Big Hearted General Lee
( Originally Published 1902 )
WHEN General Lee had been informed by General Gordon that his army had been wasted to a fragment, and that he could no longer resist the enemy, Lee said, " There is nothing left but to go to General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths ! " and then, for the first time during the war, he sank into a fit of deep despondency in which he said, " How easily I could get rid of this, and be at rest ! I have only to ride along the line, and all will be over ! " He was silent for a short time after uttering these words, then, with a heavy sigh, added, " But it is our duty to live." After the surrender, however, he set himself cheerfully to the task of filling out, with usefulness and honor, the days that remained to him. He, who during the war had never been heard to say an unkind thing about the Northern people, after it did everything in his power, by precept and example to allay sectional bitterness and encourage loyalty to the Government of the United States. While he was President of Washington College—which position he accepted at the close of the war—a woman, whose husband had been killed in the Confederate army brought her two sons to him. Thinking she would have a listener in sympathy with her, she indulged in a bitter tirade against the North, and to her surprise the General gently said : " Madam, do not train up your children in hostility to the Government of the United States. Remember that we are one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling and bring them up to be Americans."
With this freedom from bitterness, his spirit went a step farther in its superb magnanimity as illustrated in this incident, told by a gentleman of the North :
" One day last autumn, the writer saw General Lee standing at his gate, talking pleasantly to an humbly-clad man, who seemed very much pleased at the cordial courtesy of the great chieftain, and turned off, evidently delighted, as we came up. After exchanging salutations, the General said, pointing to the retreating form, ` That is one of our old soldiers, who is in necessitous circumstances.' I took it for granted that is was some veteran Confederate, when the noble-hearted chieftain quietly added, ` He fought on the other side, but we must not think of that.' I afterward ascertained—not from General Lee, for he never alluded to his charities—that he had not only spoken kindly to this ` old soldier' who had ` fought on the other side,' but had sent him on his way rejoicing in a liberal contribution to his necessities."
A man of such mental ability, such military genius, such religious devotion, such kindness of spirit, such magnanimity of soul, will have a permanent place in the respect and affection of all true Americans.