General Lee and History
October 24, 1870
One day down the line, after years and years pass, General Robert E. Lee will come to be appreciated for the man that he was, or so it is framed in this article. However, it is not just those in the Richmond who believe this, as an article from the London Standard also shows its respect to General Lee.
Greeley excuses himself for justifying Mr. Boutwell and his Savannah understrapper in refusing to allow the United States flag to fly at half-mast upon the occasion of the death of General Lee by pleading that that flag represents "the whole country" that General Lee won his fame in attempting to humble it; and that he (Greeley) cannot "consent that a false estimate" of General Lee's errors "shall pass into history." Thus spoke and wrote the great Dr. Samuel Johnson, of Washington, and the other "rebels" who fought the war of American independence. Thus spoke and wrote the British loyalists of the seventeenth century concerning John Hampden, Algernon Sidney, and Oliver Cromwell. But history to-day speaks the praises of all these men. A Carlyle champions Cromwell, a Macaulay extols Hampden and Sidney, and every historian, British and American, lauds the "Cincinatus of the West." So shall it be, oh, mole-eyed Greeley, with the fame of Robert E. Lee. It will grow brighter and brighter as the coming centuries fall into line with the years "beyond the flood." The voice of contemporaneous historians residing in England is some indication of what the verdict of those separated from us by time instead of distance will be. Even as we write we come across the following discriminating article, copied from the London Standard. Read it, all ye puny tricksters who set up your little parasols between the sun and the earth, and understand how much light you will be able to shut out from the future historian - how easy you will find the task of preventing the truth from "passing into history": "The announcement that General R. E. Lee has been struck down by paralysis, and not expected to recover, will be received, even at this crisis, with universal interest, and will everywhere excite a sympathy and regret which testify to the deep impression made on the world at large by his character and achievements. Few are the generals who have earned, since history began, a greater military reputation; still fewer are the men of similar eminence, civil or military, whose personal qualities would bear comparison with his. The bitterest enemies of his country hardly dared to whisper a word against the character of her most distinguished general; while neutrals regarded him with ah admiration for his deeds and a respect for his lofty and unselfish nature which almost grew into veneration, and his own countrymen learned to look up to him with as much confidence and esteem as they ever felt for Washington, and with an affection which the cold demeanor and austere temper of Washington could never inspire. The death of such a man, even at a moment so exciting as the present, when all thoughts are absorbed by a nearer and present conflict, would be felt as a misfortune by all who still retain any recollection of the interest with which they followed the Virginian campaigns, and by thousands who save almost forgotten the names of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Truer greatness, a loftier nature, a spirit more unselfish, a character purer, more chivalrous, the world has rarely if ever, known. Of stainless life and deep religious feeling; yet free from all taint of cant and fanaticism and as dear and congenial to the Cavalier Stuart as the Puritan Stonewall Jackson; unambitious, but ready sacrifice all at the call of duty; devoted to his cause, yet never moved by his feelings beyond the line prescribed by his judgment; never provoked by just resentment punish wanton cruelty by reprisals which would have given a character of needles savagery to the war - North and South owe a deep debt of gratitude to him, and the time will come when both will be equally proud of him. And well they may, for his character and his life afford a complete answer to the reproaches commonly cast on money-grubbing, mechanical America. A country which which has given birth to like him him, and those who follow him, may look the chivalry of Europe in the face without shame; for the fatherlands of Sidney and Bayard never produced a better solider, gentlemen, and Christian than General Robert E. Lee."
About this article
“General Lee and History,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 23, 2019, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1867.