Robert E. Lee owned slaves and defended slavery

Note added 2010-02-02. Since I originally wrote this article in 2005, it has attracted a great deal of attention through Google and become a common reference point for people looking for information on Robert E. Lee’s opinions and practices when it came to slavery. In order to help people who come here for information on Lee, I’ve since added a series of links at the bottom of this article on other things I’ve written and discovered concerning Lee’s views and experience on race and slavery since this article was originally written.


I’ve spent some time ragging on neo-Confederate mythistory here before; today I’d like to take a bit of time to talk about another of the idiot notions popular with the Stars-and-Bars crowd: the idea that Robert E. Lee opposed slavery, or that he didn’t own any slaves. No he didn’t, and yes he did. Robert E. Lee defended the institution of slavery and personally owned slaves.

Lee cheerleaders love to point out that Lee wrote to his wife, in 1856, that In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil He did write that, but the use of the quotation is dishonest. The quote is cherry-picked from a letter that Lee wrote to his wife on December 27, 1856; the passage from which it was taken actually reads:

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.

Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife on slavery (December 27, 1856)

Lee, in other words, regarded slavery as an evil—but a necessary evil ordained by God as the white man’s burden. Far from expressing opposition to the institution of slavery, the purpose of his letter was actually to condemn abolitionists; the letter was an approving note on a speech by then-President Franklin Pierce, which praised Pierce’s opposition to interference with Southern slavery, and declared that the time of slavery’s demise must not be sped by political agitation, but rather left to God, with whom two thousand years are but as a Single day. After that reassuring note, Lee goes on to offer an impassioned plea for toleration of the Spiritual liberty to enslave an entire race:

Although the Abolitionist must know this, & must See that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means & suasion, & if he means well to the slave, he must not Create angry feelings in the Master; that although he may not approve the mode which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same; that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no Concern, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbors when we disapprove their Conduct; 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 of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the Spiritual liberty of others?

And what did the painful discipline … necessary for their instruction mean? One of the sixty-three slaves that Lee inherited from his father-in-law explains:

My name is Wesley Norris; I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Custis; after the death of Mr. Custis, Gen. Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy; it was the general impression among the slaves of Mr. Custis that on his death they should be forever free; in fact this statement had been made to them by Mr. C. years before; at his death we were informed by Gen. Lee that by the conditions of the will we must remain slaves for five years; I remained with Gen. Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done. After this my cousin and myself were sent to Hanover Court-House jail, my sister being sent to Richmond to an agent to be hired; we remained in jail about a week, when we were sent to Nelson county, where we were hired out by Gen. Lee’s agent to work on the Orange and Alexander railroad; we remained thus employed for about seven months, and were then sent to Alabama, and put to work on what is known as the Northeastern railroad; in January, 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom; I have nothing further to say; what I have stated is true in every particular, and I can at any time bring at least a dozen witnesses, both white and black, to substantiate my statements: I am at present employed by the Government; and am at work in the National Cemetary on Arlington Heights, where I can be found by those who desire further particulars; my sister referred to is at present employed by the French Minister at Washington, and will confirm my statement.

Testimony of Wesley Norris (1866); reprinted in John W. Blassingame (ed.): Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, and Interviews, and Autobiographies Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press (ISBN 0-8071-0273-3). 467-468.

Some Lee hagiographers seem to be completely unaware that Lee ever owned slaves, much less treated them like this. Part of that’s just the warping of tidbits they heard elsewhere—it’s true that Lee did not own any slaves during most of the Civil War—and part of it is, frankly, dishonest fudging—Lee’s sixty-three slaves were, in spite of being legally under his control and forced to work on his plantation, not held under his own name, but rather temporarily under his control as an inheritance from his father-in-law, G.W.P. Custis. Other Lee cheerleaders recognize that Lee did own slaves, but give him props for manumitting them. What they leave out of the record is that Custis’s will legally required Lee to emancipate the slaves that passed into his control within five years of Custis’s death. Custis died October 10, 1857 and his will was probated December 7, 1857 (about a year after Lee wrote his letter on slavery); Lee kept the slaves as long as he could, and finally filed the deed of manumission with Court of the City of Richmond on December 29, 1862—five years, two months, and nineteen days after Custis’s death.

Custis actually gave freedom to his slaves without qualification in his will; the matter of the five years was supposed to be time for Custis’s executors to do the legal paperwork for emancipation in such manner as may to [them] seem most expedient and proper. There’s good reason to read the clause as intending for the five years to serve as an upper bound on settling the legal details, not as five more years for driving the slaves for whatever last bits of forced labor could be gotten. Lee, however, did not see it that way, and set the slaves to for his own profit for as long as he could. We have already seen that some of the slaves disagreed with Lee on this point of legal interpretation, and how he treated those who acted on their legal theory by seceding from his plantation.

Of course, Lee never was very big on secession at all. Those who love to haul out the Confederacy — Lee included — as heros for secessionist self-determination tend to neglect comments such as this one:

Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It was intended for perpetual union so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession. Anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the other patriots of the Revolution.

—Robert E. Lee, letter, 23 January 1861

Secession allowed; anarchy established, and not a government; one sighs—if only.

Robert E. Lee is no hero. He was a defender of slavery and a harsh critic of abolitionism; he was also a slaver who brutally punished those who sought their rightful freedom. There are many reasons to damn the Federal government’s role in the Civil War, but none of them offer any excuse for celebrating vicious men such as Lee.

Update 2005-07-03. Since this page is written for Google, I’ve made a couple revisions: (1) The title has been lengthened from Robert E. Lee owned slaves to Robert E. Lee owned slaves and defended slavery, to more accurately reflect the full contents, and the full text and a link to an online transcription of the Testimony of Wesley Norris was added..

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195 replies to Robert E. Lee owned slaves and defended slavery Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past

    In case you’re wondering what recent development demanded a debunking of the neo-Confederate myth that Robert E. Lee opposed slavery, the answer is: nothing. Lack…

  2. DSwogger

    I suspect that Robert E. Lee, for his era, is somewhere more than what you’ve characterized and less than what “devout confederates” would have us believe. The totality of the evidence supporting the attributes of a well respected officer, both Union and Confederacy, and a compassionate gentleman far outweigh what has been presented here. And that includes former slaves of Lee.

  3. Rad Geek

    I’m not sure, Dan, what it is you mean when you say that Robert E. Lee is “more than what [I’ve] characterized”, and doubly unsure when you add the qualifier “for his era.” This article is not an attempt to give you a picture of Robert E. Lee’s whole character. Much less is it an attempt to compare Robert E. Lee’s character or actions with those of his contemporaries. All that I have discussed here is the fact that (1) Robert E. Lee did not oppose slavery in any meaningful sense (he was a harsh critic of abolitionism, not a supporter); (2) Robert E. Lee personally owned slaves, and those who claim that he did not are operating on incomplete or inaccurate information; (3) that Lee treated a couple of slaves who tried to run away very cruelly; and (4) that the picture neo-Confederates would like to give you of Lee is, therefore, almost always radically incomplete, whether out of ignorance or dishonesty or both.

    This in and of itself is important enough information, whatever conclusions you might draw from it about Lee’s character. It would be possible to acknowledge everything said here and still claim that Lee was a decent or even an admirable human being. I think that’s judgment is profoundly wrong, and—dare I say—deeply racist. But whether it’s right or wrong it is a judgment that should be made in light of all the facts about Lee, and not in light of the bowdlerized mythistory that Lee boosters so often give of his life. It’s one thing to face up to the fact that Lee forcibly held 63 human beings in chattel bondage and flayed those who tried to escape, but say that he’s a decent guy anyway. It’s quite another thing to make the case for him being a decent guy without ever mentioning the fact that he was a slaver, or spreading (either knowingly or unknowingly) the lie that he did not.

    As it happens, I do think that, besides serving as historical data, the information that I’ve repeated here does tell you something important about Lee’s character. You’re right that doesn’t give you a complete picture of the sort of man Lee was. But it does give you a pretty definite picture of some things that Lee was not.

    For example, he was not a hero (in spite of what is said on his behalf of neo-Confederates) and he was not a compassionate gentleman (in spite of what you have said). I’m sure that Lee was widely admired and respected in the military; but who cares? Whether someone is well-liked or not in a particular social circle may tell you much more about the social circle than it does about their character. And I’m well aware that Lee was a scrupulously courteous and cordial man who could behave very kindly to many people in his social circle. But again, who cares? He was a slaver who violently held 63 of his fellow human beings in bondage for as long as he could legally get away with extracting a profit from them. Isn’t that enough to say that he was, therefore, not a compassionate man? How could a compassionate gentleman stand by and watch another human being lashed, and exhort the man doing the flogging to “Lay it on well”? Would a compassionate gentleman then go on to demand that their lacerated backs be rubbed with brine? If I said, “Look, I know that Albert DiSalvo raped and murdered all those women, but if you look at the whole picture, he was really a nice guy,” would you take me seriously?

    Lee’s kindness to people who happened to share his own skin color and class background was only the superficial appearance of compassion; that he did not care about their worth or dignity as human being becomes clear enough when you look at his unrepetant barbarity toward Black human beings. Lee was certainly something, alright, but a “compassionate gentleman” or a “hero” certainly isn’t it.

· May 2005 ·

  1. Dorothy

    i totaly disagree wiht everything you said. all of it is a lie. Lee was a complete southern gentleman and a wonderful hero. one of his slaves wrote this, and for that matter wrote a whole book on this, “I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee.” I think this is all just your opinion and not based on actual research, because if you researched, you would see that he hated slavery and would have rather fought for the North than South…so think about that

    • Matthew

      That was written by Lee’s body servant during the War, Rev. Mack Lee, not by a slave he owned at Arlington.

  2. Rad Geek

    Dorothy:

    i totaly [sic] disagree wiht [sic] everything you said. all of it is a lie. Lee was a complete southern gentleman and a wonderful hero. … I think this is all just your opinion and not based on actual research, because if you researched, you would see that he hated slavery

    It is a known and documented fact that Robert E. Lee held 63 of his fellow human beings in bondage. You can find out more about this by reading Lee’s letters, or by (for example) consulting his father-in-law’s last will and testament. (I have done these. That’s called “research.”)

    It is a known and documented fact that Robert E. Lee flayed at least two of his slaves who had tried to escape from his slave-driving, and had brine rubbed on their backs. You can find out more about this by reading the testimony of Wesley Norris, one of the victims of this barbarous treatment. (I have read it. This is also called “research.”)

    It is a known and documented fact that Robert E. Lee supported the institution of slavery. He did not “hate” it; he regarded it as a necessary evil. Thomas Jefferson regarded the American Revolution as a necessary evil (he would have preferred a peaceful separation), but he did not “hate” the American Revolution. The people who did condemn slavery and acted to end it were called abolitionists. Lee regarded the abolitionists’ cause as an “evil Course” and praised President Franklin Pierce’s promises to protect Southern slavery from the abolitionists’ “interference.” You can find out more about this by reading (for example) Lee’s letter to his wife on the President’s speech. (I have read it. That’s also called “research.”)

    These are not lies and they are not mere opinions. They are the truth and they are directly supported by documentary evidence.

    The purpose of this post is not to argue about whether Robert E. Lee was a gentleman or a thug; whether all of his slaves hated him or only a few; whether he can properly be regarded as a hero; or anything of the sort. It is to establish these known and documented facts about Robert E. Lee’s life and make them available to the public, because apologists for the Confederacy routinely fudge, ignore, or lie about them in order to try to glorify Robert E. Lee. I have my own opinions about whether Robert E. Lee should be glorified at all—some of which I mentioned in my reply to Dan Swogger—but whether you agree with those or not, you do have an obligation to form your own opinions about him on the basis of the known and documented facts, not on facile half-truths or comfortable myth-making.

    • Jake

      You are an idiot for a slimy little punk like yourself to state Robert E. Lee is not a hero is an abomination to my ears. Furthermore for you to call southerners idiots is the highest offense in my eyes your obviously some pencil necked little prick from somewhere in Massachusetts or Vermont, and your two dads who adopted you filled your minuscule sized brain with liberal crap that makes your smug personality show itself in works like these, so before you chastise someone else’s culture realize that the south is not full of idiots we are some of the most intellectual people in these united states and unlike you and your rude Yankee brethren have the decency not to offend others who you have never met. Just remember buddy it’s not called northern hospitality and after reading your false and slanderous article I don’t think from Virginia to Texas you will be met with any of our famed hospitality. Do yourself a favor and stay in Boston where it’s acceptable to be a spineless waste of life, because you are sure as he’ll not welcomed here.

    • Roderick T. Long

      Hey Jake,

      a) RadGeek is a southerner.

      b) In any case, you’ve been presented with an argument and evidence — which you’ve made no attempt to refute. How does your hysterical ranting about RadGeek’s supposed geographical origin have anything to do with addressing the substantive issue?

    • Rad Geek

      I’m not sure whether Jake’s comment was intended as a reply or as performance art. In any case, I really like that bit at the end of the last sentence, in a self-flattering tagline sort of way: Rad Geek, an abomination in the ears of the privileged since 2001!

      For reference, again, I was born in Texas, and I am welcomed just fine by my kinfolks there. I spent more years living in Yankee Alabama than anywhere else I’ve lived in my life. And in case anyone is about to go on a self-loathing tip, I will simply say that the point of this article is, in fact, to defend the memory of scores of my fellow Southerners — Southerners like Wesley Norris, Mary Norris, and the other Southerners enslaved by General Robert E. Lee — against those who would attempt to erase their lives, their culture, and their heritage.

      As for false and slanderous, etc. etc., well, I’d be interested to know, at the very least, just what specifically Jake thinks is factually false in it. If he can point something out I’d be happy to issue a correction.

  3. ryan

    you are wrong, i agree with Dorothy, her evidence is way more believable than yours. maybe you should take down this site and accept that you are wrong. i have also done great research in lengths and 100% agree with Dorothy.

    • Thom

      I was born in South Carolina and now reside in Texas, and I truely love the South. ^Ryan, Jake, and Dorothy: you’ll are complaining about facts and research, but are failing to show proof to any of your own research while you viciously name-call and insult the creator of this page; who was not being bias, but fairly honest.

      Quit being so ignorant and embarrassing us Southerners. ^your comments were condescending and very hard to follow up with debate.

  4. Paul

    I’ve spent years studying the Civil War, the era leading up to it and the social views of the various regions of the United States that existed. My view of Lee is framed in the context of mid-19th century America. Basically, he was a man of his time. I would dare say that 90% of the white population of his day would be characterized as racists today. Prior to and during the early months of the war, even Lincoln did not readily accept that blacks were the equals of whites. Lincoln did eventually see the light and made the evils of slavery the rallying point of the struggle. However, I refuse to brand Lee as an evil man. His views on race were not that far off from the average person, north or south. We have to accept the fact that people were not as enlightened as they are today. Slavery had been around since the earliest civilizations and was embedded in the psyches of many. My assesment of Lee is more based on what he accomplished after the war. He retired to a peaceful life as an educator and did much to heal animosities between north and south. He accepted and embraced the outcome of the war, including that all men are free and equal. That is eveidence enough for me that he was a decent, moral person at heart.

  5. Jeff Fitzpatrick Jr

    Most southerners do know that Robert E. Lee owned slaves. I don’t know anyone who denies it. However, General Lee’s slave, Rev. William Mack Lee, wrote a little book about his days as a slave and it is obvious you haven’t heard of it or read it. Rev. Lee considered his master to be a great man and continued that all the slaves that Lee owned were free ten years prior to the war. Not all southerners who are proud of their heritage are idiots as you like to call us. Your an idiot because of your ignorance. Of course your not to blame, you just weren’t educated or brought up very well. We live in a country today where you are supposed to be tolerant and accept others no matter what their beliefs are. There is not a man in his right mind who thinks slavery was a good thing. 75% of southerners before and during the Civil War didn’t own slaves. My family was a bucnh of poor farmers from Claxton, GA. defending their home from people like Sherman who stole cattle, money, etc. but he is glorified as a hero. Robert E. Lee fought the war like a gentleman and surrenderd like a gentleman. He is glorified because he knew he made mistakes just like every man does. He was and still IS one of the greatest general’s in AMERICA’S history. While people are so upset over Lee owning slaves and being glorified, what about George Washington? Jefferson? No one is taking down their monuments because they owned slaves now are they? We need the past because it reminds us of what we did wrong and to celebrate a group of men who were fighting for what they believed in, right or wrong. No matter how many times people like you complain about us southerners glorifying a man we respect, you aren’t gonna change anything. Especially down here. I’m, proud of my southern heritage and so are a lot of other people.

    • Matthew

      Lee’s men kidnapped free black men and sent them South to be slaves. So much for fighting like a gentleman.

  6. DA VAUGHN

    I HAVE TO AGREE A GOOD BIT WITH JEFF—LEE WAS A GREAT MAN, BUT HE WAS A MAN! HE LIVED AND FUNCTIONED IN A FAR DIFFERENT TIME—-WE SHOULD NOT JUDGE OUR ANCESTORS TOO HARSHLY LEST WE BE JUDGE HARSHLY BY OUR CHILDREN. GEN. GRANT ALSO WAS A SLAVE HOLDER FOR A BREIF TIME AND HIS WIFE WAS ALMOST A LIFELONG SLAVE HOLDER !!!! WHEN YOU LOOK BACK YOU MUST LOOK AT THE WHOLE PICTURE.

    DAVE.

  7. bob

    this is stupid

  8. Paul

    No, Bob. It’s not stupid. It’s just an exchange of opinions, strong or otherwise, about one of the more complex and interesting persons in US history.

  9. cody

    The truth is General Lee was one of the greatest generals too ever live.

  10. stephen Musgrave

    Lee did not like slavery and this fact was well known.he did have slaves until 1851 when the last was released through manumission. Lee did have a body servant who was a freedman who stayed with Lee thorugh the War. Rev. William Lee who became a minister financed by a gift from Gen lee, repudiated the claims of who were trotted out by the Radical Republicans at the end of the war claiming to have been abused by Gen Lee.Those claims were never in any way substantiated. Rad geek gives the the NACCCP comic book version of Civil War History.

    For one too judge in 19th-century man by 20th-century standards is idiotic. It is true that Gen Lee could not muster the moral courage to completely admit to the fact that his ancestors were wrong in holding slaves and looked for a divine reason for it.A very calvinist thing to do.

    The same people who spend hours bashing General Lee never mention the fact that Abraham Lincoln was an avowed racist who believed in apartheid, was president of the Illinois colonial society, whose goal was to send all Blacks back to Africa. Lincoln also stated unequivocally that he felt Negroes were inferior to whites and should never be allowed to hold office and or vote. General Grant still had two slaves,house servants ever kept by his wife and were not released until the 14th amendment was ratified.(Grant said “if the war was about Slavery I would resign my commision and offer my sword to my enimie” I might add Grant and Lincoln adorn our money not Lee so you might start your political correct purge there.

    There were several thousand slave owners who fought for the union. Not to mention that there was a substantial number of black slave owners in the South.

    Nor is their mention of the fact that the noble Yankees offered a compromise in the form of a ratified 13th amendment signed by Lincoln which would grant the South slavery in perpetuity, in return for a return to the union and accepting the odious tariffs on Southern agriculture, such as the Morill tariff.

    So much for the wAR TO END SLAVERY NONSENSE.

    The radical Republicans were so vile that after the kangaroo court convicting Capt WerTz of crimes in thE andersonville prison, they went to him the night before his execution and offered him a parole and TO BE returned to Switzerland if he would implicate Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee in the conditions at Andersonville.

    These are the same fellows to trotted out the so-called abuseD slaves. I don’t make a habit of arguing with NAACP types since they are almost always BLACK racists anymore. Nor do I listen to Southern apologists who explain away slavery. The fact is however Slavery was an American institution not just a Southern one. It was New England slave ships who brought Africans over not Southern ones. The North profited hugely from the cheap products of the South knowing full well the nature of the labor used. Such universities as at Harvard and Yale were built as much on the blood of slaves as the plantations of the South. In the Constitutional convention the question of slavery was brought to a vote only tWo Southern states voted for keeping slavery, Georgia and South Carolina. However the entire block of New England states which were making millions off of slavery threatened not to join the union is slavery was abolished.

    There were mass desertions and riots in the north because of the emancipation proclamation. I might add that Lincoln only argued one case as a trial lawyer involving slavery, he argued for the slave master, that since he was a resident of Kentucky and his slaves escaped in Illinois they should be returned to him.

    I’m amused by these reparation for lunch bunch types who want to correct history, yet ignore a good part of it.

    I believe the biblical passage is remove the log from buying own I before you remove the splinter from mine.

    Anytime anyone uses the term Neo Confederate you know exactly where they’re coming from. When I see the war crimes of the North investigated and illuminated as vigorously as the condemnation of Southern slavery then I will start to believe there is something beyond an anti southern agenda to their remarks. These Neo historians are made up of left-wing academics, and that very small segment of the African-American community, which clutches slavery to their bosom like the Holy Grail,as a passport to a lifetime of free indugences and greased careers.

  11. bob

    Rad Geek’s info on Lee is interesting, but DSwogger’s point that it is difficult to generalize about the character and beliefs of a man from such a narrow sliver of fact holds, I think. Most people are complex enough that there are odd little shady deals contained in a generally honest life, acts of cruelty hidden in a pattern of overall kindness, and so on. The analogy to a serial murderer who maintained polite manners in company was egregious, and the dismissal of all military perception of Lee as mere croneyism is far too simple.

    I truly enjoyed, however, the stinging ripostes from Dorothy and ryan, who possess that wonderful characteristic of being able to reject anything that smells heretical without even having to consciously process it.

    Steven Musgrave’s analysis, though more demanding (assertions such as “I believe the biblical passage is remove the log from buying own I before you remove the splinter from mine” have a pucker factor rating of 7)is also more richly rewarding. There is something deeply satisfying about the argument “Never mind about the guy we’re talking about - these other guys were just as bad”. I was only disappointed that Bill Clinton was not mentioned. One can only admire his forthright refusal to listen to those whose views are idiotic over a wide and varied range of distantly related subjects, and his recognition of the agendas of all manner of agents who seek to adulterate the purity of his thoughts.

  12. the other bob

    Sorry, I should have distinguished myself from the other bob, further above, whose determination of pan-stupidity is breath-taking in its simplicity and breadth of vision.

  13. steve musgrave

    . Winston Churchill viewed Lee as “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived,” why British Field Marshall Viscount Wolseley called him, “the most perfect man I ever met,” and why Theodore Roosevelt honored him as, “the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth. Lord Acton also felt Lee was a man among men.

    Lee never personally owned slaves,thye were owned by his wife. He was given charge of his father-in-law’s slaves after the man died. Lee freed them all, in slow stages. By the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, every slave in Lee’s charge had been freed. At a service in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, a black man created a stir by rising to receive communion.

    One witness reported that the parishioners “retained their seats in solemn silence and did not move,” while the priest looked “embarassed.”

    It was Robert E. Lee who strode up the aisle and knelt beside the black man to take communion. Others then rose and followed his lead. Booker T Wasdhington once said no man could be in the presence of Robert E Lee and not be enobled.

    Those that condemn Lee are nothing more than honorless rascals.Lee was the finest man this Nation ever produced. My great grandfater fought with General Jackson he was a southern abholitionist believing like Lee in gradual manumission. I would turn those who wish to discredit Lee to their task at hand,correcting the problems of the african american community instead of digging up the past. The great Booker t Washington said “Great men cultivate Love only little men cherish the spirit of hatred.”

  14. Anonymous

    thx cody and everyone who agrees

  15. CANDI

    “Rad Geek” i might not know some of the words u used, but SHOVE IT!!!!!!!!! btw(by the way) i fully agree w/ dorothy.

  16. steve musgrave

    The point is Bob, Lincoln was a contemporary of Lee those who bash Lee still praise him. One standard for one man another for another.

    To bring up Licoln’s views shows quite clearly that Lee’s were not some sort of racist abberation. They are much less mean spirited than Abe’s and others of this era. To elucidate this fact given that we are arguing about a man of the nineteenth century, would seem to be appropriate.

    Not in any way is this arguement meant to be, Yah, but the other guy was bad too.My statements were meant rather look at his(Lee’s) views in the light of the the majority of his contemporarys,of which i belive Old Abe to be pretty representative.

    Yes the correct quote is remove the Mote from thine eye before you remove the splinter from mine.

    Approximately one million people died because of that war.Six hundred thousand soldiers and it is estimated 300 to 400 thousand freed slaves died of disease and malnutrition due to the Unions inability to provide for them, after they fled from slavery.

    “root hog or die” was Lincolns responce to Vice President Stephens question about what would become of the freed slaves.He was not kidding either.

    The North’s campaign of total war and there gross mishandling of the freedmen and womens provisioning and care,make any possible hypocricy of Confederate apologists about Lee’s character pale in comparison. this is swallowing camesl and straining at gnats.

    I will go with the opinions I have already stated of General Lee and and and that of his long time body servant and cook, and life long friend, Rev William Mac Lee,”I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee”.

  17. Rad Geek

    Here’s a few tips for recent commentators who have found this page but don’t know much about me or my interests.

    1. You will not get very far lecturing me about “Southern heritage” or invoking the imperial “we” to talk about what “we Southerners” believe. If you have a brief to argue against the Yankees you can go ahead and do so, but you’re wasting your time directing it at me: I am myself from Alabama and my family has been in the Southeastern United States—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas—since Jamestown. (Yes, that Jamestown. Yes, this is reliably documented.) I was educated in Southern schools and have spent the overwhelming majority of my life talking with Southern people. I don’t think that this automatically gives me any special authority or knowledge about the South or about Robert E. Lee in particular, but it does mean that you won’t earn any special credibility for your differing opinions on the matter just by appealing to your Southern background. And it also means that I don’t have much patience for you lecturing me about what my heritage as a Southerner is. (The history of the South belongs to people like Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and other heroes just as much as it belongs to slavers like Lee. I find it insulting when Dixie revivalists insist that the latter rather than the former represent my “heritage” as a Southerner.)

    2. This page is not about Lee’s merits or faults as a general. Far less is it about Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War, the NAACP, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or Attila the Hun. If you want to argue about the talents of Lee vis-a-vis other military commanders you should take it up with someone who cares; I don’t, because I believe that the Civil War was like most wars in history—a senseless bloodbath—and that we would be much better off if we stopped obsessing about Great Generals and studied how to beat swords into plowshares instead. If you want to know what I think about Abraham Lincoln, I hint at it in GT 2004-12-17: The Hand of DiLorenzo?; to be more explicit, I think that he was a shameless opportunist, one of the closest things this country has ever had to a dictator, and a mass murderer. That doesn’t change the fact that Robert E. Lee owned slaves one bit, and in fact has absolutely nothing to do with it at all. Lee held fellow human beings in chattel slavery. A few of them earlier in his life and some 63 of them from 1857-1862. He also supported the institution of slavery and opposed campaigns to end it. These are known and documented facts, but I have seen plenty of Lee cheerleaders deny them outright. The endless diatribes against Lincoln (for example) that I am treated to whenever I try to state simple facts about things that Lee (for example) did that were wrong are just a change of subject.

    3. The primary purpose of this page is to document facts about Lee’s life, not to convince anyone one way or the other about what those facts, alone or together with other facts about his time, suggest about his character. I am much more interested in getting people to own up to all the important facts about Lee’s life when they make statements about what sort of man he was than I am in getting people to make one sort of statement or the other. But I would like to point out that (i) slavery was as wrong in the 19th century as it is today, (ii) that holding 63 of your fellow human beings as slaves is not just a minor human foible or an “imperfection”, (iii) that the notion that 19th century slavers should be evaluated only in terms of what their contemporaries thought about slavery is the worst sort of moral relativism; and (iv) that it’s historical bunk, anyway, to claim that there wasn’t substantial moral opposition to the institution of slavery in the 1850s-1860s (there was a whole movement of people who were morally opposed to slavery; they were called abolitionists and Lee condemned their efforts; as it happens, the abolitionists were right and Lee was wrong).

    4. Nobody cares whether you “agree” or “disagree” with me. If you have evidence that undercuts or supports a particular claim that’s made on this page, you should feel free to offer it, but just expressing your agreement or disagreement over some point without offering evidence or analyzing the facts on the table is a waste of your time and mine. This is a matter of documented history; it’s not up for a vote.

    5. Please do everyone a favor and edit your posts with full line breaks between paragraphs and using standard English capitalization. Shouting and mashed-together paragraphs hurt my eyes.

    Thank you.

  18. CANDI

    u make a very good point.

  19. CANDI

    btw, i was talking 2 steve.

  20. CANDI

    I some what agree w/ u, “Rad Geek”, and u don’t need 2 get your panties in a twist about the statement i made. and just so u won’t ball like a 3yr old, i apolagize. i’m only 15 so what do i know. and i’ll gladly find my way of this page. and thanks 4 your hospitality.

  21. steve musgrave

    . Perhaps you did not know that your could not just release slaves willy nilly. There were strict laws of manumission. These people(slaves) were almost helpless because for the most part they were uneducated and untrained,there was no safety net.

    Lee was known to given money to everyone that left and he personally saw to it that they had some direction.We know this from the writings of William Mac Lee and othewrs. This responsibility was also part of the will of Custis.There are worse things than slavery for instance starving to death.

    You are only kidding yourself your a typical, as you described radical. Everyword that flows from you is archtypical left wing academic auto speak..

    Spouting the NAACP party line on Lee is really infantile. it is about as historically accurate and truthfull as its counter part the Southern Leaguevgersion of the Civil War

    Self reflection and honesty are far more important than vomiting out a bunch of philosophical clap trap you learn from academics.

    You love to bait your enimies admit it.You want to hurt their feelings,slander thier heros it gives you an ego boost. Kicking the Neo confederate ass.

    The same way the right wing talk jocks put down the liberals. It starts with labeling your opponent and making that label a perjorative in and of itself. Liberal or Neo con.Radicals at both end right or left are really brothers under the skin.They are far more interested in the clever bon mot,the ad hominem than they are a socratic investigation of truth. Ann Coulter and Julian Bond same animal diffent hair cut.Also,your facts are sadly not that imposing because of the reasons I have already have put forth. Enough already I have said too much.

  22. Simon

    RadGeek:

    So much for your desired observance of Point #5, basic grammar and punctuation.

    For what it’s worth, I think people’s views do need to be judged in context to the era in which they live.

