Interview: Longstreet says Lee's pugnacity got the better of strategy at Gettysburg

Coonewah Creek

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"General Lee had the absolute confidence of his own troops and the almost unquestioning support of his subordinates. He had, by a series of successes, completely overawed the Federal commander, and was wholesomely feared by the Federal rank and file, who undoubtedly considered him the easy superior of their own generals. These were tremendous advantages."
Obviously I don't know what Lee thought or knew before he ordered the assault...before he reached the point of no return where he felt he couldn't revoke his own orders, but if I think about Pickett's Charge long enough, I always think back to a quote from Intruder in the Dust, by William Faulker. Maybe it speaks a spark of truth to thoughts going through Lee's and his men's minds at that instant in time...

"...For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago..."
 
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View attachment 209889
On the occasion of Longstreet's visit to Antietam in 1893, a correspondent of the Washington Post recorded the General's opinions on a number of topics. In this part of the interview, General Longstreet suggests that General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy at Gettysburg.

"It was at Gettysburg," resumed General Longstreet, "where General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy and judgement and came near being fatal to his army and cause. On the third day, when I said to him that no fifteen thousand soldiers the world ever produced could make the march of a mile under that tremendous artillery and musketry fire and break the Federal line along Cemetery Ridge, he determinedly replied that the enemy was there and that he must attack. His blood was up. All the vast interests at stake and the improbability of success would not deter him. In the immediate presence of the enemy, General Lee's mind, at all other times calm and clear, became excited. The same may be said of McClellan, Gustavas Smith, and most other highly educated, theoretical soldiers. Now, while I was popularly called a fighting general, it was entirely different with me. When the enemy was in sight I was content to wait for the most favorable moment to strike---to estimate chances and even decline battle if I thought them against me. There was no element in the situation that compelled General Lee to fight the odds at Gettysburg.

"General Lee had the absolute confidence of his own troops and the almost unquestioning support of his subordinates. He had, by a series of successes, completely overawed the Federal commander, and was wholesomely feared by the Federal rank and file, who undoubtedly considered him the easy superior of their own generals. These were tremendous advantages."​

Sources
Interview: Reprinted from the Washington Post of June 1893, the interview appeared in The Times Dispatch. (Richmond, VA.), November 12, 1911, page 3.
Map: Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. Gettysburg and vicinity, showing the position of the troops July 3,third day's fight... 1863. https://www.loc.gov/item/99447229/.

Note: This post is Part 14 of a series on Longstreet's opinions of various Generals, expressed during an interview with a Washington Post corespondent in 1893. Longstreet's opinions on various generals are posted in separate threads so they can be easily located - Bragg, Jackson, A P Hill, Early, Ewell, Pickett, Sheridan, Joe Johnston, Beauregard, Hood, Jeff Davis, Lee, McClellan, and more. Here are the links to Parts 1-13, posted previously:
Part 1 - Intro to the article
Part 2 - Longstreet on Bragg
Part 3 - Longstreet on Jackson
Part 4 - Longstreet on AP Hill
Part 5 - Longstreet on Ewell & Early
Part 6 - Longstreet on Pickett, Sheridan, Five Forks & the Timing of the Surrender
Part 7 - Longstreet on Joe Johnston
Part 8 - Longstreet on Beauregard
Part 9 - Longstreet on Hood
Part 10 - Longstreet on Lee's military attributes
Part 11 - Lee's Best Battle
Part 12 - Lee's Poorest Generalship
Part 13 - Lee's greatest weakness as tactical commander

<Up next - Longstreet on Meade.>
@Eleanor Rose @Union_Buff @FarawayFriend @War Horse @novushomus @GELongstreet @LeesWarhorse @Tom Elmore @Coonewah Creek @Yankeedave @Andy Cardinal @PeterT @Zella If you aren't tagged and would like to receive notification when these are posted, let me know and Ill tag you in future ones.
That's Longstreet's opinion, but Longstreet wasn't as good a general as Lee.

"That any subject involving the possession and exercise of intellect should be clear to Longstreet and concealed from Lee, is a startling proposition to those having knowledge of the two men." [Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Civil War, p. 231]

The claim that Lee wasn't thinking rationally ["His blood was up"] is absurd. Lee was nothing if not rational.
 

wausaubob

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The Confederacy was never going to stronger in the east than it was on July 3, 1863. Whatever the effects of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas being separated from the rest of the Confederacy, which was pending by that time, they would not be good.
If that happened the occupied portion of Tennessee would be selling some cotton to the United States. Mississippi was would be seriously damaged.
A strong United States army would be free to go to Tennessee or come to Virginia.
So the chances taken at Gettysburg were no more extreme than the chances for the entire Confederacy once United States massed the naval and land forces necessary to overwhelm the Confederates in the west.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Well, there really weren't that many military manuals in existence, and Lee didn't confine himself to what was written in some manual.

