An all-day celebration is planned in Albany to recognize the 200th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth.

Cathy Higgins

ALBANY — This weekend, Southwest Georgians will have the opportunity to celebrate what would be the 200th birthday of Robert Edward Lee, one of the most notable figures associated with the Civil War, during a celebration in Albany.

Festivities at the free event begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Confederate Memorial Park, located half a mile past the Parks at Chehaw on Philema Road. At the all-day celebration hosted by Albany Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 141 Lt. Col. Thomas M. Nelson, participants can enjoy a Confederate encampment, a traveling Confederate forge, a spinning-wheel demonstration and re-enactors firing volleys by rifle and cannon.

“There will be a number of demonstrations to allow people to see that aspect of history,” said Sons of Confederate Veterans representative James King of Albany.

At 2 p.m., Jack Bridwell and Al Perry will make presentations about Lee, as will former Sons of Confederate Veterans chaplain John Weaver.

“He’s a dynamic speaker,” King said.

At 4 p.m., participants will be treated to a free barbecue dinner.

Providing music throughout the day will be the Rebelaires, a group of Southern Heritage musicians from Waycross. Vendors will also be available.

Saturday’s celebration is just one event honoring Lee’s birthday, which is actually Jan. 19. King explained that additional festivities are scheduled in Atlanta, as well as in various locations throughout the South and across the United States.

“This is a national celebration,” he said, explaining that the Sons of Confederate Veterans began making plans for a widespread yearlong tribute while meeting at a national convention in 2006. “When we met in New Orleans in June, we passed a resolution to make 2007 the Year of Lee.”

In a tribute declaring his anticipation of Lee’s birthday, Calvin Johnson of Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans explained the motivation behind honoring the former Confederate general.

“Robert E. Lee, a man whose military tactics have been studied worldwide, was an American soldier, educator, Christian gentleman, husband and father,” he stated. “Many included Lee as among the top 10 of the greatest Americans who ever lived.”

Lee was born Jan. 19, 1807, to Henry Lee II, who fought in the Revolutionary War, and Anne Carter Lee at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Va. His military career began as a young man when he enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where the Virginia native graduated second in his class in 1829.

“He was the only person to ever come out of there without a demerit,” King said.

Two years later, Lee married Mary Ann Randolph Custis, adopted great-granddaughter of George Washington.

After graduating from West Point, Lee joined the U.S. Army and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec while serving as captain during the war with Mexico. He continued in the service nearly 32 years and was offered the command of the Federal Army when the Civil War began.

Instead Lee aligned himself with his native Virginia, which sided with the Confederates. In a letter to his sister dated April 20, 1861, he explained that decision.

“With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty as an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home,” Lee wrote. “I therefore have 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.”

But they were, as evidenced when in November 1861 Lee served as brigadier-general in the Confederate Army by leading defenses on the Atlantic Coast. The following year he would assume command of the Army of Northern Virginia — a command he held while surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in April 1865.

After the Civil War, Lee served as president of Washington College in Lexington, Va., later named Washington and Lee College.

Although Lee died Oct. 12, 1870, at the age of 63, his influence spanned beyond the Southern states and the 19th century, with former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower and former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill among those lauding his manners, integrity and humanitarianism.

“Gen. Lee was not only a Southerner,” King said. “He belonged to the nation.”

For more information about Sons of Confederate Veterans, visit www.scv.org.

© 2007 The Albany Herald/Triple Crown Media

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