The Love that Lee Inspired in the Men He Led
By WILLIAM MEADE DAME,
D. D.Private, First Company
General Lee had come in an ace of being captured. A body of the enemy had pushed through a gap in our line and unexpectedly come right upon the old General, who was quietly sitting upon his horse. That, these fellows could with perfect ease have taken, or shot him, but that he had quietly ridden off, and the enemy not knowing who it was, made no special effort to molest him.
I wish you could have seen the appalled look that fell on the faces of the men, as they listened to this. Although the danger was past an hour ago, they were as pale and startled and shocked as if it were enacting then. The bare idea of anything happening to General Lee was enough to make a man sick, and I assure you it took all the starch out of us for a few minutes.
I don’t know how it was, but somehow, it never occurred to us that anything could happen to General Lee. Of course, we knew that he was often exposed, like the rest of us. We had seen him often enough under hot fire. And, by the way, I believe that the one only thing General Lee ever did, that the men in this army thought he ought not to do, was going under fire. We thought him perfect in motive, deed and judgment; he could do no wrong, could make no mistake, but this,—that he was too careless in the way he went about a battlefield. Three different times, during these very fights, at points of danger, he was urged to leave the spot, as it was “not the place for him.” At last he said, “I wish I knew where my place is on the battlefield; wherever I go some one tells me that is not the place for me.”
But, he would go! He wanted to see things for himself, and he wished his men to know, that he was looking after them, both seeing that they did their duty, and caring for them. And certainly, the sight of his beloved face was like the sun to his men for cheer and encouragement. Every man thought less of personal danger, and no man thought of failure after he had seen General Lee riding along the lines. Nobody will ever quite understand what that old man was to us, his soldiers! What absolute confidence we felt in him! What love and devotion we had, what enthusiastic admiration, what filial affection, we cherished for him. We loved him like a father, and thought about him as a devout old Roman thought of the God of War. Anything happen to him! It would have broken our hearts, for one thing, and, we could no more think of the “Army of Northern Virginia” without General Lee, at its head, than we could picture the day without the sun shining in the heavens.
An incident illustrating this feeling was taking place up in the front just about the time we were hearing the news of the General’s narrow escape.
As the Texan Brigade of Longstreet’s Corps, just come up, dashed upon the heavy ranks of the Federals, they passed General Lee with a rousing cheer. The old General, anxious and excited by the critical moment, thrilling with sympathy in their gallant bearing, started to ride in, with them, to the charge. It was told me the next day by some of the Texans, who witnessed it, that the instant the men, unaware of his presence with them before, saw the General along with them in that furious fire, they cried out in pleading tones—“Go back, General Lee. We swear we won’t go on, if you don’t go back. You shall not stay here in this fire! We’ll charge clear through the wilderness if you will only go back.” And they said, numbers of the men crowded about the General, and begged him, with tears, to return, and some caught hold of his feet, and some his bridle rein, and turned his horse round, and led him back a few steps,—all the time pleading with him.
And then, the General seeing the feelings of his men, and that he was actually checking the charge by their anxiety for him, said, “I’ll go, my men, if you will drive back those people,” and he rode off, they said, with his head down, and they saw tears rolling down his cheeks. And they said, many of the men were sobbing aloud, overcome by this touching scene. Then with one yell, and the tears on their faces, those noble fellows hurled themselves on the masses of the enemy like a thunderbolt.
Not only did they stop the advance, but their resistless fury swept all before it and they followed the broken Federals half a mile. They redeemed their promise to General Lee. Eight hundred of them went in, four hundred, only, came out. They covered with glory that day, not only themselves, who did such deeds, but their leader, who could inspire such feelings at such a moment in the hearts of these men. Half their number fell in that splendid charge, but—they saved the line, and they gloriously redeemed their promise to General Lee—“We’ll do all you want, if you will only get out of fire.” I cannot think of anything stronger than to say that—
This General, and these soldiers, were worthy of each other. There is no higher praise!
I think the post speaks for itself, but there is another reason I chose to post it!
The attitude that southerners have to this day, not only about General Lee but about every man who wore the gray!
We still love and respect all of them. Even the ones who some say don’t exist! And I think this is a feeling that is special in the south. In the same way Lees’ men loved him and wanted to protect him, we as southerners still love and want to protect all of our southern ancestors.
And I think that is one thing that eats at our detractors. We still love and defend our men in gray; the color of their skin doesn’t matter. Their status as free or slave doesn’t matter. It was the content of their heart.
God bless them all, and may we never give up on standing our ground, to show our love and respect for all of them!