The Marble Man – A Trusted Leader

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Very few people lead successful or fulfilling lives without heroes, without role models. Wandering the wilderness without map or street sign leaves even the most rugged individualist lost. Most times our role models are distant in both space and time as there are very few of us whose lives inspire anything but sad melancholy when seen up close. Most times we are left to respect, or revere, those we know only through the lens of books or the media.

Removed from any real connection to those we model ourselves upon, we find ourselves akin to our teenage self imagining the opposite sex exists as pictured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition rather than the girl with acne sitting next to us in class. Eventually our hormones push us out on thin ice and we ask that girl in the adjacent desk out, resulting in our expectations of SI’s bikini models gradually fading within the rich rhythms of reality.

But no such hormone driven propinquity can bedim heroes, distant in space or time. They continue to serve as the lodestar of our careers and lives, sharply drawn and unshaded by nuance. But if we live long enough and if we seek the wisdom advised by the Book of Proverbs, we begin to see the tarnish and patches on our heroes.

The loss of real people, though distant, as role models may well be the most pernicious effect of “cancel culture”. Have no doubt, human beings will have heroes and if there are none in our past worthy, we will find them in comic books or YouTube videos. The lives of real people of worth are rich in nuance, offering opportunity for growth to those attempting to follow in their footsteps. To idolize Mr. Beast, Taylor Swift, Captain America or the Black Panther is to be eternally adolescent.

Perhaps that is why old men don’t start new companies or take to the streets. Such bold action requires certainty, something gone forever from those with experience or even a glancing acquaintance with wisdom. In the ignorance of youth, our role models guided us in an energetic pursuit of ideals and goals. We were knights in shining armor riding out to do battle for truth, justice and the American Way.

But through a life lived, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, our shining armor grows dented and dirty. Wearied by the compromises we make, coupled with our own shortcomings, we revisit our role models to refresh and re-energize. But such homecomings grow ever more bittersweet. Our own experiences shine an ever more piercing light on our role model, a light that enriches but also exposes. If we are blessed with a certain measure of success in our efforts, the emptiness of achievement deals a final blow to hero worship.

Growing up on a farm in a small community, I was surrounded by good men, most notably my own father. These men were salt of the earth, honest, hard working family men, pillars of the community. But to an ambitious boy seeking to make a mark, their example served as foundation but lacked desired grandeur. I was drawn to more heroic models.

How else did I come to adopt the Marble Man as my pole star? Fascinated by history, I was repeatedly exposed to the great story of our Civil War, the War between the States, the War of Northern Aggression. The more I learned of those years, the more I was drawn in by the character of Robert E. Lee.

Perhaps my own irredeemably rebellious nature drew me to the great rebel leader, a man both a rebel and yet of sterling character. Of course his battlefield success opened the door to my youthful stargazing. Perhaps the greatest battlefield commander in America’s history, he checked all the boxes for greatness.

But though exhibiting greatness, he was so different in character, sui generis in the pantheon of America’s notables. A man who ordered masses of young boys into the horrors of war achieving stunning victories, but a man who retained his humanity. A man whose success brought celebrity and adoration, but a man of deep Christian faith remaining steeped in humility. A man who suffered much in his personal life, but a man whose epitaph was “Duty, Faithfully Performed”.

There is much that I might write about Gen. Lee to explain my deep admiration of the man. To start off with, he spent much of his adult life, 26 years, as an engineer of some note. During that time, Lee remained with the Army Corps of Engineers, doing much to improve navigation on the Mississippi River.

Most of Lee’s West Point contemporaries with engineering degrees sought fame and fortune, going to work for the railroads, the Tech Industry of its day – most notably his adversary at the Seven Days and Antietam, that 19th Century Adorable George McClellan. Douglas Southall Freeman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Lee, said “his mind was mathematical and his imagination that of an engineer”.

Lee’s creative brilliance as a general is well known to those who care for such things. But it was his special quality as a leader that endeared him to me, that made me want to be like him. Events in the early spring of 1864 capture the essence of why I so admire him.

