Patiently awaiting the Golden Years

Mystery man

By Randall Poulton | Aug 16, 2017

“In my estimation, (he) is one of the supremely gifted men produced by our nation, selfless almost to a fault, noble as a leader and as a man.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This month’s column is a bit of a history test. The goal, dear reader, is to guess who it is that President Eisenhower is referring to in the preceding quote. Clues follow. Play along, I’m willing to bet you will learn a few things. (Note: When researching history, separating fact from exaggeration and fiction is practically impossible. The “clues” presented here are based on general consensus.)

1. The mystery man’s father, “Light Horse,” was a Cavalry officer, perhaps even a hero, in the colonial army during the Revolutionary War.

2. He named his first born son after President George Washington, to whom he was related by marriage.

3. At West Point, there is a barracks named after our mystery man. Lest you think that is a minor honor, the other eight barracks bear the names of some of America’s finest military men, including Douglas MacArthur, Ulysses S. Grant and Omar Bradley. The new, just completed, Davis barracks, cost nearly $200 million to construct! Huge honor. Huge!

If, at this point, you have figured out who Ike was talking about so glowingly, give yourself an A! You really know your history! If not, here are three more clues:

4. Appointed to the prestigious US Military Academy, he was a star student, graduating second in his class. And like me, this mystery man was an engineer. (Any similarity ends there. For starters, I was definitely not a star student.)

5. He saw his first action in the war with Mexico. It was during this campaign that his military genius was first recognized. He received several promotions for meritorious conduct in the face of the enemy and emerged from the conflict with the rank of colonel.

6. Like our local hero, Joshua Chamberlain, this mystery man spent the last years of his life as a college president.

Still stumped? Hang in there, these next clues should help make the answer fairly obvious!

7. Born in Virginia, the mystery man’s antebellum home still stands in the middle of the Arlington National Cemetery.

8. His horse, “Traveler” is nearly as famous as its rider.

9. During the Civil War, he led the Army of Northern Virginia.

As you have no doubt figured out, President Eisenhower was speaking of Robert E. Lee, the legendary commander of the confederate army. However, as the above clues lay out, Lee’s body of work included far more. Importantly, after the Civil War, Lee used his fame to help reunite the country. Consider this quote: "It is the duty of every citizen, (given) the present condition of the country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony."

Unfortunately, today there are people who seek to erase and rewrite our nation’s history to appease their 2017 sensibilities of right and wrong. In the case of the Civil War, this misguided group believes the Union was right and holy and the Confederacy was wrong and evil. Accordingly, the Confederate flag should never fly and no Confederate soldier should ever be honored. In fact, as I write this, longstanding monuments to Robert E. Lee are being removed. I disagree. It is completely inappropriate to look back in time and evaluate that world based on today’s morals and mores. Certainly, by today’s standards, slavery was horrible. That is something that today we can all agree on. And Robert E. Lee did lead an army whose goals included allowing the issue of slavery to continue to be decided at the state level. With that one fact in the forefront of your thinking, and applying today’s standards, I can see why it would be possible to villainize Lee. But, unfortunately, slavery is part of the fabric of mankind, albeit an ugly piece. In ancient Rome, slavery played an important role in society and the economy. Time to tear down the Colosseum? The Egyptians forced slaves to help build the pyramids — should we tear those down too? What about our own near genocide of the American Indians? That was OK? Why is George Armstrong Custer viewed as a hero and Lee a bad guy? What about Custer’s statues? Time to tear those down as well?

Remember the wise counsel that people in glass houses should not throw stones? Well, I wonder how future generations will judge us. Our Supreme Court says abortion is legal and for the last 40 years that practice has been part and parcel of our culture. We choose to “rescue” dogs but can’t figure out how to rescue a human fetus? Have you ever visited a nursing home? If, like me, your reaction was “No way am I ever going to a nursing home,” how come we consign others, even loved ones, to the fate?

I suspect abortion and the warehousing of our elders are practices that will look incredibly barbaric to future generations. However, that does not make the people of today, who are abiding by today’s laws, morals and mores, evil villains. People should be judged based in the context of the milieu of their day. I say leave Robert E. Lee’s statues alone or take down the Washington Monument — after all, the Father of our Country owned slaves!

This month’s "Did you know": Lee spent the last years of his life as president of what today is Washington and Lee University. W&L is a small, (expensive) private school. Appropriately, its sports teams are known as The Generals. Academically, W&L ranks as one of the nation’s best liberal arts schools and offers a highly respected graduate program in law.

According to Forbes: “…Washington and Lee University is the ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the country, and the second-oldest in the state of Virginia. The history of the school and the U.S. are deeply connected; in 1796, George Washington gave the school its first major endowment of $20,000, and Robert E. Lee served as university president from 1865 to 1870. Also, the university is located in the small historic city of Lexington, Virginia, the site of the first Revolutionary War battle.”

Anyone see a problem with this quote? I wonder why the folks in Lexington, Massachusetts, erected a statue of the famous colonial soldier, the Minuteman, on their town green if the battle took place in Virginia! The “mistake” by Forbes could be an example of “fake news” — or maybe the story was planted by the Russians to help Donald Trump.

Actually, given the widespread ignorance about our country’s history, I suggest we need more statues, not fewer!

Randall Poulton lives in Winterport. He writes a monthly column for The Republican Journal.


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