“It is fine that war is therefore terrible, or we should thrive too fond the it.”— Robert E. Lee, in ~ Fredericksburg


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Lee\"s father, Maj. Gen. \"Light-Horse Harry\" Lee combated in the Revolutionary War. Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Stratford

Few figures in American history are more divisive, contradictory or elusive 보다 Robert E. Lee, the reluctant, catastrophic leader that the Confederate Army, who died in his lover Virginia at period 63 in 1870, five years ~ the end of the polite War. In a brand-new biography, Robert E. Lee, Roy Blount, Jr., treats Lee together a male of contending impulses, a “paragon the manliness” and “one of the best military commanders in history,” who was nonetheless “not an excellent at telling males what to do.”

Blount, a noted humorist, journalist, playwright and raconteur, is the writer or coauthor of 15 vault books and the editor of Roy Blount’s publication of southern Humor. A resides of new York City and western Massachusetts, the traces his attention in Lee come his boyhood in Georgia. Though Blount was never ever a Civil war buff, he says “every Southerner has to make his tranquility with that War. I plunged earlier into it because that this book, and am relieved to have arised alive.”

“Also,” the says, “Lee reminds me in some ways of mine father.”

At the love of Lee’s story is among the monumental choices in American history: revered because that his honor, Lee resigned his U.S. Army commission to defend Virginia and fight for the Confederacy, on the side of slavery. “The decision to be honorable by his requirements of honor—which, everything we may think that them, to be neither self-serving no one complicated,” Blount says. Lee “thought it to be a bad idea for Virginia to secede, and also God knows he was right, yet secession had actually been much more or much less democratically made decision upon.” Lee’s household held slaves, and also he himself was at finest ambiguous ~ above the subject, leading few of his defenders over the year to discount slavery’s significance in assessments the his character. Blount suggests that the problem does matter: “To me that slavery, much an ext than secession as such, the casts a shadow end Lee’s honorableness.”

In the excerpt the follows, the general masses his troops because that a battle over three humid July days in a Pennsylvania town. Its name would after that resound v courage, casualties and also miscalculation: Gettysburg.

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In his dashing (if sometimes depressive) antebellum prime, he may have been the most beautiful person in America, a sort of precursorcross in between Cary Grant and also Randolph Scott. He remained in his facet gossiping v belles around their beaux at balls. In theatre of grinding, hellish person carnage he preserved a pet hen because that company. He had tiny feet the he love his children to tickle nobody of this things appears to fit, for if ever there to be a grave American icon, that is Robert Edward Lee—hero the the Confederacy in the polite War and also a prize of the aristocracy to some, of slavery to others.

After Lee’s fatality in 1870, Frederick Douglass, the previous fugitive servant who had become the country most significant African-American, wrote, “We have the right to scarcely take up a newspaper . . . That is no filled v nauseating flatteries” that Lee, native which “it would seem . . . That the soldier who kills the most males in battle, also in a bad cause, is the biggest Christian, and entitled come the highest possible place in heaven.” two years later one of Lee’s ex-generals, Jubal A. Early, apotheosized his late commander as follows: “Our beloved chief stands, choose some lofty obelisk which rears the head among the highest, in grandeur, simple, pure and sublime.”

In 1907, on the 100th anniversary of Lee’s birth, president Theodore Roosevelt expressed tendency American sentiment, praising Lee’s “extraordinary ability as a General, his dauntless courage and also high leadership,” adding, “He stood that hardest of every strains, the strain of bearing himself well through the gray evening of failure; and therefore out of what seemed failure he helped to construct the wonderful and also mighty triumph the our national life, in which all his countrymen, north and also south, share.”

We might think we know Lee due to the fact that we have a psychological image: gray. Not just the uniform, the mythic horse, the hair and also beard, but the resignation with which he accepted dreary burdens that offered “neither pleasure nor advantage”: in particular, the Confederacy, a cause of i m sorry he take it a dim view till he checked out war because that it. The did not view right and wrong in tones that gray, and yet his moralizing could generate a fog, together in a letter indigenous the front to his invalid wife: “You need to endeavour to enjoy the satisfied of act good. The is all that makes life valuable.” all right. However then he adds: “When i measure my own by that typical I am filled with confusion and despair.”

