The William F. Slemons Chapter 977, United Daughters of the Confederacy, met at the Campground United Methodist Church for their March meeting. After a picnic lunch, President Beth Thurman introduced Mrs. Ann Burgess, who spoke on the character of Robert Edward Lee and how he was a gentleman even in the time of warfare.
Mrs. Burgess stated that many of the qualities Robert E. Lee possessed were inherited from his ancestors, as well as the training he received from his mother, Ann Carter Lee. Mrs. Lee was a devout Christian who taught her son to always be on time, be loving, kind, and courteous to all people. She instilled in him a reverence to God and belief in the Bible. She told him that any endeavor he was ever to do should be planned out it detail before he began the task, which could possibly be a trait that made him the great general he became.
Lee’s life was one of organization whether he was learning, teaching, or in warfare. The reason he was so influenced by his mother was because his father, Light Horse Harry Lee was rarely around, and from the time he was a young boy, his mother was the one who had to manage for the household and his upbringing. Because of poor management of the family’s money by his father, there was not money for his advanced education. Therefore, Lee applied for a scholarship to West Point Military Academy with a recommendation from President James Monroe. During his time at the academy, Lee never received a demerit, and at that time, he was the only cadet known to never have received one.
After graduation, Lee married Mary Custis, daughter of George Washington Parke Custis (the grandson of Martha Washington) and Mary Lee Fitzhugh. They were married in 1831 at her home, Arlington House, which she later inherited from her father. To this marriage was born three sons and four daughters. The sons all served in the Civil War, which left Mary at home with her daughters until they were forced to leave because of the danger of an invasion of the Union army. When it came time to pay the taxes, the federal government would not accept the money unless Mrs. Lee brought it in person. Their hopes were to take her captive to use as leverage against General Lee.
Arlington is located just across the Potomac River to the west from Washington, D. C. Because of its importance to Lee, a Union general set up headquarters in the house and began plotting a way that the home would never be one to which Lee would want to return. When the Union soldiers were killed at the nearby battle of Manassas, this general had the bodies of the fallen soldiers buried in a circle near the mansion so that the yard of Arlington became a cemetery. Today the Arlington House isl located in the middle of what we know as Arlington National Cemetery. The Lee descendants received money in payment for the mansion, but it was never again used by the Lee family.
Robert Lee was a captain in the Union Army prior to his resigning and becoming a Confederate. One of the hardest decisions he ever made was going against the Union as he had pledged his loyalty to it and served in its Army for thirty-plus years. He felt as if he were breaking his oath, but he simply could not decide to take up his arms against his family and his fellow Virginians. As the war progressed, Lee was faced with many tough decisions, less men than the North, and fewer industrial supplies. Toward the end of the war, rations and clothing, not to mention arms were much needed. Lee is quoted as saying, “I shall endeavor to do my duty and fight to the last.”
At the end of the war at Appomattox, Lee was burdened by having to surrender because he felt he had let the Confederate States down. When the final surrender came, Lee’s men had tears in their eyes as they begged him to continue and shouted out that they would follow him no matter what, which touched Lee greatly as he looked out over the tired, poorly clothed, and poorly armed men. General Grant was also struck with the image Lee presented. To the very end of the war, both the North and South always viewed Lee as a gentleman. An Englishman, General Viscount Wolsely, who met Lee stated, “I have met many of the great men of my time, but Lee alone impressed me with the feeling that I was in the presence of a man who was cast in a grander mold and made of different and finer metal than all other men.”
After the war, many Southern leaders fled to Brazil and elsewhere, but Lee stated that the South needed its leaders, and that they should go to work to help heal the divide. Even though he had lost his citizenship, which would not be restored until late in the Twentieth Century, Lee stated that he could not desert his native state in the hour of its adversity. Lee was ever the consummate gentleman.
Also, during the program, Thurman said there would be some Military Service Awards presented later in the year and that money had been raised to place a monument in Tullahoma, Tenn. at the Confederate Cemetery there. All of the other Southern states have markers there to represent their fallen soldiers except Arkansas. The Slemons chapter will be sponsoring one for Arkansas, and the dedication will tentatively be in mid-July.
After the meeting, the Slemons chapter cleaned the graves of the Unknown Soldiers who were buried at Campground. They died while in the Confederate hospital that was located there. Sue Johnson placed a wreath which she had made at the marker for the graves. The program was ended with the singing of “Amazing Grace.”