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The Thin Gray Line

 

Never Against Virginia - R. E. Lee by John Paul Strain

"I shall return to Virginia and share the fortune of my people."

 Robert Edward Lee, 1861

This page is devoted to the memory of the gallant Men in Gray who gave their all for "the fortune of their people." May their lives and sacrifices ever be an inspiration and a call to courage for their children.

 

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Robert Edward Lee

January 19, 1807 - October 12, 1870

Address by North Carolina Governor Charles B. Aycock
Delivered in Raleigh, N.C. on Lee's Birthday, January 19, 1912

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We have met tonight to do honor to the memory of General Robert Edward Lee, a man whose position in the world is so well established, and whose fame is so strongly based that nothing which we can do or say will add to his glory. But, on the other hand, I can myself but count it a high honor to be deemed worthy to be permitted to talk about him to an intelligent and sympathetic audience.

Some years ago there was unveiled in Richmond a noble equestrian statue of General Lee. The statue has been much criticised, but there is one thing about it which always strikes every observer and compels the admiration of all for appropriateness - the inscription on it is one word, "Lee." There have been numerous Lees, many of them famous - Light Horse Harry of Revolutionary fame, General Governor Fitzhugh Lee, to mention but two who were well worthy of monumental honors - and yet no visitor to Richmond from any part of the civilized world ever asks the question, "To whom was this statue erected?" Everybody knows. There is but one Lee. He is the noblest, the purest, the highest possession of any people.

It has been the fortune of many to win fame, to have their deeds recorded in history, and their achievements taught through the world to the young as a part of their education. The desire to attain fame is a large incentive in the human heart for great action and high thought, but most men who have lived and who have been honored in story and in song and in history, and whose deeds have been perpetuated in marble, have been those who won final victory. It is the unique glory of Robert Edward Lee that, having failed to conquer, he has yet achieved a distinction beyond his fellows.

What is there about the man that thus selects and differentiates him from the group of those whom men honor as great? Why is it that every Southerner loves and reveres his memory? Why is it that the victorious North has placed him in the Hall of Fame? Why is it that English historians and army officers have vied with Southern orators in panegyric? Why is it that he for more than forty years has steadily grown in the esteem of mankind until he stands today the least criticised among all the heroes of the world, modern or ancient? Why is it that all mankind acknowledge the wondrous power and charm of the man and no one can be found to find fault with him? I think the reason may be found not alone in his singular "beauty of personality and emphasis of presence," in his magnificent intellect, in his perfect life, in his ideal Christian character, in his mastery of the science of war, but in that older fact which first finds exemplification in the life of Moses when, returning from his interview with the Lord on Mount Sinai, he found that in his absence the children of Israel had made for themselves a golden calf and were worshipping it, and he lost his temper and broke the stones and punished his people, and then went up unto the Lord to make intercession in their behalf, and said, "O Lord, these people have sinned a great sin and have made them gods of gold, yet now if Thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not, I pray Thee blot me out of Thy book."

This was no demagogy. It was not said in the presence of the people. It was said by the creature to his Creator. It was said by one in whose face there shone the light which emanated from the Lord. It was said by one who had seen the lightnings and heard the thunders of Sinai. It was said unto the Al mighty God. "If Thou wilt punish my people, punish me also." From the days of Moses to the days of Gen. Robert Edward Lee, no other man had ever done so fine a thing; for Lee, who did not believe in secession, who was an officer in the United States Army and loved the Union, who had won renown on the fields of Mexico under the stars and stripes, to whom had been offered the highest position in the command of the armies of the United States, to whose clear vision there must have appeared the certainty of the final outcome, calmly said to the Union, "If you will punish my people, punish me also. I will not fight against Virginians."

The love of home, of family, of neighborhood, of county, of State, was predominant with him. The elemental foundation of all free government if found in this vital fact. There can never be a free people save those who love and serve those closest to them first, and those farthest away afterward. The Gospel must be preached to all the world, but its preaching must begin at Jerusalem. It never could have begun anywhere else, and if it had, it never would have gone anywhere. General Lee was a home-lover. He was a Virginian first and an American afterward. His intellect might be convinced, and was convinced, that under the Constitution of the United States the Union was to be perpetual, and to use his own language, "It is idle to talk of secession," but when secession became a fact and Virginia had gone out of the Union, there was no logic, there was no power, there was no temptation, there was no honor, there was no hope, there was no glory, that could for one moment make him hesitate about drawing his sword on the side of Virginia.