    We in the 21st century have the benefit of hindsight to the 19th and can see (some of us anyway) much of the nonsense of that era for what it was. And, no doubt, people a century from now may laugh and shake their heads at what is common today.

· June 2005 ·

  1. Tony

    Your focus and analysis is narrow minded and taken out of 19th Century context, is highly inaccurate. The fact remains that slavery was legal in Virginia until 1865 (unless you count honest Abe freeing slaves he did not control with the Emancipation Proclamation), and Lee’s foray into it from 1857 through 1862 was by your own admission brought about by the death of his relative. He did not seek to purchase these people, and freed them in the manner that was acceptable for that time. Your opinion that Lee, however, did not see it that way, and set the slaves to for his own profit for as long as he could was not supported by any facts in your original writing, and you spared nothing there, so one can only assume the data does not support your statement.

    To whine and cry about the flogging of runaway slaves in 1859 is like complaining about the number of animals euthanized in the United States everyday. It was a standard practice of the day, and it was necessary to keep the balance of the slave population in check. By the way, you forgot to mention that the interview of Mr. Norris was conducted as part of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission Interviews, at a time when the federal government still wanted to try and execute or at least imprison Robert E. Lee. I am sure it was an entirely unbiased, uncoached, and truthful interview:) To finish up this point, the reason the federal government decided against prosecuting Lee, was that the South would never have stood for it.

    Robert E. Lee was a great American hero, regardless of your OPINION. He was a leader of men who was admired if not loved by all that met him. Your little diatribe cannot change that no matter how hard you huff and puff.

    I have a suggestion. Do some research about the slave uprisings of the 18th and 19th centuries. They were key among the problems of freeing the slaves. In nearly every instance, the slaves in rebellion killed not only white slave holders, but every white man, woman and child they encountered. In Turner’s rebellion in VA, they killed infant children in their cribs, and a teacher and school full of children. These rebellions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of slaves both guilty and innocent, but never resulted in anyone attaining freedom. Not just slave owners, but all whites were concerned that slaves would not handle freedom well, and these insurrections did little to ease that concern. It is my OPINION that these uprisings had the opposite of their desired effect. Had it not been for these unfortunate events, I believe there would not have been a war, and that slavery would have been nearly finished by the middle of the 19th century. Advances in agriculture and machinery were already greatly reducing the number of people it took to efficiently run a farm, but the slaves were not prepared to care for themselves yet. Events of the last 140 years have shown some accuracy in this belief. Education and direction were key, and if the slave was to be tuly free, he should have been given these things first. The war only guaranteed freedom would come sooner, but the slaves and their descendants would spend another 100+ years attaining real freedom, and the federal government, not the South, was the biggest obstacle in their way.

  2. Paul

    It’s worth noting Lincoln’s views on slavery prior to the war. The following is a quote from his debate with Douglas:

    “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

    I will not judge Lincoln harshly for this position. He was a man of his time, as Lee was. Both Lincoln and Lee eventually reconciled themselves to freedom and equality, the former about three years sooner. They were both great men who recognized their mistakes and rose above their contemporaries in the end.

    This comparison is not the “worst form of moral relativism”. It is simply fact. Overall, our nation is fortunate today because our founders, many of whom held beliefs that were as imperfect and flawed as Lee’s or Lincoln’s, had the wisdom to create an unparalled constitution and a process to amend it.

  3. Sergio Méndez

    Tony:

    What are you suggesting? That slaves were not in their right to rebel? That maybe slave brutality against their masters wasnt comprehensible considering the brutality those masters have aplied to them during centuries? You patetic attemps to make the victims victimaries and guilty for rebeling against their slavers is ludicrous at most.

  4. akgraumlich

    In my study of Robert E. Lee I learned that he freed his father in laws slaves as he found jobs and shelter for them. To turn them out, without jobs or shelter would have been irresponsible. I am a Yankee from Ohio. My great great grandfather served in the 131st volunteer Ohio regiment. Perhaps my study is wrong, but I have never read an explanation of his administration of his father in laws estate as you have alleged. I have been a member of two Civil War Roundtables for many years and have heard speakers from all over the country. I have never heard this accusation before.

  5. tony

    You are missing the point Sergio, it is not that slaves had no right to rebel, but that the result of these rebellions, and the excessive tacticts of murdering-non participants in the plight of the slaves (unless you will hold infants accountable for the sins of their fathers) caused the reactions to them to be severe to the point that I truly believe these uprisings perpetuated the institution of slavery by causing a general fear of a freed black population. Hundreds of slaves both guilty and innocent were killed as a result of these uprisings. My point here is that many abolitionists of the day recognized these events as inadequate and inflammatory, and they had absolutley no bearing on the eventual end of the peculiar institution. I find it a bit awkward that you do not understand my analysis. I am not blaming the slaves for rising up, but the methods they used did nothing to further their cause, and harmed many more slaves than they helped. Nat Turner, who led the rebellion in Virginia, was a well educated slave for his day who had been groomed and educated to become a preacher. It was foolish on his part to be so excessive, and he paid a dear price for it. He was hanged and skinned for his troubles. If they had not commited wholesale and brutal murder, and simply fled they would have been better off. The result of the insurrection was that Virginia considered ending slavery, but instead imposed more stringent laws on both slaves and freed blacks. Had this not been such a violent and murerous event, the outcome could have been different. These events stayed in the collective memories of everyone, and did more to keep slavery alive as a way of segregating the races, and maintaining control over a potentially dangerous black population. That is what I am trying to convey Sergio.

  6. Rad Geek

    Tony:

    Your focus and analysis is narrow minded and taken out of 19th Century context, is highly inaccurate.

    The purpose of this page is to document a simple historical fact: that Robert E. Lee held slaves. This fact is often denied outright, or dissembled about, by apologists for Lee or for the Confederacy; since it’s better for people to believe truths than to believe falsehoods, it’s worth documenting it. In case you’re interested, Lee did not, actually, just control the 63 that he enslaved from 1857-1862; he also held about a half-dozen slaves under his own name throughout his life (this is documented by the will that he made while in the army). The 63 are the main topic here because they are the ones that we know the most about, and because their curious legal status has made them the victims of a lot of dishonest fudging by Lee’s hagiographers. If you want to complain about the commentary on the sidelines, feel free to, but the primary point of this article is not the commentary. It’s the historical facts.

    Tony:

    To whine and cry about the flogging of runaway slaves in 1859 is like complaining about the number of animals euthanized in the United States everyday.

    Except, of course, that in the one case you are talking about dumb beasts and in the other you are talking about your fellow human beings. (Incidentally, I think the number of animals euthanized in the U.S. is a serious matter of concern. But the likening of the situation to the abduction, enslavement, rape and torture of your fellow human beings is so appallingly racist, not to mention callously cruel, that it defies any criticism beyond just pointing to it.)

    Tony:

    It was a standard practice of the day, and it was necessary to keep the balance of the slave population in check.

    I hear that during the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe it was standard practice to send mobile killing units to round up Jews and Romani, take them to open fields or ravines at the edge of conquered towns, and open fire on them. It was also standard practice to send those who survived the wave of mass executions to concentration camps like Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka. I also gather that this sort of thing was necessary for the Nazis to carry out their political and ideological goals for the ever-expanding Reich.

    But so what? The fact that something is common has no bearing at all on whether or not it is right, and the fact that brutal means happen to be necessary for some end could only justify the means if the end was just, and the means appropriate to it. Neither was the case when it came to preserving race slavery by the use of flogging your fellow human beings and rubbing brine on their lacerated backs. Or, as [Edmund Burke put it in 1757][2]:

    [2]: http://oll.libertyfund.org/Texts/LFBooks/Burke0061/Vindication/0339_Bk.html “Edmund Burke (1757): Vindication of Natural Society”

    To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary.

    Tony continues:

    By the way, you forgot to mention that the interview of Mr. Norris was conducted as part of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission Interviews, at a time when the federal government still wanted to try and execute or at least imprison Robert E. Lee. I am sure it was an entirely unbiased, uncoached, and truthful interview:)

    Do you believe that aggrevied Jews made up the Holocaust too? That testimony was gathered by the victors in a major war too, you know.

    Incidentally, Norris’s testimony in 1866 is corroborated by a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune from 1859, the year of Norris’s escape, and (I might add) two years before Lee accepted his Confederate command. Thanks for trying, though.

    He was a leader of men who was admired if not loved by all that met him.

    Do you think that Wesley Norris, his sister Mary, or their cousin admired Lee? Or do you just not count Negroes as part of “all that met him”?

    Tony:

    I have a suggestion. Do some research about the slave uprisings of the 18th and 19th centuries. They were key among the problems of freeing the slaves. In nearly every instance, the slaves in rebellion killed not only white slave holders, but every white man, woman and child they encountered. In Turner’s rebellion in VA, they killed infant children in their cribs, and a teacher and school full of children.

    I already know about them; the question is how much you actually know about them. The claim that “in nearly every instance” the slave uprisings resulted in indiscriminate massacres of whites; you seem to be basing that characterization entirely on the portrayal of Nat Turner’s uprising in Virginia, and perhaps whatever knowledge you have of the Caribbean slave revolutions. It has nothing in particular to do with the other major slave uprisings of the period—such as Gabriel Prosser’s uprising in Virginia or Denmark Vesey’s in South Carolina. (According to some sources, Prosser planned to take the city of Richmond and, if the whites would not surrender peacefully, to massacre all the whites except for the Quakers, Methodists, and Frenchmen. But whatever his plans, he never had the chance to carry them out.)

    In any case, what has this got to do with Lee? The slaves he whipped didn’t try to kill anybody. All they tried to do was to leave and all they hoped for was to be left alone.

    These rebellions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of slaves both guilty and innocent, but never resulted in anyone attaining freedom.

    Again, this is not true. You might look up the history of the revolution in Haiti, or the effects that the revolution in Jamaica had on the British movement for emancipation in the colonies.

    In any case, what has this got to do with Lee? The slaves he whipped didn’t try to kill anybody. All they tried to do was to leave and all they hoped for was to be left alone.

    Not just slave owners, but all whites were concerned that slaves would not handle freedom well, and these insurrections did little to ease that concern.

    Who cares? There were many acts during Nat Turner’s uprising, or the revolution in Haiti (particularly under Dessalines) that were merciless, cruel, and blameworthy. But the reason that they were wrong is because they were merciless, cruel, and blameworthy, not because they offended whites’ sensibilities. The point of the slave uprisings was not to impress whites. Nor should it have been.

    In any case, what has this got to do with Lee? The slaves he whipped didn’t try to kill anybody. All they tried to do was to leave and all they hoped for was to be left alone.

    Paul:

    It’s worth noting Lincoln’s views on slavery prior to the war.

    No, it’s not. The article is not about Lincoln. It’s about Lee. If you want to know my opinion of Lincoln, it’s already been mentioned above; but it’s also completely irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not Robert E. Lee owned slaves.

    However, I will note that you are not only changing the subject, but also doing so dishonestly. The quote that you included, from his fourth joint debate with Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, does not express Lincoln’s views on slavery. It’s an endorsement of racist policy (specifically, denying full civil rights to Black people), but the parts of the quote which you have edited out make it clear that his racism did not prevent him from opposing slavery itself:

    I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone.

    Lincoln’s racial politics were execrable, but to present his support for racist law as support for racial slavery, when he explicitly opposed the latter in the same speech that you cite, is to tell lies.

    akgraumlich:

    In my study of Robert E. Lee I learned that he freed his father in laws slaves as he found jobs and shelter for them. To turn them out, without jobs or shelter would have been irresponsible. … Perhaps my study is wrong, but I have never read an explanation of his administration of his father in laws estate as you have alleged.

    Lee had five years in which to emancipate Custis’s slaves in such manner as may to [him] seem most expedient and proper. According to Wesley Norris, he did not tell the slaves this, but rather told them that they would remain slaves for five years. According to documents from the time, Lee hired out the slaves to neighboring plantations and to eastern Virginia — which is to say, he forced them to work for his own profit. And when some of the slaves that he was allegedly in the process of emancipating decided that they were ready to leave already in 1859, he did not let them go and file the papers for manumission; he had them caught, returned, whipped, and their backs rubbed with brine.

    These are not the actions of a willing liberator. They are the actions of a man who is trying to hold his fellow human beings in bondage as long as he can legally get away with it. Lee did not begin to free any of Custis’s slaves, so far as I know, until the winter of 1862. If you have any documentation of his doing so, I’d be obliged if you would post it.

    As for providing them with jobs and shelter, it wouldn’t have been hard. He could, for example, have released them immediately, begun the legal paperwork for manumission, and deeded to them with seed and parcels of his own land as partial compensation for their lifetime in bondage. This wouldn’t even have been hard for him to afford; Lee had just come into substantially more land through his wife’s inheritance. But, then, he’d have to treat Black people as if they were due the moral considerations that are due to any other human being who has been wronged. Pretending as if his sluggish progress towards manumission was motivated by humanitarianism is frankly nothing more than sentimental rot, or perhaps farce.

  7. Kevin

    Rad Geek:

    I agree with your assertion that we should judge acts of the past with 21st Century goggles. There are those that would defend the crimes of history by stating, “hindsight is 50/50” or “most of the population found it acceptable back then”. To that, I respond with the fact that it doesn’t take a minority for something to be considered wrong. 90% of a group could be committing horrible acts, and the 10% who disagree can be correct. It may take decades or centuries for that 10% to be vindicated, but it doesn’t mean that we should forgive the 90% when that time passes, as simply being “representative of their time”. Additionally, it is my personal belief that “hindsight” is a simply a scapegoat concocted by those who have no “foresight”; Some people can’t see the train coming, so they say, “There is no train coming” and so they continue to lie on the tracks. Some of us, however, get off when we hear the whistle.

  8. Michael the Vrginian

    Has any body ever read evangelist Billy Graham’s comments praising Robert E. Lee?

  9. Paul

    I certainly did not mean to imply that Lincoln was sympathetic to slavery. However, as most of America in those days, he was not as consumed with the issue as the abolutionists. Regarding your remark that this page is about Lee, not Lincoln (or anyone else, for that matter): when you open a forum regarding the actions or life of an individual from another era, you have to deal with that person’s contemporaries and the society he lived in to appreciate or critique him. Discussing one’s life in a vacuum is unrealistic. This is not a laboratory where you can control input to produce a specific result. Life is far more complex than that. You are far too narrow to think otherwise.

  10. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Lost Causes

    DiLorenzo and the LewRockwell.com Fact-Checking Team unwind after a hard day of defending free markets and individual rights against the warfare State. Tom DiLorenzo…

· July 2005 ·

  1. L.

    Paul:

    As you say, many people in the United States were consumed with the issue of abolishing slavery. They were consumed with the issue because they saw it as one of great moral importance. They were certainly aware of how much the economy depended on slavery, and yet they did not regard it as a necessary evil. Abolitionist literature was widely available, and lectures by abolitionists could be heard all across the country. There were far fewer anti-racist whites than racists at the time, but they were not nonexistent, and they were not silent— nor was there any shortage of eloquent first-person testimonies from former slaves. Why not judge Lee by that standard of his time?

    This business of judging Great Men by the standard of their times seems to be more a provision for our comfort than anything else. It prevents us from having to feel bad about admiring the wrong people, and it prevents us from having to think too clearly about the people our heroes have wronged.

  2. AC

    How can it possibly cover up the brutality of slavery for even one human to suffer such indignation, horror of all magnitude,spiritually, physically and mentally, there is no amount of ”praising” Robert E. Lee from the North or South to justify before God and all that is morally right, (not laws twisted to say what is morally right, then or now) anyone condoning to what he did to his slaves either ”free” or ”in hidden bondage by greed”. And I am from the South, but thanks to God and the person who wrote these truths, helps even over a hundred years later another human to be set free mentally in one part of this abomination during our ”Human History”.

  3. Carol A. Harrington

    Robert E. Lee was one of America’s greatest sons. Shame on YOU for trying to make him look bad. He freed those slaves he inherited long before the Civil war , and he did it the Right way, you named one incident, which may or may not be true, I, for one, don’t believe Wesley Norris’s story . William Mac Lee was one of those slaves that didn’t want to leave , in fact didn’t. They were the best of friends,this is what William Mac Lee said of Robert E. Lee , “I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Robert E. Lee” Most of those slaves held dear the time that they had with him. You’ve accomplished nothing, by trying to make him look bad, you’ve only made yourself look bad.

    Robert E. Lee was a great American, if more of us would pattern ourselves after him, this world would be a better place.

    Proud to be a Lee
    Carol Kenner Harrington

· August 2005 ·

  1. Dan

    I have thought long and hard about R. E. Lee…and suspect that most words written about him are simply….let’s say…too kind. I think he was a Southerner…and I think he was a Southern gentleman in the full meaning of that term. I find myself troubled by one particular instance (beyond the above letter to his wife which I too thinks smacks of being “cherry picked” and this instance is the Gettysbury campaign. If one holds to the common belief that Lee was such a great entity…why did he permit…and he did permit it….allow his men…to round up blacks during the Gettysburg campaign. Ex slaves…free blacks…all of them encountered were trundled up and sent back South. Why did Lee permit this? Are we to believe his soldiers…and subordinates wouldn’t obey him if he gave the order? But…he did not…and I can not believe he did not know it was taking place. This to me speaks more to the man Lee actually was than anything else. It says a lot…does it not? I rather think Lee embraced it fully within the context of Southern culture. I have a hunch…his closed mouth after the war was possibly more a result of worrying about potention prosecution than anything else.
    I would love to see a pyschological study of this man based on things we know. Don’t you wonder about a man that could not suffer to have his daughter’s married and away from him? Just another issue…but one I always think of when I consider Lee.

  2. John Murry

    What you have written is reactionary and uncomplete. You see the world as definitive and marked in convenient black and white/right and wrong segments. Southerners understand life’s duality.

· October 2005 ·

  1. Phil

    I’ve found your comments to be amusing, particularly so given that you’re desperately trying to wriggle and twist. You state in one of your replies that the purpose of this article is to prove that Lee owned slaves. That’s not in doubt. However, lets be honest here - that’s not what you want to achieve with this article. If it was, you could simply have stated facts and left it at that. On the contrary, your language and description of Robert E Lee clearly shows your opinion. That you have an opinion is fine; everyone is entitled to it, but to try and cover this up you refer to ‘research’, which in this instance is very poor, to say the least.

    In your ‘research’ you have found the testimony of Wesley Norris, but you fail to entertain the possibility of why he said what he did. You take it as an accurate account, without examining the circumstances under which the account was made. This is not research, it’s merely repeating something parrot fashion, and is what I would expect of a school child - ‘research’ is rather more than that.

    You also fail to mention, for example, the views of his son, who wrote ‘Recollections of General Lee’, in which he quotes his father as saying ‘As regards the liberation of these people, I wish to progress in it as far as I can… I should like, if I could, to attend to their wants and see them placed to the best advantage… They are entitled to their freedom and I wish to give it to them.’

    Now, you can argue that this is not an unbiased account, and I would agree with you on this. However, if you are going to take that stand, you should also agree that the Norris testimony is not unbiased either. Of course, I doubt that you’ll do that, since the purpose of your article is not to discuss slave ownership at all, but as you have made clear in your post, your sole reason for writing is to blacken both his name and character as much as possible.

    That you try and explain this as ‘research’ is quite frankly laughable, and because of your very biased opinion, makes your work in this area (and I use the term ‘work’ very loosely here) both meaningless and worthless.

    You get a C- and ‘could do much better’.

    One final point - I am neither from the South or the North; I’m from the UK and have no particular axe to grind or bias in this area. Consequently I’m in a rather better position than you to look at the situation inpassionately.

    Phil.

  2. Rad Geek

    Carol Harrington:

    He freed those slaves he inherited long before the Civil war ,

    This is a lie. As is documented above, Lee did not file the manumission papers for the slaves until December 1862 (the very latest date that he could continue to hold the slaves under the terms of Custis’s will). You will note that the Civil War was already well underway by December 1862; in fact Lee’s son Robert E. Lee Jr. claimed that his father ought to be applauded for taking the time out to fulfill his legal obligations in the middle of the war. (It’s also factually incorrect, incidentally, to claim that Lee “inherited” any slaves at all. The titles to the slaves were not willed either to him or his wife; rather, Custis granted his slaves freedom directly, with his executors only being given temporary control in order to make the necessary legal arrangements.)

    Carol Harrington:

    and he did it the Right way, you named one incident, which may or may not be true, I, for one, don’t believe Wesley Norris’s story .

    Do you believe that keeping people in slavery for five years longer than you have to, and (setting aside the question of whether anyone was whipped) capturing those who leave and forcing them back into slavery is “the Right way” to do anything? Really?

    As for the rest, who cares whether or not you believe Wesley Norris’s story? This isn’t an opinion poll and the matter isn’t up for a vote. If you have some specific reason for doubting that Lee whipped the Norrises and rubbed their backs with brine, you are, of course, free to disclose it, but you have not done so here.

    William Mac Lee was one of those slaves that didn’t want to leave , in fact didn’t. … Most of those slaves held dear the time that they had with him.

    Do you have any basis at all for the claim that “most of those slaves held dear the time that they had with him”? Lee held some 70 people in slavery over the course of his life. I for one have no idea how most of them felt, and you probbly don’t either; that’s a lot of people and most of them did not (as far as I know) write much of anything about their experiences. All that I do know is that William Mack Lee (a house servant) was devoted to him, a family of slaves that he manumitted on the condition that they left the continent seem to have gotten along well enough in Liberia, and wrote cordial letters back asking for aid, and that the Norrises said he lied to them about the will and cruelly tortured them for trying to leave. If you know of some more cases than these, you’re free to mention them, but unless and until you do so, I have to say that this is precious little basis for making any assertion at all about “most” of Lee’s slaves. (All I would note here is that enslaving people and forcing them back into slavery when they try to leave is a nasty enough thing to do even without whippings, and that many slave-holders who were quite proud to behave with superficial niceness towards their slaves as long as they “behaved” but quite willing to descend into the cruelest sorts of violence in order to enforce order. Pointing out that one or another of Lee’s slaves did not remember him as harsh several decades after being released, is no reason to conclude that he was not harsh to others.)

    John Murry:

    You see the world as definitive and marked in convenient black and white/right and wrong segments. Southerners understand life’s duality.

    I am a Southerner.. Try to keep up, please.

    Incidentally, whether or not Robert E. Lee held slaves, and whether or not he whipped them when they tried to run away, and whether or not he supported the institution of slavery, are all questions that just have simple yes-or-no, black-or-white answers. (And as I’ve argued, the answers are yes, yes, and yes, in spite of neo-Confederate obfuscation.) Further, slavery really is wrong and not at all right. Whipping people and rubbing their backs with brine, just for trying to leave of their own free will, also really is wrong and not at all right. No amount of mealy-mouthed weaseling about “life’s duality” can change that. I don’t think that these points should be controversial at this point.

    Phil:

    You state in one of your replies that the purpose of this article is to prove that Lee owned slaves. That’s not in doubt.

    I did not state this in one of my replies, but rather in several; I’ve had to repeatedly state it because commenters here repeatedly engage in a classic tactic of neo-Confederate apologists: changing the subject. Here are three different topics, all of which have been mooted in the replies to my article:

    1. Whether or not Lee (i) held people in slavery, (ii) treated those people cruelly, and (iii) defended slavery. Call these the historical issues.

    2. Whether or not the answers to (1) indicate that Lee acted wrongly, or was a bad human being. Call these the ethical issues.

    3. Whether Lee was a good or bad general, what Winston Churchill thought of Lee, whether Lincoln was for or against slavery, whether or not Lincoln was a racist, whether or not Union generals such as Ulysses S. Grant or William Tecumseh Sherman did nasty things, whether or not slave revolts were justified, what you should think about the activism of the NAACP, etc. Call these the irrelevant issues.

    I clearly state, both in the article and the replies, that my primary interest here is in the historical issues. I have my own opinions, and make comments to the side, concerning the ethical issues, because they are important and I think that once you are clear on the historical issues the answers to the ethical questions ought to be obvious. But they are not at all the primary focus of the article; and the irrelevant issues are not the focus of the article at all. Yet (3) seems to be the set of topics to which the most words have been devoted by apologists for Lee, and (2) following up after that. Coming from the South, and having had these arguments before, that’s about what I expected to happen, although I regret that it did: the favorite argumentative tactic of neo-Confederates is almost always the red herring.

    So that is why I have stated (and state here again) that my primary concern, as stated in the first paragraph of the article and repeated several times, is to counter misinformation. The claim that Lee’s status as a slaver is “not in doubt” is factually mistaken; it is widely claimed, by several apologists for Lee, that (a) he held no slaves at all, or (b) that he held no slaves at the time of the Civil War, or (c) that he chose to emancipate the slaves he held, or (d) that he always treated his slaves humanely, or (e) that he opposed slavery (c and even d are often offered as evidence for e; e is often offered as an explanation for c and d). If you want examples, it’s not hard to find them; here, for example, are some blanket denials that Lee held slaves ([1], [2]); some assertions of all of (b)-(e) ([3]); some claims that he opposed slavery and freed his slaves ([4] — a quote printed in the New York Times, no less), and so on. These are quick examples of examples that I found in a few minute’s trawling of Google; I’m sure you could find many more on your own.

    Thus, the facts documented in this article — that Lee in fact held as many as 63 people in slavery, that he held them until the end of 1862 (when the war was already well in progress), that he did not choose to emancipate them, but rather was required to under the terms of Custis’s will, that he did not treat them “humanely”, and that he did not oppose slavery, cannot accurately be described as “not being in doubt.” They ought not to be in doubt, because the evidence is readily at hand, but as I document here and elsewhere, Lee’s boosters often simply lie about it, either through malice or carelessness, through tactics such as selective quotation, fudging of facts in the public record, ignoring direct testimony in favor of opinions rendered after the fact by this or that historical observer, etc.

    However, lets be honest here — that’s not what you want to achieve with this article. If it was, you could simply have stated facts and left it at that. On the contrary, your language and description of Robert E Lee clearly shows your opinion.

    If you mean that my stance on the ethical issues is clearly implied, and at times explicitly stated in the article and my replies, then of course that’s true. So what? I also make a comment to one side that I think that secession is justifiable. But that doesn’t not mean that the primary purpose of this article is to support secessionism, or my complaint about dishonest quotation of Lincoln means that the primary purpose of this article is to set the record straight about Lincoln’s (anti-slavery, but still loathsome) views on racial politics. You can agree or disagree with those judgments, but you do have a responsibility to form your judgments on the matter in light of all the facts in evidence, not the half-truths and outright lies endlessly repeated by Lee’s Lost Cause advocates.

    That said, let’s turn to your take on the facts in evidence. You complain about the use of Wesley Norris’s 1866 testimony concerning Lee’s sluggish progress towards emancipating him and his fellow slaves, and Lee’s use of flogging and brine to punish him, his sister, and their cousin for attempting to run away. You complain, “In your ‘research’ you have found the testimony of Wesley Norris, but you fail to entertain the possibility of why he said what he did. You take it as an accurate account, without examining the circumstances under which the account was made.” You then cite Lee’s own son recalling, in a book explicitly intended to present his father’s memory in the most admirable light, asserting that Lee tried to free Custis’s slaves as quickly as possible. You then equate the testimony from the two: “Now, you can argue that this is not an unbiased account, and I would agree with you on this. However, if you are going to take that stand, you should also agree that the Norris testimony is not unbiased either.”

    The first problem here is that you nowhere make it clear what charges against Lee, specifically, we ought to dismiss, or at least cast a skeptical eye towards. The claim that Lee supported the institution of slavery? The source for that charge is Lee’s own letter (frequently, and dishonestly, cited in defense of the claim that he opposed slavery). The claim that he could have freed Custis’s former slaves immediately after Custis’s death, but made no moves at all towards emancipating them until the very end of the maximum term during which he could have held them? That is a matter of public record, in Custis’s will and the court papers in Virginia. That leaves a few specific claims in Norris’s testimony that you might be taking issue with: (1) that Lee misrepresented the terms of the will to the slaves in order to keep them in bondage; (2) that when the Norrises left and were caught, Lee forced them back into slavery; (3) that Lee had them flogged as punishment for leaving; (4) that Lee had their lacerated backs rubbed with brine; (5) that Lee watched the lashing and told the lasher to “lay it on well”. But you nowhere state whether we are supposed to question any one of these 5 items, some of them together, or all of them. That’s a problem, because if your aim here is to critically assess evidence, rather than just vaguely wave your hands at “bias” and thus dismiss everything Norris has to say en bloc, you need to actually specify what it is you consider dubious, and why. If, on the other hand, your aim is just to vaguely wave your hands at “bias” and dismiss the testimony without any consideration of specific claims or the reasons we do or don’t have to believe them, then who gives a damn? A reasoned, critical assessment of evidence is interesting; uncritical blanket dismissal is not.

    What about the evidence that you offer in counterpoint? Well, the second problem here is that all you offer is an elliptic quotation from Robert E. Lee Jr.’s collection of his father’s letters; but strictly speaking Norris’s testimony and Lee Jr.’s do not conflict at all. Here is the passage, in full, that you are citing from the end of Chapter IV of Robert E. Lee Jr.’s Recollections and Letters of General Lee

    One marked characteristic of my father was his habit of attending to all business matters promptly. He was never idle, and what he had to do he performed with care and precision. Mr. Custis, my grandfather, had made him executor of his will, wherein it was directed that all the slaves belonging to the estate should be set free after the expiration of so many years. The time had now arrived, and notwithstanding the exacting duties of his position, the care of his suffering soldiers, and his anxiety about their future, immediate and distant, he proceeded according to the law of the land to carry out the provisions of the will, and had delivered to every one of the servants, where it was possible, their manumission papers. From his letters written at this time I give a few extracts bearing on this subject:

    “…As regards the liberation of the people, I wish to progress in it as far as I can. Those hired in Richmond can still find employment there if they choose. Those in the country can do the same or remain on the farms. I hope they will all do well and behave themselves. I should like, if I could, to attend to their wants and see them placed to the best advantage. But that is impossible. All that choose can leave the State before the war closes….

    “…I executed the deed of manumission sent me by Mr. Caskie, and returned it to him. I perceived that John Sawyer and James’s names, among the Arlington people, had been omitted, and inserted them. I fear there are others among the White House lot which I did not discover. As to the attacks of the Northern papers, I do not mind them, and do not think it wise to make the publication you suggest. If all the names of the people at Arlington and on the Pamunkey are not embraced in this deed I have executed, I should like a supplementary deed to be drawn up, containing all those omitted. They are entitled to their freedom and I wish to give it to them. Those that have been carried away, I hope are free and happy; I cannot get their papers to them, and they do not require them. I will give them if they ever call for them. It will be useless to ask their restitution to manumit them….”

