New book on Lee. Would you read it?

wausaubob

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Robert E. Lee never had an assignment in California. He fought in the US/Mexican war and spent a good deal of time in Texas dealing with Indians. He did not spend much time in NYC or in Illinois. He never went to England, like Buchanan, or to Europe like McClellan. He never had much contact with the immigrant communities that emerged from 1844 to 1861.
Therefore it was hard for him to realize that at the high end he was dealing with Halleck, Seward and McClellan, who had much broader world experience.
At the lower end he was going to end up dealing with Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Hooker. They were tough men. West Point, California toughened them and the war promoted the hardest and most ruthless. Even George McClellan was getting much tougher as 1862 progressed. General Lee's tendency to under estimate most of his opponents had understandable roots.
 

wausaubob

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Though Lee was an engineer, he was more like a civil engineer, and a military engineer. He had no training in steam engines and among military people it was naval officers who saw that mechanical engineering knowledge was essential. So Lee gravitated towards fortifications and entrenchments, and towards conventional muscle powered tactics. In the Confederacy it wwas Beauregard, Bragg and Johnston who saw the usefulness of railroads.
 
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Fairfield

Sergeant Major
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Dec 5, 2019
One can read Lee's own letters and make up ones own mind. Nothing explains the man and his thoughts better then his own unfiltered words to his family and others.
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. If you believed everyone's written assessment of why s/he acted in a certain way, we'd be living among a huge population of candidates for sainthood. 😏 Consider a work like "My Last Duchess" in which the writer tries to promote himself as one type of individual BUT in which the reader perceives something quite different. Lee isn't necessarily a good guide as to the character and motivation of himself--which would also be equally true of Lincoln or Grant.
 

Belfoured

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Aug 3, 2019
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. If you believed everyone's written assessment of why s/he acted in a certain way, we'd be living among a huge population of candidates for sainthood. 😏 Consider a work like "My Last Duchess" in which the writer tries to promote himself as one type of individual BUT in which the reader perceives something quite different. Lee isn't necessarily a good guide as to the character and motivation of himself--which would also be equally true of Lincoln or Grant.
True. Of course, you can still glean some insights as long as you use those "filters". I've always had in mind Lee's pretty categorical denunciation of secession as unlawful in a couple of letters he wrote in January 1861, including to his son Custis. I do think family letters are probably more useful than others.
 

wausaubob

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I expect Guelzo would be superficial. He would fail to detect that Lee found the Washington/Custis line to be more enlightened and more northern oriented than he was. He probably would not mention that Lee's wife was in poor health. Two of the seven children died young and I don't think any of three daughters married and had children. That's a rather telling sign of what they thought of marriage and family, and their actual economic status. Also. Virginia was not a good place to meet a husband. Many men became casualties and others struck out for Missouri or Texas after the war.
Lee was not happy with West Point, Troy and NYC. He was already beginning to shy away from northerners, and metropolitan life.
He preferred the rural Virginia of his youth and found something in Texas that was similar.
In the tragedy that fate had in store for him, he did not die from a wound from a poisoned sword in the Vth Act. He got to live to see the desperate act of secession go for naught.
 

jcaesar

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True. Of course, you can still glean some insights as long as you use those "filters". I've always had in mind Lee's pretty categorical denunciation of secession as unlawful in a couple of letters he wrote in January 1861, including to his son Custis. I do think family letters are probably more useful than others.

He said succession was constitutional only by means of a constitutional convention. He also said that it was unconstitutional for the central government to wage war upon its constituent states.
 
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Belfoured

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He said succession was constitutional only by means of a constitutional convention. He also said that it was unconstitutional for the central government to wage war upon its constituent states.
In other words, he said it was unlawful. (Allowing a state to leave by amending the Constitution isn't "secession", by the way):

"Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and
forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every
member of the Confederacy at will. It was intended for "perpetual union," so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in
convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession."

In other words, according to this letter, secession was "revolution" - the insurrection/rebellion that is barred by the Constitution. 2+2=4. He did not say that the US "suppressing" the revolution/insurrection/rebellion was "unconstitutional" - because it isn't under Art. 1 Sec. 8.

Instead all he said was that a "Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me" and "If the Union is dissolved, and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and save in defense will draw my sword on none." He was pretty precise as to what he said and didn't say.
 

jcaesar

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The popular view of Southern Unionists and quite a few Northern Unionists pre-war including the President before Lincoln it was succession was unconstitutional, but that making war upon a state that leaves the Union is functionally different then assisting a state governor to end of a rebellion inside a state. Lee believed and argued that Virginia left the Union not over the rational given by the Cotton states, but under the belief that the central government had no constitutional authority to wage war to force states back into the Union.

