"The memory of the just is blessed" (Proverbs 10:7).
Next Monday, January 18, we in the Sovereign State of Mississippi will honour the memory of one of the most faithful Christians that God has ever saved, General Robert Edward Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. General Lee was actually born on January 19 (1807), but the legislature several years ago made the Monday nearest his birthday a State holiday so state employees could always have a three day weekend.
General Lee was descended from a long line of honourable men. His father, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee was an officer in the Revolutionary War and served under George Washington. He also served his home state as governor for several terms. One of his relatives, Francis Lightfoot Lee was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. General Lee married Mary Custis, the great-grand daughter of George Washington. When General Lee said, "all the South has ever wanted is the Old Constitution as bequeathed to us by our forefathers," he was speaking of his own family who had been instrumental in the Founding of the American Republic.
Robert Edward Lee proved himself to be of great character from boyhood. It fell his lot to care for his widowed and invalid mother when only eleven years old. He grew up quick and had no time for play and frivolity. His mother and he were faithful members of the Episcopal Church. Of course in that day the Episcopal Church, especially in Virginia and the South still believed the Bible. The Episcopal Church that Robert E. Lee attended as a boy was the same one that George Washington attended, and was not "high church," but was distinctly Protestant and Puritan in its doctrine and practice. Robert E. Lee finished second in his class at West Point, and never received a single demerit.
General Lee first distinguished himself as a soldier in the Mexican War. General Winfield Scott said that he was the most able soldier in the United States Army, and said he was his own right arm in the Mexican War. General Lee's character and ability caused Abraham Lincoln to offer him the command of the whole Union Army when he made the decision to invade the South. Although Lee knew the odds were great against a Southern Victory, he refused Lincoln's offer. Had he accepted he would have had all this world has to offer- fame, wealth and power. He would no doubt have become president himself. Had he accepted Lincoln's offer the North would have had the most able General alive at that time and the North would have probably defeated the South in a few months. Although his heart was broken by the disunion of the country and the Northern Invasion of the South, he was not a reluctant Confederate. He said, "a union that can only be held together by bayonets has no attraction for me." He accepted defeat humbly and graciously and made many conciliatory statements and gestures after the Surrender. But when the Red Republicans treated the South as conquered provinces during reconstruction, General Lee said to Governor Stockdale of Texas, "Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die with my brave men with my sword in my hand." Contrary to some revisionist historians Robert E. Lee was thoroughly committed to the South and our Cause. He finally had to surrender after four years of distinguished service because he was completely surrounded with no food and no ammunition. The principles of just warfare he had learned at West Point dictated that he must surrender when there was no hope of victory and continuing would only mean unnecessary loss of life.
Volumes have been written about this distinguished Hero and his military skill and great character, but it is his Christian Character that I mostly want my children and grandchildren to know of. His labours for the salvation of his men were instrumental in the Great Revival that God sent down on the Confederate Armies in which upwards of 150,000 Southern Soldiers professed faith in Christ. General Lee promoted religion in his army first by his own example. Though a man of sterling character, and (compared to other men, not God's holy standard) practically without fault, his profession was, "I am only a poor sinner, trusting in Christ Alone for salvation." He also promoted piety in his army by issuing orders that only necessary duties be performed on the Sabbath. He was faithful in attendance of worship and preaching and promoted preaching in his Army. The last act of his life was to attend the vestry meeting of his church at which he personally pledged the funds that were lacking for the pastor's salary.
One of the most telling stories of General Lee's Christian Character was when after the War a large insurance company from up north offered him the presidency of their company at a salary of $50,000 a year (that would be equivalent to at least a million dollars a year in today's money). He replied that he could do them no good since he knew nothing of the insurance business. They told him he did not have to do anything, they just wanted his name associated with their company! He replied, "my name is all I have left, and it is not for sale." He chose rather to become president of Washington College and devote the rest of his life to educating the young men of the South. Next to my own father, General Lee is my hero and a man I would like to try to emulate as he followed the Saviour.