Robert E. Lee, Confederate General & After War-Symbol of National Reconciliation

American Minute with Bill Federer

Influence of Confederate General Robert E. Lee during and after the Civil War.

Wilmer McLean’s farm in Manassas Junction, Virginia, was the location of the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861.​

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was using McLean’s house as his headquarters, wrote:​

“… of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House.”

The Confederates won the First Battle of Bull Run due in large part to General “Stonewall” Jackson holding his ground like a “stonewall,” resulting in his nickname.

With momentum on their side, Confederate troops could have pursued the fleeing and exhausted Union army 20 miles into Washington and promptly won the war.​

Instead, a heavy downpour of rain turned roads into mud pits and they called off the pursuit.

Wilmer McLean moved away from the conflict, yet almost four years later his new home, near Appomattox Court House, Virginia, was the agreed location for General Robert E. Lee to surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant on Palm Sunday, APRIL 9, 1865.

Ken Burn’s documentary film of the Civil War remarked that the war began in Wilmer McLean’s front yard and ended in his front parlor.

Meeting in McLean’s house at the end of the war, General Robert E. Lee took off his sword and handed it to General Ulysses S. Grant, who handed it back.

Union General Philip Sheridan bought McLean’s table where Grant drafted the document, and gave it to Major General George Armstrong Custer to carry it away on his horse.​

The other Confederate Armies soon surrendered, till the last Confederate ship, CSS Shenandoah, surrendered in Liverpool, England, on November 6, 1865, after circumnavigating the globe.​

The Civil War was cost 258,000 Confederate deaths and 360,000 Union deaths.​

Suggestions have been made that reparations should be paid to the families of the Union soldiers who gave their lives fighting to end slavery.

The day after General Lee surrendered, he issued his final order to his troops:​

“After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude … I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.​

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes.”

Robert E. Lee concluded:​

“I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection.”

Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) was a the son of the courageous Revolutionary War cavalry officer, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, who was elected the 9th Governor of Virginia and a U.S. Congressman.

Robert E. Lee was also the son-in-law of George Washington Parke Custis, who was the grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted son of George Washington.

George Washington Parke Custis owned the 1,100 acres directly across the Potomac River from Washington, DC – the city named after his adoptive father.

Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Ann Randolph (Custis) Lee, inherited the family estate.

Tutored and home-schooled as a child, Robert E. Lee excelled at West Point, graduating second in his class in 1829.

From 1837-1840, working in the Corps of Engineers, Robert E. Lee improved the channel of the Mississippi River.

From 1846-1848, Lee distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War.

He engineered the American troops’ passage from San Antonia across the difficult Mexican mountains so they could quickly take Mexico City.

Lee thought slavery was a great evil, both to the slave and to the slave owner. He freed his slaves and those his wife inherited.

On December 27, 1856, Robert E. Lee wrote to his wife:​

“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race …​

The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small part of the human race, and even among the Christian nations what gross errors still exist!”

Lee was so highly respected, that as tensions were leading up to war, President Abraham Lincoln offered him the Field Command of the U.S. Army.

After struggling in prayer all night, Lee decided he could not take up arms and kill the relatives, friends, and neighbors he grew up with in his native homeland of Virginia.​

He resigned from the U.S. Army, explaining in a letter to his sister:​

“With all my devotion to the union and the feelings 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.”

General Robert E. Lee’s military expertise was so formidable that, for the first two years of the Civil War, it looked as if the South had won.

Union forces were pushed back by repeated victories, notably those of General Stonewall Jackson, till Lee’s troops were dangerously close to attacking Washington, D.C.

The Confederacy suffered a major setback when Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863.

Where the Union Army had a nearly unlimited source of soldiers, by recruiting from the newly arrived immigrants, Confederate ranks could not be replaced.​

The costliest battles to the Confederacy include:​

Stones River, December 31-January 2, 1863, over 11,000 casualties;

Chancelorville, May 1-4, 1863, over 13,000 casualties;

Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, over 23,000 casualties;

Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863, over 18,000 casualties;

The Wilderness, May 5-7, 1964, over 11,000 casualties;

Spotsylvania Courthouse, May 8-19, 1864, over 12,000 casualties.

As Lee realized that the end of the Confederacy was inevitable, he was instrumental in preventing generations of hate-filled, guerrilla warfare.

When one of his generals suggested continuing with clandestine, vigilante actions, General Lee responded:​

“General, you and I as Christian men … must consider its effects on the country as a whole. Already it is demoralized by four years of war.​

If I took your advice, the men … would become mere bands of marauders, and the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many wide sections …​

We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from.”

Living for five years after the war ended, Lee became known as an example of racial healing and national reconciliation to a divided nation.​

A story was reported by Colonel T.L. Broun of Charleston, West Virginia, that two month after the war ended there was a service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, June 4, 1865.​

The segregated congregation was startled when a black man advanced to the communion table, but Lee responding immediately:​

“General Robert E. Lee arose in his usual dignified and self-possessed manner … and reverently knelt down to partake of the communion, not far from the Negro.”

In June of 1865, U.S. Grand Jury in Norfolk, Virginia, indicted Robert E. Lee for treason.​

When some friends became indignant, Lee calmly responded:​

“I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South dearest rights.​

But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.”​

During the Civil War, Lee’s estate was confiscated by the Federal Government and turned into Arlington Cemetery.

As was the case with many southerners, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard had his properties in Memphis confiscated as reparations and given to black families for housing.​

Beauregard later became a voice for extending civil rights to blacks and allowing blacks to vote.

​He argued that blacks “already had equality and the whites had to accept that hard fact.”​

He advance a Reform Party movement with “Equal Rights! One Flag! One Country! One People!”​

Beauregard organized 50 black leaders and 50 white leaders, June 16, 1873, which agreed on a resolution that:​

“advocated complete political equality for blacks, an equal division of state offices between the races, and a plan where blacks would become land owners.​

It denounced discrimination because of color in hiring laborers or in selecting directors of corporations, and called for the abandonment of segregation in public conveyances, public places, railroads, steams, and public schools.”

After the war, a southern clergyman spoke critically of the actions of the federal government.​

Following a pause, Robert E. Lee asked:​

“Doctor, there is a good old book which … says ‘Love your enemies.’​

Do you think your remarks this evening were quite in the spirit of that teaching?”​

Lee remarked:​

“Before and during the War Between the States I was a Virginian. After the war I became an American.”

In August of 1865, Robert E. Lee accepted the invitation to become the President of Washington College at Lexington, Virginia, (later changed in his honor to Washington and Lee University).

Robert E. Lee invited his former chaplain, John William Jones to speak in 1869.​

Afterward, Lee thanked him, remarking:​

“Oh, doctor, if I could only know that all the young men in this College were good Christians I should have nothing more to desire.​

I wish, sir, to thank you for your address. It was just what we needed. Our great want is a revival which shall bring these young men to Christ …”

Lee continued:​

“I should be disappointed, sir, and shall fail in the leading object that brought me he re, unless these young men all become Christians; and I wish you and others of your sacred profession to do all you can to accomplish it.​

We poor sinners need to come back from our wanderings to seek pardon through the all-sufficient merits of our Redeemer.​

And we need to pray earnestly for the power of the Holy Spirit to give us a precious revival in our hearts and among the unconverted.”

General Lee once remarked to Chaplain John William Jones regarding the Bible:​

“There are things in the old Book which I may not be able to explain, but I fully accept it as the infallible Word of God, and receive its teachings as inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

Robert E. Lee confided:​

“In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.”

Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.