Address on the character of General R. E. Lee, delivered in Richmond on Wednesday, January 19th, 1876, the anniversary of General Lee's birth
29] fame to win. You are not come to hear of my small hopes or fears. Yet, to you and to the gravity of the occasion, it is due to say that I appear before you on sudden order, to my sense of duty hardly less imperative than those famous commands under which we have so often marched at “early dawn.” By telegraph, on last Saturday night, this duty was laid upon me, and I come with little of preparation, and less of ability, to attempt a theme that might task the powers of Bossuet or exhaust an Everett's rhetoric. It can scarcely be needful to rehearse before you the facts of our commander's life. They have become, from least to greatest, parts of history, and an ever-growing number of books record that he was born in 1807, at Stratford, in Westmoreland county, of a family ancient and honorable in the mother country, in the Old Dominion, and in the State of Virginia; that he was appointed a cadet at the United States Military Academy in 1825, and was graduated first in his class, and commissioned lieutenant of engineers; that he served upon the staff of General Scott through the brilliant campaign from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico, was thrice breveted for gallant and meritorious conduct, and was declared by General Scott to have borne a chief part in the counsels and the battles which ended with the triumph of our arms; that he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of cavalry, and served for years upon the Southwestern frontier; that he was in 1861 called to Washington as one of a board to revise the army regulations, and that on the 20th day of April, 1861, four days after the withdrawal of Virginia from the Union, he resigned his commission in the United States army, and that he became commander-in-chief of Virginia's forces, and thereafter accepted the commission of general in the army of the Confederate States. Still more familiar to you than these facts are the events of which you and I had personal knowledge: how Lee organized, patiently and skilfully, the raw resources of Virginia; how he directed the coast defences of the South Atlantic States, and how he labored against a thousand difficulties in the mountains of West Virginia, serenely accepting without a murmur the popular verdict on what ignorant presumption adjudged a failure. In June of 1862 he was at length placed in a command to meet whose vast responsibility his life had been the preparation, and at once his name became forever linked with that Army of Northern Virginia which met and mastered army after army, baffled McClellan, and destroyed successively  Pope, Burnside and Hooker; which twice invaded the enemy's country, and which, when at last against it was thrown all the resources of the United States, Grant in its front and Sherman in its rear, Europe for their recruiting ground, and a boundless credit for their military chest, still stood for eleven months defiantly at bay, concentrated on itself the whole resources of the United States, and surrendered at Appomattox eight thousand starving men to the combined force of two great armies whose chiefs had long despaired to conquer it by skill or daring, and had worn it away by weight of numbers and brutal exchange of many lives for one. We all know, too, how the famous soldier sheathed his sword, and without a word of repining, without a look to show the grief that was breaking his heart and sapping the springs of his noble life, accepted the duty that came to him, and bent to his new task, as guide and teacher of boys, the powers which had wielded the strength of armies and almost redressed the balances of unequal fate.