The Year-Round Patriots' Corner 







Robert E. Lee


Anything that can be said of Robert E. Lee has already been said by Lee himself and others much more eloquently that I could ever embellish.  This page is dedicated to facts and opinions of this man, who has been called, “the ultimate American Patriot.”  As you read this collection of articles you will find that this is the epitome of truth, and that his memory is deserving of every good thing said about him.  Are today’s school children learning these things or are they instead only introduced to the losing general of America’s only Civil War with little more than a glimpse at his character? 


I must wonder how different the moral character of America might be today if more time had been spent in recent years exploring and presenting the real character of American heroes, such as Robert E. Lee, above some of the fluff we have been taught about such characters as Abraham Lincoln.  I daresay that Lincoln was not nearly as beloved or even deserving of his place in history. 


Enjoy this collection of articles about this remarkable man and know him as you may have never known him before.  I have sourced each section to credit the authors and to allow you to discover even more than is contained here from each of these sources.  Deb V  


Definition of a Gentleman


Robert. Edward Lee


The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman. The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly--the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.




Robert E. Lee's Opinion Regarding Slavery
This letter was written by Lee in response to a speech given by then President Pierce.

Robert E. Lee letter dated December 27, 1856:

       I was much pleased the with President's message. His views of the systematic and progressive efforts of certain people at the North to interfere with and change the domestic institutions of the South are truthfully and faithfully expressed. The consequences of their plans and purposes are also clearly set forth. These people must be aware that their object is both unlawful and foreign to them and to their duty, and that this institution, for which they are irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil and servile war. There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. Although the abolitionist must know this, must know that he has neither the right not the power of operating, except by moral means; that to benefit the slave he must not excite angry feelings in the master; that, although he may not approve the mode by which Providence accomplishes its purpose, the results will be the same; and that the reason he gives for interference in matters he has no concern with, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbor, -still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course. . . . Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?


Remembering Robert E. Lee

by Gail Jarvis

We shouldn’t let the month of January slip by without paying our respects to one of finest men our country has produced; Robert E. Lee. January 19, was the 195th anniversary of the birthday of Robert E. Lee; a very special day, not only for Southerners but for all Americans who admire true heroes.

Unlike media created heroes, Lee doesn’t have a hint of scandal that has to be covered up. The facts of his life may be recounted without modification. Theodore Roosevelt characterized Lee this way: "the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth." Lee is also venerated in Europe as evidenced by this tribute by Winston Churchill: "one of the noblest Americans who ever lived."

In 1998, a Midwestern college decided to publish a book about the persons they considered to be six authentic heroes of our nation. They selected George Washington, Daniel Boone, Louisa May Alcott, George Washington Carver, Robert E. Lee, and Andrew Carnegie. Excellent choices; a group of outstanding people and a selection made without kowtowing to current political trends.

Robert E. Lee’s father was a Revolutionary War hero, a three-time governor of Virginia and a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Two members of the Lee family risked their lives by signing the Declaration of Independence. Lee married Mary Custis, great-granddaughter of George Washington and she inherited Arlington House, Washington’s antebellum estate in Virginia that eventually became home to Lee, Mary, and their seven children, before being confiscated by Lincoln. He turned it into a Union cemetary with an eye to making a return to its owners impossible.

After graduating from West Point, Lee became a member of the U.S. Army and began a long and remarkable military career. He distinguished himself in the Mexican War earning three honorary field promotions. His accomplishments were many including Assistant to the Chief of the Engineer Corps and Superintendent of West Point. In later years he was appointed president of a college in Lexington, Virginia that was later renamed Washington and Lee University in honor of his outstanding years of service.

Interestingly, when the Civil War started, Robert E. Lee was offered the command of the Union forces, but after his home state, Virginia, seceded, he resigned from the U.S. Army and joined with the Confederates. Many people wonder why Lee would turn down the command of the Union forces and support the Confederacy. But loyalty was one of Lee’s bedrock traits and he couldn’t wage war against Virginia and the South. Also, recent historians are presenting a more balanced view of the long festering and complex events leading to the Civil War. (An example being inequitable tariffs – the South paid 87% of the nation’s total tariffs in 1860 alone.) The new research contained in these books puts a new light on Lee’s decision to fight for the South.

I suspect that another reason Lee decided to support the South was President Lincoln’s refusal to meet with Southern representatives to try to reach a compromise to avoid war. Although members of Lincoln’s own cabinet as well as newspapers in America and Europe encouraged the President to attempt a negotiated settlement, he remained adamant. Lincoln rejected all requests for discussions that might have led to a peaceful resolution.


