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.
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.
I see our friend Lazamataz has already been there ;-)
Poor donny. All the bad people pick on him, when all he is doing is bringing The Greater Truth to all the benighted ingrates. sniff
Try looking up “duress” donny.
It will be good for you to learn a new word.
“and morally are on the side of the angels.”
Good grief. If you keep on in this vein you are going to give idiocy a bad name.
Duress is what happened when southern soldiers were conscripted under color of authority to force them into treason in support of slavery.
Duress is when Lee put snipers behind his men to shoot them dead if they retreated.
Duress is when Beauregard fired on Major Anderson at Sumter to force a US officer performing his duty to surrender and evacuate his post.
Duress is when Lee put up whipping posts for the slaves at Arlington, and paid a man to whip a teenage girl, shouting ‘Lay it on!”
I see you self identify as ‘dishonest’.
Lee was covered under the surrender agreement at Appromatox. Unless he violated the terms of parole, he could not be tried. Grant made that point, to the extent necessary.
Lee did apply for a pardon, which admitted guilt.
That is because South Carolina deserved what they got and more.
Poor South Carolina. Too small to be a country, to large to be an asylum.
That is because South Carolina deserved what they got and more.
Poor South Carolina. Too small to be a country, too large to be an asylum.
What does that have to do with Lincoln getting his brains blown out?
The suppression of the insurrection was legal. The War of the Great Rebellion was conducted with courts in session, and the Supreme Court made several rulings against the Lincoln administration.
By contrast the Davis regime of the pretended confederacy never got around to appointing their counterpart to the US Supreme Court. Davis was thus free to act illegally, and did. After the war was over, a southern partisan illegally murdered the elected US president, an act the victorious US did not do to the traitor, Jeff Davis.
Of course there is that rude song about the sour apple tree for the southern partisans to complain about.
What does that have to do with Lincoln getting his brains blown out?
The assassination of Lincoln was just another illegal act by the slave power and its supporters.
By contrast, the US government was, quite properly, restricted by law throughout.
“I see you self identify as dishonest.”
Not at all. However I find you to be both dishonest and a fool. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I’m sure it contributes to your happiness.
To crooked eyes, truth has an awry face.