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The life and character of Robert Edward Lee.

An address delivered before A. P. Hill Camp Confederate Veterans, by ex-governor William Evelyn Cameron, at Petersburg, Va., January 19th, 1901.

Such men have lived to teach this truth—
     And it is truth, I know-
That other men may reach those heights
     Whereon all virtues grow.


Not unmindful of the magnitude of the task your partial judgment has assigned to me—diffident of my power to clothe your love and reverence for Robert Lee in adequate phrase—I have yet accepted your invitation as a command, to which neither inclination nor duty could remain irresponsive; and I throw myself upon your generous indulgence as in sober speech I try to portray to you ‘The man he was who held a nation's heart in thrall.’

Robert E. Lee was born in the purple of an illustrious lineage, at a time when the recent death of the Cincinnatus of the West had flooded the name of Washington with a sunset's glory. He was reared upon the soil and among the traditions which had nurtured the Father of our Country. The wooded aisles of Mount Vernon were the frequent scenes of his boyhood's rambles; that Mecca of liberty, with its sacred associations and eloquent lessons, was the goal of his youthful pilgrimages; his earliest prayers were lisped within the grey walls of the old church in Alexandria, in which the conqueror of a king was wont each Sunday to bow before the Monarch of heaven and of earth; and I love to think that from an early period of life this Robert, ‘who was always good, and thoughtful beyond his years,’ sought his model in that great Virginian patriot, soldier, wise statesman and Christian gentleman, to whom the most [83] gifted Englishmen of that age supplied unstinted praise as ‘greatest, wisest, best,’ and above whose bier, amid the tearful approbation of a mourning country, the young Lee's father, the ‘Light Horse Harry’ of the brave days of old, had pronounced that eulogium, as immortal as the character which it epitomized: ‘First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.’

Separated from that father at a tender age, nourished when yet at his mother's knee by those beautiful and pathetic letters in which the death-stricken parent solaced the years of pain and exile by pouring out his loving admonitions to the children he was never more to see on earth, the susceptible heart of the boy imbibed for his absent sire a devotion which grew with his growth and which contributed in large degree to shape his own career in life. Later the lonely grave in Georgia appealed to his imagination, and the influence of its silent occupant was more potent than that of most living parents upon their sons. The faded letters from the Indies became sacred precepts to the lad. They are still a cherished heir-loom with the Lees, and none could ask a more precious legacy for budding minds than those yellow sheets contain—serious in meaning, tenderly playful in tone, couched in language as purely classic and simply lucid as though ladled from the well of English undefiled.

Then, too, the daily pabulum of this thoughtful boy was found in the record of his father's distinguished career as a soldier of the revolution, the honorable mention in orders from the commanding general, the flattering resolutions of Congress applauding his gallantry and skill in arms, the correspondence of Washington and Greene conveying their confidence and gratitude for brilliant services, and the speeches of Light Horse Harry himself in the State Legislature, in Congress and in the Convention which adopted the Federal Constitution—that superb but well-balanced oratory which satisfied the reason while taking captive the imagination, in which loftiness of thought and beauty of expression were as well attuned as sun and beam; and in which there breathed a love of country and a desire for union which was not held in those days to be inconsistent with a passionate jealousy for the rights of the States. And while studying thus the thoughts and deeds of the dead father, never known in life, the youth absorbed the reverent affection which permeated every word and act of that father towards Washington.

It is not too much to assume that the idolized leader of the sire became thus the ideal hero of the scion; and that the son of that [84] orator, who embalmed the virtues of Washington in words as deathless, was led by paternal influences—none the less strong because speaking from the grave—to consciously mould himself upon the almost faultless pattern so faultlessly portrayed.

At all events, there were striking points of resemblance, not alone in character and endowments, but also in temperament between Lee and that predecessor who is only rival in the hearts of this people. Nor up to a certain point were the currents of their lives divergent.

Both were left fatherless while of plastic minds, and both were trained to scarcely realize that partial orphanage by mothers to whom widowhood was but a trusteeship of love and care for the offspring of a departed consort.

