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This child, the fifth child in his family, was born in Virginia in 1807. His parents, who were struggling with debt, were not terribly pleased about the extra mouth to feed.
To make matters worse, the child's mother, although quite beautiful, had always been sickly, and suffered from what we now would call narcolepsy. In fact, she had become so ill several years before the child was born, that she actually had been thought dead, and buried alive in the family burial vault until days later, a sexton bringing flowers heard noises in her coffin and she was rescued.
The child's father had been a well-known war hero and politician, who had fallen on hard times. His business failures and debts caused the family to lose their home. When the child was two years old, his father was thrown into jail because of these debts. Then, when the child was 11, his father completely abandoned the family and left the United States altogether. In his later life, the child resolved never to succomb to his own father's weaknesses.
The child himself, like his mother, was handsome but sickly. His mother, who shouldered the burdens of her large family alone, nevertheless imparted to the child the values of her strong religious convictions, which he carried his entire life, as well as a sense of honor, duty and loyalty to his home.
His mother home-schooled the child until he was about 12. At that point he entered a small local school, where he studed Greek, Latin, algebra, and geometry. He excelled in his math studies, and was widely regarded by his teachers as a polite, hardworking, and conscientious student.
When the child was 17, he decided to enter a military academy. He did so well there, notably in math and engineering, that he graduated second in his class with high honors and no demerits. He married his second cousin with whom he eventually had seven healthy and successful children.
In the military, his first assignment was with the army's corps of engineers. Later, during Mexican War, he started to gain a reputation for repeated extraordinary exploits. He repeatedly was honored for "gallant and meritorious conduct". Ultimately he rose up through the ranks of the military, until he became considered to be the nation's best military officer and became an advisor to the President of the United States.
When a major war threatened the country, the President called upon him and asked him to accept appointment as the country's top general, leading the American army. But it was not to be. The child agonized over his choices, and wrote to his sister. In his letter to her, he said:
"With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword."
The rest, of course... is history. Although he put his loyalty to home and family above that of his country, because of his accomplishments and remarkable character, to this day this child nevertheless is remembered and revered as one of America's greatest generals. This son of the state of the South was
Robert E. Lee, a boy from a
liznote: also see: Lincoln versus Lee - PDF
* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.
"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson
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