Monday, October 3, 2011

Lucy Chaplin Lee, An American Sojourn in China

Gravestone of
Lucy and Edmund J. Lee IV,
Elmwood Cemetery,
Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Lucy Chaplin Lee (1884–1971) celebrated her eighty-second birthday in January 1968, and a couple of months later published the memoirs of her time as a missionary in China as the Qing Dynasty came to a close in 1911, An American Sojourn in China. A the  time of writing, Lucy was confined to a wheelchair, but still, according to her own testimony, in reasonably good health and with an active mind. She wrote the memoir for her grandchildren, and it is interesting not only for the light it sheds on her missionary work but also for the material she presented about her own family and that of her husband, Edmund Jennings Lee IV (1877–1962), who was born at Leeland in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Lee and his brother Armistead were already serving as missionaries in China with their father, Edmund Jennings Lee III, when Lucy met them while visiting China in 1911. Lucy was about twenty-five years old at the time of the interesting incident that she relates in the following excerpt:

As I look back on my years in China, perhaps the most bizarre and unbelievable experience I had came through our acquaintance with the Chinese general who was stationed in Anking in charge of the river police. Your grandfather had come to know him through serving with him on the Provincial Famine Relief Committee.

There were always famines in Anwhei province during our sixteen years there. The river overflowed its banks each year, causing floods, famine, destruction and wandering refugees, and the problem was never really solved during our stay in China. Your grandfather spent many weary hours on committee work in an attempt to relieve the suffering. Due to lack of resources, red tape and corruption, the accomplishments of the Relief Committee were never impressive, but one personal reward for your grandfather was his acquaintance with a great number of officials who came to respect and like him, and whom he, in turn, grew to know and like.

This particular general, whose name I have forgotten, was one of these. The Yangtze River was infested with pirates. They harrassed the boat population who lived along the river banks, the little fishing villages, the passenger launches that traveled up and down, and the freight and passenger barges. There were many pirates and the tales of their cruelty were beyond belief. Our general friend took his duties seriously. He firmly believed that extreme measures were the only way to deal with such men, and he carried out his convictions with ardor.

My personal contact with his family was through one of his concubines who had shown an interest in Christianity and an avid desire to learn whatever we could teach her. I visited her frequently and had become very fond of her. She was slowly dying of tuberculosis. Like so many other girls in her situation, our general had found her in a house of prostitution in Shanghai, and, as was often the case, she was not there through any choice of her own. She had been sold to the house in childhood and brought up to that life. She was an extremely sweet, sensitive and intelligent girl and was also the general’s favorite.

His first wife, the Da Tai Tai, the “great lady,” was head of his household, a woman I learned to know and admire. There were a number of secondary wives and concubines, and her relation to them was rather that of a mother-in-law. She was kind and wise and they, as well as the general, showed great respect for her.

My little friend, because of her ill health and because she was his favorite, did not live in the big Yamen with the rest of the family. He had a house for her across the street and it was there that I would go and see her. Every time I went, after our visit she would take me over to the big Yamen to have tea with the Da Tai Tai. The Yamen was not only the residence of the general and his large family but his office as well, and the front courts were always filled with soldiers and guards. In the rear of the offices were the family quarters, and it was there that the Da Tai Tai and the other wives lived. She was always most cordial to me and usually the general dropped in to join us and often invited us for more tea in his own room.

I want to say a word about him since he was a rather interesting man. In his childhood he had visited the United States on a Chinese gunboat on a “good will” mission, had learned a little English and had a vague memory of the city of New York. This made him anxious to cultivate us. He wanted the chance to use his little English and to learn more. I’m afraid this was one of the secrets of our friendship. I am sure it is why he sought me out so often when I went over to call on his ladies.

At the rear of the Yamen was a stockade where the most recently arrested pirates were kept awaiting execution. It was always a public beheading, after which the heads were exhibited on pikes over the city gates. Our friend firmly believed that this procedure was a deterrent to crime and the only way that the criminal element could be impressed by the law, though it did not seem in any way to be lessening the piracy that was going on.

On every visit he urged me to go with him around to the back and look at the prisoners. This to his surprise I always refused to do. He was always a little puzzled that my interest was so limited.

His own quarters consisted of one bedroom, with a hard wooden Chinese bed, over which on the wall was draped a piece of red silk. I had been told that under this silk hung the beheading sword used for executions, so I found the visits to the room a little grim.

One morning I was told by our servants and a number of other people who came in that there had been a public beheading the day before which had shocked even the hardened onlookers. The beheading sword had apparently become very dull from much use, and it had taken a great many strokes to fulfill its purposes. In one case it took fifteen whacks to sever a head. This was a sickening situation, and I realized that it would continue to go on unless something were done about it. I also heard that the matter had gotten into the Shanghai papers and would probably be repeated in the American press. I felt that such publicity would not give a just impression of Chinese law.

