The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman. The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly — the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light. The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.
R. E. Lee, Definition of a Gentleman.
Grant’s pursuit of Lee ended one hundred and forty-nine years ago today. It ended neither with a bang nor with a whimper. Grant did not gloat. Lee did not grovel. Grant’s forbearance in victory showed him a gentleman, and Lee, feeling the final sting of the defeat he’d foreseen nearly half a decade earlier, did not fail to recognize the gentleman in the tattered blue uniform. Grant and Lee, and Parker, and Chamberlain and Gordon, were flawed men. But for four days at Appomattox they exercised the sternest self-control, and so laid the foundation for an honorable restoration of a nation. Sadly, those of us who have followed have too often chosen not to build upon it.