Lee's letter reveals the moment he decided to resign the U.S.
Army and join the Confederate cause by
Daily Mail Reporter
| Published November 24, 2012
'I have been unable to make up my
mind to raise my hand against my native state': General
Lee's letter reveals the moment he decided to resign the
U.S. Army and join the Confederate cause.
Robert E. Lee may have fought on the Confederate side in
the Civil War, but his true allegiance always lay with his
beloved home state of Virginia, according to his newly released
At the outset of what was to become the bloodiest war in
U.S. history, Lee was grappling with divided federal and
state loyalties. He believed that he could not raise arms
against the people of his state in the name of the Union,
as he wrote to a friend about resigning his U.S. Army commission.
‘Sympathizing with you in the troubles that are pressing
so heavily upon our beloved country & entirely agreeing
with you in your notions of allegiance, I have been unable
to make up my mind to raise my hand against my native state,
my relatives, my children & my home,’ he wrote
in 1861. ‘I have therefore resigned my commission
in the Army.’
Lee will go on to lead the entire Confederate Army against
the North, winning several key battles while being outnumbered
by the Union forces before finally surrendering in 1865
after four bloody years to his archival General Ulysses
S. Grant at Appomatox Court House.
Lee's handwritten letter is
among dozens of writings from famous and ordinary individuals
who experienced the war on both sides of the conflict. They
are featured in the new exhibit ‘The Civil War in
America’ at the library in Washington until June 2013.
Their voices also are being
heard again in a new blog created for the exhibition.
For a limited time in 2013,
the extensive display will feature the original draft of
President Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation
and rarely shown copies of the Gettysburg Address
Beyond the generals and famous battles, though, curators
set out to tell a broader story about what Lincoln called
‘a people's contest.
‘This is a war that trickled
down into almost every home,’ said Civil War manuscript
specialist Michelle Krowl. ‘Even people who may seem
very far removed from the war are going to be impacted on
some level. So it's a very human story.’
Curators laid out a chronological journey from before the
first shots were fired to the deep scars soldiers brought
home in the end.
While some still debate the root causes of the war, for
Benjamin Tucker Tanner in 1860, the cause was clear, as
he wrote from South Carolina in his diary.
‘The country seems to
be bordering on a civil war all on account of slavery,’
wrote the future minister. ‘I pray God to rule and
overrule all to his own glory and the good of man.’
A personal letter from Mary Todd Lincoln in 1862 was recently
acquired by the library and is being publicly displayed
for the first time.
In the handwritten note on stationery with a black border,
Mary Lincoln reveals her deep grief over the death of her
son Willie months earlier. Krowl said Mary Lincoln's grief
is also evident in the new movie, Lincoln, where the first
lady is portrayed by Sally Fields.
‘When you read this letter ... you just get a palpable
feeling of how in the depth that she's been and she's now
finally coming out of her grief, at least to resume public
affairs,’ Krowl said.
All the documents in the exhibit
are original. They include a massive map Gen. Stonewall
Jackson commissioned of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to
prepare for a major campaign.
The library also is displaying personal items from Lincoln,
including the contents of his pockets on the night he was
assassinated, and the pocket diary of Clara Barton who would
constantly record details about soldiers she met and later
founded the American Red Cross.
Some of the closing words come from soldiers who lost their
right arms or hands in battle and had to learn to write
left-handed. They joined a left-handed penmanship contest
and shared their stories.
‘I think this exhibition will have a lot of resonance
for people,’ said exhibit director Cheryl Regan. ‘Certainly
soldiers returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq are going to be incredibly moved by these stories.’