Robert E. Lee vigorously opposed slavery and as early as 1856 made this statement: "There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil." Lee also knew that the use of slaves was coming to an end. Cyrus McCormick’s 1831 invention of the mule-drawn mechanical reaper sounded the death knell for the use of slave labor. Before the Civil War began, 250,000 slaves had already been freed.


Robert E. Lee did not own slaves, but many Union generals did. When his father-in-law died, Lee took over the management of the plantation his wife had inherited and immediately began freeing the slaves. By the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, every slave in Lee’s charge had been freed. Notably, some Union generals didn’t free their slaves until the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.


During the Civil War, Union commanders pillaged the South, abusing civilians in unspeakable ways, destroying railroads and factories, and burning private homes, public buildings, schools and libraries. Union forces also slaughtered livestock and decimated crops, after they took what they wanted. Periodic reports detailing their carnage were sent to General Halleck in Washington who shared them with President Lincoln. In a typical report issued on September 17, 1863, Union General Sherman added this comment; "We will remove every obstacle-if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper." Halleck showed this report to Lincoln, who enjoyed it so much that he demanded that it be published.


When Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania, many Southerners hoped that he would give the Yankees a taste of their own medicine. But Lee was a man of integrity. Not only did he prohibit "wanton injury to private property," he also ordered his soldiers to pay for any supplies taken from civilians.


Most histories have treated General Lee kindly, even those written shortly after the Civil War. This respect accorded to Lee infuriates those who want to tarnish his reputation, and they have even managed to force textbook writers to reword their references to Lee and, in many cases, delete any mention of him. Also, some cities have removed portraits and other Lee memorabilia as a result of pressure from politicos who haven’t taken the time to learn the facts about this famous Southern gentleman. Portraits and plaques honoring Lee have been slashed and burned, and statues of the General have been spray-painted with obscenities.


Never the less, current biographies continue to enhance Robert E. Lee’s well-earned reputation. One journalist, after reviewing many of these new histories made this comment. "The South may have succumbed to overwhelming military force, but it triumphed in at least one sense. It produced perhaps the greatest symbol to come out of America’s most disastrous conflict, someone who combined combat and moral excellence and who, once defeated, worked to heal the wounds of war. It is a record that deserves to be retold constantly."


Years after the war, Lee still commanded respect in both the North and the South. On one occasion he was approached by a group of businessmen concerning a questionable commercial venture. After offering the General $50,000, they told him; "You will have to do nothing. All we want is the use of your name." Robert E. Lee’s response was what we would have expected;

"Sirs, my name is the heritage of my parents. It is all I have, and it is not for sale."


If I had to pick one American to represent the best values of our nation, I would choose Robert E. Lee. He stands taller than anyone else. We must continue to honor him every January on the anniversary of his birth because;

"Men of such magnitude are rare in history. They come but once in a century."


Robert Edward Lee

General in chief of the Confederate armies in the American Civil War, b. Jan. 19, 1807, at Stratford, Westmoreland co., Va.; son of Henry (“Light-Horse Harry”) Lee.

Pre–Civil War Career

After graduating second in his class from West Point in 1829, Lee was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers. He married (1831) Mary Anne Randolph Custis, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, and Arlington House, her father's residence in Virginia, was their home until the Civil War (see Arlington House National Memorial). In the Mexican War, Lee made a brilliant record as captain of engineers with Gen. Winfield Scott's army, winning three brevets; his reconnaissances during the advance on Mexico City were important to the American success.

Lee was superintendent at West Point from 1852 to 1855, when he was made lieutenant colonel of the 2d Cavalry and sent to W Texas. He commanded that regiment from 1857 to 1861. While at Arlington House on an extended leave, he was called to lead the company of U.S. marines that captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry in Oct., 1859.

Civil War Leadership

In Feb., 1861 (after the secession of the lower South), General Scott, with whom Lee was a great favorite, recalled him from Texas. Lee had no sympathy with either secession or slavery and, loving the Union and the army, deprecated the thought of sectional conflict. But in his tradition, loyalty to Virginia came first, and upon Virginia's secession he resigned (April 20, 1861) from the army. His resolve not to fight against the South had already led him to decline (April 18) the field command of the U.S. forces.

