I lived in Richmond for more than 10 years before moving to Northern Virginia, and I have been saddened by the controversy over the exhibition of Gen. Robert E. Lee's portrait at the new Canal Park ["Portrait of Gen. Lee," editorial, June 18].

One group perceives Gen. Lee as the embodiment of the Confederacy and, unfortunately, feels compelled to demonstrate this with inappropriate trappings, symbols and ideologies of its struggle for state's rights against the Union.

The other faction perceives Gen. Lee as the embodiment of the Confederacy and, equally unfortunate, describes this man as an equal to Nazi leaders in World War II, someone fighting to preserve bigotry and slavery. Both views are incorrect, and they deny our nation's history one of its greatest educators, military leaders and exemplary gentlemen while fomenting the kind of dissension that Gen. Lee strove to quell.

I would challenge anyone to read about Gen. Lee. His decision to support the South was not taken lightly and, as he said, caused him great internal strife and sadness. He did not advocate slavery, and no evidence shows that he demonstrated bigotry of any kind. Furthermore, Gen. Lee stood fast and served his nation both before and after the War Between the States.

Gen. Lee would be as saddened today as he was then that we are unable to live together in peace as a nation of diversity.

DEREK T. HAVENS

Mason Neck, Va.

Jonathan Yardley in his June 7 column calls Robert E. Lee a "principled and honorable man who deserves the respect of history." But Gen. Lee refused command of the Union Army to serve the Confederacy. That ordinarily is defined as treason. When his armies invaded the North his soldiers took captive and sent into slavery blacks who were legally residing in those states, not bothering to discern who were free or former slaves.

It is well documented that Union soldiers who were black were subject to death upon capture by Confederate soldiers. Even when it was obvious to the South that the war was lost, Gen. Lee led a vainglorious retreat, sacrificing men on both sides.

We, the descendants of slaves and Confederates (who held our families in bondage), know that Gen. Lee was not a great guy; we do not agree to the sugarcoating of the past to appease the Southern version of history.

ROBERT A. KEYES

Washington