For myself, I have always believed in the right of secession. I never doubted that each State retained to itself the power to withdraw from an unbearable Union, and my admiration for the man who did not so believe but went with his State when the States seceded is intensified by my own conviction of the lawfulness of secession. And this view makes the war between the States a thing which should give pride to Southerners for all time. It was not a fight for slavery. When men tell me that the South fought for slavery, I answer them, Gen. Robert Edward Lee, freed his slaves before the war and left important military duties to go to his home in order to carry out the will of his wife's father in setting free her slaves. Let the children of the South learn rather that the fight was a fight for local self-government, without which in all its fullness and power there can be no such thing as a Union of coequal States. It is the old doctrine of States? Rights - a doctrine which belongs to no section and is monopolized by no party. Indeed, the first Republican platform ever adopted was based on an idea of State rights so extreme that those of us who professed most strongly to believe in them refused to go to the extent demanded in that platform. The Republicans justified their refusal to return runaway slaves on the right of a State to legislate for itself on the subject of slavery.

There is another great fact in the life of General Lee which makes him pre-eminent in all his career. No one ever heard of his putting the blame of failure of any enterprise on the shoulders of any one else. When his wonderful genius had planned a battle and assigned each commander his duty, if the battle went wrong through the failure of any commander, General Lee never gave to the world any explanation of why the battle was lost. He never sought for a single instance to aggrandize his own glory by detracting from the service of any other.

Indeed, I may go so far as to say that he never seemed to be conscious of any desire for the commendation of man. His whole career is founded on the single word, "duty," which he himself declared to be the sublimest word in the English language. Having done his duty, what others said, what others thought, what misinterpretations might be made to his own hurt, seemed never to concern him, but he was always anxious that every other person connected with his enterprise should have full praise for any unusual merit exhibited by him. This trait of character approaches the fulfillment of the law, the whole law, which is briefly comprehended in this, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Service to his neighbors was always his life work, and when the war was ended, we fund him calmly and deliberately refusing the acceptance of a country home in England with an ample annuity; declining the presidency of a great insurance company with a large salary; and gratefully accepting the meager salaried presidency of a broken college. What a spectacle, my countrymen, to see this commander of the greatest army that the world had ever seen, patiently, cheerfully, gladly, supervising the education of a few hundred boys! He had taught the South the mastery of war. It was his highest desire thereafter to instill into the youth of the land a love of peace and knowledge of the ways of industry. We cannot honor the memory of a man like this. We can only ourselves catch a few rays of light from the sunshine of his face.

When the North tells me that General Grant was great, I admit it, and gladly join in praise for his graciousness to General Lee; but then I add that if he was great, he had his faults, personal and intimate, not to be mentioned in public because of the greatness of his service to the country. But General Lee was great without fault. There is nothing in his life to hide. All that we want is for the world to know him as he was. We should like for every child in the universe to be cognizant of everything he did and said, entirely confident that having learned every movement and every saying, the child would arise from his study a stronger, a better, a purer person, and with a high ideal of life. Again, the North and the world may justly make a hero out of Abraham Lincoln - I do not hesitate to recognize and proclaim the essential greatness of the man - but there are stories which he told which I could not repeat to this audience tonight without offense. But if I could tell you all that General Lee ever said, you would rise in your seats and thank me for the gentleness, the purity, the cleanness of the speech which I had made.

And yet I have read within a week a book professing to be an appreciation of General Lee which says that he failed. I cannot believe that any man has failed, or the principles for which he contended have ever failed when he has left to the world a life so rich and full, clean and serene, as to make every man who studies it desirous of doing something and being better himself.

Life and Speeches of Charles B. Aycock,Governor of North Carolina, from the library of Reverend Bruce Robinson.

 

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General Robert E. Lee

January 19, 1807 - October 12, 1870

Obituary, New York Times
13 October 1870

 

Intelligence was received last evening of the death at Lexington, Va., Of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the most famous of the officers whose celebrity was gained in the service of the Southern Confederacy during the late terrible rebellion. A report was received some days ago that he had been smitten with paralysis, but this was denied, and though it was admitted that he was seriously ill, hopes of his speedy recovery seem to have been entertained by his friends. Within the last two or three days his symptoms had taken an unfavorable turn, and he expired at 91/2 o'clock yesterday morning of congestion of the brain, at the age of sixty-three years, eight months and twenty-three days.

