In one of those coincidences that history seems to love, the two greatest generals the United States has produced—Robert E. Lee and Douglas MacArthur—both came to the end of their long and distinguished careers this week… separated by almost a century.
On April 9, 1865, the not-so Civil War ended at Appomattox, Va., as Confederate General Lee surrendered his sword and the 28,000 men under his command to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The two generals agreed that all Confederate soldiers were to be pardoned. After being given a generous portion of rations, the Southern soldiers were permitted to mount their horses and return to their homes.
With that meeting the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history was over. At least the official fighting had come to an end. In the former Confederacy there’s still a huge market for “The South Shall Rise Again,” “Forget, Hell!” and other mementos of the War of Northern Aggression, as it’s frequently referred to below the Mason-Dixon Line.
Four score and nine years later, on April 11, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur was removed from his position as commander of United Nations forces in Korea by then-President Harry S Truman. MacArthur’s firing followed his public disclosure that the president refused him permission to bomb the bases and supply lines in Manchuria. It was from these lines that Communist China was supplying our enemies in North Korea.
Upon his return to these shores MacArthur enjoyed a hero’s welcome in San Francisco and New York. The following week he addressed a joint session of Congress, concluding his remarks by saying, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” And that’s basically what Generals Lee and MacArthur—two of the most honorable men to ever put on the uniform of their country—both did.