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Belfoured

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I expect Guelzo would be superficial. He would fail to detect that Lee found the Washington/Custis line to be more enlightened and more northern oriented than he was. He probably would not mention that Lee's wife was in poor health. Two of the seven children died young and I don't think any of three daughters married and had children. That's a rather telling sign of what they thought of marriage and family, and their actual economic status. Also. Virginia was not a good place to meet a husband. Many men became casualties and others struck out for Missouri or Texas after the war.
Lee was not happy with West Point, Troy and NYC. He was already beginning to shy away from northerners, and metropolitan life.
He preferred the rural Virginia of his youth and found something in Texas that was similar.
In the tragedy that fate had in store for him, he did not die from a wound from a poisoned sword in the Vth Act. He got to live to see the desperate act of secession go for naught.
"He probably would not mention that Lee's wife was in poor health"

Well, Guelzo actually does cover this in some detail - her RA, how it got worse and more debilitating over time, the effect on Lee, etc. For good measure he covers the serious infection she got after delivering the first child. While I have only skimmed through the book, he also covers Lee's relations with his father-in-law, their view of each other/backgrounds, etc.

Obviously, everybody is free to read this or not. But i recommend avoiding too many assumptions without reading it.
 

Belfoured

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The popular view of Southern Unionists and quite a few Northern Unionists pre-war including the President before Lincoln it was succession was unconstitutional, but that making war upon a state that leaves the Union is functionally different then assisting a state governor to end of a rebellion inside a state. Lee believed and argued that Virginia left the Union not over the rational given by the Cotton states, but under the belief that the central government had no constitutional authority to wage war to force states back into the Union.

I'll go with his own letter to his son at the time, as opposed to a hearsay account of a post-war interview which is phrased to refer to the views of the South.
 

wausaubob

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Denver, CO
"He probably would not mention that Lee's wife was in poor health"

Well, Guelzo actually does cover this in some detail - her RA, how it got worse and more debilitating over time, the effect on Lee, etc. For good measure he covers the serious infection she got after delivering the first child. While I have only skimmed through the book, he also covers Lee's relations with his father-in-law, their view of each other/backgrounds, etc.

Obviously, everybody is free to read this or not. But i recommend avoiding too many assumptions without reading it.
Two of the daughters died as young adults in their 20s and 30s. The other two daughters never married and never had children. I suspect the family's fortunes were declining when the father in law of Lee passed away. The debt left behind was considerable. And the story typifies the problems that Virginia had in that era. Disease and slow population growth handicapped Virginia's prior dominance in national politics.
 

wausaubob

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I'll go with his own letter to his son at the time, as opposed to a hearsay account of a post-war interview which is phrased to refer to the views of the South.
A defense alliance of independent states doesn't create an imperial army and navy to invade its neighbor and steal 1/2 of the neighbors territory. On the other hand, US officer Lee was unhappy at West Point and Troy, and accepted an assignment to far away Texas, which was mostly rural and wild at that time. His unhappiness with the modern world and Yankee progress is obvious.
 

wausaubob

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There was an enormous difference between David E. Twiggs and Robert E. Lee. But in Texas Lee was surrounded by officers of the Twiggs type. it had to wear Lee down, and make him see secession as inevitable. Texas was different prior to 1870 in a way that did not apply to Virginia.
 

Fairfield

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Dec 5, 2019
Two of the daughters died as young adults in their 20s and 30s. The other two daughters never married and never had children. I suspect the family's fortunes were declining when the father in law of Lee passed away. The debt left behind was considerable. And the story typifies the problems that Virginia had in that era. Disease and slow population growth handicapped Virginia's prior dominance in national politics.
Having read a good many of the Lee papers, I'd say that the non-marriage of the daughters was the doing of the General (probably unintentional). Not that he forbade their marrying but he certainly discouraged it: turning away suitors and discouraging their even attending weddings lest it put ideas in their heads. Why would a man do this to his daughters? Just a guess but I'd say that he liked having his female kin about him (this doesn't seem to have been an issue with his sons).
 

Belfoured

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Two of the daughters died as young adults in their 20s and 30s. The other two daughters never married and never had children. I suspect the family's fortunes were declining when the father in law of Lee passed away. The debt left behind was considerable. And the story typifies the problems that Virginia had in that era. Disease and slow population growth handicapped Virginia's prior dominance in national politics.
Those are fair points. Guelzo does spend some time discussing the fact that Lee was handed the burden of fixing the estate's finances while the will by-passed him for his son.
 

