When did Robert E. Lee realize that the war was lost?

JeffBrooks

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When do you think Robert E. Lee realized that the war was lost? Was it not until the morning of April 9, 1865? Was it sometime before? If so, when?
 

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jackt62

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I've always wondered about that question. Lee had to be astute enough to realize that after Lincoln's reelection in November 1864, the confederacy had no real chance of winning its independence. Nevertheless, Lee continued the struggle for another 5 months. Was this simply a forlorn hope or was Lee acting on inertia and his own sense of obligation to his ANV? Moreover, Lee respected the system of civilian control over political affairs and knew that Davis and the confederate government were unwilling to give up the struggle. So his own sense of responsibility as a military chieftain probably kept him going long after he understood intellectually, that the war was lost.
 

DaveBrt

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He probably knew earlier, but he must have known when Sherman entered South Carolina and when Wilmington was closed (both in early January '65). He now had no source of supply that could maintain an army of the size needed to accomplish any objective, except staying alive.
 

Patrick H

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This is an excellent question, and one I have never bothered to ponder until just now. I think he must have known he could not win a military victory for quite some time. I suppose the realization that the south wouldn't achieve a negotiated independence came later.
 

unicornforge

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Reading his letters to his family is a good clue. My humble understanding is that he never expected to win a war. The best that he felt he could hope for was to make the conflict so costly and abhorrent to the northern voters, that northern voters would demand the northern government to negotiate peace. He understood from the start that if the north kept it's will to fight that eventually the south would be crushed.

If you read first hand accounts, those books say that there were a lot of men, including Lee, who didn't want to fight anyone. One first hand account/book said that the biggest recruiter for the southern forces was the northern army. It said that when the northern forces invaded Virginia, the atrocities they committed forced men, especially along the border, into the army to defend their families. And that those atrocities were the biggest recruiter for Morgan.
 
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leftyhunter

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Reading his letters to his family is a good clue. My humble understanding is that he never expected to win a war. The best that he felt he could hope for was to make the conflict so costly and abhorrent to the northern voters, that northern voters would demand the northern government to negotiate peace. He understood from the start that if the north kept it's will to fight that eventually the south would be crushed.

If you read first hand accounts, those books say that there were a lot of men, including Lee, who didn't want to fight anyone. One book said that the biggest recruiter for the southern forces was the northern army. It said that when the northern forces invaded Virginia, the atrocities they committed forced men, especially along the border, into the army to defend their families. And that those atrocities were the biggest recruiter for Morgan.
Can you cite examples of said Union atrocities in Virginia?
Leftyhunter
 

cash

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"We must destroy this Army of Grant's before he gets to the James River. If he gets there it will become a siege and then it will be a mere question of time." Robert E. Lee to Jubal Early

At least that's what Early remembered Lee saying after the war. There's a possibility Lee didn't say it, but as of now we have no reason not to believe Early's recollection was at least close to what Lee said.
 

unicornforge

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Can you cite examples of said Union atrocities in Virginia?
Leftyhunter
You can find this information by reading these books.

Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 (Collector's Library of the Civil War) Leather Bound – October, 1982 by Carlton McCarthy (Author)

Mosby's Rangers (Collector's Library of the Civil War) reprinted January, 1983
byJames Joseph Williamson (Author)

Four Years in the Saddle: 1861~1865 (Abridged, Annotated)Paperback – November 11, 2016
by Author Harry Gilmor (Author)
 

USS ALASKA

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The best that he felt he could hope for was to make the conflict so costly and abhorrent to the northern voters, that northern voters would demand the northern government to negotiate peace.
Sirs, so is it reasonable to submit that the re-election of Lincoln in '64 was his own personal turning point?
43

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 

USS ALASKA

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Nevertheless, Lee continued the struggle for another 5 months. Was this simply a forlorn hope or was Lee acting on inertia and his own sense of obligation to his ANV?
"Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more, you should never wish to do less."

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 

jackt62

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That about sums up Lee's convictions. He may have understood the war was lost (he may have actually absorbed that knowledge after the Gettysburg/Vicksburg defeats), but fought on from a sense of duty.
 

diane

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I would agree about the James River - Lee knew it was all over then but he was duty-bound to fight until his superior told him to stop or he had to surrender. Since Lee had advised Davis very clearly, no mistaking it, what the situation was if he could not give up Richmond then it falls on Davis that Lee was herded into Petersburg to die a gruesome death - he did fight just about to the last bullet. Amelia Court House was the final nail in the coffin - no food, no army.
 

Bruce Vail

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What a great question!

I'm going to go with the "Grant crossing the James" theory.
 

leftyhunter

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You can find this information by reading these books.

Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 (Collector's Library of the Civil War) Leather Bound – October, 1982 by Carlton McCarthy (Author)

Mosby's Rangers (Collector's Library of the Civil War) reprinted January, 1983
byJames Joseph Williamson (Author)

Four Years in the Saddle: 1861~1865 (Abridged, Annotated)Paperback – November 11, 2016
by Author Harry Gilmor (Author)
Can you cite a page number to avoid reading the whole book? I don't recall anything similar to the Lawrence Massacre in Virginia by Union soldiers.
Leftyhunter
 
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