I received an email from a gentleman who runs a pro-Southron Round Table on Facebook. Some members of that group have provided what they believe is evidence that refutes the authenticity of some of the quotes we have on our Quotes page. I will be the first to agree that many words quoted throughout history are of questionable authenticity, and I am certain that those who spoke for the Southern Cause were not exempt from this. Considering the number of times I have been misquoted in the news, it is more of a surprise to learn that a quote is actually authentic than it is to learn that it is not.
It is our goal here at The Southern Agrarian to present the truth to the best of our ability. That means acknowledging legitimate and well-presented challenges to what is found here. A quick look through some of the posts I have written will show several cases where dissenting views are presented, so this is certainly not a first for this blog.
Are these challenges any more valid than the original quotes? I don’t know. I suppose that just about any quote of an historical nature should be taken, not as the gospel truth, but as a sentiment of the times that might or might not have been written or spoken by the person to whom it is attributed.
The following is presented as I received it, with only minor editing to fix word-wrapping issues due to copying from the FaceBook system.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Gary at the Southern Heritage Preservation Group for compiling and forwarding this information.
Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.
Letter purportedly written to his son, G. W. Custis Lee (5 April 1852); published in The New York Sun (26 November 1864). Although the “Duty Letter” was presumed authentic for many decades and included in many biographies of Lee, it was repudiated in December 1864 by “a source entitled to know.” This repudiation was rediscovered by University of Virginia law professor Charles A. Graves who verified that the letter was inconsistent with Lee’s biographical facts and letter-writing style. Lee’s son also wrote to Graves that he did not recall ever receiving such a letter.
“The Forged Letter of General Robert E. Lee”, Proceedings of the 26th annual meeting of the Virgina State Bar Association 17:176 (1914)
Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in my right hand. Supposed made to Governor Fletcher S. Stockdale (September 1870), as quoted in The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, pp. 497-500.
o However, every major researcher along with autobiographer, Douglas Southall Freeman; Shelby Dade Foote, Jr.; Bruce Catton; are but a few that consider the quote a myth and refuse to recognize it. “T. C. Johnson: Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, 498 ff. Doctor Dabney was not present and received his account of the meeting from Governor Stockdale. The latter told Dabney that he was the last to leave the room, and that as he was saying good-bye, Lee closed the door, thanked him for what he had said and added: “Governor, if I had foreseen the use these people desired to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox, no, sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in this right hand.” This, of course, is second-hand testimony. There is nothing in Lee’s own writings and nothing in direct quotation by first-hand witness that accords with such an expression on his part. The nearest approach to it is the claim by H. Gerald Smythe that “Major Talcott” — presumably Colonel T. M. R. Talcott — told him Lee stated he would never have surrendered the army if he had known how the South would have been treated. Mr. Smythe stated that Colonel Talcott replied, “Well, General, you have only to blow the bugle,” whereupon Lee is alleged to have answered, “It is too late now” (29 Confederate Veteran, 7). Here again the evidence is not direct. The writer of this biography, talking often with Colonel Talcott, never heard him narrate this incident or suggest in any way that Lee accepted the results of the radical policy otherwise than with indignation, yet in the belief that the extremists would not always remain in office”.
We have correspondence concerning this subject and where told it was irrelevant whether or not the brochure was accurate as it is the responsibility of the reader to research the matter. We have no problem with that as long as the society provide a caveat with the material. But to date the Society has offered no handout to that affect. We admit that we are unaware of any discrepancy other than E185.97 .L48; History of the life of Rev. Wm. Mack Lee, body servant of General Robert E. Lee, through the Civil War – cook from 1861 to 1865.. The last published error was with the New Hampshire News, but there have been several major papers, museums and schools. What usually occurs is someone will search the story and find “our” post “Disclosing another Civil War Myth Rev. Wm. Mack Lee .
We provide documentation correcting “your” brochure which is false and inaccurate. During the follow-up conversation “they” always address “Why doesn’t someone inform “you” of the error? Being honest we used to inform them we had but that usually touches off a powder keg, so now we just inform them we will. However, as we mentioned you feel it is not a big issue and it is the responsibility of the reader to verify the facts.
We feel such a stance to be naive and unprofessional as anyone would feel that someone issuing a pamphlet to have assured the material to be accurate.
To reply to Mrs. Guild’s statement we are addressing our concerns with the pamphlet.
To begin with the Reverend claimed he was raised as a slave at Arlington if you review the property list you will find he was and is not listed among the slaves or property.
The Reverend then states he and Marsh Lee where at First Manassas which of course we all know Lee was not at the Battle.
He then goes on to say at the Wilderness in 64’ the cooked for Jackson who had died in May of 1863.
Neither Lee nor anyone in his staff be it on paper or speech ever mentions him. But more importantly Lee; Walter Taylor; Lt. Colonel Porter E. Alexander; Captain E. C. Fitzhugh and even Stuart state in many of their correspondences that Perry and William Parks along with Billy Taylor served as the Generals cooks and servants!
William Mack Lee a black who made many claims and was widely accepted throughout the South as an icon because of his supposed involvement with Lee.
In most cases when relating these and other stories he was soliciting monies to build churches and apparently no one questioned him either because they wanted to believe him or did.
