginia, but fitly representing the valor and the virtue of
every Southern State, that army which henceforth was to be the inseparable partner of his
fame, that army whose heroic toils, marches, battles would still, if every friendly record
perished, be emblazoned for the admiration of future ages in its adversary's recital of
the blood and treasure expended to destroy it. So we are able now to measure Hannibal's
greatness only by the magnitude of Rome's sacrifices and devotion.
At any period of the war the loss of Richmond would probably have been fatal to the
Confederacy. This truth is the key to the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia. It
will explain and justify in Lee's conduct many apparent violations of sound principles of
war. Ordinarily, nothing is more fatal than to make the fortunes of an army turn on the
defence of a position. This was Pemberton's error at Vicksburg - it was Osman's at Plevna.
But the politicanl importance of Richmond as the capital of a great State and of the
Confederacy, its real strategic advantages as the nucleus of a railway system and other
communications, embracing Virginia and the States to the South and West, and still more,
the startling fact that its manufacturing establishment, though poor and inadequate, were
at first absolutely, and always practically, the sole resource of the South for artillery
and railway material -these considerations, in their combined strength, brought about, in
the minds of those directing
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the Confederate government, a conviction of the indispensable necessity of Richmond to the
life of the Southern cause.
Washington talked of retreating, in the last resort, to the mountains of West Augusta, and
their maintaining an undying resistance to the British invaders. It is possible that such
a guerilla warfare might have succeeded a hundred years ago against an enemy coming
railway, and before even turnpike connected the coast with the mountains. It is possible.
But the probability is that, as in other contests, the end of organized regular warfare
would have been the virtual end of the struggle. How much more must this have been the
case in our recent war, when military armaments had already become complex and artificial!
Modern armies, with their elaborate small arms, artillery, and ammunition, cannot be
maintained without great mechanical appliances. They cannot even be fed without great
lines of railway. And how can railways be utilized in a country closely blockaded without
these same manufacturing resources.
All this was true from 1861 to 1865. At no time during that period did there exist, south
of Richmond, foundries and rolling-mills, capable, in a year's work, of supplying the
Confederate armies and railways for three months. In the first part of the war, the
nucleus of such establishments could not be found elsewhere in the South. In the latter
part, beginnings had been made, but the new production of cannon and railway material
never became adequate to the demands of a campaign. If the requisite machinery could have
been improvised, the product could not have been hastily increased, because of the
absolute lack of skilled workmen. The loss of the skilled artisans of Richmond would have
been as fatal, in our poverty, as the loss of its mills and workshops.
The defense of Richmond, then, was the superhuman task to which Lee now found himself
committed by the policy of the Confederate Government, and by the pressure of conditions,
independent of his will or control.
How precious for us Virginians is this intimate association of his immortal labors with
this city of our affections - for more than a century the centre of our State life, for
four years of heroic struggle the inviolate citadel of a people in arms! The familiar
objects about us church where he worhsipped, the modest dwelling which sheltered those
nearest his heart, the heights overlooking river and land which make up the military
topography he had so deeply studied, and the
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graves of that silent army by which our city is still begirt. You can hardly prolong your
evening walk without coming upon fields, once like any others, but now touched with that
mysterious meaning which speaks from every spot where for home and kindred men have fought
Thus, at a critical moment when a trifling advance of McClellan's forces would have begun
a siege of Richmond, Lee took command of the army marshalled for its defence. His first
step wast to overrule opinions tending to the retirement of our line. His next was to
fortify that line, and to summon to his aid, for a great aggressive effort, all the forces
that could be spared in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. In his comprehensive plan
for the great day of battle now at hand was embraced that small but-heroic band with which
Jackson had just defeated three armies, filled the Federal Capitan with alarm, and
diverted from McClellan McDowell's powerful reinforcement.
