Lee's Legacy

tulip

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Robert E. Lee is often eulogized as the greatest general of the CW although many military historians have challenged this legacy from T. Harry Williams to John Keegan. Personally, I consider the praise to be excessive for a couple of reasons.

Along with Lee's conflicted sense of honor between secession and remaining with the country he swore an oath to defend and his whimpered ramblings on the "possible" evils of slavery, Lee's tactical brilliance also kept the war viable for four long years. In addition, Lee's Virginia myopia kept the war in his backyard where the countryside was continually raped by both armies.

In an essay published in his book <u>Drawn with the Sword</u> critiquing <u>Lee Reconsidered</u> by Alan Nolan, James McPherson, IMO provided what I consider a thought-provoking and powerful synopsis of Lee's legacy. I am interested in how Lee admirerers perceive this view of Robert E. Lee.

"We have Lee the professed Unionist and emancipationist fighting for disunion and slavery; Lee the general who won more battles than almost any other but lost the war; Lee the humane Christian who caused untold death and sorrow. . . When he took command of the Army of No. Virginia in June 1862, the Confederacy wa son the verge of collapse. In the previous four months it had experienced crucial military defeats in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina; it had lost its largest city, New Orleans, much of the Mississippi Valley, and most of Tennessee; McClellan's Army of the Potomac had moved to within five miles of Richmond, where the Confederate government at one point had packed the archives and treasury on special trains to evacuate the capital. Within three months Lee's offensives had taken the Confederacy off the floor at the count of nine and had driven Union forces onto the ropes. Without Lee the Confederacy might have died in 1862. But slavery would have survived; the South would have suffered only limited death and destruction. Lee's victories prolonged the war until it destroyed slavery, the plantation economy, the wealth and infrastructure of the region, and virtually everything else the Confederacy stood for. That was the profound irony of Lee's military genius." [Lee Dissected, <u>Drawn with the Sword,</u> page 158]
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ewc

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Boy, Connie, I tell you, you are looking for a fight. Perhaps you have refined your skills on some of the Southern dominated boards that abound. This is a fair one, so this could be an interesting debate.

First off, all the great leaders have been attacked, none are exempt. Where is there no criticism of Lee, Grant, Sherman, Stonewall, Thomas, Sheridan, Stuart, the Johnstons, or any of them? Each has been idealized, maligned, romanticized, deified, excoriated, to every level of logic and illogic.

We can always find reasons to criticise the actions and reasonings of these men. That is the nature of subsequent generations and the needs of some to justify or uphold some particular belief or inanity or another. But why should anyone say that Lee was not the Civil War's greatest general? To a great many, he is. To a great many, so is Grant, so is Sherman, and so on down the list. It is a matter of faith really. I personally believe that Ben Butler is a great general. And I particularly get a kick about saying so to my Southern friends while smiling my most angelic smile.

Somewhere I think you are smiling!!

Regards, ewc
 

sean_harris

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"I, Robert E. Lee, appointed a Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Regt, of Cavalry in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfullv against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the Officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles for the government of the Armies of the United States." (Emphasis mine.)[footnote 8] Lee Reconsidered

If Lee had not resigned then I would say was traitor. Regardless, he left under proper military protocol and became a citizen of the United States. Legally, the troops who left would be traitors since they could not tender resignations like the officers.

No general officer denied his tendered resignation. Lee, being a citizen, then has the freedom of choice. I am not aware of anyone attempting to call him back into Federal service.

I think at that point it comes down to freedom of choice. The real question becomes are you loyal to the Government or your family and home. That is a question only the individual can answer.

Today, after the oath was changed, we swear to protect against enemies both foreign and domestic. While going through a leadership school, the question was asked, "What if, years down the road the the domestic enemy is the government?"

