- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

Robert E. Lee’s annual honors in the U.S. Capitol have been postponed from this week to April, as heritage buffs hope to expand the Confederate general’s 200th birthday into a yearlong celebration.

Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) for nearly a century have laid a wreath at Gen. Lee’s statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on his birthday. It’s a big soiree marked with dozens of heritage groups invited to offer wreaths of their own, and speeches by Civil War historians.

This year, the UDC will host a smaller ceremony at the statue on Friday, Lee’s birthday. The extensive festivities will be held April 7 at the statue.

The delay, caused by the transition from Republican power to a Democratic majority, has been welcomed by organizers who say it allows them to bring renewed and extended attention to Lee’s historical significance.

“We’re going to commemorate the birthday all year. We have things planned all over the country, so this fit in well with our plans do it up,” said UDC member Vicki Heilig, of North Carolina.

The transfer of power from Republican Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi slowed down the event-approval process.

Mrs. Pelosi’s office was not legally allowed to consider requests until she was sworn in Jan. 4, just a few days before the group’s notification deadline to send out invitations.

The new speaker’s staff pored through “dozens and dozens” of pending requests, and ultimately approved the UDC event for Saturday, said Pelosi deputy press secretary Drew Hammill.

But that approval came too late to do a “bang-up” job and get 400 engraved invitations into the mail, Miss Heilig said.

“We didn’t feel like we had time to do that,” she said, adding, “Besides, April is better weather,” for members traveling from all over the country.

The more subdued affair will be held at 11 a.m. Friday in Statuary Hall. Some UDC members plan to dress in period garb of hoop skirts and bonnets.

The Capitol ceremony celebrating Lee’s birthday — he was born Jan. 19, 1807, in Stratford, Va. — has been held every year since 1911. The Lee statue arrived at the Capitol from Virginia in 1909.

A career officer in the U.S. Army, Lee became one of the most successful Confederate generals after the outbreak of the Civil War, eventually commanding all of the South’s armies. After the war, he became president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Va., and advocated reconciliation between North and South.

Some members of local heritage organizations were unhappy about the delayed celebration.

“I think it’s outrageous,” said Richard Hines, a Northern Virginia business owner and commander of a group called the Noble Order of the Sword of Lee, formed to honor the general’s birthday.

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