His very own hand probably never attracted human blood no one fired a shot in anger, and also his just Civil war wound to be a faint scratch on the cheek native a sharpshooter’s bullet, but many countless men died quite horribly in battles whereby he to be the leading spirit, and most the the casualties were on the various other side. If us take as a given Lee’s granitic conviction that whatever is oh my god will, however, he was born come lose.

As battlefield generals go, he could be very fiery, and also could go out of his method to it is in kind. Yet in also the most sympathetic versions of his life story that comes across as a little bit of a stick—certainly contrasted with his scruffy nemesis, Ulysses S. Grant; his zany, ferocious “right arm,” Stonewall Jackson; and also the dashing “eyes” the his army, J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart. For these men, the Civil battle was just the ticket. Lee, however, has come down in history as also fine because that the bloodbath of 1861-65. Come efface the squalor and horror the the war, we have the picture of Abraham Lincoln releasing the slaves, and also we have the picture of Robert E. Lee’s gracious surrender. Still, because that many contemporary Americans, Lee is at finest the moral identical of Hitler’s brilliant field marshal Erwin Rommel (who, however, turned against Hitler, as Lee never did against Jefferson Davis, who, to be sure, was no Hitler).

On his father’s side, Lee’s family was amongst Virginia’s and also therefore the nation’s most distinguished. Henry, the scion that was to end up being known in the Revolutionary battle as Light-Horse Harry, to be born in 1756. He graduated from Princeton at 19 and also joined the Continental military at 20 together a captain of dragoons, and also he increased in rank and also independence to command Lee’s light cavalry and also then Lee’s legion of cavalry and infantry. Without the medicines, elixirs, and also food take care of Lee’s raiders captured from the enemy, George Washington’s military would not likely have actually survived the harrowing winter encampment that 1777-78 at sink Forge. Washington came to be his patron and also close friend. Through the war nearly over, however, Harry decided he to be underappreciated, for this reason he impulsively resigned native the army. In 1785, the was chosen to the continental Congress, and in 1791 the was elected governor the Virginia. In 1794 Washington put him in command the the troops that bloodlessly put down the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. In 1799 the was chosen to the U.S. Congress, whereby he famously eulogized Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and an initial in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Meanwhile, though, Harry’s quick and loose speculation in hundreds of thousands that the new nation’s acre went sour, and also in 1808 the was reduced to chicanery. He and also his 2nd wife, Ann Hill Carter Lee, and also their children departed the Lee ancestral home, whereby Robert was born, because that a smaller sized rented residence in Alexandria. Under the conditions of bankruptcy that obtained in those days, Harry to be still liable because that his debts. That jumped a personal appearance bail—to the dismay that his brother, Edmund, who had actually posted a sizable bond—and wangled passage, with pitying assist from president James Monroe, to the West Indies. In 1818, after 5 years away, harry headed home to die, however got just as much as Cumberland Island, Georgia, whereby he was buried. Robert to be 11.

Robert shows up to have actually been as well fine because that his childhood, for his education, because that his profession, for his marriage, and also for the Confederacy. Not according come him. Follow to him, that was not fine enough. For all his audacity ~ above the battlefield, he welcomed rather passively one raw transaction after another, bending over backward for everyone from Jefferson Davis to James McNeill Whistler’s mother. (When he to be superintendent of the U.S. Army Academy, Lee acquiesced to Mrs. Whistler’s inquiry on instead of of she cadet son, who was eventually dismissed in 1854.)

