Robert E. Lee Revisited. Again. And Again.

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LilRhody

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"The [Lost Cause] legend of Lee is at odds with the facts. He was not anti-slavery as the image claims; he was a strong believer in the institution. His secession, following Virginia, was not inevitable, but a calculated act of will in highly ambiguous circumstances. His aggressive, offensive generalship cost his army disproportionate, irreplaceable, and excessive casualties, which led to his being caught in a fatal siege. Contrary to the legend of his magnanimity, he was hateful and bitter toward the North during and after the war. His persistence in continuing the war after he realized the South was defeated was costly in the lives of his men as well as the Yankees and not necessarily a creditable act. In the postwar period, he was less of a healer than he was a conventional advocate of Southern positions."


"The Anatomy of the Myth" by Alan T. Nolan, from THE LOST CAUSE AND CIVIL WAR HISTORY, Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan, Editors. Indiana Univ Press, 2000.

Please note I do not necessarily side entirely with this point of view. I think it has some merits. It is posted here for the purpose of generating discussion. RH

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leftyhunter

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"The [Lost Cause] legend of Lee is at odds with the facts. He was not anti-slavery as the image claims; he was a strong believer in the institution. His secession, following Virginia, was not inevitable, but a calculated act of will in highly ambiguous circumstances. His aggressive, offensive generalship cost his army disproportionate, irreplaceable, and excessive casualties, which led to his being caught in a fatal siege. Contrary to the legend of his magnanimity, he was hateful and bitter toward the North during and after the war. His persistence in continuing the war after he realized the South was defeated was costly in the lives of his men as well as the Yankees and not necessarily a creditable act. In the postwar period, he was less of a healer than he was a conventional advocate of Southern positions."


"The Anatomy of the Myth" by Alan T. Nolan, from THE LOST CAUSE AND CIVIL WAR HISTORY, Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan, Editors. Indiana Univ Press, 2000.

Please note I do not necessarily side entirely with this point of view. I think it has some merits. It is posted here for the purpose of generating discussion. RH

View attachment 311164
In the case of the battle of Gettysburg I and others have argued that Lee had no choice but to engage in a very risky offensive and Pickett's Charge .
Certainly an argument can be made that by at least the Siege of Petersburg the war was lost. Certainly many Confederate soldiers who were AWOL by the summer of 1864 saw the writing on the wall.
Leftyhunter
 

damYankee

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leftyhunter, I respect your conclusions, but I have to disagree, Lee had many options, and other general officers presented him with others.
Even before the invasion on Pennsylvania began there was alternative plans proposed that would have perhaps produced better outcomes.
But alas those plans became great "What ifs " because Davis and Lee dismissed them.
 
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leftyhunter

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leftyhunter, I respect your conclusions, but I have to disagree, Lee had many options, and other general officers presented him with others.
Even before the invasion on Pennsylvania began there was alternative plans proposed that would have perhaps produced better outcomes.
But alas those plans became great "What ifs " because Davis and Lee dismissed them.
Certainly that would make for an interesting "what if thread" something along the lines of "what were better options then Gettysburg in the summer of 1863?"
Leftyhunter
 

damYankee

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Certainly that would make for an interesting "what if thread" something along the lines of "what were better options then Gettysburg in the summer of 1863?"
Leftyhunter
It is what it is, Lee's plan to invade Pennsylvania was bold. But unsustainable and he knew that, it required his army to operate beyond interior lines, he was fortunate to return to Richmond intact, his retreat from Pennsylvania after Gettysburg is IMO his greatest feat.
A success he owes as much to the weather as anything else.
Even before he embarked on the movement Longstreet had proposed a thrust toward Cincinnati which would have had IMO a better chance of attracting Union forces from Tennessee, and interrupt the union invasion of the south.
Again at Gettysburg, Longstreet recommended a flanking move around the east side of the Round Tops.
We don't know what the results would have been, but we do know what the results of Peach Orchard and Pickets Charge was.
 

leftyhunter

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It is what it is, Lee's plan to invade Pennsylvania was bold. But unsustainable and he knew that, it required his army to operate beyond interior lines, he was fortunate to return to Richmond intact, his retreat from Pennsylvania after Gettysburg is IMO his greatest feat.
A success he owes as much to the weather as anything else.
Even before he embarked on the movement Longstreet had proposed a thrust toward Cincinnati which would have had IMO a better chance of attracting Union forces from Tennessee, and interrupt the union invasion of the south.
Again at Gettysburg, Longstreet recommended a flanking move around the east side of the Round Tops.
We don't know what the results would have been, but we do know what the results of Peach Orchard and Pickets Charge was.
The fundamental problem with " what if scenarios" is we can't prove for example that Longstreet's plan for an offensive against Cincinnati would or would not work. Same for Gettysburg.
All we know about Longstreet is that his record as an independent commander is questionable at best. Yes Longstreet was certainly a good Corp's commander.
We do know as a general rule the victors in most Civil War's win with foreign intervention.
We do know that Davis certainly made a serious attempt to obtain foreign recognition but no nation could justify that it was worth recognizing the Confederacy based on any cost benefit analysis.
Leftyhunter
 