Of Anne Carter, the mother of Robert Lee, no less than of Mary, the mother of Washington, it may be said that from her prayers and precepts came that white flower of a blameless life which sweetened our day and generation with its fair example. 'Twas she who guided the young Aeneas to filial piety, and taught him veneration of all that was best and noblest in the father's creed. 'Twas she that developed natural excellences of disposition and worthiness of aspiration into the fixedness of habit and the substance of resolve. 'Twas she who trained the sprouting tendrils to twine around the sturdy oaks of honor and of truth. Aye, but for these pious Virginia women, consecrated to widowhood and maternal duty, it may well be doubted whether even the nobility of nature which came from God, would have ever grown into that roundest symmetry of mind and soul which stamped their sons as kings among men.

By both of these Virginia boys there was the same earnest use of the seed-time in preparation for the harvest season; they both evinced on the threshold of life a calm superiority to those frivolities which distract the mind and sap the energies. The same gracious gravity of demeanor and dignity of deportment gave early presage in both of powers beyond the common heritage and of destinies beyond the common lot. Each entered young upon stern and exigent responsibilities, and both were thus unwittingly equipped to lead embattled hosts against the government to which their first allegiance had been given. Both debated long and earnestly with conscience before arriving at a decision which changed the whole current of their lives. Both were entrusted with the highest command without having sought or desired it; both entered upon exalted duties with the fullest sense of the dangers and uncertainties involved; [85] and both cast behind them the most dazzling prospects of power and preferment to accept a leadership which brought with it no material or resources commensurate with the strength against which they were arrayed. In the midst of difficulties for which there was no human remedy both displayed a patient fortitude almost superhuman. Both were of constant minds, of patient courage; neither elated by success nor depressed by failure.

The parallel might be continued almost indefinitely. Indeed, one who saw Robert Lee in the ripe maturity of his powers, under cirstances strongly if superficially suggestive of the earlier days of the American revolution, might not unnaturally have said: The mantle of Elijah hath fallen upon Elisha.

Reproduced as exactly as though recreated, were the poise and balance of moral and mental elements—the same harmonious completeness of practical talents—the same predominant traits of temperament under the same stern control—the same hand of steel under the glove of velvet—the same patient devotion to duty for its own high sake—the same fine sense of honor—the same inflexible love of truth—the same dignity of bearing, purity of conduct, loftiness of purpose and superiority to the cares of mere ambition.

Seldom has it been given to a State to give birth to two sons with such claims to immortality! And that their gifts of genius and graces of character displayed so much of the kinship of resemblance, is but another illustration of the fact that true greatness has but one sure foundation and bears but one core in every age. It may wear a different form, but beneath the fashion of the day are the identical elements. The differences are apparent; the similarities are real. Methods of expression change; principles and rules of conduct are immutable. The Cid may never come again, nor Douglas, ‘in the same likeness that he wore’; but honor, patriotism, valor, never die—or but to speedy resurrection.

When the thoughtful boy in the widow's home at Alexandria came to that age when the fledgling longs to try his wings, his choice of a profession had perhaps been formed already by a process of which even he was unconscious. The diet upon which his mind was fed at a period when impressions are most easily made, was largely of a sort to turn his ardent heart towards a soldier's life. By this time we may be sure that he knew line upon line the story of those battles in which the power of Britain had been broken and the freedom [86] of his country gained. And did not the proud mother give into his careful hands ere this, those ‘Memoirs of the War of Seventy-Six,’ written by his father, telling in graphic style of the campaigns in the South, of Greene, of Marion, Sumter, and in too modest brevity of the chances of service which came to and were improved by one nearer and dearer. More potent still to fix his path was the silent appeal of a sword which hung above the lofty mantel—the sword which Light Horse Harry had flashed so often in the headlong charge—the sword presented to him by Congress for ‘Warlike skill and prowess.’ Can you not see before you now the mother ‘tearful yet rejoicing’ in her recollections, while the son, with pious touch, draws forth the stainless blade and answers to her questioning face:

My father's sword—and mine!