He had seen his men drive superior Union forces off their position so many times before, most recently at Chancellorsville and the first day at Gettysburg. He had seen his men come within a hair of succeeding on the second day of the Gettysburg battle. He had plenty of reason to believe he would be successful after an artillery bombardment, with a diversionary attack, and with the undulating terrain on the approach to Cemetery Ridge.
Technically you are correct ['The best type of correct'] but there were many books and treatises on military history and we know Lee was well read and what I always find interesting is how similar at least in intent was Lee's plan at Gettysburg and Napoleon's at Austerlitz (possibly his greatest victory). Attack each flank and then launch the final punch in the center at the Pratzen Heights. Of course there is a difference. Napoleon was not really fighting the Austro-Russian army. He was fighting its commanders for in effect there were four. The Emperor of Russia, The Holy Roman Emperor, the Russian General who was technically the Army Commander and the Austrian Chief of Staff who in his own mind was a great military theorist and had the ear of both Emperors.

That's Longstreet's opinion, but Longstreet wasn't as good a general as Lee.

"That any subject involving the possession and exercise of intellect should be clear to Longstreet and concealed from Lee, is a startling proposition to those having knowledge of the two men." [Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Civil War, p. 231]

The claim that Lee wasn't thinking rationally ["His blood was up"] is absurd. Lee was nothing if not rational.
Normally I would agree with you but Lee's performance on the third day was not up to his normal excellent standards. That is indisputable and the only question is why. I think it was a number of factors but I do think that this was one of them.

EDIT - As to Napoleons strategy I should not have said attack on both flanks. I mean allow the fighting to develop on both flanks and draw in reinforcements for he launched one of the attacks and induced the Austro-Russians to attack on the other
 

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View attachment 209889
On the occasion of Longstreet's visit to Antietam in 1893, a correspondent of the Washington Post recorded the General's opinions on a number of topics. In this part of the interview, General Longstreet suggests that General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy at Gettysburg.

"It was at Gettysburg," resumed General Longstreet, "where General Lee's pugnacity got the better of his strategy and judgement and came near being fatal to his army and cause. On the third day, when I said to him that no fifteen thousand soldiers the world ever produced could make the march of a mile under that tremendous artillery and musketry fire and break the Federal line along Cemetery Ridge, he determinedly replied that the enemy was there and that he must attack. His blood was up. All the vast interests at stake and the improbability of success would not deter him. In the immediate presence of the enemy, General Lee's mind, at all other times calm and clear, became excited. The same may be said of McClellan, Gustavas Smith, and most other highly educated, theoretical soldiers. Now, while I was popularly called a fighting general, it was entirely different with me. When the enemy was in sight I was content to wait for the most favorable moment to strike---to estimate chances and even decline battle if I thought them against me. There was no element in the situation that compelled General Lee to fight the odds at Gettysburg.

"General Lee had the absolute confidence of his own troops and the almost unquestioning support of his subordinates. He had, by a series of successes, completely overawed the Federal commander, and was wholesomely feared by the Federal rank and file, who undoubtedly considered him the easy superior of their own generals. These were tremendous advantages."​

Sources
Interview: Reprinted from the Washington Post of June 1893, the interview appeared in The Times Dispatch. (Richmond, VA.), November 12, 1911, page 3.
Map: Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. Gettysburg and vicinity, showing the position of the troops July 3,third day's fight... 1863. https://www.loc.gov/item/99447229/.

Note: This post is Part 14 of a series on Longstreet's opinions of various Generals, expressed during an interview with a Washington Post corespondent in 1893. Longstreet's opinions on various generals are posted in separate threads so they can be easily located - Bragg, Jackson, A P Hill, Early, Ewell, Pickett, Sheridan, Joe Johnston, Beauregard, Hood, Jeff Davis, Lee, McClellan, and more. Here are the links to Parts 1-13, posted previously:
Part 1 - Intro to the article
Part 2 - Longstreet on Bragg
Part 3 - Longstreet on Jackson
Part 4 - Longstreet on AP Hill
Part 5 - Longstreet on Ewell & Early
Part 6 - Longstreet on Pickett, Sheridan, Five Forks & the Timing of the Surrender
Part 7 - Longstreet on Joe Johnston
Part 8 - Longstreet on Beauregard
Part 9 - Longstreet on Hood
Part 10 - Longstreet on Lee's military attributes
Part 11 - Lee's Best Battle
Part 12 - Lee's Poorest Generalship
Part 13 - Lee's greatest weakness as tactical commander

