The greatest of American military men, indeed a “cavalier, soldier and citizen, Robert E. Lee “effaced self, refused gifts and high place, overcame the bufferings of fate, and in defeat was as calm as in victory.” The author Robert Winston relates a story of a young girl whose father was a diplomat in Rome during the second reign of Grover Cleveland. After seeing a portrait of Lee on her father’s office wall, she asked why a picture of a rebel was so prominently displayed. “Ah, my child,” the father replied, “you are yet too young to understand but someday you will – and so will the world.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Lee the Specimen of True Manhood
“During his imprisonment Jefferson Davis became a martyr for [the South] . . . Southerners saw in his imprisonment and the manacles and the other indignities a Christ-like figure suffering for their sins, and in the long years after his release. Davis’s struggle to regain his personal and financial fortunes mirrored those of all.
In 1870, when Lee died, [former vice president John] Breckinridge broke his resolution not to speak in public again by delivering a eulogy during memorial services in Louisville. “He failed,” the Kentuckian said of Lee. “The result is in the future. It may be better or for worse. We hope for the better.”
But failure alone did not define a man, or for that matter a cause. Lesser men often met with great worldly success, “but it is disaster alone that reveals the qualities of true greatness.”
While the world applauded those who erected memorials to their achievements, he thought there was another kind of triumph that went beyond the material and transient triumphs of men.
“Is not that man successful also who by his valor, moderation and courage, with all their associate virtues, presents to the world such a specimen of true manhood as his children and his children’s children will be proud to imitate?” he asked.
“In this sense he was not a failure.”
(An Honorable Defeat, the Last Days of the Confederate Government, William C. Davis, Harcourt, Inc., 2001, excerpt, pp. 396-397)