On April 23 he assumed command of the military and naval forces of Virginia, which he organized thoroughly before they were absorbed by the Confederacy. Lee then became military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and was made a Confederate general. After the failure of his efforts to coordinate the activity of Confederate forces in the western part of Virginia (July–Oct., 1861), Lee organized the S Atlantic coast defenses.

In March, 1862, Davis recalled him to Richmond. Lee's plan to prevent reinforcements from reaching Gen. George B. McClellan, whose army was threatening Richmond, was brilliantly executed by T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. When Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at Fair Oaks in the Peninsular campaign, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia (June 1, 1862). His leadership of that army through the next three years has placed him among the world's great commanders.

Lee immediately took the offensive, and after ending McClellan's threat to Richmond in the Seven Days battles (June 26–July 2), he thoroughly defeated John Pope at the second battle of Bull Run (Aug. 29–30). McClellan, however, checked him in his first Northern invasion, the Antietam campaign (Sept.). Advances by Ambrose E. Burnside and Joseph Hooker were brutally repulsed in the battles of Fredericksburg (Dec. 13; see Fredericksburg, battle of) and Chancellorsville (May 2–4, 1863), though in the latter victory Lee lost his ablest lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson.

Lee's second invasion of the North resulted in the Confederate defeat in the Gettysburg campaign (June–July). He sorely missed the services of Jackson, and some historians attribute his defeat at Gettysburg to the failures of his subordinates, particularly James Longstreet. Other authorities argue that Lee underestimated his opposition and failed to impose his will upon his subordinates. Lee assumed full blame for the defeat, but Davis refused to entertain his offer of resignation. After Gettysburg, Lee did not engage in any major campaign until May, 1864, when Ulysses S. Grant moved against him. He repulsed Grant's direct assaults in the Wilderness campaign (May–June), but was not strong enough to turn him back, and in July, 1864, Grant began the long siege of Petersburg.

Lee's appointment as general in chief of all Confederate armies came (Feb., 1865) when the Confederacy had virtually collapsed. On April 2, the Army of the Potomac broke through the Petersburg defenses, and Lee's forces retreated. One week later Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse

After the war Lee became president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). Although President Andrew Johnson never granted him the official amnesty for which he applied, Lee nevertheless urged the people of the South to work for the restoration of peace and harmony in a united country.

Character and Influence

Many historians consider Robert E. Lee the greatest general of the Civil War, and it is generally agreed that his military genius, hampered though it was by lack of men and materiel, was a principal factor in keeping the Confederacy alive. Others point out, however, that he never developed a coordinated overall strategy, that he failed to provide an adequate supply system for his armies, and that he was reluctant to deal with difficult subordinates such as Longstreet. Of admirable personal character, Lee was idolized by his soldiers and the people of the South and soon won the admiration of the North. He has remained an ideal of the South and an American hero.


Lee's Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia

by Robert E. Lee

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.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles who have remained steadfast to the last that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged.

You may take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.


He Lost a War and Won Immortality

by Louis Redmond


Even among the free, it is not always easy to live together. There came a time, less than a hundred years ago, when the people of this country disagreed so bitterly among themselves that some of them felt they could not go on living with the rest.

A test of arms was made to decide whether Americans should remain one nation or become two. The armies of those who believed in two nations were led by a man named Robert E. Lee.

What about Lee? What kind of man was he who nearly split the history of the United States down the middle and made two separate books of it?

They say you had to see him to believe that a man so fine could exist. He was handsome. He was clever. He was brave. He was gentle. He was generous and charming, noble and modst, admired and beloved. He had never failed at anything in his upright soldier's life. He was a born winner, this Robert E. Lee. Except for once. In the greatest contest of his life, in the war beween the South and the North, Robert E. Lee lost.

Now there were men who came with smouldering eyes to Lee and said: "Let's not accept this result as final. Let's keep our anger alive. Let's be grim and unconvinced, and wear our bitterness like a medal. You can be our leader in this."

But Lee shook his head at those men. "Abandon your animosities," he said, "and make your sons Americans."

And what did he do himself when his war was lost? He took a job as president of a tiny college, with forty students and four profes- sors, at a salary of $1500 a year. He had commanded thousands of young men in battle. Now he wanted to prepare a few hun- dred of them for the duties of peace. So the countrymen of Robert E. Lee saw how a born winner loses, and it seemed to them that in defeat he won his most lasting victory.

