At war’s end, Southern Unionists who looked in vain for Northern compromise to avert war rightly expected fair treatment at Washington. They were disappointed as Radical policy was treatment of the South as “conquered territory to be plundered and exploited.” General Robert E. Lee had been swept along with Virginia in 1861 and viewed the Old South as dear as what existed in 1865. He wrote that “Never, for a moment, have I regretted my course in joining the Confederacy . . . If it were to do over again, I would do just as I did before.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
“Who Then is Responsible for the War?”
“Occasionally someone from the North would write and ask the General’s opinion about Southern affairs. [A former Illinois] Captain, having expressed feelings of kindness and friendship, asked General Lee to set forth the reasons which influenced him to take part with the Confederate States.
Lee replied that he had no other guide and no other object than the defense of those principles of American liberty upon which the constitutions of the several States were originally founded. “Unless they are strictly observed,” he added, “I fear there will be an end to republican government in this country.”
In this letter Lee showed a grasp of the situation. He felt he had no influence in national affairs and whatever was done must be accomplished by those who controlled the councils of the country. Only the Northern people themselves could exercise a beneficial influence.
[Lee did not view the right of secession as legitimate, and] admitted that the Southern people generally believed in the right, but, as for himself, he did not. [British historian Herbert C. Saunders wrote after interviewing Lee that] “This right he told me he always held a constitutional right . . . As to the policy of Secession on the part of the South, he was at first distinctly opposed to it and not until Lincoln issued a proclamation for 75,000 men to invade the South, which he deemed so clearly unconstitutional, that he had then no longer any doubt what course his loyalty to the Constitution and to his State required him to take.”
[A few months later], Lord Acton, wrote Lee and asked his opinion on the questions at issue. The General’s answer is comprehensive and abounds in historical references . . . It calls attention to the [secession] attitude of New England in 1814 and to the Harford Convention.
“The South has contended only for the supremacy of the Constitution,” the Acton letter reads, “and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance of it. Virginia, to the last, made great effort to save the Union, and urged harmony and compromise.” After quoting [Stephen A.] Douglas, to the effect that the Southern members would have accepted the Crittenden Compromise, in order to avert civil strife, but that the Republican party refused this offer, the letter asks, “Who then is responsible for the war?”
(Robert E. Lee, a Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, excerpts pp. 390-394)