Remembering Robert E. Lee: A Week-Long Observance
North Carolina’s Legal Holiday Observes Lee’s Birthday January 19th
The following historical-fiction by John Drinkwater based upon Robert E. Lee’s last days in Washington and an interesting conversation which might well have taken place between Colonel Lee and General Winfield Scott. Though Scott was a Virginian like Lee, the former had been employed by the agent of the States too long to remember what and who he was truly loyal to.
The Orderly shows in Robert E. Lee, at this time a Lieutenant-Colonel in the United States Army.
Scott: It is at the President’s suggestion that I asked you to come.
Lee: I am honoured, sir.
Scott: The esteem in which you stand in Virginia, and your personal record in the army, make your views of particular—as I say, of representative—importance. We consider that a personal interview was the proper way of learning them.
Lee: I welcome your confidence.
Scott: You are aware that six States have already declared for secession from the Union? Do you approve?
Lee: If I were a mere spectator of events, I should say no. It can hardly be an abstract question with me, you see, sir.
Scott: You mean Virginia.
Lee: Being a Virginian, yes, sir.
Scott: Your State, you mean, right or wrong?
Lee: Right and wrong are such dangerous words for men to use, ever.
Scott: Duty is a plain thing, Colonel Lee.
Lee: It should be, sir. But for it we may have to forfeit the good opinion of men that we cherish. My duty may not seem to me, for example, what you consider it should mean. I am opposed to secession on principle. More, I do not think the issue upon which it is proposed is a sufficient one. I would gladly see every slave freed than that the Union should be broken.
Scott: You hold your commission under that Union.
Lee: I know, sir. It has made my life a fortunate one.
Scott: Then where can be the difference in opinion of which you speak?
Lee: I am two things, sir. I am not a statesman, nor do I in any other way control public policy. I am a soldier. But before that I am a citizen of Virginia. If my State decides to dispute the authority of the service in which I have for so long had the honor to be, I may regret the decision, but I may feel it my duty to respect it in my action.
Scott: Then let me put it more explicitly. The government, as you know, has declared war on the rebel States.
Lee: The seceding States?
Scott: The rebel States, Colonel Lee. Be plain about that. The army that you serve calls you to lead it.
Lee: To lead it against whom?
Scott: Against rebels to their country.
Lee: It may be against Virginia.
Scott: Then still against rebels.
Lee: Against my own people.
Scott: You are a soldier, you say. You are under orders.
Lee: I know what discipline is—I do not need to be reminded. Now it may be against my public loyalty to the soil that made me. My Virginia. You may be asking me to invade, perhaps to destroy, my own homeland. Do you wonder that I answer, "what am I to say?"
Scott: Suppose Virginia (were) to stand with the Union?
Lee: It is unlikely. But then I am merely a lieutenant-colonel.
Scott: And otherwise?
Lee: I think I should have to offer my resignation. I should ask for twenty-four hours in which to decide. But I can see only one conclusion open to me.