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One Southerner's view of Genl Lee

Discussion in 'Robert E. Lee' started by byron ed, Jan 2, 2018.

  1. byron ed

    byron ed Corporal

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    Here's a specific Southern criticism of Lee's generalship beyond the usuals we've all heard (that Lee was only ever successful in defense, on interior lines, and avoided significant support of CS campaigns not immediately relevant to Virginia -- i.e. that his brilliant tactics were at the expense of a winning CS strategy). Here's an account of an interview with a CS officer in 1865:

    “Major Howard (Surgeon) who surrendered with Lee has given me some interesting facts, all of which go to show the grossest mismanagement in the Confederacy...From the battle of Bull Run to the last battle on the Chickahominy, no victory was ever pursued and the consequence was eventually that the North got fresh recruits and the South found itself after a victory weaker than it was before. This is the only fault I ever hear attributed to Genl Lee – a want of dash – of elan. His idea seemed to be to spare his own men, to nurse them and he failed to overwork them on one or two occasions when a little overwork might have accomplished wonders. Ned Howard says that when men had broken rank and were making for the rear he has seen Genl Lee ride up and encourage them and expostulate with them. Then they would cheer him, but they would not reform. Presently Hill would come along. He would strike a dozen of them across the back with his sabre, order them up, call out a file of men to shoot them if they did not re-form and would soon have them to the front again.”

    -- Pg 213 “Between North and South, The Narrative of William Watkins Glen 1861-1869” 1976, Bayly Ellen Marks.
     

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  3. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    The points of criticism raised in that interview just doesn't sound realistic. Accusing Lee of a "want of dash-of elan" seems incompatible with the many instances such as the two Lee to the Rear episodes, in which Lee most certainly showed "dash." As far as contrasting Lee's gentle treatment of the soldiery with Hill's more aggressive treatment, Lee once advised Hill in response to HIll's vow to discipline a subordinate officer: "When a man makes a mistake, I call him to my tent, talk to him, and use the authority of my position to make him do the right thing the next time." That attitude was among other things, a major reason why the ANV fought for Lee with such vigor.
     
  4. John S. Carter

    John S. Carter Sergeant

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    Sounds like the same reasons that the Army of Potomac were so in love with McClellan.Did Lee ever read the Riot Act or relief any commander for failure to follow up on a defeated foe who was in retreat?The reason that seems to have been that the army needed time to gather or that it was to tired to follow up as at Bull Run or Chancellorsville.While the Union always had reserves to use,but at times failed to do so,in following up ,I have not read of were there was any reserves for Lee to use or they were not sufficient to do so .Grant is the only one who I have read that was willing to do so,as his movements around Richmond demonstrates .
     
  5. byron ed

    byron ed Corporal

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    In 1865 Lee hadn't yet been deified (inducted to god status) by the white South. So it seems to me that Maj. Howard was just giving his soldier's assessment, having nothing to gain or lose by making the statement, so in my view realistic. Now if given a few years later...think of the way Longstreet or Mahone were treated.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2018
  6. byron ed

    byron ed Corporal

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    True that. Most soldiers were not professional army and had baser (less noble) motivations than we would like to suppose.
     
  7. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    Which Hill? D H or A P? I'm guessing D H - he was a disciplinarian. So was Lee, for that matter. He disliked it, as always, but he would give misbehaving soldiers what they earned. That's why when he was president of the college a misbehaving student was brought to him, obviously nervous and shaken up. Lee told him not to worry, he'd get justice here. "That is just what I am afraid of!" blurted the kid!

    Dunno. Sounds like someone who just didn't like Lee. I can't buy the implication that the ANV was a spoiled army - if they were, they wouldn't have become one of the best small armies in the world. They would fight for Lee, too - his presence in the field was worth a bunch of brigades. He wasn't dashing like Jeb Stuart, but that would have been unseemly for a man of his years!
     
  8. Hawkeye Brehm

    Hawkeye Brehm Sergeant

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    Compelling quote. I'm looking forward to getting a more balanced view of the various perspectives Lee's contemporaries had about him. :smile:
     
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  9. byron ed

    byron ed Corporal

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    It's so easy to say the ANV was one of the best small armies in the world, yet by any and all accounts it only ever accomplished tactical victories mostly from interior lines and mostly in Virginia. By comparison other armies of recent decades in the world were more continentally- and mission- challenged and better supported overall strategic goals.

    But anyway Major Howard was a Surgeon, not a war fighter, so maybe he was just casting personal aspersions against Lee. The correspondent, William Watkins Glen, was a Marylander, who from the rest of the book seemed to have no agenda regarding Lee.