The secrecy with which Lee knew how to wrap this movement was itself a presage of
generalship. He not only concealed Jackson's rapid march, so that Shields and McDowell
should not follow on his heels, but, by an actual movement by rail of Whiting's division
to Charlottesville, he made McClellan believe that he was sending a strong detachment to
the Valley. Then, with an army will still inferior to iots adversary by at least
one-fourth, he burst upon McClellan's right wing. By Lee's wise and blod combination, the
weaker army showed, at the point of attack, double the strength of the stronger. The
Federal general saw his communications snatched from his control, his right wing after an
obstinate and bloody conflict, broken and put to flight, his whole army turning its back
upon the goal of the campaign, and fighting now, as men fight on issues of life and death
- not for Richmond - but for safety and a refuge place under the guns of the fleet.
I need not recall the valor, the sascrifices, the chequered fortunes, or the visible
trophies of those seven days of heroic struggle. Whatever criticsm may be passed uopn the
details of the several actions, the broad fact remains that, as their direct result, that
moral ascendency, which is the real genius of victory, forsook the Federal and passed over
to the Confederate camp. And Lee rose up, in the minds of friend and foe, to the full
stature of a great and daring leader.
An act of vigor quickly showed how correctly he estimated the staggering effect of the
mighty blow he had dealt. He hurried Jackson to Gordonsville to meet Pope's threatening
force, and soon
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he dispatched A.P.Hill's division on the same service. Jackson's fierce attack on Banks at
Cedar Mountain at once caused new alarm for Washington. A rapid weakening of McClellan's
force was the result. Reading this with that intuitive perception of what is passing
behind the enemy's lines, which henceforth marks him as fit to command, Lee recognizes
that the iniative is now his hands, and presently moves with nearly his whole army to the
line of the Rapidan. His design is by celerity and vigor to counterbalance the enormous
preponderance of his enemies. He means to fall upon Pope before McClellan's army can join
him. You know the splendid boldness of Jackson's immortal march to Pope's rear, which Lee
approved and ordered. You know how, after prodigies of rapid movement, obstinate fighting
and intrepid guidance, the Army of Northern Virginia stood once more united on the plains
of Manassas, and there baffled and crushed an adversary, its superior, by one-half in
numbers. Again the Federal army turned its back upon the goal of the campaign; again the
Federal army bent its march, not to its commander's, but to Lee's imperious will. The
invasion of Maryland, the capture of Harper's Ferry attested it, and Lee's victorious
sweep was only checked by one of thos unlucky accidents inseparable from war. His order
for the combined movements of his troops fell into McClellan's hands when the ink upon it
was scarcely dry.
This precipitated the great battle of Sharpsburg.
On that sanguinary field 40,000 Confederates finally repulsed every attack of an army of
87,000 Federal soldiers. On the day following the battle they grimly stood in their long,
thin lines, inviting the assault which, as history will record, was not delivered.
If ever commancer was tried by overwhelming and continous peril, and rose superior to it,
and triumphed by sheer moral power over force and fortune, Lee on those two fateful days
gave that supreme proof of a greatness of souol as much above depression under reverses as
elation in success. In such moments the army feel the lofty genius of their leader. They
acknowledge his royal right to command. They recognize their proud privilege to follow and
obey. To such leaders only is it given to form heroic soldiers. Such were the ragged,
half-starved men in gray who stood with Lee at Sharpsburg.
It is a vision of some such moment, perhaps, that our sculptor, Mercie, has caught with
the eye of genius, and fixed in imperishable bronze. The General has ridden up, it seems
to me, in some paus
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of battle, to the sweeling crest of the front line, and, while the eyes of his soldiers
are fastened on him in keen expectancy, but unwavering trust, the great leader - silent
and alone with his dread responsibility - is scanning, with calm and penetrating glance,
the shifting phases and chances of the sricken field. Such is the commanding figure which
will presently be unveiled to your view, and dull, indeed, must be the imagination that
does not henceforth people this plain with invisible hosts, and compass Lee about - now
and forever - with the love and devotion of embattled ranks of heroic men in gray.