There is an art of losing, and Robert E. Lee is its finest teacher. In a democracy, where opposing viewpoints regularly meet for a test of ballots, it is good for all of us to know how to lose occasionally, how to yield peacefully, for the sake of freedom. Lee is our master in this. The man who fought against the Union showed us what unity means.


Biography of Gen. Robert E. Lee


US military leader, Confederate commander in the American Civil War, and military strategist. In 1859 he suppressed John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Lee had freed his own slaves long before the war began, and he was opposed to secession, however his devotion to his native Virginia led him to join the Confederacy. At the outbreak of war he became military adviser to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and in 1862 commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee actually had been offered command of the Union armies, but he resigned his commission to return to Virginia. During 1862-63 he made several raids into Northern territory but after his defeat at Gettysburg was compelled to take the defensive; he surrendered 1865 at Appomattox.

Lee graduated from West Point and distinguished himself in the Mexican War 1846-48. In 1861 he joined the army of the Confederacy of Southern states; in 1862 he received the command of the Army of Northern Virginia and won the Seven Days' Battle defending Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, against General McClellan's Union forces. In 1863 Lee won victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, both in Virginia, and in 1864 at Cold Harbor, Virginia, but was besieged in Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865. He surrendered to General Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Courthouse. Following the war he was paroled and served as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). His home had been seized by Union forces and now is part of Arlington National Cemetery.


Lee, Southern Gentleman

From the 1880s until WW1, Virginia authors dominated publication on the subject of the Civil War. Thus, the Virginia version of the Cause and of Lee was transmitted by writers such as Thomas Nelson Page, Robert E. lee, Jr., Francis Hopkinson Smith, Robert Stiels, Constance Cary Harrison, Philip A. Bruce, and Sara Pryor. Lee and his biography began to act as a symbol for the Lost Cause in the South. The Lee story was picked up across the region and held up as representing the mixture of the noble and the tragic in the South.

Fueled by the constant public advocacy of Southern men of letters, Lee's star continued to rise as the twentieth century began. In 1901, his memory was honored for the first time in a Northern venue, as he was among the first 29 people inducted into New York University's new Hall of Fame. That same year, Current Literature printed a poem composed in his honor by (of all people) Julia Ward Howe, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." In 1902, prominent Bostonian Charles Francis Adams, in a Phi Beta Kappa speech at the University of Chicago, proposed that a statue of Lee be erected in Washington. To justify his position he drew a parallel with Oliver Cromwell, a one-time rebel against the crown, whose likeness was eventually placed in the yard of Parliament House in London. As with Cromwell's statue, he stressed, Lee's statue should be privately financed. He reiterated this proposition the next year at the banquet of the Confederate Veterans Camp of New York, where it was well received Times.

Despite the efforts of the Grand Army, plans to honor Lee continued, as did the positive portrayals of him in print. Perhaps the most influential was collected by his son, Robert E. Lee, Jr, also known as Rooney. Recollections and Letters of Robert E. Lee, published in 1904, was a loosely structured and unfailingly positive tale of Rooney's relationship with his father. Reaction to the book was almost universally enthusiastic, with glowing reviews appearing in the New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The Dial, and Outlook Fillial piety may account for the nature of Rooney Lee's book, but other laudatory works came forth from apparently disinterested figures. In 1912, for instance, Gamaliel Bradford, a descendent of William Bradford and a self-described "psychological biographer," published Lee the American. Relying on material from Fitzhugh Lee (the General's nephew), Rooney Lee, and Lee partisan J. William Jones, Bradford seems to have magnified certain admirable traits in his subject until a near-superhuman figure emerged.

In his Definition of a Gentleman, Lee actually speaks for himself. He describes the qualities which are used by others to describe him. A gentleman yields his power wisely and in a timely manner. He forgives and forgets and shows grace. In this passage Lee is delineating the qualities of one icon--the gentleman--but providing his admirers with a description of another icon--himself.

The Invocation on the Dedication of the Mountain makes many a reference to a whole nation appreciating Lee's "valor," and "greatness." However, in each verse, Carroll addresses "Marse Robert," rather than a less loaded title. Stone Mountain itself functions similarly--establishing an icon in a national place which also happens to be a southern place.

In The Last Gentle Knight, the Kappa Alpha Order gives a brief history of their organization's connection to Lee. He is their "spiritual founder." With a biographical organization the writer reveals the qualities that make Lee a desirable figurehead: "moderation, self control, duty, sincerity, consideration of others, courage, special regard for ladies, courtesy, honor, and deep religious conviction. . . ." Among the admirable features of Lee are mentioned "distinguished families," "plantar aristocracy," and the desire to take "young men" of the "shattered South" and to make them "'good Americans.'" This article illustrates Lee as a Kappa Alpha icon, a Southern icon, and the beginnings of a national icon.