    But the first thing to note is that Lee Jr. factually misrepresents the terms of Custis’s will; and on this point he actually confirms Norris’s account, since the will stated that the slaves are to be freed
    “in such manner as may to my executors seem most expedient and proper”, within a time not exceeding five years at the maximum, but Lee Jr. repeats the distortion of the terms that Norris claimed had been given out to the slaves, i.e., that the will simply stated that Lee could have them for a fixed period of time and that they were thereafter to be made free.

    The second thing to note is that Lee Jr. is here quoting Lee Sr.’s letters from 1862, stating that Lee apparently wanted to make sure that his legal obligation to free Custis’s slaves was properly fulfilled at the end of the term during which he could legally get away with keeping them. I don’t doubt that this is sincere, but it has absolutely nothing to do with whether Lee was moving expeditiously towards freeing Custis’s slaves for the rest of the five year period (which he certainly could have done, under the terms of the will), or with how he was proceeding in 1859, when the Norrises decided to leave. You, however, selectively quote the letters in order to make it appear as though he were speaking about the whole five-year period, rather than the final arrangements during the months at the end of it; this is, frankly, either dishonesty or laziness on your part, depending on whether you actually took the time to read this passage in full before you cited it or not.

    Nor, by the by, does anything in any of these letters have anything to do whether or not Lee had the Norrises whipped or their backs rubbed with brine.

    In other words, none of this contradicts, or even undermines, what I have said about Lee’s actions from 1857-1862. On one important point (that Lee lied about the terms of the will), it confirms what I had to say. So why mention it, or fault me for not doing so?

    Setting Lee Jr.’s statements to one side (since they do not discuss the issue), we have only the question of whether or not Norris is telling the truth. I do agree that Norris’s testimony is not “unbiased;” you would be biased, too, against somebody who used forced you to remain in slavery. And with good reason: because that’s a rotten thing to do. But so what? “Bias” is not sufficient grounds for dismissing testimony en bloc; what you have to show is whether or not biases are causing, or likely to cause the distortion of facts by the person giving the testimony. The testimony you cite from Lee Jr. and from Lee’s letters does not do this at all, concerning any of the specific charges (1)-(6), for the reasons I explained above. Nor do you give any other specific reason to think so except that Norris was personally affected by his enslavement and by the events he recounts. I’ve seen that style of argument plenty of times before, but I hardly consider it a reputable way of making your case. Do you use blanket dismissals of eyewitness testimony from victims (because “biased”) as a reason to say that, for all we know, aggrieved Jews made up the Holocaust, or that the Chinese invented the Rape of Nanking in order to defame Japan? If so, why do you believe that? If not, by what standard do you admit that testimony for consideration but not Norris’s?

    If you are concerned with the specific details, though, then one way you can decide issues like these is by looking at external facts to try to corroborate one version or another of the story. For example, we know the text of the will and from the junior Lee (also from Lee’s other letters) that Norris is telling the truth about (1) how Lee (mis)represented the terms of Custis’s will, apparently both to the slaves and to others. We also know that Lee did, in fact, hold all of Custis’s slaves as long as he legally could get away with doing so, even though he was perfectly capable of beginning the paperwork to free them immediately, and could treat them as free and independent equals even before the formality of the paperwork was finished. Besides supporting (1), this also supports my claim that Lee’s actions don’t seem to be the actions of an eager liberator.

    That (2) Lee forced the Norrises back into slavery when they captured and were returned to him is, as far as I know, uncontested as a matter of public record. Certainly even sympathetic biographers of Lee agree without question that at least some of the slaves were dissatisfied with their continuing enslavement, that the Norrises tried to leave, and that when they were captured Lee forced them back into slavery and “hired them out” (i.e., forced them to work elsewhere and took the profits for himself) elsewhere in Virginia, which was (again, according not only to Norris but even sympathetic biographers) how most of the Custis slaves were being treated at the time, due to Lee’s need for cash.

    I do not think any controversy at all could reasonably be sustained about (1) or (2). If you think otherwise, you’ve certainly provided no reasons for thinking so. Note, though, that this information is more than enough to tell you that Lee was an active slaver, and that any qualms or reluctance he may have felt in his heart about slavery were certainly not enough to stop him from using force to hold the Norrises as slaves against their will. (He could just as easily have let them go, when they declared they didn’t want to be there, if he opposed slavery, or cared about freeing Custis’s slaves promptly, in any way that made a difference.) Note also that, sentimental nonsense aside, this is more than enough evidence to prove that Lee treated slaves inhumanely, unless you think that slave-driving and forcing escapees back into slavery is a humane way to treat people. The only open question is whether you object to my endorsement of claims (3)-(5), on the basis of Norris’s testimonty—that is, the question of whether, in addition to inhumanely engaging in slave-driving, Lee indulged in the further inhumanity of flogging them and rubbing their lacerated backs with brine. If that (3-5) is all that you object to, then your position is not ridiculous (as it would be if you denied 1 or 2), but it is not (yet) supported, either. The quotation from Lee Jr.’s Recollections and Letters, for example, does not even touch on the issue at all.

    And what about that? Do we have reason to believe that Norris is telling the truth when he tells us (3) that Lee had them whipped, (4) that he had their lacerated backs rubbed with brine, and (5) that he stood by watching and told the lasher to “lay it on well”? Well, sure we do—Norris told us so, and that is some reason to believe it, unless you have further reason to believe that he is lying. Is his testimony corroborated? Well, as it happens, Lee himself denied something or another having to do with the case in private letters — which you might have cited, instead of the irrelevant comments about the legal proceedings in 1862 if you had read the Recollections and Letters more closely (see the letter to the “gentleman in Baltimore” in Chapter XII). But Lee never saw fit to make these denials available to public scrutiny in print, and if you read them you’ll find that he did nothing more than issue blanket denials of the “accusations”, complaining that it was “so easy to make against people in the South upon similar testimony”. This I did not include because when I wrote the article I had not found it yet (it’s buried in Lee Jr.’s book and Lee Jr. does not explain that the article from the Baltimore American charged Lee with flogging the Norrises); after I discovered it I did not add it to the main article because (1) Lee does not give any corroborating evidence to believe his denial beyond his own say-so, and (2) he does not even reply to specific charges or say what it is that is false. (Probably not (2), since he could not plausibly deny it; possibly (1), since he lied about it to everyone else, but the text of the will is enough to refute him if that’s what he meant; maybe (3)-(5), maybe only (4)-(5), maybe (5), or maybe none of (3)-(5), but rather some other related charge that had been made 7 years ago when the story first appeared “at the North” — such as the charge that Lee had personally whipped the woman, Mary Norris, after the officer blanched from doing — which Norris himself did not make, but which people at the time found especially outrageous). Lee could have meant any of these things or none of them, but we don’t know what he means and we don’t know any reason why we should believe him. If I were writing an article on Lee today, I would have mentioned it in the main body, but I do not consider the uncorroborated blanket denial specific, detailed, or credible enough to warrant editing this one. (In any case, this comment will serve as public notice of the letter.) In cases like these it is expected that the accused will deny wrong-doing; this is only interesting if there is any specific discussion of the charges that gives some basis for giving his blanket denial weight over the specific, detailed, and corroborated testimony of the alleged victim.

    Yes, corroborated. We have already discussed the grounds for believing (1) and (2); (3)-(5) (the charges about the flogging) depend on Wesley Norris’s testimony rather than on the legal paper trail. But there is corroboration for his testimony. First he confidently states where he can be found and offers the names of further witnesses who can confirm his statement; these are not accessible to us now, but they certainly would have been accessible to newspaper readers in 1866. Second, as I mentioned above, his claims about the capture and the flogging are confirmed independently by letters about the incident to the New York Tribune in 1859 (well before there was any move to condemn Lee as a rebel, if that’s your reason for doubting the 1866 testimony, since there was as yet no rebellion and he was serving in the federal army). I must confess that I did make one serious error in citing this evidence above: it turns out that there is not just one, but rather two letters from June 1859 that testify to the flogging shortly after it happened.

    There is an admitted difficulty with these letters: at two points of detail they disagree with Wesley Norris’s account of events. They both claim that Lee personally whipped Mary Norris, while Wesley Norris tells us that they were all whipped by the county constable while Lee watched; one claims that each of the escapees got 39 lashes, whereas Wesley Norris tells us that he and his cousin was lashed 50 times, and Mary was lashed 20 times. But the disagreement on the points of detail is easily explained: the 1859 letter-writers got their information from third parties who knew the Norrises well; thus they can be expected to know the broad outlines of the case but to have gotten a garbled version of the details. There seem to me to be perfectly good reasons to accept them as corroborating evidence that (3) Lee had the Norrises flogged. You might wonder about the further claims (4) that Lee had their backs rubbed with brine and (5) that he watched and enjoined the lasher to “lay it on well”. But besides the fact of his testimony, Norris’s willingness to provide “some dozen” corroborating witnesses also give us some further reasons to trust that he is telling the truth about these particulars. In any case, you have offered no particular reason so far to think that he is not.

    As for my aims in reporting all this, you can make of them what you will. I don’t much care what random strangers on the Internet think of me; what I do care about is that information about Lee, and other historical figures, be properly documented, because lies spread through fudging of facts, selective quotation, and other forms of dishonesty are extremely common in discussions of the Civil War, and with the possible exception of boosters for Lincoln, there is no one as guilty of this as boosters for the “Great Men” of the Confederacy. If a full accounting of the information makes them out to be blackguards, then blackguards I will make them out to be; but the thing to object to is the presentation of the facts. Your speculation about my motives in providing the information is nothing more than an argumentum ad hominem of the crudest sort.

    And you can give that whatever “grade” you like.

— 2006 —

  1. SJ

    Wow! This page has consumed a great deal of my day. I was curious about the letter Lee wrote to his wife after listening to a radio host compare Lee and the Rev. Martin Luther King. I found the correspondence on this page and was really intrigued.

    Rad Geek, I think you’ve done a superb job. I know you didn’t publish this for praise, but I want to personally thank you creating a forum that has enlightened me concerning this man.

    Keep up the good work!
    A fellow Southerner

  2. James

    Lee was a practical soldier.

    At the death of his father in law he was given a little problem to solve. His father in law stipulated the following: a) 10,000 dollars to each of his daughters b) all debts to be paid y wrote herec) slaves to be freed within 5 years at most (and the slaves had expected this to be sooner rather than later as Mr. Custis had been preparing them for freedom most of their lives)

    There was not enough left in the estate to pay all the debts, so Lee looked for a way out.

    First, he asked the judge if he could get out of some of the provisions of the will as there seemed no way to squeeze blood from a turnip. When this was denied he came upon the solution of hiring out the slaves and working them twice as hard. Deserters would be punished as in the military.

    Whatever you think of the veneer of civilization that was painted on southern gentlemen of the time, you can best understand Lee by what he did. Lee was trained as a problem solving engineer and some of the brilliant things he did in the Mexican War defy belief. He had a distaste for personally owning slaves, but was not anti-slavery. He just didn’t like doing it himself, but had little sympathy for the bondsman (source of this is also his letters).

    By the end of the nineteenth century, folks in the south had come to believe that slavery was wrong. This meant that other reasons for fighting the war than the real cause came to be believed as well. However, when the first states seceded they put out documents saying exactly why they were doing it. States Rights, they assert, gave them the right to secede. But the reason they were seceding was to preserve and expand slavery.

    If some of you don’t believe it here it is in their own words: http://members.aol.com/jfepperson/plat.html

  3. Anonymous

    I am related to Robert E. Lee and ihe is the best general that ever lived. I would have done what he did also. He has more fame then u ever will in ur life time so beat that.

  4. Roderick T. Long

    Anonymous has you there, RadGeek! You are, and probably will continue to be, less famous than Robert E. Lee. But then again, you and Lee are both less famous than Adolf Hitler; Hitler has you both beat in the fame department. So take that.

  5. Duskysal

    I have read all of this and am not surprised at the negative reaction you received. I as a northerner whose great -grandparents were born in slavery and left Virginia, but not some of the stories behind, would like to say that although Robert E Lee is seen as a great man as well as a great general, I thank the stars the General Grant was even greater. To Anonymous who says he/she is related to Lee, I would like to say(as brown as my skin may be) COUSIN!!!(it’s a Jefferson thing, I’m sure you understand)

  6. VSP1344

    I have some concerns with your well written and very interesting article. I am a big supporter of Lee. However, we must remember that he was a human and his life was full of downfalls and faults like the rest of us. He was not perfect. Being a historical “fan” of Lee, I still find a lot of mistakes he made especially on the battlefield. With that said, I would never say he or anyone else was a god. In regards to the issue of slavery , I would like you to clarify some points you made. Where are the witnessess, “both black and white”, that Mr. Norris boasts about? I have read about Mr. Norris before and never been able to document any of these witnesses accounts. Why did you not document any of those statements? Where is the pysical evidence. Don’t you think photos of Mr. Norris and his injuries would have been documented? Those types of brutal scares would have lasted forever and surely with the anti- southern climate of the time somone would have loved to discredit Lee. Another problem I have with your assessment of Lee is why you do not document any of the statements of the Rev. William Mack Lee. Afterall, if you use the statements of Mr. Norris you must use the statements of William Lee all of which can be substantiated with witnessess. In my opinion, the issue of Lee and slavery is debateable at best. You really have put forth no evidence. Yes, he may have owned slaves but those were the times. Blacks were treated horribly all acroos this country. Lee stated that slavery was an evil. The tiny minority that even owned slaves in the south would have never made such a statement. As for being an anti- abolitionist? Of course he would he feel that way. Most of these folks were violent. They had a tendency to kill southerns something you fail to mention. Lee struggled with violence. This was supported by the fact that he didn’t even want to raise his sword in battle and even stated that. Again, I think you bring up some good points for debate and your article is well written. I am just not convenced at this point. I still feel Lee was a great man although not perfect. Thank you for your article.

  7. Rad Geek

    VSP1244:

    As for being an anti-abolitionist? Of course he would he feel that way. Most of these folks were violent. They had a tendency to kill southerns something you fail to mention.

    This is a jaw-dropping falsehood. Many if not most of the leading abolitionists were religious pacifists (see, for example, Garrison’s The Insurrection from 1831, and Declaration of Sentiments from 1838). Those who supported the use of violence to liberate slaves (Lysander Spooner and John Brown, for example) were not well-known on the national stage at the time that Lee wrote the letter to his wife. Not that Lee would have any more excuse if the advocates of guerilla uprisings against slavery were more prominent at the time: after all, guerilla uprisings against slavery would have been justified, if any war ever was justified. If you’re going to praise Lee for his martial adventures you can hardly condemn the few abolitionists who contemplated the use of force to defend the lives of Southern Blacks from the predations of Southern whites.

    You also fail to mention the minor fact that the abolitionists were, you know, right about slavery. And that Lee was wrong.

    VSP1244:

    Where are the witnessess, both black and white, that Mr. Norris boasts about? I have read about Mr. Norris before and never been able to document any of these witnesses accounts.

    Norris doesn’t claim that the witnesses had backed up his story in print. He said that anyone who wanted to ask could get their names from him and they would vouch for his account. However, there are two independent letters to the New York Tribune from June 1859 (1859-06-19 and 1859-06-21) that corroborated Norris’s story seven years before it was published (this being while Norris was still laboring in chattel bondage under Lee’s control, and so unable to tell his own story). If you want photographic evidence, well, I’m afraid I don’t know of any, but I do wonder how widespread or inexpensive you think photojournalism was in 1866.

    Why did you not document any of those statements?

    I did document them. The documentation is the first-person testimony of the survivor, Mr. Wesley Norris. First-person survivor testimony is a very large portion of the information we have about most of the violations of human rights in history. As I’ve said repeatedly above, if you have some positive reason to doubt that Norris is telling the truth on some specific point, then by all means, bring it forward. But you’ve made no effort to do so here; you’ve only engaged in a sleazy attempt to dismiss his testimony en bloc.

    Regarding William Mack Lee, I merely repeat what I said above:

    All I would note here is that enslaving people and forcing them back into slavery when they try to leave is a nasty enough thing to do even without whippings, and that many slave-holders who were quite proud to behave with superficial niceness towards their slaves as long as they behaved but quite willing to descend into the cruelest sorts of violence in order to enforce order. Pointing out that one or another of Lee’s slaves [a house slave, no less] did not remember him as harsh several decades after being released, is no reason to conclude that he was not harsh to others.

    VSP1244:

    Yes, he may have owned slaves but those were the times. Blacks were treated horribly all acroos this country.

    Is that supposed to make it O.K.?

    VSP1244:

    Lee stated that slavery was an evil.

    Well, that’s mighty white of him.

    He also said that it was necessary for the instruction of [the Black] race and could only be allowed melt away after an indefinite period of time by the will of God. As I’ve mentioned above, taking his letter as even a mild condemnation of slavery is frankly supportable only by selective quotation or wilful misreading.

    VSP1244:

    I am a big supporter of Lee. However, we must remember that he was a human and his life was full of downfalls and faults like the rest of us. He was not perfect.

    Well, thank goodness his human imperfections only caused him to make mistakes about little things.

    Like slavery.

  8. vsp1344

    Let me respond and help you in your misguided views. Yes it is true that many of abolitionists were pacifist but many were not. You are incorrect on John Brown. On the night of May 24, 1856, John Brown together with a small group of armed men, made up mostly of his sons and son-in-law, took five pro-slavery—unarmed—men from their homes and hacked them to death in what is known as the Pottawatomie Massacre.I am sure you are aware of this. Brown’s defenders hold that the men killed had threatened the lives of every abolitionist on Pottawatomie Creek…threatened??? This happened well before Lee wrote his letter to his wife on December 27 1856 and I am sure he read and knew about this cowardly act. He was fully aware of these atrocities going on at the hands of abolitionists. These were not jaw dropping falsehoods but facts my friend. You call this war.. I call it terrorism. Brown, Spooner and Nat Turner and their ilk were nothing less than terrorist. The problem with these few thugs was that they killed innocent people and appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner. A number of non- slave owners were also killed. None of these people were ever convicted of anything and yet they were savagely murdered with out a decent trial. Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler would have been proud! You surely must see the injustice of this.

    You state that Mr. Norris does not have witnesses to back his story in print. Again, it is incredulous to me that no one ever took the time to find these people. With the anti -southern hatred and Lee’s fame, there seems no better way to discredit Lee. What we have is two accounts from two different slaves. Norris and William Lee. Both giving first person testimony as you like to say. It is not surprising that Mr. Norris would say something like he did. He was a slave and angry (rightfully so) for not being released after Mr. Custis death. He gave the names of these witnesses and told people to ask and no one did? That is pretty unbelievable to me. I am not dismissing Mr. Norris. I just think you need more evidence if you are going to build a case against Lee. Your answer about the physical evidence on Mr. Norris’ body was pretty lame. Photography in the 1800’s was not something out of the ordinary. Matthew Brady (and staff) took over 7000 pictures alone during the Civil War. If someone wanted to document that evidence it could have been done easily. I am sorry to say that if you took that little bit of flimsy evidence into a court of law your case would be dismissed… and that is what we are talking about… evidence—right?? You calling my questioning of Mr. Norris sleazy is somewhat childish. I didn’t call you a bomb thrower.

    Again, I am not dismissing Mr. Norris I just need more evidence. Anyone can accuse you of anything but you better have evidence to prove it. If you are going to slam Lee then you need to be fair about this. The savior of the north, U.S. Grant, also owned slaves which he freed in 1859. The irony is that a large number of union generals owned slaves and did not free them until the ratification of the 14th amendment. This is what I meant about that era. The institution of slavery was practiced on both sides.

    Whether you like it or not Lee did a lot of great things. (another debate for another time). Check your history and compare Lee’s acts to the war crimes that your boy William Tecumseh Sherman committed and was allowed to commit by Abe Lincoln. Lee was not perfect and I challenge you to point out a great leader that was. I think your issue is with slavery and that is a noble one. I, suspect however, that you are scapegoating a great man and the south for an institution that was prevalent across the country.

  9. vsp1344

    I just wanted to add this. I just had a chance to read what you wrote about yourself above. I must have over looked it earlier. You stated the following:

    1. The history of the South belongs to people like Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and other heroes just as much as it belongs to slavers like Lee. I find it insulting when Dixie revivalists insist that the latter rather than the former represent my heritage as a Southerner.

    I noticed how you took a jab at Lee and called him a slaver. Now let us be fair. M.L. King was revered as a virtuous, American hero, but the real Martin Luther King, colluded with communists, plagiarized his doctorial thesis and led an immoral lifestyle which included adultery. Why not call King a communist, liar, or adulterer .You sound like white friends of mine that suffer from white guilt. I do not know what race you are but if you are white you definitely suffer from this condition. You are displacing your guilt on whites the you perceive make you feel that way. Boy.. I bet you think Tookie Williams was national hero and deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

    One last thing on the subject of Lee and slavery. I am not saying that America and particularly the south were not guilty of racism now and during the Civil War. What I am saying is that this charge can not be leveled against the American past and no race crime such as slavery can be laid at the feet of old southern whites, such as Lee. Slavery did not originate with them or is peculiar to them. Lee, or whites in particular, did not invent slavery. (Remember more whites have been slaves throughout history than any other race). No, these are not conditions of being white or southern, but of being human. It does not make it right and this condition is something that should be abhorred in any form but is often not.

    You need to relax and realize slavery is something that has been with mankind and different races for a long time. If you want to be crusader against slavery then try stopping it Africa were it still exists today!

    • interrobang

      Hold up, VSP — you’re still considering communism as the evil to end all evils? There are far more harmful political theories out there than communism, comrade. Capitalism springs to mind.

      And how do you know whether King’s adultery was consensual between all parties? Adultery isn’t an inherently evil or immoral act. You’re accusing someone of “adultery” when your position is [presumably] that the only legitimate expression of sexuality is monogamy; that’s like accusing someone of “omnivorism” when your position is that the only legitimate eating habits are vegan.

  10. Otto Kerner

    So, here we have Lee, who was willing to resort to whippings in order to keep other people in bondage as his slaves, and yet you say that people who would take up arms against that sort that sort of thing are terrorists? Wow.

    Incidentally, I don’t hate Robert E. Lee. I used to have a photograph of him hanging in my office for inspiration. But to try to explain away or minimise his complicity in human slavery is simply dissembling, just as it would be to do so in regard to Washington or Jefferson.

  11. vsp1344

    In response you stated the following:

    1. So, here we have Lee, who was willing to resort to whippings in order to keep other people in bondage as his slaves

    Again, like I stated earlier… where is your evidence??. You have an accusation of a beating with nothing to support it. Think about it. Norris’ statement was given to the Anti Slavery Standard. A very anti south newspaper and one of its chief editors was Lydia Maria Child. In case you did not know, Ms. Child is frequently quoted and admired by some of our modern day socialists. It would make sense to me that she and her husband, David Child, had no love for the south or Lee himself. I ask you one question. How much influence did this couple have in the statement of Wesley Norris? Norris and his statement are not backed with one witness’ statement or one shred of physical evidence. Again, I do not dismiss him but you cannot level an accusation like that without evidence. 2.yet you say that people who would take up arms against that sort that sort of thing are terrorists? Wow.

    Let me put this to you in modern day terms. Let’s say you have a child of 5 years. That child, God forbid, is molested. The police arrest someone. I would bet your first impulse would be to put a bullet in that individual’s head. But guess what? You probably do not. You do not do this because you recognize that we are a nation of laws and this person deserves a fair trial. There is also the possibility some innocent person may also be hurt or killed in your attempt to take that person out. Remember that at the time that John Brown and his ilk were hacking people to death slavery was not against the law in the south and innocent people did die (something that you conveniently overlooked). That is how the Nazi’s came to power and exactly how Al Qaeda is trying to do it today. Yes they were terrorists! 3. But to try to explain away or minimise his complicity in human slavery is simply dissembling, just as it would be to do so in regard to Washington or Jefferson.

    I cannot dispute the fact the Lee owned slaves and this was obviously a mistake and I somewhat agree with you here. However, if you are going to take Lee’s picture down in your office because he owned slaves then we need to take Washington and Jefferson’s down too. For that matter, anyone who has Martin Luther King’s picture needs to take him down too. King was a known adulterer and used women physically for his own selfish, sexual pleasures. Now I am not saying adultery and slavery are somehow equal. What I am saying is that degrading another human being, whether it be physically or sexually, is wrong and you cannot have it both ways. The point I making here is that no great leader is perfect and you need to put Lee’s picture back on your wall.

  12. Rad Geek

    vsp1344, let’s begin with John Brown.

    I’m well aware of the actions of John Brown (Sr.) and his band at Pottawatomie Creek. What you may not be aware of is the fact that the killings were notorious in Kansas but not necessarily widely known elsewhere until much later. Brown was mostly an unknown in the east until his fundraising tour in late 1856 and early 1857, during which he deliberately concealed his activities at Pottawatomie. Press reports reached the east during 1856 but were mostly concentrated in Kansas and Missouri. The massive escalation in violence in Bleeding Kansas throughout 1856 (including the Sack of Lawrence beforehand, numerous murders by proslavery thugs afterwards, and running battles at Black Jack, Osawatomie, etc. afterwards) tended to drown out individual stories among those who weren’t themselves in the plains region.

    It’s quite possible that Lee knew about the killings when he wrote the letter to his wife — an article about them had appeared in the leading Southern journal, De Bow’s Review, in August 1856 — but he certainly does not mention this in the letter, and in the letter he treats what he thinks to be the violent end results of abolitionism to be a grim hypothetical, not something already in progress. (In fact Brown’s attacks at Pottawatomie were occasionally mentioned in the press, but not widely discussed by until the hearings following the Harper’s Ferry uprising in 1859.)

    So the idea that Lee had John Brown in mind when he wrote his condemnation of abolitionism is not obviously false, but it’s not obviously true either; it is at best speculation. But there are two important points here to be made:

    1. If John Brown was on Lee’s mind when he wrote this, then Lee was simply wrong about the tendency of abolitionism and the views of abolitionists. Most abolitionists preached non-violence either as a matter of religious principle (e.g. Garrison’s Christian non-resistance) or as a matter of pragmatic politics (they preferred action through the ballot or through moral suasion because they didn’t want unnecessary bloodshed, or actively feared the results of arming blacks and encouraging them to resist). The views and actions of Brown and his followers — right or wrong — were an anomaly among abolitionists at the time and remained extremely unusual until the period from 1859-1863, when views changed radically in the wake of Harper’s Ferry and the Civil War. They were certainly not the tendency of the general run of abolitionists. So merely pointing out that this might have been Lee’s idea does not — even if you could prove that it was what he had in mind — vindicate Lee’s view of abolitionism. At best it just identifies the specific error that he was making.

    2. It’s not nearly as obvious as you think that Lee had any moral grounds on which to oppose civil and servile war against slavery. If any group of people has ever been justified in rising up against their oppressors, it is Southern blacks. There may have been numerous pragmatic reasons not to favor armed strikes as a means to liberating the slaves, and there are in fact numerous moral reasons not to favor the conduct of the American Civil War (in which the Feds were not even remotely concerned with freeing any blacks at all until halfway through the war), but on moral grounds the only consistent principles I can think of are (1) radical pacifism (which the old warrior Lee certainly didn’t believe in) or (2) overt or covert white supremacism (since it would require denying rights to black slaves that you freely grant to whites). Simply pointing out that Spooner or Brown (unlike most other abolitionists) favored guerrilla war against Southern whites for the lives and freedom of Southern blacks is not enough to demonstrate that they were wrong.

    Now, Wesley Norris. You write:

    What we have is two accounts from two different slaves. Norris and William Lee. Both giving first person testimony as you like to say.

    What you don’t seem to understand is that there is nothing to sort out here because the testimony isn’t contradictory. There is no conflict between (1) believing that Lee’s body servant found him a kind master and (2) believing that Lee had three slaves whipped after they tried to leave of their own accord. Lots of white Southerners prided themselves on displaying superficial niceness to the people they enslaved as long as those people behaved (a favorite admonishment of Lee’s toward his slaves, incidentally, if you’ve read his letters), but who were capable of all kinds of cruelty in order to maintain their authority over those who defied them. William Lee’s testimony is, therefore, simply irrelevant to the point at hand: it has no bearing at all on whether or not Wesley Norris’s claims are true. I’m glad that William Lee remembered having good experiences as Robert E. Lee’s personal servant, but it’s not material to the case in point (except insofar as WML is yet another slave that Lee held during his lifetime).

    You complain about the lack of photographic evidence, corroborating testimony in print, etc. I think you’re overestimating the resources and interest that journalists, at the Standard and elsewhere, had to marshal towards investigating this single case in 1866 (when, you may recall, many of them were quite busy reporting on other things and dealing with the cases of millions of recently freed Southern blacks). You seem to think that they had such a personal vendetta against Lee that they would have dropped everything to pursue this one case as far as it can be pursued, and seem to take their failure to provide more back-up evidence along with Norris’s testimony as a positive reason for skepticism of the account. I think this is simply unreasonable. Of course, if somebody had gathered more corroborating testimony and put it in print, and if someone had taken photographs and kept them for posterity, that’d be nice. And it was possible to do so. But I think it’s frankly silly of you to suppose that this undermines the credibility of Norris’s testimony.

    As a side note, you are indeed overestimating, rather severely, the commonality of photojournalism in the mid-1860s, and underestimating the cost of taking, developing, and especially reproducing photographs. There were photographs taken at the time, including Brady’s, and including some photographs specifically of freed slaves and the scars on their backs. Newspapers and magazines did not widely carry reproductions of photographs until the early 20th century (Brady’s numerous photographs were mainly displayed in his gallery in New York; they were not taken for the newspapers, and in fact the expense of his photographs ended up bankrupting him and forcing him to close his gallery). Photography itself was difficult and expensive, and reproduction of photographs for mass consumption usually prohibitive, particularly for small papers like the Standard, which was run on a shoestring organizational budget from the declining membership of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

    You’re also factually in error about the editorship of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. The Standard was edited by Lydia Maria Child during the 1840s; her husband David Child co-edited it with her through the 1840s and continued to edit it into the 1850s. The editor in 1866 was Aaron Powell (who served from 1865 until the end of the paper’s run in 1870). Your suggestion that the Childs (who were no longer editing the paper) or somebody else at the paper may have coached Norris to make up his charges against Lee is simply baseless speculation on your part.

