Lincoln’s Death, New Nation: April 1865 to 1877
What does Lee look like in these photographs?
The danger in this description is that every viewer will find one thing or another on which to fasten and “peg” his analysis. The two most famous of the photographs show Lee alone, outside the door, and Lee with his son and his aide-de-camp, Colonel Walter H. Taylor, flanking him. To this viewer, the author, the thing that strikes most forcibly is the magnificent shine on Robert E. Lee’s shoes. The man had just come home from campaigns and battles that lasted for four years, and his demeanor suggests great weariness, but the shoes are immaculately shined. Whether Lee shined them himself or had a slave do so is unknown, but it indicates the extent to which a person does not give up the habits of a lifetime (Lee was always known for his cleanliness).
Beyond the shoes, is, of course, the face, and Lee’s countenance suggests quiet defiance. He was far too intelligent to stir up trouble, and he knew that Grant had been extremely generous in the terms of peace, but Lee’s expression feels stonelike, as if he might do it all over again. One can observe, as well, from the photograph why Lee was considered one of the handsomest men of the South.