New book on Lee. Would you read it?

jcaesar

Corporal
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
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.

Lee’s brother Henry had written and personal contact with Jefferson by the way. Henry carried on his fathers political battle against Jefferson over the issue if he had betrayed Virginia by retreating before the British Army in Richmond rather then fighting to the death for the city.

Unlike his father Governor Lee though he let Jefferson give his side of the events. My sense of Robert’s view on that political battle though was that it was stupid and should have been left to die his father and Jefferson’s generation.
 

jcaesar

Corporal
Joined
Aug 28, 2020

A bit more in-depth background.

In April 1781, a British force under the command of traitor Benedict Arnold did in fact sail up the James River and threaten Richmond. Governor Jefferson saw that he must leave the city, and did so. In late May, with a portion of his state in the hands of the enemy and its public servants widely scattered, the government ground to a halt. The British arrived on the scene, and, giving the legislature no time to choose a new governor, dispersed it. Jefferson found himself stranded at Monticello, his term as governor having expired. Henry Lee accused Jefferson of cowardice. Even worse, Lee also accused Jefferson of resigning as governor in the very face of the enemy.

When Lee's son decided to publish an updated version of his father's work he gave Jefferson the chance to respond to this accusation. Jefferson grabbed onto this opportunity with a fervor borne of his desperate desire to set the record straight. He engaged in a correspondence with Lee defending his conduct in letters from May 15 to May 30, 1826. In one, Jefferson said, "I was not with the army! True…I was engaged in the more important function of taking measures to collect an army; and without military education myself, instead of jeopardizing the public safety by pretending to its take command, of which I knew nothing, I had committed it to persons of the art, men who knew how to make the best use of it, to Steuben for instance…"

Jefferson followed with other defenses. On May 25, Lee wrote Jefferson, saying his account "is not accurate". Then Jefferson, at the end of his life, sat down and wrote the letter I now had in my hands. He ended it with a plea: let us meet in person to discuss this. "But all this may be better explained viva voce." Lee came to visit Monticello, and was the last visitor Jefferson had in his life.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathan...is-final-days-and-about-our-own-legacies/amp/

If the story has a point it’s that the Lee children were coming of age as the founders generation were dying. Also the Lee family were kind of hard core Virginia nationalists.

The idea of fighting to the death for Richmond rather then fight to living to fight another day was far from widely accepted in that era of Virginia.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
I was questioning the supposition that Henry Lee's contacts impacted his half-brother. From my reading, I don't think that there was much closeness between the General and "Black Horse Harry". I don't believe that Henry Lee's contacts would make much difference.
 

jcaesar

Corporal
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Aug 28, 2020
I was questioning the supposition that Henry Lee's contacts impacted his half-brother. From my reading, I don't think that there was much closeness between the General and "Black Horse Harry". I don't believe that Henry Lee's contacts would make much difference.

That was not the point I was making nor did I argue they did.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
That was not the point I was making nor did I argue they did.
That was the point that I took from #141 (your response to the argument that the General himself had no contact with Jefferson). If that isn't what you were saying, the wording of your posting mislead me. Sorry.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Too many NEW and "progressive people" want to make a name for themselves and most always choose to be "anti Lost Cause" and anti South

I don't think "progressive" is an adjective anyone would apply to Guelzo.

I think past military analysis of Lee on a military level have suffered from preconceived notions. Lee was the greatest general so every battle and campaign reflects his greatness, and any shortcomings must be blamed on subordinates. We need a more sober and evenhanded look at Lee, which we have gotten to some extent in modern books about battles and campaigns involving Lee.

As for the non-military aspects of his life, modern writers have often taken what I find to be really questionable analysis. Some criticize Lee for not pulling a Longstreet and embracing racial equality. The others try to argue Lee was some kind of closeted abolitionist.

You can reevaluate a historical figure without writing a hit piece. George Washington is a great example. Much myth surrounding him has been cut through. Reexamination of his military service has revealed that while he wasn't much of a tactician he was an outstanding leader, and that made an important difference in the Revolution. His complicated relationship with slavery gives us a more accurate understanding of him, but has not really decreased the high regard in which most people hold him.
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I don't think "progressive" is an adjective anyone would apply to Guelzo.

I think past military analysis of Lee on a military level have suffered from preconceived notions. Lee was the greatest general so every battle and campaign reflects his greatness, and any shortcomings must be blamed on subordinates. We need a more sober and evenhanded look at Lee, which we have gotten to some extent in modern books about battles and campaigns involving Lee.

As for the non-military aspects of his life, modern writers have often taken what I find to be really questionable analysis. Some criticize Lee for not pulling a Longstreet and embracing racial equality. The others try to argue Lee was some kind of closeted abolitionist.

