A Student of History

February 21, 2007

Lee at 200

Filed under: Historic Places,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 10:42 am

Some interesting events have been planned at W&L in Lexington for commemorating Robert E. Lee’s 200th birthday this year.  Lee was president of the college after the Civil War until his death in 1870.  For more info, contact the university at http://www2.wlu.edu/.


  • Original Lee manuscripts, Boatwright Room, Leyburn Library (January 2007).
  • “Re-Visioning Lee,” Wilson Hall (grand opening Jan. 19, 2007).
  • “Lee the Educator,” Lee’s Office, Lee Chapel (May 2007).
  • “Not Unmindful of the Future,” reinstallation, Lee Chapel Main Gallery (May 2007).
  • “The Washington-Custis-Lee Family Connections,” Lee Chapel & Museum (October 2007).
  • Taking advantage of the exhibition about Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant (sponsored by the Virginia Historical Society and the New-York Historical Society and co-curated by William Rasmussen ’68, Lora M. Robins Curator of Art at the Virginia Historical Society), W&L will host alumni chapter functions at all venues currently planned: the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond (exhibition opening in October 2007); the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; the New-York Historical Society, New York City; the Museum of Southern History, Houston; and the Atlanta History Center.


  • Alumni College Campus Program, “Parallel Lives: Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant” (July 2-7, 2006)
  • Special Anniversary Lee Memorial Program (Oct. 8, 2007).


  1. One thing certainly that should be remembered about Robert E. Lee but is seldom considered and that has to do with the fact that, at the end of the ‘shooting war’ in 1865, Lee was approached by some subordinate officers to give his blessing to a ‘partisan’ or guerrilla war after the main armies of the Confederacy were no longer in the field. Jefferson Davis was particularly desirous that the South should continue to resist the Northern occupiers through this type of struggle. Grant, Sherman and even Lincoln despaired at the thought of such a war, all three men admitting that there could be no ‘victory’ achieved without a devastation of the native population that would not have been countenanced by the rest of the Union never mind the rest of the civilized world.

    In fact, Lee certainly had candidates to wage such a war. In the west, he had Nathan Bedford Forrest and in Virginia he had John McNeill and perhaps the greatest practitioner of partisan warfare, Col. John Singleton Mosby. Indeed, at the end of the war, Mosby’s command had reached its apex in strength. It was larger, better equipped, manned and mounted and at a higher level of determination to continue the struggle than it had been at any time during the war! If Mosby had asked, most of his men would have followed him into a war against the occupiers that would have created bloody havoc for years. Even of greater importance was the fact that Mosby’s capture or death would not have ended the struggle as he had shown himself able to choose and teach men who could fight as well – or almost as well – as he could himself. So while the death of Forrest might have – as had the death of Morgan – ended that command, Mosby’s would have continued even had their commander fallen.

    Two things, however, prevented the initiation of a guerrilla war. In the case of Mosby himself, it was concern for the civilians who had helped him and his men throughout the war. Union General Hancock had threatened to burn the area of northern Virginia known as ‘Mosby’s Confederacy’ to the bare earth if the 43rd Battalion did not surrender (Mosby did not surrender his command, but he did disband it and send his men in for parole, a parole from which he was excluded by name). Secondly, Lee, upon being asked to give his blessing to a continuing guerrilla war, refused to do so believing that it would only lead to an even greater and worse effusion of blood and destruction wrought upon the South than had happened in the war itself.

    I do not doubt, given Mosby’s desire to fight on after Appomattox that if Lee had asked him to continue the struggle, he and his men would have remained in the field. In the same way, I do not doubt that others like McNeill and Forrest might also have taken to the hills to wage a war of bloody attrition against the hated Yankee occupiers. To see what the result of that decision might have been, one need only look at the history of centuries of bloodly guerrilla conflict in Ireland in order to understand what that might have meant for the United States.

    Given the above, I believe that this country owes a tremendous debt of gratitude for the nobility and intellectual rationality of Robert E. Lee who preferred defeat to dishonor and reconciliation to revenge.

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — February 21, 2007 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  2. classica

    Comment by Mister — August 11, 2009 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

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