Robert E. Lee - Wikipedia: "When Virginia declared its secession from the Union in April 1861, Lee chose to follow his home state, despite his desire for the country to remain intact and an offer of a senior Union command. During the first year of the Civil War, Lee served as a senior military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. Once he took command of the main field army in 1862 he soon emerged as a shrewd tactician and battlefield commander, winning most of his battles, all against far superior Union armies. Lee's strategic foresight was more questionable, and both of his major offensives into Union territory ended in defeat. Lee's aggressive tactics, which resulted in high casualties at a time when the Confederacy had a shortage of manpower, have come under criticism in recent years. Lee surrendered his entire army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. By this time, Lee had assumed supreme command of the remaining Southern armies; other Confederate forces swiftly capitulated after his surrender. Lee rejected the proposal of a sustained insurgency against the Union and called for reconciliation between the two sides.
Lee conferred political legitimacy on the Confederacy, which thought of itself as a better representation of the [racist] founding values of the United States - where individual states were the true political units, and the national government only meant to do limited central tasks. This ironically meant that the Confederate army was not sufficiently empowered to win battles because states refused to empower the national army.
Here is Lee on slavery, justifying it as "good for the black people." He's against it in general, but his racism was so strong that he justified Confederate slavery.
> In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. 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. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.
Lee was married to George Washington's step-great-granddaughter, and was a known opposer to secession. He said "As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and institutions, and would defend any State if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation."
Everything but honor - Lee felt more obligated by honor to defend Virginia and slavery than he did to defend the Union, and turned down command of the Union forces defending DC before resigning from the US Army. The commanding general of the union army wanted him to have a top command, and he had previously served with Ulysses Grant - so both sides valued him as a prize. His whole family was pro-union and 40% of Virginia's army officers sided with the Union as well, but not Lee.
During the war, Lee had some victories but also decided against advice to launch a disastrous assault at Gerrysburg, PIckett's charge, from which the Confederacy never recovered. After the war, Lee also did some important things to contribute to national reconciliation: he rejected the proposal of a sustained insurgency against the Union and called for reconciliation between the two sides. He said "So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South."
However, he also signed a political letter in 1868 opposition southern reconciliation that said "The idea that the Southern people are hostile to the negroes and would oppress them, if it were in their power to do so, is entirely unfounded. They have grown up in our midst, and we have been accustomed from childhood to look upon them with kindness."
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