This is in response to the recent commentary by George Simpson (Oct. 3) where he states that Robert E. Lee and all Confederates are “traitors” and do not deserve to be honored by statues. How cowardly is it to judge long-departed people, who can no longer defend themselves, as unworthy of respect?
Robert E. Lee served his country for 35 years in times of war and peace. He freed the slaves he inherited. In contrast, Ulysses Grant owned slaves and did not free them until slavery was abolished. Does Grant deserve a statue? General Sherman’s racism is well-documented and at war’s end, he would not allow his army to march in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C., if black Union soldiers were allowed to participate. Does Sherman deserve honor and not Lee? Most Southerners did not own slaves. They fought to protect their homes, families and states from invading armies that devastated their land. Are they truly traitors?
General Sherman’s army burned entire cities and towns. They destroyed thousands of Southern civilians’ homes after stealing every bit of food and anything of value before burning the house and leaving women and children without food or shelter.
Are they worthy of honor? In some instances, they rolled sick and dying people out of bed to search for valuables hidden in the bedding; they dug up fresh graves to look for jewelry or silver; gang-raped slave women; and tortured and sometimes killed slaves who would not reveal where their masters had hidden their valuable possessions. If traitors don’t deserve honor — do war criminals?
After the war, Union and Confederate veterans who had fought and maimed each other expressed respect and admiration for the courage and devotion to duty of their past enemies. How easy it is now for some people to judge the motives and then condemn people who lived over 150 years ago. Whether from the North or South, our ancestors were products of the times they lived in. Can they be judged by today’s standards? And how shall we judge free blacks who owned slaves? How do we deserve to be judged in 150 years?
A soldier’s duty is to defend his homeland and his countrymen. It is appropriate to honor soldiers who put their lives on the line for what they believed was right, regardless of how history now judges them. Are there any historical figures at all who can’t be condemned if judged by today’s standards? Mr. Simpson should stop making war on the dead. History doesn’t change — what we think of it does. Robert E. Lee and Confederate soldiers defended the South with honor, courage and their blood. They deserve honor and their statues and monuments deserve respect.
Donald Hart lives in Whitehall, New York.