We can learn from the character
of a man through his own words. Here is a sample of General Robert E. Lee's wisdom and thoughts on various topics:
Character: As a general principle, you
should not force young men to do their duty, but let them do it voluntarily and thereby develop their characters.
Choices: I think it better
to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.
Conduct: We have only one
rule here [at Washington College] – to act like a gentleman at all times.
Defeat: We may be annihilated, but we cannot be conquered.
Determination: We had,
I was satisfied, sacred principles to maintain and rights to defend, for which we were in duty bound to do our best, even
if we perished in the endeavor.
Dreams: All I ever wanted was a Virginia farm, no end of cream and fresh butter and fried chicken
- not one fried chicken, or two, but unlimited fried chicken.
Duty: Do your duty. That is all the pleasure, all the comfort, all
the glory we can enjoy in this world.
Education: The education of a man or woman is never completed until they die
I trust that a kind Providence will watch over us, and notwithstanding our weakness and sins will yet give us a name and place
among the nations of the earth.
Farewells: After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and
fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. With an unceasing
admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration
for myself. I bid you an affectionate farewell.
Forgiveness: Abandon your animosities, and make your sons Americans.
Honesty: The trite saying
that honesty is the best policy
has met with the just criticism
that honesty is not policy. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy.
Honor: A true
man of honor feels humble himself when he can not help humbling others.
Integrity: There is a true glory and a true honor, the glory of
duty done - the honor of the integrity of principle.
Loyalty: If the Union is dissolved, the government disrupted, I
shall return to my native state and share in the miseries of my people. Save in her defense, I will draw my sword no more.
Patriotism: These men are not an army
- they are citizens defending their country.
Perseverance: We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach
us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.
Promotion: What do you care about rank?
I would serve under a corporal if necessary!
I am glad to see no indication in your letter of an intention to leave the country. I think the South requires the aid of
her sons now more than at any period in her history. As you ask my purpose, I will state that I have no thought of abandoning
her unless compelled to do so.
Regrets: If I had taken General Longstreet's advice on the eve of the second day of the battle
of Gettysburg ... [then] the Confederates would today be a free people.
Atrocities: I have never witnessed on any previous occasion such
'entire disregard of the usage of civilized warfare and the dictates of humanity.
Vengeance: It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed
men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all
whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies.
Select Readings on Robert E.
Southall Freeman, R.E. Lee (1934)
·A. L. Long, Memoirs of Robert E Lee (1887)