Needless to say, this raised a few eyebrows in the class. After much heated debate it was established that depending on beliefs and circumstances it becomes a individuals choice. Funny, was it not the same thing in 1861.
 

brian_swartz

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Feb 20, 2005
Lee means differant things to differant people. To some he is a heroe .To others he is a traitor.To some a southern gentleman. Some consider him as noble.
Shelby Foote said it best.We really don't know the true Lee because he has become the marble man.
I use to feel that he had little respect for his mens lives.Till I learned about his actions after Gettysburg.
He knew things were wrong as the men retreating back after Picketts charge telling them "It's all my fault".Pickett in his report tried to place the blame for the failer elsewhere. Lee read the report had Pickett write another placing the blame on Lee. After Gettysburg Lee handed in his resignation not only because of Gettysburg but also because he was having heart problems to.Davis refused the resignation.
After the war Davis was put in prison and who cared he was a politician. Could you imagine the hell that would of broke out if Lee was put in prison.
On the other hand I have great admiration for Grant . I do believe that when you insult one you insult the other.
Still lets not ever forget the true heroes of any war.The men in the ranks who put their life on the line.
Brian Swartz
 

johan_steele

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Wars are not won by the most competant army but by the least INCOMPETANT army. (to quote a former Soviet General) Lee was a great General that I firmly believe was overrated... his greatness came from a willingness to take enormous risks and an ability to make the most of an outstanding staff of subordinate Corps and Divisional Commanders.

After all look at the Union Commanders he faced before Grant... With the possible exception of Meade (who was a splendid corps commander)and some would say Hooker (though I disagree w/ that notion)none of them could fight their way out of a sandbox much less find their... "hohum" with both hands and a flashlight.

The Union was plagued by inept upper echelon military leadership, while there were several outstanding Divisional and Corps Commanders otherwise the Blue... was pretty lacking.

What Lee managed to do was take advantage of that inept leadership and use his assets to the best effect. I firmly believe that his greatest stroke of genius was Chanclorsville (sp?)but there are all too many who attribute that victory to pure unadulterated luck. All in all the man KNEW what it meant to take risks and against incompetance of the ilk of Maclellan but when faced with a competant adversary he found his choices considerably reduced.

I believe that General Lee knew that the CSA cause was a hopeless one from the beginning, but by the time of Gettysburg he was beginning to believe his own press. I think that battle shattered him. I don't really think his brilliance ever really reappeared after Gettysburg. If sometimes wonder if Joseph Johnston wasn't the superior Confederate General.

Oh well that's just my opinion... I'm sure I'll get clobbered for it.
 

tulip

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A couple of things. First of all in response to ewc's comments.

Actually, I wasn't thinking in terms in of generalship particularly. IMO Lee and Grant were similar in temperament, leadership skills, tactical abilities and campaign strategy. I'd give Grant the edge on theater and war strategy, since Lee never took any initiative in that area. But as you said, ranking one over the other is probably, in the end, a matter of personal opinion.

I also recognize that the oath that Lee took had a big loophole and confederate officers walked through it. So on the treason charge, they get off on a technicality.

What really bothers me about Lee is another matter. And it bugged me years before I ever got into CW study. It is Lee's hypocrisy.

Brian quotes Shelby Foote (an unabashed Lee groupie)as the man who is unknowable because he was turned into the marble man. Hogwash! Just another attempt at shining up the luster with a coating of mystery.

1. <u>Lee was against slavery.</u> Lee babbled a bit "that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil." Yet he owned slaves. Sold slaves. And fought a monumental war to assure slavery for the future.

2. <u>Lee was a Christian.</u> Yet, he took the fence sitting position on several issues, particularly slavery. Rather than taking the unpopular view and denouncing slavery to his peers, Lee's way was to wash his hands of all responsibility and let God do the work, "let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences . . ." How convenient, how easy.

3. <u>Lee was against secession.</u> In letters during the 1850s, Lee made pronouncements about his loyalty to the Union, his anti-secessionist position, his love of the stars and stripes. "Secession is nothing but revolution." During the growing crises he frequently threatened to retire to the country. "I shall resign and go to planting corn."

4. <u>Lee claimed honor.</u> What definition of honor did he use? He abandoned the country that educated him and provided his living for 30 years. Was it an aristocratic nuance to honor that required saving the southern culture where Lee's noble class had the top rung? Some claim he was forced him to chose between "family" and his nation. Since Lee was a man who spent years away from his family, I wonder what his definition of protection of the family meant? How did he define family? There were cousins after all who would chose to go north. If he meant his immediate family, they would not be in danger if he relocated them north, so protecting family is just a whimpy cop out. Or was it simply easier and more comfortable to go with what you know rather than going north where you wouldn't be quite as accepted for his aristocratic worth?