    You are, further, in error to claim that there is no corroborating testimony that the Norrises were whipped after they were recaptured. Two letters written to the New York Tribune in June 1856 (June 19, 1856 and June 21, 1856) corroborate the claim that the Norrises were whipped, a decade before Norris himself was able to tell his story to the press. So the issue is not that there’s no corroborating testimony; it’s that either (1) you weren’t aware of it, or (2) you don’t like it.

    In any case, I have a hard time seeing how this is not special pleading. Do you exercise a similar amount of skepticism towards the accounts given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag Archipelago (based on first-person testimony of his own and from many other former prisoners, most of them unnamed, without much in the way of furhter documentary evidence)? The autobiographical accounts of Nadezhda Mandelstam, Primo Levi, Eli Wiesel, Frederick Douglass, Korean comfort women and survivors of the Nanjing massacre? In short, are you suspending your belief here on the basis of general principles that you’re willing to apply elsewhere? Or is there some specific fact about this case that makes it relevantly different from the others? Or are you just applying special standards here rather than elsewhere because you don’t want to believe that Lee (a slaver, mind you) might do cruel things to his slaves over and above the inhuman cruelty of, you know, enslaving them?

    Would this hold up in court? Well, who knows? Who cares? This isn’t a courtroom and the alleged perpetrator is long dead. There are, rightly, much higher standards of evidence in criminal court than there are for simple belief. What I’m interested here, though, is trying to determine what conclusion the preponderance of the evidence supports. Not what I could convict Lee of in criminal court, if, per impossible, I had the chance to try him.

    Now, on to your out-of-left-field invocation of the slaver Grant, the opportunistic warlord Lincoln, and the terrorist and genocidaire Sherman.

    I’m well aware of these men’s crimes. Those crimes are, however, perfectly irrelevant to the point at hand. Whether or not they were bad people doesn’t have any impact on whether or not Lee held slaves or defended slavery — the primary topic of this post. Or, for that matter, on whether or not Lee was a bad person for holding slaves and defending slavery.

    That said, your claim that Sherman (who I’ve listed on this site as one of the worst evildoers in American history) is my boy is deeply insulting and frankly I think that you owe me an apology.

    As for your ridiculous attempt at dime-store psychoanalysis of my alleged projection of guilt, I mention only that (1) this is baseless speculation on your part; (2) I’m actually quite proud of my Southern heritage; the difference is that I have a more inclusive view of who counts as Southerners than you do; and (3) none of this has anything to do with whether or not Robert E. Lee held slaves and defended slavery.

    As a closing note, you have repeatedly written off the profound cruelty and terrible evil of enslaving a fellow human being by repeatedly saying that Lee, an active slaver who personally held about 70 of his fellow human beings in bondage throughout his life, wasn’t perfect, was human, made mistakes. If you don’t understand how incredibly callous and patronizing language like that sounds, you need to think a lot harder about what slavery is and what it meant for the millions of black Southerners whose lives were systematically controlled and destroyed by this act of mass cannibalism and the reign of terror necessary to protect and preserve it.

  13. Otto Kerner

    I don’t want to distract from Radgeek’s thorough and well-reasoned response, but, vsp1344, I feel the need to point out how weird your analogy is. You suggest that I would fail to shoot a child molestor because I figure that the police will arrest him and take him to jail (where he will probably be extrajudicially tortured and killed by the other inmates, anyway). However, could a slave count on the police to arrest and imprison his owner? Of course not, because, as you say, slavery was considered legal at the time by the government.

    (Incidentally, the main reason that I no longer have Lee’s picture up is that I don’t work in an office anymore).

  14. vsp1344

    We are going to have to agree to disagree on this subject. However, I will address the following. You stated: 1. ?The views and actions of Brown and his followers ? right or wrong ? were an anomaly among abolitionists at the time and remained extremely unusual until the period from 1859-1863,? I am sure you are familiar with World War II. Erwin Rommel was not a member of the Nazi Party and disagreed with Hitler on many things. This would ultimately cost him his life. He was an anomaly in the Nazi party. However, you can not separate Rommell from the brutal regime that was responsible for the deaths of 6 million people. In the same light, you can not separate Brown and the other murderous thugs from the abolitionist movement just because they were violent. They were part of that movement! What about the innocent people that were killed in these cowardly acts committed by Brown and his ilk? Maybe these innocent people were against slavery?. You may see these zealots as an anomaly or unusual but I have to simply disagree. I am sure Lee could have felt the same way. 2. ?Simply pointing out that Spooner or Brown (unlike most other abolitionists) favored guerrilla war against Southern whites for the lives and freedom of Southern blacks is not enough to demonstrate that they were wrong.? Sure it is!… if they are shooting, blowing up and hacking to death innocent, non- slave holding people! 3. ?What you don?t seem to understand is that there is nothing to sort out here because the testimony isn?t contradictory. There is no conflict between (1) believing that Lee?s body servant found him a kind master and (2) believing that Lee had three slaves whipped after they tried to leave of their own accord? ?Whipping??this is the argument I have with you. I agree that atrocities did occur against slaves. Let me ask you this. If Lee were alive today and denied the charge that he assaulted Norris what would you use to support Norris? claims. You would need evidence to support the claim. I will state it again. You need more than the accusation of an embittered person coming from an anti southern, sympathetic newspaper. 4. ?. I think you?re overestimating the resources and interest that journalists, at the Standard and elsewhere, had to marshal towards investigating this single case in 1866 (when, you may recall, many of them were quite busy reporting on other things and dealing with the cases of millions of recently freed Southern blacks). You seem to think that they had such a personal vendetta against Lee that they would have dropped everything to pursue this one case as far as it can be pursued, and seem to take their failure to provide more back-up evidence along with Norris?s testimony as a positive reason for skepticism of the account.? This is an unbelievable statement. You are very articulate and a great student of history but to say that there was no vendetta against Lee is incredible. .you are better than that! Let us not forget that after surrendering his army to Grant on April 9, 1865 Lee then retired to private life. In June 1865 a federal grand jury indicted Lee, Johnston, Longstreet, and a number of other generals from the Confederate high command for treason. (by the way, that grand jury was privileged to photo?s as part of the evidence against Lee?it is called evidence). President Johnson refused to intervene, arguing that Lee and other “traitors” had to face punishment. If it had not been for Grant that trial would have surely taken place. This was extensively covered by the anti- southern press. The vendetta has continued against Lee to this day. Check out what the councilman ,Sa?ad El-Amin, did in Richmond ,Va just to distract his constituents from the sleaze he got himself into. 5. ?As a side note, you are indeed overestimating, rather severely, the commonality of photojournalism in the mid-1860s, and underestimating the cost of taking, developing, and especially reproducing photographs? With a pending federal trial of Lee and the robust economy of the post, war north, it is hard to believe the money was an object in prosecuting such a ?vile, war criminal and human rights violator? such as Lee. Again ,your argument here is very lame! 6. ?The editor in 1866 was Aaron Powell (who served from 1865 until the end of the paper?s run in 1870? Aaron Powell was nothing more than an extension of the Child?s propaganda. You are right that it is just a suggestion that I make about the influence the paper may have had. You have to agree that newspapers throughout history and today are very biased. There are very few that do not put their political slant on the news. 7. ?In any case, I have a hard time seeing how this is not special pleading. Do you exercise a similar amount of skepticism towards the accounts given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag Archipelago (based on first-person testimony of his own and from many other former prisoners, most of them unnamed, without much in the way of furhter documentary evidence)? I have to admit you have me here. I have not done much research on Russian history. If you are talking about Solzhenitsyn imprisonment and subsequent attempt to compile a literary historical record of the prison camps then you have already made my case. There is physical evidence of these camps and witness statements to the harsh imprisonment life. This was proven with more evidence than an accusation made in a sympathetic newspaper. I would only be skeptical if no one else could back his story . Why would you list the Nanjing Massacre? This atrocity is supported by photography (PHYSICAL EVIDENCE) and numerous personal accounts. There is more evidence here than a single accusation. Comparing this to Lee?s situation is absurd. 8. ?Would this hold up in court? Well, who knows? Who cares?? Boy, that is a mature response. Thats right? forget the evidence and let us believe everything we read. Makes sense to me! 9. ?That said, your claim that Sherman (who I?ve listed on this site as one of the worst evildoers in American history) is my boy is deeply insulting and frankly I think that you owe me an apology.? You are correct here and I do owe you an apology. In my defense, I wrote that before I read your writings on what you are about. Your criticisms of Lincoln , Sherman etc. are somewhat shocking.I was not expecting that from you. This is one subject we agree. In the true meaning of being a gentleman, like one of our greatest heroes Robert E. Lee, I humbly apologize. Let me finish by saying the following. Trashing Lee today, or skewing the historical record in order to strike a pose ( which I think you do just to hear yourself talk) benefits no one. Your evidence is flimsy. The accusation of one man from a sympathetic newspaper is all you have generated about an alleged beating. There is much more evidence to support the opposite view that Lee would have never ?whipped? any person . I cannot dispute the horror of slavery or the fact that Lee owned slaves. I have stated this was a mistake for Lee. However, if Lee were alive today I truly believe he would admitt this mistake and state the same. While slavery was shameful, Lee was not slavery. He was a man.

  15. vsp1344

    Otto, my friend, you erroneously state However, could a slave count on the police to arrest and imprison his owner? Of course not, because, as you say, slavery was considered legal at the time by the government.

    That’s funny—didn’t the great American hero Frederick Douglas see it that way? Originally, Douglass, like all that followed William Garrison, was against using any form of violence in order to further the antislavery cause. After speaking with the terrorist John Brown, however, he eventually weakened his stance and accepted that violence in some forms was in the best interests of his cause. (I think Douglas, although a great man, was a flip- flopper at times and full of contradictions) However, I am not aware of any documented case in which Douglas condoned or participated in a violent act. In 1851, Douglass announced at a meeting in Syracuse, New York, (I believe he was speaking at the Anti Slavery Standard. I am sure Radgeek will correct if I am wrong here) that he did not assume the Constitution was a pro-slavery document, and that it could even be wielded in behalf of emancipation, especially where the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction. Isn’t this an admission that he felt the federal government would correct the problem of slavery and come to the aid of slaves?……….Oh.. Otto… I give up! You totally missed my point. Either I am in the minority on this issue of Lee or there are a lot people that are afraid to speak their minds. I suspect I am the minority. We are going to have to agree to disagree. I am not going to convince you or Radgeek of any of my points. You guys, on the other hand, have proven nothing but an accusation and innuendo. Until you have concrete evidence I will continue to question Mr. Norris and the sympathetic Anti Slavery Standard. To further address your response, I will just leave you with the following. The violence that came with abolitionist movement was wrong just as it was wrong for Lee to own slaves. Frederick Douglas was one that Brown and others should have followed. Brown and Douglas both viewed slavery in the same way. Douglas did not forcefully show that slavery was wrong. The manner in which each of these men tried to expose the horrors of slavery varied greatly. Brown took the issue into his own hands and felt that violence and force was the answer. Douglas used non-violence, his pen and personal experiences to help bring that institution to an end. Douglas was a hero. Brown was a terrorist (Brown was such a madman he even killed African Americans. The very same people he supposedly wanted to help—remember Hayward Shepard?) Where would it have stopped with this madman? I am thankful that Colonel Robert E. Lee stopped this coward and brought him to justice. Please do not give me a lengthy dissertation on how Douglas honored Brown. The point is one abolitionist used his brains and the other had none to use.

    I have enjoyed this joust, however ,we are getting nowhere. I think I am going to check over this Radgeek website and see what other incredibly outlandish and bizarre statements this website has posted.

  16. vsp1344

    Radgeek you stated the following about me If you don’t understand how incredibly callous and patronizing language like that sounds, you need to think a lot harder about what slavery is and what it meant for the millions of black Southerners whose lives were systematically controlled and destroyed by this act of mass cannibalism and the reign of terror necessary to protect and preserve it…

    I thought long and hard about not responding to the above statement. However I had to because I almost see it as a personal attack. I do not mind the playful jabs that come with the joust but this has bothered me. I would like to share something with you, not that you care. I am in my fifties and a product of the 60’s. In 1967, I enlisted in the Marines and was promptly sent to Vietnam where I completed 2 tours. I do not consider myself a war hero in any manner but I did see combat action (battle of Hue City) and some minor hillside skirmishes. Upon my completion of service, I joined a major metropolitan police department in 1974. With 25 of years of service, I retired in 2000. The last 10 years of that job I supervised a child crimes unit that was responsible for the investigation, apprehension and prosecution of child predators. None of this makes me an expert on anything but what it has given me is an insight into human anguish that most people will never know. In Vietnam, I saw brutality, carnage and death on an unprecedented scale. You will never know how evil mankind is until you experience something like that. My police experience also gave me an insight into the evils of mankind. The death and suffering I witnessed at the hands of our nations criminals is on a mind boggling scale and I will never forget it. What does this have to do with Lee and slavery? I guess nothing. But what does disturb me is your profoundly wrong judgment of me by calling me callous and patronizing when you know nothing of my life experiences. Just because I may disagree with you on Lee and slavery does not mean I do not have feelings for my fellow human beings. I tried to research your web site without much success. I did find some photos of what I think are people on staff. If I am correct (and please correct if I am wrong), it appears that most of you are college age children. If that is the case I think all of you need to be a little less pompous, gain a little more life experience and try not to judge so quickly. Your exaggerated self worth and importance gets in the way of some of your well noted thoughts and points. How old are you anyway??

  17. Rad Geek

    vsp1344, my name is Charles Johnson; I’m 24 years old and have been out of college for 3 years. This website is my sole responsibility, and thus far I’ve been the sole contributor (by my own choice). I mean in terms of the original articles: there are of course comments by readers, many of whom commented to criticise some particular point I made, some of whom are regular readers and a few of whom are family and friends that I know offline. (Some of them are college age, others much older; I don’t know of any regular commenters here who are younger than college-aged, although one critical article I wrote about Abercrombie and Fitch seems to draw an endless stream of one-off comments from 14 year olds.)

    I don’t presume to know any more about your life experiences than what you’ve told me. What you need to understand, however, is that this is not about whether you are a sensitive or an insensitive person, or an experienced or ignorant person, on the whole, or whether you understand human suffering in general or whether you care about other people. It is about what you are choosing to express when you praise Lee with faint damnation, saying that he wasn’t perfect, was human, made mistakes, when the issue isn’t some venality or human foible, but the active and ongoing choice to keep scores of his fellow human beings in bondage, for his own profit, for years, and using force to recapture those who tried to leave of their own accord and force them back into labor. (I’m leaving aside here the question of whether or not Lee also committed the further inhumanity of lashing the Norrises, or having their flayed backs rubbed with brine. The fact that he kept anybody in slavery in the first place, and forced those who tried to leave back into slavery, is cruel enough on its own.) When you do that, you are using language that is patronizing, and callous. Whether that reflects your deeper character or not, that’s what it is.

    The person who first made this point clear to me, for what it’s worth, was a friend of mine, a black Barbardian, about twice my age, now living in the United States. In the course of a conversation about history, I was talking up how we ought to celebrate some founder or another — Thomas Jefferson I think — for the real contributions that he made to both the ideas and the practice of liberation, during the American Revolution. He insisted that Jefferson talked nice but, as a person, should be thought of as nothing more than a hypocritical scoundrel, because he kept hundreds of his fellow human beings in bondage. I protested—no, of course he wasn’t perfect, but we needed to appreciate what he did achieve. My friend told me, It’s not just some little imperfection. You don’t understand how patronizing that sounds to black ears. He was right; I was wrong. You need to think harder about this if you think that it’s just O.K. to dismiss the lives and livelihoods of scores of your fellow human beings, confined, ruined, consumed, and destroyed by Lee, like all the other slavers, for his own profit, by passing off the choice to enslave and the choice to drive slaves for personal gain as if it were a matter of mere human imperfection in an otherwise Great Man. Of course we are all imperfect in this fallen world, but Lee was a criminal and a cannibal who lived off the flesh and bone of his fellow human beings. An honest telling of history needs to take this into account.

  18. vsp1344

    Your points, again, are well, noted. I have to admit this experience has given me a new insight into Robert E. Lee and others. There is no doubt that the shameful heritage of slavery brought to this country is painful but certainly nothing compares to the pain that heritage must represent to African Americans. Slavery was wrong and I would never dismiss that point. I just will have to disagree with the condemnation of people like Lee and Jefferson. I have to agree with one of your previous commenters that judging others, especially people in distance times and places, as though they were our contemporaries and neighbors, will probably distort your understanding of them. This does not excuse them for their mistakes but doing the right thing is not always easy.

  19. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Over My Shoulder #12: Michael Fellman (2002), The Making of Robert E. Lee

    You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is from Chapter 4 (Race and Slavery of Michael Fellman’s The Making of Robert E. Lee (2000)….

  20. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Fair’s fair (or: Refuge of Oppression #1)

    I suppose that if I’m going to be issuing public calls for corrections on other people’s articles, I ought to hold my own articles up…

  21. Kelly

    Since we are on the topic of comparing popular ideas of old with new (or trying not to as it may be) I am still blown away by the number of (white) people who make such incredibly ignorant racial slurs in my presence…like just because I’m white I’m supposed to think they are ammusing? How far have we really come? I am originally from the south, I now live in the north and to be honest there’s really not a huge difference. I love to debate with EDUCATED and WELL INFORMED people for the sake of learning something, which is exactly why I enjoy this little blog, but lets look at our situation now. There’s no quick fix but when I hear people’s remarks about “that’s a qualified white man’s job” or “yeah, he/she got into college because they’re black” I cringe.

  22. -Paul-

    Hey Rad Geek, your evidence sucks maybe you should read more than one of Lee’s letters.

  23. Rad Geek

    Paul,

    I have read more than one of Lee’s letters. In fact I quote two different letters that he wrote in this article and mention some others in the comments following it.

    Is there a particular letter you had in mind that you think I ought to read?

  24. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Over My Shoulder #16: Michael Fellman (2002), The Making of Robert E. Lee

    You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is another passage from from Chapter 4 (Race and Slavery) of Michael Fellman’s The Making of Robert…

  25. M Savage

    You People just need to accept each others opinons and move on already.

  26. Jesse

    Wow… you guys… this happened in the past…

    your acting like he’s on trial RIGHT NOW…

    and no,i do not think that if we do not discuss this, it will make us ignorant.

    right now we should be thinking of figuring out problems NOW instead of sticking our heads into the past

  27. amber

    I think that slavery and being prejidice is the most retarded thing in the world because we are all human beings and color doesn’t matter. If people only knew how ignorant the human race really is. After millions of years, you’d think that the human and the evolutions of man would be more intelligent than this, but we aren’t. We should’ve stopped war, stopped racism, and created cures for all of our problems. Thanks to the evilness and ignorance of man, the world will soon be destroyed by a huge comet, or the anti-christ

  28. jrforest

    I think Robert E. Lee is a great man. First, he is a hero in the Mexican war, which actually brought the New Mexico, Texas and California into the United States. Second, he fought nobely in the civil war, and he surrender his army instead turning his men into guerrilla fighters. Third, he accepted the result of war, the abolish of the slavery, and promoted the reconciliation of the nation.

    I do not think in his letter to his wife, Lee is defending the institution of slavery. Yes, he is criticizing the abotionists, but he is also criticizing the institution of slavery. Through research, I find that his opinion is that slavery in the south should be freed gradually (as the north did before) instead in a violent way promotely by people like John Brown. He kept the slaves for 5 years simply because it is too expensive to free them and send them out of Viginia as required by law then.

    Lee’s family did own slaves, but in the family, slaves were taught to read and write, which was actually forbidden in most southern states. Lee’s point was largely affected by his wife, who believed that slaves should get education and be able to stand as an individual independently after they get the freedom.

    Generally in Arlington house, the slaves are treated well, although we have one instance of harsh treatment. Except the small book mentioned above, for one of their slave, when he got married, they even hold a good ceremeny in the same room that Lee and his wife got married.

    I think we did have to put a person in his time, instead of judging it in today’s standard. Otherwise, we canot say Washington, Jefferson is a great person either.

    Lee is not a abotionist, Lee is neither a supporter of the slavery as an instition either. I would say, his political stance is typically moderate in his time.

    Well, the history turns out the the slavery is abolished in a violent way, but is there a way to end the slavery without sacrificing thousands of thousands of lives of young americans? If people did not get so excited? Secede? Lee did not support and approve, he actually waited until the last minute to resign from the US army. Virginia is his country and he has to follow wherever he goes, this is also puting the person in his time. It is a tradgety for him personally and also for the country, but I would say this is understandable.

    Lashing the slaves running away, this is harder to defend. But do not forgot he was a soldier and a deserted soldier would be shot in the time. I guess that may be his way of thinking. And you will be whiped when you vandalize a car on the street of Singapore by the law enforcement, today in 2006. So, again, you have to put a person in his time, and the country to judge a deed.

    We do not know if the war can be avoided, with the slavery dissappearing, but Lee obviously agreed more with this way. This may be wrong, or just not practical. But this is understandable and does not make Lee less a hero. At least, after the war, when the slavery is gone, he did express that he is happy to see that it is gone, although at such a high price.

    So, Lee was in support of graudual emancipation of slavery, although he condemned the violent abotionists. Lee does not support the secetion, but he had to follow his state. In regardless of this, Lee is still a greatman, a hero, just like George Washington is also a great man.

  29. John Nadenbousch IV

    You obviously have no background in historical training. Suffice to say, much of this is complete falsehood. Best of luck, but you may try reading some books of merit, not revisionist history. You make the fatal mistake of imposing the present on the past. In short, you need to read the sources more carefully.

  30. Otto Kerner

    The “present on the past”? You mean, Robert E. Lee still has slaves?

  31. Amanda

    I take extreme offense to the libel of my family on this site. I am a direct descendant of the honorable General Robert Edward Lee.

    I am tired of people skirting around the truth when it comes to the Civil War. It was never over slavery to begin with. It was over state’s rights. Ulysses Grant later said himself had the war been over slavery he would have joined with the Confederacy. Grant owned slaves even after the end of the Civil War. Unlike Lee, who had freed all half a dozen of his slaves he inherited from his father-in-law prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, which by the way, freed no one. It was a political move by Lincoln to threaten the unruly rebels by taking away a resource that barely one-third of them used, but since at that point the Confederate States of America was no longer a part of the United States of America, his order was beyond his jurisdiction.

    Another thing, have we forgotten that Grant was Lincoln’s second choice? Lee only refused to join with the Union when he learned of Virginia’s succession. He refused to turn his sword against his homeland. It is ironic to think of how history would be praising him had he only gone with his first decision and not let the love of his family and neighbors affect him.

    If you require more of an argument against your vicious attack of my family, I will most graciously answer questions. However, as it is late, I would prefer to actually get some sleep tonight.

  32. Rad Geek

    Amanda,

    I’d like to encourage you to read the article and the following comments before you accuse me of libel. I notice that, like several other commenters, you have accused me not only of error, but of dishonesty. But you have nowhere identified a single statement I made that was so much as false, let alone a wilful deception. Instead, you mentioned several completely irrelevant topics that I did not address in my post:

    1. That the Civil War was never over slavery to begin with. This is something I’ve written about at length elsewhere; see for example my comments on a different post. (The upshot is that it’s a mistake to presume that both sides in the war were fighting for equal but opposite reasons. While the Feds did not go to war to end slavery, the Confederates certainly did secede in order to preserve it.) But anyway, this is completely irrelevant to the point of this post, which has nothing to do with the motivations behind the American Civil War. It has to do with whether or not Robert E. Lee owned slaves and whether or not he defended slavery. This is merely changing the subject.

    2. Grant’s faults are not at issue. The article is about Lee, not Grant. This is merely changing the subject.

    3. Neither the practical effects of nor the jurisdictional issues involved in the Emancipation Proclamation are at issue, either. You’re mistaken about the effects—the Proclamation freed many thousands of slaves in the parts of Confederate territory that Union troops occupied from 1863-1865. And I don’t care about the legalities—Southern slaves had an inalienable natural right to be free with or without the decree of the tyrannical government that claimed jurisdiction over them. But in any case the article is not about the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s about the fact that Lee owned slaves and supported slavery.

    4. Lee’s motivations for taking a command in the Confederate army are not at issue, either. The topic doesn’t have anything in particular to do with whether or not Lee owned slaves, or with whether or not he supported slavery.

    The problem with your comments, then, is not that I require more of an argument against my statements on Lee. It’s that I need some argument and you’ve given me none at all, because you never addressed any point that I made.

    Along the way, you also make some simple factual errors about Lee and the slaves he held from 1856-1862, which you would have recognized as such if you’d read the article more closely. There were not half a dozen Custis slaves under Lee’s control; there were more than 60 on the Arlington plantation alone. (What I’ve read suggests that there were hundreds more on other Custis plantations, which Lee put under his sons’ administration.) They were not Lee’s slaves either; he gained control over the slaves in his role as the executor of his father-in-law’s will, but they were not held in his own name. The job given him by the will was merely to serve as a trustee until the slaves could be manumitted. This brings us to the third error: it was not Lee who freed the slaves, but rather his father in law, G.W.P. Custis. The manumission of the 60-odd Arlington slaves was legally required by the terms of the will, not something that Lee had any choice over. When he had the opportunity to let slaves go—when the slaves themselves tried to leave or asked to be treated as free people—he repeatedly refused—repeatedly using imprisonment, flogging, and other forms of physical punishment in order to preserve his power over them for as long as he could legally get away with it.

    As for your family connections with Lee, well, my condolences. But really, who cares? I happen to be a first cousin (many generations removed) of Thomas Jefferson, and thus almost all of the Virginia slavocracy could be counted among my family. That hardly keeps me from recognizing that my cousin, as an active plantation slaver, was an idling parasite and a hypocritical scoundrel. If you want to take geneaology seriously, then you really do have an obligation to look at the lives and legacies of your family in a frank and objective way. Sometimes that means acknowledging criticism for serious moral failings — and there are few moral failings more serious than enslaving your fellow human beings.

    If you want to discuss this further, I’d be glad to, but I would like to ask that you address specific points that I actually made about Lee, instead of making unsupported blanket allegations against my honesty, or addressing unrelated points that I never made.

  33. Amanda

    No condolences required. I am extremely proud that I am carrying on the Lee name. And I will make sure that his legacy is carried on long after yours is gone. Unlike you, I take pride in the fact that I have the blood of a great man flowing through my veins.

    Also, with all due respect sir, how is it that you believe that you know more of my own family than I myself do?

    I will gladly make a far greater rebuttal after you answer my simple question. It is ready and waiting.

    However, I wish to give you the chance to simply admit that you are committing libel against Lee and to correct your mistakes against my family. I seriously advise you to before the rest of my family learns of this article. I am doubting they would take this matter lightly.

  34. Rad Geek

    Amanda,

    I’m not sure which simple question you’re referring to. If you’re referring to this:

    Also, with all due respect sir, how is it that you believe that you know more of my own family than I myself do?

    … then the answer is that I have no idea what the rest of your family is like. But I do know something about General Robert E. Lee, because I’ve studied the man’s life and done a fair amount of research on the question of his slave-ownership and views on slavery in particular. I have read biographies, newspaper reports, Custis’s will, and Lee’s own letters, sources which I have repeatedly cited and discussed in this post, in the comments, and elsewhere on my website. If you dispute one or more of the points that I have made, or have problems with either the sources or my interpretation of them, then you ought to explain what in particular you dispute, and your reasons for disputing it. Your personal blood relation with a man who died more than 130 years ago does precisely nothing to give your say-so more weight than primary sources or scholarly accounts. I certainly will not admit to error, let alone deliberate dishonesty, when you’ve given me no reason at all to think I’m mistaken. Sorry.

    Now will you please tell me what specifically you object to, rather than muttering pseudo-legalistic threats and blanket imprecations?

  35. Romeo63

    First, I question your comments dated September 29, 2006:

    “When he had the opportunity to let slaves go—when the slaves themselves tried to leave or asked to be treated as free people—he repeatedly refused—repeatedly using imprisonment, flogging, and other forms of physical punishment in order to preserve his power over them for as long as he could legally get away with it.”

    This very web site on February 24, 2006 in “Over My Shoulder #12: Michael Fellman (2002), The Making of Robert E. Lee” stated:

    “No servant, soldier, or citizen that was ever employed by Robert E. Lee could with truth charge him with bad treatment. Except for having enslaved them.”

    Why continue making references to physical abuse of the point has already been conceded?

    Second, as I read the will of George Washington Parke Custis I see Lee was not the sole executor of the estate:

    “And I do constitute and appoint as my executor Lieut. Col. Robert Edward Lee, Robert Lee Randolph, of Eaton View, Rt. Rev. Bishop Meade, and George Washington Peter.”

    To cite Lee as the sole cause the provisions of the will were not met on time is singling him out. Lee was otherwise occupied at the time with the Army of Northern Virginia as history documents well.

    Third, believing something is a necessary evil is far from supporting something. I personally do not like affirmative action. My idealistic view is the best person for the job should get the job. That is just good business. I do understand that there are backward thinking people in the world, however and in the end, affirmative action is necessary.

    Finally, Lee did nothing illegal. As distasteful as the thought is today, the law of the land in the early to middle 19th Century said slavery was legal. Try as you may, you cannot view the 19th Century under and 21st Century microscope and judge people. It comes across as a fool on a fools errand. The saying goes “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Well, you can’t walk a mile in shoes of anyone from the 19th Century. It is gone and not coming back.

    While you have provided many documents to support your position, it is still just opinion. To state “Robert E. Lee is no hero” is to say he is not a hero to you. It is reasonable to say he is not a hero to many. I can also say it is reasonable that he is a hero to many as well, but for the reasons you are attempting to exclude. General Robert Edward Lee is a hero to those who choose to view him as such; the military officer who chose to defend his home state. Had the Civil War not occurred, Lee would probably not have achieved the iconic status to many people that he has. I accept your opinion of Robert E. Lee, but respectfully disagree.

