CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Perry Mann's recent commentary ("Lee's Example," May 5) in which he lionized Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, demonstrates the appeal of the Lost Cause literary school of revisionist history that still passes in modern-day journalism.
Mann recounts a misty eyed lecture at Washington and Lee University centered on Lee's refusal to lend his name to an insurance company for a large sum of money and how Lee should be held up as an exemplar for future generations.
But Lee should not be valorized, especially when viewed through the same modern-day lens that Mann implores his readers, for the reality is that Lee's true character seldom lives up to the celebrated legend.
One of the most insightful testimonies comes from an 1871 letter written by his eldest daughter Mary Custis Lee that was recently found in the Virginia Historical Society.
In the letter, she debunks foundational Lost Cause beliefs including the false notion that Lee joined the Confederacy out of pressure from family when in fact a good many of his relatives, including his wife and a majority of his children, actually opposed leaving the union.
Indeed it could be better argued that military glory was the true motivating factor for Lee who was more interested in his career path that that of his family's wishes.
Further underscoring the disingenuous nature of Lee's grand decision was his famous quote that, "I have been unable to make up my mind to raise my hand against my native state, my relations, my children and my home."
That's because Lee's decision helped galvanize a cause that utterly destroyed his beloved Virginia from its advanced antebellum infrastructure to the bankruptcy of its institutions, setting the Commonwealth's economy back at least 100 years.