By what can we understand of him? The functions of a basic are battles, campaigns and usually memoirs. The engagements of the civil War form up an ext as bloody muddles than as commanders’ chess games. For a lengthy time during the war, “Old Bobbie Lee,” together he was referred to worshipfully through his troops and also nervously by the foe, had the substantially superior Union forces spooked, however a century and also a third of analysis and counteranalysis has resulted in no core consensus as to the genius or the folly of his generalship. And he composed no memoir. He wrote an individual letters—a discordant mix that flirtation, joshing, lyrical touches, and stern religious adjuration—and that wrote official dispatches that are so impersonal and (generally) unselfserving regarding seem above the fray.

During the postbellum century, once Americans North and also South determined to embrace R. E. Lee as a national and a southerly hero, he to be generally defined as antislavery. This assumption rests no on any kind of public position he took yet on a passage in one 1856 letter come his wife. The i begins: “In this enlightened age, there are couple of I believe, however what will certainly acknowledge, that enslavement as one institution, is a ethical & political angry in any type of Country. The is useless come expatiate on its disadvantages.” yet he go on: “I think it but a greater evil to the white than to the black color race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in instead of of the latter, mine sympathies are much more strong because that the former. The blacks room immeasurably far better off right here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful self-control they space undergoing, is important for your instruction as a race, & ns hope will certainly prepare & lead them to far better things. Just how long their subjugation might be vital is recognized & bespeak by a wise Merciful Providence.”

The only means to get inside Lee, perhaps, is by edging fractally approximately the record of his life to uncover spots where he comes through; by holding up next to him some of the fully realized characters—Grant, Jackson, Stuart, Light-Horse take care of Lee, john Brown—with who he interacted; and by subjecting to modern-day skepticism specific concepts—honor, “gradual emancipation,” magnificent will—upon which that unreflectively established his identity.

He wasn’t always gray. Till war age him dramatically, his sharp dark brown eye were additional by black color hair (“ebon and abundant,” together his doting biographer Douglas Southall Freeman place it, “with a wave that a woman can have envied”), a robust black mustache, a solid full mouth and chin unobscured by any beard, and dark mercurial brows. That was no one to hide his look at under a bushel. His heart, meanwhile . . . “The heart, he preserved locked away,” together Stephen Vincent Benét proclaimed in “John Brown’s Body,” “from all the picklocks of biographers.” accounts by people who knew him give the impression that no one knew his whole heart, even prior to it was damaged by the war. Possibly it damaged many years before the war. “You understand she is favor her papa, constantly wanting something,” that wrote around one that his daughters. The great Southern diarist of his day, mar Chesnut, tells us that once a lady enraged him about his ambitions, the “remonstrated—said his tastes were of the simplest. He only wanted a Virginia farm—no end of cream and fresh butter—and fried chicken. No one fried chicken or two—but unlimited fried chicken.” Just prior to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, one of his nephews discovered him in the field, “very grave and tired,” carrying approximately a fried chicken leg wrapped in a piece of bread, i beg your pardon a Virginia countrywoman had pressed ~ above him but for which he couldn’t muster any kind of hunger.

One point that clearly drove him to be devotion to his residence state. “If Virginia was standing by the old Union,” Lee called a friend, “so will certainly I. However if she secedes (though I execute not think in secession together a constitutional right, nor the there is sufficient cause for revolution), climate I will follow my indigenous State through my sword, and, if require be, through my life.”

The North take it secession as an act of aggression, to it is in countered accordingly. When Lincoln called on the loyal states for troops to attack the South, Southerners can see the problem as defense no of slavery however of homeland. A Virginia convention that had actually voted 2 to 1 against secession, currently voted 2 to 1 in favor.

When Lee read the news that Virginia had actually joined the Confederacy, he said to his wife, “Well, Mary, the question is settled,” and resigned the U.S. Army commission he had held because that 32 years.

