Charlottesville and Robert E. Lee

From the BBC:

The “Unite the Right” march was called to protest against plans to remove a statue of a general who had fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the US Civil War.

The statue in question, located in Charlottesville, VA, is of General Robert E. Lee. Whilst the BBC’s description is technically accurate, the description is misleading, probably deliberately so: their coverage of Charlottesville is a litany of innuendo and smears, including Trump being a white supremacist. One wouldn’t expect anything else from the BBC of course, but it’s worth looking closer at Robert E. Lee and the reasons why he fought for the Confederacy.

When I was in Nigeria I read James McPherson’s excellent Battle Cry of Freedom, which tells us (pages 280-81):

Lee had made clear his dislike of slavery, which he described in 1856 as “a moral and political evil.” Until the day Virginia left the Union he had also spoken against secession.

But with Virginia’s decision, everything changed. “I must side either with or against my section,” Lee told a northern friend. His choice was foreordained by birth and blood: “I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children.” On the very day he learned of Virginia’s secession, April 18, Lee also received the offer of Union command. He told his friend General Scott regretfully that he must not only decline, but must also resign from the army. “Save in defense of my native State,” said Lee, “I never desire again to draw my sword.”

Most officers from the upper South made a similar decision to go with their states, some without hesitation, others with the same bodeful presentiments that Lee expressed on May 5: “I foresee that the country will have to pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation perhaps for our national sins.”

In other words, Lee didn’t fight for slavery and secession – and actually opposed both – but regretfully resigned from the United States army in order to defend his native Virginia – the same State that now wants to tear down his statue. I found the reasons various people gave for choosing sides in the American Civil War fascinating, but the complexities of each choice have largely been ignored in contemporary discussions on the subject. I guess the BBC and their ilk prefer to stoke the flames of a race war by implying Lee was fighting to preserve slavery.

Well, they’re getting what they wanted, aren’t they?

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34 thoughts on “Charlottesville and Robert E. Lee

  1. It’s not my field, and I don’t doubt that Lee was an honourable man.
    I also suspect that many on the Union side would have been astonished that the principal casus belli was slavery.
    But Lee ended up fighting on behalf of slave states.

    As E H Carr put it a generation ago, history isn’t made by great men, it’s made by historians.

  2. But Lee ended up fighting on behalf of slave states.

    He did. Similarly, millions marched in London on behalf of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

  3. “I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children”

    Yet another reason for the BBC and fellow travellers to despise him. Imagine identifying with anything so gauche as your own people, culture and birthplace! What a white nationalist extremist!!

  4. I wasn’t one of them Tim.
    I thought it was a good idea to get rid of him. Maybe I was wrong.

  5. I wasn’t one of them Tim.
    I thought it was a good idea to get rid of him. Maybe I was wrong.

    Nor was I, and I did too.

  6. Imagine identifying with anything so gauche as your own people, culture and birthplace!

    Exactly!

  7. All that notwithstanding I don’t find it unreasonable to move the statue to a museum or a less prominent location. Any black person who goes past it is unlikely to reflect on the patriotism of General Lee, even if they were aware of his anti-slavery views. It’s not like there are loads of statues of Nazi commanders in Germany (I assume).

    As for Trump, this is just another example of Trump doing something which has the MSM all in a tizzy, but the majority of people finds unremarkable. If Trump does nothing else during his four years, he will at least have destroyed the credibility of the MSM and their fellow travellers in the Democratic party and GOPe.

  8. I watched the long but fascinating Ken Burns’ TV documentary series on the US Civil War (aware that as I did so that it less of a civil war and more a war of independence as the south did not want to rule America) and got a good insight into the thinking of the south, especially from the late — and I thought excellent — historian Shelby Foote.

    The impression I got was that mostly Lincoln wanted to preserve the union, not merely to end slavery, and the south fought bravely but with the shadow of defeat always hanging over them. They knew the longer it went on the industrial might of the north would crush them but they had to take a stand for what they believed was their right. Again, not the sort of sentiments the callow BBC or the shiftless Antifa rabble can approve of.