5. <u>Lee was a gentleman.</u> If that means that Lee knew when to bow and doff his hat and how to address a lady at a social, no doubt Lee was an old fashioned, old world gentleman of impeccable manners. But was it gentlemanly to sell slaves, abandon Mary Lee during the war (he only visited her 4 times in 4 years), write romantic letters to Markie Williams, allow the round-up of free black Pennsylvanians to send them south, refuse the exchange of black soldiers?

6. <u>Lee cared about his men.</u> I suppose he did particularly on a one to one basis. But that caring didn't play into his decision to surrender in late 1864 when "the country" might still see him giving up to soon or when he still had a chance to be "Washington" in the last hour. It didn't play until there was no option left and his dream of being the father general of his wannabe country that Lee finally looked around him and saw the bare feet and hungry faces of his tattered army.

Maybe Emory Thomas summed it best. "At base Lee was more Southern than he was Americans defined 'American' in 1861. He believed in social hierarchy, however much he tempered his belief with genorosity and noblesse oblige. He was a politically conservative neo-Federalist Whig who did not believe the world was ready for democracy. He believed slavery was evil; but he owned slaves and resented criticism of the South's peculiar institution. He may not have belieed in state sovereignty; but he did believe that Southern rights were in peril."
 
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Lee and the South did nothing strategically to win the war. The North carved the south into pieces at the same time ruining it's economy. Lee's tactical "superiority" resulted in nothing more then a large male population reduction and the total distruction of what little economical infrastructure the South had. Nothing more. While the South conscripted every male in between the ages of 18 and 35 in 1862,(half of which never showed up, there's some Southern pride for you),the North never even came close to tapping even one third of it's available male fighting resource. When the war ended Northern militiary warehouses were overflowing with arms and equipment. The only thing the South could do to the North was try to make the war unpopular so the northern government would sue for peace.
 

tulip

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Jonah: That's quite an indictment, but not certain it is completely accurate. The CSA did its share of damage and no one came out unscathed. The war touched everyone N&amp;S in profound and personal ways. We also shouldn't forget that at times in the first two years, the Confederacy came close to achieving its goals and a small change here or there could have resulted in an independent CSA.

I figure that if Lee had taken the strategic bull by the horns and used his cachet with the people, he could have initiated an effective and cohesive strategy for defeating the Union. But his Virginia myopia kept him rooted to one goal only, commanding the AnV and washing his military hands of all the rest. He saw his job as winning a big bang battle just like Napoleon.

Lee in my mind was an old world aristocrat who took his inspiration from the ideal of nobility where society was stratified flowing from the elite to the common people with each knowing their place. I think he fought for the status quo rather than being motivated by a new nation. He needed the known and the certain in his life, which offered him stability and comfort.

I don't think, however, that we should underestimate the inner determination and fire of the Southern people. While conscription happened, it was still basically an army of volunteers with the entire populace giving their all to the war effort. They didn't do it well as their efforts were often uncoordinated and internecine spitting spats were common, but no one lost their zeal for nation status.

I look at this way. The south was American whether they believed it or not. Southerners were as tenacious and resilient as northerners. I believe that whatever makes us special as Americans, southerners have it in spades. Heck by the time of the Spanish American War in 1898, just 37 years after Sumter, six CSA generals were fighting for the Stars and Stripes - now that is resilience! Our greatest hero of WWI was Alvin York a southerner and the most decorated man of WWII was another southerner Audie Murphy. Buckner's grandson fought in the Pacific and Patton was a grandson of a CSA officer. No telling how many more sons and grandsons of the CSA fought in all our wars.

I guess IMO whatever makes us special as a nation, they have it below the M-D line. I personally would not want us to go to any war without southerners in the officer corps and in the ranks.

PS: When the war was over, there were warehouses in Richmond also stuffed with uniforms and foodstuffs. Northrup liked to hoard!

