President Trump lumped praise on Robert E. Lee again Friday in the face of mounting efforts to remove monuments and memorials honoring the late Confederate Army general and others who fought against the Union.
Mr. Trump called Lee a “great general” and predicted he would have led the Confederacy to victory during the American Civil War if not for losing the Battle of Gettysburg to U.S. forces in 1863.
“Robert E. Lee won many, many battles in a row. And it was supposed to be over in one day. You know, It was supposed to end immediately because the North was too powerful for the South. But it just shows when you have leaders, when you have a great general, and Robert. E. Lee — he would have won except for Gettysburg,” Mr. Trump said during a campaign rally in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Mr. Trump made the remarks around 40 minutes into a rambling speech during a diatribe that began with him lashing out at news outlets critical of his presidency and the so-called “deep state.”
He soon transitioned into talking about entering the White House for the first time upon becoming president in 2017 and seeing the Lincoln Bedroom, Abraham Lincoln’s office during the Civil War.
“He was a very depressed person. His wife was very depressed. It was a depressed kind of a thing,” Mr. Trump said about Lincoln and the war. “And he was getting beaten a lot by Robert E. Lee.”
Mr. Trump then noted recent efforts to dismantle monuments to Lee, which swelled following the death of George Floyd in May, before taking issue with protesters seeking to remove memorials to other historic Americans, including former Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
They “have no idea what they’re ripping down,” said Mr. Trump. “But we have an idea what they’re ripping down. They’re ripping down, in many cases, greatness. They’re ripping down our past. They’re ripping down our history. And that’s where these guys begin.”
Lee, a Virginian, commanded U.S. troops during the Lincoln administration before his home state seceding from the Union in April 1861 and became part of the Confederate States of America.
As commander of the Confederate Army, he subsequently led southern forces who fought against U.S. troops at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the Civil War’s deadliest battle took place.
Monuments to Lee and other slave-holders who fought to further the Confederacy and its racist legacy have come down across the country after Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody in May.
Indeed, the board of the visitors at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond – the former capital of the Confederacy – unanimously voted Friday to remove several such monuments from campus.
Mr. Trump has praised Lee in the past, including by previously calling him a “great general” in April 2019.
Asked by a reporter this past June if Mr. Trump believes it is a good thing the South lost the Civil War, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called the question “absurd.”