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100 Inspirational Robert E. Lee Leadership Quotes (2023)

1. He can not only forgive; he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which imparts sufficient strength to let the past be put the past.

2. “My interference in battle would do more harm than good. I have, then, to rely on my brigade and division commanders. I think and work with all my power to bring the troops to the right place at the right time; then I have done my duty. As soon as I order them into battle, I leave my army in the hands of God.”

3. Hire the right people, then inspire them to greatness.

4. “…I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country, and the re-establishment of peace and harmony…. It appears to me that the allayment of passion, the dissipation of prejudice, and the restoration of reason, will alone enable the people of the country to acquire a true knowledge and form a correct judgment of the events the last four years. It will, I think, be admitted that Mr. Davis has done nothing more than all the citizens of the Southern States, and should not be held accountable for acts performed by them in the exercise of what had been considered by them unquestionable right.”

5. “Do your duty in all things like the old Puritan. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less. Never let your mother or me wear one gray hair for any lack of duty on your part.”

6. “The life of humanity is so long, that of the individual is so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”

7. “I like whiskey. I always did, and that is why I never drink it.”

8. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

9. “In recommending officers and men for promotion you will always, where other qualifications are equal, give preference to those who show the highest appreciation of the importance of discipline and evince the greatest attention to its requirements.”

10. “A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.”

11. Always finish what is expected of you.

12. “You will, however, learn before this reaches you that our success at Gettysburg was not so great as reported–in fact, that we failed to drive the enemy from his position, and that our army withdrew to the Potomac. Had the river not unexpectedly risen, all would have been well with us; but God, in His all-wise providence, willed otherwise, and our communications have been interrupted and almost cut off.”

13. “I am now considered such a monster, that I hesitate to darken with my shadow, the doors of those I love, lest I should bring upon them misfortune.”

14. “It is for you to decide your destiny, freely and without constraint.”

15. “It is good that war is so terrible, or we should become too fond of it.”

16. “My trust is in the mercy and wisdom of a kind Providence, who ordereth all things for our good.”

17. “History must stay open, it is all humanity.”

18. “I like whiskey. I always did, and that is the reason I never use it.”

19. “Why, sir, in the beginning we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers. As you know, I have planned some campaigns and quite a number of battles. I have given the work all the care and thought I could, and sometimes, when my plans were completed, as far as I could see, they seemed to be perfect. But when I have fought them through, I have discovered defects and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the defects in advance. When it was all over, I found by reading a newspaper that these best editor generals saw all the defects plainly from the start. Unfortunately, they did not communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late.” Then, after a pause, he added, with a beautiful, grave expression I can never forget: “I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy, and do all I can to win our independence. I an willing to serve in any capacity to which the authorities may assign me. I have done the best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I could wish. I am willing to yield my place to these best generals, and I will do my best for the cause in editing a newspaper.”

20. “Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, and, when summoned away, to leave without regret.”

21. “The only question on which we did not agree has been settled, and the Lord has decided against me.”

22. “The histories of the Lost Cause are all written out by big bugs, generals and reknowned historians. Well, I had as much right as any man to write a history.”

23. “If Virginia stands by the old Union,” said Lee, quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, “so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.”

24. “It behooves us to be on the alert, or we will be deceived. You know that is part of Grant’s tactics.”

25. “I, Robert E. Lee of Lexington, Virginia do solemn, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the Union of the States thereafter, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithful support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

26. “A Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets has no charm for me. If the Union is dissolved and government disrupted, I shall return to my native state and share the miseries of my people, and save in defense will draw my sword on none.”

27. “You see what a poor sinner I am, and how unworthy to possess what was given me; for that reason it has been taken away.”

28. “No matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops, disaster must sooner or later ensue.”

29. “I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.”

30. “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

31. “It is well that war is so terrible: we should grow too fond of it.”

32. “Duty… is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things, you cannot do more – you should never wish to do less.”

33. “Sir, if you ever presume again to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university.”

34. “I suppose there is nothing for me to do but go and see General Grant. And I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

35. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy.

36. “A soldier has a hard life and but little consideration.”

37. “My experiences of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them nor be indisposed to serve them: nor, in spite of failures which I lament, of errors which I now see and acknowledge, or the present aspect of affairs, do I despair of the future. The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope. ”

38. “We poor sinners need to come back from our wanderings to seek pardon through the all-sufficient merits of our Redeemer. And we need to pray earnestly for the power of the Holy Spirit to give us a precious revival in our hearts and among the unconverted.”

39. “Our people are opposed to work. Our troops, officers, community, and press all ridicule and resist it. It is the very means by which McClellan has and is advancing. Why should we leave to him the whole advantage of labor. Combined with valour, fortitude & boldness, of which we have our fair proportion, it should lead us to success. What carried the Roman soldiers into all Countries but that happy combination? There is nothing so military as labor, and nothing so important to an army as to save the lives of its soldiers.”

