On May 27, 1954, the United Daughters of the Confederacy local chapter planted a young magnolia tree on the Historic Horseshoe in the memory of Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870). The tree was planted ten days after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. The tree and its granite identification marker are in front of the McKissick Library. The magnolia tree is not considered for removal, merely the marker.1
Robert E. Lee’s connection to the University of South Carolina:
- Lee has no major connection to the university or South Carolina College.
Robert E. Lee summary:
- Was the leading general for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War
- Owned slaves and defended slavery before and after the war, writing “you can never prosper with the blacks…our material, social, and political interests are naturally with the whites” in 1868.
- Became a hero of the Confederate Lost Cause propaganda by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and other memorial groups, who argued that the Confederate cause was righteous. Statues in his name were often erected for “the Anglo-Saxon race.”
Robert E. Lee and the Lost Cause
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) was a slaveowner and Confederate general. Records exist of Lee both punishing enslaved workers and breaking up enslaved families.2 During the Civil War, he refused to exchange prisoners with U.S. Army General Ulysses S. Grant because “negroes belonging to our citizens [Black Union soldiers] are not considered subjects of exchange and were not included in my proposition.”3 His Army of Northern Virginia enslaved Black Americans and brought them back to the South as property, and soldiers under his command massacred Black U.S. soldiers at the Battle of the Crater in 1864.4 After the Civil War, Lee testified before Congress that “I do not think that he [a black man] is as capable of acquiring knowledge as the white man is” and that “you will never prosper with the blacks, and it is abhorrent to a reflecting mind to be supporting and cherishing those who are plotting and working for your injury…our material, social, and political interests are naturally with the whites.”5
After the war, Lee was viewed as a hero to Southern whites — "the Christian soldier, genius on the battlefield, and the man who never really fought for slavery but only for his state and his new country.” This erasure of slavery as the cause of the Civil War and instead the devotion to states’ rights is an example of the Lost Cause mythology, defined by historian David Blight as “a cluster of ideas forged to help face defeat, construct a story of noble sacrifice for a holy cause of home and independence, and especially in the service of a racial ideology that would sustain white supremacy. At the heart of the Lost Cause was the claim that white Southerners never fought for slavery, but only for their home, hearth, and ‘liberty.’”
The Lost Cause took root after the war in a Southern culture awash in an admixture
of physical destruction, the psychological trauma of defeat and loss, a Democratic
party increasingly successful in resisting Reconstruction’s experiment in racial equality,
in racial terror and violence, and with time in an abiding sentimentalism. On a broad
level the Lost Cause became a mood, or a disposition toward the past. The South, the
story went, was conquered, occupied by a form of Yankee colonialism, put under despotism
led by Northern carpetbaggers bent on power and fortune, and all made possible by
the voting and economic activity of the inferior and barbaric former slaves in their
midst. Or so the story went as it sank deeper into the national historical imagination.”6
The United Daughters of the Confederacy
Formed in 1894, the UDC or the Daughters devoted itself to venerating the Lost Cause and Robert E. Lee. At their peak during World War I, they had 100,000 members. They are responsible for erecting more than 700 monuments and other memorials to the Confederacy. The UDC asserted that the Confederate cause was just and “committed itself to vindicating the Confederate generation, both the men who fought and the women who supported the cause, through a broad-ranging agenda that included education, preserving pro-Confederate histories, various forms of public commemoration, and lobbying for Confederate homes for soldiers, widows, and their descendants.”7
The UDC sponsored hundreds of Confederate monuments; rejected any school textbook that said slavery was the central cause of the Civil War; and favorably praised the Ku Klux Klan as late as 1926.8 The Southern Policy Law center noted a direct correlation between the spike in Confederate monuments and iconography, and Civil Rights in America. The first large spike was around 1900 when Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws, the second “began in the mid-1950s and lasted until the late 1960s, the period encompassing the modern civil rights movement.” A detailed chart of this study can be found online. Notably, the Lee memorial tree was erected ten days after the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.9
In 1959, the Texas Division of the Children of the Confederacy, an auxiliary organization of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, erected a plaque that contained the Children of the Confederacy Creed:
“Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Services and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united in an Organization called the "Children of the Confederacy," in which our strength, enthusiasm and love of justice can exert its influence. We therefore pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals, to honor the memory of our beloved Veterans, to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery), and always to act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors.10
1 “Daughters Plant Magnolia For Lee,” The Gamecock 28 May 1954. There is no record of this tree in the BOT minutes or finding aids for the Presidents’ Records or records of the Dean of Administration.
2 Historian Elizabeth Brown Prior writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington tradition of respecting slave families” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” Many of these enslaved families were owned by Lee’s wife, a descendant of Martha Custis Washington. They were “passed down” the Washington-Custis line as property. Adam Serwer, “The Myth of the Kindly General Lee,” The Atlantic 04 Jun. 2017.
3 Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant, 03 Oct. 1864 Encyclopedia Virginia Online
4 Serwer, “The Myth of the Kindly General Lee”
5 Robert E. Lee, “Testimony Before Congress,” 17 Feb 1866 Encyclopedia Virginia Online; Robert E. Lee to Robert E. Lee Jr. 12 Mar. 1868 Encyclopedia Virginia Online
7 Karen L. Cox, “Setting the Lost Cause on Fire: Protesters Target the United Daughters of the Confederacy Headquarters” The American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History 06 Aug. 2020
8 "Remembering a monument that remembered the Klan;" for an example of a UDC publication that specifically said which schools did not teach the “correct” history of the UDC, see "Truth about History."
9 Southern Poverty Law Center, “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy” 01 Feb 2019
10 Andrew Wilson, Christy Millweard, “’Children of the Confederacy Creed’ plaque officially removed from Capitol wall,” KVUE ABC 13 Jan 2019.