Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dropping in an Ultra…and Robert E. Lee’s Farewell to his Army

[Image credit Encyclopedia.com]

147 years ago this week, on 9 April 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, thus effectively ending the American Civil War.



I am a long-time researcher and writer on the American Civil War, living as I do only a 50K run from Gettysburg, and have long been fascinated with the history of those times.  I guess what repeatedly strikes me is that while historical events seem distant and almost sterile, those people living them at the time were are real as you or me.

How does this relate to Ultrarunning?  Bear with me...

With respect to long distance running, my drop history: I’ve dropped at 18 miles in a marathon and at halfway in a two-loop 50 mile ultra, so my experience is limited.  But I keep coming back to Lee’s farewell address to his army as being strikingly parallel with the notion of dropping out of a race.  The idea of being overcome by overwhelming odds and resources, remaining steadfast to the last, that valor and devotion could not compensate for the loss that would have come with continuing. 

And of course, the thought that you did your best: “You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed.”

Regardless of your leanings with respect to that war, Lee’s farewell address to his troops is a marvel of succinctness, wistfulness, admiration, and regret at what might have been:

Head-Quarters, Army of Northern Virginia, April 10, 1865.

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them: but, feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection. With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. Lee, General.


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