The Last Stand of America’s Most Famous Traitor


Nick Watts, News Editor '23

On September 8th, 2021, the last major statue honoring a Confederate general on Richmond’s Monument Avenue was removed. The statue in question was of none other than Robert Edward Lee, the infamous General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States.

Statue removal and destruction was thrust back into the limelight following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and the ensuing protests and riots. Some protests resulted in the vandalism of multiple statues while some riots resulted in the complete destruction of statues due to multiple people pulling a rope or chain attached to a statue. While navigating the sensitive topic of statue removal, one can expect to hear opinions ranging from, ‘removing and destroying statues is erasing history,’ to, ‘any individual who ever said or did anything now considered controversial deserves to be stripped of any and all recognition given to them in any form.’ The reality of the issue is that each statue and place named after the historical individual in question should be examined as such: individually. In Richmond’s Monument Avenue’s case, or, more specifically, the Robert E. Lee statue’s, I could not agree more with taking down a monument to a man who owned and abused other human beings and took up arms against the United States of America, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths of U.S. soldiers.

To begin, as I said earlier, I believe each case of removing a statue needs to be examined case by case. The instance of rioters destroying a bust of President Ulysses S. Grant in June of last year I believe was a gross and ignorant desecration of a memorial to a man who dedicated his life to preserving the United States of America as a general and fighting for equality for all people as president. I think the actions of those who destroyed it were reprehensible and they deserve to face punishment. On the flip side, I believe that our country is better off without monuments to Confederate leaders and soldiers (that aren’t in Confederate cemeteries). Preferably, I think it is appropriate to either put statue removal up for a vote in an election or have the local leaders order the removal rather than a mob ripping the statue down.

Considering the context that the Confederate statues were erected in, usually between 1880-1920, it is blatant that after the actions of people like Presidents Lincoln and Grant to force the South to treat African-Americans equally, Southern state governments only erected the statues to intimidate African-Americans and send the message that they were not welcome. This is not even to mention the fact that the very people and soldiers who were being memorialized took up arms against the United States with the goal of destroying the Union in the name of preserving the institution of slavery and murdering the brave men who answered the call to fight for our country. Memorials to the men who partook in those actions, much less led those actions, is disgraceful and it is far past time for those statues to come down.


In saying that, I thought I’d finish by refuting common misconceptions about General Lee himself. It has often been said that Lee ‘personally opposed slavery’ and that he was simply fighting for Southern independence. The evidence paints a different picture. In a letter that Lee sympathizers point to as proof of his hatred of slavery, Lee says that slavery is “a moral and political evil.” The letter did not end there. He goes on to explain, “I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, and while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former… How long their subjugation may be necessary is known and ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity, than the storms and tempests of fiery Controversy.” In short, he believes slavery to be a “moral and political evil” for white people, and that the emancipation of African Americans should come through divine intervention rather than a government order.

At his estate in the Arlington House, there is a famous story about some of Lee’s slaves who escaped. When they were caught and returned, Lee had them whipped savagely and ordered for salt water to be rubbed into their wounds. Most disgustingly, when Lee’s overseer refused to whip a woman who had escaped with the two men, “Col. Lee stripped her and whipped her himself.” That is a quote from an anonymous letter published to the New York Times from a person with firsthand knowledge of the story.

Another misconception is that as a General, Lee respected the African American troops and treated them with the dignity given to all other captured soldiers. This could also not be further from the truth. As General, he ignored atrocities committed against Black Union POW’s who were marched through the streets like animals, beaten savagely, and verbally abused. At the 1864 Battle of the Crater, Lee turned a blind eye to the massacre of black soldiers by his regiments.

After, the Union army attempted to dig under Confederate lines and explode an underground mine to surprise them. The plan went horribly wrong and Union soldiers became trapped in the newly created crater, the namesake of the battle. Confederates turned their muskets into the crater and simply began firing into the pit of Union soldiers at almost point-blank range. Many of the soldiers in the crater were Black. It was considered one of the most unspeakable atrocities committed during the Civil War and it happened under the command of Lee.


Robert E. Lee is the epitome of a man at his worst. I couldn’t hit nearly every point as to why this is the case, however I highlighted some of the most blatant reasons as to why it is. He had no moral compass, savagely and occasionally personally beating his slaves. He chose loyalty to Virginia over loyalty to the United States, a choice that many other American generals were presented with at the time, including the famous General Winfield Scott, and decided to stay loyal to his country, unlike Lee.

After his Arlington estate was seized, Union commanders felt it appropriate to begin burying soldiers on the property to remind Lee of his actions when he returned. He never did return, however, and the tradition of burying venerated war dead on Lee’s property made it into the now famous Arlington National Cemetery. It is a cruel irony for Robert E. Lee that perhaps the most fitting memorial for him is the hundreds of graves of Union soldiers buried on his former estate, forever a reminder of what true Americans had to sacrifice as a result of Lee’s cowardly and disgraceful decision to actively take up arms against and betray his country.