Saturday 19 September 2015

General Lee Imparts Wisdom to Son

"Duty, then, is the sublimest word in our language.  You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less." (General Robert E. Lee)

We all know General Robert E. Lee was the well respected leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Offered the chance to lead the Union Army by President Lincoln, he chose to fight for the South, despite his wish for the country to remain intact.  He developped a reputation as a shrewd tactician and won battles against far superior Northern troops. He paid dearly for his decision to side with the South:  when the war ended, Lee's home, Arlington House, was confiscated by the North and became a graveyard for fallen soldiers. (

But General Lee was also a husband and father.  Almost a decade before the Civil War broke out, on his way to New Mexico with his regiment, Lee penned a letter to his beloved son, Custis.  He wrote:

"Your letters breathed a true spirit of frankness; they have already given myself and your mother great pleasure.  Say what you mean on every occasion and take it for granted you mean to do right."

When General Lee was offered command of the Union Army, he felt like, as a Virginian, he could not turn his back on the South.  As he recommended to his son:

"Above all, do not appear to others what you are not."

General Lee went on to talk about duty.  He mentioned the Connecticut Legislature and how its session was interrupted nearly 100 years previous on a dark, dark day, likely the result of an eclipse. Some thought it was the end of the world -- Judgement Day.  An old Puritan legislator said that if it was Judgement Day, that he desired to be at his place doing his duty and moved that candles be brought in so that the legislators could proceed.  

"Duty, then, is the sublimest word in our language.  You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less." 

Robert E. Lee and son, Custis, at his right, circa 1866 courtesy

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