The job of July 1-3, 1863, still stand among the most horrific and formative in American history. Lincoln had provided up top top Joe Hooker, put Maj. Gen. George G. Meade in command the the army of the Potomac, and sent that to avoid Lee’s intrusion of Pennsylvania. Due to the fact that Jeb Stuart’s scouting operation had actually been uncharacteristically out of touch, Lee wasn’t sure where Meade’s army was. Lee had actually progressed farther north than the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when he learned that Meade was south of him, threatening his it is provided lines. Therefore Lee swung earlier in that direction. On June 30 a Confederate brigade, pursuing the report that there were shoes come be had in Gettysburg, ran right into Federal mounties west of town, and also withdrew. On July 1 a larger Confederate pressure returned, engaged Meade’s development force, and also pushed it back through the town—to the fishhook-shaped heights making up Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, small Round Top, and Round Top. The was almost a rout, until Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard, to whom Lee together West suggest superintendent had been kind once Howard was an unpopular cadet, and also Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock rallied the Federals and held the high ground. Terrific ground to protect from. That evening Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, that commanded the an initial Corps the the army of northern Virginia, urged Lee no to attack, however to swing roughly to the south, get between Meade and also Washington, and find a strategically even far better defensive position, against which the Federals can feel obliged to mount one of those frontal assaults that virtually constantly lost in this war. Quiet not having actually heard from Stuart, Lee feel he can have number superiority for once. “No,” that said, “the foe is there, and I to be going to strike him there.”

The next morning, Lee set in movement a two-part offensive: Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell’s corps was to pin under the enemy’s best flank, ~ above Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, while Longstreet’s, v a pair of extra divisions, would hit the left flank—believed to be exposed—on Cemetery Ridge. To acquire there Longstreet would need to make a lengthy march under cover. Longstreet an installed a sulky objection, yet Lee to be adamant. And also wrong.

Lee didn’t know that in the night Meade had controlled by compelled marches come concentrate almost his entire military at Lee’s front, and had deployed the skillfully—his left flank to be now prolonged to little Round Top, almost three-quarters of a mile southern of whereby Lee assumed it was. The disgruntled Longstreet, never one come rush into anything, and confused to uncover the left flank furthermore left than expected, didn’t begin his assault until 3:30 that afternoon. It almost prevailed anyway, however at last to be beaten gorily back. Return the two-pronged offensive was ill-coordinated, and also the federal artillery had actually knocked out the Confederate weapons to the north before Ewell attacked, Ewell’s infantry came tantalizingly close to acquisition Cemetery Hill, yet a counterattack compelled them to retreat.

On the third morning, July 3, Lee’s arrangement was around the same, yet Meade seized the initiative by pushing front on his right and seizing Culp’s Hill, which the Confederates held. So Lee was compelled to improvise. He made decision to strike right ahead, in ~ Meade’s heavily strengthened midsection. Confederate artillery would certainly soften that up, and Longstreet would direct a frontal assault throughout a mile of open up ground against the center of Missionary Ridge. Again Longstreet objected; again Lee wouldn’t listen. The Confederate artillery exhausted all that is shells ineffectively, so was unable to support the assault—which has actually gone down in background as Pickett’s charge since Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s division absorbed the worst that the awful bloodbath that turned into.

Lee’s idolaters strained after ~ the battle to shift the blame, but the consensus today is that Lee managed the battle badly. Each supposed significant blunder of his subordinates—Ewell’s failure to take the high soil of Cemetery Hill ~ above July 1, Stuart’s acquiring out of touch and leaving Lee unapprised of what force he was facing, and the lateness of Longstreet’s assault on the 2nd day—either no a blunder at all (if Longstreet had attacked earlier that would have actually encountered an even stronger Union position) or was resulted in by a lack of forcefulness and specificity in Lee’s orders.

