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Monday, April 18, 2011

Lincoln Offers Lee the Command

Col. Lee
One hundred fifty years ago today, Col. Robert E. Lee was offered the command of the United States army. Lee was a military officer who had attended West Point and had fought with distinction in the Mexican American War. He was one of the higher ranking soldiers in the U.S. Army at the time of secession, and had served for a time as Superintendent of West Point. Winfield Scott, the highest ranking American general and military hero, told Lincoln that he wished Lee to command of the army. He was appointed as Colonel on March 28th, and ignored a Confederate offer of command.

But after the attack on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for 75,000 men, Virginia, Lee's home state, seceded. Lincoln appointed him Major General and offered him the command of the army. Lee however turned it down. After he made his decision, Winfield Scott said, “Lee, you have made the greatest mistake of your life...”

To many people today, it would see strange that Lee would turn down such a command and follow the apparently hopeless fate of the Confederacy. Although he was born and raised in Virginia, like Winfield Scott, he had spent much of his life serving the United States of America all over the continent. He disagreed with slavery, and believed that secession was unwise. He wrote:
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, & I am willing to sacrifice every thing but honour for its preservation...
With all these reasons pointing to why he would stay with the North, why did he decide to side with the South? It came down to his view of state sovereignty. Lee viewed himself as a Virginian more than an American. He would follow the choice of his state even though he personally disagreed with it. He viewed his service to the South not as a fight against the Union, but as a defense of Virginia. Lee said,
I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty.
General Winfield Scott

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