It is springtime in Virginia, the beginning of another summer, the fourth of war. There is no doubt that this spring like the three before will bring another Union Army offensive, an assault by a greatly superior Northern army seeking to break Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and thereby capture Richmond, the Confederacy’s capital.

Each year had seen a new Union general commanding a Union Army, rich both in numbers and resources. It was said that Lee’s army would starve to death if not for their frequent resupply from the abandoned camps of the retreating Union army. While the North’s pursuit of Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Strategy is quietly winning the war, the newspapers and their readers believe the war a chess game with Washington DC and Richmond serving as the King pieces on the chessboard.

This year has brought US Grant, a plow horse very different from the prancing preening thoroughbreds Lee had faced in past times. The year before, 1863, had ended in exhaustion. Like boxers in the final rounds of a championship bout, the two armies had left the bloody fields of Gettysburg, beaten and exhausted, facing each other in wary watchfulness as they recovered.

Now some 8 months later they return to the ring once more, perhaps the final round of the match. Nearly half of Lee’s fighting strength had been transferred south to Tennessee the previous September. That plow horse now just across the Rapidan River, US Grant, then commanding the Union’s Army of the West had out maneuvered and out fought the Rebel army facing him in Tennessee. Steadily driving back the Confederacy’s Army of the West, The vital city of Atlanta was now threatened.

Lee’s 1st Corp, given 2 months rest after Gettysburg, was transferred to Chattanooga, Tenn. in an “all hands” effort to stop Grant. Jumping off their railroad flatbed cars and marching double time into the midst of a raging battle, the 1st Corp had smashed into the attacking Union Army. Their arrival coupled with their habit of victory delivered a stunning victory at Chickamauga, just a few miles south of Chattanooga. It was the Confederate Army of the West’s only victory in two frustrating years of lost battles against US Grant.

The fatal weakness of the Confederate Army of the West was the infighting and personal animosities of its generals, endemic to its leadership. The victory at Chickamauga changed nothing, if anything intensifying the discord. Any opportunity arising from that victory was frittered away. Rather than carry the battle to Grant’s army, 1st Corps had been sent in a fruitless effort to retake Knoxville, a dispiriting business that ended in failure.

But spring had sprung once more. Now commanded by US Grant, the Union Army of the Potomac would attack Lee’s positions once more. 1st Corp was recalled from the futility of Knoxville and once more rode rail cars, back up into Virginia from whence they came. Now on April 29th, 1864, they were assembled near Gordonsville, to meet their once again commanding general, Lt. General Robert E. Lee.

1st Corps was commanded by Major General James Longstreet, a competent officer who nursed delusions of grandeur beneath a gruff and phlegmatic exterior. Whereas Lee was a master of maneuver, the totally unexpected counterattack, Longstreet was a man of the trenches.

It would have surprised few to learn that Longstreet’s post war career would be spent as a tax collector and postmaster. Longstreet often disagreed with Lee, most notably at Gettysburg.  Longstreet believed its outcome proved him right and Lee wrong, an opinion he did little to disguise.

1st Corps, as are most human organizations not lost in the banality of bureaucracy, reflected its commanding general, reliable and competent but often querulous, sacrificing prompt dispatch for deliberation. Gettysburg had been the last experience of these men under Lee’s command and they had suffered grievously. The blood of fallen comrades fertilized the butcher grounds of Pennsylvania remembered in names like the Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top.

Major General George Pickett commanded a division in Longstreet’s 1st Corps. Gen. Pickett’s division had formed 1/3 of the 15,000 men assaulting the Union force dug in along the top of Cemetery Ridge.  Known afterward as Pickett’s Charge, that assault became an idiom for a failed and useless effort before the woke erased our historical memory. Of the 5,475 men in his division who stepped out of the trees that afternoon, 2,655 (42%) were casualties. George Pickett was and remained a bitter man, telling anyone who would listen; “That old man (Lee) had my division massacred at Gettysburg”.

