|Courtesy of Washington and Lee University.
In 1861, US
Colonel Robert E. Lee received an offer he struggled to refuse. With the nascent rebellion fueled by combustible passions North
and South, President Lincoln needed a commanding General in the field who could quickly dowse the flames. The United States would
tender this honor to Colonel Lee, an officer whom General-in-Chief Winfield Scott held in the highest regard. While pondering his
decision in Arlington, visible from Washington just across the Potomac River, Colonel Lee could not bring himself to lead an army
possibly against members of his family and the people of Virginia. He would reply to General Scott, his former commander in the
Mexican War, "I shall carry with me to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration, and your name and
fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword."
But defend his state, he did. For
four long and bloody years, the Army of Northern Virginia was the primary thorn in the Federal's
routinely aching side, offering the greatest hope for obtaining Southern Independence. However, with the surrender of Lee's Army at
Appomattox and the subsequent end of the war, Union and Confederate soldiers alike faced the need to once again return to a more
peaceful civilian life. For those in the south whose devastated lands offered little in the way of immediate resources, the task
would prove difficult. For Robert E. Lee, the path was somewhat simpler. In 1865, he accepted the position of President at
Washington College in Lexington Virginia, the same town and not far from where General Stonewall Jackson lay at rest. He would serve
as President of the college until his death five years later. On October 12, 1870, the general who had lead the most successful
Southern Army, the Colonel who had for three decades served the United States, and the man who had won the hearts, admiration, and
devotion of hundreds of thousands, was dead. The former Confederate States greatly mourned this monumental loss. Robert Edward Lee
would be buried in the crypt beneath the majestic recumbent statue along with his parents, wife, children, and other relatives.