Robert E. Lee and Hatred

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Sometimes I wonder if we learned anything from the Civil War at all:



On March 9, 2018, a book was pulled from both the Washington and Lee University Bookstore and the Lee Chapel Museum Shop after a W&L professor accused the book of painting a sympathetic picture of the Confederate States of America and the Old South. The book was not The Clansmen, the basis of D.W. Giffith’s The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, or the notoriously problematic History of the American People by Woodrow Wilson, but a children’s book written about one of Robert E. Lee’s most beloved companions and most trusted warhorse, Traveller.

The book, entitled My Colt: The Story of Traveller, was written by Margaret Samdahl, who worked at the Lee Chapel Museum for thirteen years. Samdahl says that she decided to write the book to respond to Lee Chapel patron’s demands for a child-friendly book on Traveller. Using the Special Collections archive at Washington and Lee as well as other research materials available at Leyburn Library on W&L’s campus, Mrs. Samdahl embarked on a decade-long effort to bring the story of Traveller to a younger audience. Lee Chapel purchased copies of My Colt on February 27, and the University Bookstore followed suit on March 3. However, after the book and a book signing event at the university were advertised in the daily Campus Notices on March 8, the administration received a complaint from a professor who objected to the content of the book. It was subsequently removed from both the Museum Shop and the University Bookstore, and the book signing event was abruptly cancelled on March 9.

Though the professor’s outrage over the contents of the book was cited as the initial cause of the book’s removal, the university called Mrs. Samdahl two weeks later to explain that the book had been removed because it was self-published and had not been peer-reviewed. This explanation by the university administration does not hold up because the book had already been accepted by the Museum Shop and the University Bookstore, implying that it had already received some sort of review by the managers of those respective venues, and had been for sale in those venues for almost two weeks before it was removed. Meanwhile, both Virginia Military Institute and Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, reviewed and accepted the book with no problems.

An uproar soon erupted within the Washington and Lee and Lexington community. Don Samdahl, husband of the author as well as a longtime librarian at VMI, sent several letters to President Dudley protesting the removal of his wife’s book. In a letter written to President William Dudley on March 19, Mr. Samdahl accused W&L of ignoring the commitment that it made to free speech on campus in its 2015 “Affirmation of Freedom of Expression at Washington and Lee University” and of attempting to censor the books available for sale in Lee Chapel and the University Bookstore. Soon after Mr. Samdahl’s initial letter on March 19, other members of the community lent their voices to the protest. After three weeks off of the shelves, My Colt was restored to the Lee Chapel Museum Shop and the University Bookstore on April 2. President Dudley explained to Mr. Samdahl in his reply on April 2:


Go here to read the rest.  My first impulse was to wonder whether the Professor outraged by a kid’s book about Robert E. Lee’s horse was also outraged that his paycheck comes from an institution named after two men who owned slaves during their lifetimes.  A more positive impulse however recalled these words by Robert E. Lee after the War when  writing to a young mother who expressed animosity towards the North:

Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.

The great truth of the Civil War is that we are one people:  North and South, white and black.  People who try to stir up old hatreds are spitting upon the graves of those who lost their lives seeking to preserve the Union, and the graves of the men on both sides who after the War counseled reconciliation.  Time to recall these other words of Lee after the War:


We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them.



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  1. I recall once reading a very disturbing account from a veteran of the Civil War who describes the haunting memory of waking through some woods after a battle when he realized that what he thought was mist from a light rain was actually blood and tissue after an artillery barrage dripping from trees, then coming to a field full of screaming horses who had legs blown off from grape shot.

    When I was assigned with the Marine Corps one of the infantry officers wrote a paper about the logistical difficulties of the confederate army in acquiring horses before and during the battle of Gettysburg. Many scholars believe that the human casualties of the Civil War are grossly underestimated and I don’t think there are any studies of the non-human carnage of the war.

    It is very disturbing that the story of a horse is banished because of a link to his owner. I wonder what I can be condemned for because of an association with someone who participated in events that I was not associated with or may not even have had knowledge of.

    What I wonder is what the true agenda is by those attempting to erase the knowledge of events with from the current generation in school. The nature of human memory is to fill in gaps of forgotten knowledge with what one believes are true events, which is a good reason for defense lawyers to suspect the accuracy of the witnesses of events that occurred long ago. Will the next step be to instill something to fill these erased national memories? As George Orwell wrote in his Novel 1984 “He who controls the past controls the future and he who controls the present controls the past.”

  2. Spitting on dead men’s graves is a much safer activity than most other ways to abusing people to show how wonderful you are.
    Bullies frequently pick someone who can’t fight back; the dead are famously unable to do much.

  3. Seen elsewhere on the world-wide-web. Chinese on-liners laugh at western liberals. They call them, the “white left.”

    “A most useful phrase: The White Left: A Chinese internet insult: Meet the Chinese netizens who combine a hatred for the ‘white left’ with a love of US president Donald Trump. ‘Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.

  4. College book stores stock trade books all the time and often university press books are not refereed in the manner of articles in academic journals. You see this sort of bald lying as a matter of course in these controversies. Higher education is a kakistocracy.

  5. Offended by a children’s book about a horse? That’s like a Mel Brook’s parody. It reminds me of over the top examples of something you write to get a laugh, like cornering the frozen orange juice market in Trading Places, or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. Something so ludicrous, it can only be taken as humor,. And yet not only does this sort of thing happen nowadays, but it’s taken seriously.

  6. T. Shaw-
    the interesting thing about that phrase is that, symbolically, “White” for the Chinese is like “Black” for western cultures– it’s the color of death, think like a shroud.
    One of the things the Chinese share with the Japanese and other groups, actually; you don’t send white flowers, or give white gifts, and a character dressed in white is quite likely to be sinister.

  7. And yet not only does this sort of thing happen nowadays, but it’s taken seriously.

    I’ll wager you that 80% of the faculty at a generic institution are of such disposition that it would not occur to them to do this or that they could see it was ludicrous if it did occur to them. The trouble is, doing this sort of thing, however ludicrous, costs you nothing on today’s faculty. No one points at you in the rathskellar and laughs, and, you can see, the college president acceded to her and then took up serial lying when the feedback was such that he realized the optics wee terrible. Hollow man he. The fault is with the bovine faculty, who hire these borderline cases, tenure these borderline cases, and grant respectful status to these borderline cases.

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