You can reevaluate a historical figure without writing a hit piece. George Washington is a great example. Much myth surrounding him has been cut through. Reexamination of his military service has revealed that while he wasn't much of a tactician he was an outstanding leader, and that made an important difference in the Revolution. His complicated relationship with slavery gives us a more accurate understanding of him, but has not really decreased the high regard in which most people hold him.
Early and the Lost Cause crowd dominated thought about this for a very long time in the South (and even to some extent in the North) and nobody really took it on until Connelly and Nolan published aspects that needed to be brought out - but both turned out advocacy, not objective biographies. Your point about worthwhile revision - as opposed to what I call "revisionism" - is well-taken. A lot of the "accepted wisdom" about the Civil War has been eroded by people taking another look at the records that were previously used, as well as records that have never been used. As you point out, an author can come up with a more objective, realistic view about some of these figures without having to turn out a "hit piece". One can respect these figures' importance and accomplishments without needing them to be flawless "heroes". Lincoln's a good example. The past couple of decades have seen objective historians focus on Lincoln's own racial views - hardly surprising when and where he grew up - but that doesn't eliminate his decision to tackle slavery as nobody had before. He made legally questionable decisions about suspending habeas corpus and shutting off newspapers and politicians who exercised their "speech rights" against the war - but that doesn't eliminate the fact that he also navigated the US successfully through its greatest crisis. He made amateurish military decisions early in the war - but that doesn't eliminate the fact that he learned how to defer to those who knew better.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
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.
The reviews by Daniel and Davis are good. But I think I already knew that, so Guelzo's book is not directed at me. Slavery in a place like Texas which was short on cash and rich in undeveloped land had the same brutal rational that it had in ancient times. But in Maryland and Virginia the institution was obsolete. I don't think Lee could make it work. He blamed the slaves, but it was human nature and rapid assimulation of American values that lay at the root the problem. Also, by 1850 Virginia had competitors in every commodity. There were reasons why so many former Virginians had drifted westward by the time of the Civil War.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
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.
The situation of Lee‘s family is very instructively told in „Reading the man“ - I didn‘t perceive anything strange or uncommon from it regarding his family - as far as I read it was his father that wasted the family‘s wealth...
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
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.
As far as I can say I do detect more similarities than differences between all of them...
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Yep. That's what has given me huge respect for Halleck and a better understanding if what made Thomas, imo, the best union general.
Absolutely. As I said previously, reading Stotelmeyer and Clemens caused me to look at McClellan's actions after Antietam in a different light. That didn't alter a lot of my other views regarding McClellan that I think are supported by a great deal of sources and research, but it did on that period.
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
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.

And Lee was not the author or even one of author's of the Constitution. I think it is safe to say he's not a good reference on secession.
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.

Lee is not too politicized at all at the moment, not any more than any other heterosexual Caucasian historical figure from that time. The cancel culture has not gained enough momentum to cancel George Washington or Abraham Lincoln yet, but they can get to people like Lee and every other Confederate because nobody really cares about them because they embraced slavery. The idea behind the cancel culture movement is to wipe out heterosexual-Caucasian history because they were/are blamed for oppressors of society. I knew about cancel culture and critical race theory twenty years ago because my job was right smack dab in the middle of it. Beyond the scope of this thread, but the second movement of the Women's Liberation Movement is the culprit and their credo has expanded here of late. They blame straight white males for today's racial, gender and ethnocentric disparages and societies problems in its totality. They really want George Washington and the founders, but at the moment they can't get to them, so they will take your boy Lee in the meantime. Lee is merely a scapegoat, and not too politicized to critique. He is a easy target because he fought for slavery, no matter if you think that's why he fought in the first place.
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
And Lee was not the author or even one of author's of the Constitution. I think it is safe to say he's not a good reference on secession.


Lee is not too politicized at all at the moment, not any more than any other heterosexual Caucasian historical figure from that time. The cancel culture has not gained enough momentum to cancel George Washington or Abraham Lincoln yet, but they can get to people like Lee and every other Confederate because nobody really cares about them because they embraced slavery. The idea behind the cancel culture movement is to wipe out heterosexual-Caucasian history because they were/are blamed for oppressors of society. I knew about cancel culture and critical race theory twenty years ago because my job was right smack dab in the middle of it. Beyond the scope of this thread, but the second movement of the Women's Liberation Movement is the culprit and their credo has expanded here of late. They blame straight white males for today's racial, gender and ethnocentric disparages and societies problems in its totality. They really want George Washington and the founders, but at the moment they can't get to them, so they will take your boy Lee in the meantime. Lee is merely a scapegoat, and not too politicized to critique. He is a easy target because he fought for slavery, no matter if you think that's why he fought in the first place.
"And Lee was not the author or even one of author's of the Constitution. I think it is safe to say he's not a good reference on secession."

That doesn't leave us with many who are, and certainly none by 1861. So he was as good a reference as Jeff Davis, Alec Stephens, etc. And last I looked the same applies to John Calhoun.
 

jcaesar

Corporal
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
The author of this very book himself asked his editor if they should put off the release for a few years if it’s too heavily politicized a moment for frank discussions.

As for the question of the federal government can constitutionally wage war on a state the war did and didn’t answer the question. Obviously they can and did. But, the administration bypassed a legal resolution of question by taking up the legal theory that it was individuals in the states in rebellion not the states themselves.
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
The author of this very book himself asked his editor if they should put off the release for a few years if it’s too heavily politicized a moment for frank discussions.

As for the question of the federal government can constitutionally wage war on a state the war did and didn’t answer the question. Obviously they can and did. But, the administration bypassed a legal resolution of question by taking up the legal theory that it was individuals in the states in rebellion not the states themselves.
Anybody who isn't caught up with an agenda of one sort or another can read it and decide the merits for themselves - pro, con, or in between. Not releasing a book because "it's too heavily politicized a moment" would be an insult to people who are capable of looking at things objectively.
 
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