Over at The Gift That Keeps On Giving, the group owner posted this regarding the allegation that Lee, during Reconstruction, said, “Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in my right hand.”
Leaving aside the fact that the group’s owner doesn’t know what “autobiography” means [and, by the way, the comments are worth seeing, especially where, since he doubts the legitimacy of the quotation, the group owner is called “simply a reconstruction apologist posing as a Southerner.”], did Lee actually say this? According to one neoconfederate in the group, “it is a quote from Lee, shortly before his death, quoted by two very reliable people. Part of the politically correct sanitation process is to deny any quotes from any historical figure which goes against the grain of the oppressors.” Seriously, folks, you just can’t make this stuff up.
The quote originates with Robert Lewis Dabney, who alleged that he heard it from former Texas Governor Fletcher Stockdale. Dabney and Stockdale claim the meeting where Lee is alleged to have said this took place at White Sulphur Springs in the summer of 1870, the year Lee died. Lee went to Staunton on August 29 to attend a meeting of the stockholders of the Valley Railroad. The stockholders met in Staunton on the morning of August 30. “Upon the conclusion of the stockholders’ meeting, General Lee returned to Lexington. It was his last journey.” [Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography, Vol 4, p. 480] Also, this particular fairy tale does not appear in Charles Bracelen Flood’s Lee: The Last Years.
I also wrote about this fairy tale here.
Douglas Southall Freeman addressed this particular alleged quotation here:
“Doctor Dabney was not present and received his account of the meeting from Governor Stockdale. The latter told Dabney that he was the last to leave the room, and that as he was saying good-bye, Lee closed the door, thanked him for what he had said and added: ‘Governor, if I had foreseen the use these people desired to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox, no, sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in this right hand.’ This, of course, is second-hand testimony. There is nothing in Lee’s own writings and nothing in direct quotation by first-hand witness that accords with such an expression on his part. The nearest approach to it is the claim by H. Gerald Smythe that ‘Major Talcott’ — presumably Colonel T. M. R. Talcott — told him Lee stated he would never have surrendered the army if he had known how the South would have been treated. Mr. Smythe stated that Colonel Talcott replied, ‘Well, General, you have only to blow the bugle,’ whereupon Lee is alleged to have answered, ‘It is too late now’ (29 Confederate Veteran, 7). Here again the evidence is not direct. The writer of this biography, talking often with Colonel Talcott, never heard him narrate this incident or suggest in any way that Lee accepted the results of the radical policy otherwise than with indignation, yet in the belief that the extremists would not always remain in office. For these reasons the writer is unwilling to quote this doubtful testimony in the text.”
Is it possible they simply got the year wrong? That it was 1868 instead of 1870? Doubtful, because he was careful to say it was the same year Lee died. It’s difficult to believe they got the year of the meeting wrong when they claimed to remember it as the same year Lee died.
The only reasonable conclusion I can see is that Lee never said it.