    Anyway, it’s easy to assault a statue because it can’t fight back. If anyone ever thinks the left is brave, there are countless examples of this sort of thing from masked people burning inanimate flags to night time raids to deface war memorials which, oddly, stand to pay tribute to ordinary people who had enough gumption to risk dying for what they believed. Not the sort of thing lefties approve of in the west.

  9. All that notwithstanding I don’t find it unreasonable to move the statue to a museum or a less prominent location.

    I have no idea what to do with the statues, but Streetwise Professor makes some interesting remarks here. I wasn’t so much remarking on the plans for the statue as what looked to be lazy, ignorant, or deliberate misrepresentation of General Lee in order to skew the article even further.

    Any black person who goes past it is unlikely to reflect on the patriotism of General Lee

    True, but I don’t think historical monuments should have to be universally accepted.

  10. and got a good insight into the thinking of the south, especially from the late — and I thought excellent — historian Shelby Foote.

    Shelby Foote is excellent, and probably the leading authority on the American Civil War.

    The impression I got was that mostly Lincoln wanted to preserve the union, not merely to end slavery, and the south fought bravely but with the shadow of defeat always hanging over them.

    Indeed, Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the Union, not end slavery per se. Details of the motivations on both sides appear to have been glossed over.

  11. @Tim

    “True, but I don’t think historical monuments should have to be universally accepted.”

    But… but what about those people who might be offended?! Never mind whether their understanding of the facts is accurate, complete or whatever, someone, somewhere may be made to feel a bit uneasy.

    Forget your so called brave soldiers and ‘history’, there’s a 21 year old fabric design student who is minoring in gender intersectionality and needs to protected as she walks by this phallic representation of PoC suppression.

    You bastard.

  12. “Forget your so called brave soldiers and ‘history’, there’s a 21 year old fabric design student who is minoring in gender intersectionality and needs to protected as she walks by this phallic representation of PoC suppression.”

    Don’t worry I have a nice mental health plan worked out, and plenty of medication when needed… Care in the community if possible and if not Broadmoor.

  13. The history of our Civil War is broad, deep, and filled with conflicting currents. Like the Mississippi river it requires in depth study and thought to understand just one part of it. Trying to encapsulate one player in it in a single sentence, like the BBC did, is idiotic.

  14. But isn’t this what the Left do? They complain and protest about alleged atrocities against civilisation while wearing Che Guevara T shirts showing an image of a murdering, torturing, rapist. They want to change history the way that Stalin and Mao had their so called enemies removed from doctored photographs and rewritten histories. What was Winston Smith’s job but to alter past copies of the state run newspaper to fit in with the approved policies of the Party. In years to come, Labour newspapers such as The Guardian will show that Diane Abbott, for instance, was the greatest mathematical genius since, and probably eclipsing, Einstein while Jeremy Corbin was responsible for the cure for cancer.
    You only have to look at the celebrations and street parties in Labour strongholds on the death of Margaret Thatcher, a frail elderly lady who, in her prime, was the greatest post war Prime Minister since Churchill. The Left only do hate for those with different viewpoints and use accusations rather than logic and reason.
    Look at the Frankfurt School of Thought and see how many of their suggestions have been incorporated into law by Labour governments, of have persuaded society to accept them as normal progression.
    The problem is that Labour is looking at ‘1984’ as a training manual.

  15. You only have to look at the celebrations and street parties in Labour strongholds on the death of Margaret Thatcher, a frail elderly lady who, in her prime, was the greatest post war Prime Minister since Churchill. The Left only do hate for those with different viewpoints and use accusations rather than logic and reason.

  16. A good place to put the Gen Lee statue might be wherever they send all the old statues of Lenin, Saddam, Qaddafi, etc.
    I’m really trying to figure out how objecting to commemoration of tyranny is now a “left wing” thing all of a sudden. The stars and bars and the hammer and sickle are both symbols of slavery.

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  18. Interesting thought, polkamatic. I very much look forward to the proper resting place of the inevitable Obama statue as soon as unveiled.

    Also, the tyranny of making your own way in the world… my goodness, why has no one thought of this before? So much easier to be told what to do by people with more guns and money, hey?

  19. Maybe they should get the Wee Fat Bloke in Korea to nuke statues of Washington and Jefferson, those notorious slave masters. To make it easier for him they could collect them all together and store them temporarily in Berkeley, California.

