19 January Birthday of General Robert Edward Lee — a Legal Holiday in North Carolina
North Carolina in 1892 made the birth date of Robert E. Lee a legal holiday in the State. Like Washington before him, he led Americans, including North Carolinians, in battle in their second War of Independence in defense of their homes, inalienable rights and liberty. He considered his State of Virginia as his country, and the South as his home.
Explaining his actions in a postwar letter to R.S. McCulloch Lee wrote:
”Every brave people who considered their rights attacked and their constitutional liberties invaded,” it ran, “would have done as we did. Our conduct was not caused by any insurrectional spirit, nor can it be termed a rebellion; for our construction of the Constitution under which we lived and acted was the same from its adoption, and for eighty years we had been taught and educated by the founders of the Republic, and their written declarations, which controlled our consciences and actions. The epithets that have been heaped upon us of “rebels” and “traitors” have no just meaning, nor are they believed in by those who understand the subject, even at the North…”
General Dwight Eisenhower said of him in 1960:
“General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause….he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle.
Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul.”
British Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley said of Lee:
“I believe he will be regarded not only as the most prominent figure of the Confederacy, but as the Great American of the nineteenth century, whose statue is well worthy to stand on an equal pedestal with that of Washington, and whose memory is equally worthy to be enshrined in the hearts of all his countrymen.” This estimate is based upon a criticism of his character as a man, a soldier, and a Christian citizen. As a thinker and man of intellectual powers little has been said of him, and yet, intellectual power, associated with moral purity, are the true spring of greatness.”
After Virginia and other Southern States had made Lee’s birthday a legal holiday:
“The anniversary of the birth of Robert Edward Lee was again observed throughout Virginia on January 19th, 1892. In many of the cities and towns there were military parades, and the banks and public offices in all were closed. The Confederate Veterans Corps of the city of New York, and the Confederate Army and Navy Association of Baltimore, Maryland, each commemorated the occasion by a banquet with reverential exercises. The day is now by statute, a legal holiday in the States of North Carolina and Georgia as well as Virginia, and the day was observed in Raleigh and Atlanta, and doubtless in other Southern cities…
Business in the Richmond city offices was at a standstill yesterday and matters at the Capitol yesterday were dull. Many wholesale houses closed their establishments at noon and the freight depots of the railroads were also closed after that hour. The scholars of the public schools had half holiday, and the banks were closed throughout the day. Although the intensely discomforting weather materially interfered with the proposed open air demonstration, it could not dampen the ardent regard in which the memory of the glorious leader is held.
In Richmond, Mayor Ellyson spoke:
“Ladies, Comrades, and Fellow-Citizens: We have met today under the auspices of Lee and Pickett Camps to do honor to the memory of one of Virginia’s noble sons. Robert E. Lee is forever enshrined in the hearts of his countrymen, and as we contemplate his virtues and heroism we are made better and purer men, and I trust the time will never come when Virginians shall fail on this, his natal day, to recount the valor and patriotism of their greatest chieftain, whose noblest aspiration in life found its completest realization in the doing of his duty to his God, and his fellow man.
There is no danger, comrades, that the men who wore the grey will ever prove recreant to the principles that actuated them in time of war, but there is danger that our children may, and so we wish on these recurring anniversaries to tell of the chivalrous deeds of such leaders as Lee, Jackson, Stuart and Pickett, and to teach coming generations that the soldiers of the Southern Confederacy were not rebels, but were Americans who loved liberty as something dearer than life itself.”