The Great Decision
by Mort Kunstler
Lee at Arlington House, April 19, 1861
Remembered today as the leader of the Confederate States Army, Robert E. Lee's military service was one of distinction long before the Civil War. With a family tree firmly rooted in the armed forces of early Colonial America, his service to the United States Army spanned 32 years.
When newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln gave control of the Union Army to Winfield Scott, the general immediately requested that Robert E. Lee be given a top command position. On April 18, 1861, then Colonel Lee was summoned to Washington D.C. where he met with Francis P. Blair who said, “I come to you on the part of President Lincoln to ask whether any inducement that he can offer will prevail on you to take command of the Union army.”
Taking command of Union forces in Washington would require Lee to take up arms against his own state of Virginia. Accepting the conundrum of his situation, Lee returned to his beloved home at Arlington House where he spent the next two days pondering the repercussions of his decision. After hours of contemplative thought, he graciously rejected the offer and ended his illustrious career in the United States Army.
Lee's resignation letter to General Scott clearly depicted the difficulty of his decision. It read: ”I have felt that I ought not longer to retain any commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted all the best years of my life, and all the ability I possessed.” He closed with "Save in the defense of my native state shall I ever again draw my sword.”
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