  36. Rad Geek

    Romeo, Romeo,

    In your first point, you seem to have misunderstood my sarcastic remark about Lee’s treatment of the slaves under his control. If you’ve read Fellman’s book, or for that matter carefully read my excerpts from it on this website, you should realize that there is no question in Fellman’s mind (as there is none in mine) that Lee willingly used physical punishments against disobedient and troublesome slaves on the Arlington plantation. Here’s Fellman, as quoted in Over My Shoulder #12, with emphasis added by me:

    Sometimes, the carrot and the stick both worked ineffectively. On May 30, 1856, Lee wrote his son Rooney, I have had some trouble with some of the people. Reuben, Parks & Edward, in the beginning of the previous week, rebelled against my authority—refused to obey my orders, & said they were as free as I was, etc., etc.—I succeeded in capturing them & lodged them in jail. They resisted till overpowered & called upon the other people to rescue them. Enlightened masters in the upper South often sent their rebellious slaves to jail, where the sheriff would whip them, presumably dispassionately, rather than apply whippings themselves. Whatever happened in the Alexandria jail after this event, less than two months later Lee sent these three men down under lock and key to the Richmond slave trader William Overton Winston, with instructions to keep them in jail until Winston could hire them out to good & responsible men in Virginia, for a term lasting until December 31, 1862, by which time the Custis will stipulated that they be freed. Lee also noted to Winston, in a rather unusual fashion, I do not wish these men returned here during the usual holy days, but to be retained until called for. He hoped to quarantine his remaining slaves against these three men, to whom the deprivation of the customary Christmas visits would be a rather cruel exile, though well short, of course, of being sold to the cotton fields of the Deep South. At the same time, Lee sent along three women house slaves to Winston, adding, I cannot recommend them for honesty. Lee was packing off the worst malcontents. More generally, as he wrote in exasperation to Rooney, who was managing one of the other Custis estates at the time, so few of the Custis slaves had been broken to hard work in their youth that it would be accidental to fall in with a good one.

    … > That Lee personally beat Mary Norris seems extremely unlikely, and yet slavery was so violent that it cast all masters in the roles of potential brutes. Stories such as this had been popularized earlier in the 1850s by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and they stung even the most restrained of masters, who understood that kindness alone would have been too indulgent, and corporal punishment (for which Lee substituted the euphemism firmness) was an intrinsic and necessary part of slave discipline. Although it was supposed to be applied only in a calm and rational manner, overtly physical domination of slaves, unchecked by law, was always brutal and potentially savage.

    While Fellman doubts that Robert E. Lee personally whipped Mary Norris (so do I; in any case, Wesley Norris never claimed that he did in his first-hand testimony), he nowhere suggests that lashing recaptured slaves was unusual or that Lee had any problem with physically abusing slaves in order to maintain discipline or to punish disobedience. In fact Fellman quite takes it for granted that he did. As well he should. Anyone who is still operating on the delusion that Southern slavemasters held dozens of people to forced labor, against their will, without beatings, restraint, imprisonment, whipping, and other forms of physical control needs to put down Gone With the Wind and actually read the records of the time, from both slaves and slave-drivers. Physical abuse was part and parcel of Southern slavery, a part that Lee did not hesitate to exercise, as the documentary evidence shows. So when I sarcastically echo Lee’s own assertion that No servant, soldier, or citizen that was ever employed by me can with truth charge me with bad treatment, it takes a serious misreading on your part to think that I’ve conceded anything about what he did to the Norrises or the means he used to drive slaves. The whole point of the remark has to do with what sort of treatment enslavementincluding the use of corporal punishments, intimidation, and physical force used to sustain it—amounts to.

    As for the terms of the will, it turns out that the responsibility for executing them did fall solely on Lee’s shoulders. Although Custis named four executors, the other three failed to qualify when the will was probated in court. (Cf. Freeman p. 380.) But in any case, what puzzles me more is why you are bringing this up at all. I don’t really care whether Lee did or did not have a reasonable excuse for enslaving the Custis slaves a couple months longer than Custis’s will allowed for. I can’t find anywhere in all my writing on this subject where I have suggested that that was particularly important. What is a big deal is the fact that Robert E. Lee enslaved scores of his fellow human beings for five years, not that he enslaved them a couple months over the arbitrary time limit fixed by his father-in-law’s will.

    I can’t see how your third remark demonstrates that viewing something as a necessary evil is different from supporting it. It’s true that Lee harbored some sentimental hope that, some day in the indefinite future, slavery would no longer be necessary. But whatever he believed about that sweet by-and-by, he also believed that here and now, the perpetuation of American race slavery was not only justifiable but in fact necessary for [blacks’] instruction as a race (!). Since Lee supported continuing actual American race slavery under the actual historical circumstances in which he lived, it is sheer ignorance, mystification, or dishonesty to interpret Lee’s letter as expressing opposition to slavery in any meaningful sense. Regrets, yes, but lots of people have idle regrets about things they feel they must support in spite of all that.

    And finally, I’m well aware that Lee didn’t violate anything written in the law-books at the time. And so what? I don’t give a damn whether or not Lee was following the laws that his fellow slave-masters wrote down. Those laws (so-called) were criminal on their face and an outrage against justice; they had no color of authority and no-one had any obligation to respect what they allowed or forbade. (The Holocaust was perfectly legal under the laws of the Third Reich. And so what?) As another famous Southerner once said:

    You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that An unjust law is no law at all.

    Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

    Hope this helps.

  37. Ericka

    That was a very rude thing to say. “…NAACP verison of the story.” Hm? Racist, perhasps? All you had to say was that you didn’t agree that was too far.

— 2007 —

  1. Carleton Wilkes

    You are wrong on the facts about Lee supporting slavery:

    Before the war:

    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

    (excerpts):

    There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.

    http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/Lee%20on%20Slavery.htm


    After the war:

    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 interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained.

    General Robert E. Lee, May 1, 1870

    http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/About%20the%20General.htm

    Why do you have so much hate?

    Why do you not practice forgiveness?

    There will come a time when each of us, you included, will need forgiveness.

    cw

  2. ZackM

    Here is a fitting conclusion to the subject of Lee and his connections to slavery. For all those who are afflicted with “white guilt”, a amnesty and pardon to all persons of european descent has been issued by black professor, Walter E. Williams of George Mason University. You may find additional copies at http://www.walterwilliams.com, heading (Gift). Please distribute freely to those afflicted.

    Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Granted to All Persons of European Descent

    Whereas, Europeans kept my forebears in bondage some three centuries toiling without pay,

    Whereas, Europeans ignored the human rights pledges of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution,

    Whereas, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments meant little more than empty words,

    Therefore, Americans of European ancestry are guilty of great crimes against my ancestors and their progeny.

    But, in the recognition Europeans themselves have been victims of various and sundry human rights violations to wit: the Norman Conquest, the Irish Potato Famine, Decline of the Hapsburg Dynasty, Napoleonic and Czarist adventurism, and gratuitous insults and speculations about the intelligence of Europeans of Polish descent,

    I, Walter E. Williams, do declare full and general amnesty and pardon to all persons of European ancestry, for both their own grievances, and those of their forebears, against my people.

    Therefore, from this day forward Americans of European ancestry can stand straight and proud knowing they are without guilt and thus obliged not to act like damn fools in their relationships with Americans of African ancestry.

    Walter E. Williams, Gracious and Generous Grantor

  3. John Davis

    Biased fruit, he was fighting for Virginia not for slavery. He was a good man even though he was on the wrong side.

  4. Rad Geek

    Carleton,

    I am aware of the 1856 letter you quote, from Lee to his wife. You might have gathered this from the fact that I quote that letter in the article above, and discuss it at some length. In fact, discussing the actual contents of that letter (rather than the cherry-picked selection you offer above) was one of the chief purposes of writing this post. Please re-read paragraphs 2-5 of the original post, in which I quote the rest of the letter surrounding your quote, and discuss what it suggests about Lee’s views on slavery and abolitionism. The short answer is that Lee—like many other white Southerners—defended slavery as a necessary evil. In fact the conclusion that Lee meant to convey in the very letter that Lee’s cheerleaders so often selectively quote—out of either ignorance or dishonesty—is that necessary-evil defense of slavery, and his agreement with President Pierce’s hostility towards immediatist abolitionism.

    I am also familiar with Lee’s self-serving comments in the 1870 interview. I am not convinced by them, because I am not convinced that Lee was being fully honest (perhaps not even with himself), about either the views he expressed in the 1850s and 1860s (which we’ve already seen), or about the views he expressed privately after the war. On this topic I’d like to recommend Michael Fellman’s The Making of Robert E. Lee, particularly Chapter 4 (Race and Slavery) and Chapter 13 (Southern Nationalist). Like many other prominent ex-Confederates in the 1870s, Lee was dissembling about his former views in an attempt to get on the right side of history.

    After all, Lee had already lived through the perfect opportunity to put his money where his mouth—that is, when he had direct control over dozens of slaves, from 1857-1862, as executor of his father-in-law’s will. Lee had a perfect opportunity to endure some personal loss and suffering, which he later claimed he would have cheerfully endured, so that sixty-three of his fellow human beings could be free, immediately. Instead Lee chose to keep them in bondage for five years, as long as he could legally get away with doing so, and to pocket the profits for his own gain. Since he would not endure even a little financial hardship in order to free the slaves he himself controlled, I cannot help but find his later professions a bit hollow.

    Concerning forgiveness: I have nothing against that. (Although, since neither the wronged nor the wrongdoer in this case is alive, I’m not sure how important it is, nor am I even sure who is supposed to be forgiving whom for what.) But, at the least, forgiveness does require an honest accounting of the sins to be forgiven; giving or receiving absolution on false pretenses about what you actually did is, at best, empty. People who twist the historical record in order to try to whitewash Lee’s life and present him in a kinder light than a sincere recording of the facts would merit, are harming, not helping, whatever sort of forgiveness might be in order.

  5. Jack

    Something that’s always amazed me is the lack of outraqe over the federal government’s assertion at that time concerning the worth of a black man. Do you forget the U.S. government only considered the slave to be a fraction of a human when counting heads for representation purposes?

  6. Tourmarm

    So what about most of our founding fathers?

    Should we then discount them completely because most of them were slaveholders and masters?

    Why don’t we begin with George Washington?

    I’m not defending the institution of slavery, but the times were different. Am I right to assume that the slaves were inherited by Mrs. Lee - who was also left to run most of her estate on her own during the Colonel’s postings before the War in places like Texas and then during the War Between the States.

    By the way, do you know anything about Salina Gray and her family at Arlington? Her story doesn’t seem to paint the Lees as tyrants.

  7. Rad Geek

    Tourmarm,

    Well, why don’t we begin with George Washington? I’ve written about him, too; see GT 2006-03-04: Republican virtue and GT 2006-03-21: The Humane Slave-driver. I don’t have any more sympathy for Lee’s adoptive grandfather-in-law than I do for Lee, as far as the question of slavery goes. In fact Washington was rather worse on this score than Lee, since he held hundreds more people in bondage and profited from large-scale slave-driving throughout his entire adult life.

    Many of the Founders, including those who held slaves, were interesting people who made important contributions, and did some admirable things in their lifetimes. But objectivity and a sense of proportion require us to keep in mind how terrible a crime human slavery is, and not to pretend as if it never happened, or as if it never mattered. That goes for all the slave-drivers, including those who have been politically sanctified by the historical and political establishment.

    As far as your question about the title to the Arlington slaves goes, this is answered in the post. Strictly speaking, the slaves were legally held by the estate of George Washington Parke Custis, the father of Mary Lee. Neither Robert nor Mary Lee held the title for the five years that they were under Lee’s control: Lee had control over them as executor of the estate, with the will specifying that the slaves were to be freed within five years of Custis’s death. This is part of the reason I object to the occasional efforts to read the manumission of the Arlington slaves as evidence of some kind of anti-slavery sentiment on Lee’s part. In fact Custis was the one who chose to free the Arlington slaves; Lee was legally required to manumit them, and he deliberately held onto the slaves for as long as he could legally get away with doing so.

    I haven’t personally put much study into Selina Gray’s story. From what I gather she was a house slave in the service of Mary Lee. I’m not sure what you think the story is supposed to teach us. (Certainly it was not unusual for slave-masters to treat house slaves more mildly than they treated other slaves on the plantation.) All slave-holders were tyrants. Some tyrants are milder and others are crueler, but anyone who claims the kind of powers over fellow human-beings that all slave-masters necessarily claimed, is a tyrant indeed. This is true of Robert and Mary Lee, too. The only way they could have avoided treating their slaves tyrannically is to have stopped enslaving them.

  8. Tour Marm

    Vis a vis Selina Gray:

    I don’t think she would have been so loyal, if they had been tyrants.

    Here’s something interesting about a Washington slave. It is becasue of Oney Judge that the slaves belonging to George Washington were not freed by Mrs. Washington upon his death; They were freed upon her own death.

    But I think you are unduly harsh on Robert E. Lee and a couple of your posts bear that out.

    You should look into how New Yorkers treated them, especially during the race and draft riots. You might even dealve into how the runaway slaves and colored troops were regarded by union officers and soldiers.

    Unfortunately, it was the time in which they lived.

  9. Roderick T. Long

    You should look into how New Yorkers treated them, especially during the race and draft riots. You might even dealve into how the runaway slaves and colored troops were regarded by union officers and soldiers.

    This suggestion makes it sound as though RadGeek criticises only Southerners and gives Northerners a free ride. Since he doesn’t, how is it relevant as an objection? It doesn’t go very far to excuse X for a crime to point out that Y committed it too.

  10. Ashley

    I do believe that you have no life or either you just have alot of time on your hands. Just because Robert E. Lee supported slavery… he was not the only one. The beloved president Lincoln was also not a supporter of slavery, but he also had slaves. Apparently you need to do more reseach before posting biased infomation on Robert E. Lee.

  11. Micah

    You still kind of take that letter out of context. He was not saying that he was opposed to the abolitionism but the way they were going about doing it. From the same letter: “Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy.” and “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 both irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil and servile war.” He hoped to abolish slavery without a civil war.

    • Tristan Band

      It doesn’t matter if they were “not responsible”. Human liberty is human liberty. Scripture was quoted by both sides.

  12. Nancy

    This website seems to promote the idea that Robert E. Lee was alone in owning slaves and defending slavery. If might interest you to know that many FREED SLAVES OWNED SLAVES. So obviously, they also defended slavery! Black slave owners were not uncommon at all. In fact, some Blacks owned many slaves. William Ellison from South Carolina owned many and was a very rich man. New Orleans plantation owner Antoine Dubuclet, also a Black man, held more than 100 slaves. He became Louisiana state treasurer during Reconstruction, a post he held from 1868 to 1877.

    So perhaps before you go slamming Robert E. Lee and Southerners, you might need to do a litle research. If you think slave owners and defenders of slavery should be hanged, there would have been several Black slavery supporters hanged along with the white ones.

  13. Kate

    Robert E. Lee is one of the most Noble men in our history I don’t know how any person could trash him without looking at the facts!!!!!!

  14. L. Torah Kadar

    ” If I have a dog and I mistreat it the very first time it gets a chance to tear into my ass it will do so!” I said that to say this: How and the hell can you call Robert E. Lee or any other ignorant Mother Fucka that would hold a man in bondage and against his will a man of compassion and love? I hate you bastards for what you did to my people with a passion! Your argument is completely ludicrous and unfounded! Sound like some George W. BULL SHIT to me. “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here!” Lee and the other white folks that owned and rape the Black Slave that you call great men were freaks of nature and sick men indeed and any other man or woman that would defend that type of behavior are also sick and derange in the mind, but to me that most of you good white folks at lease 75%. I cannot point to anything good you have ever done, but steal other people culture, rape their women and rob their land! You would sale your mother for a profit. Everything I have come to know about you and your history is a lie and that’s because I researched those facts also. You see I don’t live in a factious world, everything about slavery was bad and real and you cannot change that ever! This is very personal to me. White people where never Jessica lynched, rape, beaten, burn alive, shoot, strip or degraded to the level that Black people were and still are today in 2007. Every other race that comes to America and benefit and take advantage of the America dream should thank Blacks for their struggle and their sacrifices against the Robert E. Lee of the USA because it was the Black people that change America. Not the Native American, Not the Hispanic, Not East Indian, Not the Asian, Not the Arab but Black people! I hear this bull shit all the time that really piss me the fuck off that immigrants build America NO, NO, NO, Black people built America for free. That’s what the civil war stuff was really about cheap labor the same shit that’s going on with the “Wet Backs” of today the illegal’s aliens that’s coming across the boarder into America right now as I speak and demanding rights to stay. You see I seriously believe that, “You reap what you so” Just like 911 you will never forget, well I will never forget Slavery because it is what still alive today from a constructional intuitional standpoint. Black people still suffer today from this evil stain. Lee was a terrorist no different from OBL. But, in most light white people cannot do anything wrong. If the shoe was on the other foot how would you feel? That’s why you are so hated by most none white people, despite what we portray. All I know is that the white man has went through out the world and stuck his nasty recessive seed into every place of color he has roamed. Like ROME and Union Jack, remember them? The White man would go through out the world where people of colored lived and kill the men and rape the women. That’s no different from Robert E. Lee in America there’s your compassion. All I’m hearing is that he had a slave that wrote great things about him. That’s bullshit! I don’t believe that because most slave were lynch for knowing how to read and or write. Plus, If Lee on a slave that could write that was a potential treat to him and the other good white slave owners. I am so sick of you Good Ol’ white folks bending, turning and twisting the truth. I guess that is why you turn what we know as a man of Ethiopian decent (Beta Israel) into a white man I am talking about Yashua who you call Jesus. So, please stop the BS, do the world a favor. You are just out right evil and down through the years you have shown time after time, after time again. Get my drift?

  15. L. Torah Kadar

    ” If I have a dog and I mistreat it the very first time it gets a chance to tear into my ass it will do so!” I said that to say this: How and the hell can you call Robert E. Lee or any other ignorant person that would hold a man in bondage and against his will a man of compassion and love? I hate you bastards for what you did to my people with a passion! Your argument is completely ludicrous and unfounded! Sound like some George W. BULL SHIT to me. “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here!” Lee and the other good white folks that owned and rape the Black Slave that you call great men were freaks of nature and sick men indeed and any other man or woman that would defend that type of behavior are also sick and derange in the mind, but to me that most of you good white folks at lease 75%. I cannot point to anything good you have ever done, if it didn’t pertain to money, but steal other people’s culture, rape their women and rob their land! You would sale your mother for a profit! Everything I have come to know about you and your history is a lie and that’s because I researched those facts also. You are from the Caucus Mountain that means that you are a very, cold, cruel and calculating people. Anything that is cold, is cold hearted, it has no warm, real compassion or understanding for reality or life. Why is it, when I research the Caucus Mountains I cannot find anything about YOUR HISTORY? You have no historical ties to the land in which you claim, that’s land is the land of people of color! Have you ever thought that is why your skin that you are inn burn when you are exposed to the radiance from the sun, you were not design to withstand that kind of punishment the sun dishes out. However the people you call nigga, were. We are tropical people that’s why the Robert E. Lee and others enslave Blacks because they were lazy and because Black people skin was tolerant of the sun.

    You see I don’t live in a factious world, everything about slavery was bad and real and you cannot change that ever! This is very personal to me. White people where never Jessica lynched, rape, beaten, burn alive, shoot, strip or degraded to the level that Black people were and still are today in 2007. Everything that is bad that-is-us! Go to your local Webster dictionary and look up the word BLACK. However, Every other race that comes to America and benefit and take advantage of the America dream should thank ( and think) BLACKS for their struggle and their sacrifices against the Robert E. Lee of the USA because it was the Black people that change America for the better. Not the Native American, Not the Hispanic, Not East Indian, Not the Asian, Not the Arab but Black people! And If I left any other race out I want to truly give you my deepest apology. But it was us, The BLACKS. I hear this bull shit all the time that really pisses me the fuck off that immigrants build America NO, NO, NO, NO Black people built America for free. That’s what the civil war stuff was really about cheap labor the same shit that’s going on with the “Wet Backs” of today the illegal alien.

    The illegal’s alien that’s coming across your boarder in large numbers daily into America right now as I speak and demands the rights to stay. The Mexican government are using it people and telling the good white folks of the USA, “That they are coming back to claim the Americas that you stole from them and using our President George W. Bush to solidified that message. They say that this is their land!” Right now they are about 25 million illegally strong and in 10 years they will be at lease a 100,000,000.00 strong illegally. That means that the white folks in America will be the minority. I don’t have a pit bull in the fight but You mean to tell me, you have thought about that? Well, what I want to know where is the outrage to that? Remember the civil rights movement? The sticks, water hoses, Billy clubs, guns, robes, rapes and killings all of the tools you used to keep what was call the Negro into order, all of that I am sure you remember. Maybe you don’t want to but I surely haven’t forgotten it! All we were asking for was the opportunity to be treated as an equal. We just wanted to assimilate into your culture. We the Black man help to make America great! We have help fight your wars and defend your causes even while you were beaten us down. We have been mayoralty loyal to you and this country. But now you got another major problem that threatens to erode away your culture, land and flag that you are not even addressing or using your tools to keep law and order. Why is that? The illegal tell you everyday to fuck you and go straight to hell, and you haven’t even responded. He wants to turn America into 3rd World status. But what I seriously want to know is why haven’t the good white folks, the good ol’ boys step up to the plate to bat? Where are sticks, water hoses, gun, Billy clubs, rapes and murders for and against the illegal? You know like you did the Black man. All the black man was asking for was to be respected as an equal the illegal is asking for your land and to replace your culture with his’ and your flag with a Mexican flag. Have you seen LA lately? Were’s the similarities in ideology but you beat and killed the Black man. I seriously believe that, “You reap what you so.”

    Just like 911 you will never forget, well I will never forget Slavery because it is what still alive today from a constructional intuitional standpoint. Black people still suffer today from this evil stain. Lee was a terrorist no different from OBL. But, in most light white people cannot do anything wrong. If the shoe was on the other foot how would you feel? That’s why you are so hated by most none white people, despite what they portray. All I know is that the white man has went through out the world and stuck his nasty recessive seed into every place of color he has roamed. Like ROME did and Union Jack, remember them? The White man would go through out the world where people of colored lived and kill the men and rape the women. That’s no different from Robert E. Lee in America there’s your compassion. All I’m hearing is that he had a slave that wrote great things about him. That’s bullshit! I don’t believe that because most slave were lynched for knowing how to read and write. Plus, If Lee owned a slave that could write that was a potential treat to him and the other good white slave owners. I am so sick of you Good Ol’ white folks bending, turning and twisting the truth. I guess that is why you turn what we know as a man of Ethiopian decent (Beta Israel) into a white man I am talking about Yashua who you call Jesus. So, please stop the BS, do the world a favor. You are just out right evil and down through the years you have shown time after time, after time again. Get my drift?

  16. Dennis

    Interesting reading, Rad Geek. My conclusion of history probably differs from yours. How many descendants of general Lee’s slaves do you think, would rather their ancestors had remained in Africa? I say the eventual Results are what counts. My guess is, there’s not one current descendant of General Lee’s slaves who’d want to be in any country, on the continent of Africa, today. Do you recall what happened to those slaves who did return to Africa, to settle Liberia? With support from the United States, those former slaves promptly took over the country. Representing approximately four percent of the population, they held control, of the country by denying the right to vote, to most of the populace. from 1847, until 1989. I don’t think that there was a single one that measured up to the character of General Lee. Dennis

  17. thaliadepp

    I agree with everything that “Radgeek” has stated Robert E.lee must not be remembered as a hero but as a hyprocrite the facts are there, but those that disagree are nothing but oppressed individuals that can’t handle the truth. Robert E. lee must and should be remembered as a sack of a white supremacy.

  18. Nathan Long

    Hay Jackass I am techinacally white and prodominately Scottish-American but I am also about 1/6 to 1/5 Native American the second highest percentage of my ancestor is Melungeon (which is a mix race considered colored on the 19th Century Census’s) of which I am about oh maybe 20%-40% and am about 1%-10% black now due to my high amount of Scottish-American descent ranging near 40%-50% I have dark blonde hair almost brown and blue eyes but I have Indian Shovel Teeth, a Melungeon/Mayan Ridge on my skull, a large Black nose and lips due to my ancestor some of my ancestors were slaves for which I am not ashamed, some owned slaves for which I am also not ashamed, some didn’t own slaves and also weren’t slaves people were predjudical againist my Melungeon, Indian, and Black ancestors but most of that was from the US Government and the North not the South in fact they found refuge in the South well any way regardless of their slave/slave ownership situation they all had one thing in common almost every single one of my ancestors of all different races fought for the South’s Independence some of them in Lee’s Army but I had one oddball as many family’s do who had no connection to any other race in any shape or form he fought in the Northern Army to preserve what he believed was the Union his patriot ancestor created he defiantly didn’t think the war was over slavery in fact when Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamiton he felt that it was unconstitutional and that Lincoln had no right to free the slaves even though the Proclamiton didn’t free shit seeing as it only pretand to the parts of the CSA under COnfederate COntrol and the millions of slaves under US control where left “as if this proclamition were never issued” in fact General Grant Union Commander didn’t free his slaves until 1866 with the Amendment and Lee had freed the slaves he inherited through his Father-in-Law 10 years prior to the war

  19. thaliadepp

    Robert E.lee committed treason and was never ever really prosecute for the stupidity that he did when he took arms against the United States.He should of been prosecuted but nnow who ever disagrees with these facts do the research. He was nothing but a white supremacy that commited treason.

  20. thaliadepp

    by the looks of it the white supremacy has offended some repliers. you wanted truth but I guess the oppressed individuals can;t handle the truth. The fact is this all has to with the white supremacy. That is the doggarnet damn truth.”Like or not”

  21. thaliadepp

    robert E. lee should not even be remebered as a part of history but as a worthless man that was a compltey utterly mental case the white supremacy has only made him out to be what is not. Robert E. lee nothing but a useless human being. For those that disagree do the research he wasn’t great he was more as what we say a piece of trash.

  22. JENEE

    WELL,YES WE CAN CALL THIS MAN A HYPOCRIT BUT WE CAN NOT SAY THAT HE WASNT A GREAT GENERAL..YES IT WAS WRONG FOR HIM TO OWN SLAVES, BUT DID THAT HAVE ANY EFFECT ON OUR COUNTRY..NO..-[POINTLESS]..

  23. Laura J.

    Regardless of whether or not the fact that Robert E. Lee owned slaves had any effect on the country as a whole, it certainly affected THEM.

  24. Tom

    So the supporting “evidence” for this whipping are two anonymous letters in the New York Tribune (a Radical Republican, anti-South newspaper).

    I think you need more than that.

    Have you checked the details of Norris’ story?-

    Any Court records in Maryland of the Norris’ imprisonment?

    Did Lee have an overseer named “Gwin?”

    Was the county sheriff named “Dick Williams?”

    …etc…etc…

  25. Tom

    Follow-up:

    1860 Census - State of Virginia (ancestry.com)

    Alexandria County (where Robert E Lee lived):

    One adult male by the name of “Richard Williams.” Age 31. Occupation-Farmer.

    Persons by the name of “Gwin” in Alexandria County- none.

    Any “Gwin” in Virginia with the occupation of overseer- none.

  26. Rad Geek

    Tom,

    If you’re interested in following up with more research, I’d be interested to know what you find.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Richd. Williams in Alexandria County is the man in question. Norris did not say he was the county sheriff; he said he was a county constable. Such positions, especially in rural areas, are often held part-time by people who are not professional law-enforcers.

    A quick look at the 1860 census records reveals nobody in Alexandria county named Gwin, but two adult white males with the last name Gwinn — David S. Gwinn, 51, and Thomas Gwinn, 23. The occupations of both are recorded, but the census-taker’s script is mostly indecipherable to me. The same family was in Madison County, Virginia in 1850, but spelled their name Gwin at the time. In 1850, they were recorded as having two adolescent sons — Thomas, 15, and David, 12. David may or may not be the David Gwinne who was apprenticed to a painter in Richmond named James Wright.

    There are a number of other adult men in Virginia with names such as Gwinn, Guin, etc., of course.

    If I may suggest, there is little reason to expect that Wesley Norris would know the precise spelling of Gwin’s family name; spellings often changed from year to year even amongst the people who had that name. Unfortunately, narrowing down the census data to something useful for the purpose of further research would be difficult in the extreme. It might be better to look into Lee’s and his family’s letters from the period of 1857–1862, since they repeatedly discussed his troubles driving the Custis slaves. If you don’t have the time or the interest to do it, I will, once I have the time and the resources to turn to Lee once again, and will post the results, here or in a separate post, depending on how interesting they are.

  27. C'est moi

    So why did you censor parts of his letter if it supported your thesis????

  28. Rad Geek

    C’est moi, I have no idea what you’re referring to. Which parts of what letter were censored by whom? On what do you base this claim? If you know of sections of a letter that someone has dropped, then the best thing for you to do is to quote what those sections say and how it is relevant, not to throw out an as-yet unsubstantiated accusation of selectiveness.

— 2008 —

  1. Doubting Thomas

    Rad Geek - Thanks so much for this information. As you elude, it tells us as much about the people who have idealized Lee as it does about Lee. He sounds like a great guy, in some ways. Good for him. But he was on the wrong side of history and his place in it should be treated accordingly.

    The United Daughters of the Confederacy and others work very hard to control the dialogue concerning the Confederacy. It takes a lot of work to penetrate their myths. Nice job.

  2. Lucifer Zinn

    I am related to Robert E. Lee. Teeheehee..

  3. a.redleg

    I somewhat doubt your claims to just putting the facts out there given your slant on them and uncritical acceptance of the account of the whipping ostensibly ordered by Lee. There’s a book of Lee’s letters recently published (the name escapes me) that covers a lot of the same ground, and it shows that Lee is fairly typical of his geography and times in his racial views, conservative (in a tradition meaning, not the crap label of modern politics) in his politics, and extremely pious.

    Lee was a racist. He believed whites were superior to blacks. So was probably 99% of his contemporaries- including ardent Abolitionists. He was also a Virginian first and an American second, a fact which led him to turn down what would have been overall command of U.S. forces during the war when Gen. Scott offered him the field command.

    Opposition to Abolition (the movement) isn’t the same thing as support of slavery. Among abolitionists were some pretty radical folks, and to a man of Lee’s conservative bent they were probably a bit frightening. Lee sees slavery as ultimately ending, with the time set by God. He’s not the type to approve of radical upheaval, which to many Southerners at the time was what the Abolitionists represented.

