Skip to comments.Comes A Stillness
Posted on 01/17/2013 2:16:28 AM PST by Kaslin
They introduce themselves politely in restaurants or diners, in a movie lobby or at some civic event, even in front of the Little Rock gate in Atlanta, which has become a kind of Arkansas crossroads. ("You don't know me, but . . .") Then they thank me for remembering Robert E. Lee every January 19th with a column on his birthday.
They don't tarry, and I may never see them again. Then they fade away, much like the Army of Northern Virginia (R.E. Lee, General). They have a look about them, or rather a manner. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they all have the same, diffident way about them -- as if they were used to dealing with people as persons, rather than en masse as customers or readers or voters or some other impersonal category. They know how to visit with others. It's a Southern thing, no matter where it happens.
Let's just say they have a shared understanding. They may be older, genteel white ladies or young military cadets. Sometimes they're aging black men, usually with roots in the Deep South, who mention that they had a grandfather or great-uncle named Robert E. Lee Johnson or Robert E. Lee Wilson, much like their white counterparts. Whatever the differences in their appearance, they share a distinctive quality that is never imposing but very much there.
Sometimes they'll let you know they don't make a habit of this sort of thing, that they're not interested in reliving the past or anything like that. They're the furthest thing from the bane of such discussions in these latitudes, the professional Southerner. ("I'm no Civil War buff or big Confederate or anything -- I do well to tell Gettysburg from Vicksburg -- but I just wanted to say . . .")
They're never intrusive. Indeed, they are concise almost to the point of being curt for Southerners, a voluble breed. It's clear they wish to make no display. It's as if they just wanted to . . . enroll. To go on record, that's all, and leave it at that. They know The War is over and, like Lee, they would let it be over.
The quality they have in common may be deference -- not only to others, and certainly not to the general himself, for deference would not in any way approach their feeling on that subject, but a deference to the human experience, with all its defeats and losses. Maybe that is why so many of them are middle-aged or older, as if they had encountered some defeats and losses of their own -- losses and defeats that can never be erased, that will always be a part of them, but that they carry almost with grace. The pain will always be there, but now it is covered by forbearance. They have learned that there are certain hurts that, in order to be overcome, must be gone through. Continually. Till it is part of their ongoing character.
The name for the kind of deference they exude, unmistakable for anything else, a deference to fact and to sacrifice, is maturity. They have discovered that duty is not only burden and obligation but deliverance. They would never claim to understand Lee, and they certainly would not presume to praise him overtly. They just want to indicate how they feel about the General, to let us know the bond is shared, and go on. For where Lee is concerned, there is a silence, a diffidence, that says more than words can. Or as Aristotle said of Plato, there are some men "whom it is blasphemy even to praise."
Ever hear a couple of Southerners just passing the time, perhaps in some petty political quarrel, for we can be a quarrelsome lot, when the name Lee is injected into the argument? The air is stilled. Suddenly both feel ashamed of themselves. For there are some names that shame rhetoric, and when we use them for effect, the cheapness of it, the tinniness of it, can be heard at once, like tinkling brass. And we fall silent, rightly rebuked by our better selves.
To invoke such a presence, to feel it like old music always new, invariably gives pause. The young officer in Stephen Vincent Benet's "John Brown's Body" pauses before he enters Lee's tent to deliver his dispatch. Looking at the shadow of the figure within bent over his papers, knowing that The War is inevitably winding down, the messenger can only wonder:
What keeps us going on? I wish I knew. Perhaps you see a man like that go on. And then you have to follow.
The Lost Cause still has its shrines and rituals, dogmas and debates. For four exhilarating, excruciating, terrible years, it had a flag of its own -- several, in fact -- and an army and even something of a government. But in the end all those proved only transient reflections of what endures: the South, the ever-fecund South.
What held that disparate, desperate concept called the South together, and holds it together still from generation to generation, from heartland to diaspora? After all our defeats and limitations, why do we yet endure, and, in Faulkner's words, even prevail? What keeps us going on? I wish I knew. Perhaps you see a man like that go on. And then you have to follow. If there is a single name, a single syllable for that shared bond and depth and grief and aspiration, it is: Lee.
No brief outline of the general's career can explain the effect of that name still: After a shining start at West Point, our young officer spends 12 years of tedium on the Army treadmill, followed by brief renown in the Mexican War, then a two-year leave to attend to matters at home. Returning to the service to put down a fateful little insurrection at Harper's Ferry that cast a great shadow, he declines a field command in the U.S. Army as a far greater insurrection looms, one he will lead. He accepts command of the military of his native country -- Virginia. Then there comes a series of brilliant campaigns that defy all the odds, at the end of which he surrenders. Whereupon he applies for a pardon, becomes a teacher, and makes peace.
