Tag Archives: Robert E. Lee

A Train Wreck in the Making

Earlier this week I introduced you to Byron Thomas, who is considering joining the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  It looks like the research that will be necessary to establish his connection with a Confederate soldier will have to wait as Byron needs to write an essay on Robert E. Lee.  Now being enrolled at a state university in South Carolina one would assume that Byron would ask a librarian and/or the history department for references.  Instead, Byron is asking the good folks at the SHPG for their recommendations.  This is a train wreck in the making and wrong on so many levels.

We’ve seen this group in action when it comes to doing history.  If this is for a history class, Byron is going to be eaten alive by his professor.

Here is a wonderful example of what happens when we fail to train students on how to utilize the Internet.  We all know it can be a powerful tool when used correctly, but the vast majority of students have little training on how to search for information and evaluate individual websites.  We also need to train our students on how to do historical research.  It needs to begin in middle school, if not before, and continue right through college.  If Byron’s professors are simply assigning history essays without any training than they deserve to have to read what is likely to be produced as a result of what we see here.

And what we see here is basically the equivalent of approaching strangers on the street and asking them for reliable sources.  How sad.

[Byron, if you are reading, start with these references from the Virginia Historical Society.  Your library is likely to have most of these titles.  Talk to your librarian and not the SHPG.  Good luck.]

Young Robert E. Lee’s Cherubs

I don’t normally share reader mail, but this struck me as worth posting.  It’s been a few years since I last visited Stratford Hall and while I had a pleasant visit I too was struck by the emphasis on the cherubs.

Today I visited Stratford Hall.  The Great House obviously demonstrates the Lee family’s tremendous wealth during the eighteenth-century, and, while I was generally impressed with the interpretation of the plantation, I was a bit disappointed that there is not a more significant effort to interpret the slave life enforced and endured at Stratford Hall.

The docent pointed out the cherubs in the nursery’s fireplace that young four-year-old Robert E. Lee said good-bye to when he and his family moved to Alexandria.  Apparently, as the story goes, young Robert recognized the gravity of his family’s move and that he would not see his cherubs anymore.

What struck me with this story is how it conveys his sense of childhood innocence, which of course we should expect from a small child. Sheltered from the world around him, he had become attached to these cherubs set into the fireplace’s iron backing.  He regarded them as something real, something deserving of a farewell, all the while his family enslaved dozens of African Americans and denied them the opportunity of any similar sense of childhood bliss.  Did young Robert ever hear the crack of a whip or the crying horror of a slave being sold away from his family?  We’ll never know perhaps.  But if he did, his family and possibly even black servant protectors shielded him from the oppression outside and away from the Great House and its more immediate and stately environs.

I have young children who have neither experienced nor have come to understand the ugliness that the world perpetuates and endures. For this, I am thankful beyond expression.  I often wonder what they will grow up to become, to believe and to defend as worthwhile. Young Robert grew up to defend a slaveocracy- an institution that represented everything opposed and contradictory to those cherubs in the fireplace.  Acknowledging our history, even its ugliness, helps to strive to do better for the next generation.

Debating Darwin at Gettysburg

Andy Hall has a thoughtful post that explores his favorite scene from Ron Mawell’s “Gettysburg.”  I don’t have a favorite scene from any of Maxwell’s Civil War movies.  For me they are more or less bearable.  It just so happens that this morning another scene from the movie landed in one of my rss feeds.  It’s one of those scenes that leads me to hope that Maxwell never raises sufficient funds to complete the final installment of the trilogy.

In this scene Lewis Armistead and George Pickett debate the merits of Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.  Now I have no idea whether Armistead or Pickett ever discussed Darwin’s theory, but it is possible given that the first edition of his On the Origin of Species was published in 1859.  No doubt Americans in the scientific community were aware of it and while I doubt that the two had read Darwin’s book it is likely that they were at least aware of the controversy its publication caused.

The question that interests me, however, is why this scene is in the movie at all.  It’s not enough to say that it satisfies the need for a night time scene set in camp.  Perhaps it fits into the popular narrative that the Confederacy was fighting to maintain a pre-modern society that had already taken hold in the North.  The publication of Darwin’s Origin is commonly referenced as one of those moments that signaled the birth of a modern age and as a threat to traditional religious thought, which would no doubt resonate with many who choose to see Confederate leaders as “Christian warriors.”

In the end, I don’t know why it was included.  That said, I have little doubt that a significant percentage of “Gettysburg” fans believe that Robert E. Lee constitutes an argument against Natural Selection. :-)

Robert E. Lee’s Reflection

It’s been some time since we had fun with Civil War artists.  This is Mort Kunstler’s newest print, titled “Lee’s Great Decision.”  I’ve been looking at this for the past 15 minutes and I finally figured out what is bothering me.  Given the angle at which Kunstler painted this scene, the wall mirror should be reflecting the furniture  It just doesn’t work.  The perspective is all out of whack.  The other thing I don’t quite get is the placement of Lee’s sword on the chair.  I find it difficult to imagine that he would walk into such a room and place it there as if were a coat.

Finally, where are the Confederate flags?