    And to say that Lee owned the 63 slaves left by his father-in-law is incorrect. As the man of the household he controlled them, but he didn’t own them. Under the laws of the time he also was responsible for the debts on the estate of his late father-in-law, of which there were quite a few (typical of the times and the class). Simply attempting to manumit the slaves wouldn’t worked: creditors would have had the manumissions rescinded and the slaves sold. There’s a reason ol’ Custis didn’t just free them in his will, choosing instead to peg the five year term.

    To the extent that your work here helps end the cartoonish picture of Lee that’s long been the norm among some it should be lauded. But it rather seems you’re just trying to replace one cartoon with another one.

  4. Sergio Méndez

    a.redleg:

    Opposition to Abolition (the movement) isn’t the same thing as support of slavery.

    The hell it is.

    Among abolitionists were some pretty radical folks, and to a man of Lee’s conservative bent they were probably a bit frightening.

    And? That is some kind of excuse for Lee? And since the group was not homogenoeus, Lee could have supported perfectly the less “liberal” groups. But he didn´t…

    Lee sees slavery as ultimately ending, with the time set by God. He’s not the type to approve of radical upheaval, which to many Southerners at the time was what the Abolitionists represented

    Ah…that is the radicalism tha Lee feared: the actuall and inmediate ending of slavery. Not that Lee and other conservatives and racists christianist didn´t use the argument “when God decides” as an excuse to delay the abolition of slavery or any other social ill.. How fucking convinient. But that still does not excuse Lee…it only gives us an overview on his ideology, and maybe on yours….

  5. Duke Chen

    Hi there, I agree with you on the part that Robert E. Lee was a “White Supremicist” but I disagree with you that he is “No less a hero than you would compare Lincoln” … a couple facts we do know is that he freed his slaves in 1862 prior to the Civil War, we also know that he inherited the slaves by his father in law and the the truth is he did not inherit the slaves rather he was the only legal executor out of 4, regardless he also inherited the debt by Custis this in result made him unwillingly take time off his Army duties, note he graduated and was superintendant of West Point in the North and he did successfully pay off Custis’ debt. There is an autobiography by one of the slaves written Reverend WM Mack who was one of the slaves that states Lee was a man who freed the slaves 10 years before the war and that the slaves chose to stay on the plantation by choice, Mack himself was left with $360 by Lee for an education which he did get, was ordained a minister and went back to the plantation several years later. And while you quote from Lee to his wife on slavery that “slavery was a necessary evil”, Good ‘ol Abe Lincoln once said “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that” no citation needed as we historians all know he said that, if by association alone and not denouncing slavery Robert E Lee is an evil man, we know that Lincoln himself his wife came from a plantation family and owned slaves and that of very “anti-slavery” Secratary of State William Seward also owned slaves. Lincoln once said “”I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, ” (Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois” (September 18, 1858), pp. 145-146). very similar to that point of view of Lee’s. If you are saying Lee should be condemned for his view on slavery, are you saying the greatst president of the United States Abraham Lincoln should also having the same point of view be condemned. Now think about this after the Civil War, Lincoln foolishly enough wanted to ship all slaves back to Africa, while Lee was a proponent of reconstruction, in this sense of being more accepting of colored people, Lee is indeed the more honorable man.

  6. Duke Chen

    In addition I apologize to reply so late as I only recently found your website and good arguement as there are a lot we don’t know about Lee and other historical figures … two other issues 1) Tribune Letters, they are not credible but I do believe Lee did whip his slaves, I also believe Lee would’ve whipped any deserting soldier and possibly did, even today our military still uses physical punishment though it is not allowed, for example I have seen a drill sargeant pat a soldier on the shoulder while pulling the arm back giving the soldier a concealed slap on the face 2) Signs of the time, unfortunately I would have to say RadGeek if you were in Lee’s shoes firstly you would not be thinking as you are trained today in the 21st century, and you would be in a more complicated situation to deal with, you would not have freed the slaves on day one as you suggest, from what others would think of you and the debt you inherited. Thus we must do think back to the time and construct what would’ve been Lee’s real course of actions in his day and not our day. The biggest opponent against reconstruction and even integration 100 years later was Black and White kids going to the same schools as they would intermingle and perhaps marry. Lee did leave $360 for Reverend Mack to be educated and supported this reconstruction stating that he was more for the good of his “nation” and that the issue of the war was State Rights rather than over slavery as only 6% of the owners were slaves. As our founding fathers suggested if the government starts taking away your property they thus become destructive and West Point did teach succession was every States right and General Lee lived up to our founding father’s expectations. If by today’s standard our government starting taking away our property, I don’t think you or I would have the audacity to fight back.

  7. smally

    He eventually freed his slaves? What a guy!

  8. Rad Geek

    Duke,

    This discussion is not about Abraham Lincoln or William Seward. It is about Robert E. Lee and slavery.

    If you are saying Lee should be condemned for his view on slavery, are you saying the greatst president of the United States Abraham Lincoln should also having the same point of view be condemned.

    If they had the same views, then they should both be condemned for it. The fact that Lincoln is a popular president s immaterial; being president is no guarantee of being right.

    But in fact they didn’t have the same views. Lee believed that slavery was a necessary evil that should only be abolished in the indefinite future by the grace of God, with no political or religious agitation for its abolition in the present. Lincoln, although a nasty racist and a segregationist, did believe that slavery was an unnecessary evil, that it ought to be abolished, and that anti-slavery types should work towards abolishing it by means of political and moral agitation against slavery in the here and now. (He did not believe that the federal government had the authority to abolish it, and did not invade the South in order to end it. But that’s a different issue.)

    But what has any of this got to do with whether Robert E. Lee enslaved people, or defended slavery?

    a couple facts we do know is that he freed his slaves in 1862 prior to the Civil War

    The deeds of manumission were filed on December 29, 1862. That wasn’t prior to the Civil War. The war began in April 1861, and Lee was in command of the Army of Northern Virginia by June 1862.

    Lee also did not free any slaves. Custis freed the Arlington slaves in his will. Lee had no choice in the matter: he was simply processing the manumission as he was legally required to do.

    Tribune Letters, they are not credible

    Well, why not?

    you would not be thinking as you are trained today in the 21st century

    Abolitionism is not a 21st century idea.

    In Lee’s own lifetime, there were already lots of people who opposed slavery and demanded its immediate and complete abolition—for example, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, John Brown, etc. etc. etc. Lee was familiar with their views and he explicitly rejected and condemned them (in the same letter so often cited as proof that he was against slavery!).

    you would be in a more complicated situation to deal with, you would not have freed the slaves on day one as you suggest, from what others would think of you and the debt you inherited

    So your defense of Lee is that he was so much of a moral coward that he kept on enslaving innocent people for five more years, in order to avoid offending the neighbors or suffering a bit of personal cost?

  9. D-Man

    While you point to his pre-war opinions, and misrepresent them, you ignore his post-war feelings.

    You also neglected some other aspects. Lee did not just have slaves from his inheritance but frequently came to own slaves, all of which he freed of his own volition. His extended used of the slaves inherited from his father was to pay off the exorbitant debt he also inherited from his father. He wasn’t some money-grubber trying to get profit as long as he could, he was trying to put himself back in the black.

    Lee referred to the inheritance as an “unpleasant legacy” and was loath to personally involve himself in the matter. I think it’s safe to say he would have rather not received the inheritance at all.

    You also neglect in your citation of his letter that his opinion was no different than Lincoln’s or Washington’s to the extent that he believed abolitionists would ultimately break up the Union. He, like many at the time, including those mentioned above, saw preserving the Union as more important than bringing an end to slavery, which is made explicit in the letter.

    One fear with Lee often cited as well about abolitionism is that pushing it may only incite greater hatred towards blacks and ultimately do them a disservice. This was one thing clear in his post-war actions. He supported state funding for black schools and when in charge of the Washington and Lee University he removed students who engaged in violence against black peoples.

    I advise against trusting the Tribune as this was a strong radical abolitionist paper which was citing “anonymous” letters of people saying they “heard” something happened. The only accounts of this alleged beating are all given in extremely vocal abolitionist press. It’s quite likely corporal punishment was administered as it was in almost every case of runaway slaves, though whether it rose to the level of brutality mentioned here is questionable.

  10. Adam Greenwood

    The myth of Robert E. Lee’s opposition to slavery is a nasty weapon in the mouths of neo-Confederates but was and is a very useful myth in reconciling Southerners to the defeat of slavery and their Confederacy. The facts should be known but Lee doesn’t deserve the kind of vitriol you are heaping on him and doing so is probably counterproductive to your purpose.

  11. Rich Rostrom

    D-Man: Lee inherited nothing from his wastrel father. He inherited some slaves from his mother (who had kept her own property separate). He used or rented out these slaves for the next several years. The revenue from these slaves was a substantial part of his income.

    However, well before the Civil War, all these slaves had died or been freed.

    In 1857, his father-in-law died. Custis Washington owned three plantations and many slaves. The plantations were left to Lee’s three sons (with life tenure at Arlington for Mrs. Lee), and large cash bequests to Lee’s daughters. The slaves were left their freedom. Custis was a “kindly” master and poor manager; he had excess slaves and the estate was deep in debt. Lee, as executor, was charged with settling the estate. Lee rented out the extra slaves, and forced the rest to work as hard as possible, raising money to pay the debts (and save the land) and to fund the bequests to his daughters. Lee was himself a fairly wealthy man, so Custis left him nothing except some house lots in Washington DC.

    As to the famous quoted sentence, Lee clearly intends the word “evil” to mean a social problem like gambling or booze, not a crime.

  12. apostle61

    Your commentary is excellent except for a couple factual errors corrected by some of the commentators but is marred by a very one dimensional moralistic perspective. The problem most students of history have with truly understanding past events and people is that they lack the imagination to consider things from an opposite persepctive, especially when it relates to slavery. It’s difficult to empathize and easy to judge so let’s just judge. If you are a true student then you must never take the approach of condemning something. Your only concern should be to understand it. And if you don’t have the imagination to put yourself in the shoes of a historical figure like Lee then try a little excerise: point your critical beam inwardly and count your own hypocrisies.

    When you open up your mind and really study this from all angles not just a self righteous 21st century one you will see that there were legitimate reasons for Lee to think and act as he did. Remember, this isn’t about whether Lee was a good guy or a bad guy. (Why must we always think like little children and view history as all about heroes and villains?) This is about getting to the truth.

    Did Lee think slavery was evil? Yes. Did he believe slavery should be abolished? in principle yes but not through radical abolitionism. Did he abuse slaves under his care? Yes. Did he have a reason? Yes, the slaves had become unmanageable and rebellious. Did the slaves have good reason for being rebellious? Of course. They were being denied their freedom. Did they pose a physical threat to the Lee family? Yes. Radical abolitionists were openly advocating slave uprisings and murdering slave owners. Why did Lee seek to extend the bondage of the Custis slaves? He was concerned about his family’s financial welfare. He needed the labor of the slaves to pay off debts, not his own but ones he was legally bound to pay according to his father-in-law’s will. He faced a dilemma: free the slaves and hurt his family or keep the slaves and help his family. He chose to help his family. Is it possible that Lee both opposed slavery morally and intellectually but supported slavery legally and constitutionally? Yes. And if you wonder how such a thing is possible look at the political arguments defending abortion rights.

    And so on.

    People, open up your minds. History is a far more complex thing than any of you are giving it credit for. Stop judging and start thinking. Only then will you really understand what this country was and is.

  13. Aster

    Nothing else smells quite like historicism in the defense of power. We must extend our sensibilities not to learn to understand the oppressed but to understand the oppressors. If only we were tender-hearted enough we would truly understand just how difficult it is to have to wield a whip.

    And ‘family’ (alongside ‘history’) justifies anything, to Hell with individual rights! “Sorry I have to destroy your life, but I’ve got a family to protect and provide for”- I just can’t manage to think outside the cage of the unchosen obligation of kin, who I must serve and not judge, no matter how much they abuse and enslave. Isn’t it lovely how the self-killing patriarchal role justifies forcing servitude from others? Where have I seen this before?

    I think this piece says quite a bit as to what the United States was and is. Or more precisely, it says a great deal about everything in America hostile to the liberal individualism which was supposed to characterise it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how the feudal American mind works.

  14. LadyVetinari

    He faced a dilemma: free the slaves and hurt his family or keep the slaves and help his family. He chose to help his family.

    Ah! So when I kidnap you and force you to work for no wages, I can just say, “Your Honor, the economy’s really terrible and I have a family to support”?

    Terrific!

    Is it possible that Lee both opposed slavery morally and intellectually but supported slavery legally and constitutionally?

    No, given that he actually owned slaves. Opposing something morally requires you not to do it. The same holds true of abortions. If you oppose abortion morally but support it legally, you damn well shouldn’t have one.

— 2009 —

  1. Marja Erwin

    The idea that Lee never owned slaves and never supported slavery is one of the central teachings of the Lost Cause, alongside the claim that the Civil War was never about slavery. That’s one reason Virginia schools had year after year of hagiography of Robert E. Lee.

    The North has its own false teachings, but they don’t justify the South’s.

  2. Rad Geek

    apostle,

    For the most part, I’ll just say: what Aster, LadyVetinari, and Marja said.

    I will certainly agree with you that the primary purpose should be to get to the truth, not to view history as all about heroes and villains. If you haven’t noticed it yet in this discussion, my primary concern here is to rebut some specific factual claims about Lee, which happen to be false — for example, the claim that he opposed slavery, or the claim that he never held slaves (or close variants: didn’t hold any slaves at the time of the war, etc.), or the claim that he willingly freed the slaves under his control — but which happen to be repeated, over and over again, because these claims are convenient for those who wish to tell a heroic narrative about Robert E. Lee. I have my own views about Lee’s character, but I think that views about the character of historical figures should be determined by a close reading of the historical record, not vice versa.

    That said, you go further than this, and go on to claim that there were legitimate reasons for Lee to think and act as he did. Really? What do you think those legitimate reasons were — and what do you think made those reasons legitimate?

    Certainly, I’m aware that Lee had reasons for holding people captive, forcibly extracting labor from them, physically imprisoning and torturing them, etc. He articulated those reasons in his writing and put them into practice in his actions. I discuss some of those reasons. But if the reasons in question are those which I’ve already discussed — for example, his desire to protect his family’s financial position and to support himself in the style to which he had become accustomed — I certainly don’t know what honest view could call that a legitimate reason. (Nor do I think that the supposed physical danger to himself or his family is a legitimate reason, either. Captors have no right to expect not to be hurt or killed by captives who try to free themselves. If they do get killed by their captives, then that may be sad — it’s sad when anybody dies — but it’s self-defense, not murder, and I’d say it’s a righteous kill on the part of the captives liberating themselves.)

    If you mean only that Lee had reasons which were typical of white men of his class, especially in Virginia, then, sure, I’d agree with you about that. But I don’t think that typical reasons are the same thing as legitimate reasons.

    You write:

    When you open up your mind and really study this from all angles not just a self righteous 21st century one you will see […]

    Abolitionism is not a 21st century idea.

    As I wrote above:

    I am much more interested in getting people to own up to all the important facts about Lee’s life when they make statements about what sort of man he was than I am in getting people to make one sort of statement or the other. But I would like to point out that (i) slavery was as wrong in the 19th century as it is today, (ii) that holding 63 of your fellow human beings as slaves is not just a minor human foible or an imperfection, (iii) that the notion that 19th century slavers should be evaluated only in terms of what their contemporaries thought about slavery is the worst sort of moral relativism; and (iv) that it’s historical bunk, anyway, to claim that there wasn’t substantial moral opposition to the institution of slavery in the 1850s-1860s (there was a whole movement of people who were morally opposed to slavery; they were called abolitionists and Lee condemned their efforts; as it happens, the abolitionists were right and Lee was wrong).

    And:

    In Lee’s own lifetime, there were already lots of people who opposed slavery and demanded its immediate and complete abolition—for example, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, John Brown, etc. etc. etc. Lee was familiar with their views and he explicitly rejected and condemned them (in the same letter so often cited as “proof” that he was against slavery!).

    Also, I’d like to note that your comments are long on accusations of bias, but short on specifications of just what the supposed bias is distorting. You tell me that history is complex and should not be oversimplified and that we need to try to understand people in history on their own terms and with all their complexities. Sure, I agree with all of that. And what exactly have I said, either in the original post or in my later remarks, that you think is wrong? What is it that I’ve oversimplified or fudged in my self-righteousness, and what is the (more complicated? less biased?) truth that I’ve missed or obscured?

    Surely before you go around trying to explain my errors, you should first identify just what those errors are, shouldn’t you?

  3. bamabeachcomb

    having spent the last hour reading these posts, I am compelled to comment to the posts author to reflect on some very well known facts. First, Lee never “purchased” slaves, further he freed these slaves prior to Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation after the Battle of Sharpsburg. Not too long after Sharpsburg, Lee began pressuring Davis to enlist slaves in the Confederate army, and granting them full an absolute freedom at the conclusion of their service, (Vice President Stephens was in very strong agreement with Lee’s proposal, which probably helped delay it, as Davis was no fan of Stephens). Ultimately Davis did accept Lee’s proposal but it wasn’t done until early 1865, much too late to aid “the lost cause”. Lastly, I write this as a southerner, who is a political moderate (I voted for O’bama, as well as Clinton twice, Gore as well as Kerry ) Robert E. Lee is an american hero, period, Lee chose to defend his home, as did many southerners who never owned a single slave against the “war of northern aggresion”. After the war ended Lee attended church many times with former slaves at their places of worship, and was admired by even the slaves he inheirited. What is so hard today is to understand the mindset of “the Union” in the 1860’s.Thomas Jefferson perhaps said it best when asked about slavery “Its sort of like holding a wolf by the ears, you don’t like it, but you don’t dare let it go”. Lincoln unknowingly created a federal buearacracy that even he would denounce today. Eisenhower warned the American people before leaving office that “the inustrial military complex should not be left unchecked” which is exactly what has happened in this decade. Alas we have an african american President, I for one believe that Robert E. Lee would be proud of that as we all should be.

  4. Aster

    Once cannot argue with a person who thinks with his or her tribe and tradition, any more than one can argue with a person who tries to think by means of faith and Bible verses.

  5. Rad Geek

    bamabeachcomb,

    I agree with you that the Union’s mindset (if by that you mean the mindset of the Federal government) is hard to understand or to justify. In fact, I think that the Federal government definitely should not have invaded the seceding Southern states. I also agree with you that Lincoln’s actions helped create an invasive and bureaucratic federal government, which is a serious problem in our politics today. As a matter of fact, if you want to know, I consider Lincoln to have been one of the worst Presidents ever to inflict himself on the U.S. But this article is not about Abraham Lincoln, or about the justice or injustices of the Civil War.

    It is about one very specific thing: the fact that Robert E. Lee personally held people in slavery for years, and the fact that he defended the legitimacy of slavery. The fact that he did not hold many slaves prior to his father-in-law’s death is irrelevant to that point. (Why would he hold a lot of slaves? He was a career military man, and he had little economic use for slave labor for most of his adult life — until, that is, he came into possession of some large plantations after the death of his father-in-law.) The fact that he released his captives eventually, at the end of 1862, is also irrelevant to this point; Lee had held them for five years at that point, which is a good enough reason to think that he didn’t see much of anything wrong with so holding them. And when he released them, it was not because he had decided they ought to be free; it was because his father in law had written a will that legally required Lee to free them by that time. Lee deserves no moral credit for freeing the Custis slaves, because he had no choice in the matter, and he’s not the one who decided to free them. Custis did.

    After the war ended Lee attended church many times with former slaves at their places of worship, and was admired by even the slaves he inheirited.

    I can find no evidence that Wesley Norris (to take one example) admired Lee. Does this account sound like admiration to you?

    But let’s suppose you can find at least one slave who Lee inherited control over, for whom this claim is true. If so, then so what? As I wrote above:

    What you don’t seem to understand is that there is nothing to sort out here because the testimony isn’t contradictory. There is no conflict between (1) believing that Lee’s body servant found him a kind master and (2) believing that Lee had three slaves whipped after they tried to leave of their own accord. Lots of white Southerners prided themselves on displaying superficial niceness to the people they enslaved as long as those people behaved (a favorite admonishment of Lee’s toward his slaves, incidentally, if you’ve read his letters), but who were capable of all kinds of cruelty in order to maintain their authority over those who defied them. William Lee’s testimony is, therefore, simply irrelevant to the point at hand: it has no bearing at all on whether or not Wesley Norris’s claims are true. I’m glad that William Lee remembered having good experiences as Robert E. Lee’s personal servant, but it’s not material to the case in point (except insofar as WML is yet another slave that Lee held during his lifetime).

    bamabeachcomb:

    Alas [sic] we have an african american President, I for one believe that Robert E. Lee would be proud of that as we all should be.

    Why do you believe that? Lee spent the last five years of his life bitterly denouncing Reconstruction. He testified before Congress that My own opinion is that, at this time, they [black Southerners] cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the [vote] would lead to a great deal of demagogism, and lead to embarrassments in various ways. In 1868 he signed on to a letter endorsing Horatio Seymour’s explicitly white supremacist Presidential campaign; the letter stated, among other things, that It is true that the people of the South, in common with a large majority of the people of the North and West, are, for obvious reasons, inflexibly opposed to any system of laws that would place the political power of the country in the hands of the negro race. I can find no evidence whatever in anything that Lee ever said or did, to my knowledge, that would lead me to think that he would have celebrated, or even been able to make peace with, the idea of an African-American President. In fact, his explicit public statements from both before and after the Civil War give me every reason to think that he would be appalled. What makes you feel differently? Do you have some evidence for this claim, or is it just wishful thinking based on the fact that you admire Lee, and so want to believe that he would do the right thing?

    Aster,

    I don’t much cotton to ruling people out-of-bounds as far as argument goes. Of course, if someone’s grounds for believing in a particular conclusion are non-rational (authoritarian, superstitious, arbitrary, wish-driven, whatever) then giving them rational grounds for abandoning the conclusion will not be enough just by itself to convince them. Giving someone evidence won’t matter if, so long as, and to the extent that, they doesn’t care about evidence. But it’s perfectly possible for someone who doesn’t currently care about evidence may come to care about it, and giving them a rational argument against their professed views may be part of the process of getting them to care about it in this case, as they already (necessarily, in order to be able to survive from minute to minute) care about it in other cases.

    But, further, even if you knew somehow that someone is just never going to be amenable to evidence, and that no argument will ever convince them, it doesn’t follow that you cannot or should not argue with them. There are many reasons to argue with someone other than your hopes of convincing the person you’re arguing with. Those reasons may have to do with your interlocutor’s horizons of intelligible dissent. Or they may have something to do with yourself. Or they may have something to do with third parties who are looking on.

  6. your name

    It is clear that the fellow who wrote all this is undeducated and cannot speak from a truthful manner. While his facts aren’t correct at all, he succeeded to make a fool of himself rambling on about many things that just dont fit the truth. Robert E. Lee was a very good man who did many good things. The man who wrote all this corrupt “truth” doesn’t know what the sam hill he’s talking about. Well i have better things to do then visiting this poor excuse for a website. GOD BLESS DIXIE, and GOD BLESS AMERICA, IN JESUS NAME AMEN.

     -Craig Brannon
    
  7. Marja Erwin

    Mr Brannon,

    Superficial piety will not conceal falsehood. It only shows your ignorance of either Lee’s record - or Jesus’ teachings as you use His name.

    I do not wish to turn this into a discussion of theology, but I feel I must speak up. As a Christian, I do not lightly call any man good. One who orchestrates the slaughter of tens of thousands of people needs healing. One who thinks in terms of nations does too. You may wish to check Mark 10:18, Galatians 3:28, and Matthew 7:21, in context.

    Marja Erwin

  8. Rad Geek

    Craig,

    Rather than throwing around insults on my education and my honesty, maybe you could just tell me which of the following statements, made in the course of my article, you disagree with:

    1. Robert E. Lee personally defended the institution of slavery and criticized abolitionism.

    2. Robert E. Lee personally participated in the institution of slavery by holding about 70 people in slavery over the course of his life.

    3. Robert E. Lee had legal control over several dozen slaves at the time of the Civil War.

    4. Robert E. Lee did not choose to free those slaves, but rather was legally required to free them by the terms of his father-in-law’s will. In fact, Lee kept the slaves he inherited control over enslaved, working them for his own profit, for quite as long as he could legally get away with doing so.

    5. Robert E. Lee had some slaves, who attempted to claim their own freedom by leaving for the North, recaptured and whipped.

    6. Robert E. Lee was opposed to secessionism.

    7. Robert E. Lee was no hero.

    8. Some other statement not listed here. (If so, which statement?)

    Once you have identified which claim or claims you specifically disagree with, you might go further by telling me why you disagree with those claims, and why you think that the evidence I give for them reflects ignorance or dishonesty on my part. Then we can have a real discussion, instead of slinging unsupported insults and theo-nationalist invocations at one another.

    Thanks,
    Charles Johnson

  9. Lucy

    Your discuss is interesting, but you omitted something on this page that gives suspicion of a fundamental lack of objectivity. Lee denied whipping those slaves that left. You noted it on other pages, yet on this page, which is focused on Lee, you are strangely silent. Instead you accept as fact what the former slave said. Since you think he is right, and Lee is lying, you must prove it.

  10. Rad Geek

    Lucy,

    If you’re referring to Lee’s private letters (in which he makes blanket statements to the effect that the newspaper stories, as they appeared in 1866 in the Baltimore American are not true and are a slander), then you’re right that I didn’t include that in the original post; that was because I had not yet read those letters when I first made this post. Since I read the letter, I have not been silent on this page; I discussed it at some length in comments and explained why I don’t consider Lee’s private denials as counting against the credibility of Norris’s testimony. I realize that this is an extremely long comment thread, so you may have missed the discussion of this specific point; in any case, here it is, for your reference. I do not know whether or not you would count this as proving it, because I don’t know what conditions you expect to be fulfilled to count as proof in this context, but it should at least serve for some explanation of why I think that Lee’s statements don’t give much reason to abandon the prima facie case based on survivors’ testimony.

    […] That leaves a few specific claims in Norris’s testimony that you might be taking issue with: (1) that Lee misrepresented the terms of the will to the slaves in order to keep them in bondage; (2) that when the Norrises left and were caught, Lee forced them back into slavery; (3) that Lee had them flogged as punishment for leaving; (4) that Lee had their lacerated backs rubbed with brine; (5) that Lee watched the lashing and told the lasher to “lay it on well”. But you nowhere state whether we are supposed to question any one of these 5 items, some of them together, or all of them. That’s a problem, because if your aim here is to critically assess evidence, rather than just vaguely wave your hands at “bias” and thus dismiss everything Norris has to say en bloc, you need to actually specify what it is you consider dubious, and why. […]

    […] Do we have reason to believe that Norris is telling the truth when he tells us (3) that Lee had them whipped, (4) that he had their lacerated backs rubbed with brine, and (5) that he stood by watching and told the lasher to “lay it on well”? Well, sure we do—Norris told us so, and that is some reason to believe it, unless you have further reason to believe that he is lying. Is his testimony corroborated? Well, as it happens, Lee himself denied something or another having to do with the case in private letters — which you might have cited, instead of the irrelevant comments about the legal proceedings in 1862 if you had read the Recollections and Letters more closely (see the letter to the “gentleman in Baltimore” in Chapter XII). But Lee never saw fit to make these denials available to public scrutiny in print, and if you read them you’ll find that he did nothing more than issue blanket denials of the “accusations”, complaining that it was “so easy to make against people in the South upon similar testimony”. This I did not include because when I wrote the article I had not found it yet (it’s buried in Lee Jr.’s book and Lee Jr. does not explain that the article from the Baltimore American charged Lee with flogging the Norrises); after I discovered it I did not add it to the main article because (1) Lee does not give any corroborating evidence to believe his denial beyond his own say-so, and (2) he does not even reply to specific charges or say what it is that is false. (Probably not (2), since he could not plausibly deny it; possibly (1), since he lied about it to everyone else, but the text of the will is enough to refute him if that’s what he meant; maybe (3)-(5), maybe only (4)-(5), maybe (5), or maybe none of (3)-(5), but rather some other related charge that had been made 7 years ago when the story first appeared “at the North” — such as the charge that Lee had personally whipped the woman, Mary Norris, after the officer blanched from doing — which Norris himself did not make, but which people at the time found especially outrageous). Lee could have meant any of these things or none of them, but we don’t know what he means and we don’t know any reason why we should believe him. If I were writing an article on Lee today, I would have mentioned it in the main body, but I do not consider the uncorroborated blanket denial specific, detailed, or credible enough to warrant editing this one. (In any case, this comment will serve as public notice of the letter.) In cases like these it is expected that the accused will deny wrong-doing; this is only interesting if there is any specific discussion of the charges that gives some basis for giving his blanket denial weight over the specific, detailed, and corroborated testimony of the alleged victim.

    Yes, corroborated. We have already discussed the grounds for believing (1) and (2); (3)-(5) (the charges about the flogging) depend on Wesley Norris’s testimony rather than on the legal paper trail. But there is corroboration for his testimony. First he confidently states where he can be found and offers the names of further witnesses who can confirm his statement; these are not accessible to us now, but they certainly would have been accessible to newspaper readers in 1866. Second, as I mentioned above, his claims about the capture and the flogging are confirmed independently by letters about the incident to the New York Tribune in 1859 (well before there was any move to condemn Lee as a rebel, if that’s your reason for doubting the 1866 testimony, since there was as yet no rebellion and he was serving in the federal army). I must confess that I did make one serious error in citing this evidence above: it turns out that there is not just one, but rather two letters from June 1859 that testify to the flogging shortly after it happened.

    There is an admitted difficulty with these letters: at two points of detail they disagree with Wesley Norris’s account of events. They both claim that Lee personally whipped Mary Norris, while Wesley Norris tells us that they were all whipped by the county constable while Lee watched; one claims that each of the escapees got 39 lashes, whereas Wesley Norris tells us that he and his cousin was lashed 50 times, and Mary was lashed 20 times. But the disagreement on the points of detail is easily explained: the 1859 letter-writers got their information from third parties who knew the Norrises well; thus they can be expected to know the broad outlines of the case but to have gotten a garbled version of the details. There seem to me to be perfectly good reasons to accept them as corroborating evidence that (3) Lee had the Norrises flogged. You might wonder about the further claims (4) that Lee had their backs rubbed with brine and (5) that he watched and enjoined the lasher to “lay it on well”. But besides the fact of his testimony, Norris’s willingness to provide “some dozen” corroborating witnesses also give us some further reasons to trust that he is telling the truth about these particulars. In any case, you have offered no particular reason so far to think that he is not.

