On a late fall day in 1870, many Atlantans gathered in Oakland Cemetery on the same that day the leg-endary Robert E. Lee was being buried in Virginia. Fittingly, perhaps, they met to lay the cornerstone for the massive obelisk honoring “Our Confederate Dead” in the section reserved for soldiers killed in the many battles around the city.
As the nation commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War that made Lee famous, it is a good time to remember his birthday this Jan. 19. In the years following the war, Lee was a revered fig-ure, even more so after his death. In Georgia, his birthday was made a state holiday, which it remains even in the 21st century.
Robert E. Lee was born in 1807. After a distinguished but relatively quiet career as an army officer highlighted by brilliant service in the Mexican War, he faced the agonizing choice of so many Southern military officers in 1861. Should he resign his commission or stay and fight against his beloved home state of Virginia? We all know that he chose Virginia and proved to be one of the most outstanding military commanders in American history.
Lee remains a hero to countless Americans. His birthday, however, is largely ignored by the modern world. Officially, it isn’t even celebrated on Jan. 19 with a day off anymore but on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. There are usually Lee-Jackson Day Dinners (Stonewall Jackson was also born in January) commemorating these generals’ births, and there is an annual Robert E. Lee Birthday Parade in Milledge-ville, Ga., scheduled each January.
This lack of observance would probably have left the people who went to Oakland back in October 1870 aghast. Next time you visit Oakland and see the huge obelisk to “Our Confederate Dead,” it might be nice to recall its connection to General Lee – perhaps on Jan. 19 this year.
– Dick Funderburke