Saturday, June 25, 2011

Robert E. Lee's Resignation from the U.S. Army

By the time the Civil War was starting, Robert E. Lee had served in the United States Army for about 25 years and had attained the rank of colonel. (The picture here is of Lee as a younger man in the U. S. Army.) He was a Unionist and did not agree with secession, but when his home state of Virginia voted to secede he was torn in two; he didn't support secession, but he could not fight against his home state and his own family. Lincoln offered him the post of field commander of the army, which he declined, and he decided to resign his commission. He hoped he would not have to fight at all, but Virginia named him commander of its army.

I read his letter of resignation from the Army, in which he expresses gratitude and his indebtedness to his superior officer. His feelings are muted by the formality of the letter, but it's easy to see something of what he felt.

Then there's his letter to his sister, Anne Marshall. Here, he's more personal and expresses something of his dilemma: "With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword. I know you will blame me; but you must think as kindly of me as you can, and believe that I have endeavoured to do what I thought right."

I've never read anything about General Lee's life; I think I'm going to have to get to know him a little better.

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