New book on Lee. Would you read it?

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Is there still a need to battle the picture of the marble man?
Yes, I think that there is. About General Lee and all other historical figures. If you have followed the arguments in these threads, you'll see that there is no definitive view: a lot of controversy and (too) much passion. The General is as yet undefined and may remain so. But the more one reads, the fuller one is able to do an assessment of his/her own; reading Freeman or Guelzo and calling it quits isn't good enough
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I don´t know....does anybody really need to read that book?

Is there still a need to battle the picture of the marble man?
I always thought that quite a lot of people already scratched up Lee´s varnish (or tried to do it) - and all of Guelzo´s points of criticism were already adressed to in many books (Lee allegedly being overly aggressive, Lee´s stance towards race and reconstruction, Lee´s alleged greed for ever more ressources, Lee´s fixation on Virginia...).
I am not so sure about his assessment regarding the manumission of the Custis slaves - I remember having read pages of debate in this forum where the conclusion was by far not that unambiguosly as Guelzo seemingly is presenting it...
Maybe another balanced biography would be needed (if any).

And regarding Lee´s qualities as a general....well...he was cocky at Antietam - but consider what could have happened...
invite the AoP to battle on their home ground and beat them thoroughly - the recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and/or France would have been nearly inevitable.
(and if you really want McClellan to actually attack you - then better not choose a position that is too scary to him).

And Chancellorsville....well...imagine you have to play the game....
- with only six players
- as you had to send five players home to Grannie to get some food and huggies
(because YOUR team is just not admitted to the spa area and the restaurant and got no taps in their changing rooms...)
and still you smash them....

Or Second Manassas...
- you know that the opposing team will be joined by an additional team in the third quarter and then it´s "all over Baby Blue"
- and then you beat ´em up in half an hour so thoroughly
- that the additional team doesn´t even dare to dismount the bus....

And then somebody calls Chancellorsville "pyrrhic" and Second Manassas "lucky" and Antietam "overly aggressive"....

Well...I don´t know....sounds a bit nitpickingly to me.....
Nobody's making you read it. I'm simply making the point that it doesn't appear to fit the anti-Lee diatribe model that some folks seem to buy into.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Doesnt seem nit-picky to me at all. Chancellorsville was a pyrrhic victory. A pyrrhic victory is a victory or success that comes at the expense of great losses or costs. Losing Jackson certainly qualifies for a great loss, not to mention the casualties the ANV sustained.

As for Antietam, fighting with an unfordable river at your back, against overwhelming odds, when you had every chance to move and select some other position to fight closer to your troops who are still absent, and then staying on the field or another day after bleeding your army dry and your opponent has a fresh Corps to use against you, yea, that seems overly aggressive.

As long as people still think of Lee as a god of war, then I think more education on his very real deficiencies as a general is warranted. Ask the normal non CW geek about Lee, and most will say he is one of the greatest generals the US ever produced (and Grant was simply a butcher who only used sledgehammer tactics). Given we had 100 plus years of misinformation on this, its going to take some time to correct this impression in the public consciousness. I mean, there are people on this forum who are real students of the war who still have a hard time admitting Lee ever made a mistake and are always handy with an explanation why he was was disserved by one of his subordinates.
Those are all good points. It also isn't as if there have been a slew of Lee biographies in the last 25 years (compare Grant, for example). A lot of people still buy into the Freeman model. I've always had an issue with a biographer - or newspaper editor who wrote biographies - who admitted to bowing to the Lee statue every day on his way to work. For the record, I'd have the same problem with a Grant biographer who admits to visiting the Tomb every day.
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Those are all good points. It also isn't as if there have been a slew of Lee biographies in the last 25 years (compare Grant, for example). A lot of people still buy into the Freeman model. I've always had an issue with a biographer - or newspaper editor who wrote biographies - who admitted to bowing to the Lee statue every day on his way to work. For the record, I'd have the same problem with a Grant biographer who admits to visiting the Tomb every day.
Exactly. Newsflash here. Grant and Lee were human, and made mistakes. That is not news to most CW enthusiasts, but there is still a core of Lee fanboys who vehemently disagree, or at least quibble. Freeman is pretty much unreadable, to me, in the way he slobbers all over his subject. I have yet to read a Grant biographer who treats Grant with the same reverence.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Freeman is pretty much unreadable, to me, in the way he slobbers all over his subject. I have yet to read a Grant biographer who treats Grant with the same reverence
Although I am not a Lee fan, I still enjoyed reading Freeman's books on Lee and his lieutenants. Freeman may be an outright devotee of his subject and his scholarship may be criticized but he paints a compelling portrait from his particular point of view. As far as Grant is concerned, I believe that Edward Bonekemper does treat Grant with a reverence as similar as Freeman does towards Lee.
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
I hate to boil it down to another football analogy but it reminds me of the QB who has way too much faith in himself and his team and thus takes unsound chances. It’s great to do that when it works and Rodgers throws a 60yrd TD to win the game. It’s terrible when Rothlesberger throws a pick. Lee was a QB who threw too many picks, even his greatest “win” at Chancellorsville was Phyrric. When it came time for the big game, Antietam, Gettysburg, Overland, he and his boys just got beat.

