Author: Kat Lee
Character/Pairing: General Robert E. Lee (an ancestor)
Challenge/Prompt: whatif_au 6: War
Warning(s): [Spoiler (click to open)] This story contains a lot of possibly offensive material. Please bear in mind that I do not necessarily agree with many of the views contained within. He may be my ancestor, but there was a lot he did wrong, regardless of rather or not he had true intentions. Some of the "historical" details in this story are make believe, but there are very many true facts, including some that quite surprised me while I was doing the research. Patrick Cleburne was a true man, and he did try to convince the Confederacy of the point mentioned inside the story, the point that made all the difference in the AU Lee witnesses. There is also rape content.
Word Count: 3,142
Date Written: 19 September 2017
Disclaimer: This one, for better or for worse, is mine.
Pain screams through him. He grinds his teeth and wraps one arm around his stomach, but even as he doubles over in the pain caused by protesters striking his likeness, he knows that they are finally correcting a mistake made, by the standards of the living, long ago. His memorials never should have been built not because he was a bad man -- he likes to think he did the best he could with the knowledge he possessed at the time -- but because war never needs to be so blindingly remembered and celebrated. It needs to be remembered to be learned from, so that the future generations do not make the same mistakes as their ancestors, but that is the only reason.
He turns from the scene. He doesn’t want to see what will become of his image, nor especially of that of the horse beneath him. Nobody believes it, but he knows he did the best he could while he was alive. There was just so much he did not understand, so much he did not know, so much he was not ready to accept --
Thunder rumbles, growling in anger. Lee looks up at the Heavens and nods his grey head in subjection. Perhaps it was more than that. Perhaps he was blinded by his own ignorance, but he did the best he thought he should do. Maybe that was because the nation never should have been divided in the first place.
They hadn’t asked for the war, but the history books always blame them. Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin, he mulls, who said that history was always written by the winners? It certainly was in their case. The world at large chose to forget all the reasons behind the war save one. Maybe Patrick had been right. Maybe so much could have been changed if they had freed the negroes, but Lee was only one man. He alone standing beside Cleburne could not have made the differences that were needed.
But he’s seen a war where those differences were made. He’s witnessed, with his own eyes, the freeing of an entire people who, once freed, won the war for them. He’s seen friends who were slain in battle beside him live to be old and gray like himself. He’s seen white and black shake hands, become friends, become more. There were thousands of lives given for their war that never had to be given, and once the blacks were freed of both sides of the nation, the North had been unable to continue proclaiming that the only reason they were fighting the South was to free the negroes.
He’s seen what could have been. He’s seen the Confederacy live and become their own nation. He’s seen his people prosper at last, and it all goes back to one thing, to one change, to one decision he had not had the courage to make. Lee’s knees buckle as he hears the grating of concrete. They’re removing his monument now, at last. He still doesn’t look back even as he makes his way slowly from the park.
He’s still lying to himself, he realizes. After all this time, he’s still lying. He was afraid that day when Cleburne took a stand. He was afraid to stand with him. He was afraid that he would be laughed at and ridiculed. He hadn’t been ready for that kind of attention. Not for the first time, Lee wishes with all his heart that he had never taken the commanding post he’d been given. Perhaps somebody else could have lead them; perhaps somebody else could have done better.
Perhaps, if he had stood, somebody else would have taken the stand with them. Nobody had been moved by Patrick’s speech, or at least, nobody had dared to let it be seen that they had been moved. Nobody had stood beside him. The talk had quickly moved from the subject he had broached. It had never even really been recognized, and yet, that movement, and that movement alone, could have won the war for them.
But he hadn’t taken a stand. The same God who had shown him what could have been had also shown him what he had done, and what he had failed to do. He hadn’t spoken out in defense of Patrick. He hadn’t dared approach the subject. He had simply held his tongue and went with the general flow of things, with the popular opinion, as he had so often in his life.
There’s hardly a word he’d said, Lee knows, that isn’t mulled over by various histories today, but of all the things he said, he never once revealed his reasons. Slavery was an abhorable practice. It was evil, but it hadn’t been started by their people. Various Americans had tried to end the practice of slavery since before the Constitution was signed, but all along, all of them had failed until the North had won.
People across the nation had celebrated the North’s side victory, but Lee had seen the toll the war had taken. He’d seen what the Yankees did, and he still remembered the real reasons the war was began. It wasn’t simply over slavery; that was just how the Yankees claimed to be righteous in their attempts to silence the South. Brother against brother, father against son, and all that was remembered from the war was that a people, who never should have been in chains but had been placed there by their own kind, was freed at last.