So it was with some trepidation that Lee rode out to meet these men lined up in their divisions for review. Now here they were, some 10,000 men drawn up in their ranks on an open field, to meet once more the man who had led them into the carnal house of Gettysburg. Not only led them there, but had ordered them into the furnace, a furnace from which they had retreated in exhausted defeat. They would be no more than human if simply ranks of sullen, disgruntled soldiers giving only grudging acknowledgement to a man they no longer believed in, a man they blamed for their suffering.

Riding out on that grassy knoll was a moment of truth for Robert E. Lee. He spurred his faithful grey horse, Traveler, forward and rode out onto the knoll overlooking the assembled ranks. Longstreet’s Chief Artillery Officer, Edward Porter Alexander – the man responsible for the failed artillery barrage meant to prepare the way for Pickett’s Charge – described the scene in his memoirs:

“The general reins up his horse, & bares his good gray head, & looks at us & we shout & cry & wave our battle flags & look at him again . . . Each man seemed to feel the bond which held us all to Lee. There was no speaking, but the effect was that of a military sacrament, in which we pledged anew our lives.”

 One of the men standing in the ranks that day described it in his diary:

“The men hung around (Lee) and seemed satisfied to lay hands on his gray horse or to touch the bridle . .  anything that Lee had was sacred to us fellows who had just come back. And the General – he could not help from breaking down . . tears traced down his cheeks.”

This was the man who had assumed command just outside of Richmond only two years before in June of 1862, perhaps the lowest day of the war for the South thus far. The spires of the city’s churches had been easily visible from Union army lines as Gen. George McClellan seemed within a day of capturing the city.

The newspapers called McClellan the Boy Napoleon, a charismatic egotistical railroad executive – perhaps the Elon Musk of his day. Facing the Boy Napoleon was Lee whose men seeing his grey hair and stolid manner imagined him an old man, hesitant and fearful. Upon his assumption of command, the soldiers had given him nicknames like “Granny Lee” & “The King of Spades (shovels)”.

Quickly moving to save the city, Granny Lee had broken the Boy Napoleon in the Battle of the Seven Days. A shaken McClellan ordered a panicked and disordered retreat all the way back to Washington DC., leaving the way open for Lee’s invasion into Maryland. Now his soldiers were in awe of the dignified grey haired old man, no longer calling him Granny Lee, but Marse Robert – a term of ultimate respect in the antebellum South.

Only a week after the military epiphany outside Gordonville, US Grant moved in force across the Rapidan River, attacking in virtually the same place as Gen. Hooker the year before. It was here in a stretch of scrub trees, bramble bush and thickets 12 miles wide by six miles deep that Lee had won perhaps his greatest victory – Chancellorsville.  The general area was known to locals as the wilderness. Giving its name to this battle, the Wilderness was the first three days of fighting in a continuous forty days of battle now known as the Overland Campaign – by far the bloodiest stretch of battle ever fought in the Americas.

On the first day of the battle, Lee’s 2nd & 3rd Corps met the largest army ever assembled on the North American continent, the 120,000 strong Union Army of the Potomac, stopping them cold. But the Confederates were outnumbered nearly 4 to 1 and numbers would quickly prevail.

As night fell on the first day, Gen. Lee pitched his headquarters for the night alongside an artillery battery of twelve cannon in a clearing on the Widow Tapp’s farm. The air was choked with smoke, the flames of smoldering fire sometimes visible through the damp underbrush. In the distance, the cries of the wounded sounding like shrieks of the damned in hell as the slowly spreading fires reached them lying helpless in the thick under brush.

The clearing on the Widow Tapp’s farm opened onto the Orange Plank Road, a commercial road connecting the rich farmland of the Shenandoah Valley to the navigable Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, the only real pathway through the Wilderness. The scrubby second growth of trees and thickets comprising this wilderness had grown up in the years since the original forest had been harvested to furnish raw materials for the Orange Plank Road.

The all-weather road, a very big deal in the 19th Century, featured planks 3” thick making a surface approx. 8 feet wide, sloped to drain water. Before one sniffs in derision at such primitive construction, remember that unlike modern paved roads, the Orange Plank Road was a “Green” road; organic, carbon-neutral, sustainable and renewable.