Perhaps, @Ct Yank Lee and Marino are alike. Both look good on paper but couldn’t win the big game and when you scratch the surface just a bit you find that maybe they aren’t who you thought they were.

Yes, Lee wasted his own men and resources. I'm just glad he didn't have the number of men Grant had because he would have wasted them all. Marino is the best QB ever, IMO. Marino never won the big one but scorched ever defense he faced. Lee is more like Jim Kelly, never winning the big one with some ups and downs.
A lot of good points. I salute you, by the way, for making me actually look up "hamartography" - well done. I don't think the Guelzo book will fall there. As I posted, I've skimmed it at random and have found some even-handed material - in addition to the points I referred to in my earlier post, Guelzo also addresses Lee's manumissions. He points out - correctly - that he was required to free the Custis slaves under the will, but then adds that he freed his own slave without having to. All this is based only on isolated text, so things may change after reading it in full, but those are signs that it's what a decent biography should do - look at the subject objectively, the good, the bad, and the indifferent. On the other hand, and as I indicated, it looks like Meade will get hammered again, as he was in the Gettysburg book.

As for Montana, I'll concede that his and my shared college backgrounds may play a role (Cotton Bowl 1979, 00:01 on the clock, with the flu and on an icy field, for example). But he did have those rings. 😎 And I like the Kelley analogy...

I doubt I will buy the book. But my point is that history needs a proper estimation of Lee's character and his war performance. He was human with the same infirmities of every other human being who ever lived, not a reincarnate of JC with a sinless nature. Not even close. As for his war performance, like I said in the other posts he was responsible for his own demise. He started out with ample men and resources, and a relative easy assignment and squandered it all. But Lost Causers miscalculate his war performance and say he had poor resources and not enough men. Nonsense. People don't understand how to do percentages and just tally up the total deaths from the CW and say the Confederates had a lower casualty rate. But I did the "battlefield" casualty rate and came to the shocking conclusion the Confederates had a 20% battlefield casualty rate, whereas the Union had a 14% battlefield rate. The Union had more men but the Confederates took higher casualties on the battlefield, and our friend Lee was responsible for the most. So, the leading indicator points in the direction that if Lee had more men he would have had even more casualties. There's no doubt. What would have been the excuse if he had more men? It is obvious.

The college football coach analogy might be even more appropriate: Lee could be compared to Bear Bryant. Bear Bryant is considered the best college football coach ever by many. But if you look at his bowl record from 1967-1975 he lost ever bowl game and tied one and still won part of a National Championship in 1973. Notre Dame beat Alabama straight up in that game, but the coaches voted Alabama #1. Joe Paterno is the has the winningest bowl record, and is not even considered. Hmm...

Lol. Joe Montana was stupid good. He made it look easy.
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
Those are all good points. It also isn't as if there have been a slew of Lee biographies in the last 25 years (compare Grant, for example). A lot of people still buy into the Freeman model. I've always had an issue with a biographer - or newspaper editor who wrote biographies - who admitted to bowing to the Lee statue every day on his way to work. For the record, I'd have the same problem with a Grant biographer who admits to visiting the Tomb every day.

I think you touched on something that is pertinent to this thread. Studying history is slightly different than studying historiography. History is the event or period and the study of it. Historiography is the study of how history was written, who wrote it, and what factors influenced how it was written. Many study history, but few study historiography. Very good.
 

jcaesar

Corporal
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
Lee is entirely too politized a historical figure at the moment and by moment I really mean the past decade or so to have a well done history told of him that is able to be promoted by the mass media gatekeepers.

