The removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans in May reminded me of Herman Melville’s poem, “Lee in the Capitol.” My college graduation paper half a century ago was on “Moby-Dick.”

As Melville explains in his note to the poem, Lee, like some other Southerners, was summoned by the Reconstruction Committee of Congress a year after the Civil War was over. Evidently, what the former general might say aroused great interest, “both in itself and as coming from him.” As it turned out, he said little. He “briefly answered” “various questions” put to him, and when, at the close, the committee urged that “if there be any other matter which you wish to speak on this occasion, do so freely,” Lee waived the invitation.

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