Historian Bruce Catton, comparing Grant and Lee:
Lastly, and perhaps greatest of all, there was the ability, at the end, to turn quickly from war to peace once the fighting was over. Out of the way these two men behaved at Appomattox came the possibility of a peace of reconciliation. It was a possibility not wholly realized, in the years to come, but which did, in the end, help the two sections to become one nation again . . . after a war whose bitterness might have seemed to make such a reunion wholly impossible. No part of either man’s life became him more than the part he played in this brief meeting in the McLean house at Appomattox. Their behavior there put all succeeding generations of Americans in their debt. Two great Americans, Grant and Lee–very different, yet under everything very much alike. Their encounter at Appomattox was one of the great moments of American history.
And here’s The Columbia Desk Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition. 1975
Of admirable personal character, Lee was idolized by his soldiers and the people of the South and soon won the admiration of the North. He has remained a Southern ideal and an American hero.
To these considered judgments, add the fact that Lee opposed slavery all his life and acted from a sense of duty to his family and friends in the agrarian society into which he was born. His vision called not for exploitation, but for a dutiful paternalism we reject today but cannot dismiss out of hand.