Myth of a kindly General Lee

diane

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Maybe the mob didn't know who he was but those who set him up sure did... some know him from the Contental Army where the Marylanders had a great presents. Remember shots had been fired. It was a volatile situation & Harry Lee & his constituents gave themselves up to men/authorities they trusted.
The Lees had a branch of the family in Baltimore, pretty close to the Virginia branch. (During the CW they tried to pay Lee's taxes on property he had in Maryland but that didn't work out too well.) Marylanders made up a good portion of Lee's Legion during the Revolution, too!

I sure agree whoever set up the situation knew exactly who was in that building with the firebrand newsman. They were all Federalists and that's all the mob needed to know! Think Harry had a really good idea of who the brains were, as a matter of fact, but couldn't prove it. Harry was always a good looking fellow but he wasn't after they got done - somebody tried to chop off his nose, poke out his eye and dropped wax in the other one to see if he was alive or faking. As it happened he was quite alive but couldn't move. After that he was so disfigured he scared kids. Pretty bad.
 

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Lnwlf

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Please return to topic which is the Myth of a Kindly General Lee. It is not about Lee in general or Jackson or Longstreet et al.

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cash

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Lear does not quite fit. But Lee did listen to bad advice and misplaced his loyalties, though Lee had plenty of time to come to a better choice. They had months to realize the crisis was coming and a long time to think about how the distribution of population and industry would effect the result.
Hard to comprehend how the secessionist officers could fight for the United States in Mexico and not conclude they were citizens of the United States first. Lee in particular made a bad choice.
In deference to the moderator's request, I'm not going to pursue this line. Instead, I'll try to bring it back to the article. The choices Lee made, including the choices he made regarding his actions toward enslaved people such as Wesley Norris and his family after being recaptured, seem to me to be within the mainstream thought of the typical proslavery southern aristocrat. A Lee acting "kindly" who wouldn't punish runaways with the standard punishment of the time would be out of step with someone of his station.
 

diane

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Interesting thought.
Just how influential was Lee? Did "a large number of people" join the rebel cause because of him? After all, he was still a soldier in the U. S. Army when Virginia seceded. He wrote his letter of recognition the night of April 19, 1861, after just learning about the decision of the convention that morning. So certainly Virginians weren't waiting to see what he would do.
Is there any evidence that significant numbers of others joined the rebel force after he obtained his Virginia- or, later, Confederate- commissions?
Yes, the Army of Northern Virginia's command structure seems to contain a large number of Virginians. But was that Lee's doing? Or simply a matter of geography? How did other major rebel forces- the Army of Tennessee, for example- compare? My guess is that the command structure of each of the major armies was staffed with essentially 'local' officers.
As to relatives, there were indeed some in the rebel service, just as with other families.
Whatever influence Lee had early on probably came from his military record and relationship to Washington, not to any perceived kindness he might show his troops. One can argue that Joseph Johnston (not a favorite of mine) showed more kindness to his men than Lee. Johnston refused to engage in situations where the outcome might be in doubt and costly. Lee was always eager to attack, whatever the cost.
Lee wasn't that well known outside of Virginia, and he certainly wasn't Marse Robert at that time. But it was his family name, mainly. His father was Light Horse Harry, his uncle was Richard Henry Lee, his grandfather was King Carter, his wife was Martha Washington's granddaughter, his father-in-law was the Child of Mt Vernon...and on it goes. He was Virginia royalty, no doubt about it.

The ANV was the army to protect Virginia primarily - naturally it had a lot of Virginians in it. However, Lee honed it into a very good weapon. Johnston might have been kinder to his men in that he didn't fight a lot of battles and didn't fight any that would get a large number of them killed...which would reflect poorly on him in the public eye. Lee used his army. A good sword is worth nothing if you just keep it sheathed, after all.
 

WJC

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Lee wasn't that well known outside of Virginia, and he certainly wasn't Marse Robert at that time. But it was his family name, mainly. His father was Light Horse Harry, his uncle was Richard Henry Lee, his grandfather was King Carter, his wife was Martha Washington's granddaughter, his father-in-law was the Child of Mt Vernon...and on it goes. He was Virginia royalty, no doubt about it.

The ANV was the army to protect Virginia primarily - naturally it had a lot of Virginians in it. However, Lee honed it into a very good weapon. Johnston might have been kinder to his men in that he didn't fight a lot of battles and didn't fight any that would get a large number of them killed...which would reflect poorly on him in the public eye. Lee used his army. A good sword is worth nothing if you just keep it sheathed, after all.
Thanks for your response.
The question remains, did "a large number of people" join the rebel cause because of him? As I pointed out earlier, the Virginia secession movement was well underway- and completed its work in passing a secession ordinance on the afternoon of April 17, 1861- well before Lee's decision was known.
Lee's reputation as a "kindly" person certainly seems contrived after the war, as the hardships and terror of combat receded in the minds of veterans. From what I have read, during the war his men adored him, not because of his 'kindness', but because he won. There is no substitute for victory, and even in the darkest hours, his men believed that he would somehow still be victorious. The wartime myth was the 'invincible Lee' the post-war myth was the 'kindly Lee'.
Throughout he was surely seen as "kindly" by his family- we certainly have no evidence to the contrary. But on the battlefield, he was ruthless.
 

