The Private Thoughts of Robert E. Lee

What were Lee's real feelings about the Confederacy and slavery?

By SHARE

Yet two days later, Lee accepted the offer to lead Virginia's forces.

Lee's explanation was, "I could not raise my hand against my home and my family." The irony is that many of his friends and family members sided with the North, including his sister, whom he never saw again. Her son and two of his closest cousins fought for the North. So either way, Lee would fight against members of his family, and that's why it was an impossible decision.

After the war, how did he feel about his decisions?

Lee was devastated. He was never able to give a candid assessment of his own role in the war—where he was wrong or could have done things differently—because it was too overwhelming. Outwardly, Lee conducted himself with great dignity and was a model of how to endure the unendurable and to stay in Virginia—even though his wife has lost her home, he has lost a huge number of relatives, and he has not a penny to his name. But beneath the facade, we see some explosive feelings inside. I found scraps of paper, unfinished essays, letters to cousins in Europe with quite a lot of bitterness and anger, which is not the way he has been perceived. He's a disappointed, heartsick man in old age. And it's tragic because he is an appealing figure in so many ways.