Robert Edward Lee was the son of Gen. Henry Lee, the friend of Washington, and a representative of one of the wealthiest and most respected families of Virginia. Born in January, 1807, he grew up amid all the advantages which wealth and family position could give in a republican land, and received the best education afforded by the institutions of his native State. Having inherited a taste for military studies, and an ambition for military achievements, he entered the National Academy at West Point in 1825, and graduated in 1829, the second in scholarship in his class. He was at once commissioned Second Lieutenant of engineers, and in 1835 acted as assistant astronomer in drawing the boundary line between the States of Michigan and Ohio. In the following year he was promoted to the grade of First Lieutenant, and in 1836 received a Captain's commission. One the breaking out of the war with Mexico he was made Chief-Engineer of the army under the command of Gen. Wool. After the battle of Cerro Gordo, in April, 1847, in which he distinguished himself by his gallant conduct, he was immediately promoted to the rank of Major. He displayed equal skill and bravery at Contreras, Cherubusco and Chapultepec, and in the battle at the last-mentioned place received a severe wound. His admirable conduct throughout this struggle was rewarded before its close with the commission of a Lieutenant-Colonel and the brevet title of Colonel. In 1852 he was appointed to the responsible position of Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, which he retained until 1855. On retiring from the charge of this institution he was made Lieutenant-Colonel of the Second Cavalry, and on the 16th of March, 1861, received the commission of Colonel of the First Cavalry.

Thus far the career of Col. Lee had been one of honor and the highest promise. In every service which had been entrusted to his hands he had proved efficient, prompt and faithful, and his merits had always been readily acknowledged and rewarded by promotion. He was regarded by his superior officers as one of the most brilliant and promising men in the army of the United States. His personal integrity was well known, and his loyalty and patriotism was not doubted. Indeed, it was in view of the menaces of treason and the dangers which threatened the Union that he had received his last promotion, but he seems to have been thoroughly imbued with that pernicious doctrine that his first and highest allegiance was due to the State of his birth. When Virginia joined the ill-fated movement of secession from the Union, he immediately threw up his commission in the Federal Army and offered his sword to the newly formed Confederacy. He took this step, protesting his own attachment to the Union, but declaring that his sense of duty would never permit him to "raise his hand against his relatives, his children, and his home." In his farewell letter to Gen. Scott, he spoke of the struggle which this step had cost him, and his wife declared that he "wept tears of blood over this terrible war." There are probably few who doubt the sincerity of his protestation, but thousands have regretted, and his best friends will ever have to regret, the error of judgment, the false conception of the allegiance due to his Government and his country, which led one so rarely gifted to cast his lot with traitors, and devote his splendid talents to the execution of a wicked plot to tear asunder and ruin the Republic in whose service his life had hitherto been spent.

He resigned his commission on the 25th of April, 1861, and immediately betook himself to Richmond, where he was received with open arms and put in command of all the forces of Virginia by Gov. Letcher. On the 10th of May he received the commission of a Major-General in the army of the Confederate States, retaining the command in Virginia, and was soon after promoted to the rank of General in the regular army. He first took the field in the mountainous region of Western Virginia, where he met with many difficulties, and was defeated at Greenbrier by Gen. J. J. Reynolds on the 3d of October, 1861. He was subsequently sent to take command of the Department of the South Atlantic Coast, but after the disabling of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at the battle of Fair Oaks, in the Spring of 1862, he was recalled to Virginia, and placed at the head of the forces defending the capital, which he led through the remainder of the campaign of the Chickahominy. He engaged with the Army of the Potomac under his old companion-in- arms, Gen. McClellan, and drove it back to the Rappahannock. He afterward, in August, 1862 attacked the Army of Virginia, under Gen. Pope, and after driving it back to Washington, crossed the Potomac into Maryland, where he issued a proclamation calling upon the inhabitants to enlist under his triumphant banners. Meantime McClellan gathered a new army from the broken remnants of his former forces, and met Lee at Hagerstown, and, after a battle of two days, compelled him to retreat. Reinforced by "Stonewall" Jackson, on the 16th of September, he turned to renew the battle, but after two days of terrible fighting at Sharpsburg and Antietam, was driven from the soil of Maryland. Retiring beyond the Rappahannock, he took up his position at Fredericksburg, where he was attacked, on the 13th of December, by Gen. Burnside, whom he drove back with terrible slaughter. He met with the same success in May, 1868, when attacked by Hooker, at Chancellorsville. Encouraged by these victories, in the ensuing Summer he determined to make a bold invasion into the territory of the North. He met Gen. Meade at Gettysburg, Penn., on the 1st of July, 1863, and after one of the most terrible and destructive battles of modern times, was driven from Northern soil. Soon after this, a new character appeared on the battle-fields of Virginia, and Gen. Lee found it expedient to gather his forces for the defense of the Confederate capital against the determined onslaughts of Gen. Grant. In the Spring and Summer of 1864 that indomitable soldier gradually inclosed the City of Richmond as with a girdle of iron, which he drew closer and closer with irresistible energy and inexorable determination, repulsing the rebel forces whenever they ventured to make an attack, which they did several times with considerable vigor. In this difficult position, holding the citadel of the Confederacy, and charged with its hopes and destinies, Lee was made Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the South. He held out until the Spring of 1865, vainly endeavoring to gather the broken forces of the Confederacy, and break asunder the terrible line which was closing around them. After a desperate and final effort at Burkesville, on the 9th of April, 1865, he was compelled to acknowledge his defeat, and surrendered his sword to Gen. Grant on the generous terms which were dictated by that great soldier. Lee retired under his parole to Weldon, and soon after made a formal submission to the Federal Government. Subsequently, by an official clemency, which is probably without a parallel in the history of the world, he was formally pardoned for the active and effective part he had taken in the mad effort of the Southern States to break up the Union and destroy the Government. Not long after his surrender he was invited to become the President of Washington University, at Lexington, Va., and was installed in that position on the 2d of October, 1865. Since that time he has devoted himself to the interests of that institution, keeping so far as possible aloof from public notice, and by his unobtrusive modesty and purity of life, has won the respect even of those who most bitterly deplore and reprobate his course in the rebellion.

