Discussion Was Robert E. Lee prepared to sacrifice his life for the Confederate cause ?

Rio Bravo

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In the last year of the war, he had 5 times intentionally placed himself in harm’s way to pull his Men through near catastrophe on the battlefield. In each instance - Once at the Wilderness, 3 times at Spotsylvania Court House, and Once at Sailor’s Creek. Each time the Men in his Army convinced Lee to turn back. Each of these moments reveals something of Lee’s character, his generalship, and his overall thinking about the art of command. What does everyone think about this ?
 

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unionblue

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No one can deny the man was brave and I certainly won't.

I think there were times, especially the times you mention in your post, that Lee felt he had to show his men he was "with them," willing to expose himself to the danger he asked them to endure.

However, I think the last time he contemplated to sacrifice his life was much more a personal thing, as he said on Aril 9, 1865.

"How easily I could get rid of all this and be at rest! I have only to ride along the lines and all will be over!"

But to me, it is his following words that make him one of the bravest men I have ever read about.

"But it is our duty to live. What will become of the women and children of the South, if we are not here to protect them?

Lee knew that personal sacrifice was less than the sacrifice he made for those who needed protecting.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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Saint Jude

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Just finished reading "So Sad to Fall in Battle" and couldn't help comparing General Kuribayashi with Robert E. Lee. Kuribayashi was also trying to protect the people at home by holding out on Iwo Jima as long as he could.
 

matthew mckeon

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Just finished reading "So Sad to Fall in Battle" and couldn't help comparing General Kuribayashi with Robert E. Lee. Kuribayashi was also trying to protect the people at home by holding out on Iwo Jima as long as he could.
I read that book!
While ancient and medieval commanders purposely put themselves in the front line and fought it out, and Japanese commanders were expected to kill themselves rather than surrender, Lee's attitude might have been: "As an army commander, my duty isn't to put myself in danger unless I have to. And sometimes I have to."
 

matthew mckeon

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Its interesting that late in the war is when Lee is performing personal leadership in battle. It reflected the serious losses in the ANV officer corps. There's a saying, "there is no heroism without disaster." In other words, when everything is humming along according to plan, we just do our jobs. In 1864-65, things were more desperate.
 

zburkett

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No one can deny the man was brave and I certainly won't.

I think there were times, especially the times you mention in your post, that Lee felt he had to show his men he was "with them," willing to expose himself to the danger he asked them to endure.

However, I think the last time he contemplated to sacrifice his life was much more a personal thing, as he said on Aril 9, 1865.

"How easily I could get rid of all this and be at rest! I have only to ride along the lines and all will be over!"

But to me, it is his following words that make him one of the bravest men I have ever read about.

"But it is our duty to live. What will become of the women and children of the South, if we are not here to protect them?
Lee knew that personal sacrifice was less than the sacrifice he made for those who needed protecting.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
I wish I could have said it as well.
 

BillO

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I think the first instance of "Lee to the rear" at the Wilderness was simply Traveler starting walking with the advancing troops and Lee didn't notice as he was rather busy at the moment. The next famous instance at the muleshoe counter attack was Lee realizing the effect it had on the troops and using that to his advantage.
 

AUG

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Its interesting that late in the war is when Lee is performing personal leadership in battle. It reflected the serious losses in the ANV officer corps. There's a saying, "there is no heroism without disaster." In other words, when everything is humming along according to plan, we just do our jobs. In 1864-65, things were more desperate.
However, the instances at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania were when troops were forming up and marching into battle, not while they were actually engaged.

Both took place during a major Federal breakthrough and the situation was desperate, but the men Lee was attempting to lead were not broken and leaderless, they were fresh troops being sent in to make a counterattack and halt the Federal advance.


He tried to lead the Texas Brigade into battle at the Wilderness, just as Longstreet's Corps was arriving on the second day, after A.P. Hill's Corps was routed. Lee first rode up and addressed them while they were forming line of battle, then he continued to ride along with them while they marched forward, the men then grabbing his reins and urging him to go back.

