Lee agonized over decision to join the Confederacy
Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 25, 2007
When Herbert Morton was asked what the title of his presentation for the Robert E. Lee celebration would be, Morton chose to keep it simple.
“I said just call it ‘Lee.' It is the best description of this uncomplicated man,” Morton said.
Lee appeared to be born and groomed for the role of leader.
Often called the “handsomest man in the army,” he certainly looked the part, Morton said, “though some claimed his brother, who was in the navy, was even more handsome.”
“It's a shame the portraits of the day were not painted showing a person smiling. Lee was known as a very good-humored, genial man,” the speaker said.
Lee, a proud native Virginian, was “torn between his sense of duty and his urge to defend his native state.” It was only after his home state seceded from the Union that Lee felt he, too, must join the Confederacy rather than fight against family and neighbor.
“Many think Lee started out as commander of the Confederate forces. As many of you know here today, it was actually June 1862 when he took over, serving until April 1865,” Morton explained.
Many traits marked Lee as an outstanding military leader, the speaker said.
“He was a brilliant military strategist. He knew the lay of the land. He also had an exceptional ability to synthesize all the information he gathered,” Morton said.
“Lee could see the big picture.”
The general was also “audacious and daring” in his use of his troops, and showed precision in his managing his forces, Morton said.
Not only was he good in the field, he also had a gift for the “boring stuff,” the speaker said.
“Lee was also excellent at organization and administration, not something many generals are known for.”
Again, unlike many military leaders, Lee had a gift of dealing with sometimes difficult civil authorities, Morton said.
“He knew how to bring out the best in people - political leaders, subordinates and his men. His men were said to be ‘his chief pride and first obligation' and that belief was what helped sustain his army.”
Without soldiers willing to carry out his orders, “all his brilliant strategies would have come to nothing,” Morton said.
He was also able to inspire confidence in the public, despite the odds stacked against the Confederacy.
“Lee was a true Christian gentleman, a man of humility, intellect, an uncomplicated person; he believed in duty above all,” Morton said.
Self-denial was an important facet of Lee's personality, he stressed.
“When he joined the Confederacy, he gave up his wealth, home, and land, his high position in the U.S. Army; his life was very different than it might have been otherwise,” Morton said.
He shared the story of a mother who asked her baby to be blessed by the former Confederate general. “As Lee held the child, he told the mother, ‘Teach him he must deny himself,'” Morton said.
The most famous American is very likely George Washington, the father of our country, Morton said, “but I hope for many the most famous southerner is Robert E. Lee.”
“When a monument was raised to Lee in the 1890s in Richmond, it showed him mounted on his horse, Traveler. It was a fine monument, but they wanted to make sure future generations would know who was honored,” Morton said.
“And so they chiseled, deep, deep into the base, just three letters: L-E-E. That said it all.”