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Lubliner

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"The [Lost Cause] legend of Lee is at odds with the facts. He was not anti-slavery as the image claims; he was a strong believer in the institution. His secession, following Virginia, was not inevitable, but a calculated act of will in highly ambiguous circumstances. His aggressive, offensive generalship cost his army disproportionate, irreplaceable, and excessive casualties, which led to his being caught in a fatal siege. Contrary to the legend of his magnanimity, he was hateful and bitter toward the North during and after the war. His persistence in continuing the war after he realized the South was defeated was costly in the lives of his men as well as the Yankees and not necessarily a creditable act. In the postwar period, he was less of a healer than he was a conventional advocate of Southern positions."


"The Anatomy of the Myth" by Alan T. Nolan, from THE LOST CAUSE AND CIVIL WAR HISTORY, Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan, Editors. Indiana Univ Press, 2000.

Please note I do not necessarily side entirely with this point of view. I think it has some merits. It is posted here for the purpose of generating discussion. RH

View attachment 311164
Many times it is the idea of the object mentioned, such as the usage, "Those people...." in referencing the northern soldiers, that proves the subtlety of feelings that remain solely within the heart. Lee was in disagreement and at odds with the activities of many men, and still is.

Lubliner.
 
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Andersonh1

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"The [Lost Cause] legend of Lee is at odds with the facts. He was not anti-slavery as the image claims; he was a strong believer in the institution. His secession, following Virginia, was not inevitable, but a calculated act of will in highly ambiguous circumstances. His aggressive, offensive generalship cost his army disproportionate, irreplaceable, and excessive casualties, which led to his being caught in a fatal siege. Contrary to the legend of his magnanimity, he was hateful and bitter toward the North during and after the war. His persistence in continuing the war after he realized the South was defeated was costly in the lives of his men as well as the Yankees and not necessarily a creditable act. In the postwar period, he was less of a healer than he was a conventional advocate of Southern positions."

"The Anatomy of the Myth" by Alan T. Nolan, from THE LOST CAUSE AND CIVIL WAR HISTORY, Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan, Editors. Indiana Univ Press, 2000.

Please note I do not necessarily side entirely with this point of view. I think it has some merits. It is posted here for the purpose of generating discussion. RH
It's trendy today to try and tear Lee down. Much in the quoted paragraph is arguable, meaning the author has chosen the harshest possible position in an attempt to go along with the trend. There's not really much of value here, imo.
 

damYankee

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It's trendy today to try and tear Lee down. Much in the quoted paragraph is arguable, meaning the author has chosen the harshest possible position in an attempt to go along with the trend. There's not really much of value here, imo.
I have mixed feelings towards Lee. There is the myth and then there is the man. And it is nearly impossible to separate one from the other. Read his own letters before Virginia's secession and he is an unapologetic Union supporter. Read his letters after it's a different story.
His greatness as a battlefield tactician is focused on a very small geographical area compared to his contemporaries, even compared to some of his subordinates. Limitations that where from all indications self-imposed. One has to ask the great what if, had Virginia not joined the secession what would he had done?
He was as brilliant as he was lucky. And as we all know sometimes being lucky is better than being good, and makes you look even better. With all that being said there is no question he was an inspirational leader, almost to a fault as CSA General Wise pointed out to him the night before Lee surrendered,. Lee was the CSA, he was the reason his men fought, and if he continued the fight, their blood was on his hands.
 
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Florida Rebel

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Mixed feelings about the great man? Seriously? Not for me. I consider him to be one of the finest Americans in our history! Say what you want but the southern people worshiped him and for good reason. But so did many Yankees! The NY Herald said he should be the Democratic nominee for President! Look it up - it's true! What Lee did after the war; to be the father figure for a whole region (defeated nation) urge all southerners to stop fighting and learn to be good Americans, unified a region and country like no one else could have. No matter the topic or issue, (and southerners continued to hate the Yankee) once Lee spoke, it was over. Can anyone today imagine someone with that kind of persuasive power over a people? I doubt we'll ever see it again. So say what you may about his strategy for winning the war, some of his commanders, etc., THIS MAN, to me, was the greatest of all!
 

