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


Unknown said...

why do people nowa days hate him ?

Unknown said...

A long time ago when the KKK was formed, it was formed by the south but only for the purpose of defeating the evil that spread by the blacks wanting revenge amongst their once white (and black, yes there were black slave owners) owners. Then some northerners joined and began killing them for fun. The southerners left the clan but the confederate flag was still being falsely accused of the symbol of killing black people by the northerners. Back in the early, mid, and some of the late 90s, the world knew the real history behind the civil war. And it was not slavery, slavery was a small part of the war but not the main. That cause was over Lincoln being elected president and taking away southern rights and other deals. Keep in mind that Lincoln did not care about slavery whatsoever, yet is named a hero these days because of his "constant wish to abolish slavery." No, he did not care at all. Here is a quote from Lincoln - "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Basically saying that he does not care about it. There was even a time when the south seceded and Lincoln said, "If you come back I will allow slavery to go on forever." The south still didn't go back. Now a days, people really do believe that the south were a bunch of racist people and just wanted slavery to exist. That is untrue, even thousands and thousands of slaves fought for the south's cause. Robert E. Lee (as you probably know) was the main general for the south. AKA the "leader" of the obtainment of slavery.

- I am a tenth grade high school student sitting in my history class doing Robert for my National History Day project. I was thrilled to see your question so I could correctly educate you with the truth before someone else hits you with their false statements. Have a good day!

Visionary said...

Student, I admire your thoroughness, but I do feel the need to clarify, in the matter of Robert Lee. He had held slaves only because his father had, and when it became clear that war was imminent, he wrote the letters of release for each of his slaves and sent them northward to freedom. I understand he gave a bit of stake money to them.
I believe you must make clear, that General Lee was commander of the Armies of Northern Virginia, which by location, we're heavily involved in the conflict. Although, because of his experience, skill, wisdom, and respectability, his lead was followed by other forces, he was never, ever, commander-in-chief of Confederate forces. He did not agree with the policies of rabid racist Jefferson Davis, including the order to kill captured Union Colored Troops.
The Battle Flag, mistakenly called the Confederate flag, was actually the Battle Flag of Virginia, lest they fight under Confederate colors. Other units adopted it, because for many, they fought for their states, not the slaveowners.
You are also correct that, initially, Lincoln cared only to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery, which is why his Emancipation did not apply to the four slave states still in the Union. He did change to anti-slavery later, though.
One other proof of Bob Lee's heart, came after the war, when a lonely old Negro came to a white Episcopal Church and went up to the communion rail. The white members in the aisle stopped, stunned--except one grey-bearded white man, who went forward and knelt down by the other man's left side, so the Black man could receive first. The white man was Robert Lee.

Unknown said...

The KKK was started by the Democrats. One of the last highest ranking Grand Wizards from South Carolina Robert Byrd was a senator in Congress. Joe biden spoke as his memorial. Yes Lee did resign his commission and left fo Virginia and he did make that mistake. Lee and Grant were friends story is told so Lincoln offered the command to Grant. Many true stories have been told how Lincoln wanted to either send the slaves back or to colonize them. Some of these are ignored. Slavery was wrong period no matter what, who or how its said.

Marse Tyler said...

Visionary, you appear to have several errors too:

Robert E Lee's father, Henry Lee III was a state governor, later was placed in debtors prison and moved to the West Indies when RE Lee was 5, dying 6 years later, leaving Lee no slaves. I think you are referring to Lee's father-in-law's Raevnhurst Plantation, which Lee's wife inherited after her father's death in 1857. The terms of the will stated the slaves were to be freed within 5 years, which all were manumitted by 1862 (the heady days of the CSA). Were any of his wife's slaves released between '57 and '61? I am not aware of any, though I know he provided funds for societies and ex-slaves immigrating to Liberia.

The flag you are refrring to is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. This flag was also used by the Army of Tenessee and Forrest's mobile cavalary corps. An inverse of this battle ensign was used by Kirby-Smith's Army of the Trans-Mississippi. A modified version of this flag on a white background did become the "official" flag of the CSA in 1864.

Robert E Lee was indeed appointed as general chief of all armies of the CSA on Feb 9th, 1865 and held this post until Appomattox.

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