I can’t remember the circumstances in which I did it—whether your grandfather knew, or whether I took off on the impulse of the moment, because I was extremely indignant and angry, but I went at once over to the Yamen and asked for an interview with the general.

This he graciously granted, rather pleased with the outcome of his previous day’s work and eager to discuss it.

Our conversation was the unbelievable part of the story. I told him that I had heard what had happened and was utterly and completely horrified, that the story was in the Shanghai papers and would get into the foreign press, and that, because of my love for China, apart from any other reason, I was humiliated and grieved. I told him that such an execution was not a matter of justice but was an atrocity which should not be allowed to go on. I said that he must do something about that sword before any further executions took place. He replied that there was nothing that he could do, that no sword sharpener in the city of Anking would touch this sword because of a superstition against sharpening a sword of execution. Then I suggested that he get a new one. He said that there was no place he could get one this side of Shanghai and that he couldn’t take the time to send down and get one. I suggested that he telegraph for one and postpone the next execution until it arrived. This he felt was impossible since there were more prisoners on the way and the stockade was filled and he must get it emptied the next day.

I left with a heavy heart, feeling that I had utterly failed and that this terrible thing must continue. Also, my opinion of the general was considerably damaged. I could think of nothing else during the night and the next morning, but later that day I learned that the execution had been postponed and that the general had telegraphed to Shanghai and ordered a new sword, with further executions being held off until its arrival.

It seemed a small victory on my part, and probably none of the poor brutes who died by that new sword knew that their deaths were made perhaps a little more merciful because of the anger of one American woman. It was an experience I will never forget. My friendship with the general and his ladies continued until we left Anking.

Note: The entire text of An American Sojourn in China will be placed on the website of the Lee Family Digital Archive, by permission of the estate of Lucy Chaplin Lee.

Learn more about the Lee Family at the Lee Family Digital Archive.

Friday, August 5, 2011

President Gerald R. Ford: Remarks upon the Restoration of Robert E. Lee’s Citizenship

Note: President Gerald Ford made the following remarks at Arlington House when signing the bill to restore the rights of citizenship to Robert E. Lee in 1975. S.J. Res. 23, Public Law 94-67 (89 Stat. 380).
Remarks Upon Signing a Bill Restoring Rights of Citizenship to General Robert E. Lee

[5 August 1975]

Governor Godwin, Senator Byrd, Congressman Butler, Congressman Harris, Congressman Satterfield, Congressman Downing, and Congressman Daniel, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very pleased to sign Senate Joint Resolution 23, restoring posthumously the long overdue, full rights of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee. This legislation corrects a 110-year oversight of American history. It is significant that it is signed at this place.

Lee’s dedication to his native State of Virginia chartered his course for the bitter Civil War years, causing him to reluctantly resign from a distinguished career in the United States Army and to serve as General of the Army of Northern Virginia. He, thus, forfeited his rights to U.S. citizenship.

Once the war was over, he firmly felt the wounds of the North and South must be bound up. He sought to show by example that the citizens of the South must dedicate their efforts to rebuilding that region ’of the country as a strong and vital part of the American Union.

In 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier concerning his signing the Oath of Allegiance, and I quote: “This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.”

This resolution passed by the Congress responds to the formal application of General Lee to President Andrew Johnson on June 13, 1865, for the restoration of his full rights of citizenship. Although this petition was endorsed by General Grant and forwarded to the President through the Secretary of War, an Oath of Allegiance was not attached because notice of this additional requirement had not reached Lee in time.

Later, after his inauguration as President of Washington College on October 2, 1865, Lee executed a notarized Oath of Allegiance. Again his application was not acted upon because the Oath of Allegiance was apparently lost. It was finally discovered in the National Archives in 1970.

As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox.

General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.

In approving this Joint Resolution, the Congress removed the legal obstacle to citizenship which resulted from General Lee’s Civil War service. Although more than a century late, I am delighted to sign this resolution and to complete the full restoration of General Lee’s citizenship.

Learn more about the Lee Family at the Lee Family Digital Archive.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

28 June: John Warwick Daniel, Unveiling of the Recumbent Lee

Characterization of Robert E. Lee

Note: On this date in 1883 Edward Virgnius Valentine’s magnificent marble Recumbent Lee statue was unveiled publicly at the Lee Chapel. The following is an extract from John Warwick Daniel’s “Robert Edward Lee: An Oration Pronounced at the Unveiling of the Recumbent Figure at Lexington, Virginia, June 28th 1883."