And so he started forth upon that course which brought him to the call of Virginia in 1861, a veteran already in war, master of its theories, ripe in its practice, in the flush of health in mind and body. He was the centre of expectancy and of confidence. In the old army he had won a reputation second to none. Scott, his old commander, had declared of him, in his stilted but sincere way, that he was the ‘the greatest military genius in America, the best soldier I ever saw in the field; and if opportunity should offer he will show himself the foremost captain of his time.’ It was through the influence of this Virginian, then at the head of the United States army, that President Lincoln was induced to offer that high command to Colonel Lee. This tender so calculated to gratify an ordinary pride, and great enough to satisfy any ambition, came to a man who was controlled in every act of his existence by his desire to do the right. In all that memorable career there is not an act nor utterance which suggests a motive less noble than a sense of duty. From the day when Magruder describes him immured in the study of plans and maps in the halls of Montezuma, aloof from the gaities of a splendid capital, to that on which he answered adsum to the summons of the Great Captain of us all, the rigid rule by which his existence was ordered, never varied. His answer to the overture was a courteous negative, and forthwith he saw that the time had come to leave the service of the Union.

That his resignation from the United States army was a step taken in sorrow and after severe conflict of mind is not to be doubted by [87] any who read the calm yet mournful letters in which at this juncture he announced his decision to his sister. He severed the ties and relinquished the aspirations of a lifetime to enter upon a contest which promised nothing but loss and danger to him and his. He relinquished high opportunity to embark fame and fortune upon a more than doubtful struggle. That his reluctance and regret were sincere none who knew the stern integrity of the man can doubt. He says that his heart bled within him at the prospect, and this is the deliberate statement of one to whom falsehood was impossible. Of this General Grant bears emphatic witness in his dictated memoirs, where, discussing the reasons which impelled him to a certain course of military action, he declares: ‘For I knew that nothing could induce General Lee to deviate from the truth.’

Entering the service of Virginia as Commander-in-Chief of her forces, for nearly a year he held no important command in the field, and this is another illustration of the entire freedom of the man from self-seeking. He was content to be of use; and while engaged in the essential work of organizing the troops as they arrived from the South, with headquarters at Richmond, he saw without regret and with no effort to assert his claim, the conduct of operations in the field entrusted to others.

It was not until the spring of 1862 that General Johnson, having been wounded at Seven Pines, the opportunity was born which gave to Lee an adequate field for the exercise of his abilities. Thenceforward until the closing scene at Appomattox he was never absent from that army with whose achievements his name is inseparably linked.

His face and figure were soon familiar to every man in the command. He was constantly on the lines, rarely attended by any escort save a single staff-officer. An active and perfect horseman, of distinguished and handsome countenance, he looked every inch the gallant soldier and gentleman he was.

His was all the Norman's polish
And sobriety of grace;
All the Goth's majestic figure;
All the Roman's noble face;
And he stood the tall examplar
Of a grand historic race.

From the very first he inspired officers and men with a trusting [88] affection which later grew into worship. He had none of the arts by which lovers of popularity seek to ingratiate themselves with their subordinates. In his intercourse with soldiers of whatever rank, so far as my knowledge goes, General Lee never unbent from the somewhat formal courtesy habitual to him. The magnetism was there though, if not perceptible, and it wrought devotion and implicit confidence in the hearts of the coldest.

Even before we met the enemy under the direction of that steady eye, he was all in all to us. After the first trial, when McClellan had been driven to the plains of Berkeley, the army of Virginia pinned its faith to him with a tenacity which no subsequent disaster was able to shake. And that mere corporal's guard of us who still survive, our ranks growing thinner hour by hour, despite the fact that the mechanic grasp of fate denied the victor's laurel to that brow, we who gloried the more in his initial triumphs because they were his, who felt the sting of final disaster more keenly because it pierced so cruelly that great heart, we believe in him still.

Purest, truest, greatest, there was none like him, none!

Whatever record leaps to light, his never shall be shamed!

Truth walked beside him always,
From his childhood's early years,
Honor followed as his shadow,
Valor lightened all his cares;
And he rode—that grand Virginian—
Last of all the Cavaliers!