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Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson

January 21, 1824 - May 10, 1863

Address by Major Robert Lewis Dabney, D.D., CSA Army
Delivered 15 June 1882

I recall what my own eyes witnessed at the last great civic pomp in which I was present. This was the installment of that statue of Jackson near our State capitol, which Virginia received as the tribute of British statesmanship and culture to her illustrious dead. At this ceremonial, there were gathered almost the whole intelligence and beauty of what was left of the old commonwealth. As the long procession wound through the streets marshaled and headed by General Joseph E. Johnston, under the mild glory of our October sun, while the atmosphere was palpitating with military music and the whole city was gone upon its house-tops, it was easy to perceive that all eyes and all hearts were centering upon one sole part of the pageant, and this was not the illustrious figure that headed it, the commander in so many historical battles, bestriding his charger with his inimitable martial grace; nor was it the cluster containing the remnant of Jackson's staff. We might have supposed that we would receive some reflected distinction from the luminary to which we had been satellites so near, and that some romantic curiosity might direct itself to those who had habitually seen him under fire, heard, and borne those orders which had decided memorable victories, and bivouacked under the same blanket with him; but no eye sought us. Then came hobbling a company of two hundred and thirty grizzled men with empty sleeves, and wooden legs, and scarred faces, and hands twisted into every distortion which the fiery fancy of the rifle-ball could invent, clad in the rough garb of a laboring yeomanry, their faces bronzed with homely toil; this was the company for which every eye waited, and as it passed, the mighty throng was moved as the trees of the forest are moved by the wind, the multitudinous white arms waved their superb welcome, and the thundering cheer rolled with the column from end to end of the great city. It was the remnant of the Stonewall Brigade! That was the explanation. This was the tribute, which the sons, the daughters, the mothers of Virginia paid to sturdy heroism in defeat, and as I saw this, my heart said with an exultant bound, "There is life in the old land yet!"

By Major Robert Lewis Dabney, D.D., CSA Army

Discussions, Vol. IV Secular, Excerpt from The New South (a discourse delivered 6/15/1882).

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In Memory of the Confederate Soldier

Major General Fitzhugh Lee

The private soldier of the Confederacy had no hope of conspicuous honors, no opportunity to lay up riches, while meager rations and scant clothing banished any prospect he may have cherished for a reasonable amount of the pleasures of army life. The separation from his home, in many instances, marked the period when domestic sorrow replaced domestic happiness, and absolute want followed a fair competence. He gave a wonderful exhibition of courage, constancy and suffering, which no disaster could diminish, no defeat darken. The soldiers went to battle from a sense of duty, and were not lured into the ranks by bounties and pensions. If saved from the dangers of the contest, his reward was the commendation of his immediate commanding officers and the conscientiousness of duty faithfully performed. If drowned amid the hail of shot and shell, his hastily buried body filled a nameless grave, without military honors and without religious ceremonies. No page of history recounted in lofty language his courage on the field or his devotion to his country, or described how, like a soldier, he fell in the forefront of battle. His battle picture, ever near the flashing of the guns should be framed in the memory of all who admire true heroism, whether found at the cannon's mouth, or in the blade of the cavalry, or along the blazing barrels of the infantry. There he stood, with the old, torn slouch hat, the bright eye, the cheek colored by exposure and painted by excitement, the face stained with powder, with jacket rent, trousers torn and the blanket in shreds, printing in the dust of battle the tracks of his shoeless feet. No monument can be built high enough to commemorate the memory of a typical private soldier of the South.

