Friday, January 14, 2005

Lee-Jackson Day

The Generals Were Brought to Tears by Mort Kunstler

Yes, here in the Commonwealth of Virginia Lee-Jackson Day is a recognized holiday for state employees. This holiday remembers General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Some may think that recognizing these two generals of the Confederacy is an outrage -- especially just a few days before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Ten years ago, I would have been outraged, too. I would have gone into a fit of rage at the thought of honoring the men who led those traitorous rebels into combat. After all, my sister and I spent many years of our childhood playing Civil War and driving Johnny Reb out of our front yard.

I have a different feeling about this now (and not just because I have today off from work). These two men are worthy of much admiration. No doubt, they were on the wrong side of the Civil War. But these men were not evil racists. Neither of them owned slaves and both thought that slavery was wrong. They were simply Virginians. And for reasons that I do not fully uderstand, their allegience to their home state trumped all other considerations. But this should not cause us to overlook their many virtues.

There is one other thing in particular that should be remembered on this day. Robert E. Lee did as much as any man to heal our nation after the horrors of the Civil War. It was Lincoln who said in his Second Innaugural, "With malice towards none and charity for all ...." But, it was Lee who lived those words out both in his surrender and in the way he conducted himself in the years following the war. In the spring of 1865, it became clear that the Confederacy could not attain a victory on the battlefield. At this time, President Jefferson Davis and others urged Lee to break up his army and send them into the hills of Virginia to wage a guerilla war. Lee refused. Instead, he chose an honorable surrender. He knew it was time to begin the nation's healing.

Lee demonstrated his willingness to help with the healing in his personal life, as well. Soon after the war, Lee was worshiping in his home church in Richmond. When it came time for communion, a newly freed black man came to the front of the church and knelt at the rail. No one knew quite what to do. There was a moment of pause. Then the defeated general rose from his pew and knelt beside the his fellow American to receive the Lord's Supper. It is moments like this that make both Lee and Jackson worthy of remembrance.