Upon visiting Monument Avenue in Richmond, Stein discusses her feelings about and understanding of Lee and of the Civil War in That Civil War. She does not uphold the virtues mentioned elsewhere in connection to Lee, rather she refutes his hero status and mocks those Southerners who do believe "yes he was a great man a great great man and we all love him." Regardless of Stein's opinion of Lee, her very discussion acknowledges his role as a particularly southern icon.

Lee in the Mountains attempts to show Lee in a more personal, more vital, light. In discussing Lee's feelings about the last days of the war, Davidson uses vocabulary common to the classic, iconographic treatment. He fights for a "sacred cause" for "old Virginia times" with "boys whose eyes lift up to mine." Davidson does personalize the end of Lee's war, but he imposes his very un-personal, iconic understanding in doing so.

In the excellent novel, For the Love of Robert E. Lee, Harper creates a seventeen year old South Carolina girl who, in the 1960s, falls in love with Lee. Garnet falls in love with her understanding of Lee as a person, but at the novel's end, from which this passage is taken, she has changed her interest to Lee as icon. She explicitly states the differing southern and national icons.




Former Knight Commander John Temple Graves, a famous orator of his time, took the floor of the 1923 Convention to make one of his highly romanticized banquet toasts. In a few moments, his eloquence had not only raised the glass of every man in the room, but also captured the attention of the entire Order.

Graves' Convention toast heralded Robert E. Lee, and first designated him "spiritual founder" of Kappa Alpha Order. Since then, KAs have referred to Lee as such.

The designation Graves coined in 1923 expressed the feeling KAs had held for Lee for almost six decades. The four students who founded KA, and a fifth who wrote the Ritual, were profoundly influenced by Lee. He exemplified for them the highest standards, the most chivalrous conduct and the finest traits of manliness. Today, portraits of Lee are proudly displayed in KA chapter houses, and annually, on the anniversary of Lee's birthday, active and alumni chapters gather for Convivium, a celebration commemorating the founding of KA and Lee's spiritual ties to the Order.

Robert Edward Lee, born January 19, 1807, at his family's plantation (Stratford) in Westmoreland County, Virginia, was destined for greatness. Through his father, General Henry Lee, the celebrated "Light Horse Harry" of Revolutionary War fame, and his mother, Ann Hill Carter, he was a member of two of the most distinguished families of early America. The Lees and Carters belonged to the politically and socially influential planter aristocracy of the South. Lee counted among his ancestors members of Virginia's colonial House of Burgesses, two signers of the Declaration of Independence, members of Congress, a Cabinet official, several governors of Virginia, diplomats and military officers. Lee's family background presented him a tradition of patriotism, service and duty.

While he was still a child, the Lees moved from Stratford to Alexandria, Virginia, on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. There, Lee matured quickly. He was forced to accept, at an early age, obligations brought on by his mother's chronic poor health, his father's involvement in political controversy and ruinous land speculations, and his father's frequent absences from home and subsequent death in 1818.

Lee entered West Point in 1825. From the beginning, he demonstrated the qualities of leadership and command that would characterize his long service as a soldier. When he graduated four years later, he was cadet corp adjutant, head of his class in tactics and artillery and second in general standing. He also graduated without receiving a single demerit.

By the time of his commissioning, Lee had developed traits of character which would distinguish him from his contemporaries and make him a legend after death. Of these traits, moderation, self control, duty, sincerity, consideration of others, courage, special regard for ladies, courtesy, honor, and deep religious conviction, he believed duty and honor to be especially important. Lee once stated, "There is true glory and true honor, the glory of duty done and the honor of integrity and principles." He also wrote, "Duty is the sublimest word in the language. You cannot do more than your duty; you should never wish to do less."

Lee's career as a U.S. Army officer began with assignments in Georgia and Virginia. In 1831, he married Mary Custis, great granddaughter of Martha Washington. Mary, heiress to extensive properties, owned Arlington, a massive white columned home dominating a hill overlooking Washington from the Virginia side of the Potomac. For the next 30 years, Arlington was Lee's beloved home-- where he and Mary raised three sons and four daughters and to where he always returned from military assignments.