To resume for a moment the parallel previously drawn, I think that in the qualities of their military genius, Washington and Lee —I name them in the order of time—had many points in common. Fabius was not more adroit in defense than either, nor more dexterous in the husbanding of a small force against preponderent numbers. But the characteristic of both was pugnacity, and the campaigns of Lee in Virginia, as those of Washington in the Jerseys, were superb examples of what is technically known as the offensive-defensive. The vigilance of both was sleepless; both were acute in penetrating the designs and anticipating the movements of the enemy; neither ever willingly neglected an opportunity to take the initiative.

From the swoop upon McClellan's right, through the campaigns against Pope, in the battles of 1863, in his manner of meeting Grant's [89] advance through the Wilderness, and even after lines of circumvallation were drawn at Petersburg, General Lee was constantly and consistently aggressive. No finer example of this trait is known to military history than that given at Chancellorsville, where, with the swiftness of a practiced fencer, General Lee passed from the attitude of the assailed to that of the assailant, ere his antagonist had time to realize the changed conditions. To find Lee in line of battle parallel to his lines of communication was the first surprise which disconcerted the Federal commander; but even then he never dreamed of the prescient boldness that was to amuse Sedgwick with Early's handful, hold his own front against Hooker's main force, with barely eleven thousand men, while Jackson, with two-thirds of the Confederate troops, was sent across the front and well to the right and rear of an army of ninety-two thousand muskets. ‘Bold to rashness,’ says an eminent British critic, ‘but redeemed from rashness by the knowledge of his adversary's infirmities of temperament, on which it was largely founded, and by the celerity and skill with which it was executed.’

The easy confidence with which Lee responded to a movement upon his flank of an overwhelming enemy, while at the same time another force nearly equal to his total strength was thundering in his rear, proved that from the very first he felt himself, despite the disparity in numbers, to be master of the situation. The only doubt he seems to have entertained after the first intelligence of Hooker's presence on the south side of the Rappahannock, was whether first to push Jackson against Sedgwick on the plains where Burnside met his crushing defeat. But his consideration of this plan was brief, though Jackson favored it, and instead he seized his right wing, as Swinton says, ‘In the grasp of a Titan,’ and hurled it in reverse, as an athlete might have slung a stone, over field and forest, upon the one vulnerable spot in the strong formation of his foe.

Wary he was, but not ‘cautious,’ as General Doubleday says, nor ‘shrinking from collision in the open field,’ as Humphreys intimates. I am inclined to think he was more combative by nature, as well as calculation, than any of the Union commanders with whom he measured swords, Grant being a possible exception. To the uninitiated his penetration of Pope's rear by Jackson's single corps, would appear to have verged upon perilous enterprise, but here again he knew the moral forces at work in his favor and made accurate estimate of the length of arm of the man he had to deal with. [90] His genius and his inclination were pugnacious. He had it in his blood from that Launcelot who rode by Norman William's side at Hastings, and from the Lionel Lee who smote the infidel in Holy Land, stirrup to stirrup with Richard of the Lion Heart. He had it from that stout dragoon, the dashing Rupert of the Continental army, of whom one of his generals said, ‘give me one dozen such men and no British soldier will ever have another night of unbroken sleep in America.’ Yes, he came of fighting stock, and oftimes was tempted to indulge the humor when the well-balanced brain said ‘nay.’

Who that saw Lee at the Wilderness but recognized with a burning thrill in his own veins how hardly the reason of the commander restrained the cavalier's impulse to lead the gallant Texans to the thickest of the fray?

But uniformly his tactics and his ‘noble ire of battle’ were alike the servants of that cool, clear judgment which seldom erred. Self-discipline with him had been brought to a science.

I have used the term ‘combative by calculation,’ meaning by that the conviction of General Lee that the Confederate armies could not afford to conduct a purely defensive warfare—if in strategy, not in tactics. His greatest successes were won by aggressive operations. So McClellan's grand army was pushed back upon its gunboats, the siege of Richmond raised, and an hundred thousand of the best troops of the Union paralyzed and neutralized, while the army of Northern Virginia first staggered Banks at Cedar Mountain and then drove Pope's legions in pell mell disorder back into the entrenchments around Washington. 'Twas so, as has been said, that he compassed that victory at Chancellorsville, which is still the study and wonder of the military schools of the world. 'Twas so that he freed the Valley of Virginia from invasion, sent Hooker back into Pennsylvania to defend his own; and 'twas so that the ark of Southern independence might have floated on the high tide of Gettysburg, but for contingencies, which as they are the subject of controversy, I shall not bring into formal discussion here.