What is missing from such an abrupt summary of the general, his life and career, is everything -- everything inward that made the man Robert E. Lee. His wholeness. His integrity. His unbroken peace within. There was about him nothing abrupt but everything respectfully direct -- in his manners, in his leadership, in his life and, when he finally struck the tent, in his death.
Yes, he would fight what has been called the most nearly perfect battle executed by an American commander at Chancellorsville, defeating an army two and a half times the size of his own and better equipped in every respect.
Even in retreat, he remained victorious. One single, terrible tally may say it better than all the ornate speeches ever delivered on all the dim Confederate Memorial Days that have passed since: In one single, terrible month, from May 12th to June 12th of 1864, from after The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, Grant's casualties on the other side would total 60,000 -- the same size as Lee's whole, remaining Army of Northern Virginia, poor devils.
In the end, it is not the Lee of Chancellorsville or of Appomattox who speaks to us, who quiets and assures us. It is not even the Lee of Fredericksburg and his passionate dispassion atop Marye's Heights as he watches the trapped federals below, poor devils, being destroyed. He was no stranger to pity. ("It is well that war is so terrible," he murmured, looking down at the carnage he had engineered, "or we should grow too fond of it.")
It is not even the Lee of Gettysburg who speaks to us, the Lee who would meet Pickett after it was over -- all over -- and say only: "All this has been my fault." And then submit his resignation as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Jefferson Davis may not have had much sense, but he had more sense than to accept that resignation.
In the end, it is the Lee who saw through all victory as clearly as he did all defeat who elevates and releases us, like one of the old Greek plays. It is the Lee who, for all his legend, could not command events but who was always in command of his response to them. Just to think on him now is catharsis. That is why his undying presence, just the mention of his name, was enough to lift men's gaze and send them forth again and again. It still does.
Of course. I was speaking about you.
I think you need to do some soul searching.
You? You, who have no reflection, think I should do some "soul searching"? Yeah, right.
I noted with interest today that Barky got sworn in while standing beneath the portrait of one of the above-named gentlemen (either Madison or, I think, probably Monroe) to be sworn in to his second fraudulent term of office.
Someone on his "historical correctness" police should have gone through the White House long ago to drive out all the profane images of the unclean, slave-owning Presidents. (James Knox Polk, who extended the United States to the Pacific Ocean under the banner of Manifest Destiny, was the last, I think.)
Obama should have been sworn in while standing under a portrait of that champion of humanity and honesty, Lyndon Johnson, instead. Or maybe Slick Willie.
“In your post 108 you did not pressure for evidence.
Accordingly it is you who are changing your story.”
You obviously thought I was asking for evidence, which I was, since you attempted to provide the evidence in your own reply, post #113.
Good try, donny. Next time just be sure that you aren’t the one disproving your own story.
“My understanding is that he came to own Nancy through inheritance from his mother”
Small surprise that you would have little actual knowledge of his history since that isn’t as useful to you as disparagement and scurrilous rumor. But then that’s just you expressing your character through your writing.
Lee’s father was famously bankrupt when Lee was a small child. His father died when Lee was 11 and Lee and his mother went to live with relatives. They had no assets and no inheritance, other than the ones in your well fertilized imagination.
The White House property belonged to the Washington-Custis family and Nancy and her family came with it.
Wow, he really married up, didn’t he?
“Your language is vile, your intention unjust, cruel, and utterly, utterly small.”
You say that as if that isn’t his goal.
And I’m not sure that you were being fair to Smeagol.
“Wow, he really married up, didnt he?”
Not exactly. The Lees were a very prominent family and he married into the society that he was part of.
His father was Light Horse Harry Lee, who lost his fortune in the financial panic of 1797. His mother was a Carter, another of the first families of Virginia as were the Lees.
My language is polite. My character is noble. I have never been accused of beating slaves, nor of treason, nor of assault on another. Nor am I descended from a notorious deadbeat.
And because his mother had no assets, does that mean that she never again had assets?
Your protest is incorrect.
Lees own personal papers which were pretty much unavailable for 150 years show a drastically, profoundly, stupendously different view of Lee.
In fact, Alan Nolan, author of Lee Considered, says EVERYTHING we think we know about Lee, should be discarded, and start over.
For example, in Lees OWN HANDWRITTEN papers, he keeps obsessive track of certain escaped slave girls mulatto girls. He paid six times his normal bounty for the return of one girl, about 13-14 years old, who escaped with her white looking child.
Lees bounty hunters searched for her for months, and when they found her, Lee had her bought to him, tied up, and tortured. He screamed at her during her torture then rented her out to a plantation known for cruelty to slaves. To top it all off, he apparently sold her white looking child.
Elizabeth Pryor, author of Reading The Man had access to Lees papers. She adores Lee, and tries very hard to keep his halo on his head. But she reveals astonishing, baffling things.
She excuses what she can. She calls his torture of slaves due to Lees poor cross cultural communication skills as if he could just talk to the slaves better, he wouldnt have to torture the girls.