The Reverend claimed Lee had stated “At the close of the struggle, General Lee said to General Grant: ‘Grant, you didn’t whip me, you just overpowered me, I surrender this day 8,000 men; I do not surrender them to you, I surrender on conditions; it shall not go down in history I surrendered the Northen Confederate Army of Virginia to you. It shall go down in history I surrendered on conditins; you have ten men to my one; my men, too, are barefooted and hungry. If Joseph E. Johnston could have gotten to me three days ago I would have cut my way through and gone back into the mountains of North Carolina and would have given you a happy time.'” What these conditions were I do not know, but I know these were Marse Robert’s words on the morning of the surrender: “I surrender to you on conditions
Quote from Rev. William Mack Lee’s book who was Gen. Lee’s cook from 1861-1865
We do think though it is not established as of today that Mack might have been the son of Nacy one of Lees personal slaves.
Supposedly it is made by Lincoln. “From where then would we get our revenue” or When asked “Why not let the South to go in peace”? Abe replied “I can’t let them go, who would pay for the Government”. It appears once again this something that was ashamedly inserted into history back during the heyday of reconstruction and in the initial defense of the South. We are currently going the National Archive and as of today it can’t be found.
We are going to put this to rest once and for all: we have said over and over you cannot believe every web site you visit and if you really want to make sure of something research it yourself. Did Robert E. Lee own slaves? Yes he did! We are not speaking of the slaves at Arlington, these who willed to his wife Mary Anna Custis; as was the custom of the day he handled the estate. The slaves were to be worked for time to provide an income for her but released on a specific date. Lee went to court to delay their release but the court ordered them freed. We are speaking of Lees personal slaves: you can order a copy of his 1846 will in which he spells out directions and when to free them, from the Rockbridge Court for $1.50 or you can order a copy on aged parchment from the History Store for $ 9.95.
Send a SASE and $1.50 to the address below. It is written on blue paper and does not copy well.
Bruce Patterson, Clerk
Rockbridge County Circuit Court
20 S. Randolph Street
Lexington, VA 24450
There is a interesting development we have longed argued that Reverend William Mack Lee who claimed to have been Lees servant during the war lied and was really using the story to secure funds to build churches was a fake. We can prove he was never a Arlington slave and certainly never with Lee but we have learned that Lee slave Nancy Ruffin had a son name William Mack Lee.
Myth. It is heavily reported that general Lees last words were “Tell Hill he must come up … Strike the tent”. The one thing the yankee revisionist are correct about was our people embellishing the actions and words of our heroes. There was no need as they were and are heroes! Most people believe that Lee’s autobiographer, Douglas Southall Freeman embellished Lee’s final moments; inserting an expected statement from someone the nation had come to love and respect. Lee suffered a stroke on September 28, 1870. Dying two weeks later, on October 12, 1870, shortly after 9 a.m. from what was almost certainly pneumonia. Lee’s stroke had resulted in aphasia, rendering him unable to speak. The papers at the time interviewed the 4 attending physicians and the family all of who stated “he had not spoken since 28 September…”. One might read Robert E. Lee: A Biography By Emory M. Thomas for the complete story. . According to Emory Thomas’ “Robert E. Lee a Biography” (pages 412 to 413) the last words Lee uttered were at a vestry meeting on 28 September, 1870 and were “I will give that sum”. When he returned home he was unable to speak. You were also correct about the family; both the family and physicians stated in interviews he had no last words and that he had not spoken.
“But most of all those who watched and waited remembered the quiet, Mildred said it best-“his lips never uttered a sound! The silence was awful!”
Grant never said “If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission, and offer my sword to the other side”. This was started by Horace Greeley in (1868 and 1872) during his run for President against Ulysses Grant and defended and proven by E. B. Washburne Representative from Illinois.
Lees’ Letter dated December 27, 1856 to his wife M. Custis Lee is often quoted as proof that he and the thusly the South was against slavery, I do not concur, as like the founding fathers and much of the elite of the 19th century including the Great emancipator” [Lincoln] blacks were and never would be equal to whites. I contend while it irrespirable in our time to own another human being; in these times it was accepted and not only in the United States but throughout the world. One could even argue, we are no better today as there are slaves gathering your chocolate and coffee. Except no one has lifted a finger to free them, if fact we actually refuse to get involved. I contend instead complaining what the United States went through a hundred and fifty years ago lets act against these countries, corporations and individuals who not only condone slavery, but practice and advocate it usage.
“I was much pleased the with President’s message. His views of the systematic and progressive efforts of certain people at the North to interfere with and change the domestic institutions of the South [a euphemism for human slavery] are truthfully and faithfully expressed. (Lee is agreeing with Davis’ views against abolitionists). The consequences of their plans and purposes are also clearly set forth. These people must be aware that their object is both unlawful and foreign to them and to their duty, and that this institution, for which they are irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil and servile war. (Here Lee argues the abolitionist whose actions were illegal were trying to upset the natural order of the institution of slavery and it will lead to war). There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. (He is expressing concern as to how slavery was dictating the way of life for both North and the South; how slavery has and was changing the country). While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. (Here he is arguing the old song of the elite, blacks are better off here than they were in Africa). The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. (Lee is justifying both physical and mental discipline; and the need for blacks as a race to cultivate themselves, to ensure they [slaves] conform to their place and a better future). How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. (Lee is saying the slave presence is needed and it is unforeseen as to how long).Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. (He is advocating that someday they may be freed but not by the abolitionist). This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. (He states freedom may take a thousand years but that is only a single day for the righteous and the wait is justified). Although the abolitionist must know this, must know that he has neither the right not the power of operating, except by moral means; that to benefit the slave he must not excite angry feelings in the master; that, although he may not approve the mode by which Providence accomplishes its purpose, the results will be the same; and that the reason he gives for interference in matters he has no concern with, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbor, -still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course. . . .(Lee argues the abolitionist has no right to interfere with slavery as it upsets the master and that God condones slavery). Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?”