If he erred in aggression there, the error was born of a noble confidence in that magnificent army which had so often under his leadership accomplished the improbable, that he had come to deem its valor invincible. Success held in its beckoning arms such glorious fruit for the cause he represented, that, in the light of all that failure cost us, I still hold from a soldier's point of view that the [91] effort was justified by the prospect. Our commander had reason to believe, which afterwards turned out to be true, that he had out-manoeuvered Meade, and that his full concentration was confronted by only a portion of the latter's army. This was a situation which offensive operations alone could utilize. Whether the subsequent engagement was fought as he designed, it is a question which I believe will be answered by history in an emphatic negative. At least, the assaults in detail by fragments of corps, when whole divisions lay idle in our lines, bore no resemblance to any other attack delivered by Lee before or afterwards—for Malvern Hill, where Jackson was misled by his guides, and where D. H. Hill precipitated the action by misinterpretation of a signal, does not offer a proper basis of comparison. Generally the instinct of an army may be trusted to adjudge responsibility for its reverses, after the event. In the case in hand there was no diminution in the affection or confidence of the army of Northern Virginia in its commander. Even the remnants of the brave divisions which gained the heights in vain, found voice when reeling back in bloody disarray, to give him greeting, and though he then and there avowed the blame with generous disregard of self, 'twas only as if he had said, ‘You were not at fault, you that came back from the heroic effort, or those whose bodies dot that deadly slope; you did all that human bravery could do.’ The army took his grave, kind words as meaning that—no more nor less; nor do I think at this late day the survivors will accept a version that would stamp their beloved leader as self-convicted of the blunders, or worse, of that ill-starred 3d of July.

Illustrating Lee's offensive strategy is the movement by which, in the autumn of 1863, he flanked Meade out of his position at Culpeper, and forced him back into the lines at Centreville, and this, too, though his army had been depleted one-third by the dispatch of Longstreet to the west. And when in December Meade crossed the Rapidan and established himself across the roads leading from Orrange Courthouse to Fredericksburg, not a step in retrograde did the Southern General take. He accepted the challenge from a superior force, marched promptly out with the corps of Ewell and Hill, planted himself on the ridges over Mine Run, and offered battle for two whole days. On the night of the third he massed two divisions on his right to assault the left flank of the enemy, but in the morning an advance in the gray light found only empty trenches.

The same movement essentially was repeated in the following [92] spring when Grant came southward of the river. Here again, instead of retiring behind the North Anna as his antagonist presumed, Lee barred the path of invasion in the old battlefields of the Wilderness, and on the 6th of May became the assailant after a vigorous fashion. Thereafter our commander proved the subordination of his temperament to his judgment by compelling battle from time to time on his own ground, giving his troops the advantage also of entrenchments. From time to time, 'tis true, he would thrust a sudden wedge of fire or steel into some interval in the opposing lines, or fall upon some isolated force with the hammer of a Vulcan. But his policy now was to delay the advance of the invading army and to make it pay a price in blood for every step of progress made.

If his military reputation should rest on this campaign alone, from the initial gun at the Wilderness to the passage of Grant's army to the south side of the James, Lee would deserve to rank among the few past-masters in the art of war. From day to day he pre-divined the movements of the enemy with an accuracy which was never at fault. At every successive point—Spotsylvania, Hanover Courthouse, Cold Harbor—Grant found his pathway barred by the grim veterans in gray. Time and time again, exasperated by the consummate skill with which prompt check was given to his every maneuver, the Federal commander threw his bare-breasted divisions against the works of Lee. As often the brave fellows recoiled with torn ranks from the desperate work, until at last, after the bloodiest of all bloody days, that at Cold Harbor, the bugles sounded the advance, the officers bared their swords and pointed the way, but the men with one accord stood motionless in their ranks—a silent, but effective protest against a further application of the ‘policy of attrition.’