This is a man who had young girls TORTURED.
Not sorta, not kinda, he had them tortured, and while it was the law in Virginia to whip escaped slaves, Lee needed no law, he seemed to VERY much get into it.
Pryor excuses that too. She claims Lee failed to appreciate his slaves desire to be free.. Hello! How could he not notice! They kept running away! Despite promises of torture which Lee made good on Pryor said Lee had an epidemic of escaped slaves.
Who ever said Lee was loved by his slaves is goofy. Pryor says Lees slaves said he was the meanest man I ever saw.
Far from being against slavery, Lee was one of the biggest defenders. Yes, there is a letter to his wife, and in one sentence he says slavery is a political and moral evil but the letter doesnt stop there. IT goes on. Lee says the blacks are fortunate to be slaves!! He also writes that God knows slavery is cruel and painful but pain is necessary for their instruction. And Lee was very willing to instruct they young mulatto girls.
Most stunning of all, Lee SOLD the white looking babies. Lee regularly sold the children of his slave girls. Pryor puts it this way Lee separated every family unit, but one.
Separated every family UNIT? Pryor deserves a lot of credit for exposing Lees torture, his cruelty to slaves but the way she writes, you would think Lee just had a bad day. Lee could not sell the slaves themselves due to the terms of the will.
But the will said nothing about the children born to his slaves. Pryor says he separated every family unit, and elsewhere she says all the female slave girls under 5 were gone. Okay where did they go?
Did they vanish? Did they go up in a space ship? Pryor apparently knows, but doesnt say. There is only so much the public could stand, Furthermore, her audience is wildly pro Lee if she came out and said he sold white babies and I mean this literally her life could be at risk. Southern Lee lovers get that upset. Selling white babies? He would NEVER?
Oh, wouldnt he? He would torture 13 year old girls. He would sell babies. What is he going to do with a white looking slave girl? Would he say Oh my, this is a line I wont cross Are you kidding me?
In fact white looking slave girls it was well known sold for a premium. I will let you guess why. But whore houses loved to buy white looking slaves more men would pay more money for that service. Books written AT THE TIME discussed this horrible reality.
But if he sold black women that would go to whore houses, and light skinned women, why on EARTH would he say, no, no this one is too white. Get real.
The real history of Lee has yet to be written. But then, the real history of the South has yet to be written too. Lee is very much a metaphor for the entire South, and the myths we have been told.
One more thing If Lincolns papers were discovered, and showed he had young girls tortured, paid six times his n
Read some more.
“Funny thing is Lincoln didnt have Lee hung, isnt it?”
Kind of hard to do with a bullet in your brain.
When you find some evidence backing up your “she could have gotten some money” guesswork then get back to us donny. Until you do it’s just more of the speculation, half-truths and history twisting that you like to wallow in.
It’s well established that the Lees had no money and had to live with relatives after his father’s death. There is no evidence otherwise and you are simply making things up to further your agenda.
Are you as tiresome in your daily life as you are online? I bet your acquaintances find ways to leave the room when you walk in.
“I have never been accused of beating slaves, nor of treason, nor of assault on another.”
And since when is accusation equated with fact? Is that a habit you picked up over at DU?
I mean a few of us certainly accuse you of being dishonest and a fool. Does accusation equal fact then, too? Or are accusations ‘fact’ only when you like them?
Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly...
“Nolan, who is a lawyer and not an historian (a fact which should be borne in mind as you read this book), attempts to put the romantic, mythological Lee “on trial” and expose him for the flawed and decidedly unheroic person that Nolan believes him to be.”
” Like a good lawyer, Nolan denies trying to “convict” Lee in the beginning of the book, and even states that he admires him in some ways, but the rest of the book reveals Nolan to be committed to “convicting” his target of several specific charges.”
“Nolan presents a good deal of “evidence” (much of it in Lee’s own words), but like a good prosecutor he leaves out “evidence” which contradicts his theories.”
“Dr. James McPherson, the famed Civil War historian and author of “Battle Cry of Freedom”, can hardly be called a “neo-Confederate” historian (if anything he’s pro-Union), but even he has some problems with Nolan’s book.
A few years ago he wrote a criticism of “Lee Considered” in which he “judged” Nolan’s “trial” of Lee, and while he found Lee to be “guilty” of being more pro-slavery than the Lee myth allows, he also found Lee to be “innocent” of prolonging the War and that Nolan failed to “prove” many of his other charges”
Could have made it a standing order.Stanton would have loved to do it.
So is it your contention that Lee did not make war against the United States? How deluded are you?
Lee himself applied for pardon, acknowledging it.
Didn’t you know that?
The persons who accuse me of being dishonest are themselves dishonest.
The persons who accuse me of being a fool are themselves foolish.
By contrast, the persons who recognize flaws in Lee and in the motivations and practices of Slave Power are using facts, and morally are on the side of the angels.