Robert E. Lee — who led Confederate troops in the Civil War — discouraged his fellow Southerners from erecting statues honoring the Confederacy.
Roughly 18 months after General Lee personally appeared at the Appomattox courthouse to surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on behalf of the Confederacy, he wrote a letter to his fellow Confederate general, Thomas L. Rosser, discouraging efforts to build statues and monuments honoring other Confederate leaders like General Stonewall Jackson and Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. Lee thought it more appropriate to simply honor and protect the graves of deceased Confederate soldiers.
“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated; my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; & of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour,” Lee wrote in the December 1866 letter.
CNN dug up the letter to Rosser from the Lee Family Archive, along with another letter from General Lee to generals from both the Union and the Confederacy inviting him to place a marker on the Gettysburg battlefield. This letter in particular could be referenced to clear up any ambiguity about how the Confederate general felt about building statues dedicated to memorializing traitors to the Union, given Lee’s pointed thoughts (emphasis ours).
“I believe if there, I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject,” Lee wrote in August of 1869. “I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
The eloquent letters from Robert E. Lee run in stark contrast to the picture that 45* painted during his rambling press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon, in which he equated Lee — who led an army of secessionists into battle rebelling against their own country to preserve the institution of slavery — to Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
“So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down,” 45 said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
TRUMP: "This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week?" pic.twitter.com/6JK8y0bgoZ
— Tom Namako (@TomNamako) August 15, 2017
Since 3 people died and dozens more were injured at a white supremacist-organized rally last weekend, Confederate monuments around the country have been removed by either protesters or local governments. Four people have been arrested and charged in relation to the unsanctioned removal of a Confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina shortly after the Charlottesville riots. The City of Baltimore, Maryland, took down four Confederate monuments in the middle of the night this week, ostensibly to avoid agitating right-wing protesters who may assemble to stop the monuments from being taken down.
While 45 has argued that taking down Confederate monuments is tantamount to “changing history,” it’s important to look back in history to Denazification Directive 30, which the Allied forces issued to German authorities following the end of the Hitler regime. The order immediately declared all Nazi displays and reminders of German militarism to be illegal. However, Directive 30 did allow for the preservation of graves honoring deceased members of the German army, “with the exception of paramilitary organizations, the SS and Waffen SS.”
When reading Directive 30 alongside Lee’s letters about Confederate monuments, it seems that one commonality both share is prioritizing the commemoration of rank-and-file soldiers, while opting to stay away from monuments honoring military and political leaders. Given the historical context, the desire to tear down Confederate monuments shouldn’t be controversial at all.
(*EDITOR’S NOTE: GritPost.com is now exclusively referring to Donald Trump as “45.” Please read our official statement on Twitter explaining the decision.)
Scott Alden covers national politics, education, and environmental issues for Grit Post. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in Inkster, Michigan.