On the 14th of June the advance corps of the Army of the Potomac reached the pontoon bridge which was to bear them to the new scene of action at Petersburg. Since the 5th of May their losses in killed, wounded and missing, according to the official returns of the Federal Surgeon-General, had been 67,000—or 3,000 more than the number of men with which Lee had entered upon the campaign. Up to this time, including Smith's corps, Grant had received in reinforcements 51,000 muskets, Lee 14,000. These statistics are pregnant with testimony as to the skill of our commander and the efficient valor of his troops.

But the end was not yet. Once in front of the historic town on [93] the Appomattox—where for the first and only time in the game of strategy, the Federal general fairly stole a march upon his opponent—but where Beauregard with a brilliant audacity, not yet sufficiently recognized, defended the position against great odds until the lost time was repaired — the situation seemed to Grant or Meade to justify a renewal of those clashes of solid lines upon well-manned earthworks to which the Federal army had already sacrificed so many lives and so much morale. The result was disastrious as usual, and again the army and Northern public murmured at what they deemed a reckless expenditure of blood. And then the taciturn and persistent Union commander announced in general orders that no more assaults upon intrenched lines would be made. The engineers were brought up, the great guns were sent for, and the siege of Petersburg was set on foot.

The operations progressed with varying fortunes through the months of summer and autumn. Gradually the clasp of the besiegers grew closer and closer around the beleaguered army. There were some days of great glory for the Confederates. Longstreet held the north shore and the approaches to Richmond with a grip not to be shaken. Mahone and his division won fame in no scant measure at the Crater and on the Weldon road. Heth and Hampton broke through Hancock's ranks at Reams' Station and captured many prisoners, colors and guns. The cavalry wrought wonders on the flanks. But further and further westward crept that fateful left flank of the Federal army. It was badly punished in each extension, but every inch of ground that Warren gained he held.

Dark days were upon us. The shadow of the inevitable was beginning to obscure the bow of hope. 'Twas as the winter fell that I first observed the deepened lines of care that not all the serenity of a soul at peace with God and itself could smooth from the countenance of General Lee. The raven hair of four years before was already bleached into silver, and though too thorough a gentleman to betray abstraction, his speech, except on business, was rare. In fact, at this period the perils and privations of the troops were never absent from his thought. So patient of privation himself, he was indignant at what he believed to be the neglect of the supply department in furnishing clothing and provisions to the men. The Secretary of War made petulant inquiry of the General as to the cause of such frequent desertions from the ranks. His curt endorsement, amply justified by the facts, evinced his grave displeasure. ‘I suppose [94] the causes to be the lack of food, fuel and clothing, and constant duty in the trenches.’

As the winter waned his perplexities were redoubled. True, the wonderful resources of his genius, the magnetic influence which tied men to him as with links of steel—the influence of his goodness as well as his greatness—and the elastic vitality of his army, ‘Instinct to the last,’ says Swinton, ‘with life and courage in every part’—had sufficed so far to hold intact the works around Petersburg and Richmond, and to preserve insecure communication between these positions and their nearer bases of supplies; but in other sections of the country reverse after reverse had overtaken the Southern arms.

The diversion of the Army of the West from Georgia to Tennessee had removed the last effective obstacle to Sherman's northern march, and that officer, with a column still formidable, was now moving with the inevitability of fate upon the rear of the last military reality of the Confederacy—the intrenched camp in Virginia, from which neither strategy nor assault, mining nor flanking, nor the policy of attrition, had served to drive the wasted legions of our great commander.

Sherman's pathway, little impeded by the perfection of skill with which Johnson handled the skeleton force at his disposal, lay across the pleasant fields where dwelt the wives and children of those who, exposed to the severity of winter and destitute of food, still held with grim determination the last ditch of a doomed cause. The terrible exposure, the constant loss of rest, the incessant peal of musketry and roar of cannon, the lack of bread, the ravages of disease, had hitherto shaken not the constancy nor damped the courage of that peerless garrison. Each hour the whistle of the locomotive told of new levies thronging to swell the already overwhelming numbers of Grant's array. Each frozen morn told to the anxious eyes how sadly slender grew the chain of guards that held the trenches. Still, no fibre of their iron will relaxed; no nerve of their brave purpose lost rigidity.