    BTW Lee was in his fifties during the war, meh. A mere decade less and he'd have been noted as being one of the younger generals in the war.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2018
  10. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    True enough but the AoP was honed by McClellan much the same way Lee honed the ANV. The AoP was the largest army the US ever fielded until WWII and it had much the same feeling toward McClellan as the ANV did toward Lee. However...they wanted to fight after a while! (Winning warn't bad neither...) Pound for pound, though, the ANV was a tough outfit and nobody can say they never met their match - the AoP was a grand army. Lincoln thought McClellan was spoiling his men and they did love him for it, but after a while Grant got to looking good to them. They didn't love him all that much, but he was a fighter and that's what they wanted.

    Yes, I would agree the surgeon just plain didn't like Lee - a lot of people didn't contrary to popular myth! It would take more than a decade off to make Lee in Stuart's category - more like two decades. Still don't think he would have gone for the red lined cape, though... :wink:
     
  11. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    Not sure what's going on here. Lee was the personification of the southern cause, particularly after his string of victories starting in 1862. But McClellan, on the other hand, while beloved by his troops, never personified the Union cause. If anything, Mac was at odds with what ultimate became northern war aims, such as the emancipation of slaves, and the use of "hard" war tactics to achieve those aims.
     
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  12. John S. Carter

    John S. Carter Sergeant

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    Which is more important for a general in command during war,that the command soldier and staff like him or they respect him? There have been generals who were not liked but by achieving victory for the army they had a respect for the him by doing what forcing upon the army his will to achieve the goals which he had set for his men.It is not doubtful that there were those in the Union army who disliked Grant's strategy of continuous attacks after following the successful strategy of previous generals ,but he had given them that which no commander had prior had ,a means of bring the war to a final end , .He never retreated from attaching ,he never returned across the Potomac.Lee was worshiped by his troops ,they kept on believing that he would once again, as in the beginning,lead them to victory and were willing till near the end when he realized that the army could not endure any more,,to follow him into the obese .
     
  13. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017 Member of the Year

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    I think Lee's respect was earned as a commander, a commander who did exercise discipline when necessary. I've read account of his orders to hang stragglers and of those orders carried out. Lee also pushed his army on many occasions. The problem that I'm aware of is this. Lee's plans were often complex attack schemes, schemes that required large numbers of troops to execute with precision timing. A very difficult task and expectation considering the times.

    This sounds like sower grapes to me. No one at the time was immune to criticism, especially Lee. Just read Mary Chestnut's diary and see how her opinion changed with the wind.

    Lee did amazing things with the troops he had. Now that being said, Lee also had the benefit of having two highly talented Corps commanders. When you take the three individuals and through an act of Provence, put them together, they become a very rare military anomaly. I'm sure the trio was admired throughout history by many military leaders. I.E. Ike :smile:
     
  14. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    No question that Lee was respected, admired, and beloved by his army. No question also that Lee was a mindful strategist who planned and executed successful yet complicated maneuvers with the help of key associates. As was Grant, but unlike McClellan, Lee was aggressive and a risk taker. His wartime image has however, been reduced almost to a caricature of being the "Marble Man" as a result of the deification imposed on him by the proponents of the postwar "Lost Cause" movement. But criticism of Lee when justified, is certainly appropriate.
     
  15. Hawkeye Brehm

    Hawkeye Brehm Sergeant

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    Absolutely. He was human, prone to human flaws and yes, even mistakes and blunders.
     
  16. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017 Member of the Year

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    Well said. A look of approval from Lee was worth more than a months salary. A look of disapproval was devistating. He carried himself very well, very well indeed.
     
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  17. shermans_march

    shermans_march First Sergeant

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    I have heard something about Lee, not sure if it is true. It has been said that once an attack was ordered he wouldn't interfere much with or react to what happened until the action was complete. He had a faith that Providence had a hand in the outcome that he couldn't interfere with.
     
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  18. E_just_E

    E_just_E Moderator Moderator

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    Longstreet and Ewell? :whistling:
     
  19. Hawkeye Brehm

    Hawkeye Brehm Sergeant

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    I was under a similar impression; that he would commit to a plan and see it executed, and felt that the ultimate outcome was in the hands of Providence. Not that he wouldn't change it once ordered, but simply that at a certain point it was in God's hands whether a plan was ultimately successful.
     
  20. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017 Member of the Year

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    He had faith in his Commanders. Once the attack stepped off. Lee tended to allow them to manage the matter. That’s not to say he wasn’t involved. He was not a micromanager. His curriers were busy sending and receiving messages.
     
  21. Hawkeye Brehm

    Hawkeye Brehm Sergeant

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    I hope Stonewall has some ice for that wicked burn! :tongue:
     
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