But the campaign of 1862 was yet to close in a dramatic scene of unequalled grander.
As in some colossal amphitheatre, Lee's soldiers stood ranked on the bold hills encircling
Fredericksburg to witness the deployment on the plan beneath, with glittering bayonets and
banners and every martial pomp, of Burnside's splendind army. A gorgeous spectacle was
spread out under their feet. It was haard to realize that such a pageant was the prelude
to bloody battle. But the road of a hundred great guns from the Stafford heights quickly
dispelled any illusion, and the youngest recruit could see and applaud the marvellous
skill with which the Confederate commander, so recently baffled in his plan of invasion,
was now interposing a proud and confident army across the latest-discovered road to
Richmond. At the opportune moment, Lee's line of twenty-five miles contracted to five, and
78,000 Confederates calmly awaited the assault of 113,000 Federal soldiers. That assault
was delivered. On rushed line after line of undaunted Northern soldiers. Braver men never
marched more boldly to the cannon's mouth. But their valor was unavailing. As Stonewall
Jackson said, his men sometimes failed to carry a position, but never to hold one. The
most determined courage and a carnage, appalling from its concentration, served only to
mark the heroism of the Northern soldiers. But the prize of victory remained with Lee. At
one blow the Federal invasion was paralyzed, and for months and months the great Northern
host lay torpid in the mud and snow of a Virginia winter.
The repose of that winter strengthened the Federal army, but weakened Lee's, for he had
been obliged to detach Longstreet with two diviions to Southeastern Virginia. Hence the
last days of April, 1863, found Lee confronting Hooker's army of 131,000 men with only
If I mention these respective numbers so often, it is because they
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constitute the indestructible basis of Lee's military fame. You will search in vain in
history for a parallel to such uniform, excessive, and prolonged disparity in numbers,
such amazing inferiority in all the material and appliancees of war, crowned by such a
succession of brilliant, though dearly-bought victories. If these considerations in
themselves established Lee's fame, they also vindicate it from the only criticism to which
it has been subjected. They justify and explain the comparatively indecisive character of
those victories. When the odds are four to five, three to five, three to seven, when every
man has fought, and there are no reserves, the victories of the weaker army must of their
very nature fail to destroy an adversary of the same proud race, of equal, if of different
The events we now approach present Lee in every phase of the consummate commander. Can you
imagine an attitude of grander firmness than that in which we see him on Hooker's crossing
the Rappahannock? There was a letter from him to the Confederate Secretary of War, written
at that moment, which showed him in this mood of heroic calm, waiting for the development
of the enemy's purpose, determined to fight, but giving no hint of that tremendous
lion-spring at Chancellorsville, which was to pluck out the every heart of the Federal
The plan of that great battle, as happens with many master-works, was struck out at a
single blow, in a brief conference with Jackson, on the evening of the 1st of May.
An eye-witness has depicted the scene - the solemn forest, the rude bivouac, the grave and
courteous commander, heir of all the knightly graces of the cavaliers, the silent, stern
lieutenant, with the faith and the fire at Cromwell, the brief interchange of question and
answer, the swiftly following order for the movement of the morrow.
The facts of the enemy's position and the surrounding topograhpy had just been
ascertained. The genius of the commander justly weighting the character of his adversary,
the nature of the country, and the priceless gift in his own hands of such a thunder-bolt
of war, such a Titanic force as Jackson, instantly devised that immortal flank march which
will emblazon Chancellorsville on the same reoll of deathless fame with Blenheim, with
Leuthen, with Austerlitz, and Jena.
