ECW is pleased to welcome back guest author Richard G. Williams, Jr.. This is part one of a two-part piece. Part two will appear later today.
“Patriotism is the love of a land and its people, nationalism is the love of a government.”—Professor Clyde Wilson
“Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”—Mark Twain
The question of how one defines patriotism, loyalty, and “country” can differ between individuals and periods of history. These differences remain with us today.
North of the River Tweed, on the border with England, lies the hauntingly beautiful land of Scotland. A land inhabited by a hardy breed of Celts whose history is rich with romantic stories of bravery and heroic struggles for freedom—a land so full of legends and myths, it’s sometimes difficult to separate true history from the romanticized version. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Scots fought two bloody wars with their neighbor to the South, England, in Scotland’s struggle for independence. In recent years there has been a renewed interest about Scottish history, thanks in large measure to Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart and the fascinating story about Scottish warrior and hero, Sir William Wallace, aka, “Braveheart.”
In 1306 another Scottish warrior, and contemporary of William Wallace, was involved in this struggle for Scotland’s liberty. This warrior was not fighting for Scotland however, but for the English in opposition against his native land. Tradition has it that shortly after a particularly bloody battle, this warrior sat down to eat and celebrate the victory with his English comrades. Robert the Bruce was about to be faced with a decision that would alter the course of history and that of Scotland.
The torturous death of William Wallace, at the hands of King Edward of England for his rebellion against the throne, tormented the mind of Bruce, preventing him from enjoying the revelry of the victory. His conscience would not let him forget Wallace’s courage and steadfastness—two traits that Wallace kept to the end—even as he was castrated and disemboweled alive, the final act of death accomplished by the King’s executioner as he reached into Wallace’s chest and tore out his still beating heart. This grotesque and cruel execution took place before a jeering mob of English peasants and nobles as one of Wallace’s men held high his psalter. Robert had also watched as Wallace’s head was impaled on a spike high on London Bridge and the four quarters of his body were taken to Newcastle, Berwick, Perth, and Stirling to be put on display, lest any other Scottish fool have some vain notion of “freedom.” Yet, even in death, William Wallace bedeviled the British and entreated the Scots to fight for their homeland:
As the flesh rotted away from the right arm and shoulder of the martyred, and the sun-dried sinews tightened, the skeletal hand of Wallace seemed to rise on the gibbet of Newcastle and point longingly to the north. Wallace had been denied the opportunity to die on his native soil…now, it seemed, his mortal remains were directing his spirit remains back to Scotland. 
This ghostly scene, along with the image of Wallace’s bravery in the midst of an unmerciful execution, was forever etched into Bruce’s mind and served as a constant reminder not only of William Wallace’s devotion to Scotland’s liberty, but of Bruce’s own reputation as a traitor. Bruce’s decision to fight for the English had been a pragmatic one. Though Bruce had once fought with Wallace against the English, he became fearful after Scotland’s defeat at Falkirk; fearful that Scotland’s quest for freedom was hopeless and that any further struggle against the English Crown was futile and would cost him his vast estate, if not his life.
So Bruce bowed to Edward while his countrymen continued their resistance against the English Throne and Bruce raised his sword against his own kin. It was shortly after one of these battles in which Robert the Bruce fought alongside the English, assisting them as they slaughtered the Scottish warriors, that he sat with the English noblemen to break bread and celebrate their victory over the rebels.
Bruce had fought valiantly and proved his devotion to King Edward. He thought he deserved the respect of the English lords, if not of his own conscience. As Bruce sat down to eat, his unwashed hands still stained with the blood of his fellow Scots, there were snickers among the English nobles. He overheard one whisper, “Look at that Scotsman, who is eating his own blood!” The statement pierced his heart like a hot dagger. He was a Judas. Robert the Bruce now had a decision to make. Would he accept the scorn and mockery he deserved and go down in history as a traitor to his native sod, or would he repent, risking his worldly wealth and position, embrace honor and cast his lot with his kinsmen and their uncertain future?
Across the Atlantic and some 555 years later, a descendant of Robert the Bruce paces the floor in an upstairs room of his home. His home lay just South of the Potomac River in another land also steeped in legend and history with gallant tales of bravery, chivalry and a passionate love of liberty. This Robert is faced with a similar decision. It’s the night of April the nineteenth, 1861.
Though Robert E. Lee’s humility prevented him from speaking publicly of his ancestry, he was well aware that he was “well descended.” Perhaps his mother had recounted the shame of Bruce’s conduct to young Robert as she filled the role of an absent father. Was Lee’s mind haunted by the memory of Bruce’s experience as he prayerfully struggled with the most agonizing decision he would ever make? No doubt he had read the story of Bruce’s conflict and Scotland’s valiant struggle for liberty.
It is also very likely that the young Robert Lee was inspired by the heroic tales of Scotland’s best-known writer, Sir Walter Scott (1711-1832) and the medieval history of Scott’s native land. Scott’s influence on Southerners is well known:
It was due to this universal love of adventure—this hunger for an active and stirring life,—that Sir Walter Scott enjoyed such extraordinary popularity in the homes of the Southern people. There were few libraries of importance among them that were lacking in those splendid volumes in which he has drawn such romantic pictures…. 
The struggle that Robert E. Lee was faced with was the same one that confronted Robert the Bruce. Their initial decisions and the ultimate consequences were, however, very different. After Fort Sumter, Lincoln had called upon the several states to provide seventy-five thousand militia for ninety days service to put down the “rebellion.” Robert E. Lee’s Virginia answered with a call for secession. The Old Dominion and cradle of liberty that had given birth to the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry would not stand for such heavy-handed oppression. Figuratively speaking, and in the collective memory of Virginians, her soil was still moist with the blood of the British and, if necessary, in the words of Jefferson, additional blood would be fitting:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. 
Colonel Robert E. Lee, U.S. Army, would now make the decision that would alter the course of history—and that of his beloved Virginia. Second in importance only to Lee’s Christian faith was his sense of duty. To understand Lee’s struggle with the decision he would have to make, one must understand the depth of his deliberate commitment to this principle. It guided every decision he made—often at great personal sacrifice.
Nowhere was this commitment and sacrifice more obvious than in its influence on Lee as he struggled with the decision regarding the Union’s offer as Commander of their Army. There could be no possible motive for glory, fame, or riches, as Lee was fully aware of the likely outcome of a struggle against the numerically superior North. He was also aware that, contrary to the opinion of many, it would be a long and bloody conflict. His only motive was—what is my duty and, as a Christian, what is the will of God?
To be continued…
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 James Mackay, William Wallace – Braveheart (Edinburgh, Scotland: Mainstream Publishing, 1995), 267.
 Sir Walter Scott, From Bannockburn to Flodden (Cumberland House, Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2001), 63.
 Randolph McKim, The Soul of Lee (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1917), 3.
 Philip A Bruce. Brave Deeds of Confederate Soldiers, (Philadelphia , PA: George W. Jacobs & Company, 1916), 18.
 Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Stephens Smith.
This essay was adapted from a passage in The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen, Pelican Publishing, 2005.