Thursday, June 1, 2017

Whither Thou Goest...

Robert E. Lee
(Source)
In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. - R. E. Lee
The war... was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides. - R. E. Lee
I hesitate to add General Lee to my pantheon of heroes. Though I admire the man a great deal, I stop before proclaiming him a "hero." He turned his back on his country and followed his home state of Virginia into secession.

It was not a deed he took lightly or in the heat of passion. In a letter to his son he stated -
I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honour for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labour, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It is intended for 'perpetual Union,' so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession: anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and all the other patriots of the Revolution. … Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and, save in defense will draw my sword on none. 
Letter to his son, G. W. Custis Lee (23 January 1861).
But then, he was a man of his time. It is hard to look back to such a time when most people were born, lived, and died within a few miles of where their grandparents were born, lived, and died.

General Lee does not really fall into that category, he went to school in New York, at West Point. He had fought in Mexico, he had been assigned to Texas for some time. He had experience of other places, had known men from other parts of the United States. No, this was not some parochial naif who only knew the land he was born in.

But in those times many people still viewed the country as a collection of states, united to be sure, but a man born in Vermont considered himself a Vermonter first, an American second. While that attitude still exists to some extent in these modern times, Americans are more mobile now. Out of necessity in many cases, you go where the jobs are, or you starve. (Yes, I know, you can live off the government teat and not work, but most folks have a bit more pride than that. Or so I would hope.)

So I can understand why the general resigned his commission in the United States Army (after being offered command of the forces in the field of that army) and went home to Virginia. Before I joined the Air Force I probably would have considered my home state to be paramount in my affections. Not anymore, I have been to too many places, lived in different areas of the country, and the world, and owe my first loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, and by extension to the country at large.

Things though were different back then, and honestly, I do understand the why. I just can't really forgive the man for donning Confederate gray. While he was a brilliant leader and soldier, he fought for the "wrong" side. I can acknowledge his skill and yes, even honor his commitment to his personal loyalty to the home of his birth.

A great leader, a magnificent soldier, but, sadly, not quite a hero to me.

Still though, a man to admire. For which of us is without fault? Loyalties back then were different. Robert E. Lee stayed loyal to his homeland. I cam at least admire, and yes honor, that loyalty.
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God... Ruth 1:16 (KJV)

Virginia, home to Washington and Jefferson, seceded from the Union on the 17th of April, 1861. Three days later, Robert E. Lee, West Point Class of 1829, resigned his commission in the United States Army.

In 1975, Robert E. Lee had his full rights as a citizen of the United States restored to him by a Joint Resolution of Congress. Seems the government had lost the Amnesty Oath that the General had signed in 1865.





Quote sources.

30 comments:

  1. Lee has always been a hero to me, but then I'm a Texan and we think a bit differently. If he had marched on Washington early on in the war when he had the chance, the outcome of the war might have been different. Why didn't he? Maybe he was more of a Union sympathizer than we know.

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    1. Hard to say. I will give him this: he was a good man.

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  2. You made me work before I posted this comment. Good thought provoking post.

    I have raised my right hand a number of times during my enlisted career and each time I did it I thought more about what it meant. I know that the enlisted and officer oaths are not exactly the same, but this part is exactly the same in both cases. ".... I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...."

    As you said, it is not until you travel away from the United States that you can truly begin to understand the concept of what being an American means, and I think you need some age, maturity, and some study of history to grasp the thoughts of what that oath means.

    We tend to think that our oath has no expiration date and that out country and by extension our family our neighbors, and other Americans will always be worthy of our allegiance. ,

    But what happens when the country that you have sworn the oath to has changed so deeply that it is no longer possible to give that country your full and total allegiance? For example, if you enlisted in the German Military in 1915 and served for twenty five years you would have found that the country you swore your oath to in 1915 had changed so much that that in 1940 it was no longer worthy of your allegiance.

    I don't think that the oath is a buffet, and you can chose to follow only the parts you like.

    And yes, I am worried about the future of this country.


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    1. You're right, the oath is not a buffet.

      By 1940 the German soldier swore his oath to Adolf Hitler, not to the Chancellor, not to Germany, but to Hitler, personally.

