Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Clearly, these two generals fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War, but their actions have been officially forgiven. In the case of Robert E. Lee, the resolution to the effect (and reinstating his citizenship) was even signed by President Ford. Apparently, at least one “unnamed official” believes he knows better than President Ford and both Houses of Congress.
Regardless of the side they fought on, Lee and Jackson were great generals and should never be forgotten. More importantly, students can learn a great deal from them and their actions. While this particular story is about the Army War College, it could have wider repercussions. Many military schools, government buildings, and military installations throughout the country also have portraits of Confederate Generals hanging on their walls.
Both Lee and Jackson were graduates of West Point and served with distinction in the United States Army prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. They were not responsible for the war, but rather were soldiers who were fighting to keep their families, friends, homes, and all that they loved safe. Removing their images because a few, or even a great many, people do not agree with the cause they fought in support of is a very dangerous path to start down because their is no way to know where it will end.
While the argument against having them is certainly that they fought against the United States, the question that must be asked is how far we are willing to go in removing references to those we disagree with? Once we remove the images from the halls, do we remove the books that explain their actions, then the ones that describe them? Are we next to stop discussing the battles that cannot reasonably be discussed without mention of their commanding generals and how they fit into a pattern of battles? Does it end with a refusal to discuss the reasons behind the Civil War, save only that it was “fought to free the slaves”?
This final outcome is all the more distressing because at no point was the primary reason for fighting directly related to the slaves for more than a radical few. The South fought to defend states’ rights. The North fought to preserve the Union. And economic reasons were inextricably bound up in the issues for both sides.
Why study them at all, though? Why not simply study the Northern Generals? The reason is simple: why would any student willfully ignore the examples and lessons of someone who was great – by any standard – in their chosen field? No matter how you feel about the South seceding or the people who died in battles led and fought in by Lee and Jackson, their skill as generals cannot be denied. It was only a quirk of geography, particularly for Lee, that resulted in them fighting for the Confederacy instead of the Union.
And please know this: I write all of this as a died-in-the-wool, generations-long Yankee.