[Below is an excerpt about General Robert E. Lee from The Story of a Soldier’s Life by Field-Marshal Viscount Wolseley. This is a tribute to General Lee on the occasion of his 206th birthday anniversary, January 19, 2013.]
|General Robert E. Lee|
Robert E. Lee described as 'ablest general' - 'greatest man' by Lord Wolseley
As soon as I could do so I proceeded to General Lee’s Headquarters, about six miles out of town, on the road to Harper’s Ferry. Every incident in that visit to him is indelibly stamped on my memory. I have taken no special trouble to remember all he said to me then and during subsequent conversations, and yet it is still fresh in my recollection. But it should be so, for he was the ablest general, and to me, seemed the greatest man I ever conversed with; and yet I have had the privilege of meeting Vom Moltke and Prince Bismark, and at least upon occasion had a very long and intensely interesting conversation with the latter. General Lee was one of the few men who ever seriously impressed and awed me with their natural, their inherent greatness. Forty years have come and gone since our meeting, yet the majesty of his manly bearing, the genial winning grace, the sweetness of his smile and the impressive dignity of his old-fashioned style of address, come back to me amongst my most cherished recollections. His greatness made me humble, and I never felt my own individual insignificance more keenly than I did in his presence. He was the about fifty years of age, with hair and beard nearly white. Tall, extremely handsome and strongly built, very soldier-like in bearing, he looked a thoroughbred gentleman. Care had, however, already wrinkled his brow, and there came at moments a look of sadness into his clear, honest, and speaking dark brown eyes that indicated much his overwhelming national responsibility had already told upon him. As he listened to you attentively, he seemed to look into your heart and to search your brain. He spoke of the future with confidence, though one could clearly see he was of no very sanguine temperament. He deplored the bitterness introduced into the struggle, and also the treatment of the Southern folk who fell into hostile hands. But there was no rancor in his tone when he referred to the Northern Government. Not even when he described how they had designedly destroyed his home at Arlington Heights, the property on the Potomac he had inherited from General Washington. He had merely “gone with his State” – Virginia – the pervading principle that had influenced most of the soldiers I spoke with during my visit to the South. His was indeed a beautiful character, and of him it might truthfully be written: “in righteousness he did judge and make war.”
|Gen. Lord Wolseley|
Who was Viscount Wolseley?
Garnet Joseph Wolseley, the First Viscount of Wolseley, was one of the great British generals of the last half of the 19th Century. He was known as a tireless advocate of modernization of the British Army and was the "go-to" man whenever there was trouble in some far-flung area of the British Empire.
He was the son of a British Army officer born June 4, 1833 in Dublin, Ireland. Wolseley was educated in Dublin and commissioned into the British Army in 1852 in the King's Own Borderers, but transferred to the 80th Regiment of Foot. He served in the Second Burmese War, wounded at the Battle of Donabyu; the Crimean War in Russia; the Indian Mutiny; the Anglo-French Expedition to China in 1860; the Fenian Invasion of Canada; the Ashanti Campaign in Africa; the Egyptian Army revo0lt; attempted to relieve Gordon at Khartoum; and the Boer War, 1899-1902.
Wolseley was promoted to Field Marshal in 1894 and to Commander in Chief of the British Army, 1895-1901. He retired in 1903 and died March 26, 1913 in Mertone, France.
In October, 1862, while stationed in Canada, took a leave of absence to visit the Confederate Army. He had interviews with both General Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Wolseley left behind his impressions in his auto-biography and in periodical articles.