Robert E. Lee is considered one of the great American military minds. But he also was a man of deep faith. He was not comfortable with the issue of slavery but when his home of Virginia called, he agreed to lead the army.
Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807. (died October 12, 1870). In Virginia, his birthday is celebrated with that of Stonewall Jackson on the Friday preceding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Lee, as well as Stonewall Jackson, was a great reader of the Bible. Nearly everything he did in life was based on Biblical teaching. That went from home to the battlefield.
Lee was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and a man of prayer. This is demonstrated through stories told of him as well as through his own writings.
Several prayers of Lee are recorded that give evidence of that faith.
On the matter of slavery:
"The doctrines and miracles of our Savior have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day."
From Lee’s letter to President Pierce before the Civil War.
When hearing that Stonewall Jackson had been injured he sent word to Jackson to let him know he was praying. Lee said, “When you return I trust you will find him better. When a suitable occasion offers, give him my love, and tell him that I wrestled in Prayer for him last night, as I never prayed, I believe, for myself."
A Life of General Robert E. Lee, by John Esten Cooke
This prayer of Lee was memorized by President Harry Truman. Truman used it throughout his life.
"Help me to be, to think, to act what is right because it is right; make me truthful, honest, and honorable in all things; make me intellectually honest for the sake of right and honor and without thought of reward to me."
From the Truman Library
While in Richmond, Lee worshipped at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The church website history states:
With the selection of Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy in 1861, St. Paul's would become forever identified with the Civil War. General Robert E. Lee and his wife were lent a pew and attended services at St. Paul's whenever possible throughout the war. In 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was confirmed as a member of the parish. Many male parishioners gave their lives in battle. The church undercroft was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. While attending service on Sunday, April 2, 1865, President Davis was delivered a message from General Lee stating that Lee had to withdraw from Petersburg, and thus could no longer defend Richmond. Davis quietly left the church, and evacuated the Confederate government and army from the city that afternoon. Fires broke out that evening, destroying the downtown and spreading dangerously close to St. Paul's. General Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox the following Sunday.
The story of Lee taking communion with a black man at St. Paul’s Church after the war may be the stuff of legend. But it is in keeping with the character of Robert E. Lee.
From the National Geographic News
Through victory an entirely new social order was to be established that would alter the relationship between the races forever. Unlike so many other Southerners, Lee embraced the new order. After peace had been achieved through unconditional surrender, the South became a vast, heavily occupied military zone with black Union soldiers seemingly everywhere.
One Sunday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, a well-dressed, lone black man, whom no one in the community—white or black—had ever seen before, had attended the service, sitting unnoticed in the last pew.
Just before communion was to be distributed, he rose and proudly walked down the center aisle through the middle of the church where all could see him and approached the communion rail, where he knelt. The priest and the congregation were completely aghast and in total shock.
No one knew what to do…except General Lee. He went to the communion rail and knelt beside the black man and they received communion together—and then a steady flow of other church members followed the example he had set.
After the service was over, the black man was never to be seen in Richmond again. It was as if he had been sent down from a higher place purposefully for that particular occasion.