“I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South its 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.”
– Gen. Robert E. Lee
While the nation honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., three states celebrate the birthday of another man as well. In Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi, the slain civil rights leader shares a state holiday with Robert E. Lee, commanding officer of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Robert E. Lee was born at “Stratford ” in Westmoreland County, Va., on Jan. 19, 1807. His father, “Light Horse” Harry, was a hero of the Revolution and served as Governor of Virginia.
Lee graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1829, second in his class and without a single demerit. Two years later, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, (grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted son of George Washington).
Since Mary was an only child, she inherited Arlington House, which lies across the Potomac from Washington, and is now home to Arlington Cemetery.
In 1838, with the rank of captain, Lee fought valiantly in the War with Mexico and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec. He was appointed superintendent of West Point in 1852 and is considered one of the best superintendents in that institution’s history.
General Winfield Scott offered Robert E. Lee command of the Union Army in 1861, but he refused, saying, “I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children.” Instead, he served as adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and then commanded the legendary Army of Northern Virginia.
In the fall of 1865, Lee was offered and accepted the presidency of troubled Washington College in Lexington, Va. The school was later renamed Washington and Lee in his honor. Lee died on Oct. 12, 1870, at Washington-Lee College. He is buried in a chapel on the school grounds with his family and near his favorite horse, Traveller.
President Theodore Roosevelt described General Robert E. Lee as “the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth.” And President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was criticized for displaying a portrait of Robert E. Lee in his office, said, “Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by this nation.”
Robert E. Lee was the hero of the Southern people and admired both North and South of the Mason-Dixon Line. This Christian-gentleman’s last words were, “Strike the Tent.”
Thanks to Calvin E. Johnson Jr., speaker, writer, and author of the book, “When America Stood for God, Family and Country,” who contributed information on Robert E. Lee.