diane

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Thanks for your response.
The question remains, did "a large number of people" join the rebel cause because of him? As I pointed out earlier, the Virginia secession movement was well underway- and completed its work in passing a secession ordinance on the afternoon of April 17, 1861- well before Lee's decision was known.
Lee's reputation as a "kindly" person certainly seems contrived after the war, as the hardships and terror of combat receded in the minds of veterans. From what I have read, during the war his men adored him, not because of his 'kindness', but because he won. There is no substitute for victory, and even in the darkest hours, his men believed that he would somehow still be victorious. The wartime myth was the 'invincible Lee' the post-war myth was the 'kindly Lee'.
Throughout he was surely seen as "kindly" by his family- we certainly have no evidence to the contrary. But on the battlefield, he was ruthless.
That last line is the reason I find military men fascinating. Lee was ruthless, all right, he's still known as possibly the most aggressive American general in our history. Everybody who knew him knew what kind of fighter he was, too. This was also the same guy who was nurse to every sick family member from his mother to an elderly slave he inherited, who kept a little ragdoll inside his coat and never took it out until the end of the war - it had been made by a pair of little sisters who brought him a basket of fruit and stayed to visit. Saved a preggers dog from drowning and almost went down in the Potomac with her, all the cats at Arlington had their kittens in his private office and he'd never let anyone move momcat and her babies no matter how often he tripped over them. Never would allow animal cruelty and would come down on an abuser like the wrath of God. Always looking for decent food and clothes for his men, usually gave up special gifts for the wounded. There's all sorts of things like that. As a young man, he loved jokes and parties even though he was shy - well, all sorts of things to show Lee was a right nice feller.

War, however, seldom brings out the kindness in anyone. Same exact things can be said about Grant. Kind man, loving father, great pal, all of that - but he'd beat the daylights out of you and yours on the battlefield, and wouldn't stop until you yelled uncle or were dead. Forrest was the most dangerous and feared cavalryman on either side but loved kids. He'd crawl under a table to play with a host's toddler boy. Also killed 31 men in personal combat. Wars are fought differently now, we seldom even know who's the general in charge of what where, but it was clear during the CW who were warriors and who weren't. The myth of a kindly Lee isn't a myth - he was kindly. And he would also kill you dead if you attacked his home, family or country.
 

WJC

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That last line is the reason I find military men fascinating. Lee was ruthless, all right, he's still known as possibly the most aggressive American general in our history. Everybody who knew him knew what kind of fighter he was, too. This was also the same guy who was nurse to every sick family member from his mother to an elderly slave he inherited, who kept a little ragdoll inside his coat and never took it out until the end of the war - it had been made by a pair of little sisters who brought him a basket of fruit and stayed to visit. Saved a preggers dog from drowning and almost went down in the Potomac with her, all the cats at Arlington had their kittens in his private office and he'd never let anyone move momcat and her babies no matter how often he tripped over them. Never would allow animal cruelty and would come down on an abuser like the wrath of God. Always looking for decent food and clothes for his men, usually gave up special gifts for the wounded. There's all sorts of things like that. As a young man, he loved jokes and parties even though he was shy - well, all sorts of things to show Lee was a right nice feller.

War, however, seldom brings out the kindness in anyone. Same exact things can be said about Grant. Kind man, loving father, great pal, all of that - but he'd beat the daylights out of you and yours on the battlefield, and wouldn't stop until you yelled uncle or were dead. Forrest was the most dangerous and feared cavalryman on either side but loved kids. He'd crawl under a table to play with a host's toddler boy. Also killed 31 men in personal combat. Wars are fought differently now, we seldom even know who's the general in charge of what where, but it was clear during the CW who were warriors and who weren't. The myth of a kindly Lee isn't a myth - he was kindly. And he would also kill you dead if you attacked his home, family or country.
Thanks for your response.
You make the best argument yet in support of Lee's kindliness. But what are the sources for these stories? Are they real and documented by contemporary observers or were they invented afterward as part of building a myth? More importantly, do these vignettes address the question posed by the thread?
The thread leaves it to us to decide just where and in what way Lee was 'kind'. By asking us to comment on the "Myth of a Kindly General Lee", it seems to be asking in a military sense. In that case, it has to be answered no, he was a ruthless soldier, singlemindedly dedicated to victory, often disregarding the cost.
If the thread were asking about the "Myth of a Kindly Robert E. Lee" the man, then the image of a beloved, grey-beardeed, grandfather-figure, who kept kittens in his office certainly indicates it was not myth, but reality.
This duality is not uncommon. One sees it in business, sports, politics- in all phases of life: the professional football player who would rip his opponent's head off if he could, but is kind and gentle off the field; the financier who is willing to cheat retirees out of their life-savings, but plays lovingly with his grandchildren....
 