At dawn on the second day, May 6, US Grant drew on his nearly limitless resources and renewed battle with a massive second assault. Winfield Hancock’s Iron Brigade assaulted down the Orange Plank Road. The Iron Brigade was perhaps the best unit in the Union army, farm boys recruited from Wisconsin wearing distinctive black hats. The Iron Brigade rapidly smashed through what scattered infantry remained of A.P. Hill’s 3rd Corp and came upon Lee’s headquarters encampment on the Widow Tapp’s open field.

The twelve guns of the artillery battery bivouacked on the Widow Tapp’s clearing began firing on the advancing infantry. But whether Russian tanks in Kyiv or cannons on the Widow Tapp’s field, artillery needs infantry support, otherwise the guns are outflanked and soon destroyed. Canister fire into the advancing infantry halted the advance, but skirmishers were soon moving through the forested edges of the clearing.

In the moment of decision, Lee is on his horse acting in the manner of an ER doc performing triage, directing cannon fire, rallying Hill’s retreating men, when he is informed of an advancing column moving up the Orange Plank Road from the southwest. Either this is a flanking Northern column and disaster looms or salvation – the arrival of Longstreet’s 1st Corps. Lee rides out to meet this unknown force and finds it to be the 1st Corps. As usual Longstreet’s men are late to the battlefield, but with readiness boxes checked and in good order.

Lee calls out to the advancing column above the background crackle of gunfire, “Who are you boys?” The shouted response, “Texas boys”. This was the best news possible, the advancing column was the Texas Brigade, the shock troops of Longstreet’s 1st Corps.

Lee and the Texas Brigade move on the double toward the firing. As they begin to go into action, some of the soldiers realize Lee, in the grip of the moment and caught in its emotion, intended to lead them into battle. The advancing lines of the Texas Brigade halted and began to shout, “Go back – Lee to the rear”.

Some of the men came out of rank, grabbing Traveler’s bridle and forcing Lee to stop. They refused to go forward until Lee moved to the rear, out of harm’s way. Lee bowed to their wishes and rode to the rear of the column.

At that moment, Longstreet arrived on the scene. He later said of the incident, “Lee’s blood was up and when his blood was up there was no stopping him.” With Lee safely back in the rear, the Texas Brigade moved forward and stopped the Federal advance cold, pushing the vaunted battle-hardened Iron Brigade into a full retreat.

Lee had won the Battle of the Wilderness, but unlike previous Union generals, Grant and his army did not retreat. Grant, the implacable plow horse, moved sideways, sliding off Lee’s right flank to continue his march on Richmond. Over the next six weeks of near continuous combat, Lee won the battles but found himself continually pushed south and east, ever closer to Richmond. Grant’s Overland Campaign cost him more casualties than Lee had soldiers but at the end of June he was besieging Richmond with Lee and what remained of his army hunkered down in trenches. Eleven months after the Wilderness, Lee surrendered his army.

In the years and decades following the Civil War, the beaten down South sought to reclaim its pride. The present day “Community of the Woke” is only following in the steps of the American South in the century following the Civil War. The New York Times and Adorable America has the 1619 Project. Our southern states had the Lost Cause. Whatever it takes to get you through the night.

A key part of the mythos of the Lost Cause was the Lee Legend, every fantasy worth its salt must contain elements of truth. Lee, the legendary leader, was foundational to the myth of the Lost Cause. As I noted before, Lee was sui generis in the pantheon of American generals. When compared to his peers in the leadership of the doomed Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, Braxton Bragg, Joe Johnston, Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard – a collection of peacocks, quarrelsome fuss budgets and micromanagers – Lee shines like the noon day sun.

As the years passed by, my adolescent admiration for the undoubted talent, valor and accomplishment of Lee’s life gradually dimmed. My own life gained speed and stories of daring do provided little help in the rapids of real responsibilities. No soldier, I needed a guide, lessons for me in my own life as a father, husband, engineer, project manager and CEO. Over time and with the perspective of my own experience, I came to recognize the core value of trust at the heart of the Lee Legend.