Belfoured

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There was an enormous difference between David E. Twiggs and Robert E. Lee. But in Texas Lee was surrounded by officers of the Twiggs type. it had to wear Lee down, and make him see secession as inevitable. Texas was different prior to 1870 in a way that did not apply to Virginia.
It also appears that by the late 1850's he was tiring of the Army.
 

Belfoured

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Having read a good many of the Lee papers, I'd say that the non-marriage of the daughters was the doing of the General (probably unintentional). Not that he forbade their marrying but he certainly discouraged it: turning away suitors and discouraging their even attending weddings lest it put ideas in their heads. Why would a man do this to his daughters? Just a guess but I'd say that he liked having his female kin about him (this doesn't seem to have been an issue with his sons).
As I keep pointing out, I haven't even started to read the book from page one, so I don't know if he deals with it. One thing that has popped into my head was Lee's own experience with his deadbeat father. He may have been overly protective of the daughters to keep them from falling in with similar types. His father-in-law apparently had that financial concern about Lee himself when Lee married his daughter.
 

jcaesar

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The Amazon.com reviews for the book are coming in.

I'll go with his own letter to his son at the time, as opposed to a hearsay account of a post-war interview which is phrased to refer to the views of the South.

Keep in mind the interviewer in Lexington post war doesn't quote him directly on if he considered waging war on the states unconstitutional as it comes off somewhat he was arguing that was what the Virginia legislature believed. His words in 1861 not just there, but elsewhere showed he felt force was terrible though somewhat understandable and should be an absolute last resort after all 'constitutional means' were exhausted to patch up the country.

"I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union … and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honour for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force."

Its this quote among a few other statements that leads me to think he did view war against the secessionist states as understandable, though not quite constitutional. One thing Guelzo did get right in his Newt G. interview about Lee's decision to leave the army was as yet he seemingly still felt war could be averted and that he could perhaps help Richmond see the way out of the crisis.

A few weeks later in 1861 though in his letter the NY Times published to a young girl in the North he felt the North and South would have to bleed for a while before getting back together. In that letter he commented that the bloodshed would be perhaps a necessary expiation of America's national sin.
 
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Belfoured

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The Amazon.com reviews for the book are coming in.



Keep in mind the interviewer in Lexington post war doesn't quote him directly on if he considered waging war on the states unconstitutional as it comes off somewhat he was arguing that was what the Virginia legislature believed. His words in 1861 not just there, but elsewhere showed he felt force was terrible though somewhat understandable and should be an absolute last resort after all 'constitutional means' were exhausted to patch up the country.

"I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union … and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honour for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force."

Its this quote among a few other statements that leads me to think he did view war against the secessionist states as understandable, though not quite constitutional. One thing Guelzo did get right in his Newt G. interview about Lee's decision to leave the army was as yet he seemingly still felt war could be averted and that he could perhaps help Richmond see the way out of the crisis.

A few weeks later in 1861 though in his letter the NY Times published to a young girl in the North he felt the North and South would have to bleed for a while before getting back together. In that letter he commented that the bloodshed would be perhaps a necessary expiation of America's national sin.
Those are fair points. However, I don't think he concluded that suppressing what he called "revolution" was "unconstitutional". I credit him in the January 1861 letter with divorcing that notion from the notion that he would "defend" against the suppression. It's difficult to say that secession is unconstitutional because it's "revolution" but that suppressing it is also unconstititional. His point was that the Framers did not intend a right of secession but, instead, that the Union be permanent unless the Constitution itself is amended.
 

wausaubob

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Lee grew up in Virginia when Virginia's moment of dominance had passed. Lee had very little contact or none, with Washington, Jefferson, Mason and the rest, so he was not as concerned with the pain of creating a nation as he should have been. He thought Virginia could swing national opinion, which was not true as NY, PA, OH, IN, and IL were dominant. The north did not have to concede anything.
Texas had also been briefly independent. The army in Texas was strongly southern oriented. Texas itself was created by slave owners form the US south and from the Caribbean explicitly to inject slavery into territory only loosely controlled by Mexico. Lee was beginning to isolate himself from New York, from Winfield Scott, and from the Washington/Custis line. The notes above support a steady drift away from his national loyalty towards a vision of Virginia that had already passed.
 
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