What Ulysses S. Grant would tell Trump about Robert E. Lee

Another look at the current magnifying glass on Lee, this one citing the quote I most often go to when discussing the topic.

I do have one bone to pick with the author, though – Grant’s actions do indicate that he had an abolitionist streak. His father in law was a wealthy slaveowner, and gifted Grant and Julia a slave when they married. At his lowest point, when he was broke and unable to make ends meet, he manumitted the slave, when an adult male would have brought in enough money on the open market to make Grant’s money woes disappear. Yet another facet with which to compare and contrast Lee’s mistreatment of Arlington’s slave population!

We already have a better way to look at Robert E. Lee. Not an angry way, but a just one.

In his memoir, Ulysses S. Grant, a general greater than Lee, described his feelings upon meeting Lee in April 1865 at Appomattox, as Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia. Grant wrote, “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

In one sentence, Grant manages to distinguish between Lee’s qualities as a general and the terrible cause — the destruction of the United States for the benefit of slavery — to which Lee put his talents.

Source: What Ulysses S. Grant would tell Trump about Robert E. Lee – The Washington Post

Questioning Lee’s Legacy

Trump’s blundering into the Confederate statues debate has unleashed quite a backlash against Lost Cause history. I am all for reversing the yellow history, but I’m not sure swinging the pendulum entirely the other way is going to accomplish much. Did Lee make mistakes? Without question, especially at Gettysburg. But to suggest that he was utterly without merit as a commander is as questionable as revering the Marble Model.

To Edward Bonekemper III, the author of “How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War” and several other books on the war, Lee is not the humble, proud battlefield loser presented by documentarian Ken Burns and other popular works of history, but a bumbling strategist and the central character in “the most successful propaganda campaign in American history.”

Source: Trump said Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was a ‘great general.’ Truth is, he wasn’t. – The Washington Post

Testimony of Wesley Norris

There was a Reddit discussion about Robert E. Lee, whose birthday was celebrated by some yesterday. While I have the utmost respect for Lee as a military commander, and I have no doubt he’d have been an admirable man to work with or for, I cringe when I see people defending his choice to go with Virginia.

There’s a lot of mythology about the fact that Lee “didn’t like slavery” and that his entire motive lay in “defending his country”, but I finid those arguments as specious as the ones used to defend Thomas Jefferson. In short, both men were well heeled Virginians who made full use of their slaves to better their own lives while at best doing nothing to help their “property”, and at worst doing some pretty horrific things to another human being.

Here’s a first-person account by one of Lee’s slaves over the punishment Lee administered to him after he tried to run away.

We were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.

Source: Testimony of Wesley Norris. In NATIONAL ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD (1866-04-14)


I’ve been busy with an art project lately, so haven’t been updating, which is bad timing given we’re into the home stretch of the sesquicentennial. I’ve taken a few minutes to put my art aside and post someone else’s: Here’s a copy of my favourite Appomattox painting, by Tom Lovell. While still not 100% authentic, it’s beautifully painted and shows the two heroes at their separate tables. Lee looking solemn as Taylor dispassionately supervises the paperwork, and Grant leaning over intently. It’s a great scene, and wonderfully emotive. The closest we’ll get to time travel is through the brushstrokes of artists like this.

Even Robert E. Lee Wanted the Confederate Flag Gone

In the shadow of a Confederate flag discussion, the author of a new Lee book muses on the general’s mutable opinions on secession and commemoration.

Where Confederate battle flag replicas once flew at Washington and Lee University in the chapel above Robert E. Lee’s tomb, controversy now hangs as Virginians prepare to observe the January 19 birthday of the Confederate general-turned-college president.

Almost 150 years after the end of the Civil War, the skirmishing over how to remember the most famous rebel general continues even at a Virginia college named, in part, for him. About half the students and alumni polled by a campus magazine opposed the decision to remove the flags this summer. Fortunately, the university officials who made the call can draw on the example of an improbable and imperfect champion: Lee himself.

via Even Robert E. Lee Wanted the Confederate Flag Gone – The Daily Beast.