Maybe he could have done something. Maybe he should have done something. Maybe adding his voice to Patrick’s would indeed have been the lesser sin than staying silent and doing what was expected of him. He had wanted to free the slaves, but it hadn’t been his place. That was the only reason he’d had intentions of waiting the five years his father-in-law’s will clearly stated. He was trying to do what was right. He was trying to do what was expected of him, but now, in hindsight, he can finally see that what was expected of him, or of any one person, was not necessarily the same as what was right.
He should have taken a stand. They were living beings, after all, and not just meager cattle but people who, even if of an inferior nature to the white man, still had flesh and blood, brains and hearts with which to think and feel just as they did. He’d fought alongside some of them, and he could have made soldiers out of any of them.
They could have won the war together. In one world, they had, but that wasn’t his world. In that world, he had stood up. He had verbally announced that he’d believe Patrick was onto something, and although the others had been able to blatantly ignore Cleburne when he had spoken alone, Lee’s voice was one that had to be heard. Suddenly, other men had been standing with him. The committee had almost come to blows, but in the end it had been President Jefferson Davis himself who had declared that if freeing the negroes would end the war and allow families to finally be reunited in peace, that was exactly what they were going to do. And it was exactly what had won the war for them.
But that hadn’t happened here. He had kept his silence in this lifetime. Lee’s hands ball into fists as he seethes with anger at his own self. He had kept his silence, kept his name clean during the war, and because of that, because of his own ignorance and silence, they had lost, but they had lost so much more than the war. Millions had perished who otherwise might have lived. He’d lost friends, his horse, good men all around him. He’d buried soldiers who were barely old enough to leave their weeping mothers’ sides all the way to those who had survived and seen so much but could not survive one more battle.
The wind howls, carrying Lee’s voice with it as he cries out for those friends and loved ones he’d buried. There were so many names who would never make it at all into the history books, so many lives whose sacrifice would never go witnessed, so many stories that should be told but never would. And it could have all been changed with just one more ounce of courage than what he had possessed.
He never hated the Yankees, although he hated certain ones of them. Some of the Northerners had as much pride and honor in them as he himself, but some of them . . . Some of them tortured women and children, regardless of race or status. They burned whole fields, whole houses with families inside of them, to the ground. But since the war, Lee’s learned, much to his eternal shame, that it wasn’t just the Yankees who committed such horrible deeds. Some Confederate soldiers were just as bad, and some carried on with their evil deeds long after the war was finished.
Yet again, tonight, Lee wonders how much might have been different if the war had never began. Wars have been fought for millions of years over taxation issues and unfair governments, but it’s not the wars before his that concern Lee. He didn’t have to see those people suffer and die; he didn’t have to fail them, fail to keep them alive, fail to win the war, fail to keep a people together. The South had suffered much before the war began, and they’d feared suffering more. Yet it was in the actual war that they had suffered the most.
He closes his eyes as the storm grows. He hears screams from the past every single night of his existence. He hears mothers, wives, and children weeping. He hears the gnashing of teeth that was almost his fate, if the good Lord above had not taken pity on him and given him yet another chance. He hears death. He feels it all around him, and it chills him to the very center of his being.
No, if he had to do it all over again, instead of being eager to fight the people who had been placing unfair taxes on his own people without giving them fair representation, and who had even dared to sneak in the candidate who had become President though not even appearing on the ballot for selection in ten of the Southern states, he would do all he could to argue his companions out of the battle. Money always seemed to be a driving cause behind all wars, but money wasn’t worth the endless lives they had both had taken and had taken themselves. Money wasn’t worth families being torn apart, wives being made widows almost before their marriages could begin, or family members killing family members. It wasn’t worth the toll it had taken.
All wars begin with good reasons, Lee knows, or at least reasons in which the fighters firmly believe, but this was one war that never should have happened. That was why he had gone almost willingly to the defeat at last. He had been so vastly weary of all the killing, suffering, and dying. He had just been ready for it to end. But it’s never going to end.
He still lives the war every night. He’s no longer ducking from shrapnel, bullets, and cannonballs, but he still lives it every night. He lives it in the screams of the soul he hears perish again and again. He lives it in the misery of a man who has lost all his family and friends, even his loyal companion, Traveller. He lives it in the fame and shame of being the one man most remembered for fighting for the losing side. He hears every time his name is mentioned, and pain catches again at him as he hears the ruthless talks.