The battle of Chancellorsville will rank with the model battles of history. It displayed
Lee in every character of military greatness. Nothing could exceed the sublime intrepidity
with which, leaving Early to dispute the heights of Fredericksburg against Sedgwick's
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imposing force, he himself led five weak division to confront Hooker's mighty host. Lee
meant to fight, but not in the dark. He meant first to look his adversary in the eye. He
meant to see himself how to aim his blow. Where shall we find a match for the vigor, the
swiftness, the audacity of that flank march assigned to Jackson - for the fierce and
determined front attack led by Lee himself? There is nothing equal to it save only
Frederick's immortal stroke of daring on the Austrian flank at leuthen. But the second day
brings out the strongest and grandest lines of the Confederate commander's heroic
character.Jackson has been stricken down, Lee's right arm has been torn from him; but the
unconquerable firmess of his nature resisting every suggestion of weakness, and that
inborn love of fight, without which no General can be great, blazing out and kindling all
it touched, he forces on the fierce attack along the whole line, till in a wild tumult of
battle, the Federal army wavers, gives ground, melts away. The advance, if pushed, will
drive the enemy in confusion to the river. And Lee is preparing for a combined assault.
But a new element now bursts into the action. News is brought from ten miles away that the
Confederates have been driven from the heights of Fredericksburg towards Richmond, and
Sedgwick is marching on Lee's rear. Lee's celerity and firmness are equal to the crisis.
He promptly hurls four brigade from under his own hand at the head of Sedgwick's column,
and with bold countenance hems in Hooker's army of nearly thrice his own numbers. If it
were not the sternest tragedy, it might be comedy - this feat of thirty thousand men
shutting up eighty thousand. But Hooker has been beaten, the decisive point is not there,
as the eye of genius can intuitively see. It is with Sedgwick, six miles away, and
realizing in his practice the golden maxim of the schools, Lee is quickly at that point in
not superior, force. Sedgwick is crushed on the third day, and driven across the river.
Lee now concentrates all his force to fall upon Hooker, with a final and overwhelming
blow. The fifth day breaks, and lo! the Federal army has vanished, not a man of them save
the dead, the wounded, and the prisoners remaining on the Richmond side of the
What was left undone by Lee that genius, constancy, and daring could effect? Will any man
say that the Confederate army should have followed its defeated but colossal adversary
across the river? This would have been to invite disaster.
This substantial and astounding fruits of victory were won in the collapse for that season
of the Federal invasion, in th emasterly initiative
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which Lee was now able to seize, in the submissive and tell-tale docility with which
Hooker thenceforth followed every motion of the magic wand of the Confederate commander.
The march to the Potomac and the captures by the way renewed the glories of 1862. For a
few short weeks Virginia was freed from the tramp of armies. But, as before, the invasion,
begun with an intoxicating outburst of martial hope, was doomed to end in a drawn and
doubtful battle. After a bloody struggle on the heights of Gettysburg, the two armies
stood the greater part of two long summer days defiantly looking into each other's eyes.
Neither was willing to attack it saedversary. However deeply Lee may have left the failure
of his daring stroke, he took upon himself all the reproach and all the responsibility of
the result. No word of criticsm or censure passed his lips. But, confident of the devotion
and the steadiness of his army, he promptly turned to the duty of the hour. What an
example of serenity, of imperturbable firmness! We owe to Gettysburg not only the most
thrilling spectacle of the unsurpassed valor of the Confederate soldier, but a matchless
exhibition of composure and magnanimity in the Confederate commander. The aggressive
campaign failed, but neither the army nor its general was shaken. We find them during the
remainder of 1863 facing their old foe with undiminished spirit. And soon Lee gives proof
of equal firmenss, enterprise, and generosity in detaching Longstreet's corps to strike a
decisive blow, eight hundred miles away, by the side of Bragg at Chickamauga. The annals
of war do not exhibit a more unselfish act.
How shall I briefly describe the added titles to enduring fame with which the campaign of
the next year, 1864, invested our great leader? Who that lived through that time can
forget the awful hush of those calm spring days, which ushered in the tremendous outbrust
of the Federal attack along a thousand miles of from?
