A Different View of Lee

The Abbeville Institute published a letter by L. Q. C. Lamar written on December 5, 1870, to commemorate Robert E. Lee’s death, which offers view of Lee very different from what we hear today.  Lamar wrote:

… The day of his death will be the anniversary of the South’s great sorrow. But it was not his darkest day. I was at Appomattox when the flag which had been borne in triumph upon his many battlefields was torn from his loving and reluctant grasp. After the terms of capitulation had been arranged, chance brought him to the spot where my tent was pitched.

I had seen him often before. On one occasion, especially, I remember how he appeared in a consultation of leading men, where, amid the greatest perturbations, his mind seemed to repose in majestic poise and serenity. Again, I saw him immediately after one of his grand battles, while the light of victory shone upon his brow.

But never shall I forget how completely his wonted composure was overthrown in this last sad interview. Every lineament of his grand face writhed, and the big tears fell from his eyes as he spoke of the anguish of the scene he had just witnessed. And yet his whole presence breathed the hero still. A consciousness of a great calamity to be greatly endured gave to his face the grandeur of victory as well as the mournfulness of death; and when he exclaimed, “It is worse than death!” I could easily see how he would have welcomed the grave for himself and all that he loved, could it have only averted his country’s awful woe. Ah, my countrymen! well may you weep over his grave, for there lies one whose heart broke in the very tension of its love for you and your country….

To Lee self-assertion was a thing unknown. His growth into universal favor and honor was the result of a slowly dawning consciousness in the popular mind of his retiring merit and transcendent excellence, of that affinity which silently draws together great men and great places when a nation is convulsed.

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