I always like to do a post on Jan. 19 because it is Robert E. Lee’s birthday – and the publication date of my historical fiction novel Shades of Gray. This year I chose to re-print President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s comments about the character of Lee and why he was a great American.
August 9, 1960
Dear Dr. Scott:
Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.
General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.
From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.
Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Jessica, thank you so much for this post! Eisenhower’s letter is just as meaningful fifty years later after it was written. You are so consistently excellent at reminding us of both sides of the tragedy of the Civil War. Living in Virginia, or any other state which was so greatly affected by the war, one has daily reminders of the conflict. Those Americans living in areas of the country which were not directly involved in the battlefield conflicts should never forget the terrible War Between the States. We all need to understand the reasons for the war are quite complex. When defense of life and property became a reality, many people were forced into unwanted thoughts and actions. A very compelling and traumatic period in American history.