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Matthew Fontaine Maury

Matthew Fontaine Maury was born on January 14, 1806 near Fredericksburg, Virginia. The years of his youth were spent in Tennessee; but he looked forward to joining the navy, emulating his older brother who was a naval officer. From 1825 to 1834, Maury made his first three extended voyages -- to Europe, around the world, and to the Pacific coast of South America. Upon his return in 1834, Maury married Ann Hull Herndon and settled in Fredericksburg.

During the years 1834 to 1841, Maury produced published works on sea navigation and detailing sea journeys. He also began writing political essays pushing for navy reform. In 1842, Maury was appointed superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments of the Navy Department in Washington. In this position he began publishing his research on oceanography and
meterology, as well as charts and sailing directions. By the fall of 1853 Maury had become internationally recognized for his work. He was sent to an international congress at Brussels as the United States representative. Maury's system of recording the oceanographic data of naval vessels and merchant marine ships was thereafter adopted world-wide. In 1855, he
published The Physical Geography of the Sea, which is now credited as "thefirst textbook of modern oceanography".

Maury had always been very interested in the commercial construction of the South. As tensions increased between the South and the North, his regional interests became solidified. On April 20,1861, three days after Virginia seceeded from the Union, Maury resigned from the United States Navy. Several days later, he accepted the position of commander in the Confederate States
Navy. Because of his international fame, he was sent to England as an spokesperson for the Confederate government and the Southern cause. During the Civil War, Maury was successful in acquiring war vessels for the Confederacy and in the progress he made in harbor defense, experimenting with electrical mines.

After spending a few post-Civil War years in England, Maury returned to Lexington, Virginia in 1868 to accept the position of professor of meterology at Virginia Military Institute. In the fall of 1872, Maury became ill during one of his lecturing tours. He died several months later on February 1, 1873 and was temporarily buried in Lexington. Maury's body was then moved to Hollywood Cemetary in Richmond where it remains today.

During Maury's lifetime, he was recognized by numerous nations & societies. For example, "Knight of the Order of St. Ann" by the Emperor of Russia, "Commander of the Legion of Honour" by the Emperor of France, etc.

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History of Virginia's Lee-Jackson-Maury Day

For quite possibly over 40 years in Virginia, the holiday was celebrated on January 19th and was called "Lee-Jackson-Maury Day". But, as with most things in Virginia, this holiday has seen many changes since its beginnings in 1889/90.

The Commonwealth of Virginia first honored General Robert E. Lee with "Lee Day" during the 1889/90 session of the Virginia General Assembly, in Chapter 150 of the Acts of Assembly.

In 1904, Chapter 137 of the Acts amended the original "Lee Day" act to include General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, hence the birth of "Lee-Jackson Day".

According to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article (10 November 1929), the Matthew Fontaine Maury Association induced "the State Board of Education to designate Maury's birthday, January 14, Maury Day in the schools (this was done June 27,1916)." Thus began "Lee Jackson Maury Day" in VA.

In 1978, the General Assembly passed Chapter 7 of the Acts commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., to be observed on January 1. In 1984, "Lee Jackson King Day" was inaugurated and was observed on the 3rd Monday in January.

During the 2000 session of the General Assembly, Chapters 392 and 454 of the Acts of Assembly separated the "Lee Jackson King" holiday into two holidays, with "Lee Jackson Day" celebrated on the Friday preceding the third Monday in January, and designating the third Monday as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This brought the state MLK holiday in line with the federal MLK day.

It is believed Maury began to get dropped or lost from the holiday somewhere along in the late 1960's. Mary Clark, Director of State and Federal Documents Programs of the Library of Virginia has compiled various information regarding this particular holiday and its many, many changes over the years. The Virginia Historical Society also has documented information on the holiday during its changes.
www.lva.lib.va.us/state or www.vahistorical.org

 

 

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