Tag Archives: Robert E. Lee

Today in Texas History – February 13

Gen. Lee the last Confederate statue removed in New ...

From the Annals of Bad Decisions – In 1861, Gen. Winfield Scott ordered Col. Robert E. Lee to return to Washington from Texas to assume command of the Union Army. Instead, Lee resigned his post and was commissioned into the Rebel Army.  After a rather undistinguished campaign in western Virginia and a brief stint as military advisor to the Insurgent Leader Jefferson Davis, Lee succeeded Joseph Johnston as the Insurgent Commander in June of 1862.  Historians will never know and can only speculate as to how many lives were lost as a result of Lee’s decision. 

Photo of Lee’s statue being removed.

You Can’t Change History

As statues of Confederate icons are removed from public spaces across the South, the common refrain against removal is “You can’t change history.”  That’s true to an extent.  The established facts of history as they can be best derived typically do not change that much unless new sources of information are discovered.  The interpretation of historical events, however, is subject to constant change.  And what we think of as “history” is the analysis and interpretation of the historical record by those who have studied what is available.  So history does in fact “change” as either new pieces of the record come to light (the Dead Sea Scrolls for example) or the existing evidence actually supports a different interpretation.

As long as we are talking about the Civil War, let’s take U.S. Grant as an example.  The long-standing narrative on Grant was that he prevailed in the Civil War by sheer brunt of numbers and industrial might.  That ignores the fact that his predecessors were unable to use those advantages to achieve victory and it ignores Grant’s background.  He was trained primarily in the Quartermaster Corps.  Grant knew exactly what an army needed to fight and win.  His armies were well-equipped to fight because he made sure of it.   Grant also recognized the unfortunate fact that just being in the Union Army was about as deadly (because of disease) for the average soldier as actually fighting in a battle for that army.  The sooner the war ended, the sooner more soldiers would be out of harm’s way and back home where they were much less likely to die from communicable diseases than in the close quarters and rough conditions of an army camp.  If that meant more men dying in battle to foreshorten the war, it was a matter of the grim economics of war that Grant faced.  Grant’s battlefield tactics were not genius, but neither were they middling or incompetent.  He knew that standing and fighting – something he equipped and trained the Union Army to do –  would ultimately defeat the South.

The narrative on Grant’s presidency was even more dire.  He was roundly considered a major failure who led a corrupt administration.  There was corruption but not on Grant’s part and the achievements of Grant’s presidency were considerable.  He negotiated the Treaty of Washington which resolved all of the North American disputes between the U.S. and Great Britain and set in place the greatest alliance of the last 170 years.  He almost single-handedly stopped for a time the planned extirpation of the Plains Indians.  He led efforts to fight the Ku Klux Klan and supported the rights of the Freedmen.  Under his leadership, Congress passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1870 and 1875 and the 15th Amendment guaranteeing voting rights for Black Americans (a promise which the Republicans failed to keep after his administration).  He brought the country out of the Panic of 1873 with a strong dollar policy.  He guided legislation creating the Department of Justice, the Weather Bureau and the first National Park – Yellowstone.  He began Civil Service Reform in an attempt to end the prevalent patronage system and professionalize government service.   He would have secured the annexation of the Dominican Republic and provided the U.S. with a foothold in the Caribbean but it was rejected by Congress.   Yet, he was regarded as a failure until some recent biographies began to rethink his legacy.

Rethinking of the legacy of the Confederacy is why we have all of these monuments to American traitors in our midst.  Most of these statues and memorials were erected in response to attempts by black Americans to secure the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution.   The first wave of such monuments largely coincided with the passage of Jim Crow laws institutionalizing segregation across the South in the wake of the Supreme Court’s absurd “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.  The second wave came with the growing civil rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s for the end of segregation and institution of full citizenship.  These monuments were primarily erected in support of continuing white supremacy and a public warning to those who would challenge that orthodoxy.  And the honoree of many such memorials, Robert E. Lee, himself stated that it was “wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

So is removing such monuments “changing history.”  The answer is mixed.  It is changing (or attempting to ameliorate)  the history of the placement of such monuments in the context of the white supremacist movement that erected them in the first place.  It is not changing the history of the Civil War – the time of America’s greatest test.  The Civil War will continue to be studied and hundreds of new books will be written every year from many different viewpoints.