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    2. A worrying concern for sure. "My country, right or wrong" took a big hit after the riots at Kent State. What I did like about the men of the south was the courage they had in their convictions. Lee resigned from the Army and then took up arms in defense of his beliefs. It's obvious he didn't fight to maintain slavery but rather to maintain the principal that each of the States is Sovereign within a Union of Sovereign States. Those idiots in Charleston totally destroyed the notion by firing on Fort Sumter. As I see it, the US is rushing to the point where each individual believes that he/she/it are sovereigns. We'll see how that plays out. If you like speculative fiction you might enjoy reading Neal Stephonson's "Snow Crash."

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    3. South Carolina was in the forefront of secession.

      They eventually paid for their enthusiasm.

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  3. While I don't have the same "state of birth" loyalty that others may have, I understand it. California's politics are a big part of my lack of loyalty I suppose. Loyalty to your birthplace is probably the reason why when I go to see a San Diego Padres game, it's a home game for the opposing team. In the most recent case- the Cubbies. There was so much blue and white in the stands that I wanted to go out for some deep dish after the game. Fortunately my usually miserable Padres swept them. But more to the topic at hand, loyalty to country wavering if they country isn't worthy of it anymore? Treasonous words of course, but self-preservation is a very motivating factor. If that German soldier had spoke out against the Jewish Genocide, he would have been imprisoned or killed. Courage in the face of death is tough- definitely one of those damned if you do moments. I'm worried about the future as well, but I hope that wouldn't result in me needing to violate any oath of office. Then again, I'm no longer wearing the uniform.

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    1. By the way, the German soldier is referring to John's comment above.

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    2. California is nearly a foreign country in some ways. Also, the Vermont of today is nothing like the Vermont I grew up in. As for Rhode Island? I live there, I'm definitely not from there. State loyalty is something of a mystery to me.

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    3. As to the Deutsche Soldat, I knew that.

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  4. August 9, 1960

    Dear Dr. Scott:

    Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.

    General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

    From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

    Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.

    Sincerely,

    Dwight D. Eisenhower

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    1. Good stuff Mark, and I agree wholeheartedly with Ike's assessment of General Lee.

      He still falls short of being a hero to me, close, but no cigar.

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  5. As a fourth generation Californian... yeah, a native with roots... I'm really torn.
    This state is no longer anything like the place where I was born.
    Too many folks from someplace else came here, liked it, took up residence, and brought their bad habits and weird ideas.
    Yeah, some of the weirdness came from natives, but most came from carpetbaggers, whose names I shall refrain from posting so as not to contaminate this blog.

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    1. And we thank you for your forbearance.

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  6. Most everyone has an opinion, and here is mine.

    Our constitution has several protections against the rule of the mob, latest example the Electoral College victory by President Trump. Those Southern States that left the union did not give the safeguards in the Constitution time to work as intended.

    Our greatest current danger is the appitite for other men's bread (h/t Larry Lambert, Virtual Mirage) by those who don't work but demand a level of living on par with those who do earn their bread.

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    1. LL has a pretty good handle on what's going on out there. I read his stuff every day.

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    2. To me, at this point, it looks like the judiciary is enthusiastically dismantling all of the rights of citizen and surrendering all powers to the unelected bureaucracy. That is how we got Trump. It's how we'll get the next revolution. When the rule of law is simply set aside by the 'elite' than the law is broken and men will rebel.

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    3. Otherwise we're all slaves!

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  7. Thank you. Post and comments up to the usual high standards.

    Paul L. Quandt

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  8. Hey, I still hold a grudge against fellow Kentuckian Colonel John Buford, Jr.! regards, Alemaster

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    1. Probably won Gettysburg for the North!

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  9. I'll hew to my oath as best I can, which doesn't mean that if the gubmint brands me an enemy of the state and provides me an escort to Valhalla that I've necessarily violated that oath.

    I have a great deal of respect in general for all the forces that fought in that war. Some were criminals, but most weren't.

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    1. You can adhere to the oath and the government can change the rules. Good thing the oath isn't to the government.

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  10. I'm surprised nobody else has said it, but I will, for it expresses my feelings exactly:
    "May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."
    I am not being flippant.
    --Tennessee Budd

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)