As for this author his history in regards to Lee isn't all bad, but he builds sand castles out of things with weak and non-existent evidence because they make sense to him and ends up fixated on it. I watched a video last year where he spent 40 minutes talking about how Lee took the job at Washington College to hide out from treason charges. I agree with his core idea he was hiding out, but more from the general attention of everyone post war.

If he was half as terrified of treason charges as the author sold him in that speech he would have been out of the country like Early.

He also took on the idea that Lee was heavily motivated by the love of his native state with the argument on how much time he spent outside Virginia as a military officer. He just did a podcast for anyone interested.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Lee is entirely too politized a historical figure at the moment and by moment I really mean the past decade or so to have a well done history told of him that is able to be promoted by the mass media gatekeepers.

As for this author his history in regards to Lee isn't all bad, but he builds sand castles out of things with weak and non-existent evidence because they make sense to him and ends up fixated on it. I watched a video where he spent 40 minutes talking about how Lee took the job at Washington College to hide out from treason charges. I agree with his core idea he was hiding out, but more from the general attention of everyone post war.

If he was half as terrified of treason charges as the author sold him in that speech he would have been out of the country like Early.
It's the role of the historian to interpret and ours, as buffs and readers, to evaluate those interpretations. The problem, it seems to me, is that there is so much "in the eye of the beholder". Not unlike the spaghetti tangle that the courts face when presented with conflicting testimonies (if you and I both witnessed an event, it is very likely that each of us saw something different).
 

jcaesar

Corporal
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
It's the role of the historian to interpret and ours, as buffs and readers, to evaluate those interpretations. The problem, it seems to me, is that there is so much "in the eye of the beholder". Not unlike the spaghetti tangle that the courts face when presented with conflicting testimonies (if you and I both witnessed an event, it is very likely that each of us saw something different).
The historian should make clear their separation of hard facts from inferences and suppositions. They certainly can offer their suppositions though and their take on the evidence.
 
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Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
The historian should make clear their separation of hard facts from inferences and suppositions. They certainly can offer their suppositions though and their take on the evidence.
But can't you tell the difference? I can--and I'm sure that I'm not smarter than you. ☺️ Wouldn't you pick up on an author who stated something like: General So-and-So wrote that he didn't like dogs so we know what a sneaky, underhanded lout he was? I'm sure that you'd pick up on pure opinion versus a substantiated one; this is the stuff that counter-view histories thrive on. Nor have I ever read a scholarly history where the author made up facts (even I know enough to look askance should an author write about Lincoln's personally leading the Union army at Gettysburg!).

Your worry also is one of the great arguments for reading extensively.
 

jcaesar

Corporal
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
It’s not about making up facts.

The author has a fact. In this case Lee spent a great deal of his adult life outside Virginia. That turns into an inference when used as evidence by the author that he didn’t love Virginia.

Making inferences of course is part of being an author. It’s only a no no when you say you aren’t going to do so and do it anyway.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
I don't think that you read my email in entirety. In the case you cite, clearly you can recognize that there is a difference between fact and inference. See? 😉 Incidentally, having studied the life of the General, this was my own conclusion as well (not that he didn't like Virginia but that he wasn't as devoted as he claimed).

Personally, I've never read a scholarly historian make a claim about not making an inference. That's what they do. Otherwise they'd simply be writers of a chronology.
 

jcaesar

Corporal
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
The author claims it was his family ties that convinced him to fight for Virginia, my take is that is a reasonable hypothesis, but that Lee himself in his writing didn’t separate his family ties in Virginia from Virginia.
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2020
I don´t know....does anybody really need to read that book?

Is there still a need to battle the picture of the marble man?
I always thought that quite a lot of people already scratched up Lee´s varnish (or tried to do it) - and all of Guelzo´s points of criticism were already adressed to in many books (Lee allegedly being overly aggressive, Lee´s stance towards race and reconstruction, Lee´s alleged greed for ever more ressources, Lee´s fixation on Virginia...).
I am not so sure about his assessment regarding the manumission of the Custis slaves - I remember having read pages of debate in this forum where the conclusion was by far not that unambiguosly as Guelzo seemingly is presenting it...
Maybe another balanced biography would be needed (if any).

And regarding Lee´s qualities as a general....well...he was cocky at Antietam - but consider what could have happened...
invite the AoP to battle on their home ground and beat them thoroughly - the recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and/or France would have been nearly inevitable.
(and if you really want McClellan to actually attack you - then better not choose a position that is too scary to him).

