In the summer of 1869, Gettysburg attorney David McConaughy, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, invited former Confederate commander Robert E. Lee to participate in a reunion of officers in Gettysburg for the purpose of interpreting and memorializing the battlefield. Inviting Lee was an obvious choice for McConaughy. The general, however, was clearly reluctant to attend the event or indulge in Civil War remembrance. In fact, the public attention he received often made him uncomfortable and he became more reticent in divulging his side of the story. At face value, his desire to not “keep open the sores of war” appears to be a magnanimous gesture meant to suppress the ill will engendered by remembrance of the War’s bitter sectional animosities. That Robert E. Lee politely refused to attend a public event celebrating his most famous defeat is understandable. Lee was a reserved individual who rarely betrayed his innermost feelings. For example, Lee delegated the task of writing his famed and emotional farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia to his aide, Colonel Charles Marshall. However, a look at Lee’s own words and actions in the years following his surrender at Appomattox offers further insight into why the Civil War remained a painful topic of discussion for Lee.
Of all the veterans McConaughy sought to bring to the battlefield the former commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, guaranteed the greatest amount of publicity for McConaughy’s project. After his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia in April 1865, Lee became the embodiment of both reconstruction and reconciliation for the beleaguered South. Lee’s public persona was that of a defeated yet dignified elder statesman whose grace offered dejected Southerners a model of behavior to emulate. Continue reading “David McConaughy’s Letter of Invitation to Robert E. Lee”