Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 29.djvu/112

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96 Southern Historical Society Papers.

his power to affect it. He must not anticipate that juncture, nor must he protract the struggle one hour beyond it.

When the time arrived for the rendering of that decision, General Lee was equal to it. Through no fault of his the retreat, begun, as he knew, too late, was interrupted by the fatal miscarriage of pro- visions ordered to meet the army en route. The delay so caused brought Meade upon his rear, and enabled Sheridan's hard riders to reach his flank. The disaster at Sailor's Creek, conclusive in its dimensions, brought the army, two days later, face to face with an- nihilation or surrender. That to decree the latter was the acceptance of a bitterness worse than death to the brave spirit upon whom the responsibility rested, is only to say that he was a soldier and a Lee. But he met the crisis as he met all other demands upon his conscience simply, promptly, and with a mien as calm as his soul was lofty. That he would have worn the- crown of success without elation is as certain as that he rose superior to defeat. He never knew ambition in its vulgar sense.

That wizard of speech, the late Georgia Senator Hill, in his grand memorial address on^the life and character of Lee, spoke of him as " Washington without his reward." It was not his, 'tis true, to hear his countrymen with glad acclaim hail him as a conquering chieftain and the saviour of their cause. He came not back, when his stain- less sword was sheathed, to triumphal processions, civic honors, and ceremonial pomp. But the tears of the rugged soldiers who gathered around his horse at Appomattox and invoked the blessings of heaven on his honored head, was a tribute as precious as was ever offered at the shrine of human greatness.

His memory is embalmed in the hearts of a grateful people and will live wherever genius is honored and virtue revered, while the mountains stand and the rivers flow. The time has long since passed when Virginia alone, or even the South, could claim a monopoly of love and veneration for one who living in a day of giants, yet towered among his fellows as Saul among his brethren " a head and shoulders above them all." No mists of political passion can long blind the vision of any class of the American people to that nobility of soul and blamelessness of life, which even more than the soldierly ability he possessed in so large a measure, gave Robert Lee pre-eminence among men who in any other companionship would have been them- selves the focus of admiration.