<Up next - Longstreet on Meade.>
@Eleanor Rose @Union_Buff @FarawayFriend @War Horse @novushomus @GELongstreet @LeesWarhorse @Tom Elmore @Coonewah Creek @Yankeedave @Andy Cardinal @PeterT @Zella If you aren't tagged and would like to receive notification when these are posted, let me know and Ill tag you in future ones.
At the same time we have to keep in mind that as an independent commander Longstreet was defeated by the greatest most brilliant Union general of them all; of course I am referring to Major General Ambrose Burnside at the battle of Knoxville. Longstreet as an independent commander also lost a major battle in Virginia. I forgot the name of that battle but @novushomus would know.
Not saying Longstreet is wrong but just saying when one lived in a glass house best not to throw stones.
Leftyhunter
 

wausaubob

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The Army of the Potomac had a good day on July 3, 1863.
General Longstreet's concerns grew into predictions as time passed. He was worried about his flanks in advance of the charge. But he did not know, probably, how effectively the United States army would attack those flanks.
 

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Technically you are correct ['The best type of correct'] but there were many books and treatises on military history and we know Lee was well read and what I always find interesting is how similar at least in intent was Lee's plan at Gettysburg and Napoleon's at Austerlitz (possibly his greatest victory). Attack each flank and then launch the final punch in the center at the Pratzen Heights. Of course there is a difference. Napoleon was not really fighting the Austro-Russian army. He was fighting its commanders for in effect there were four. The Emperor of Russia, The Holy Roman Emperor, the Russian General who was technically the Army Commander and the Austrian Chief of Staff who in his own mind was a great military theorist and had the ear of both Emperors.
There were not that many books and treatises on military history or strategy printed in English and available in the United States before the war. The war itself produced a number of them, but prior to the war there were few.

I've found what "we know" about Lee ain't necessarily so.

Normally I would agree with you but Lee's performance on the third day was not up to his normal excellent standards. That is indisputable and the only question is why. I think it was a number of factors but I do think that this was one of them.

EDIT - As to Napoleons strategy I should not have said attack on both flanks. I mean allow the fighting to develop on both flanks and draw in reinforcements for he launched one of the attacks and induced the Austro-Russians to attack on the other
Lee's performance on the third day wasn't bad. He originally wanted to repeat what he had done on Day 2, but Longstreet didn't have Pickett in position in time for that, so Lee was forced to change the plan. He was relying on faulty reconnaissance by Capt. Johnston, and he couldn't predict the artillery fuses would malfunction.

I think we can fairly criticize Lee for depending on old reconnaissance, but it was the best he had available at the time.
 

War Horse

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Well, there really weren't that many military manuals in existence, and Lee didn't confine himself to what was written in some manual.

He had seen his men drive superior Union forces off their position so many times before, most recently at Chancellorsville and the first day at Gettysburg. He had seen his men come within a hair of succeeding on the second day of the Gettysburg battle. He had plenty of reason to believe he would be successful after an artillery bombardment, with a diversionary attack, and with the undulating terrain on the approach to Cemetery Ridge.

Edit to add: Also, the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge weren't entrenched.
Correct, they occupied high ground not intrenched which allowed the Union to maintain the mobility to move troop quickly to fill weak spots in their line. As we here have discussed many times. Lee was counting on that crucial Union mistake that had always occurred in the past opening to open the door to Confederate victory. On this occasion it eluded him.
 
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Correct, they occupied high ground not intrenched which allowed the Union to maintain the mobility to move troop quickly to fill weak spots in their line. As we here have discussed many times. Lee was counting on that crucial Union mistake that had always occurred in the past opening to door to Confederate victory. On this occasion it elude him.
I don't see Lee depending on the enemy to make a mistake.
 

War Horse

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At the same time we have to keep in mind that as an independent commander Longstreet was defeated by the greatest most brilliant Union general of them all; of course I am referring to Major General Ambrose Burnside at the battle of Knoxville. Longstreet as an independent commander also lost a major battle in Virginia. I forgot the name of that battle but @novushomus would know.
Not saying Longstreet is wrong but just saying when one lived in a glass house best not to throw stones.
Leftyhunter
Lefty are you referring to Suffolk, VA? On that Mission Lonstreet’s primary mission was to forage for supplies. He was also told to cause the enemy as much damage as possible. I don’t believe he was ever expected to drive the enemy from Suffolk.
 

