GENERAL LEE'S FATAL MISTAKE | 2003-01-25
Historians love to paint a verbal picture of General Lee at Appomattox, the noble Virginia Gentleman in his clean and pressed gray uniform offering Honorable Surrender to his fellow Americans.
What no one ever mentions is the fact that Robert E. Lee bitterly regretted that Honorable Surrender for the rest of his life.
The night before Lee surrendered, he called a meeting of his general staff. He told them he wanted to surrender not only his army, but all the Confederate forces in order to end the bloodshed. He would leave the South's fate to his fellow Americans.
A brigadier general from South Carolina (where else?) pointed out that those were not honorable Americans, they were Yankees. He demanded that Lee's small remaining army throw away its heavy equipment and run for the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains to form a guerilla force.
Lee refused to be a last-ditch guerrilla leader. He lived to see General Grant, the man he Honorably Surrendered to, become President Grant and impose military occupation and Reconstruction on a helpless South.
A South that was helpless largely because of Lee.
When Lee surrendered, there were hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers still in arms. As Commander in Chief, he surrendered them all.
The North could not have enslaved us so easily if we had had a guerrilla force still in being after 1865. General Shelby could have led his forces to Lee's guerrillas rather than to Mexico. The thousands of Southerners who went to Americana in Brazil and the others who died trying could have gone to join Lee.
But it was all hopeless, Lee said. So he quit.
And Lee never forgave himself for it until his death at the height of Reconstruction.