In personal appearance, General Lee was a man whom once to see was ever to remember. His figure was tall, erect, well proportioned, lithe, and graceful. A fine head, with broad, uplifted brow, and features boldly, but yet delicately chiseled, bore the high aspect of one born to command. The firm yet mobile lips, and the thick-set jaw, were expressive of daring and resolution; and the dark scintillant eye flashed with the light of a brilliant intellect and a fearless spirit. His whole countenance, indeed, bespoke alike a powerful mind and indomitable will, yet beamed with charity, gentleness, and benevolence. In his manners, quiet reserve, unaffected courtesy, and native dignity, made manifest the character of one who can only be described by the name of gentleman. And, taken all in all, his presence possessed that grave and simple majesty which commanded instant reverence and repressed familiarity; and yet so charmed by a certain modesty and gracious deference, that reverence and confidence were ever ready to kindle into affection. It was impossible to look upon him, and not to recognize at a glance that in him nature gave assurance of a man created great and good.

Mounted in the field and at the head of his troops, a glimpse of Lee was an inspiration. His figure was as distinctive as that of Napoleon. Ah! soldiers! who can forget it? The black slouched hat; the cavalry boots; the dark cape; the plain gray coat without an ornament but the three stars on the collar; the calm, victorious face; the splendid, manly figure on the gray war-horse, that steps as if proudly conscious of his rider; he looked every inch the true knight—the grand, invincible champion of a great principle.

The intellectual abilities of General Lee were of the highest order, and his attainments, scientific and literary, were remarkable for one who had devoted so many years of his life to the exacting duties and details of the camp and the field. He read much, digested what he read, and amplified his readings with reflective power. But so modest and unpretentious was he—so chastened and retiring was his ambition, and his overshadowing military exploits had so fixed the admiring gaze of men, that when he came here few knew how rare were the accomplishments, and how versatile and adaptive was the genius of the gentleman who seemed by nature framed to lead the ranks and grace the habiliments of war. The training, habits, and occupations of the soldier seldom guide his footsteps to classic haunts, and when the great captain is unhorsed and his trappings disappear, how often do we find that the soldier was a soldier only, and nothing more. But when Lee the soldier stepped forth in civic dress, it was soon evident to all, as it had been previously to those who knew him best, that here was one full panoplied to dignify and adorn any civic station; one who disclosed himself in wide converse and correspondence embracing all manner of delicate and difficult situations, to possess that quality which is the consummate flower of wisdom—unerring judgment combined with exquisite taste. The literature that may be found in the letters of the great unfolds the very essence of the genius of the men, and of the times they lived in; and in my humble judgment it were sufficient to read the letters written by General Lee, and which are collated in the beautiful memorial volume prepared by Rev. Dr. J. William Jones, to discern that the writer was one who profoundly comprehended the topics of the day, and wielded a pen as vigorous and polished as his sword. And when we contemplate in connection with his deeds the fair and lofty character that is mirrored in them, we behold one whose strong, equitable, and wide-reaching mind was such that, had he devoted it to jurisprudence, had made the name of justice as venerable and august as when a Marshall enunciated the law; who, had he been a statesman, had moulded the institutions of his country, and guided its political currents, with as wise, firm, and temperate a hand as that of Washington; who, had he headed any of the great corporate enterprises of transportation, commerce, or development in which aggregated capital relies on scientific sagacity for great works, had greatly aided the solution of many perplexing problems that now agitate the public mind; who, had he bent himself to literature, had produced a page filled with the glory and dignity of philosophic inquiry or historic truth;—one indeed so perfectly balanced in mind and will, so nobly turned in moral worth, so just in heart, so clear in thought, and so authoritative in direction, that, in any land where the common sentiment can have spontaneous play, would, as inevitably as the sparks fly upward, and by a law scarce less fixed than that which moves the planets in their course, have been the leading man in whatever he undertook, and would have been called by one voice to become the chief magistrate of the people.

As little things make up the sum of life, so they reveal the inward nature of men and furnish keys to history. It is in the office, the street, the field, the workshop, and by the fireside, that men show what stuff they are made of, not less than in those eventful actions which write themselves in lightnings across the skies and mark the rise and fall of nations. Nay, more; the highest attributes of human nature are not disclosed in action but in self-restraint and repose. “Self-restraint,” as has been truly said by Thomas Hughes, “is the highest form of self-assertion.”

Learn more about the Lee Family at the Lee Family Digital Archive.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

President Franklin D. Roosevelt & Robert E. Lee

Remarks Re: Robert E. Lee Memorial Statue
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the following remarks at the unveiling of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Statue in Dallas in 1936.
Remarks at the Unveiling of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Statue, Dallas, Texas

[12 June 1936]

I am very happy to take part in this unveiling of the statue of General Robert E. Lee.

