He Lost a War and Won Immortality

by Louis Redmond


Redmond imaginatively depicts Lee's thought process as the General turns peacemaker, abandoning his last chance to save the Confederacy and demonstrating sublime grace even in defeat.
Even among the free, it is not always easy to live together. There came a time, less than a hundred years ago, when the people of this country disagreed so bitterly among themselves that some of them felt they could not go on living with the rest.

A test of arms was made to decide whether Americans should remain one nation or become two. The armies of those who believed in two nations were led by a man named Robert E. Lee.

What about Lee? What kind of man was he who nearly split the history of the United States down the middle and made two separate books of it?

They say you had to see him to believe that a man so fine could exist. He was handsome. He was clever. He was brave. He was gentle. He was generous and charming, noble and modest, admired and beloved. He had never failed at anything in his upright soldier's life. He was a born winner, this Robert E. Lee. Except for once. In the greatest contest of his life, in the war beween the South and the North, Robert E. Lee lost.

Now there were men who came with smouldering eyes to Lee and said: "Let's not accept this result as final. Let's keep our anger alive. Let's be grim and unconvinced, and wear our bitterness like a medal. You can be our leader in this."

But Lee shook his head at those men. "Abandon your animosities," he said, "and make your sons Americans."

And what did he do himself when his war was lost? He took a job as president of a tiny college, with forty students and four professors, at a salary of $1500 a year. He had commanded thousands of young men in battle. Now he wanted to prepare a few hundred of them for the duties of peace. So the countrymen of Robert E. Lee saw how a born winner loses, and it seemed to them that in defeat he won his most lasting victory.




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