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diane

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Thanks for your response.
You make the best argument yet in support of Lee's kindliness. But what are the sources for these stories? Are they real and documented by contemporary observers or were they invented afterward as part of building a myth? More importantly, do these vignettes address the question posed by the thread?
The thread leaves it to us to decide just where and in what way Lee was 'kind'. By asking us to comment on the "Myth of a Kindly General Lee", it seems to be asking in a military sense. In that case, it has to be answered no, he was a ruthless soldier, singlemindedly dedicated to victory, often disregarding the cost.
If the thread were asking about the "Myth of a Kindly Robert E. Lee" the man, then the image of a beloved, grey-beardeed, grandfather-figure, who kept kittens in his office certainly indicates it was not myth, but reality.
This duality is not uncommon. One sees it in business, sports, politics- in all phases of life: the professional football player who would rip his opponent's head off if he could, but ia kind and gentle off the field; the financier who is willing to cheat retirees out of their life-savings, but plays lovingly with his grandchildren....
Oh, these things are very well known about Lee - there's many bios out there. Just grab one and you'll find most of it. I always read a 'hatchet job' or two as well - sometimes there's unexpected good stuff in them. I think, actually, the fact is Lee was a kindly man and it's no myth, but he had enough quirks it's clear he wasn't an easy man to live with - and it did get more so after the war. A good part of that was understandable beyond the war experiences - he and his wife were getting along in years and were in poor health - no money, no slaves, no income... Future looked bleak! I expect I'd be a grumpy old coot, too. But Lee was mostly ok with it - depressed, wished it was different, but soldier on. That's what his mother taught him. She'd give him a chicken back for dinner and say be sure to share that with your brother - and don't complain about it, either. So, he learned you held up your head no matter what your situation.
 
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I don't think it was a myth at all. I think Lee was a friendly, kind, thoughtful man more often than not. Douglas Freeman at one point refers to Lee as an "amiable man", and notes that it gave him problems when he dealt with Loring in western Virginia.

All his life Lee had lived with gentle people, where kindly sentiments and consideration for the feelings of others were part of noblesse oblige. In that atmosphere he was expansive, cheerful, buoyant even, no matter what happened. During the Mexican campaigns, though his sympathies had been with General Scott, he had largely kept himself apart from the contention and had been a peacemaker. Now that he encountered surliness and jealousy, it repelled him, embarrassed him, and well-nigh bewildered him. Detesting a quarrel as undignified and unworthy of a gentleman, he showed himself willing, in this new state of affairs, to go to almost any length, within the bounds of honor, to avoid a clash. In others this might have been a virtue; in him it was a positive weakness, the first serious weakness he had ever displayed as a soldier. It was a weakness that was to be apparent more than once and had to be combated, deliberately or subconsciously. His personal humility and his exaggerated sense of his obligations as a man and a Christian were to make him submit to a certain measure of intellectual bullying by those of his associates who were sour and self-opinionated. The more inconsiderate such people were of him, the more considerate he was of them, and the more forbearant, up to the point where his patience failed and his temper broke bounds. Then he would freeze men quickly in the cold depths of his wrath. Prior to this time no man, probably, had guessed it of him, and doubtless he was unconscious of this weakness; but from those days at Huntersville until Longstreet was wounded in the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, there always was a question whether Lee, in any given situation, would conquer his inordinate amiability or would permit his campaigns to be marred or his battles to be lost by it. Of some other commanders in the great American tragedy one might have to ask whether they were drunk or sober on a given day, whether they were indolent or aggressive, whether they lost their heads in the emergency or mastered themselves. Of Lee it became necessary to ask, for two years and more, whether his judgment as a soldier or his consideration as a gentleman dominated his acts.​
 
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WJC

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Oh, these things are very well known about Lee - there's many bios out there. Just grab one and you'll find most of it. I always read a 'hatchet job' or two as well - sometimes there's unexpected good stuff in them. I think, actually, the fact is Lee was a kindly man and it's no myth, but he had enough quirks it's clear he wasn't an easy man to live with - and it did get more so after the war. A good part of that was understandable beyond the war experiences - he and his wife were getting along in years and were in poor health - no money, no slaves, no income... Future looked bleak! I expect I'd be a grumpy old coot, too. But Lee was mostly ok with it - depressed, wished it was different, but soldier on. That's what his mother taught him. She'd give him a chicken back for dinner and say be sure to share that with your brother - and don't complain about it, either. So, he learned you held up your head no matter what your situation.
Thanks for your response.
Unfortunately, so many Lee biographies are part of the 'deification project' it is difficult to sort fact from fiction. Freeman is about as good as it gets- I confess I've only read portions of it.
 



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