Before Gettysburg, Lee had seemed not only to read the psychic of Union generals but practically to mean his subordinates to review his. He was not in fact good at telling men what come do. The no doubt suitable the Confederate fighting man, that didn’t take it kindly to being told what come do—but Lee’s only weakness as a commander, his otherwise reverent nephew Fitzhugh Lee would certainly write, to be his “reluctance to oppose the desire of others, or to order castle to execute anything that would be disagreeable and also to i beg your pardon they would not consent.” with men and also with women, his authority derived from his sightliness, politeness, and unimpeachability. His usually cheerful offhanded patently extended solemn depths, depth faintly lit through glints the previous and also potential rejection of self and also others. The all appeared Olympian, in a Christian cavalier type of way. Officers’ understanding went out to him throughout the latitude that granted lock to be willingly, creatively honorable. Longstreet speak of responding to Lee in ~ another critical moment through “receiving his anxious expressions really together appeals for reinforcement the his unexpressed wish.” When world obey you due to the fact that they think you allow them to monitor their very own instincts, you require a crawl instinct you yourself for once they’re gaining out that touch, together Stuart did, and when they space balking for good reason, together Longstreet did. As a father Lee was fond yet fretful, together a husband specialized but distant. Together an attacking general he to be inspiring but not necessarily cogent.

At Gettysburg he was jittery, snappish. He was 56 and bone weary. He may have had dysentery, despite a scholar’s extensively publicized assertion to that result rests ~ above tenuous evidence. The did have actually rheumatism and also heart trouble. He maintained fretfully wonder why Stuart was the end of touch, worrying the something bad had taken place to him. That had offered Stuart large discretion as usual, and also Stuart had overextended himself. Stuart no frolicking. He had done his ideal to act on Lee’s written instructions: “You will . . . Have the ability to judge even if it is you can pass about their army without hindrance, law them all the damage you can, and cross the eastern of the mountains. In one of two people case, after crossing the river, girlfriend must relocate on and feel the best of Ewell’s troops, collecting information, provisions, etc.” but he had not, in fact, to be able to judge: that met numerous hindrances in the kind of Union troops, a swollen river that he and his men managed only heroically to cross, and also 150 federal wagons the he caught before he overcome the river. And also he had actually not sent out word of what he to be up to.

When top top the afternoon that the second day Stuart did show up in ~ Gettysburg, after advertise himself almost to exhaustion, Lee’s just greeting come him is claimed to have been, “Well, general Stuart, girlfriend are right here at last.” A coolly damaging cut: Lee’s way of chewing the end someone who he felt had actually let him down. In the month after Gettysburg, as Lee stewed over his defeat, he consistently criticized the laxness that Stuart’s command, deep hurting a man who prided self on the sort of dashing freelance effectiveness through which Lee’s father, Maj. Gen. Light-Horse Harry, had defined himself. A link of implicitly trust had been broken. Loving-son number had fail loving-father figure and vice versa.

In the past Lee had also granted Ewell and also Longstreet wide discretion, and also it had actually paid off. Maybe his magic in Virginia no travel. “The totality affair to be disjointed,” Taylor the aide stated of Gettysburg. “There to be an utter lack of accord in the movements of the several commands.”

Why walk Lee stake everything, finally, on one ill-considered thrust directly up the middle? Lee’s doubters have never come up through a logical explanation. Evidently the just acquired his blood up, as the expression goes. When the normally repressed Lee feel an overpowering require for emotional release, and also had an military at his disposal and another one in prior of him, the couldn’t host back. And also why must Lee expect his imprudence to be any kind of less unsettling to Meade 보다 it had actually been come the various other Union commanders?

The spot against which the hurled Pickett was right in prior of Meade’s headquarters. (Once, Dwight Eisenhower, who admired Lee’s generalship, took ar Marshal Montgomery to visit the Gettysburg battlefield. Lock looked in ~ the site of Pickett’s charge and were baffled. Eisenhower said, “The man should have obtained so mad the he want to fight that male v a brick.”)

Pickett’s troops progressed with precision, closed up the gaps the withering fire tore right into their smartly pull on ranks, and also at close quarters dealt with tooth and also nail. Acouple of hundreds Confederates did break the Union line, but only briefly. Who counted 15 bodies on a spot of ground much less than 5 feet broad and 3 feet long. It has actually been approximated that 10,500 Johnny Rebs do the charge and 5,675—roughly 54 percent—fell dead or wounded. Together a Captain Spessard charged, he experienced his boy shot dead. He laid him the end gently ~ above the ground, kissed him, and also got back to advancing.