All over the United States we recognize him as a great leader of men, as a great general. But, also, all over the United States I believe that we recognize him as something much more important than that. We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Song of Lee’s Legion

Light-Horse Harry Lee (National Arvhives)
Song of Lee’s Legion
Prince Edward
[Note: The following is taken from the March 1836 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, Volume 2, p. 252.]
Our chargers are plunging and pawing the ground,
And champing and tossing the white foam around—
So fleet to pursue, and so mighty to crush,
No foe will remain in the path where they rush.
Away, then, my heroes—away, then, away!
Let “Freedom or Death!” be the watchword to-day.

Remember the burnings we witnessed last night;
The fair and the feeble we passed in their flight;
The wail of the wounded, the red blood that flowed,
Still warm in the path, where by moonlight we rode.
Away, then, &c.

The marauder is nigh—he is hurrying back;
The sand, as we gallop, still falls in his track.
On! on! then, our swords for the battle are rife,
And soon they shall drink at the fountain of life.
Away, then, &c.

Prince Edward.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Marshall W. Fishwick, Lee After the War

Note: The following is an extract from Marshall W. Fishwick (1923–2006), Lee After the War (New York, 1963).

Lee baffles those who study him today, much as he did those who fought him in earlier days. His is the mystery of no mystery; the armor without a significant flaw. The whole experience can be exasperating. Wrote Henry Adams, classmate of Robert E. Lee’s son Rooney at Harvard: “The habit of command was not enough, and the Virginian had little else. He was simply beyond analysis; so simple that even the simple New England student could not realize him.”

Like father, like son. Certainly neither Robert nor Rooney Lee had the intellectual acumen of the Adamses. Still, they were solid; they could make and implement decisions; they were rocks in adversity. They lacked subtle phrases and nuances. Yet they moved forward when others were physically and mentally exhausted.

Robert E. Lee undertook a job which was too big for one man and for which he was inadequate. But he toiled without complaining, surrendered without equivocating, and died without faltering. He showed that human virtue was equal to, if not superior to, human calamity. His greatest asset was a unique kind of grace. His greatest triumph was the simple splendor of his being.

No phrase-maker like Lincoln, Lee did not leave utterances or messages for school children to memorize and recite. Still, he could be explicit and forceful in word as well as in deed. Consider the words Lee scribbled on a paper which was not discovered until after his death: “The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He can not only forgive, he can forget. He strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past.”

Lee’s genius was essentially military; but his greatness was essentially religious. He cannot be understood against a background of politics, philosophy or polemics. All efforts to find Lee’s “secret” have failed because they have followed the wrong leads.

Unfortunately, there was no mechanism in nineteenth century Protestant America for handling a saint. The separation of church and state was written into the Federal constitution. The principle had been ingrained in the Virginia conscience by the Jeffersonians. To have used any of the terms of Roman Catholicism would have seemed like a betrayal to the American way of life.

Yet some of Lee’s exploits were considered little short of “miraculous.” If he did not make the lame walk, he definitely made them fight—and in a land of insurgent nationalism, this counted for more. His sword and his marvelously attractive face would have done well in church iconography or cathedral carvings. He was the southern Saint George slaying Yankee dragons. If one checks the steps of canonization, he will find that Lee has moved far along the road to ultimate acceptance.

The idea would have appalled him. He was, so far as I can discover, truly a humble man. There is about him a soft, winsome quality—not unlike that of Saint Francis. The extraordinary attraction which both of these men exerted over animals is only one of their points of comparison. They had an attraction to, and an attractiveness for, all living things. Literally everything and everybody loved them.

Forget the Lee of battle, and see the old man moving among Lexington’s children. Forget the general in gray, and see the old fellow in the black suit, moving back and forth between his home and his chapel. Focus sharply on this man. For this is Robert E. Lee.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

General Lee Arrives at Washington College

From the 2 October 1865 issue of The New York Times.

Gen. Lee at Washington College.

The Lexington (Va.) Gazette thus announces the arrival of Gen. ROBERT E. LEE at that town, preparatory to taking charge of Washington College:
On Monday last, (18th inst.), Gen. LEE made his appearance on our streets. He had traveled across the country from Cumberland County, a hundred miles or more, on horseback, arriving a day sooner than he was expected, and taking our citizens entirely on surprise—not in the mode, but in the time of his coming; for his style of locomotion was already known, and is perfectly in accordance with his quiet, unostentatious way of doing things. The General is, for the present, the guest of our worthy and well-known townsman, Col. S. MCD. REID.

The Board of Trustees of the college meet to-day to take steps for filling the chair of “Mental and Moral Philosophy,” now vacant, and for the transaction of other important business.
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