Suddenly, everyone has a Fucking Calendar; Sasha points out Robert E. Lee's upcoming 200th birthday, tomorrow (if I correctly understood her, she got the date wrong, but since I was juggling dinner and a particularly awful child at the moment she called, it's eminently possible that I got her wrong).
My feelings about Robert E. Lee are way too fucking complicated to go through here, without sincerely offending people in a way that I care about. The possibility of misunderstanding is about one hundred percent.
I've think I've written before that I used to be quite romantic about the Civil War, in a way that young men tend to get. That is to say that I was drawn by the allure of the Confederacy. I have taken many a beating, in an academic context, about my views on the causes of the War--some of which actually have only tangential connections to the slavery issue, or murky, chicken-and-egg relationships with it. This invariably leads to misunderstandings--mostly with people who aren't all that knowledgeable, and who mistake me for an unreconstructed Southron.
It's impossible to ignore the depth to which Lee remains enshrined in Southern culture. People legitimately have varying views on this, and the symbolic connection between Lee and darker symbols such as the Confederate battle flag--which I have truly come to view as a symbol of hatred--are unfortunate, but real.
Despite his four years of service to the Confederacy--which may or may not have been a "real" country--Lee was a great American. His service in the U.S. Army up to 1861 was exemplary and innovative (for the time). His field command of Confederate armies was legendary--perhaps a bit overmuch. Certainly his presence had more morale value than did his tactical genius, and it's plain that his tactical reputation gained much from the incompetence of many generals who faced him in the field.
And that's about all I have to say about it. The Civil War remains the most controversial issue that American historians face, and rightly so. I'm not interested in fanning those flames, any more than I already have here. Which ought not be too much.