Bishop A.M. Randolph on Robert E. Lee


“General Wolseley, commander-in-chief of the armies of Great Britain, himself a nobleman and perhaps the leading military critic of our age, closes a remarkable article upon General Lee with these words:

“When Americans can review the history of their last great rebellion with calm impartiality, I believe all will admit that General Lee towered far above all men on either side in that struggle. I believe he will be regarded not only as the most prominent figure of the Confederacy, but as the Great American of the nineteenth century, whose statue is well worthy to stand on an equal pedestal with that of Washington, and whose memory is equally worthy to be enshrined in the hearts of all his countrymen.”

This estimate is based upon a criticism of his character as a man, a soldier, and a Christian citizen. As a thinker and man of intellectual powers little has been said of him, and yet, intellectual power, associated with moral purity, are the true spring of greatness.

General Lee was a thinker of broad sympathies, deep insight, and of philosophical grasp, which would have made him, had his vocation called him to the field of literature, one of the wisest writers of his time.  There are few passages in literature greater than these words, written by him in the darkest hour of his own life and of the fortunes of the Southern people. He wrote:

“My experience of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them, nor indisposed me to serve them; nor in spite of failures, which I lament; of errors, which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present aspect of affairs, do I despair the future.  The truth is this: the march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient, the work of
progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”

These noble words contain the Christian philosophy of the progress of the race. They ought to be printed and read by our countrymen upon every recurrence of his birthday. As a distinguished American has said: “They are worthy to be inscribed upon the pedestal of his statue.”

(Lee’s Birthday, Bishop A.M. Randolph, Richmond, Southern Historical Papers, Vol. XVII, R.A. Brock, editor, 1889, page 352)