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Obviously I don't know what Lee thought or knew before he ordered the assault...before he reached the point of no return where he felt he couldn't revoke his own orders, but if I think about Pickett's Charge long enough, I always think back to a quote from Intruder in the Dust, by William Faulker. Maybe it speaks a spark of truth to thoughts going through Lee's and his men's minds at that instant in time...

"...For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago..."
I love that quote.
 

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There were not that many books and treatises on military history or strategy printed in English and available in the United States before the war. The war itself produced a number of them, but prior to the war there were few.

I've found what "we know" about Lee ain't necessarily so.



Lee's performance on the third day wasn't bad. He originally wanted to repeat what he had done on Day 2, but Longstreet didn't have Pickett in position in time for that, so Lee was forced to change the plan. He was relying on faulty reconnaissance by Capt. Johnston, and he couldn't predict the artillery fuses would malfunction.

I think we can fairly criticize Lee for depending on old reconnaissance, but it was the best he had available at the time.
I think what I am trying to say is that many Generals on both sides of the war were living in the shadow of Napoleon - as evidence of that how many are portrayed in the 'classic' Napoleonic pose of one arm in the air and the other tucked into their coat? (which actually wasnt something Napoleon frequently did but which one of the greatest painters of the day decided he did... but that's another story). Therefore Napoleon's miraculous victory at Austerlitz sixty or so years before would have been known about. That means it may have influenced Lee's thining. Obviously we can't know but the similarities are there.

As to the Captain Johnston reconnaisance - that's an issue prior to the attack on Day 2 not the Day 3 one.

As to the fuses I think this is a more systemic problem in the ANV/ Confederate supply train but one exacerbated by Lee. He deferentially maintains the semi-competent Pendleton (I'm being polite) in a position of influence if not authority and so while maybe Lee can be excused for not totally knowing about the fuse situation (and they werent really defective so much as different to what the army was used to/ was expecting) he really should have been aware of the lack of sufficient ammunition (at least immediately on hand) to both launch the barrage and then support the attack.

As to the rest of his performance on July 3rd I disagree. It was one of Lee's worst of the war (and there werent many) but he had plenty of opportunity to correct many of the things that went wrong that day.

He did not.

Would a larger staff have helped? Perhaps. But Lee didnt like large staffs.

Also he may very well have been ill. I wouldnt want to do what he did that day but I certainly wouldnt want to do it while not feeling well. Even so we have to be honest. It was not his finest hour. He had many. Just not that day.

[Finally you note that Pickett was not in position. Longstreet always maintained (and we only have the one side of the story) that Lee was responsible for this for Longstreet claimed that at the end of Day 2 he offered to have Pickett come up closer but Lee saw no reason for that. Certainly this is possible for in the original Day 3 plan Lee's idea is to have Hood and McClaws resume the offensive. It is Longstreet who reasonably points out how shot up they are and that for the plan to have any chance of success then it needs to be Pickett... who isn't 'quite' up yet.]
 

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I think what I am trying to say is that many Generals on both sides of the war were living in the shadow of Napoleon - as evidence of that how many are portrayed in the 'classic' Napoleonic pose of one arm in the air and the other tucked into their coat? (which actually wasnt something Napoleon frequently did but which one of the greatest painters of the day decided he did... but that's another story). Therefore Napoleon's miraculous victory at Austerlitz sixty or so years before would have been known about. That means it may have influenced Lee's thining. Obviously we can't know but the similarities are there.

As to the Captain Johnston reconnaisance - that's an issue prior to the attack on Day 2 not the Day 3 one.

As to the fuses I think this is a more systemic problem in the ANV/ Confederate supply train but one exacerbated by Lee. He deferentially maintains the semi-competent Pendleton (I'm being polite) in a position of influence if not authority and so while maybe Lee can be excused for not totally knowing about the fuse situation (and they werent really defective so much as different to what the army was used to/ was expecting) he really should have been aware of the lack of sufficient ammunition (at least immediately on hand) to both launch the barrage and then support the attack.

As to the rest of his performance on July 3rd I disagree. It was one of Lee's worst of the war (and there werent many) but he had plenty of opportunity to correct many of the things that went wrong that day.

He did not.

Would a larger staff have helped? Perhaps. But Lee didnt like large staffs.

Also he may very well have been ill. I wouldnt want to do what he did that day but I certainly wouldnt want to do it while not feeling well. Even so we have to be honest. It was not his finest hour. He had many. Just not that day.