And Chancellorsville....well...imagine you have to play the game....
- with only six players
- as you had to send five players home to Grannie to get some food and huggies
(because YOUR team is just not admitted to the spa area and the restaurant and got no taps in their changing rooms...)
and still you smash them....

Or Second Manassas...
- you know that the opposing team will be joined by an additional team in the third quarter and then it´s "all over Baby Blue"
- and then you beat ´em up in half an hour so thoroughly
- that the additional team doesn´t even dare to dismount the bus....

And then somebody calls Chancellorsville "pyrrhic" and Second Manassas "lucky" and Antietam "overly aggressive"....

Well...I don´t know....sounds a bit nitpickingly to me.....
Great response. I was at Lee's tomb at Lexington today. He did what was in line with his conscience and did his job.
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2020
At Lee's tomb today

IMG_20211014_121057342.jpg
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
. He did what was in line with his conscience and did his job
But now the poor fellow is a provocation to almost everybody.
He didn‘t write those hagiographies, nor did he encourage them, he especially refrained from erecting memorials or statues remembering the war and as far as I can judge seemingly felt some guilt because of his decision to break loyality with the Union - at least he was everything but happy with it, he even wasn‘t a staunch supporter of slavery.

I deem it quite clear that he tried quite hard to NOT become the poster boy of the Lost Cause
and to NOT being misused to lend his morality to that Cause
(which of course most of the Southerners afterwards did as they significantly felt the need to get morale relief - which in itself is very telling....)

Well... that‘s a bit much to a confederate general to feel comfortable with the person nowadays, especially for people decidedly critical of the Confederacy....

I deem he is an excellent example how contradictory and complex people can be and how much of a simplification our judgements of people generally (and historic people especially) tend to be.
 

GwilymT

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
But now the poor fellow is a provocation to almost everybody.
He didn‘t write those hagiographies, nor did he encourage them, he especially refrained from erecting memorials or statues remembering the war and as far as I can judge seemingly felt some guilt because of his decision to break loyality with the Union - at least he was everything but happy with it, he even wasn‘t a staunch supporter of slavery.

I deem it quite clear that he tried quite hard to NOT become the poster boy of the Lost Cause
and to NOT being misused to lend his morality to that Cause
(which of course most of the Southerners afterwards did as they significantly felt the need to get morale relief - which in itself is very telling....)

Well... that‘s a bit much to a confederate general to feel comfortable with the person nowadays, especially for people decidedly critical of the Confederacy....

I deem he is an excellent example how contradictory and complex people can be and how much of a simplification our judgements of people generally (and historic people especially) tend to be.
Well said @Piedone
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Yes, Lee wasted his own men and resources. I'm just glad he didn't have the number of men Grant had because he would have wasted them all. Marino is the best QB ever, IMO. Marino never won the big one but scorched ever defense he faced. Lee is more like Jim Kelly, never winning the big one with some ups and downs.


I doubt I will buy the book. But my point is that history needs a proper estimation of Lee's character and his war performance. He was human with the same infirmities of every other human being who ever lived, not a reincarnate of JC with a sinless nature. Not even close. As for his war performance, like I said in the other posts he was responsible for his own demise. He started out with ample men and resources, and a relative easy assignment and squandered it all. But Lost Causers miscalculate his war performance and say he had poor resources and not enough men. Nonsense. People don't understand how to do percentages and just tally up the total deaths from the CW and say the Confederates had a lower casualty rate. But I did the "battlefield" casualty rate and came to the shocking conclusion the Confederates had a 20% battlefield casualty rate, whereas the Union had a 14% battlefield rate. The Union had more men but the Confederates took higher casualties on the battlefield, and our friend Lee was responsible for the most. So, the leading indicator points in the direction that if Lee had more men he would have had even more casualties. There's no doubt. What would have been the excuse if he had more men? It is obvious.

The college football coach analogy might be even more appropriate: Lee could be compared to Bear Bryant. Bear Bryant is considered the best college football coach ever by many. But if you look at his bowl record from 1967-1975 he lost ever bowl game and tied one and still won part of a National Championship in 1973. Notre Dame beat Alabama straight up in that game, but the coaches voted Alabama #1. Joe Paterno is the has the winningest bowl record, and is not even considered. Hmm...

Lol. Joe Montana was stupid good. He made it look easy.
Preach on about that '73 NC, brother. And the Bear was 0-4 against a certain school. :cool:
 
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