After an appointment as assistant to the chief of engineers in Washington, Lee supervised projects near St. Louis, Missouri, in New York Harbor, and on the Atlantic coastal defenses. Lee's first combat experience, during the Mexican War (1846-48), earned him meritorious mention and a promotion to colonel. Afterward, he was Superintendent of West Point for three years and held commands in Missouri and Texas. In 1859, he attracted national attention when he successfully suppressed John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia.

As the 1850s drew to a close, Lee was deeply concerned about the dangerous sectional antagonisms gathering momentum and threatening to disrupt the nation. Dreading the thought of civil war, he fervently hoped solutions could be found to the issues that troubled the country. However, when the secession crisis developed in 1860-61, and war between the North and South seemed imminent, Lee, compelled by his great sense of duty, resigned his commission and followed his native Virginia out of the Union. In making this decision, he declined President Abraham Lincoln's offer to command the federal armies.

As a full general in the Confederate Army, Lee contributed his considerable talent as a military leader. His skill as a strategist and capacity to rapidly analyze a combat situation, combined with his ability to arouse intense devotion in troops, furthered the Confederate cause. But, Lee and the South faced overwhelming numerical superiority, production capability and unlimited supply sources.

The struggle of the War Between the States was a tragic American epic with heroism, sacrifice and anguish on both sides. Through four years of war, Lee moved down the long, bloody road that led from the Seven Days' Battle and Second Manassas, past Antietam and Fredericksburg, to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Petersburg and Richmond, and ended at the Appomattox Courthouse.

The end of the War brought dramatic change to Lee's life. The Custis-Lee fortune was greatly reduced and Arlington was lost. His military career terminated, he was barred from public office, for which he was eminently qualified. Although he was among the first to accept the result of the War and to apply for amnesty, his petition was not acted upon until more than a century after his death. l However, Lee held no bitterness, nor did he indulge in self-pity. Determined to set an example for fellow Southerners, he hoped the emotions of war years would be forgotten and the work of rebuilding the South and creating a great, unified America could be accomplished. His superb dignity, courage, and noble character in the difficult post-war years intensified admiration for him, earning him the respect of even his former enemies. In defeat, Lee achieved his highest level of greatness.

In the summer of 1865, the Board of Trustees of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, voted unanimously to offer the college presidency to Lee. The College was in a precarious position with a very small enrollment and its buildings and facilities were seriously damaged from a war-time raid. Although he could have filled any of a number of honorable and lucrative positions available to him, the college presidency most appealed to Lee. The offer combined the opportunity to serve others, to guide young men in rebuilding the shattered South, and to educate them for the purpose, as he said, of being "good Americans." Accepting the trustees' offer, Lee moved to Lexington in October. Thus, the final phase of his career began--that of a gifted and innovative educator and inspirational leader of youth.

Lee's acceptance of the presidency was the salvation of the College. The mere word that Lee was heading the institution caused enrollment to triple, from almost 50 to 146 in the first year. Enrollment more than doubled the following year. His name attracted funds to rebuild the College and expand programs and curriculum.

Lee preserved traditional education, but added technical subjects such as agriculture, commerce and mechanical and civil engineering. But. most important of all was Lee's ability to inspire his faculty and students to excel. "Excellence" applied not only to academics, but also to general conduct, as illustrated by Lee's statement, "We have but one rule here and that is that every student must be a gentleman." One of the hallmarks of his administration was his personal interest in every student, and students returned his interest with the same affection, devotion, and respect.

Among the students at Washington College in 1865 were James Ward Wood, William Nelson Scott, Stanhope McClelland Scott, and William Archibald Walsh--all attracted by the presence of Robert E. Lee. These four united to found Kappa Alpha Order, which was originally called Phi Kappa Chi. In 1866, Samuel Zenas Ammen joined the chapter and transformed KA into an Order of Knights by rewriting the Constitution and Ritual. To Ammen and other brothers, Lee was the ultimate inspiration, and they wished to perpetuate his values. He personified the heroic knights of the past, representing their noblest ideals and traditions of chivalrous behavior. Indeed, even before his death, Lee was referred to as the "Knight of America "and "The Last Gentle Knight." It is this legacy which was adopted as the moving force of Kappa Alpha Order.

Lee died in the President's House at Washington College on October 12, 1870, and his body was entombed in the campus chapel building. Later, the grave was covered by a magnificent marble recumbent statue of Lee, lying as if asleep, carved larger than life.

"The Varlet" Copyright 1992
Kappa Alpha Order





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