by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.
email:  Dix414036@aol.com 

Why do American's continue to remember their past?

May be it was a simpler and slower time. It was a time when truth was spoken. Men and women took their stand to give us the freedoms we now enjoy. God bless those who today do their duty around the world for freedom.

With all the good things, there are things that do not make sense. We remember our past heroes, yet efforts are underway to change streets and schools named after such men as: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others..

Let America not forget January 19, 2004. The 197th birthday of General Robert E. Lee. From our nation's capitol to Atlanta, Georgia to the west coast,  we still hold yearly tributes to General Lee.

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

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

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

Lee was educated in the schools of Alexandria, Virginia. In 1825, he received an appointment to West Point Military Academy. He graduated in 1829, 2nd in his class and without a single demerit. He was commissioned Lieutenant of Engineers.

Robert E. Lee wed Mary Anna Randolph Custis in June, 1831, two years after his graduation from West Point. Robert and Mary grew up together. Mary was the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted son of George Washington. Mary was an only child, therefore, she inherited Arlington House across the Potomac from Washington where they raised seven children.

Army promotions were slow. In 1836, Lee was appointed to 1st Lieutenant. In 1838, with the rank of Captain, Lee fought in the War with Mexico and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec.

He was appointed Superintendent of West Point in 1852 and is considered one of the best superintendents in it's history.

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

War was in the air. The country was in the turmoil of separation. Lee wrestled with his very soul. He had served the United States in the army for over 30 years. He believed secession to be the wrong answer to the country's problems, but he had a terrible decision to make.

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

Arlington House would be occupied by the Federals and, as an act of spite, they would turn the estate into a war cemetery. Today it is one of our country's most cherished memorials--”Arlington Cemetery.
President John F. Kennedy went to Arlington shortly before he was assassinated in 1963 and said he wanted to be buried there. He is, in front of Robert E. Lee's home.
Lee served as Advisor to President Davis, then commanded the legendary Army of Northern Virginia. The exploits of Lee's army fill thousands of books today.

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

Lee was called Marse Robert, Uncle Robert and Marble Man. He was loved by the people of the South, but the Northern folks also adopted him. His military tactics are studied worldwide.

Lee was a man of honor, proud of his name and heritage. After the War Between the States, he was offered $50,000 for the use of his name. His reply was: "Sirs, my name is the heritage of my parents. It is all I have and it is not for sale." His refusal came when he had nothing. That $50,000 probably had the value of $1,000,000 today--or more!

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

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

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

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

In an 1866 letter to Lord Acton, Lee foresaw America's destiny: "The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it."

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

On August 5, 1975, 110 years after General Lee's application, President Gerald Ford signed Joint Resolution 23, restoring the long overdue full rights of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee. http://www.ford.utexas.edu/library/speeches/750473.htm

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

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A native of Georgia, Calvin Johnson lives near the historic town of Kennesaw, home of the locomotive "The General" from the War Between the States. His email is: Dix414036@aol.com

Bibliography for this article:
The Wit and Wisdom of Robert E. Lee, edited by Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr.
(1997) Pelican Publications

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

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

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