As the minority who hadn’t been cut to ribbons streamed ago to the Confederate lines, Lee speak in splendid calm among them, apologizing. “It’s all my fault,” he assured stunned privates and also corporals. The took the moment to admonish, mildly, an officer who was beating his horse: “Don’t whip him, captain; the does no good. I had a foolish horse, once, and also kind treatment is the best.” then he resumed his apologies: “I am really sorry—the job was too good for you—but we mustn’t despond.” Shelby Foote has dubbed this Lee’s finest moment. Yet generals don’t want apologies from those in ~ them, and also that walk both ways. After midnight, the told a mounties officer, “I never ever saw troops behave an ext magnificently than Pickett’s division of Virginians. . . . ” climate he dropped silent, and also it was then the he exclaimed, as the officer later on wrote that down, “Too bad! Too bad! OH! also BAD!”

Pickett’s fee wasn’t the fifty percent of it. Completely at Gettysburg as many as 28,000 Confederates to be killed, wounded, captured, or missing: an ext than a 3rd of Lee’s entirety army. Maybe it was due to the fact that Meade and his troops were so stunned by their very own losses—about 23,000—that castle failed to go after Lee ~ above his withdrawal south, trap him versus the submarine Potomac, and also wipe his army out. Lincoln and the north press to be furious the this no happen.

For month Lee had actually been traveling v a pet hen. Supposed for the stewpot, she had won his heart by beginning his tent very first thing every morning and laying his breakfast egg under his Spartan cot. Together the military of north Virginia was breaking camp in every deliberate rate for the withdrawal, Lee’s employee ran approximately anxiously crying, “Where is the hen?” Lee himself uncovered her nestled in she accustomed clues on the wagon that transported his an individual matériel. Life goes on.

After Gettysburg, Lee never placed another murderous head-on assault. The went ~ above the defensive. Approve took end command the the east front and 118,700 men. He set out to grind Lee’s 64,000 down. Lee had actually his males well dug in. Give resolved to revolve his flank, force him into a weaker position, and also crush him.

On April 9, 1865, Lee finally had to admit that he was trapped. In ~ the start of Lee’s long, combative retreat by stages from Grant’s overpowering numbers, he had 64,000 men. By the finish they had actually inflicted 63,000 Union casualties but had been lessened themselves to fewer than 10,000.

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To be sure, there were those in Lee’s army who proposed proceeding the struggle as guerrillas or by reorganizing under the governors of the assorted Confederate states. Lee reduced off any type of such talk. He was a experienced soldier. He had seen more than sufficient of governors that would be commanders, and also he had actually no respect for ragtag guerrilladom. That told Col. Edward Porter Alexander, his pho commander, . . . The males would come to be mere bands that marauders, and the enemy’s mounties would seek them and also overrun many broad sections they might never have actually occasion to visit. We would carry on a state of work it would take the country years to recuperate from.”

“And, together for myself, girlfriend young fellows might go to bushwhacking, yet the only dignified course for me would certainly be, to go to Gen. Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences.” that is what that did ~ above April 9, 1865, at a farmhouse in the town of Appomattox Court House, attract a fulldress uniform and carrying a borrowed ceremonial knife which he did no surrender.

Thomas Morris Chester, the only black correspondent because that a major daily newspaper (the Philadelphia Press) throughout the war, had actually nothing yet scorn for the Confederacy, and also referred come Lee together a “notorious rebel.” however when Chester experienced Lee’s come in shattered, burned-out Richmond ~ the surrender, his dispatch sound a more sympathetic note. After ~ Lee “alighted native his horse, he immediately uncovered his head, thinly extended with silver- hairs, as he had done in acknowledgment of the veneration that the people along the streets,” Chester wrote. “There was a basic rush of the little crowd to shake hands with him. During these manifestations not a word to be spoken, and when the ceremony was through, the basic bowed and also ascended his steps. The silence to be then damaged by a couple of voices calling because that a speech, come which he paid no attention. The basic then passed into his house, and also the crowd dispersed.”