Robert E. Lee, on the other hand, is a more complicated case. He was no great friend of slavery. He wrote in a letter to his wife that “slavery as an institution, is a moral political evil in any Country” (he added, shamefully, that it was good for blacks — “the painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race”).

After the war, he accepted defeat and did his part to promote national healing.

Yet, faced with a momentous choice at the start of the war, he decided he was a Virginia patriot rather than an American nationalist. He told one of President Abraham Lincoln’s advisers, “I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the 4 million slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?”