robert-E-Lee

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April 9th 1865: The American Civil War ends

On this day in 1865, 150 years ago, Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, thus ending the civil war that had ravaged America since 1861. Sectional tensions over slavery, which had existed since the nation’s founding, came to boiling point with the election of the anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. The outraged Southern states feared the government would attempt to emancipate their slaves, whose labour provided the basis for the Southern economy, and thus seceded to form the Confederate States of America. Hopes for peace were dashed when shots were fired upon the Union Fort Sumter in April 1861, and the nation descended into civil war. The Confederacy, largely led by General Lee, initially had great success and defeated the Union in key battles including at Manassas and Fredericksburg. However, the Union’s superior resources and infrastructure ultimately turned the tide of war in their favour, crushing the Confederates at Gettysburg and with the destruction of Sherman’s march to the sea. Lee surrendered to Grant when hope of Confederate victory was lost, though Grant - out of respect for Lee and his desire for peaceful reconciliation -  defied military tradition and allowed Lee to keep his sword and horse. While more armies and generals had yet to surrender, Lee’s surrender essentially marked the end of the deadliest war in American history, which left around 750,000 dead. Union victory ensured the abolition of slavery, opening up questions about what was to be the fate of the four million freedpeople. These debates, as well as how to treat the seceded states and how to negotiate their readmission into the Union, defined the challenges of the postwar Reconstruction era. The Civil War remains a pivotal moment in American history and in many ways, 150 years later, the nation is still struggling to unite the sections and cope with the legacy of slavery. 

“The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”
- Grant upon Lee’s surrender

150 years ago

One widely publicized incident during the American Civil War was is attributed to a Union soldier as related to Brig. Gen. A. L. Long of the Confederacy and Brigadier General Marcus Wright of the Federal Army,

I was at the Battle of Gettysburg myself, and an incident occurred there which largely changed my views of the Southern people. I had been a most bitter anti-South man, and fought and cursed the Confederacy desperately. I could see nothing good in any of them. The lost day of the fight I was badly wounded. A ball shattered my left leg. I lay on the ground not far from Cemetery Ridge, and as Gen. Lee ordered his retreat he and his officers rode near me.

As they came along I recognized him, and, though faint from exposure and loss of blood, I raised up my hands, looked Lee in the face, and shouted as loud as I could, ‘Hurrah for the Union!’ The general heard me, looked, stopped his horse, dismounted, and came toward me. I must confess that I at first thought he mean’t to kill me. But as he came up he looked at me with such a sad expression on his face that all fear left me, and I wondered what he was about. He extended his hand to me, grasping mine firmly, and looking right into my eyes said, ‘My son, I hope you will soon be well.’

If I live a thousand years I shall never forget the expression on Lee’s face. There he was defeated, retiring from the field that had cost him and his cause almost their last hope, and yet he stopped to say words like those to a wounded soldier of the opposition who had taunted him as he passed by! As soon as the general had left me I cried myself to sleep there upon the bloody ground.”

Source: My Brother’s Keeper; Union and Confederate Acts of Mercy During the Civil War.

And now they want to tear down the Jefferson Memorial

The progressives in this country aren’t content with removing the Confederate flag from state property. No, they’re using the Charleston shooting to enact a full-on cultural whitewashing. 

from LA Times:

This week, the Jefferson Memorial was drawn into the national debate about race following the shooting deaths of nine people in a predominantly black church in South Carolina last week. It joins other public statues depicting Southern or Confederate figures, including Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, that some are arguing represent the country’s racist past and should be removed.

CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield this week questioned whether the Jefferson Memorial should be taken down because Jefferson owned slaves. “There is a monument to him in the capital city of the United States. No one ever asks for that to come down,” Banfield said.

Fellow anchor Don Lemon responded by saying Jefferson represented “the entire United States, not just the South.” But he added: “There may come a day when we want to rethink Jefferson. I don’t know if we should do that.”

Their comments have been picked up by conservative news sites and blogs. On Infowars, blogger Paul Joseph Watson compared taking down the Jefferson Memorial to the logic of Islamic State terrorists “who have spent the last year tearing down historical statues and monuments because they offend their radical belief system.”

read the rest

I cannot pretend to understand the conflicted psyche of historical figures like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee.  If you read their writings, it is abundantly clear that both held beliefs about slavery that were incongruous with the fact that they owned slaves.  Jefferson called slavery “moral depravity” and “a hideous blot” that would eventually jeopardize the future of the United States.  How right he was!  Robert E. Lee believed that slavery was sinful, and wrote to his wife a hope that Christian influence in the United States would eventually end slavery before the issue led to a war. 

General Lee, who inherited his slaves from his father’s estate, freed all of them the day after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (which Lee believed to be unconstitutional).  In doing so, Lee made it very clear that he was not fighting the war to preserve slavery but to preserve the Constitution and the rule of law. 