40. Plan for the long term.

41. “Negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange and were not included in my proposition.”

42. “I am A man, not a sponge! If god wished a sponge to think, A SPONGE WOULD THINK!”

43. “There is a true glory and a true honor: the glory of duty done--the honor of the integrity of principle.”

44. “I recollect the distance [Lee traveled] amid darkness and storm… traversed entirely unaccompanied. Scarcely a step could have been taken without danger of death; but that to him, a true soldier, was the willing risk of duty in a good cause.”

45. “History is not was, it is.”

46. “We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.”

47. “I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South its dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and I have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.”

48. I always did, and that is why I never drink it.

49. Be magnanimous in competition. Anything less breeds contempt.

50. “Where is my little boy?”

51. The importance of ambition.

52. “This is a sad business, Colonel. …It has happened as I told them in Richmond it would happen. The line has been stretched until it is broken.”

53. “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away-by standing still”

54. “The questions which for years were in dispute between the State and General Government, and which unhappily were not decided by the dictates of reason, but referred to the decision of war, having been decided against us, it is the part of wisdom to acquiesce in the result, and of candor to recognize the fact.”

55. “Cadets can neither be treated as schoolboys or soldiers.”

56. Reward discipline in subordinates.

57. “It is easier to make our wishes conform to our means than to make our means conform to our wishes.”

58. Know what you’re up against.

59. “True patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another, and the motive which impels them the desire to do right is precisely the same.”

60. “I prefer the Bible to any other book. There is enough in that, to satisfy the most ardent thirst for knowledge; to open the way to true wisdom; and to teach the only road to salvation and eternal happiness.”

61. “We all thought Richmond, protected as it was by our splendid fortifications and defended by our army of veterans, could not be taken. Yet Grant turned his face to our Capital, and never turned it away until we had surrendered. Now, I have carefully searched the military records of both ancient and modern history, and have never found Grant's superior as a general. I doubt that his superior can be found in all history.”

62. “Go home all you boys who fought with me and help build up the shattered fortunes of our old state”

63. “I can not trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.”

64. “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

65. I believe it will be great for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.

66. “ The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

67. “Never mind, General, all this has been my fault; it is I that have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it in the best way you can.”

68. Loyalty begets loyalty.

69. “It's the loneliest feeling in the world-to find yourself standing up when everybody else is sitting down. To have everybody look at you and say, 'What's the matter with him?' I know. I know what it feels like. Walking down an empty street, listening to the sound of your own footsteps. Shutters closed, blinds drawn, doors locked against you. And you aren't sure whether you're walking toward something, or if you're just walking away.”

70. “You must inspire and lead your brave division that it may accomplish the work of a corps… our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led.”

71. Your confidence in yourself and the confidence others have in you are both key to success.

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

73. Perhaps it is you who have moved away-by standing still.

74. “In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.”

75. “Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.”

76. “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice anything but honor for its preservation.”

77. “Shake off those gloomy feelings. Drive them away. Fix your mind and pleasures upon what is before you.All is bright if you will think it so. All is happy if you will make it so. Do not dream. It is too ideal, too imaginary. Dreaming by day, I mean. Live in the world you inhabit. Look upon things as they are. Take them as you find them. Make the best of them. Turn them to your advantage.”

78. “Read history, works of truth, not novels and romances”

79. “I am glad to see one real American here.”

80. “It is good that war is terrible. Or else we would become too fond of it.”

81. “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.”

82. “I did only what my duty demanded; I could have taken no other course without dishonor & if all was to be done over again, I should act precisely in the same manner.”

83. Integrity above all else.

84. “I am one of the dull creatures that cannot see the good of secession.”

85. Courage is remembered.

86. Expect to fail at times.

87. “I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.”

88. “The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.”

89. “This has been a sad day for us, Colonel, a sad day; but we can’t always expect to gain victories.”

90. “Lee was a phenomenon… the only man I would follow blindfolded.”

91. “The education of a man is never completed until he dies.”

92. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.

93. “Never do a wrong thing to make a friend--or to keep one.”

94. “The time is not come for impartial history. If the truth were told just now, it would not be credited.”

95. “It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too fond of it.”

96. “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy. This influence though slow, is sure. The doctrines & miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years, to Convert but a small part of the human race, & even among Christian nations, what gross errors still exist! While we see the Course of the final abolition of human Slavery is onward, & we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who sees the end; who Chooses to work by slow influences; & with whom two thousand years are but as a Single day. Although the Abolitionist must know this, & must See that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means & suasion, & if he means well to the slave, he must not Create angry feelings in the Master; that although he may not approve the mode which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same; that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no Concern, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbors when we disapprove their Conduct; Still I fear he will persevere in his evil Course. Is it not strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who Crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the Spiritual liberty of others?”

97. “The education of a man ( or woman ) is never completed until he dies.”

98. “We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing.”

99. “What a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbours, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that, on this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace. … My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.”

100. “I can only say that I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.”

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