In every quarter, at one and the same moment, the Confederacy felt the furious impact of a
whole nation's force driven on by the resistless will of a single commander. Grant's
aggressiveness, Grant's stubbornness, Grant's unyielding resolve to destroy the
Confederate armies, seemed suddenly to animate every corps, every division, almost every
man of the Federal host. Even now we stand aghast at the awful disparity in the numbers
and resources of the two armies. Swinton puts the force under Grant's immediate eye on the
first day of the campaign at 140,000 men. Grant himself puts it at 116,000. It is certain
that Lee had less than 64,000 soldiers of all
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arm. But, in addition, Grant was directing against Richmond or its communications 30,000
men under Butler, 17,000 under Sigel and Crook, and a numerous and powerful fleet.
Let me tive two examples of the extraordinary means at his disposal. He never went into
camp but that, within an hour or two, every division was placed in telegraphic
communication with his headquarters. Lee could only reach the several parts of his army by
the aid of mounted couriers. But this is the most striking. On four several occasions
Grant shifted his base by a simple mandate to Washington to lodge supplies at
Fredericksburg, at Port Royal, at the White House, at City Point. Thus, his communications
were absolutely invulnerable. With the boundless wealth at his control, he laid under
contribution the resourcese of the commerce and manufactures of the world, and, combining
all the agencies of destruction in the vast under his command, fired now with something of
his own smothered, but relentless passions, he hurled it in repeated and bloody assaults
at the heart of the Confederacy.
The heart of the Confederacy was the Army of Northern Virginia.
Surely, heroic courage never faced a more tremendous crisis than Lee now met and mastered.
Grant had crossed the Rapidan. No idea of retreat entered Lee's mind. He only waited to
discover the purpose of the enemy. Then, with fierce energy, he hulred two corps at the
heads of his columns, not even halting for Longstreet to come up. For two days that awful
struggle raged in the dark and gruesome thickets of the Wilderness. Lee could not drive
back his stubborn adversary, but he staggered and stunned and foiled him. Any previous
commander of the Army of the Potomac would have retreated. Grant sullenly steals off by
night to Spotsylvania.
But a lion is there in his path. The road to Richmond is blocked by Lee. Grant's
determination to force a passage brings on one of the fiercest and most prtracted
struggles of the war. For four days out of twelve that raging fire-flood surges about the
lines of Spotsylvania. The very forest is consumed by it. How can man withstand its fury?
Only by that courage which in its contempt of death is a presage of immortality. On such a
field the human spirit rises even in common men to transcendent heights of valor and
self-sacrifice, the great soul of the commander moves throught he wild chaos like some
elemntal force, and the terrible majesty of war veils its horrors.
Grant cannot take those lines. The solitary advantage won at the salient by his
overlwhelming masses does but display on an immortal
Page331 THE MONUMENT TO GENERAL ROBERT E.LEE.
page the quick resource, the commanding authority, the unconquerable tenacity of the
Confederate General. Grant could not drive him from those lines; but the commander of a
greatly superior army can never find it hard to turn his adversary's position, especially
if, by means of a fleet and convenient rivers, he can shift his base as easily as write a
dispatch. Yet Lee always divined every turning moment, and always placed his army in time
across the path of its adversary.
In the succession of bloody battles ending with the salughter of Cold Harbor, he
everywhere won the substainal fruits as well as the honors of victory, and between the
Wilderness and the Chickahominy, in twenty-eight days he inflicted on Grant a loss of
60,000 men - an appalling number, equal to the strength of Lee's own army at the beginning
of the campaign.