    Rad Geek, 2005-10-07 1:09am

    Hope this helps.

  11. Charles Lee no relation

    My Country tis of thee sweet land of liberty to thee I sing;

    How great a country we live in that we can express differing opinions and state our individual views. As a Black man I am of course appalled by the thought of slavery. Yet as an amateur historian I chose to be as objective as I can. Lee whatever he was, was a product of his time. Many southerners of means owned slaves. They saw it is a normal business practice. Do I like, no!!! Am I uptight about it, No!!! Was Lee a great man, depends on who you ask, just as it does when one asks if Muhammad Ali was truly “the greatest’. Lee was a hero to some, and not to others. The evidence is strong that he did not despise slavery as some say, but he did see it as evil, albeit in his own words a necessary evil. So that still doesn’t mean he wasn’t great. Martin Luther King - one of the men whom I have admired and used as a role model, was an adulterer. Which proves he was human!!! What makes a hero a hero? Isn’t the fact that they transcend their ‘humanness’ and do great things? Let the people have their hero.

  12. Roderick T. Long

    Was Lee a great man, depends on who you ask

    Is the earth round or flat? Depends on who you ask.

  13. Mark Douglas

    Thanks for an interesting blog

    Lee was no better than other slave owners. Shelby Foote said it was odd the way teh South had made a hero of Lee.

    But the South HAD to make heroes out of someone. The main figures were such big slave traders that it was hard to make them heroes.

    They had to make a hero out of Lee. He didnt deserve it.

    According to his slaves, Lee was supposed to RELEASE the slaves he inherited — instead he lied and said he could keep them for five years.

    IN the bizzaro world of the Confederate Nazis — Lee is given credit for releasing slaves, when actually he kept them five years longer than he was supposed to.

    We know he whipped some of his slaves. We know he personally ordered and watched the whippings. We don’t know if this was common — but there is no reason to think Lee was any different with other run away slaves.

    If Lee “hated” slavery - why did he whip the ones that ran away? You whip those who run, to teach others not to run away.

    Did Lee rape his slaves? We know most slave owners did, or someone did. Of 4 million slaves, 1.4 million had mixed blood. How did that happen? Clearly he could justify anything in his mind - he had the power, to opportunity, and the mind set to justify anything.

    What would prevent Lee from raping slaves? He whipped them, he sold them, he lied about ownership of them. We know he said God intended slavery to be painful. We know his wife was crippled as she got old older.

    Where was Lee going to get his sexual needs met? Some men may not have raped their slaves, but if not, it was not for “moral” reasons. Lee showed he had no morals when he kept the slaves in the first place - and whipped them serverely for running away.

    So far as I know - no slave owner later admitted to his molesting of slave women (or children or men)

    But Alexander Stephens did later say that much of what he saw about slavery was “digusting” and he mentioned the “family connections” as the area where blacks were treated in a disgusting manner.

    Its likely he was talking about the slave rape and selling chilren.

— 2010 —

  1. burt

    Robert E. Lee is a myth. Mr. Pickett was there. He knows what a total loser Lee really was. At Gettysburg he wasted time, and manpower chasing free blacks so he could return them to slavery. To charge over 1 1/4 mile of open ground was suicidal. His effort could have been better spent preparing for battle. The south was badly out manned and out gunned, but he wasted all his time, money, and man power trying to invade the north. A better plan would have been trench warfare in the South. Maybe in time the Union would have tired of war? The poor suffered and died for the rich. What’s new?

    • Hope Jordan D. Guerrero

      Too true. Pickett would say years after the Civil War, “That old man [Lee] had my division slaughtered at Gettysburg.” Longstreet also wrote, “That he [Lee] was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st [of July. 1863, at Gettysburg], and he labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.”

      If Lee can order the deaths of thousands of white soldiers, he would have no qualms about having black slaves tortured “until enough blood was shed to appease him.” It was said that Lee had Pickett’s after-battle report either returned or destroyed, because it is speculated that he was so bitter about the slaughter of his Division.

      Of course, Lost Cause proponents will always cast in doubt the accounts of Pickett, Longstreet & Mosby (both of whom became Republicans after the War), and Wesley Norris, because they plainly worship their Marble Idol. Robert E. Lee was truly a Marble Model: a stone man with a stony heart.

  2. The Main Guy

    I find your findings interesting Geek. For the candor of full disclosure, I will say I appreciate much of your views, and respectfully disagree with much more of it as well. Lee was undoubtedly fallible, every man is. I find it convenient you leave that out of most of your commentary on this issue. You seem to view history, for reasons beyond explanation, through a very narrow microscope. Yes, you do a good job of backing up your stance with citations from various sources, however some of them are “shady”, at best. You know it, as well as some others who have previously stated the same, you’re obviously to intelligent not to. I’ve got a strange feeling you’re keenly aware of the differences between the NY Times, and the Wall Street Journal? I suppose you refuse to acknowledge the fact that your reference from a particular publication isn’t necessarily damning because you have a staunch hatred of the fact slavery ever existed in America. You also seem to not only not accept any slight understanding of it(no complaints here), but absolutely detest it as well. You also seem to detract from others views when they attempt to show moral equivalency(or the lack thereof) at times, but then have backed up some of your other opinions up by doing the exact same thing. I’m not going to look back through all of your responses to cite it, but it’s there. My purpose isn’t to call your work rubbish, or anything of the sort. I’m no defender of Lee, but I do respect certain aspects of the life he lead. Much the same with MLKJr, etc….Here again, you’ve stated many times your original work wasn’t comprised to talk about anything other than the fact Lee owned slaves. I get it. However, the many responses you’ve received over the years has presented you the opportunity to add more into your overall critique of Lee, himself. You’ve gladly obliged. I’m not going to go as far saying I’m as educated on the issue as you are, however, I love my history, and utterly despise the academic stance(borderline indoctrination) on such issues involving slavery, the civil war, etc. I know enough about Lee to of personally taken a few minor things away from his life, and try and implement them into my own. None of which are oppressive ideals I may add. I, like you, am technically southern. I’ve lived in South Carolina practically my whole life.

    What I believe most who have replied to on this forum have a hard time understanding about you, is why you utterly refuse to try and imagine yourself living in the mid-1800s? Your understanding of right and wrong doesn’t seem to differ much from those who read this forum. The major discrepancy can be found in your demands of turning a blind eye towards a mans foibles when judging history. The mindset of man, or a standard practice of a time, is 100% relevant to how one should view anything, especially history. Again, through no fault of yours Geek, I detest the notion that America is seemingly synonymous with slavery because of the way many subjects of our history are told. One could argue that a clearer look at history could make a better case for America as the gold standard of abolishing the practice. It seems, through your past posts, that you hold some disdain for your former countrymen. None of them were perfect, as none of us are. True, neither you, or I have owned slaves for whatever reason, but I consider myself a good man, with a good heart that could of possibly taken part in a standard practice for reasons hard to explain in todays world. Who knows what the future holds? Could we be looked upon as idiots, or mean spirited for something we’re doing in our lives today, 150 yrs from now? I wouldn’t dare compare anything today to the act of owning somebody, but I think the point still holds weight…..either way, I don’t want my legacy to read as Lee’s does by so many (I’m confident I won’t be accomplishing near as much in my lifetime as he did in his, negative or positive). I truly believe there were good men who owned slaves, not thinking as we do today. I know that sounds crazy, but I don’t see mankind as being so egregiously evil on purpose. Even if my summation were true, would that apply to Lee? Hell knows…. I’m just throwing it out there.

    Again I appreciate your views, and choose to respectfully disagree with some portions. I would also appreciate it if you would refrain from trying to paint me as a buffoon in your response. It truly detracts from your ideals’ relevance in the marketplace. You’ve done good work, I’m simply trying to help paint the picture of your opposition in a better light, I suppose. I guess at the end of the day I think you should not envision history as so esoteric. Some of us insert some humanistic elements into our reading of history, as oppose to a staunch black or white. I find history to be quite subjective, seeings how none of us were there to truly lay our eyes on the times…….

    Good Day

  3. Charles A.

    Past my 80th year and found this website. As a historian who was college educated I find it disturbing for its content and the comments loaded with ‘Jingoism’ of the most immature kind. We Americans are yet to pay the tiller for what we did as a slave owning nation and for our own hubris, which extends to this very day in relation to others who occupy this globe. Our generals of all ages have never been ‘Great’ and neither have the generals or leaders of other times and nations …. to find ten intelligent, honest, just and decent men would be a tough task at any time in the history of our species …. {Though we might have found some women more in possession of those attributes).

    Humans are a crude species destined for the dustbin of time. If you would occupy your life with worthwhile endeavors then one is inclined to suggest practicing loving kindness and care for all with whom one has contact …. and read the book of Ecclesiastes … therein is the whole truth of the matter.

    Robert E. Lee was just another man … and like the others of his day mostly ignorant of the human condition … no embellishment is necessary for the dead of the past millenniums … we are in all events ‘Worms Meat’ and we are capable of good and evil … try to do good and you will have a least the satisfaction of a clear conscience when you take to the big sleep.

    Two cents from a man in his 83rd year ……..

  4. dennis

    The Dennis who posted on Bastille Day of 2007 isn’t the same person as I, who infrequently post here or on AAE. I am amazed this thing is still going on. I have nothing else to add, however.

  5. Rad Geek

    Main Guy,

    Lee was undoubtedly fallible, every man is. I find it convenient you leave that out of most of your commentary on this issue.

    This seems like an odd remark. I certainly agree that Robert E. Lee was not infallible. In fact, it seems to me that I view him as more fallible, rather than less, than some of my interlocutors are willing to admit.

    Yes, you do a good job of backing up your stance with citations from various sources, however some of them are “shady”, at best.

    As you please, but telling me what backing sources, specifically, you find shady, why you find them shady, and which specific claims they make that their shadiness leads you to doubt (or, at least, leads you to doubt that that particular source gives the backing that it is introduced to give) would be a lot more helpful here. However, I should also note that, if you care to review the original post, my main primary sources in discussing Lee’s views and practices on slavery are things written by Lee himself and his father-in-law’s will (which is a matter of public record). If you see something shady in that, I’d like to know what.

    If, rather, what you see as shady is not any of that — and, thus, you concede (contrary to the frequent claims which it was the purpose of this post to dispute) that (1) Lee held slaves, that (2) Lee did not free the Custis slaves voluntarily, but rather was legally forced to by the terms of Custis’s will (and in fact held them as long as he legally could get away with doing so), and that (3) Lee personally supported the system of Southern race slavery and criticized those — abolitionists — who proposed to do away with it — then I wonder why you spend so much energy contesting the documentation behind one peripheral claim — that Lee had a group of runaway slaves recaptured and flogged. (I mean, really, what do you expect that Virginia slavemasters did when slaves ran away?) As for that claim, and the evidence supporting it — primarily first-hand testimony from a survivor of Lee’s enslavement and torture, Wesley Norris — I will just say, as I wrote above to Phil, that:

    … if your aim here is to critically assess evidence, rather than just vaguely wave your hands at bias and thus dismiss everything Norris has to say en bloc, you need to actually specify what it is you consider dubious, and why. If, on the other hand, your aim is just to vaguely wave your hands at bias and dismiss the testimony without any consideration of specific claims or the reasons we do or don’t have to believe them, then who gives a damn? A reasoned, critical assessment of evidence is interesting; uncritical blanket dismissal is not.

    You also seem to detract from others views when they attempt to show moral equivalency(or the lack thereof) at times, but then have backed up some of your other opinions up by doing the exact same thing.

    I don’t know what you’re referring to here. Moral equivalency between what and what?

    What I believe most who have replied to on this forum have a hard time understanding about you, is why you utterly refuse to try and imagine yourself living in the mid-1800s?

    That’s an odd psychological speculation on your part. What makes you think I refuse to try imagining myself living in the mid-1800s? I love historical fiction and sympathetic engagement as much as the next guy. However, I don’t know why I should be expected to limit my imagining to imagining what it was like for a wealthy, politically connected slave-driver like Lee. When I imagine living in the mid-1800s, I also find myself thinking what it must have been like to be a black man or woman in Virginia or South Carolina or my home state of Alabama.[1] If I have to choose which sort of imagining and which sort of sympathy is going to drive my moral feeling and moral reasoning about the past, I do not see why Lee’s experience would be more important than the experience of his black victims.

    [1] Just a quick review of the major points: if I’m imagining my as a black slave in the mid-19th century U.S., what I must imagine is what it’s like to be forced to work against my will and without profit or hope of rest or relief; to be starved and broken by labor to sustain a man like Lee and his white family in their idleness; to be torn apart from family at the whim of an indifferent or sadistic owner; to be confined to a plantation work camp every hour of every day until I die; to be threatened flogging if I should work too slowly or speak too forthrightly for the pleasure of my overseer or master; to live, if I were an enslaved woman, with the constant threat of harassment and rape; to be threatened with hounds, chains, flogging, torture, mutilation or death if I should ever attempt to leave all this of my own accord or to lift a hand in an effort to defend what is rightfully mine.

    Your understanding of right and wrong doesn’t seem to differ much from those who read this forum. The major discrepancy can be found in your demands of turning a blind eye towards a mans foibles when judging history.

    Well, hey, everyone’s got their faults. Wittgenstein apparently tended to steamroll over everyone else in conversations, and he was well known for taxing his friends’ patience with odd obsessions and occasionally abusive frustrated outbursts. Martin Luther King apparently was dishonest about his academic work and (what I think is much worse) repeatedly cheated on his wife. But really, now; some perspective please. Everyone has their faults; Lee’s fault is that he enslaved several dozen of his fellow human beings, held them in bondage and worked them for his own exclusive profit, for years. He imprisoned them against their will, held them in chains, and had them recaptured, flayed, tortured and forced back into hard labor when they attempted to assert their rights as free men and women by leaving of their own accord. That strikes me as considerably more than some human foible (your word!) or minor imperfection. To try and wave off this kind of massive, ongoing crime, committed for his own benefit and at the expense of scores of other people’s lives and livelihoods, as a mere foible seems to me to be praising Lee with faint damnation, and doing so in a way that comes off as tremendously callous, and patronizing.

    I truly believe there were good men who owned slaves, not thinking as we do today. I know that sounds crazy, but I don’t see mankind as being so egregiously evil on purpose.

    I don’t know what you think my picture of Lee’s motivations are. Certainly I don’t believe that Lee did evil things because he thought they were evil. In a sense, nobody is evil on purpose. But I am much more interested here in speaking in solidarity with those who bore the weight of Lee’s actions and had his choices taken out on their hides, than I am in evaluating Lee in terms of his self-regard about the character of his own actions.

    Hope this helps.

  6. Rad Geek

    Main Guy:

    I detest the notion that America is seemingly synonymous with slavery because of the way many subjects of our history are told. One could argue that a clearer look at history could make a better case for America as the gold standard of abolishing the practice.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. The first organized mass movements against race slavery arose in Haiti and in Great Britain, not in the U.S.; the U.S. abolitionist movement, as much as I love ‘em, remained embryonic at best until about the 1830s. The United States was one of the last governments in the world to abolish slavery — after Haiti, Great Britain, France, Prussia, almost all of Latin America, Tunisia, Sweden, Denmark, Moldavia, Wallachia, and the Kingdom of Hawaii. In the Western Hemisphere, only the governments of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Brazil abolished slavery later than the government of the U.S. did. (See 1 for details.) Generally speaking, this sounds to me more like something that feels like it has to be true, given a firm belief in American exceptionalism, than something that is actually justified by historical evidence.

  7. Roderick T. Long

    Main Guy

    You write:

    have a hard time understanding about you, is why you utterly refuse to try and imagine yourself living in the mid-1800s?

    I’m guessing that what you have in mind is something like this: “It’s easy for RadGeek to be against slavery today, because he’s been raised in a culture where we’re all supposed to be against slavery. But if he’d been raised in the mid-1800s (as a southern white, say), he probably wouldn’t have been against it, or at least not as strongly. So he’s unfairly judging the past through the lens of the present.”

    If that’s indeed what you have in mind, here’s my response:

    a) There’s no good reason to think RadGeek would have been pro-slavery in the 1800s. It’s certainly true that many people who are against slavery today are so because that’s how they were raised, and those same people probably would have been for slavery if they’d been raised in a pro-slavery culture — so they don’t get any particular credit for being anti-slavery now. But the best test of whether someone would have gone against the grain and been anti-slavery in the 1800s is what their attitude is today toward currently existing injustices and oppressions that enjoy popular support or acquiescence. If you’ve read around on this blog it should be pretty clear how to answer that question in RadGeek’s case.

    b) But suppose it were otherwise. Suppose RadGeek would have been pro-slavery if he’d been raised in the 1800s. So what? Does that mean that slavery was less wrong? If so, why?

  8. pat

    Even William Wilberforce would seem inconsistant through today’s lense. I’ll bet that 100 years from now people will denie that their great grandfather voted for Obama, but one year ago following 8 years of Bush it seemed like a good idea at the time. You can’t separate historical figures from the times they lived in; Lincoln used the “N” word but was against the expansion of slavery,Clinton smoked but he didn’t inhale.

  9. Rad Geek

    pat:

    Even William Wilberforce would seem inconsistant through today’s lense.

    I’m sure he would. Lots of people have been inconsistent. But that’s an argument for critical thought and reflection; not an argument against holding to standards of consistency.

    But, in any case, as I say in my post, I don’t think that Robert E. Lee’s problem is that he was inconsistent about slavery. The claim that Lee somehow wanted to get rid of slavery is just plain false, for the reasons I discuss. His personal views and his personal practice on slavery were perfectly consistent — consistently wrong.

    You can’t separate historical figures from the times they lived in;

    I don’t know what you mean by this. If you mean that you need to understand a person’s times in order to understand, psychologically speaking, why she did what she did, I think that’s obviously true. But if you think that understanding a person’s times has to mean excusing, ethically speaking, the things that she did, if those things were popular to do at the time, then I don’t know why you would believe that. In any case, you’d have to give some kind of argument for the claim that the times can excuse such a tremendous evil, if you do intend to advance that claim.

    As far as psychological understanding goes, I will try, once again, to point out that abolitionism is not a 20th century idea. The moral debate over slavery and emancipation were already part of Lee’s times, and Lee was on the wrong side of that debate. He familiar with abolitionist positions. He thought about it and he chose to reject abolitionism in favor of defending the enslavement of a race of people.

    Lincoln used the “N” word …

    Well, whatever. Why do you think I care about trying to save Abraham Lincoln’s reputation?

    I think Abraham Lincoln was a racist and a war criminal. But that doesn’t make Robert E. Lee any better. Or change the fact that Robert E. Lee both defended slavery intellectually, and actually enslaved several dozen innocent people over a period of years.

  10. Gabriel

    It sounds like the presumption is that Robert E. Lee didn’t know about abolitionism and wasn’t really familiar with the arguments against slavery, which is false. However it does present a hypothetical: If a slaveholder was completely ignorant of abolitionism and had been raised to believe slavery was right, do we still judge them? If so, how?

    This line of reasoning also brings up the possibility that we ourselves or others of this time period may be similarly judged in hundreds of years for things we do that seem right in this time period to many people (e.g. eating meat, having powerful corporate hierarchies, pollution and AGW, etc).

  11. JOR

    Gabriel,

    If a slaveholder was completely ignorant of abolitionism and had been raised to > believe slavery was right, do we still judge them? If so, how?

    Insofar as we think about anyone as human beings, we judge them.

    In this particular case we’d, well, judge them as someone who was completely ignorant of abolitionism and had been raised to believe slavery is okay, and (wrongly) went on to so believe. Just how bad a person a particular figure was depends a lot on context. Taxpayers, say, are arguably slaves, but not nearly so cruelly and completely subject to the whims of their masters as the slaves of the Southern plantations - a defender of taxation (or even a corporate plutocrat tax-feeder) has much more intellectual and practical wiggle room to think of and treat tax victims as what they truly are - human beings and ends in themselves - than a defender of slavery (let alone a slave owner) in the antebellum South.

    This line of reasoning also brings up the possibility that we ourselves or others of this time period may be similarly judged in hundreds of years for things we do that seem right in this time period to many people (e.g. eating meat, having powerful corporate hierarchies, pollution and AGW, etc).”

    Sure. People of the future will judge us, to the extent that they think of us as human beings. Maybe they’ll judge us rightly; maybe wrongly. But the important thing here just is that their judgments will be fair and correct - or they’ll be unfair and incorrect.

  12. Paul Zeigler

    The revisionism that Southern people resort to when it comes to Lee never ceases to amaze me. What happened in the Southern States to fellow citizens was nothing short of indefensible and embarrassing. Anyone who rose up and fought against the union under the “States Rights” smokescreen deserve to be as hot as any genocidal maniac in Hell right now. States Rights was a fudge the real issue here was the white man in the south thought the negro was beneath them. People who had their farms looted in the South by the union armies I have no sympathy for them, their government was in Washington DC and this was their army. I don’t believe any of Sherman’s units would loot and terrorise any farm or town that proudly flew the Stars and Stripes.

    Anyone from the modern day south who is proud of this history should be ashamed of themselves, modern day Germans carry a massive stigma of guilt for events in WW2, Southerners should take note of their humility in my opinion.

  13. Rad Geek

    Paul,

    1. Of course I agree with you that Southern whites (not Southern people; it is important to remember that there is a difference) very often resort to all kinds of dishonest fudging when it comes to Lee. I wouldn’t call it revisionism, though, because I think a careful look at the evidence will find that the Marble Man portrayal of Lee was in fact the historical orthodoxy throughout American historiography — both at the North and at the South — up until the 1970s, when the Southern Civil Rights movement began to make major impacts on the way that academic history was written. It still remains the orthodox view in a lot of popular history about the Civil War. (It is much less common now to portray the Southern slavers’ cause sympathetically than it was in, say, the 1930s or 1950s. But it is still very common to portray some of the chief generals as basically admirable men, and to disregard or simply lie about their personal relationship to slavery.) Hence, I’d say that some good honest revisionism — that is, a challenge to the conventional narratives in the telling of history — is precisely what’s needed.

    2. However, while I agree with you in condemning the motives of the Southern slavers in the Civil War, I can’t agree with your positive assessment of the Federal government’s actions, or with the excuses you make for the war crimes that they committed in invading the South. When you write States Rights was a fudge the real issue here was the white man in the south thought the negro was beneath them, I certainly agree with you (based on the writings of prominent Confederates and their actions while at war) that this was the real issue — for the Confederates. But it doesn’t follow from that that the Union invasion of the South was motivated by an equal but opposite concern for eliminating race slavery or promoting racial equality in the South. In fact, Lincoln and most of his prominent advisors and generals made it quite clear that for them, the real issue was States’ Rights — specifically, that any attempt to secede from the Union should be crushed by overwhelming force — and that it was generally a matter of indifference for them, as far as the war was concerned, whether their efforts freed slaves or perpetuated slavery forever, so long as secession was crushed. (See for example Lincoln’s infamous letter to Horace Greeley, 22 August 1862.) If that’s the aim, then I think it’s basically an ignoble one — political unions have no justification except for the consent of those united by them, and if people want to declare independence, they should have a right to do so; the problem with the Dixie slavocrats is not the fact that they seceded, but rather that, having done so, they did not allow other people (their slaves) to secede from their tyrannical control in turn. In fact, like many Northern abolitionists (William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, et al.), I actually support secession and believe that the free states should have seceded from the Union, rather than protect slavery through enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and the suppression of slave revolts by the Federal military.

      If you want a good overview of the anti-Confederate, abolitionist case for secession and against the use of military invasion and occupation of the South, I’d like to recommend J.R. Hummel’s excellent book on the Civil War, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, as well as Henry Mayer’s excellent sympathetic biography of William Lloyd Garrison, All On Fire. As for the claim that Sherman’s forces and other Union invasion and occupation forces were somehow selective in their looting and pillaging, or that innocent bystanders weren’t victimized by their campaign of rapine, I’d like to suggest that you just need to read more about what open war and military occupation meant (always means) for those facing off with their army, and how that army actually behaved in conquered and occupied territory. See for example Hummel’s discussion of the Union occupation and counterinsurgency in the (nominally Union!) states of Maryland and Missouri.

      I think an honest assessment of the facts shows that neither side in this war between governments was in the right, or acted in any way consonant with justice or human rights; as is often the case with government wars. The people who were in the right — the Southern slaves who resisted slavery and did their best to rise up against it; the Northern abolitionists who spoke and acted in solidarity with them, rather than allying themselves uncritically with the white Northern war machine — were people who were, by and large, shut out of the political process, and had very little control over the progress or nature of the war.

  14. Rich Wiley

    I don’t know of a single living human being that posesses the honor, integrity, courage, and humility of Robert E. Lee. We condemn the south for slavery, while our collective hands drip with the blood of millions of murdered babies. We have thrown God out of most areas of our society, and the God-less run the show. Sir, you are unable to see the truth before you about General Lee because your mind thinks in terms of our time and pop culture. Seems I remember a story about Honest Abe’s wife owning slaves in Kentucky under the same circumstances as Mrs. Lee. Abe didn’t free them in the Eman. Proc, did he? You believe what you want to believe. From the comments shown you’re not convincing many people.

  15. Roderick T. Long

    Rich Wiley:

    If you’d bothered to read what RadGeek actually wrote above, you’d see that he is no fan of Lincoln, whom he calls “a shameless opportunist, one of the closest things this country has ever had to a dictator, and a mass murderer.” But whatever Lincoln was or wasn’t, as RadGeek likewise notes, that “doesn’t change the fact that Robert E. Lee owned slaves one bit, and in fact has absolutely nothing to do with it at all.”

    As for thinking in terms of “our time,” you seem to forget that there were plenty of people in Lee’s own day who were against slavery.

  16. Rad Geek

    Rich Wiley,

    On Lincoln and our time and pop culture (Garrisonian Abolitionism is part of 21st century pop culture? Who knew?), I defer to what Roderick says above. I agree that Lincoln was a thug; I just don’t see why that should make me think better of Lee.

    As for my being unable to see the truth before you about General Lee, perhaps you could tell me which specific statements about General Robert E. Lee, made in the course of my article, you consider to be untruthful? Do you think it false that…

    1. Robert E. Lee personally defended the institution of slavery and criticized abolitionism?

    2. Robert E. Lee personally participated in the institution of slavery by holding about 70 people in slavery over the course of his life?

    3. Robert E. Lee had legal control over several dozen slaves at the time of the Civil War?

    4. Robert E. Lee did not choose to free those slaves, but rather was legally required to free them by the terms of his father-in-law’s will?

    5. Robert E. Lee kept the slaves he inherited control over enslaved, working them for his own profit, for quite as long as he could legally get away with doing so?

    6. Robert E. Lee had some slaves, who attempted to claim their own freedom by leaving for the North, recaptured and whipped.

    7. Robert E. Lee was opposed to secessionism.

    8. Robert E. Lee was no hero.

    9. Some other statement not listed here. (If so, which statement?)

    Certainly, if there is a truth before me that I’m not seeing, it would be good of you to at least mention what specific truth it is that you have in mind. And once you have identified which claim or claims you specifically disagree with, you might go further by telling me why you think that claim is false, and why you think that the evidence I give for them reflects ignorance or dishonesty on my part. Then we can have a real discussion, instead of slinging unsupported blanket statements about each other’s capabilities or preoccupations.

    Thanks, Charles Johnson

  17. Katrina

    Rad Geek, thanks for the information. On the internet, all I ever see are articles glorifying Robert E. Lee in every way. In general, they were saying that the North respected him for his dignity and military prowess, and that the South looked up to him as one of the best leaders in American history. He wasn’t an alcoholic and he freed his slaves before the Civil War ended. I couldn’t find a negative comment about him until I found this website. Hey, everyone’s got haters, right? It’s not “Everyone loves Robert E. Lee.” By the way, who would be considered his greatest enemy? As in, who absolutely hated him?

    Guys, stop trying to be all witty and clever and curse at others…It annoys me when, reading this, haters write either irrelevant or crude statements that attack the writer. For instance, comparing slavery to cruelty of animals and 911 doesn’t really add much of a point to an arguement because it is out of the time frame. Okay, Robert E. Lee was also a good man for his time and had virtues. But what will attacking Rad Geek do, boost your online egos? “Do your research, you don’t know anything”. Also asking questions that are just nonsense, sorry if you are actually offended by that word.

    Haha, the internet says that Lee loved his enemies. He should have worn a t-shirt saying “I <3 Haters” instead of “I <3 NY”. Just saying.

    So random online peeps: hop off his dick. kthanks bye

  18. Rachel

    I think all of you guys are over-reacting about this. This is ONE site. If it bugs you so much that one person says that one guy in history was bad, then go to Google, type in Robert E. Lee’s name and look at the responses. Most of the time, it will say he is a good guy. This is the first negative site about Lee so I think it isn’t that big of a deal for all you cheerleaders. In fact, I am happy someone expressed their feelings, even if it was different from everyone else. But anyway, this thing is similar to the Christopher Columbus thing. All little kids are all happy that he ‘discovered’ America but all of the people who did their history homework can see that he was a horrible person to all of the Native Americans and lied to everyone just so he could get a bigger ego. One of the things I have to disagree with in RadGeek’s article is his interpretation for Robert’s letter to his wife. I, like many others, believe that Robert actually meant that the African Americans where better off in America because they could be educated in America and learn more things. I don’t think he meant that they were better off in America because they could serve the colonial people there as slaves.

  19. Rad Geek

    Rachel,

    Judging from the theological character of the letter, and from what I know about Lee’s religious outlook (as expressed in his other letters, etc.), I think that his primary reason for claiming that enslaved blacks in America are better off than free blacks in Africa, was that enslaved blacks in America had been converted to Christianity, thus (as Lee saw it) saving their souls from heathenism and eventual damnation.

    That said, I think that his underlying reasons for believing that African-American slaves were better off than black Africans isn’t really the most important point to be made about Lee’s letter. The most important parts of the letter have to do with Lee’s comments on the necessity of slavery specifically (the painful discipline they are undergoing and their subjugation as a race are specific references to enslavement), and his condemnation of Abolitionism, which make it quite clear that this letter, so often cited and selectively quoted as if it somehow proved that Lee was opposed to American race slavery, actually means exactly the opposite of what it is claimed to mean — it is an expression of Lee’s support for actually-existing slavery (as a necessary evil from which better things will come), and his emphatic opposition to any effort to end it in the here and now.