Still manfully they held their posts, watchful and resolute, bound to their cheerless duty by some strength beyond the ken of mortal man. And if at last the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune found one unguarded spot in the well-joined armor of their souls, oh, who shall call the spirit weak that bore so much before it fell!

For now the tale of ravaged lands, and the wails of suffering wife and children—for Sherman's triumphal progress left desolation in [95] its wake—come on the southern breeze to men whose cup of ills had already overflowed. There is—must be—some boundary to endurance, on touching which the staunchest heart must sue for truce. Small wonder, then, that some of those who for long years had striven in stranger land for bare idea and abstract principle, should here at last acknowledge weakness, and leave the pilgrimage eye yet all thorns had pierced their way-worn feet. God pity them!

For so it was. Night by night brought darkness, and each recurring morning showed the vacant places of some who dreamed of ruined homes and unprotected dear ones, and waked to yield to an unconquerable yearning to fly to their relief. And thus one enemy, so long repelled with scorn, had gained a foothold in our camp at last.

It has been said that Washington and Lee had kinship of most of the sublimest qualities of manhood, but differed in fortune. I can picture to myself how the former bore himself during the trials of Valley Forge, by recalling the demeanor of Lee during that last terrible winter at Petersburg. Almost without hope; hampered by conditions over which he had no control; over-wrought with duties not attaching to his position; denied by the narrow blindness of the government the only avenue of escape which remained to him; his heart bleeding for the sufferings of his faithful followers, and yearning more in sorrow than anger for those who found not the strength to endure to the end-yet was he patient, always striving, inventing that make—shift, urging this experiment, encouraging the officers, knocking constantly at the door of the government to better the condition of the men, stifling his own forebodings, careless of his own discomforts—the heart, the brain, the eyes of that brave, beset and beleaguered body of starving men.

He had a burden to bear which his great prototype was never called on to endure. Already he had reported to the War Department that except on certain conditions (which the CommissaryGen-eral had declared to be impossible of fulfilment), he could neither hold his lines nor remove the army in safety from them. There remained for him the most exacting ordeal that can confront the commander of any army—to determine without reference to his feelings where the point of military honor ceases and where the duty to humanity begins—what protraction of a hopeless condition is justifiable. He must fight until the verdict of fate was plainly beyond [96] his power to affect it. He must not anticipate that juncture, nor must he protract the struggle one hour beyond it.

When the time arrived for the rendering of that decision, General Lee was equal to it. Through no fault of his the retreat, begun, as he knew, too late, was interrupted by the fatal miscarriage of provisions ordered to meet the army en route. The delay so caused brought Meade upon his rear, and enabled Sheridan's hard riders to reach his flank. The disaster at Sailor's Creek, conclusive in its dimensions, brought the army, two days later, face to face with annihilation or surrender. That to decree the latter was the acceptance of a bitterness worse than death to the brave spirit upon whom the responsibility rested, is only to say that he was a soldier and a Lee. But he met the crisis as he met all other demands upon his conscience —simply, promptly, and with a mien as calm as his soul was lofty. That he would have worn the crown of success without elation is as certain as that he rose superior to defeat. He never knew ambition in its vulgar sense.

That wizard of speech, the late Georgia Senator Hill, in his grand memorial address on the life and character of Lee, spoke of him as ‘Washington without his reward.’ It was not his, 'tis true, to hear his countrymen with glad acclaim hail him as a conquering chieftain and the saviour of their cause. He came not back, when his stainless sword was sheathed, to triumphal processions, civic honors, and ceremonial pomp. But the tears of the rugged soldiers who gathered around his horse at Appomattox and invoked the blessings of heaven on his honored head, was a tribute as precious as was ever offered at the shrine of human greatness.

