Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 12, 2006


Valuable lessons for today learned from Robert E. Lee


          My son Tim, an experienced forester, is an admirer of Robert E. Lee. When he learned how much I liked the new book on character by Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers Jr., he suggested we swap books.

          He wanted me to read one of his favorite books – Robert E. Lee On Leadership by H. W. Crocker III.  I found it a delightful book, full of Lee’s “secrets” for successful leaders and fascinating stories of his courageous leadership during the cruel war between the South and the North.

          It has been fun to note the passages highlighted by Tim and to celebrate his desire to be a good leader and a man of exemplary character like his mentor Lee. Tim will never lead an army but he has become a man whose strength of character is worthy of imitation.

          General Lee was known as “the Grey Fox.” The blue-coated “hounds” of General Ulysses S. Grant failed repeatedly in their attempts to trap Lee. Though usually outnumbered two to one, Lee inspired his troops to stymie the Union Army throughout the war. Even though his men were tattered and hungry, their stinging assaults inflicted 50,000 casualties on the Federals in a single month – May, 1864.

          Still, in the end the North’s superiority led at last to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Crocker describes in his book the incredible cost of the war to General Lee:

          “A successful soldier, he was not used to defeat. Now he had lost his home, his career, and virtually all his worldly goods – including his carefully harbored savings and investments. Worse, he had suffered the premature death of a daughter, a daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and countless colleagues and friends.

          “A patriot who had devoted his life to the service of his country, who venerated George Washington, who was the son of a Revolutionary War hero (‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee), and who had married Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter, was now deprived of his citizenship and liable to be tried for treason. His home state of Virginia was under occupation, its citizens deprived of their rights, its fields, towns, and cities devastated by the Union’s policy of total war.

          “And yet . . . and yet, Lee was not defeated. Soon after the war’s end, he was increasingly regarded not merely as a military genius but as someone to be venerated by the South and by the North, to be venerated, indeed, throughout the Western world as a great man.”

          I hope this lengthy quote will whet your appetite enough that you will want to read this good book. Crocker generated my profound admiration for the man Winston Churchill called “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived, and one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war.”

          The author provides many examples to support his claim that Lee’s greatness sprang not from what he did but from what he was, and the way he lived. Lee was not merely a military genius; he was a gentleman, so much so that even his enemies admired him.

          Douglas Southall Freeman, who wrote a four-volume biography of General Lee, wrote this concluding remark, “I have been fully repaid by being privileged to live, as it were, for more than a decade in the company of a great gentleman.”

          One of Crocker’s conclusions is worth noting: “In our own materialistic age, we can especially benefit from Lee’s example of leadership, which reminds us that ultimately what matters is not how much money we have made, how many businesses we have led or acquired, how many jobs we have created, or how many ‘toys’ we have accumulated, but who we are.”

          Lee, Crocker observes, “is an ever-present reminder that we can be much more.”

          There are indeed many valuable lessons that Robert E. Lee can teach us about how to live a noble life! I commend Crocker’s book to anyone wishing to live a truly successful life. + + + +