Every conqueror on a white horse is acclaimed by his followers. One has only to attend a rock concert to see the ease, the complete abandonment into euphoric hero worship, with which humans abase themselves before a charismatic figure on stage. The scene in April 1864 outside Gordonsville is hardly unique in human annals. A moment to dream on for the ambitious, but to seek it is to surrender to ego, to pursue paths leading to the destruction of one’s soul.

Such is the reward of the conqueror on a white horse, to be accorded that honor as a defeated general with only a hard road on offer is different. Despite serving under the glowering Longstreet for three years, a commander of nettlesome ways and barely suppressed ambition to supplant Lee, Longstreet’s men trusted Lee, not Longstreet.

To be trusted is a rare and precious thing. It has been my experience in human organizations that trust in the upper ranks is in short supply. In my own time there, I am ashamed to admit my own lack. My irredeemably rebellious spirit is perhaps no more than an inability to trust those over me in positions of responsibility. It is said that a good leader must first be a good follower and, in that regard, I fear I have failed in my own life.

Trust dies in the presence of ambition, the fertile soil from which springs jealousy. Ambition magnifies the faults of those above as it minimizes one’s own. In the offices of the executive suite, trust is always conditional, dependent on a multitude of calculations.

Trust in the ranks is different. There, among those totally dependent on those they trust, trust is a matter, not of the head, but of the heart. Those “Texas boys” who advanced down the Orange Plank Road trusted Lee. That trust in their heart came at a high price. Paying dearly for it, they had been at Antietam where 550 of them had been killed or wounded – out of 854 that went into battle. At Gettysburg, they had been at the Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. Here at the Wilderness, they took 50% casualties. But even at such fearsome cost, they trusted all the way to Appomattox.

The question is – Why? In the America of 2022, trust is not something we have experience with. I spent most of my life needing to be trusted as a parent, as a leader in the workplace and church. But now in the faded tranquility of grandpa world, I now find myself in the ranks, ambition the cold ashes of a once hot fire. I find myself wishing I could look to a figurative knoll and trust “a good gray head” and “feel the bond which held us to him”.

David, the shepherd boy, was anointed by Samuel as King of Israel even though a simple teenager tending his family’s sheep. Such unsought touch of greatness is seldom replicated. Those who lead us have sought the position, worked hard for it, maneuvered with the cold blood of a Machiavelli to get there.

From their earliest years, they were diligent in school and career. They are Adorable America. Even those like Donald Trump, who stand askance, are cut of the same cloth. The winnowing of education and effort in ruthless competition has arguably given us the most “qualified” cohort of leaders in the history of the world

But the great unwashed mass of us, those of us in the ranks, don’t trust them. Trust in authority, in leadership, is at an all-time low. These people working diligently on our behalf, having achieved their ambition expect us to trust them, believing it their right by way of merit. After all they have proven themselves the best and brightest, committed to liberte, egalite, fraternite. That they do so well in their position of trust is only incidental.

What was it about that grey haired old man, a general asking for the ultimate sacrifice, not once but many times, in an effort he opposed and ill-fated? I believe the answer lies in that observation of the soldier there at Gordonsville – “tears traced down his cheeks”.  Even before the internet, the gossip grapevine functioned. Every man in Lee’s army had heard the stories.

On that bloody third day at Gettysburg, as the survivors of Pickett’s Charge on Cemetery Ridge stumbled back to their lines, Lee had not hidden from them in his tent. He had been there to meet them, on the field of battle, visible to everyone. Tears had traced down his smoke stained cheeks then as well, saying again and again to the returning men, shaken by the fury of their experience on that open field, “It’s all my fault!”

In the days following Gettysburg, days of recrimination and “I told you so”, Lee continued to accept all the blame. He made no mention of JEB Stuart’s repeated failures. He didn’t point to Dick Ewell’s timidity. He said nothing about Longstreet’s tardiness, his shameful disappearance on the Third Day. Lee simply accepted the blame, reiterating – “It’s all my fault!”

