Once, while working as superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, Robert E. Lee said, “I consider the character of no man affected by want of success provided he has made an honest effort to succeed” (25). Not many years afterwards, he lived those words out as he “made an honest effort to succeed” in fighting for the Confederate States of America. Lee not only fought hard, but even when his work was, to put it gently, unsuccessful, he did not regret the choices he had made or see dishonor in the task he had done. Robert E. Lee was a leader whom nations admired, a general whom soldiers loved, a man whom history immortalizes, and in Robert E. Lee: Virginian Soldier, American Citizen by James I. Robertson Jr., this man and the events of his time live again.
In a concise biography, James Robertson masterfully details Robert E. Lee’s life, from his birth on January 19, 1807, to his death on October 12, 1870. One sees the opinions of those who encountered Lee and the way in which he earns the respect of both his friends and his enemies. In war and in peace, Lee was honorable, charitable, compassionate, humble, and discerning. As one New York City newspaper put it after his death, “In him all that was pure and lofty in mind and purpose found lodgment. He came nearer the ideal of a soldier and Christian general than any man we can think of” (143). One of the most important parts of Lee’s life that Robertson focuses on is his life after the Civil War. Lee kept the best interests of the South and of America at heart in the years succeeding the war. When offered a tour of Europe, he turned it down. He saw a different vocation for himself and knew that, as the man his countrymen so admired, he must be the one to lead them in the paths of peace and the restoration of union. One of Lee’s best and most lasting legacies is the time he spent in his final years serving as superintendent of a tiny college, now known as Washington and Lee University. Not aspiring to greatness, Lee served in whatever capacity God placed him and dispatched each task as well as he could. Lee said, “The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, [and] that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches each of us to hope” (140). Despite the fact that Robert E. Lee suffered grievous defeat during the work of his lifetime, he did not despair, but put his trust in God.