I recall two instances during battle for the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania on May 12: first with John B. Gordon's troops and later with Nathaniel H. Harris' Mississippi Brigade.

The men were already well commanded in all cases so, unless you're just referring to the situation in general, I wouldn't say it had to do with losses in the ANV officer corps. I think Lee just knew the effect his presence had on the troops and wanted to give them some extra inspiration.
 

Andersonh1

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"My loyalty to Virginia ought to take precedence over that which is due to the federal government. If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But, if she secedes, then I will still follow my native state with my sword, and need be with my life." -Robert E. Lee to Charles Anderson, February 1861
 

CSA Today

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In the last year of the war, he had 5 times intentionally placed himself in harm’s way to pull his Men through near catastrophe on the battlefield. In each instance - Once at the Wilderness, 3 times at Spotsylvania Court House, and Once at Sailor’s Creek. Each time the Men in his Army convinced Lee to turn back. Each of these moments reveals something of Lee’s character, his generalship, and his overall thinking about the art of command. What does everyone think about this ?
A pretty good indication that he was.
 

Rio Bravo

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A Soldier in the 31st Georgia Infantry, one of Gordon’s troops, offered a more concise diagnosis of Lee’s actions at Spotsylvania: “ The General’s countenance showed that he had despaired and was ready to die rather than see the defeat of his army “
 

Rio Bravo

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Perhaps more significantly, Lee was also aware of his reputation among his Men, and that his presence on the battlefield, at the proper moment, could inspire the Army.
With the attrition rate in the AONV’s Officer Corps reaching a dangerous level by the summer of 1864, Lee knew that his personal attendance would be more critical than ever !
 

Rio Bravo

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As Confederate Chaplain, J.William Jones would write of the connection between Lee & the AONV:
“.......when he rode among his troops he was always greeted with enthusiastic cheers, or other manifestations of love & admiration. I one day saw a ragged Private whom he met on the road.......stand with uncovered head, as if in the presence of royalty, as he rode by............Nothing so pleased the private Soldier as to see his Officers willing to share his dangers; and among our Confederate Soldiers especially, the Officer who did not freely go himself wherever he ordered his Men soon Lost their confidence & respect. But General Lee was an exception to this rule. The Soldiers could never bear to see him exposed to personal danger, and always earnestly remonstrated against it. “
 

Rio Bravo

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In each of these late War “Lee to the rear “ incidents, he was taking a calculated risk - one that had the desired effect of inspiring his Men at times when the AONV was in peril.
Lee’s Men recognised his qualities. To them, the survival of Lee - the Physical Embodiment of their cause -was paramount & was the army’s only opportunity for success.
As long as Lee remained alive, there was still a chance for a Confederate Victory in the eyes of his battle- hardened Veterans.
 

unionblue

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I think Lee knew a significant truth about the men in his army, just as I learned that truth 150 years during my own service with the army.

Soldiers know when they are being lied to.

It's not that they are any smarter than their leaders or regular folks, it's just when they are in the ranks being lectured to by their leaders, they know what's true and what isn't. Maybe it's a deeply buried survival instinct, maybe it's because military life strips one's self down to the bare animal instincts, but they know.

When I was a First Sergeant calling my company to attention in formation and watching them when a high-ranking officer from division would come down for an inspection and 'talk,' I could always tell the instant the soldiers would "turn him off" when he began trying to lie to them. It wasn't that they were bored and set their minds to wandering (although that did happen at other times), but there was almost a universal switch the soldiers would activate when the tall tales began or they knew they were "in for it" because this high hat needed them to do something very unpleasant.

I think Lee knew that he could not lie to his men, ask them to do things that would bring about horrible injury and even death, without telling them the truth. Part of that truth had to be in his actions too in the face or real danger. Yes, he probably knew he had to "put on a show" once in a while for them, but when the chips were down and it was all in, so was Lee and his men knew it.

In my 20 years of military service, I have known two officers I would have done anything for because of their courage, care and concern for their men and I and those men knew it. Lee was even more rare, in my opinion, knowing what it took to get those men to trust him with their lives.

He wouldn't lie to them.

Just some thoughts,
Unionblue
 
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