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

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Jamieva

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Lee also begged Davis at least once during that last winter of the war to negotiate a peace with the north

And yes, he was trying to basically follow the CSA government south and get to Johnston. That was the only "chance" they felt that they had.
 

Saint Jude

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I think he realized the South wasn't going to win militarily after Gettysburg/Vicksburg but still hoped political events in the North would undermine the Union will to fight.
 
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Karen Lips

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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.
I agree. I don't think Lee ever really expected to defeat the North. He knew what he was up against and with no more resources, and man power than he had, it was a hopeless situation.
 

ebg12

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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.
I agree that Lee was fighting for a negotiated peace after Gettysburg, but he still thought of achieving military victory ....he made Grant weep in his tent after Lee won the battle in the Wilderness.
 
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ebg12

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I agree. I don't think Lee ever really expected to defeat the North. He knew what he was up against and with no more resources, and man power than he had, it was a hopeless situation.
I don't agree because Lee's nature was a warrior! Even after the fall of Richmond he was leading his soldiers west to fight "gorilla warfare" in the mountains for years to come. The fight for him was "to the death." It was only because he was finally completely cut off from the mountains that he surrendered at Appox.
 
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Karen Lips

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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. I have always thought the same thing.

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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jackt62

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Unfortunately, Lee never wrote his memoirs, or as far as I know, never confided in associates or family about his feelings on this matter, so we'll never really know the answer to that question.
 

CanadianCanuck

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What specific atrocities did the Union Army commit in Virginia?
Anything similar to the Lawrence Massacre?
Leftyhunter
By 'atrocities' it might mean simply things like hanging/shooting men on suspicion of being spies/guerrillas, taking foodstuffs and supplies without paying, burning homes and farms, ect. Atrocity doesn't necessarily mean a Lawrence Massacre level of brutality, merely a very cruel act. No matter what army we're talking about, they did all the things listed above, and that would have been enough to drive men into arms against either the North or the South.
 

leftyhunter

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By 'atrocities' it might mean simply things like hanging/shooting men on suspicion of being spies/guerrillas, taking foodstuffs and supplies without paying, burning homes and farms, ect. Atrocity doesn't necessarily mean a Lawrence Massacre level of brutality, merely a very cruel act. No matter what army we're talking about, they did all the things listed above, and that would have been enough to drive men into arms against either the North or the South.
Not aware of much hanging or shooting of suspected guerrillas in Eastern and Northern Virginia. West Virginia did a have a fair amount of guerrillas. A Virginia farmer is going to have his fields picked clean no matter what army is nearby. Most men who voluntarily joined in either side did so in the early days of the war before so called atrocities took place.
Leftyhunter
 
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CanadianCanuck

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For my money, Lee knew the war was lost militarily when Lincoln won re-election. So far as I'm aware when he failed to win a Cannae style victory, he believed he was unable to gain a pure military victory vs a diplomatic one.
 

ealexander1865

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Unless a new primary source turns up, we'll never have a satisfying answer. It's an interesting rhetorical question, but, acknowledging that Lee did not receive proper direction from his superior, I think we should temper our praise for his duty or devotion for a (sorry in advance) lost cause.
 
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