Front Matter The Beginning of the U.S Franklin's Return Troubles After the War The Constitution The First President Washington's Troubles A Wonderful Invention Death of Washington The U.S. Buys Land War With African Pirates Death of Somers The First Steamboat The Gerrymander The War of 1812 "Don't Give Up the Ship" The Star-Spangled Banner Clinton's "Big Ditch" More Land Bought Jackson Stories Jackson's Presidency New Inventions Whitman's Ride The Mormons The First Telegraph The Mexican War The Slavery Quarrel Daniel Webster's Youth Webster's Speeches Early Times in California Discovery of El Dorado Rush to California The Underground Railroad The First World's Fair John Brown's Raid Lincoln's Youth The First Shot The Call to Arms The President's Decision Admiral Farragut The Monitor and Merrimac The Penninsular Campaign Barbara Frietchie Lincoln's Vow The Battle of Gettysburg The Taking of Vicksburg Riots, Raids, and Battles The Burning of Atlanta The March to the Sea Sheridan's Ride The Doings of the Fleet Lee's Surrender Decoration Day Lincoln Stories Lincoln's Rebukes A President's Son A Noble Southerner Hard Times in the South The Atlantic Cable Best Way to Settle Quarrels Our One Hundredth Birthday Gold for Greenbacks A Clever Engineer Death of Garfield The Celebration at Yorktown The Great Statue A Terrible Flood Lynch Law The Great White City The Explosion of the Maine The Battle of Manila Hobson's Brave Deed Surrender of Santiago The Hawaiian Islands The Annexation of Hawaii The Philippine War Assassination of McKinley The Panama Canal Roosevelt's Administration Two Presidents German Views The World War Since the World War

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

A Noble Southerner

Robert E. Lee, the son of Light-Horse Harry Lee, of Revolutionary fame, was, as we have seen, the principal general and hero of the Southern Confederacy. He was one of the finest men in our country. Brave, good, handsome, and well-bred, he was educated at West Point, and distinguished himself in the Mexican War.

[Illustration] from Story of the Great Republic by Helene Guerber


When the Civil War broke out, Lee sadly sent in his resignation from the United States army. He wrote to a relative: "With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home."

When war began, he was given a position of high trust in the Confederate army, and before long became its best general. Lee's influence over his men was so good that it has been said his army was as religious as Cromwell's famous Ironsides.

His family had lived so long in Virginia—where their beautiful home still stands—that he knew almost every foot of the ground. This knowledge proved very useful to him when the Confederacy bade him defend Virginia against the Army of the Potomac.

The Southerners of that region, who enjoyed fox hunting and hare coursing in times of peace, arc said to have engaged in battle with the same zest. As they went into action they often gave vent to their long and loud hunting cry. The Northern soldiers called it the "rebel yell," but when old negroes heard it they shook their woolly heads, saying: "There goes Marse Robert, or an old hare."

In spite of Lee's great ability as a general, and the successes which attended his army in the beginning of the war, things began to look very bad for the Confederates in 1864. By that time their supplies were so few that Lee and his staff lived on scant rations of corn bread, a few crackers, and bits of cabbage, with a little meat only twice a week. But, in spite of poor fare, none complained, and when Lee's servants tried to secure him better food, he quietly said: "I am content to share the rations of my men."

Lee's home in Virginia


One day Lee had a dinner in his tent, and as he had several guests, his cook—who was ashamed to serve only a small dish of cabbage—borrowed a bit of pork to put in the center. This piece of meat was so very small that all the guests refused to touch it, hoping that Lee would eat it himself. But he, too, ate nothing but cabbage, so the pork was safely returned to the person who had loaned it for the occasion.

The war was a very sad time for Lee; for not only was he forced to see all the suffering of his men, but he was anxious for many of his relatives, who were engaged in the war. Indeed, one of his sons was taken prisoner by the Union army, and when the Confederates threatened to execute some of the prisoners at Richmond, Lee was warned that his son should receive exactly the same treatment as was meted out to Union men:

While thus in captivity, this young Lee's wife and children were stricken with mortal illness. But although his brother offered to take his place, so he could hasten to their bedside, the exchange could not be allowed. You see by this fact not only how dearly the Lees loved each other, and what noble feelings were theirs, but also how cruel and sad a thing civil war necessarily is.

Lee's soldiers were all devoted to him. Every man in his army would gladly have laid down his life for him. When he started to lead a desperate charge at Spottsylvania, one and all shouted: "Lee to the rear!" vowing they could not fight if he were in danger. One of them even stepped out of the ranks, and, taking Lee's horse by the bridle, led him away. But as soon as the men felt sure their beloved general was safe, they showed him that, while afraid for him, they had no such dread for themselves, and made a most daring charge.

On another occasion, after many hours of hard work, Lee lay down by the roadside to rest until his army came up. But when the foremost men caught sight of him, they quickly passed the word down the long line, and the whole army filed past so noiselessly that the weary general's brief slumbers were undisturbed.

When the war was over, Lee—who had fought with all his might, but who was too high-minded to bear any malice—acknowledged that he was fairly beaten. He then set a good example for all his men by applying for pardon from the United States government. Besides, in his farewell address he said to his soldiers: "Remember that we are one country now. Do not bring up your children in hostility to the government of the United States. Bring them up to be Americans."

Lee also spoke and wrote on every occasion in the noblest and manliest way, saying: "I believe it to be the duty of every one to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony."

When he became president of Washington College, at Lexington, Virginia, a Southern woman brought him her sons to educate. In the course of the conversation she made some bitter remark about the Union, for which he gently reproved her, telling her that there were none but Americans in the country.

Sad to relate, the women, on both sides, were far more unjust than the men, and, when the war was over, not nearly so ready to "shake hands and forget." Still, most men and women mean to do what is right, so we hope that before long the day will come when the past will be entirely forgiven, although not forgotten.

Probably the noblest words that Lee ever wrote were penned in 1868; they run as follows: "Whatever opinions have prevailed in the past with regard to African slavery, or the right of a state to secede from the Union, we believe we express the almost unanimous judgment of the Southern people when we declare that they consider these questions were decided by the war, and that it is their intention, in good faith, to abide by that decision."

[Illustration] from Story of the Great Republic by Helene Guerber


Lee was the president of the Washington College for several years. When he died, in 1870, the whole nation mourned for a truly noble man, and the university of which he had been president said that henceforth it would bear the honored names of two great Americans, and be called "Washington and Lee University." Lee was buried near the college chapel, where you can see a monument in his honor; and there is a fine one also at Richmond, the city he so gallantly defended.