General Robert E. Lee,
Officer and Gentleman

 




Lee personified the Southern code of dignity, based on the premise that human beings are deeply flawed and, because of our passions, are in constant danger of falling into trouble.

The code helped a man balance and restrain his desires, "Whiskey - I like it,  I always did, that is why I never use it."

The code demanded that the individual put community interest above personal interest, "You do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less."

The code called for the followers to be dispassionate, "I can never trust a man to control others who can not control himself."

The code eschewed hubris, "My chief concern is to try to be an humble, earnest Christian."

The code expects honesty in the spoken and written words, "You must study to be frank with the world; frankness is the child of honesty and courage. Say just what you mean to do on every occasion, and take it for granted that you mean to do right."

Read the words of his farewell address to his troops and see how the code effected his written words.
 

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the brave survivors of some many hard fought battles who have remained steadfast to the last that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from a consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a Merciful God will extend to you His blessings and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell."

R.E. Lee
Genl.



General Lee is not only a hero and a gentleman to which we can point with pride, but a role model for us all.  The last gentlemen was described in Walker Percy's novel of the same name, as a delicate child, whose soul is a battleground for forces of the rational and the irrational, living a sort of Christian existentialism.  When Williston Bibb Barrett falls in love with Kitty Vaught, he turns from a mere observer of his fellow men into a participant in people's lives.
 
For until this moment he had lived in a state of pure possibility, not knowing what sort of man he was or what he must do, and supposing therefore that he must be all men and do everything. But after this morning's incident his life took a turn in a particular direction. Thereafter he came to see that he was not destined to do everything but only one or two things. Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him.

 I have no illusions that the South ever again can cultivate gentlemen the caliber of General Lee, or, for that matter, gentlemen at all.  As my brother remarked, "We are all rednecks now."  Like Percy's hero, there are a few sturdy souls, occasionally redeemed by love, floating slightly above the dog eat dog world of the caught and the uncaught dominated  by the Snopes.  But with that said, the revival of Southern Literature offers an outside chance Dixie will rise again, on the wings of a colorful and polite language  - 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

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