  20. Anti-Fascists pulling down statues – wait until they start burning the books…

  21. Also, the tyranny of making your own way in the world… my goodness, why has no one thought of this before? So much easier to be told what to do by people with more guns and money, hey?

    @Watcher,
    I was thinking more of the tyranny of literally enslaving people, actually, but I suppose your definition of the term might be more, ahem, situational…

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  23. I was thinking more of the tyranny of literally enslaving people

    There’s rather a lot of classical art in Europe and monuments in Britain that are going to have to go, then.

    Judging the past by the moral standards of the present is fraught with hypocrisy and irony. Just ask the Bhamiyan Buddhas.

  24. “There’s rather a lot of classical art in Europe and monuments in Britain that are going to have to go, then.”

    It wont need to come to this if we organise and act now.

    The first thing we have to do in Britain is to compile a list of persona non grata. This list would have to be restricted to the top levels of the fifth columnists only. The traitorous leaders of the state, police, politic, church, military, intelligence, judiciary, education and media would have to be identified, arrested and rounded up on the first night and all at the same time in the early morning hours. They would then be taken to our command center for their initial interrogation assessment and will then be classified as either very high risk or high risk. The very high risk would be dispatched by air to the Smolensk Rendition Centre and the high risk to Stuart Island Rehabilitation Farm off the coast of the South Island of NZ.

    Our patriotic spokespersons would simultaneously announce the taking back of our nation on all breakfast tv shows by daybreak, Piers Morgan will have landed in Smolensk by the time the show is aired.

    Our fine cultural heritage monuments and the like would be quite safe on our streets and the statues would be smiling knowingly.

  25. I think the monuments to the Confederacy should stay on. We can’t deny or rewrite history. So we need to keep them to remember what happened. This movement to destroy statues and re-write history to suit people’s agenda is part of why I distrust the left.But speaking as a black person, the issue is more complicated than it seems.
    I have never been south of Maryland , apart from a trip to Florida once so I can’t comment in great detail on the issue

  26. When do the pyramids of Egypt get taken down. They were built by slaves weren’t They?

  27. Dear Mr Newman

    The Orwellian Prophesy continues to unfold. The memory hole gets bigger by the day.

    @ Watcher on August 15, 2017 at 5:00 pm said:

    “So much easier to be told what to do by people with more guns and money, hey?”

    “So much easier to be told what to do by people with your guns and your money, hey?”

    Fixed it …

    DP

  28. Yes, Lee was fighting to preserve slavery. Slavery was the fundamental institution of the society Lee grew up in. His whole family and all his relatives and neighbors were slave-owners, whose wealth came from the exploitation of slave labor. It was that same class which controlled the government of Virginia and declared secession. When Lee spoke of “Virginia”, he meant them (not, for instance, the mountaineers of western Virginia, few of whom owned slaves, who rejected secession, fought for the Union, and created West Virginia).

    The phrase quoted by McPherson, “a moral and political evil”, is what Lee thought slavery was for white slave-owners – a corrupting influence, like drinking too much or gambling. He thought it was good for blacks – he says as much in the very letter that phrase was taken from.

    He never once said or suggested that it was wrong for white people to force black people to work for the whites’ benefit. He never rebuked any of his slave-holding acquaintances, or urged them to emancipate their slaves.

    However, he did vehemently denounce all efforts to abolish slavery. (Again, see that letter.)

    “Lee the anti-slavery Confederate” is one of the most popular myths of Confederate apologists. It should die.

  29. The phrase quoted by McPherson, “a moral and political evil”, is what Lee thought slavery was for white slave-owners – a corrupting influence, like drinking too much or gambling. He thought it was good for blacks – he says as much in the very letter that phrase was taken from.

    It seems extraordinary that McPherson would neglect to mention it, and misrepresent the man so much.

  30. Mr. Newman: the text of Lee’s letter is here. Money quote:

    “I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.”

    I’ve read a lot about the Civil War, including several overall histories other than McPherson. I don’t know exactly what he quoted.

  31. I’ve read a lot about the Civil War, including several overall histories other than McPherson. I don’t know exactly what he quoted.

    Then I’ll defer to your broader knowledge: I’ve only really read McPherson, although obviously he cites others, particularly Foote.

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