Try to conceive the intense strain of those twenty-eight days. Jackson is no longer by
Lee's side, Longstreet has been stricken down severely wounded on the first day. Suppose a
single moment of hesitation in the commander, a single false interpretation of obscure and
conflicting appearancese, a failure at any hour of the day or night to maintain in their
perfect balance all those high faculties which we see united in Lee, and what would have
availed the valor of those matchless Confederate soldiers? Can we wonder that they loved
him, can we wonder that, like Scipio's veterans, they were ready to die for him, if he
would spare himself? Thrice in this campaign did they give him this supreme proof of
Of the siege of Petersburg I have only time to say that in it for nine months the
Confederate commander displayed every art by which genius and courage can make good the
lack of numbers and resourcese. But the increasing misfortunes of the Confederate arms on
other theatres of war gradually cut off the supply of men and means. The army of Northern
Virginia ceased to be recruited. It ceased to be adequately fed. It lived for months on
less than one-third rations. It was demoralized, not by the enemy in its front, but by the
enemy in Georgia and the Carolinas. It dwindled to 35,000 men holding a front of
thirty-five miles; but over the enemy it still cast the shadow of its great name. Again
and again, by a blod offensive, it arrested the Federal movements to fasten on its
communications. At last, an irresistible concentration of forces broke through its long,
thin line of battle. Petersburg had to be abandoned. Richmond was evacuated. Trains
bearing supplies were intercepted, and a starving army, harassed for seven days by
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attacks on rear and flank, found itself completely hemmed in by overwhelming masses.
Nothing remained to it but its stainless honor, its unbroken courage.
In those last solemn scenes, when strong men, losing all self control, broke down and
sobbed like children Lee stood forth as great as in the days of victory and triumph. No
siaster crushed his spirit, no extremity of danger ruffled his bearing. In the agony of
dissolution now invading that proud army, which for four years had wrested victory from
every peril, in that blackness of utter darkness, he prreserved the serene lucidity of his
mind. He looked the stubborn facts calmly in the face, and, when no military resource
remained, when he recognized the imposibility of making another march or fighting another
battle, he bowed his head in submission to that Power, which makes and unmakes nations.
The surrender of the fragments of the Army of Northern Virginia closed the imperishable
record of his military life.
What a catastrophe! What a moving and pathentic contrast! On the one side, complete and
dazzling triumph after a long succession of humiliating disasters; on the other, absolute
ruin and defeat - a crown of thorns for that peerless army which hitherto had known only
the victor's laurel! But the magnanimity of the conqueror not less than the fortitude of
the vanquished shone out over the solemn scene, and softened its tragic outlines of fate
and doom. The moderation and good sense of the Northern people, breathing the large and
generous air of our wester world, quickly responded to Grant's example, and, though the
North was afterwards betrayed into fanatical and baleful excess on more than one great
subject, all the fiercer passions of a bloody civil war were rapidly extinguished. There
was to be no Poland, no Ireland in America. When the Hollywood pyramid was rising over the
Confederate dead soon after the close of the contest, some one suggested for the
inscription a classic verse, which may be rendered:
"They died for their country - their country perished with them."
Thus would have spoken the voice of despair.
Far different were the thoughts of Lee. He had drawn his sword in obedience only to the
dictates of duty and honor, and, looking back in that moment of utter defeat, he might
have exclaimed ith Demosthenes: "I say that, if the event had been manifest to the
whole world beforeheand, not even then ought Athens to have forsaken this course, if
Athens had any regard for her glory, or for her
Page333 THE MONUMENT TO GENERAL ROBERT E.LEE.
past, or for the ages to come." But, facing the duty of the hour, Lee saw that he
question submitted t othe arbitrament of war had been finally answered. He recognized that
the unity of the American people had been irrevocably established. He felt that it would
be impiety and crime to dishonor by the petty strife of faction that pure and unselfish
struggle for constitutional rights, which, while a single hope remained, had been loyally
fought out by great armies, led by heroic captains, and sustained by the patriotic
sacrifices of a noble and resolute people. He, therefore, promptly counselled his old
soldiers to look upon the great country thus reunited by blood and iron as their own, and
to live and labor for its honor and welfare. His own conduct was in accord with these
teachings. Day by day his example illustrated what his manly words declared, "that
human virtue should be equal to human calamity."
