Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 29.djvu/113

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Life and Character of Robert E. Lee. 97

Whether posterity will assign to General Lee the rank as a com- mander which the South claims for him, is a question which need not be discussed here. The judgment of foreign critics of this genera- tion places him high in the list of the born "leaders of men." That he accomplished much with limited resources, that he elicited the best skill and valor of the Union by his persistent defense of Virginia, that he overmatched many generals and decimated several armies ere his own succumbed, and that he finally gave to the victor a costly triumph, are facts not to be gainsaid. In after years it will belong to all America to claim his fame as a common heritage as the England of to-day finds glory alike in the motherhood of Cromwell, of Rupert, of Fairfax, and of Sidney. Of Lee's place among the prodigies of war there may be question. Of his title to honor for all the noble attributes of manhood there can be none. He fought for the cause of his conscience until further contest would have been a useless and criminal sacrifice of life. He surrendered in good faith to a generous foe, and thereafter gave his example to the building up of substantial peace and a real Union. He laid aside his stainless sword as bravely as he had drawn it, and withou ^repining for the past he turned to the duties of the present. Patiently instilling the lessons of virtue into the minds of the Southern youth, presiding at the vestry meetings of his church, foremost in unheralded charities, so passed the few years that remained on earth to Robert Lee.

He lived amongst us, to all appearances, absorbed and contented in the routine of educational work. If he repined under failure, he gave no sign- if he found the utter revolution in his life irksome to the spirit once " wrapped in high emprise," he uttered no complaint; if he felt anxiety as to the judgment of posterity upon his military career, he made no effort to place the records in evidence. In the controversial disputes among others of our military chieftains, which sprung up from the ashes of defeat as weeds from the wreck of some proud edifice, he took no part. He seemed to be content to leave his character and services in the keeping of his countrymen without a word of his own to prejudice their judgment.

It should also be recorded that he never spoke nor wrote a word which would prolong the bitterness of our ended strife, or re-awaken sectional animosity. He seemed to have put the past behind him. It was only at the last when his mind wandered that the stirring memories of the old days triumphed over that strong will and as-