You cannot change history – if you mean the fact of the Civil War and its aftermath.  You can, however, change who you choose to honor.  Do you honor those who fought to tear the country apart, to continue a crime against humanity and who lost that fight?  Red says no; you don’t honor those folks on the wrong side of history no matter how bravely they may have fought in a losing cause.  Removal of some monuments that were erected in a revisionist attempt to justify the “Lost Cause” have outlived their ignoble purpose and it is time for them to go.

Vintage postcard of Confederate Memorial on the Texas State Capitol grounds.

Today in Texas History – December 15

From the Annals of the Cavalry –  In 1855, the Second United States Cavalry Regiment first came to Texas. The SUSCR  was organized specifically for service on the Texas frontier. Its officers were hand-picked by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.  The regiment was known as “Jeff Davis’s Own.” The SUSCR stayed until the Civil War.  THE SUSCR engaged in 40 actions on the Texas frontier and along the Rio Grande fighting Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas, and Mexican marauders.  The regiment was home to future Confederate Generals Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Edmund Kirby Smith, and John Bell Hood.

Today in Texas History – April 29

From the Annals of the Dromedaries –   In 1856, 53 camels disembarked at the Port of  Indianola.  The camels were part of a 10-year U.S. Army transportation experiment initiated by then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to deal with the harsh conditions in the arid southwest regions acquired in the Mexican-American War.  Secretary Davis and his military advisers believed that if camels could be used in Sahara Desert and arid regions that they might be answer for the arid semitropical regions of Texas and the desert southwest.  Accordingly, Congress passed “The Camel Appropriation Act” authorizing the purchase and transport of the beasts.  The US Navy was tasked with transporting the camels from the Middle East to Texas, while the US Army would take charge of the camels for the experiment.

After a harsh sea voyage in which the camels became violently seasick,  the animals were turned over to Major Henry C. Wayne who was pleased at the reaction the camels had to the lush vegetation afforded them on the Texas coast.  On June 6, 1856, Wayne gave the order to initiate the “Texas Camel Drive” from Indianola to San Antonio.    The camel caravan arrived in San Antonio within two weeks and Wayne reported to Washington that the utility and the cooperation of the camels was excellent.  Wayne was ordered to find a permanent camp for the camels and quarters for the personnel.

In July, Wayne left San Antonio and made his way to Fort Martin Scott near Fredericksburg.   From there Wayne scouted for a new camp site ultimately settling on a spot near Kerrville called Verde Creek close to the Guadalupe River.  On August 30, he named the site Camp Verde and the camels now had a permanent home. The camp was to be a US Cavalry post under the direction of  Lt. Colonel Robert E Lee who had just been to Fort Mason in 1856 with the primary task of protecting frontier settlers from raids by the Comanche, Kiowa and other tribes. However, Lee was also charged with protecting the camels.

Renaming Austin School May Be Harder than Thought


The Austin Independent School District is determined to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary school.  The school, located in a neighborhood just north of the UT-Austin campus, is now at the center of the growing controversy over removing Confederate icons from the public space.   USA Today reports that turning to the community to suggest a new name isn’t working out exactly like the school board had hoped.

The school board overseeing Austin’s Robert E. Lee Elementary voted last month to rename the school, deeming its namesake — a Confederate general — too polarizing. It then turned to the community to suggest a new name.

But the Austin Independent School District probably didn’t expect the top suggestion would be Donald J. Trump Elementary.

That name, with 45 nominations, heads the list of 240 suggestions announced Friday, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Thirty-four nominations urged the board to leave the school’s name unchanged.

Rounding out the top five were suggestions to name the school after Texas photographer Russell Lee (32 nominations), author Harper Lee (30 noms) or Elisabet Ney, the 19th century Austin sculptor (15 noms).

Other suggestions, shown on a list obtained by Mashable,  proved as colorful as Trump:

  • Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance (8 noms)
  • Kanye West Elementary (2 noms)
  • John Cena Elementary (1 nom)
  • Bee Movie (1 nom)

The British government could have perhaps warned the school board about the dangers of crowd-sourcing names. The top-voted name for its $300 million research ship was “Boaty McBoatface,” thanks to an online poll.

Red thinks Schooly McSchoolface has a certain ring to it.

Texas Observes Confederate Heroes Day

Today is an official Texas State Holiday – sort of.  Texas state offices remain open but with minimal staffing.  The holiday is observed on January 19 which is Robert E. Lee’s birthday and was the original name for the holiday.  Red’s negative views on the Confederacy and secession are well known by now.  And while it seems odd (at best) to celebrate a cause which was rooted in the defense of the institution of chattel slavery (spare Red the BS about states rights), Red does find it refreshing that the United States is one of the few countries in the world where the population is free to celebrate traitors.