Jefferson’s personal life was much more conflicted. Despite his writings and his early positions as an outspoken abolitionist, Jefferson’s slaves were very much an integral part of the economy of Monticello.  However, during his lifetime, several of Monticello’s slaves were freed, and upon his death, the freedom of five different slaves was written into his will.  Others, on the other hand, were pursued when they tried to escape to freedom. Slavery was an obvious blight on Jefferson’s character, an blight he recognized in himself, yet willfully continued.  

Consider this: John Locke, who Jefferson looked to when writing the Declaration of Independence, first coined the phrase “Life, liberty and the pursuit of property.”  When Jefferson borrowed that phrase for the Declaration of Independence, he changed the last word from property to happiness because he didn’t want the document to be used as an excuse or legal justification to continue the practice of slavery. 

I won’t pretend that I fully comprehend what makes a person continue to do things they believe to be immoral.  However, I will say that both Jefferson and Lee’s contributions to the United States far outreach their flaws.  Jefferson, especially, helped give America the tools, doctrine, and language by which every person in America, regardless of skin color, might soon be free.  

Have we really gotten to the place where we must whitewash our nation’s mistakes and pretend like they never happened?  Are we so arrogant that we now feel we’re enlightened enough to understand the moral, cultural, and economic conflicts that our Founding Fathers experienced on this issue? Are we going to blot out their memories but continue enjoying the liberties they encoded in our founding documents?  

I say enough is enough.  We can look at history honestly and respectfully without pretending the bad parts didn’t ever happen.  

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July 3rd 1863: Battle of Gettysburg ends

On this day in 1863 during the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg ended. The battle was a key turning point in the war with its decisive Union victory under George Meade which turned the tide in the Union’s favour. The Confederacy, whose forces were led by Robert E. Lee, were defeated and thus Lee’s invasion of the North was ended. The last day of the battle also saw Pickett’s Charge, a Confederate cavalry charge which was repulsed by Union fire and thus led to many Confederate deaths. The battle was the bloodiest of the war, and President Lincoln famously honoured the fallen with his Gettysburg Address.

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July 23rd 1885: Ulysses S. Grant dies

On this day in 1885, former Civil War general and 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant died. He became a national icon after he led the Union to victory over Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in the Civil War and secured Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865. He became President in 1869, and enforced Reconstruction and civil rights laws. However, his presidency was marred by stories of his alcoholism and corruption in his administration. He left the office in 1877, and launched an unsuccessful bid for a third term in 1880. In 1885 he died of throat cancer at the age of 63 and his body lay in state.

“I hope that nobody will be distressed on my account.”
- Grant’s last words

Robert E. Lee's Views on Slavery

“… There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. Although the abolitionist must know this, must know that he has neither the right not the power of operating, except by moral means; that to benefit the slave he must not excite angry feelings in the master; that, although he may not approve the mode by which Providence accomplishes its purpose, the results will be the same; and that the reason he gives for interference in matters he has no concern with, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbor, -still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course… . Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?”

from a letter dated December 27, 1856

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The following images are from If they came back for Easter Sunday: how the famous figures of history would look as Royal Tailored men. The publication includes George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E Lee, Sir Walter Raleigh and Otto Von Bismarck. It was published by Royal Tailors (Chicago, IL) in 1916.

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To: Everyone waving a Confederate flag and saying “Heritage not hate”

Your heritage is hate. End of story.

And before you reflexively say “It wasn’t about slavery!”

1. Yes it was. Multiple states specifically cited slavery among their reasons for secession. Attempting to solely focus on “the good parts”, or justifying the bad things (slavery was the norm!) is not flattering, denial makes you look more guilty.

The Nazis did a lot of great things for Germany. They were environmentalists, they did a lot for animal rights, but that good can’t erase the evil acts they committed.

2. I’m not just talking about slavery. For all of the blistering rhetoric I hear from people about “If so-and-so wins I’m moving to another country!”, the Confederacy took it a step further and said “Fuck this, we’re going to become another country!”

They hated America so much they wanted to cut ties and become an independent nation. They hated America so much they started a war

And I know, some of the soldiers had their own reasons, completely devoid of hatred, or racism, having nothing to do with slavery. But there were Nazis who had their own reasons too. Nazis who had no choice. The Pope before Benedict was a Nazi youth. But what would you think if you saw a picture of the Pope waving a Nazi flag and saying “Heritage not hate”? Symbols have context and no matter how hard you try that context is inextricable.

It comes down to accepting culpability. Robert E. Lee, the general whose flag is the one most prominently used to represent the Confederacy, said that it represented treason and should be put away. If you’re not willing to listen to the man who fought under that flag and was willing to die for it - the man for whom that flag is lit·er·al·ly his heritage - then maybe you have ulterior motives and “Heritage not hate” is just a facade.

The Nazi flag was banned across Europe, so do you know what neo-Nazis and white supremacists use to represent their hatred and bigotry? The Confederate flag. When you wave a flag that is used across the world by racists to represent their hatred for minorities, you forfeit the right to get offended if someone assumes that you’re racist too. The number of people who wave it for “innocent, non-racist” reasons are a fraction of the number of people who display it with pride.