7thWisconsin

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Many battlefield geniuses have the tables turned: Napoleon ultimately ended up at St Helena; Erwin Rommel was not successful in Normandy. Custer - well, the Little Bighorn. Then there are the lucky amateurs, like Washington, who lose more than they win, and still pull off a Trenton. Lee, and Jackson, have been critiqued as heavily influenced by their experiences in the Mexican War, and by the "great battle" theory of warfare, as being willing to accept casualties they couldn't replace. That's an easy critique after the war's over, but harder to make if you believe in media res that your enemy will collapse if you just push once more. Lee has also been critiqued as having blinders on and fixating on the war in Virginia rather than the broader conflict. This was a problem for the whole Confederate war effort, not just Lee, and in all fairness, in the 19th century, one of the ways to neutralize an opponent is drive on his capital. "When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna" said one of those previously mentioned geniuses.
Even with the mythologizing peeled back, Lee remains a man of rare good character. A man of his time, certainly, but a good man. A dedicated student whose West Point record still stands, I believe. A dedicated husband to a physically challenged wife. A good father. The man who told his former soldiers to go home and get any job and start to rebuild their lives. A man who lost everything and never set foot in his own home again in his life, yet started over. There's a lot to admire in Robert Lee, the man, even with a layer of varnish removed.
 

Florida Rebel

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Bravo! Thank you First Sergeant! Lee and his wife WERE bitter and for good reason! Can you imagine having to leave your home at Arlington and never to return in your life, hearing it was ransacked with all the old and valuable George and Martha Washington possessions that belonged to Lee's wife damaged or stolen? Not to mention the property was made into a cemetery? Yes, Lee's son finally sued the Federal government after his Father's death - successfully by the way, for the loss of Arlington, but by then the damage was done. However, Lee and his family were hardly alone in the way their families and homes were treated by the Northern soldiers and Federal Government. Some people say and think it was OK that the southern people suffered along with the southern armies - that it was total war, but I am not one of them.
 
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thomas aagaard

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that it was total war, but I am not one of them.
It was no where near total war. And the south got off very very easy compared to how other states have dealt with rebellions. Both in the 19th century and in the 20th.
In Paris in 1830, 1848 and 1871 rebels, (and anyone unfortunately to be picked up in the area) was sometimes simply put up against a wall and shot. After 1848 many liberals from "Germany" moved to the US... not the arrested and face long prison terms.. or worth.

And when we look at how the European great powers dealed with rebellions in their colonies it get a lot worse.

In comparison csa soldiers was treated as POWs and could just go home when the war ended.
 

unionblue

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So hard to see Lee, the man, past all the smoke and haze of those who worship him and consider him the personification of the Confederacy.

For myself, I believe he was just a man, trying to do the best he could with what he had, and then came to the conclusion that his best, and what he had, was not enough.

That'll do.

Unionblue
 

jackt62

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Unlike fellow Virginians George Thomas and Winfield Scott, Lee's family past and traditions bound him so intrinsically to Virginia that I can almost commisserate with him about his choice to leave the "Old Flag." Still, worst choice made by any historical figure.
 
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DanSBHawk

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Mixed feelings about the great man? Seriously? Not for me. I consider him to be one of the finest Americans in our history! Say what you want but the southern people worshiped him and for good reason. But so did many Yankees! The NY Herald said he should be the Democratic nominee for President! Look it up - it's true! What Lee did after the war; to be the father figure for a whole region (defeated nation) urge all southerners to stop fighting and learn to be good Americans, unified a region and country like no one else could have. No matter the topic or issue, (and southerners continued to hate the Yankee) once Lee spoke, it was over. Can anyone today imagine someone with that kind of persuasive power over a people? I doubt we'll ever see it again. So say what you may about his strategy for winning the war, some of his commanders, etc., THIS MAN, to me, was the greatest of all!
Lee wasn't all that helpful in the post-war years in unifying the country. US Grant made the comment, “Lee is behaving badly…No man at the South is capable of exercising a tenth part of the influence for good that he is, but instead of using it he is setting an example of forced acquiescence so grudging and pernicious in its effects as to be hardly realized.”

Lee encouraged white southerners to be good Americans, but he failed to encourage acceptance of the former slaves as citizens.
 
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damYankee

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Unlike fellow Virginians George Thomas and Winfield Scott, Lee's family past and traditions bound him so intrinsically to Virginia that I can almost commisserate with him about his choice to leave the "Old Flag." Still, worst choice made by any historical figure.
His family past and traditions bound him intrinsically to the nation. So he wrote to his son before he left Texas.
Thus many have mixed feelings towards Lee. As Gene Smith points out in his dual biography of Lee and Grant, part of the complex dynamic of Lee was growing up in the shadow of a father who was both hero of the revolution and a scoundrel who fled the nation and left his widow destitute and in deep debt.
One can speculate the turmoil boiling within Lee in 1860, he could lead the union army in salvaging the nation his father and uncle had so bravely fought for, or like his father, lead another rebellion and become a founding father of a new nation.
 
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