(Message edited by tulip on January 30, 2003)
 

tamaroa

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Well folks, I am an unabashed admirer of Lee and I would take issue with some of the posted thoughts. It appears to me that we are mixing things here. Greatest general and leaving a legacy do not necessarily mean the same thing. Webster's dictionary defines legacy as "something left by an ancestor, predecessor or the past." All the above entries left out what I consider to be Lee's greatest contribution to America and that was his final 5 years on this planet.

He worked extremely hard to make the south's sons "Americans" again. His tenure at Washington college was exemplary in not just the innovations that he brought to academia but also in his efforts to heal the country. He wanted to sweep the past away and start anew. Everyone I know seems to harp on his 4 year career as a Confederate General. This is lunchtime at work so I can't go into a lot of detail but consider this:

ANY career soldier would be away from his family for months and years at a time.This was not Lee's torment alone!

ANY southern man could have and mostly likely did have a very ambiguous feeling about the southern state vis-avis the nation &amp; the Union. This was not Lee's torment alone!

ANY General who led an army leads to win. You fight to win. If you lose, you lose. He could not surrender his army unless he consulted with Davis his CIC, who was a fairly obstinate man and believed in the Confederacy to the end. As an army commander you do not have the moral authority to stop fighting just because you love your men. Also remember that Lee did not control the entire Confederate Army until 1865. Up til then he was in command of the Army of Northern Virginia alone.

ANY southern gentleman of the times (except perrhaps Davis)would have clouded feelings regarding slavery, why pick on Lee and Lee alone?Grant owned a slave, Where are his detractors. I don't think Lee owned slaves. I think he had a charge from his father in law to free his father in law's slaves. He was an army colonel, he owned no land, Arlington was his wife's property.

In summary, almost every point made on this thread can be said of any other General Union or Confederate. Lee is picked on because he was a Mexican War hero, a career army officer, the guy who was in charge of the ANV which probably killed more Yanks than any other Confederate army. He was not a God or a marble man as legend has it, he was a extraordinary person who believed that the constiution was being violated.He prolonged the war, guess what, he was supposed to do that. It was his job!

Lunch is over I gotta go. See you all later.

Bill

(Message edited by Tamaroa on February 26, 2003)

(Message edited by Tamaroa on February 26, 2003)
 

thea_447

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He Lost a War and Won Immortality
by Louis Redmond

Even among the free, it is not always easy to live together. There came a time, less than a hundred years ago, when the people of this country disagreed so bitterly among themselves that some of them felt they could not go on living with the rest.

A test of arms was made to decide whether Americans should remain one nation or become two. The armies of those who believed in two nations were led by a man named Robert E. Lee.

What about Lee? What kind of man was he who nearly split the history of the United States down the middle and made two separate books of it?

They say you had to see him to believe that a man so fine could e,xist. He was handsome. He was clever. He was brave. He was gentle. He was generous and charming, noble and modst, admired and beloved. He had never failed at anything in his upright soldier's life. He was a born winner, this Robert E. Lee. Except for once. In the greatest contest of his life, in the war beween the South and the North, Robert E. Lee lost.

Now there were men who came with smouldering eyes to Lee and said: "Let's not accept this result as final. Let's keep our anger alive. Let's be grim and unconvinced, and wear our bitterness like a medal. You can be our leader in this."

But Lee shook his head at those men. "Abandon your animosities," he said, "and make your sons Americans."

And what did he do himself when his war was lost? He took a job as president of a tiny college, with forty students and four profes- sors, at a salary of $1500 a year. He had commanded thousands of young men in battle. Now he wanted to prepare a few hun- dred of them for the duties of peace. So the countrymen of Robert E. Lee saw how a born winner loses, and it seemed to them that in defeat he won his most lasting victory.

