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Robert E. Lee Orations

ROBERT E. LEE ORATIONS

ADDRESS DELIVERED TO THE VIRGINIA CONVENTION ON ACCEPTING THE COMMAND OF THE MILITARY FORCES OF VIRGINIA, APRIL 23, 1861

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention:

Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the occasion on which I appear before you, and profoundly grateful for the honor conferred upon me, I accept the position your partiality has assigned me, though I would greatly have preferred your choice should have fallen on one more capable.

Trusting to Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow-citizens, I will devote myself to the defence and service of my native state, in whose behalf alone would I have ever drawn my sword.

EXPRESSION TO THE ARMY AFTER THE SURRENDER AT APPOMATTOX

Men, we have fought through the war together; I have done my best for you; my heart is too full to say more.

THE FAREWELL ADDRESS TO THE ARMY HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,

April 10, 1865.

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but, feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection. With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. LEE, General.

LETTER WRITTEN TO THE TRUSTEES OF WASHINGTON COLLEGE POWHATAN COUNTY,

August 24, 1865.

Gentlemen: 

I have delayed for some days replying to your letter of the 5th inst., informing me of my election by the board of trustees to the presidency of Washington College, from a desire to give the subject due consideration. Fully impressed with the responsibilities of the office, I have feared that I should be unable to discharge its duties to the satisfaction of the trustees or to the benefit of the country. The proper education of youth requires not only great ability, but I fear more strength than I now possess, for I do not feel able to undergo the labor of conducting classes in regular courses of instruction. I could not, therefore, undertake more than the general administration and supervision of the institution. There is another subject which has caused me serious reflection, and is, I think, worthy of the consideration of the board. Being excluded from the terms of amnesty in the proclamation of the President of the United States, of the 29th of May last, and an object of censure to a portion of the country, I have thought it probable that my occupation of the position of president might draw upon the college a feeling of hostility; and I should, therefore, cause injury to an institution which it would be my highest desire to advance. I think it the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony and in no way to oppose the policy of the state or general government directed to that object. It is particularly incumbent on those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority, and I could not consent to be the cause of animadversion upon the college. Should you, however, take a different view, and think that my services in the position tendered to me by the board will be advantageous to the college and country, I will yield to your judgment and accept it; otherwise, I must most respectfully decline the office. Begging you to express to the trustees of the college my heartfelt gratitude for the honor conferred upon me, and requesting you to accept my cordial thanks for the kind manner in which you have communicated their decision, I am, gentlemen, with great respect, your most obedient servant, 

R. E. LEE.

John Temple Graves, Clark Howell, Walter Williams, Eloquent Sons of the South: A Handbook of Southern Oratory, Volume 2 (Boston: The Chapple Publishing Company, Ltd., 1909), 41-45.

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