Many were the stories heard around the Army of Northern Virginia’s campfires. They told of letters in Gen’l Lee’s own hand sent to the grieving parents of the army’s fallen boys. They had heard of a Sunday morning as Lee had been inspecting the lines. Coming upon a group of private soldiers engaged in an impromptu prayer meeting, he dismounted from his horse, removed his hat and knelt with them in prayer. There were countless other stories in similar veins.

The winter of 1864-65 was a hard one for the people of Virginia. Union cavalry swept the state at will, raiding, pillaging, destroying. Only the blindly optimistic could see anything but defeat and a disastrous revengeful occupation before them in the coming year. It was also one of the coldest winters on record, with temperatures of 30 below reported in Virginia. Joan Baez recorded a song telling of that time, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. It was a popular folk ballad before the winter of wokedom:

“Virgil Kane is my name

And I served on the Danville train

Til Stoneman’s cavalry came

And tore up the tracks again

It was the winter of ‘65

We were hungry, just barely alive”

Lee could have spent that winter of despair in the reassuring embrace of his family. While it was a hard winter for civilians, it was much worse for the soldiers in their trenches. “Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.” What limited supplies there were could not reach the soldiers because the railroad tracks were all torn up.

Instead of hearth and home, he shared the cold and hunger of his men outside Petersburg. His men knew Lee. They knew he did not set himself apart from them. They knew he cared for them. And knowing that, they trusted him, they trusted him with their lives.

We have just passed through a difficult two years. Our leaders asked for obedience to an authority unwilling to explain itself. They asked for a willingness to sacrifice for the common good. In a time of uncertainty and danger, our leaders asked us to just trust them.

We found ourselves with leaders who locked us in our homes to prevent the spread of the virus while cavorting maskless at private parties in restaurants closed for the duration. We are familiar with leaders asking us to sacrifice common sense and our well being to battle Climate Change while they fly on private jets to mingle with fellow aristocrats. We are increasingly familiar with leaders who castigate us for any success we might have in making a better life for our families while they grow wealthy in “public service”.

We are familiar with leaders who loudly proclaim, “the buck stops here”, even as they blame all and sundry. Are there any who might stand with us in our distress? Are there any who might share our sorrows? Are there any who might slip into the back of a church with us and join in prayer? Are there any who might accept the blame for their bad decisions, hardship caused, with tear-stained cheeks?

Robert E. Lee was a great man, but he was just a man. It is good for me to remember that in the scales of justice, he has much that weighs against him. Despite all that has been said in his praise, the truth declares he used his skills in the service of an evil system, keeping black men in chains, used in the most cruel slavery.

Even more condemning, he could have done much to dismantle the altar on which 700,000 men died and generations were impoverished. In April of 1861, Robert E. Lee was offered command of the Union Army. Even though he did indeed desire the end of slavery, believing war to be a noxious idea and even though he had sworn an oath of loyalty to the United States, he turned down the offer, resigned his commission and joined the rebellion. Robert E. Lee, a man committed to doing his duty, wound up a traitor, saved from the scaffold only by the grace of US Grant.

If Lee had commanded the Union Army, rather than Irvin McDowell followed by George McClellan, we might remember the War of Southern Succession as of little more note than the Whiskey Rebellion. What might have been our history if those 700,000 men had lived out their lives without four years of a devastating war that reduced the South to generations of poverty?

What might be the state of African Americans and race relations today if slaves had been freed because of the widespread revulsion of American citizens against a small clique of slave owners rather than forcibly by an occupying power? Those who laugh at the possibility of such an alternative history might think of the road traveled by America and the LGBTQ community over the past twenty years.

Those “Texas boys” on the Orange Plank Road trusted Lee, followed Lee all the way to Appomattox. But it wasn’t just those boys who paid the price of that trust. The years 1861-1865 were bloody years on the Texas plains. Ever since the Coronado Expedition introduced the horse three hundred years before, the Comanche had terrorized the vast expanse of the southern plains from the Sierra Madre in Mexico north into Texas and the American Southwest

Some forty years before, the Mexican government had invited land hungry immigrants from the United States into Estado Coahuila y Tejas in an effort to deal with the Comanche threat. It had been a bloody struggle, but those land hungry immigrants had been able to do what the Mexican government had not been able to do – stymie the Comanche raiders. Unfortunately for the Mexican government, they had lost Texas to the United States in the process.

