General Lee (from a letter to his sister).

From the British Periodical The Spectator, 10 December 1864

            There appeared in the Times last week a letter signed “ Transatlanticus,” communicating to the public two letters of the Confederate General Robert Lee, which the writer to the Times, strangely enough, appeared to consider as testimony in favor of the original justice of the Southern cause. They are such interesting memorials, if genuine, they speak so much in honor of the brave general himself, and at the same time they throw so true and melancholy a light on the character of the service in which he is unhappily embarked, that they are well worth the attention of those whose minds are not closed by prejudice to comprehensive views of this subject. The first is a note to General Scott, dated April 20, 1861, resigning his commission in the United States army. It is couched in touching and soldier-like language; but it is not necessary to reproduce it here. The second, of the same date, is to a sister of his own

            “MY DEAR SISTER,—I am grieved at my inability to see you. . . . I have been waiting for a more convenient season, which has brought to many before me deep and lasting regret. Now we are in a state of war, which will yield to nothing. The whole South is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet in my own person I had to meet the question whether I should take arms against my native State. With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the army, and, safe in defence of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called upon to draw the sword.  I know you will blame me, but you must think as kindly of me as you can, and believe that I endeavored to do what I thought right. . .

            All honor to the gallant writer! It is impossible to read such lines as these, coming from such a man, and not feel touched by the deepest sympathy for him in the struggle of feelings which they indicate. “We were Venetians before we were Christians,” said the statesman of the old republic, when some quarrel with the pope was impending. “I was a Virginian before I was an American” may be the inmost sentiment of the general’s heart, and even if reason condemns it, there are responsive sentiments of our own which absolve him. But it remains, nevertheless, clear and unmistakable that he chose his part in no conviction that it was the right one, but the contrary. It is plain that he saw that the “grievances” of his party, “real or supposed,” were not such as to require an appeal to the sword, and, if not required, it could not be justified; it is plain that he saw that the dissolution of that Union which he still continued to cherish would, if achieved, be the work of impatience and violence, not the result of oppression which renders resistance lawful. All the heavier must be the condemnation of those who for their own purposes or in their own passion, stirred up to madness the intemperate feelings of their Southern countrymen, and engaged them in a civil war for which they have never alleged any cause that would bear investigation, and which their own most distinguished leader pronounces unnecessary, and therefore unjustifiable.

Littell, E. (editor), "General Lee," Littell's Living Age, Volume 84, Issue 1075, January 7, 1865, pp. 293 - 294, Boston: Littell, Son, & Co.

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