From Life and Letters of Robert E. Lee
Chapter I: Lineage and Boyhood
"We naturally desire to know about the ancestry of great men; for while it is far more important that men are something themselves than that their ancestors were great or good, yet it is true that "blood will tell," and that the lives of men are greatly influenced by the characteristics of those from whom they are descended. Robert Edward Lee came of a long line of illustrious ancestors whose names were conspicuous both in England and America. Indeed, it may be justly claimed that he was the product of the highest type of our Anglo-Saxon manhood."
More on his origins, from Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier (1873)
ROBERT EDWARD LEE, our Christian soldier and brave leader to many victories, "was born at Stratford, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on the 19th of January, 1807." This entry is found in the family Bible in his mother's handwriting. His family, of Norman descent, is traced by himself, in his sketch of his father's life, to Launcelot Lee of Loudon, in France, who accompanied William the Conqueror to England. After the battle of Hastings, he, with other followers, was rewarded by the Conqueror with lands wrested from the Saxons. All that we know is, that his estate was in Essex, England. From that time his name is found, ever and anon, in English annals, and always in honorable connection.
Thus, we next find Lionel Lee accompanying King Richard the Lion-hearted, in the year 1192, in his third Crusade to rescue the Holy Land from the followers of Mohammed. There, his career was marked by gallantry, and at the siege of Acre he received a solid proof of the approbation of his king. On his return to England, he was made first Earl of Litchfield, and was presented by the King with the estate of Ditchley, which name, centuries afterwards, his descendants gave to an estate in Northumberland County, Virginia."
I include this because we live in an age in which English descent is disparaged, and many in the South deny their own Anglo-Saxon roots. (And for the record, I'm familiar with the Lee family descent, and there is also Anglo-Saxon ancestry, not just Norman).
We also live in an radical egalitarian age which likes to pull down those of distinguished lineage and today's generations like to deny that ancestry matters. But if we agree that genes matter on an ethnic scale, why not on a family or clan level? The Lee family distinguished themselves through the centuries; Robert E. Lee was the son of admirable forefathers. And yes, "blood will tell." He was a great man, and though we live in a day of cynicism about the past, and 'we' love to tear down our former heroes and claim they were not such great men after all, I think this is sour grapes. We no longer seem to produce men of the caliber of Lee or Stonewall Jackson. We might ask why. We might ask what made them such great men -- and yes, they were great men, no matter what today's nihilists say of them.
We have a dearth of great men as well as good men. Lee was both great and good, and was acknowledged as such by his contemporaries in the North as well as the South. Up until this present dark age of political correctness, schoolchildren in the whole country were taught of Lee and his accomplishments and character; he was respected. Now the very college which bears his name is torn by controversy regarding the Confederate battle flag, and the cause of the South is dismissed as unworthy of respect. Robert E. Lee would surely be appalled to see how today's South is demoralized and PC-whipped, half-hearted about defending the 'Lost Cause' and the good name of our forefathers and our past heroes.
This is not the time to discard our heroes and our history. Every people must have a sense of collective experience and memory to bind them together. If our history is to be discarded as of no worth, then we will be consigned to oblivion.
"Great men hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time." - Sydney Smith