But with the coming of the Civil War, over 90,000 “Texas boys” enlisted in the Confederate cause. Their absence saw the resurgence of the dreaded “Comanche Moon”, the name given to the times of fierce and bloody raids over the Texas plain. As those “Texas boys” paid the price of their trust on the Widow Trap’s farm and elsewhere, their families on the Texas plains paid in like coin.

Trust is the most valuable thing we can give our leaders, whether the President, our boss or the pastor of our church. Without the trust of those led, a leader is simply a tyrant. But our leaders are not foreordained, we choose them. It is up to us as the led, to be wise in our choice of leaders.

As the Borg-like cancel culture of our present day spreads, real multi-dimensional heroes are lost to us. Rising generations are left to find role models in the pages of Marvel comic books or the curated echo chambers of botox’d celebrity or fever swamp demagoguery.

Choosing those like Robert E. Lee allow us a realistic role model, one that has risen to the moments, but one that has faults. Not only one providing tangible guidelines for our own behavior but cautioning us in our expectations. This is a valuable service in the selection of our own leaders.

A life-long reflection on the life and times of Robert E. Lee has given me guidelines for living my life, as well as cautions. In my own Christian walk in this world, I am ever mindful of the paradox of Lee’s deep faith spent in the service of an evil system. His life brings to mind as well as commentary on two separate passages from Scripture. I imagine Lee knew them well.

When we expect too much from our leaders, or when we become too full of ourselves, it is good to meditate on the paradoxes in Lee’s life, remembering the words written by the unknown author of the 146th Psalm:

“Do not put your trust in princes,

Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help”

While the fires of my own ambition have become cooling ashes, an ember flares occasionally into brief life. Lee’s life provides a role model for another bit of scriptural advice, straight from the lips of our Savior Jesus Christ:

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all”



One Response to “The Marble Man – A Trusted Leader”

  1. Jeffrey N Esbenshade says:

    Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union Army he choose Confederates of America and slavery. Lee could have told the CFS the north has more assets, more population, more assets to wage a war than
    southern states, we cannot win a war. Like General Westmorland said we can win Vietnam with a “few more men” USA drafted 2.5 million men for Vietnam many said the way Generals were conducting the war it was not winnable. Generals could care
    less about privates, it’s their ego and they want to be a 4-star general.
    700,000 Americans died in the civil war. The only good we can say of Robert E Lee
    his plantation was taken away from him and made into Arlington Cemetery to bury a few of 700,000 civil war dead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Email Updates

  • Categories

  • What I’m Reading

    What I’m Reading

    The Twelfth Department
    By William Ryan

    What happens when we forget, or never bothered to learn, what we believe in and why we believe? What happens when the emotional whirls of Facebook and Twitter are the depths of our understanding? Evil, great evil, is regularly found lurking in the unexamined depths of good intentions. Mathew Arnold put our present political climate in memorable words years ago:

    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night

    Novels, good stories, provide a lens to see life, including our beliefs, without camouflage. As an example, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the finest Bible commentaries ever written. Progressive political ideals may lack in recent electoral success, but have undisputed possession of today’s moral high ground. And while death and taxes may be the only sure bets, the eventual victory of those holding the high ground have very good odds in any battle.
    And so fiction provides a look at eventual victories. There is no question that the outlines of today’s progressive agenda can be clearly seen in other times and places. William Ryan takes us to a time and place fondly imagined, idealized at the time, by the forefather’s of todays progressive leadership. In The Twelfth Department, we see a police captain in 1930’s Moscow. Captain Alexei Korolev is just a man trying to be a good father, a good citizen, a good police officer. In many ways Alexei is a fortunate man, with a good reputation and many more material advantages than the average citizen. But a high profile murder brings him into ambiguous circumstances. The tone of the book is respectful of life in Moscow, with no axes to grind. It is just a portrait of a man trying to do his job, bringing a gruesome killer to justice, among ordinary human beings seeking only to live normal lives in a progressive paradise.

  • Recent Comments