He never asked for the war. He never asked to have another people enslaved. Though they were inferior, they could have learned to be so much better. For the most part, they have. Whites and blacks live alongside one another now, along with several other races. Each race has made something for itself, but in each, still exists those he would call not just a negro, but a neggar.
They, unlike many of the colored men Lee had known personally in live, have no worth for they contribute nothing to society, not to their fellow man or their families. These beings exist in the men who beat on their women and children, in those who kick animals just for the senses of power and strength doing such ugly acts gives them, and those who never try to lift a finger to make anything happen in this world. They aren’t just black; they aren’t just white. They are of every flesh color known to man and are the descendents who would fill their ancestors -- black, white, whatever they may be -- with nothing but shame.
But the black people have learned. They even have a President now who has done a far better and far fairer job than many of the Presidents who have preceded him and, Lee is certain, will succeed him. There isn’t a field which is not open to them, and Lee realizes in his heart, now that they have learned and grown as a people, that is exactly how it should be.
Nonetheless, the war didn’t help any of that. Try as he might, he can not think of single good thing that came from the Civil War. All they did was to delay the inevitable. Blacks are free people now, but that would have happened, with time, regardless. One of the few quotes they do sometimes get right from his lifetime is that he’s always believed that, when the time was right, the Providential Maker would see that the negro people were freed. But, on the other hand, the United States capitol government now not only rules the States with a nearly insurmountable hand but reaches its grasp out further into lands it does not belong, trying to push its power on people that are not even Americans. They failed in stop the capitol. They failed in stopping “Big Brother”, as it is now called, and one day, there will be another war because of this. As little as he could have done to stop the Civil War, Lee knows he can do even less to stop the next war.
A scream rips through the night, and Lee feels himself pulled to where he is needed. A man bends over a woman, one hand grasping a knife while the other tears at her skirts. Lee rushes him, yelling out and drawing his sword. He brings his phantom blade down right at the man’s zipper. The boy, for he surely is not much older than one of Lee’s own sons who was killed in battle, screams and runs.
The woman lays stunned for a moment on the pavement, gasping and crying, shaking like a leaf. Lee looks down at her, knowing she can not see him though the boy did, and his heart grieves. It was one of the very slaves he intended to free who saved Lee’s own wife from such a fate while many other women suffered that horrid deed and worse at the hands of both Yankee and Confederate soldiers. Lee had seen some of it and, coward that he had been at heart, had never tried to stop any of it.
There were no winners in that war, not really, and by the end of it, very few honest men were left at all. Lee would like to think that he was one of them, but he knows better. He didn’t lie often -- he’d preferred not to speak at all than to have to utter a lie --, but he had, and sometimes, not speaking was even worse than issuing a lie.
He watches over the woman until she manages to pull herself together and flee. The fact that she is black and the boy he just stopped white is a fact that does not go missed by the former General. Innocence can be found in all races, he knows now, but so, too, can guilt and evil, and that boy, young though he was, was of pure evil. No man untouched by evil would ever force himself upon a woman.
But no man untouched by evil would do so many of the things that men do every day. He himself was touched by evil, Lee remembers. He had thought nothing of whipping the blacks and teaching them through beatings for he himself had been taught by his own father through similar methods. He’d worn the scars his entire life, and though he is no longer in possession of his body, he feels them still just as he still feels the war all around him.
Lee tucks his head as it begins to rain, water droplets splashing right through his incorporeal form. He wishes yet again that he had been possessed of even half the wisdom he holds now when the war had first began. Even if he hadn’t been able to stop it, perhaps he could have done better for the people around him, for those who had trusted him not just with their lives but with the lives of those they had loved. Maybe he could have done better.
Maybe, if he’d been the man he should have been, they could have won the war. Maybe he could have ended at least some of the evil to which he had borne silent witness every day. Maybe he could have made a difference. He’d had a life, a life that had gone down, though written wrongly, in the history books, a life with which he could have done so much more. He glances up at the warring Heavens, mutters, “I understand,” and trudges along through the dark night.
He should have done more with his life when he’d had the chance, so now he has to strive to do more with what he has left. He still feels the war, still hears the screams every day, still gets flashes of the bodies of old men, good friends, loyal family men, and young, innocent boys being slaughtered before him, still feels the shakes of the ground as cannons are fired. The war will never be over for him, but at least he’s been given a chance. He’ll use it and right as many wrongs as he can until the end of time; he can only hope, and pray, that when that time arrives, he will have done enough that he can finally go home to the family who’s still waiting for him at the war’s end.