There is an art of losing, and Robert E. Lee is its finest teacher. In a democracy, where opposing viewpoints regularly meet for a test of ballots, it is good for all of us to know how to lose occasionally, how to yield peacefully, for the sake of freedom. Lee is our master in this. The man who fought against the Union showed us what unity means.
 

pickettcsa

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Lee was still a good general. He kept an army twice his size at bay for 4 years and with less supplies and manpower than his adversary. That alone speaks for his ability as a general. Despite rumors of not being aggressive enough, he did invade the North twice at Antietam and Gettysburg. Although his plan of attack was good he only failed due to the 'fog of war' which included (a) lack of coordination and/or (b) lack of supplies or (c) poor intelligence. Lee, like many people who lived during that time period, had an individual view of what 'Union' was. To many Southerners, the Union was an agreement of sovereign states. In a nutshell, there was more loyalty to state or region than to the federal government. So, his ultimate decision to forgo his oath of office to the US Government to protect his home, his state, is not surprising. Lee's slaves were not his; they were his father in laws and were left to Lee's wife. According to Emory Thomas, Lee was always uncomfortable around the slaves and did not like having to give them orders. He freed them as he was obligated to do by his father in law's will. Lee was no more a 'butcher' than Grant. Remember that for the most part the Civil War was fought with Napoleonic tactics. It wasn't until late in the war that either side adapted their tactics to overcome the more efficient range and killing ability of the weapons being used. Despite what historians may say about Lee, I've read enough about him to say openly that I respect him thoroughly.
 

johan_steele

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I'll agree w/ you 100% about Gen Lee. I think to a degree he is overrated as he had been lionized a bit much. like any other man he was not perfect. He was certainly one of the finest generals available to either side during the CW. Though I have to admit that I have become thorurghly impressed by Pat Cleburne of late.
 

titans

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I think that one aspect that Lee will be remembered for is that he was the General of the Lost Cause. As we look back at history, we realize in hind site that past 1863, the South had no real chance especially once the North took Vicksburg and turned Lee back a Gettysburg. He is the essence of the Lost Cause. The sympathetic figure head of the lost cause
Have a Great Day!
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Fairfield

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If Lee had not resigned then I would say was traitor.
Technically speaking, he was. His enlistment with the Confederacy came after he submitted his letter of resignation but before it had been accepted.

Far worse, IMO--I am more interested in social history than military or political history--is Col. Lee's turning his back on the man who was hugely responsible for the Colonel's career success. Had it not been for the persistent support of Winfield Scott, Lee might have ended his career days as an army engineer in California. Lee could have done what many other southern officers did--resign commission and return to their plantations; had he done this, Arlington probably would have been saved (the sad aspect of this is that Arlington was not Lee's, but his wife's).
 

Cavalier

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If I had been in Lee's shoes and felt the way he did about my home state I would have done exactly as he did. And, although I can't prove it of course, because no one can know another man's heart, I believe he knew the Confederacy was a lost cause. If your cause requires defending and your a professional soldier the easy way would be to resign and step aside, leaving the dirty work to others and looking out for your own interests, denying to that cause you feel so strongly about whatever military talents you may possess.

Regarding his loyalty to Scott, it seems in keeping with the
 

Fairfield

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leaving the dirty work to others and looking out for your own interests, denying to that cause you feel so strongly about whatever military talents you may possess.
What about the duty he owed to wife and family? When he married, he made promises that he declined to keep when push came to shove. He didn't feel especially strong about the Confederate cause--his own writings indicate that he was opposed to secession. But he favored slavery--perhaps that is what he felt so strongly about? Perhaps not. The General was a complex man whose sworn word seems to be a odds with what he actually did. Perhaps it's all a matter of priorities.
 

Cavalier

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I think you right with it being a matter of priorities. I believe he stated his priority was Virginia, or words to that effect.
 

Cavalier

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@Fairfield I owe you an apology here. I do this on a kindle and am having trouble with it. Of course my computer ignorance isn't helping. So I will try to keep my comments short.

Anyway, I find him a sympathetic character, caught between loyalties. He seems to have had an almost religious feeling for Virginia. And I can see a religious person placing their faith above all other loyalties. And I can see that same religious person placing it above the welfare of their family. I think history has examples of that but I can't name them, (maybe St. Thomas Moore?).

I don't think Lee would ever have considered not offering his military services to that cause he felt so strongly for. I agree he's a complex guy. He reminds me of Marshal Ney when Napoleon returns for Elba in some ways, although not many may agree with that comparison.

John
 
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