For five years he was now permitted to exhibit to his countrymen, in the discharge of the
duties of President of Washington College, the best qualities of citizen, sage and
patriot. In Plato's account of the education of a Persian king, four tutors are chosen
from among the Persian nobles - one the wieset, another the most just, a third the most
temperate, and a fourth the bravest. It was the unique fortune of the students of
Washington College to find these four great characters united in one man - their peerless
Lee. As the people saw him fuilfilling these modest, but noble functions - as they saw him
with antique simplicity putting aside every temptation to use his great fame for vulgar
gain; as they saw him, in self respecting contentment with the frugal earnings of his
personal labor, refusing every offer of pecuniary assistance; as they realized his
unselfish devotion of all that remained of strength and life to the nurture of the
Southern youth in knowledge and morals, a new conviction of his wisdom and virtue gathered
force and volume, and spread abroad into all lands.
The failure of the righteous cause for which he fought denied him that eminence of civil
station, in which his great qualities in their happy mixture might well have afforded a
parallel to the strength and the moderation of Washington. But what failure could obscure
that mortal perfection which places him as easily by the side of the best men that have
ever lived, as the heroic actions make him the peer of the greatest? There are men whose
influence on mankind neither worldly success nor worldly failure can affect.
"The greatest gift the hero leaves his race
Is to have been a hero."
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This moral perfection, breathing the very spirit of his Christian faith, is no illusive
legend of a succeeding generation exaggerating the worth of the past. Our belief in it
rests upon the unanimous testimony of the men who lived and acted with him, among whom
nothing is more common than the declaration, that Lee was the purest and best man of
action whose career history has recorded. In his whole life, laid bare to the gaze of the
world, the least friendly criticism has never discovered one single deviation from the
narrow path of rectitude and honor.
What was strained eulogy when Montesquieu said of another great soldier - Turenne - that
"his life was a humn in praise of humanity" - is, if applied to Lee, the
language of sober truth. No man can consider his life without a feeling of renewed hope
and trust in mankind. There is about his exhibitions of moral excellence the same equality
of power in reserve that marks him a soldier. He never failed to come up to the full
requirements of any situation, and his conduct communicated the impression that nothing
could arise to which he would be found unequal. His every action went straight to the mark
without affectation or display. It cost him no visible effort to be good or great. He was
not conscious that he was exceptional in either way, and he died in the belief that, as he
had been sometimes unjustly blamed, so he had as often been too highly praised.
Such is the holy simplicity of the noblest minds. Such was the pure and lofty man, in whom
we see the perfect union of Christian virtue and old Roman manhood. His goodness makes us
love his greatness, and the fascination, which this matchless combination exerts, is
itself a sympton and a source in us of moral health. As long as our people truly love and
venerate him, there willlremain in them a principle of good. For all the stupendous wealth
and power, which in the last thirty years have lifted these States to foremost rank among
the nations of the earth, are less a subject for pride than this one heroic man - this
human product of our country and its institutions.
Let this monument, then, teach to generations yet unborn these lessons of his life! Let is
stand, not a record of civil strife, but as a perpetual protest against whatever is low
and sordid in our public and private objects! Let it stand as a memorial of personal honor
that never brooked a stain, of knightly valor without thought of self, of far-reaching
military genius unsoiled by ambition, of heroic constancy from which no cloud of
misfortune could eve ride the path
Page 335 LETTERS OF R.E.LEE.
of duty! Let it stand for reproof and censure, if our people shall ever sink below the
standards of their fathers! Let it stand for ptariotic hope and cheer, if a day of
national gloom and disaster shall ever dawn upon our country! Let is stand as the
embodiment of a brave and virtuous people's ideal leader! Let it stand as great public act
of thanksgiving and praise, for that it pleased Almighty God to bestow upon these Southern
States a man so formed to reflect His attributes of power, majesty, and goodness!