  20. Mark Douglas

    The South had many brave, honorable men. Robert E Lee was not in that group. He was a vengful, mean man, who not only whipped slave girls for running away — he kept list of female slaves that had escaped him — he called the list ‘Hunting List” - dozens of women were on this list apparently. He kept track of where the run away slave probably went — what city, and street? He was particularlyl trying to find a young slave girl who had a “almost white” child. He would gave copies of the list to bounty hunters, along with a list of how much he would pay for each woman.

    It’s not clear if these were all HIS women — his escaped slaves — or just escaped slaves he knew about.

    When he got the slave women back — he would whip them — and oddly- scream while the woman was being whipped.

    Lee was nearly preoccupied to get these run away women back — young women. He was willing to spend quite a bit of money to get them back, and then whip them.

    • Gary

      I love to see your documentation; I think you are full of it. He did own slaves; he did order them disciplined as the times dictated but this I find it hard to believe. Most whites yankee or Southron felt the back man beneath them but yet like mistreating an animal the same thing prevailed at mistreating a slave. Just because you are not lucky enough to know who your father was does not mean the same of Lee and he had a name and reputation to uphold.

    • Rad Geek

      I’d like to see careful documentation of such strong specific claims, as well; I’d ask that people making these kind of assertions in this thread try to cite their sources if at all possible. But I have to say, Gary, that I find the rest of your comment pretty weird.

      Gary:

      [Lee] did own slaves; he did order them disciplined as the times dictated

      By disciplined, of course, you mean tortured.

      As for the times, they didn’t dictate whipping innocent people bloody. Times don’t speak or order or deliberate; people do. Lee dictated that for himself, according to his (completely false and tyrannical) beliefs about what black people owed him, and his (completely false and cruel) beliefs about what he had a right to do to them if they wouldn’t comply.

      So what we have, corrected, is that Lee did own slaves; he had them tortured as his tastes dictated. Then you express surprise that somebody might think Lee guilty of special degrees of mean-spiritedness or vindictiveness. Why? In any case, given that he already committed the crime of enslaving dozens of people and torturing them without mercy, this seems like swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat.

      Just because you are not lucky enough to know who your father was does not mean the same of Lee and he had a name and reputation to uphold.

      Ha ha, I get it, you think Mark Douglas is a bastard. But actually, you know, the insult is both completely uncalled for, and also distracting from the real point of your sentence: your attempt to claim that Lee’s name and reputation are even remotely relevant to the conversation. Why? Wanting to uphold a name and reputation is hardly a good excuse for enslaving people, or for torturing them by whipping them bloody.

      Incidentally, as a matter of biographical irony, which you are apparently unaware of, Lee’s father had no good name in Virginia, and Lee was apparently not particularly proud of his father at all — Harry Lee abandoned his family and fled the country in financial ruin when Robert was a child; most biographers think that Lee was humiliated by his father’s disgrace. Which may be part of the reason that Lee later fixated so passionately on George Washington as a sort of substitute father figure, and became so proud of his oblique in-law connections with Washington’s family. In any case, in the 1850s Lee was certainly far more enriched, and gained far better social standing within the stupid social circles of the white Virginian aristocracy, from his connections with the Custis family (his wife’s family), than he did from his connection with his scapegrace father. Cf. Fellman’s The Making of Robert E. Lee for an extended discussion. Of course, this is a tangential issue. Those who did have good names had no more good reason to enslave and torture, in defense of those names or for any other reasons, than those who didn’t.

  21. ifthisbeterror

    I have a question about the ‘brining’ of the lash-wounds. I ask it here because a) I’ve not the time right now to research the matter myself, and b) to further the rational parts of the discussion here.

    Could it have been that the rubbing of brine into the wounds was intended, rather than to increase the agony of the punishment, instead as crude treatment for infection? The brine bit seems a bit gratuitious, otherwise. Not that people aren’t cruel, but it seems that there would be many better ways to increase the agony of having one’s skin flayed from one’s back.

    The presence of this detail, incidentally, would serve to corroborate the testimony, particularly if brining wounds was a method of the day to combat infection—something of which slave-owners might be very cognisant to avoid investment losses in their human property.

    To all: this question IS IN NO WISE ASKED to justify Lee’s slave-holding or the practice of corporal punishment. It is asked in the interest of historical accuracy. So, please…

  22. ocg

    “I believe that the Civil War was like most wars in history—a senseless bloodbath—and that we would be much better off if we stopped obsessing about Great Generals and studied how to beat swords into plowshares instead.”

    What a load of crap. You love to hear yourself talk —that’s all this is: YOU listening to yourself. You don’t even want anyone elses ‘take’ on this topic unless it agrees with yours. I bet you won’t even read this based on my opener but I’m gonna go for it anyway. Try this: GO to a historical society (it’s a building where they have this stuff called ‘artifacts and historical documentation’- I know..you’re thinking “big word”) and do some REAL research. Then, get down on your knees and pray your descendants will not be as self-loathing as you are.

    You are however, to be fair, an excellent example… of hypocrisy. Soooo, …well done.

  23. Rad Geek

    ocg:

    do some REAL research.

    I’m happy to do more research on this topic, but research usually requires a particular question. What do you think I would discover by doing this research? That Robert E. Lee did not in fact own slaves? That he did not defend slavery? That the Civil War was not a senseless bloodbath? What?

    You are however, to be fair, an excellent example… of hypocrisy

    I’m sure I am; many people are. But is there some particular conflict between my words and deeds that you had in mind? If so, what words and what deeds?

    I mean, we could sit around and sling insults all day, but isn’t it more useful to actually say what we mean about something that can be tested? Or investigated? Or at least intelligibly discussed?

  24. dennis

    Hey Charles, you should also resort to vague non-arguments posing as critiques. Then you too can make smug comments after failing to make an actual point.

  25. Tristan Band

    This has obviously been a long running topic, demonstrating the damage that Rockwell and his goons have done. But, let me say this: I don’t care for Southern values like “honor” and “his name”. I spit on Lee’s honor. I spit upon the vile soil of the whole South.

    As a libertarian, my heroes are Garrison, Spooner, and John Brown. They had the right ideas. Especially Brown. I would have found it a high honor to serve with him; I would’ve picked off slave owners like they were deer for hunting. That’s right; it would have been just a game to me.

    • Rad Geek

      Well, it weren’t the soil’s fault. Or the South’s. It was the fault of one specific group of white Southerners. Spit on them if there’s spitting to be done; but as a libertarian, along with Garrison, Spooner, and Brown, my heroes do also include a lot of other Southerners. Certainly not a worthless parasitical slave-driver like Lee, but rather folks like Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Lucy Parsons, Albert Parsons, SNCC, et al.

  26. Gary

    While I hate to admit it you are right about everything except the Norris testimony it has been proven false, however there were other instances where physicial discipline was administrate once with the house maid; but since you condemning him what about Jefferson, Washington, Grant and the list goes on it was a different time. Let’s discuss a bigger issue how many other slaves’ institutions had war to decide whether or not slavery would exist? Virginia had already been debating banning slavery and if we had won it would have eventually been banned and without the hatred and deaths. You also make it sound like Lincoln and “you” people were free from guilt you imported them, you sold them, Hell you banned them from your states; in fact you killed and raped them. Yes, while you make a big deal out of Lee and slaves you forget there are two sides and yours is just as dark. Anyway, nice work!

    • scineram

      What is his side? Wtf are you talking about at all? How is that relevant?

    • Roderick T. Long

      Gary,

      You also make it sound like Lincoln and “you” people were free from guilt

      Re Lincoln: If you look above you’ll see that RadGeek describes Lincoln as “a shameless opportunist, one of the closest things this country has ever had to a dictator, and a mass murderer.” How does this count as treating Lincoln as free from guilt?

      Re “you” people: I’m pretty sure RadGeek wasn’t alive in the 1860s. And anyway he’s not a Northerner.

    • Rad Geek

      Gary:

      Anyway, nice work!

      Thanks, I think?

      you are right about everything except the Norris testimony it has been proven false

      O.K.; but where has it been proven false?

      since you condemning him what about Jefferson, Washington, Grant

      … well, what about Jefferson, Washington, and Grant? I’m happy to condemn all of them, and in fact have done so repeatedly in the past, even without any prompting from defenders of Lee. I do not think that ritually invoking U.S. Presidents is a good way to win an argument about moral propriety; most U.S. Presidents have been assholes, thugs, murderers and slavers. I certainly am no more interested in making excuses for them than I am for Robert E. Lee.

      You also make it sound like Lincoln and “you” people were free from guilt

      Who’s you supposed to refer to here? Me? I certainly never suggested that Lincoln was free from guilt. I happen to think the man was a thug and a war criminal. I, of course, was not alive at the time of the Civil War, and had no role, either innocent or guilty, in that horrible affair. I am also not, as you seem to think, from the North; I am from Alabama, and my people are mainly from northern Alabama, Missippi, and the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina.

      you imported them,

      I am pretty sure that I have never imported any slaves.

      Of course, a number of Yankees — especially those in the New England shipping trade — did. And they deserve to be condemned for that. But of course condemning their crimes is not the same thing as absolving Robert E. Lee of his own.

      you sold them,

      I am pretty sure that I never sold any slaves.

      Of course, again, a number of Yankees did, and they deserve to be condemned for that. You may not realize this, but a number of Yankees also were directly involved in slaveholding themselves — slavery was common throughout most of the Northern states during the Colonial period and the decades immediately following the Revolutionary War; it was not generally abolished at the north until the early 19th century, and even then on gradual abolition plans that took decades more to take full effect. (So that, for example, the 1850 Census still found 236 slaves living in free New Jersey.) In any case: those who held slaves, sold slaves, hunted slaves, forced slaves back into the South, approved of laws allowing for slavery, or otherwise collaborated in the enslavement of human beings at the North, certainly deserve to be condemned for that. But of course condemning their crimes is not the same thing as absolving Robert E. Lee of his own.

      Hell you banned them from your states

      I don’t have any states, and I’ve certainly never banned anyone from immigrating wherever they might wish.

      Back in the 1850s, a number of free states — especially those in the Old Northwest and beyond (now the Midwest and the Great Plains) did pass laws designed to discourage or simply ban free blacks from settling in them. This was done for racist and labor-protectionist reasons, and formed the quite racist core of much official Republican Party ideology during the 1850s and early 1860s. (Hence the Republican Party’s identification as being against the expansion of slavery into the West — for some Republicans, this was as much motivated by the desire to keep black people out of a whites-only republic, as it was by any moral opposition to slavery). They certainly deserve to be condemned for that — as many genuine abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Lysander Spooner, did condemn them. But of course condemning their crimes is not the same thing as absolving Robert E. Lee of his own.

      Yes, while you make a big deal out of Lee and slaves

      Look, man, I’m not the one who [made] a big deal out of Lee’s slaveholding. The endless series of Marble Man mytholators who made a big deal of printing article after article and letter after letter endlessly repeating the same false claims that (1) Lee was opposed to slavery, and also that either (2a) Lee did not own slaves, or (2b) if he did, he chose to free his slaves before the Civil War, are the ones who made a big deal out of Lee and slaves. Coming up as I did in the Heart of Dixie, I have heard these claims made and remade and insisted upon at great length all of my life, whether in school textbooks or in conversation or in letters to the editor of local newspapers and other outlets for local conventional wisdom. What I have done is attempt to add some documentary evidence on the topic that they started shouting about. It is evidently very important to them to believe that Lee was anti-slavery, or that he was not himself a slaver; but since both of these beliefs are in fact demonstrably false, it seems like someone ought to mention that.

      you forget there are two sides and yours is just as dark

      There are a lot more than two sides. And my side, insofar as I have one, is certainly neither the Confederate government nor the Union government. I do my best never to side with governments at all, insofar as I can manage it, especially not in wars between governments, when it is virtually certain that both governments have perpetrated, and are perpetrating, the boldest of lies and the most grievous of wrongs. My sympathies are not with regions, or with (con)federal governments, but with a certain number of ordinary people — especially the Southern slaves struggling to free themselves, and the radical, anti-political abolitionists standing in solidarity with them.

  27. Steve

    This was a fascinating read, as were the numerous comments. I don’t know if questions are allowed, but I’ll ask one anyway: Did Robert E. Lee impregnate any of his slaves?

    • Rad Geek

      Steve,

      I have no idea whether or not Robert E. Lee ever raped, or impregnated, any of the black women that he enslaved. Lee was certainly not asexual, but I do not know of any specific claims — either well-founded or ill-founded or even at the level of pure gossip — to that effect. Many white slavers were rapists; many, as far as anyone knows, were not. (Of course, those who were not rapists were woman-stealers, torturers, brigands and scoundrels. Many are the crimes.)

  28. The Unrepentant Iconoclast

    “Many white slavers were rapists.”

    Many White women became Abolitionists during that time merely because they feared “the Negro temptress.”

    I’m an immigrant who’s currently residing in the North (Maryland, to be specific). I’ve been repeatedly fed the myth that Lee was pro-northern, opposed slavery but felt obliged to fought for his homeland. Your article is eye-opening, thnx Rad Geek.

  29. Mark Douglas

    History is often the battle of myths, which last so much longer than battles of guns.

    There is really no question that Lee not only had slaves, but that he tortured slaves, including slaves girls as young as 13. Surprised?

    So was I. Especially since I got this information from a very “pro Lee” biography by Elizabeth Pryor. Pryor had unprecedented access to Lee’s personal papers, including his hand written “Account Books”. Turns out, Lee was very thorough in his record keeping.

    Pryor used Lee’s own letters and papers for her study, she was not using previous biographers. She is very credible, because she adores Lee, and bends over backwards to minimize any blame to him.

    From that same book, we learn Lee kept a “HUNTING LIST” — the term Lee wrote, in his account book. Pryor could have done an entire book, just on this Hunting List — but she barely mentions it. Still, what she does mention shows plenty.

    Lee’s list kept very detailed lists of not just these slave girls, and where they were last seen, what time of day, what city, and the amount he would pay for their capture —- but he was focused on what color, what shade, the infants were.

    That’s right. Lee wrote notes about the lightness, or darkness, of a slave infants. We don’t know why. But we know Lee paid six times the normal bounty for the capture and return of one specific slave girl.

    Upon the return of this slave girl — the one he paid six times the normal bounty for apparently — Lee had her tortured, then immediately sent her to the another master, rented her out. This comes from the famous “Norris statements” made public while Lee was still alive, Lee even commented on the statements (never denying them). The Norris statements were always dismissed by Lee fans as preposterous.

    But Pryor shows that Lee’s papers actually corroborate NOrris statement. She said the details in Norris statements were “unquestionably accurate” because the names, dates, times, were backed up by Lee’s hand written papers. For Norris to have lied about this, he would have had to sneak into Lee’s papers, during the Civil War, read them, sneak back to freedom, and then later, casually sprinkle his statement with details he got from Lee’s papers.

    So Pryor does the right thing, and she admits the Norris statements MUST be accurate, as to the details names, and places. But incredibly, she artfully side steps telling her readers what the Norris statement was really about. Norris claimed Lee not only had the girl tortured, but that Lee taunted her first, and screamed at her during her torture. Pryor sorta glosses over that.

    The Norris statement is very brief, this post here is 10 times longer. Why didn’t she put the Norris statement in the book? Its obvious to me. She didn’t want to highlight the real nastiness revealed in the Norris statement —that Lee was spiteful and cruel on TOP of torturing slave girls. It was the law in Virginia, you had to whip any escaped slave. Fine. But Lee did much, much more.

    What did Lee do with the infant from that girl?

    If he didn’t sell the infants, what did he do with them? Pryor just jumps over that question — though clearly she would know. She points out that Lee’s own list of slaves did not include the infants later. The child went somewhere — where?

    Slavery was not a sweet endeavor, no matter how many times you watch Gone with the Wind. Lee himself told his wife that the pain and suffering inflicted upon slaves “is necessary for their instruction” which is in keeping with the biblical justification for slavery, which Lee of course adhered to. Torturing slaves — even unto death — is permissable in the bible. While no one in their right mind today claims slavery is the will of God, and the torture of slaves is also ordained by God, this was the common belief at the time amoung Southern leaders.

    Lee was indifferent to the suffering of the mothers, when he sold their infants. In fact, it appears Lee would sell the child of a slave as a punishment. Punishment or source of cash, we don’t know which was his motivation, but we know Lee kept close financial track of slaves, and special notice for light skinned slave infant.

    Slaves came forward after the Civil War, and told how Lee had tortured them. The myth of Lee, of course, maintained that Lee didn’t even own slaves, that he freed all his slaves, and that his slaves SO loved him, they stayed with him rather than Lee. Take your pick on which myth you like to believe — all are baseless.

    Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s major biographer, started this baseless statement that Lee freed all his slaves in 1847. Utterly impossible, Lee was still buying slaves in 1857, and he was selling infant slaves up to the Civil War. Lee could not legally sell the slaves his wife inherited, but that will said nothing about babies born to those slaves, and these were the babies Lee sold.

    See the book “Reading the Man” about Lee’s own papers and letters. Elizabeth Pryor adores Lee. She tries so hard to cover up for Lee — to excuse him, to minimize the blame to him. But she is the one that shows he did keep a Hunting List. She shows he did pay six times the normal bounty to capture one young girl, who he then had tortured.

    If Lee’s papers did NOTHING but show he was capable of torture of a young girl, it would be enough to cast doubt on the whole Lee myth. But the papers show much more.

    But whatever reason Lee had for fixating on the slave girls, and their infants, he fixated on them. He tortured the mother— not as badly as some masters, but the girl was only 13 or 14. Her crime was, she ran away with her infant.

    Who tortures a young girl for running away with her infant? Why did she run away? That is what we should ask.

    In fact, Pryor shows that Lee had “an epidemic” of run aways, and that Lee’s slaves actually rebelled en masse. Lee had to summon others to force the slaves into jails. Pryor does not explain WHY these slaves hated Lee so much — but she shows they hated him. One said that Lee “was the meanest man I ever saw”.

    Could it be possible that the reason the slaves were all so upset, is that Lee was selling their infants?

    And who fathered these very light skinned infants Lee was keeping track of?

    Pryor never shows what Lee did with the infant - we know he sent the mother away, after he had her tortured. Would he give the child back to mother? Hardly. He was personally furious at her to the point he had her tortured. He then rented her out. Is he going to say —“oh take the child back, no hard feelings”? Hardly A man like that would not own slaves to begin with.

    Plus, you don’t rent infants out. When Lee rented slave girls out, he got paid for their work. That is how renting worked. There was no work the infant could do. In fact a woman with a small child was not easily rented out — the person getting the woman wanted a worker (or a breeder)

    Its very possible the great great great great grandchildren of those babies are among us today.

    Pryor shows just the tip of the iceberg of what Lee did. Doubtless there was much more detail in his papers, for her to arrive at these astonishing conlcusions. What details is she not sharing with us?

    And she uses euphemisms for his vile conduct. She claimes his torture of slaves was caused by “Lee’s poor cross cultural communication”. As if Lee had just spoken differently, his slaves might have not run away.

    Pryor writes that Lee “never appreciated his slave’s desire to be free”. How did he NOT know they wanted to be free? They kept running away, despite the torture Lee inflicted when they were caught. It’s not like they were caught, and brought back to run away again. They were caught, tortured, then rented out, and their children sold.

    In fact, Lee knew very WELL that his slaves wanted to be free, that is why he tortured them and rented them out, so they would be scared to death to do it again. He rented them out to get them further away from freedom, while he could make the wages. Slave OWNERS like Lee were paid for the work slaves did. That was the whole point.

    Lee could not sell the slaves he inherited, but he tried very hard to sell them anyway. He went into court three times, DURING the civil war no less, to get permission to sell these slaves. Virginia Courts denied Lee the right to sell the slaves.

    Pryor wrote (again using euphemisms) that Lee “separated every family unit but one” of the inherited slaves. What does THAT MEAN? Separated the family unit? Here is what it really means — he sold the babies. Pryor knows what her euphemisms mean, which is why she used them. She wanted to leave “wiggle room”. The simple fact is, Lee sold the children.

    Pryor deserves great respect for admitting as much as she did, but clearly she knew more than she was making clear.

    She also shows, amazingly, how Lee would place sharpshooters BEHIND his own troops to shoot his own troops who ran during battle. This is very Stalin like, very much like the Nazis too. She excuses even that, saying Lee stopped that order after a while. (Page 410)

    The point is not to trash Lee. Lee was a man, a man who owned slaves and like most slave owners, he ruled by terror and the threat of torture. Lee was NOT a kind slave owner, he was a cruel slave owner.

    The commonly believed myth about a slave named Mack Lee, who said great things about Lee, has long been shown to be a fake. We know the three slaves Lee took with him during the Civil War - Lawrence, Perry, and Bill. There was never a Mack Lee listed in any slave list, nor mentioned by and Lee family, and not by Lee himself. This man claimed he was Lee’s personal servant through the Civil War, which is utter nonsense. INvariably, when you mention how Lee was a cruel slave master, Lee fans will bring up “Mack Lee” — but Mack Lee never existed, was never in Lee’s company.

    We know who Lee’s real slaves were, and what they said.

    Another thing Lee fans use is a letter he wrote to his wife, which said slavery was a political and social evil. Well, read further on. The rest of the letter is a staunch defense of slavery as ordained by God, and even the pain inflicted upon slaves “is necessary for their instruction”.

    He even equates slavery as “a spritual freedom”. Not only that, but Lee stole the language in that letter.

    The language you see Lee using was stolen from a letter written four years earlier by Webster, almost verbatim in parts. Lee was writing to his wife, to justify slavery. Apparently she had been doubting this “Slave is from God” theory that slave owners like Lee would spout at the drop of a hat.

    Lee’s letter to her is a calculated attempt to pacify his wife, that slavery was from God, and that even the torture of slaves, while regrettable perhaps, was intended by God. God knew what he was doing, Lee says in effect. We are helping these slaves —- in 2000 years, God might even free them. Meanwhile the “painful instruction” must continue.

    Keep in mind that the same period Lee is defending slavery and the cruelty of it, in soft velvety language, he is NOT using velvet on the slaves. He is using terror and torture. He is stringing up girls, and screaming at them while he has them tortured. He is selling their infants.

    So the sweet sounding language —while vile enough - does not even compare to what he is doing.

    Since Lee would torture young girls during peace time, imagine the horrors and pain, and death, he would inflict on grown male slaves during war time. Lee had over 100,000 slaves working on building the earth works around Richmond and Petersburg, very early in the war. These works had to be built quickly or Richmond could be overrun, and the war would be over. Fantastic numbers of slaves were used.

    We don’t know how many of those men were tortured, or killed, or fought back. It was all just another day of slavery to Lee. But since he would torture girls who had infant children in the sweet day of peace, what on earth did this man do to other men, in the rush and horrors of war?

— 2011 —

    • Rad Geek

      Adam,

      The whole picture of what?

      I’m well aware that U.S. Grant was a slaveholder. So much the worse for U.S. Grant.

      But this article is not about defending Grant; it’s not about Grant at all. It’s about Robert E. Lee, and specifically the fact that Robert E. Lee held slaves and defended slavery. It’s not about picking a side in the Civil War, or anything like that; dragging Grant in out of left field is simply changing the subject.

      The fact that Grant was also a thug and a slaver (a fact which I have already discussed above) has nothing to do with the factual question of whether or not Lee was a slaver, and nothing to do with the factual question of whether or not Lee defended slavery. Nor does it have anything to do with whether or not Lee was wrong to do these things. (That slavery was popular among white generals of the 19th century is hardly an argument for thinking that it was somehow less wrong. Being popular in some social circle is no guarantee of being right.)

      You seem to be treating this as if it were some sort of team sport — as if pointing out and documenting facts that speak poorly of General Robert E. Lee must mean that I somehow intend to applaud the other side, e.g. General Ulysses S. Grant. Or if you can point out something to boo Grant over, that must give me an equal but opposite reason not to boo for Lee. But this is frankly silly. This is a matter of history, not team loyalty, and it is perfectly possible for me to think that both of these men (and, indeed, both of the military sides they represented) were in the wrong (both as man-stealers and as professional killers).

  1. TWD

    Amazing discussion - took me two hours to get through it - and I’m definitely bookmarking this site. Well done, Rad Geek. In response to someone who stated that the Emancipation Proclamation had no legal standing in the CSA because it was a different country, I must point out that that’s incorrect. The EP may have been unconstitutional, may have been unfairly targeted only at seceded states, and may have been a completely political ploy. No doubt about that. But Lincoln and the congress never recognized the CSA as a nation. It was simply a collection of rebellious states. One reason that Lee was never tried for treason was that to have tried him would have been to admit that he was not just a rebel, but that he was working for a foreign government.

    Also jonesing to check out the E. Pryor book that Mark Douglas mentioned above. Sounds pretty cool.

— 2012 —

  1. Anon

    Came through here while researching Chuck Baldwin, his stance on slavery and the Confederates.

    TO all that disagree with the research stated by the author, if you refute Norris’ account, you’ll have to refute Lee’s servant’s account. If you believe Lee’s house servant, you’ll have to believe Norris’ account. What makes either more unbiased?

    Lee was just as bad as any other slave owner, if you say it was the way of the times. To those who argue that slaves would rather be here than in Africa, if not for the slave trade system, Africa would be a very rich place because the smartest ones Africans were taken first.

    Context matters, but character is the ability to make your own sound judgement—which is why there were abolitionists and slaves wanted freedom.

    All that disagree sounds like the people who would not believe an abused woman in a relationship, like the people who ask her to understand what she did to upset her man, or to understand her man’s actions. Please.

  2. Hope Jordan D. Guerrero

    The difference between Wesley Norris and William Mack Lee was that the former was a field hand while the latter was a house servant. The house servants were generally treated better than field hands, and this seems the case with Norris and Mack.

    The fact is that Robert E. Lee detested Abolitionists more than he detested slavery. Slavery was an evil, yes, but a necessary evil which benefits the “black race” more than the “white race”, which is why he commends the then President Pierce for hindering the Abolitionists. He was against immediate emancipation as he was against secession. Yet he accepted both.

    The greatest evidence against his “gentelmanly” character, however, was his refusal to listen to Longstreet at Gettysburg and his sending Pickett’s, Pettigrew’s, and Trimble’s divisions into the slaughter popularly known as “Pickett’s Charge”. George Pickett was correct in blaming Lee for the slaughter of his division and Lee’s callousness in responding to Pickett’s “I have no division now” with Lee’s cry “Nonsense!”

    The Southerners who made the charge on July 3, 1863, were greater heroes than the one who ordered them to charge. Longstreet knew that the attack will fail, but Lee would NOT listen. That makes Lee responsible for one of the greatest waste of lives ever to happen on American soil.

    Longstreet, IMHO, was a greater hero than Lee could ever be.

  3. Hope Jordan D. Guerrero

    There is one thing the William Mack Lee account smacks of: Stockholm Syndrome. Like Elizabeth Smart, except unfortunately in his case, he was never cured. Imagine if Elizabeth Smart or even Patty Hearst were not cured, and they wrote accounts praising their former captors, will their accounts be taken seriously? William Mack saw the Rebs take free blacks captive and sent down south to become slaves, and yet he remained silent. Some Jews helped the Nazis capture their fellow Jews—does that make them right? It is inexplicable why some people would doubt Norris’ account yet accept carte blanche Mack’s account, seeing that the latter’s account shows all the indications of Stockholm Syndrome.

    That Lee can force Longstreet to order Pickett’s division to certain slaughter shows that he was more than capable of having the Norrisses tortured. Pickett was right when he said, “That old man [Lee] had my division slaughtered at Gettysburg.” When Longstreet attempted to change Lee’s mind about the charge, saying, “General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arrayed for battle can take that position,” and yet Lee would not budge, shows just how callous Robert E. Lee can be. His callousness was further demonstrated when he failed to console a distraught Pickett who was understandably grieved by the death of his men, who protested to Lee, “I have no division now.” The “gentlemanly” Lee’s response: “Nonsense!”

    Robert E. Lee did not value any of the men under him, black or white. That he can order three entire army divisions—almost fifteen thousand men—to their deaths shows that he was quite capable of having the Norrises tortured as Wesley Norris testified. Both Pickett and Longstreet—both Southerners—found out about the “gentleman” Lee the hard way, and thousands of Confederate soldiers suffered because of it. Longstreet wrote, “That he [Lee] was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st [of July. 1863, at Gettysburg], and he labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.”

    If Lee can order the deaths of thousands of white soldiers, he would have no qualms about having black slaves tortured “until enough blood was shed to appease him.” I am sorry: I admire General Robert E. Lee as a great strategist, possibly the greatest American general in history, but man! he sucked as a human being.

  4. someone who cares

    True white guilt is exhibited by those who deny, rationalize, or apologize for the horrendous acts committed by their ancestors. It is the guilt which causes them to deny and ignore these historical facts because they don’t want to believe that their ancestors were a part of this. As a reaction to their guilt they have fabricated a fantasy world in which they have no need to feel guilty. It takes far more courage to process the evils committed by our ancestors in an unbiased fashion, taking ownership and accepting slavery as wrong and learning from the past rather than giving in to denial or rationalizing it away. It takes more courage to admit that you are wrong than to deny the wrongdoing. To fellow white southerners: when you decide to accept the evil acts of your ancestors for what they were you can begin to liberate yourself and enact change to make the world a better place.

    • The Truth

      @Someone who cares, You have hit it on the nose. I am African American. I like Lee and Stonewall Jackson better than Grant, and I appreciate Zachary Taylor, a slave holder, not giving into white southerners like his son in law, Jefferson Davis, and making more territories slave owned. Without a doubt, Davis was not a good person.

  5. The Truth

    By the way, white people talk about slavery and the civil want a million more times than blacks. Some white people r clearly trying to paint a rosey picture of slavery and the south.

— 2013 —

  1. Odei

    If he was such a great guy dorothy then why did he fight for the south instead of the north. Convo done

— 2014 —

  1. Brandon S. Pilcher

    I am no fan of either side of the Civil War, but the lionization of Lee especially infuriates me because I’ve seen even well-meaning progressive and moderate people (including my own parents) buy into it. I’m glad to see someone challenge that with historical data for once. The ex-slave’s testimony is my favorite part because it shows that not only did Lee have control over slaves, but he was not a nice guy towards them either.

  2. Brandon S. Pilcher

    Actually I have to take back the comment about my parents buying into the idealization of Lee. I just had a conversation with them about it and I see that I have misunderstood their views.

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