Friday, November 25, 2016
GA State Holiday: Lee's Birthday Observed
Lee in 1863, while Commanding the Army of Northern Virginia
One of the greatest military leaders in the history of the United States is General Robert E. Lee (+1870AD) of Virginia. On 19 January 1807, Lee was born at Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
In the state of Georgia, today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a state holiday: the observance of 19 January. For the first time, this year it is listed without specific reference to Robert E. Lee, whose birthday is was to commemorate.
In the state code of Georgia discussing those days to be designated state holidays, it notes in O.C.G.A. § 1-4-1, "the Governor shall include at least one of the following dates: January 19, April 26, or June 3." Currently, 19 January, Lee's Birthday, and 26 April, Confederate Memorial Day, are both on the calendar, though under the title "state holiday" without explanation of the significance of the date, and 3 June, the Birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, is not.
The governor's proclamation of state holidays for 2016 can be found here:
Georgia State Holidays: 2016
For the sake of comparison, here is the same document from 2015, which reflects how the day has been noted each year prior:
Georgia State Holidays: 2015
Who, then, was Confederate General Robert E. Lee?
His father a leader in the American Revolution, "Light Horse" Harry Lee, and his mother a member of the distinguished Carter family of Virginia, Lee certainly had notable bloodlines.
More than this, however, was his own talent and character. Lee's remarkable military career is well known, with his great victories in command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, such as that at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville, renowned. He was loved by his men, feared and respected by his foes, gracious in victory and humble in defeat.
This speaks to his character. Lee was a devout Episcopalian, who took his faith, and, in particular, his duties, very seriously. Indeed, just as duty might be said to partly define what a gentleman is, so it defined Robert E. Lee. There are any number of stories that attest to his great sense of duty and honor.
It was this sense of duty that caused him to remain loyal to his home state of Virginia with the coming of the war, despite the fact that he was no zealot for secession. When offered command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia, his speech to the Convention at Richmond on 23 April 1861 was brief, but very much in character:
"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 honour 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 defense and service of my native State, in whose behalf alone would I have ever drawn my sword."
After the war, he would serve as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he is buried.
Here is a short biography of Lee:
Civil War Home: Lee
Lee in 1869, while President of Washington College (now Washington & Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia.
On this anniversary of his birth, you might be interested in "virtually" visiting a few of the sites associated with General Lee.
He was born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia:
Stratford Hall Official Site
He lived for many years with his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, (great-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington by the first lady's first husband) at the Arlington House, in the county now named for it. This home is on a magnificent bluff overlooking Washington, DC, and was, of course, seized by the federal government to be used as a cemetery, now Arlington National Cemetery. The Lee family was later reimbursed for what was determined to be wrongful seizure. The house itself is now designated as the Robert E. Lee Memorial:
Arlington House: Robert E. Lee Memorial
In Georgia, Fort Pulaski in Chatham County near Savannah, was actually partially designed by a young army engineer, Robert E. Lee:
Robert E. Lee at Fort Pulaski
Finally, Robert E. Lee is buried in the chapel of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia:
May each of us have the character to act with honor and devotion, even in the face of crisis and hardship.