Below are a "Letter to the Editor" printed in the magazine, Civil War Times and my response to same. I have heard nothing back, but it was only mailed several days ago. However, as it may never be acknowledged, never mind printed or it may be edited into stupidity, I’d like it to appear here so that folks can see the point I wanted to make which was not so much a defense of Lee as a condemnation of his enemies.
Mail Call, Civil War Times, April 2010
Still Conflicted About Lee:
I read with great interest Gary Gallagher’s article on Robert E. Lee in the February issue. Do I think Lee was a great man? No! Do I find him a great strategist? No! Do I believe he should have been honored with recognition on U.S. stamps? Definitely not. That said, I cannot fault him for his decision to support the Confederacy. After all, many others did just that.
I see traits that make me wonder about Lee as a man and a leder (sic) of men. Consider that he waited until the last possible moment to put into place the terms of his father-in-law’s will, which would have freed the slaves under his control Read into that what you will. A more kindly person might have freed them earlier. I suggest that everyone read about the disposition of that will and why “Marse Robert” delayed as long as possible.
When Lee’s men entered Pennsylvania in 1863, it resulted in many former slaves and free blacks being rounded up and sent south into slavery. Where were the great leader’s orders to his men, forbidding such a practice? Such orders do not exist.
How do I forgive an American who disdainfully referred to Union troops as “those people”, as if they were not all Americans? I find Lee a narrow-minded and mean-spirited man. I think no honors should be given him. I find his so-called “honorable behavior” false and at best self-serving. Were I to look for a truly honorable Virginian, I would look no further than General George H. Thomas.
Daniel Marino, Saginaw, Mich.
(Response mailed on February 8, 2010)
Civil War Times
Mail Call Editor
To the Editor:
In response to the letter of Daniel Marino in the April, 2010 issue: Robert E. Lee’s term “those people” is innocuous to the point of banality given what he could have said about both those troops and their leaders! The rapacious, brutal and vile nature of the war waged by the Union from 1861 to the end of “reconstruction” against the States and people of the South is overwhelmingly documented to its shame in its own records.
But let Lee’s words and those of his adversaries address Marino’s charges:
General Orders, No. 73, June 27, 1863
The commanding general has observed with marked satisfaction the conduct of the troops on the march. . . Their conduct in other respects has with few exceptions been in keeping with their character as soldiers, and entitles them to approbation and praise. There have however been instances of forgetfulness on the part of some . . . and . . . the duties expected of us by civilization and Christianity are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than in our own. The commanding general considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army, and through it our whole people, than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the unarmed, and defenseless and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country . . . It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies . . . (and) therefore earnestly exhorts the troops to abstain with most scrupulous care from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property, and he enjoins upon all officers to arrest and bring to summary punishment all who shall in any way offend against the orders on this subject.
R. E. Lee, General
(The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee
Contrast Lee with William Tecumseh Sherman writing to Ulysses Grant on August 4, 1863: "The amount of burning, stealing and plundering done by our army makes me ashamed of it. I would rather quit the service if I could, because I fear that we are drifting to the worst sort of vandalism . . . You and I and every commander must go through the war justly charged with crimes at which we blush." (Federal Official Records (O.R.) vol. XXIV, pt. III 574) Sherman went on to embrace depravity, using as justification the refusal of Southerners to worship his personal god, the Federal Government: “To the petulant and persistent secessionists, why death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better.” Parenthetically, this position was not unusual for Union leaders. General Nathaniel Lyon stated that any who opposed the federal government should be put to death! Now who is narrow-minded, mean-spirited, dishonorable and self-serving?!
Sherman again wrote to Grant in January, 1865 openly declaring his criminal plans: "Our method of warfare is different from that in Europe. We are not fighting against enemy armies but against an enemy people; both young and old, rich and poor must feel the iron hand of war in the same way as the organized armies. . . Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to defend it, but the complete destruction of its roads, its buildings, its population and its military resources is essential." This genocidal sociopath covertly indicated to Grant that he was going to make war against helpless civilians: "This operation is not purely military and strategic." Yet knowing Sherman’s plans, Grant did nothing to prevent actions which grossly violated both humanity and the Union army’s own regulations! In fact, Sheridan used the same tactics in Virginia at Grant’s order! The belief that “might makes right” permitted the Union to commit horrendous atrocities and then glorify them as great military victories.
Mr. Marino closes by graciously bestowing his approval on Gen. George H. Thomas whom he calls “an honorable Virginian” (one assumes as opposed to Lee). Thomas made unjust and unconstitutional war against his own people and State for a cause that committed inhuman carnage against both. For his “service”, his “official” reward was consignment to obscurity while lesser men were exalted because they were from the North and he was a Virginian. The irony is that Thomas earned not everlasting fame in Yankee history, but the contempt and censure of his family and the State he had helped to subjugate and ruin – quite a fitting reward to my mind.
If Daniel Marino finds men like Sherman, Sheridan, Custer, Lyon and “honorable Virginians” like “Black Dave” Hunter more to his liking than Robert E. Lee, then those of us who honor Lee (and I expect Lee himself) find his disapproval deeply gratifying.
Valerie Protopapas, Editor
The Southern Cavalry Review