[Finally you note that Pickett was not in position. Longstreet always maintained (and we only have the one side of the story) that Lee was responsible for this for Longstreet claimed that at the end of Day 2 he offered to have Pickett come up closer but Lee saw no reason for that. Certainly this is possible for in the original Day 3 plan Lee's idea is to have Hood and McClaws resume the offensive. It is Longstreet who reasonably points out how shot up they are and that for the plan to have any chance of success then it needs to be Pickett... who isn't 'quite' up yet.]
But Lee didn't update the reconnaissance as far as I can tell . From what I have seen, Lee appears to still rely on Johnson's report.
 
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Lee was counting on that crucial Union mistake that had always occurred in the past opening to open the door to Confederate victory. On this occasion it eluded him
I don't see Lee depending on the enemy to make a mistake
I think you are both right.
Miraculously this time the Union mistake was not to chase Lee's beaten army and destroy it before it could reach and finally cross the Potomac. So again Lee's army was saved by a Union mistake. He did not know it at that point, but indeed he depended on that mistake made by Meade.
(And I know very well that some don't even see it as a mistake, but that would be another thread.)
 

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There were not that many books and treatises on military history or strategy printed in English and available in the United States before the war.
We do know that Lee studied what books were available, including his older half-brother's The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte Down to the Peace of Tolentino and the Close of the First Campaign in Italy. While at West Point, he read the available books on military strategy in the library. Later, as Commandant, he stressed study of the Napoleon and other renowned military leaders. Lees was friends with and a supporter of Dennis H. Mahan, who had studied at the French Military Academy for four years and wrote textbooks on military matters. Under Lee, Mahan started the Napoleon Club, which held weekly debates among students and staff about Napoleon's battles, as well as those of other historical generals.
Freeman lists the books from the West Point library that Lee read. Most dealt with Napoleon's 1796 Italian campaign. Lee also accumulated a personal collection of books on military matters, including Jomini's Précis de l’Art de la Guerre.
So it is safe to say that Lee was well versed in the available works on military subjects.
<Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee. (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934 ), Vol. I, pp. 353-357.>
 

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We do know that Lee studied what books were available, including his older half-brother's The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte Down to the Peace of Tolentino and the Close of the First Campaign in Italy. While at West Point, he read the available books on military strategy in the library. Later, as Commandant, he stressed study of the Napoleon and other renowned military leaders. Lees was friends with and a supporter of Dennis H. Mahan, who had studied at the French Military Academy for four years and wrote textbooks on military matters. Under Lee, Mahan started the Napoleon Club, which held weekly debates among students and staff about Napoleon's battles, as well as those of other historical generals.
Freeman lists the books from the West Point library that Lee read. Most dealt with Napoleon's 1796 Italian campaign. Lee also accumulated a personal collection of books on military matters, including Jomini's Précis de l’Art de la Guerre.
So it is safe to say that Lee was well versed in the available works on military subjects.
<Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee. (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934 ), Vol. I, pp. 353-357.>
Actually we can't safely say he was well versed because we don't know how many and which books he read. Napoleon would not be the only great commander someone who was well versed would have studied.
 

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Actually we can't safely say he was well versed because we don't know how many and which books he read.
True. The source- Freeman- is not totally unbiased. Perhaps Lee, like me, had a roomful of unopened books....
 

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On reflection, I think I should clarify. I also believe Lee had read what he could regarding military strategy; my problem is that we don't have proof. We can speculate that Lee read as widely as he could, and I speculate that as well, but I don't think we can say for sure, nor can we claim it's safe to say he was widely read.
 
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Eleanor Rose

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Lee did not become the “marble man” until after his death in 1870. Until then folks would admit he had flaws, both as a man and as a commander. In his book, The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society, Thomas L. Connelly refers to him as a man “sui generis.” Perhaps this is an apt description. With that said, I don’t think Longstreet’s description of Lee in which he says, “His blood was up," is absurd. A rational man - likely even a "marble man" can act in an irrational manner. It is possible that Lee acted according to how he felt in the moment at Gettysburg. Even with his strict military training, it would be understandable for Lee to behave irrationally in that particular situation – meaning to allow his emotions to affect his decision making. As humans we have adrenaline coursing through our bodies leading to the fight or flight impulse. Lee’s impulse that day was to fight.

General Longstreet’s assessment is not a personal affront to Robert E. Lee. It is simply his eyewitness account and opinion of what happened on that one particular day. Everyone has an opinion. General Longstreet was certainly entitled to his.
 


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