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  • Robert E. Lee quote:

There was a quiet humor, and upon occasion a keen wit, in General Lee, which was only appreciated by those who came into intimate contact with him. Hon. B. H. Hill, in the speech from which an extract in the previous chapter is taken, gives the following:

"Lee sometimes indulged in satire, to which his greatness gave point in power. He was especially severe on newspaper criticisms of military movements - subjects about which the writers knew nothing.

"We made a great mistake, Mr. Hill, in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake," he said to me, after General Bragg ceased to command the Army of Tennessee, an event Lee deplored.

"What mistake is that, general?"

"Why, sir, in the beginning we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers. As you know, I have planned some campaigns and quite a number of battles. I have given the work all the care and thought I could, and sometimes, when my plans were completed, as far as I could see, they seemed to be perfect. But when I have fought them through, I have discovered defects and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the defects in advance. When it was all over, I found by reading a newspaper that these best editor generals saw all the defects plainly from the start. Unfortunately, they did not communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late." Then, after a pause, he added, with a beautiful, grave expression I can never forget: "I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy, and do all I can to win our independence. I an willing to serve in any capacity to which the authorities may assign me. I have done the best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I could wish. I am willing to yield my place to these best generals, and I will do my best for the cause in editing a newspaper."

In the same strain he once remarked to one of his generals: "Even as poor a soldier as I am can generally discover mistakes after it is all over. But if I could only induce these wise gentlemen who see them so clearly beforehand to communicate with me in advance, instead of waiting until the evil has come upon us, to let me know that they knew all the time, it would be far better for my reputation, and (what is of more consequence) far better for the cause.