Guests gather for dinner, presentations to celebrate Robert E. Lee's 205th birthday
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- A defeated Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee faced uncertain times after the Civil War, historians say.
Members of the Col. John S. Mosby Camp 1237 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and guests heard about the general's post-war life from historian Kim B. Holien at a dinner event commemorating Lee's 205th birthday. The audience began the event by reciting the pledges of allegiance to the U.S. and Virginia flags, saluting the Confederate flag, and singing "Dixie."
Holien's talk spanned Lee's life from his surrender to U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, to his death Oct. 12, 1870.
"But there remained a question of what, at age 58, should Lee do," Holien said. "A British nobleman wrote him offering his estate in England for the rest of his life and General Lee very politely said 'No.'"
Lee before surrendering rebuffed a senior officer's suggestion that soldiers sneak away and fight a guerilla-style war against the federal forces, Holien recounted. Lee warned it would take the South many more years to recover from this type of warfare, Holien said.
"Lee, you see, was determined to look ahead, not backward, and that became Lee's tireless message for the next five years," Holien said.
Lee turned down a chance to make $50,000 working for a New York City insurance firm, which wanted only to use the former general's famous name, according to Holien. Later, the trustees of then Washington College in Lexington, with four professors and 40 students, sought a new president. Without reputation and apparently bankrupt, the college asked Lee to serve, according to Holien.
"Of course, because Lee had modeled himself and his entire life after his great hero, George Washington," Holien said. "You cannot understand Robert E. Lee unless you go back and look at George Washington."
Lee led the college as its president until his death. The college later added Lee to its name. While he served as its president, according to Holien, the college saw its campus expand and student population grow.
Lee is credited with helping to modernize the college's curriculum, adding subjects and making it relevant in modern society, he said.
Holien recounted the story of Lee mentoring H.B. Ferguson who later became a U.S. Congressman for New Mexico.
"This is how Lee developed and shaped young lives," Holien said.
Lee, whose health had continued to decline, died after he suffered a massive stroke.
The recent discovery of scores of letters written by Lee and stored in a trunk in the basement of Burke & Herbert Bank in Old Town Alexandria prompted many people to ask why the icon never wrote his memoirs. As Holien explained, Lee focused on his duties at the college.
After the talk, Holien answered questions from the audience, even dispelling some myths surrounding Lee and Arlington National Cemetery.
"I don't know if anybody else has been challenged but I have, to leave a mark for good on this world if at all possible," said the camp commander Dwayne Mauck.
Nancy and Neil Russell, of Delaplane, came as guests with an interest in hearing more about Lee.
They said they enjoyed Holien's talk. Neil Russell said he had seen Holien speak a few years ago and wanted to attend the event.
"He's got a lot of anecdotal stories that are really cool," Neil Russell said.
Holien said he enjoys coming to Front Royal to speak to the group and acknowledged the interest in the topics.
"History is still alive out here," Holien said.