His memory is embalmed in the hearts of a grateful people and will live wherever genius is honored and virtue revered, while the mountains stand and the rivers flow. The time has long since passed when Virginia alone, or even the South, could claim a monopoly of love and veneration for one who living in a day of giants, yet towered among his fellows as Saul among his brethren ‘a head and shoulders above them all.’ No mists of political passion can long blind the vision of any class of the American people to that nobility of soul and blamelessness of life, which even more than the soldierly ability he possessed in so large a measure, gave Robert Lee pre-eminence among men who in any other companionship would have been themselves the focus of admiration. [97]

Whether posterity will assign to General Lee the rank as a commander which the South claims for him, is a question which need not be discussed here. The judgment of foreign critics of this generation places him high in the list of the born ‘leaders of men.’ That he accomplished much with limited resources, that he elicited the best skill and valor of the Union by his persistent defense of Virginia, that he overmatched many generals and decimated several armies ere his own succumbed, and that he finally gave to the victor a costly triumph, are facts not to be gainsaid. In after years it will belong to all America to claim his fame as a common heritage—as the England of to-day finds glory alike in the motherhood of Cromwell, of Rupert, of Fairfax, and of Sidney. Of Lee's place among the prodigies of war there may be question. Of his title to honor for all the noble attributes of manhood there can be none. He fought for the cause of his conscience until further contest would have been a useless and criminal sacrifice of life. He surrendered in good faith to a generous foe, and thereafter gave his example to the building up of substantial peace and a real Union. He laid aside his stainless sword as bravely as he had drawn it, and without repining for the past he turned to the duties of the present. Patiently instilling the lessons of virtue into the minds of the Southern youth, presiding at the vestry meetings of his church, foremost in unheralded charities, so passed the few years that remained on earth to Robert Lee.

He lived amongst us, to all appearances, absorbed and contented in the routine of educational work. If he repined under failure, he gave no sign if he found the utter revolution in his life irksome to the spirit once ‘wrapped in high emprise,’ he uttered no complaint; if he felt anxiety as to the judgment of posterity upon his military career, he made no effort to place the records in evidence. In the controversial disputes among others of our military chieftains, which sprung up from the ashes of defeat as weeds from the wreck of some proud edifice, he took no part. He seemed to be content to leave his character and services in the keeping of his countrymen without a word of his own to prejudice their judgment.

It should also be recorded that he never spoke nor wrote a word which would prolong the bitterness of our ended strife, or re-awaken sectional animosity. He seemed to have put the past behind him. It was only at the last when his mind wandered that the stirring memories of the old days triumphed over that strong will and as-7 [98] serted a momentary sway. The warrior in him awoke for one brief instant ere the light of eternal peace cast all earth into shadow.

“Bring up the troops,” he said, ‘Let A. P. Hill prepare for action.’

And so he passed away! And all the world were poorer for his death; but all mankind were richer by the legacy of a blameless life and a deathless example.

And blessed among nations that State to whom not once but twice such noble models have been given.

Virginia's History is a sea
     Locked in by lofty land!
Great Pillars, as of Hercules,
     Above the shining sand—
I here behold in majesty
     Uprise on either hand:

These Pillars of our History,
     In fame forever young,
Are seen afar from every clime,
     And known in every tongue;
And down through all the ages
     Their story shall be sung.

The Father of his Country,
     Towers above the land-locked sea,
A glorious symbol to the world
     Of all that's great and free;
And to-day Virginia matches him
     With the stately form of Lee.

And here to-day, my countrymen,
     I tell you Lee shall ride
With that great “rebel” down the years—
     Twin ‘rebels’ side by side!
And confronting such a vision
     All our grief gives place to pride.

Those two shall ride immortal,
     And shall ride abreast of Time;
Shall light up stately history
     And blaze in Epic Rhyme—
Both patriots, both Virginians, true;
     Both ‘rebels’; both sublime!

And should our children, and our children's children, apply to [99] their own conduct, as men and as citizens, that supremest lesson which those models teach: That above the glamour of glory and the spell of genius—

The greatest greatness goodness is.

Then shall the future witness in this Old Dominion a moral, social and political structure of such perfect grandeur as eye hath not seen nor the mind of man conceived.

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