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From: lawrence (Dennis Lawrence)
Subject: The Lees of Virginia


I am sorry to hear the new Thomas bio does not develop a more balanced
view of Lee. I just reread the speech given by Douglass Southall Freeman at
the dedication of the refurbished Stratford Hall Plantation in 1935:

"Two years ago, the hope was expressed on this very spot that Stratford
most properly could include a library on genetics, as distinguished from
genealogy, for there is no home in America where the value of wise mating is
better exemplified than here. In the annals of the Lees for three centuries
there was only one marital scandal and, so far as I know, not one divorce.
For six generations after the emergence of the Lee family in America there
were not more than two or three instances where it could be said that the
Lees married persons who were not
of equal blood and station with themselves. The result was the steady
maintenance of the physical stamina and intellectual vigor of the stock for
generations until its perfect flowering in one of the greatest human beings
of modern times, Robert E. Lee. You have read of the jukes and the Zeroes
and of that nameless Virginia family of degenerates who have filled jails
and brothels and hospitals for the insane. When you compare with these the
is, sue of Richard Lee or of Jonathan Edwards you have the strongest
argument that could ever be advanced for prudent marriage."

Douglas Southall Freeman


Bizarre as it sounds today, this theory of eugenics reveals why
Freeman felt compelled to write the way he did about Lee and his family. And
perhps the speech was suitable for giving in front of the contributors who
had just ponied up the money to save Robert E. Lee's birthplace during the
depression, certainly outdated today.

Somewhere between Freeman's deification of the family and Thomas
Jefferson's remark that the Lees are a bunch of insects lies the real story
of the Lees of Virginia. I think their story is one of the great stories of
our country's beginning. Read _The Lee's of Virginia_ by Paul Nagel to
discover the scope of their accomplishments - and their failures. Or visit
Stratford Hall for a intimate look at this family. The staff there is
carefully guarding his memory in a dignified and truthful manner as are the
Directors of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation.

I anxiously await member Dave Eicher's work on the family.

Member Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation
Web Master Stratford Hall Web Site
(Yes, I am a little biased)

From: ajackson@oyez.law.upenn.edu (Anita Jackson-Wieck)

Hello Dennis,

I was sadly disappointed in Emory Thomas's bio, as was obvious. I
cannot imagine what prompts a serious historian to produce something like
that. Money, perhaps. Freeman may let his admiration show more than I
might wish, but he does wrestle with the big issues in most cases. And he
wrote in a time and place where it would have been more understandable to
refrain from criticizing Lee. Before Connelly and Nolan. Thomas wrote
his book while the Douglas Southall Freeman History Professor at
Richmond; perhaps he did not wish to bite the hand that fed him. Still,
the biography does nothing for Lee's memory, being such obvious pap. And
he dedicates the book to Connelly, among others!
I confess to a lingering resentment against Jack Davis for his
praise of the book in the History Book Club flyer. Another case of
biting the hand, I suppose. Caveat emptor.
I said before how much I admired David Herbert Donald's bio of
Lincoln, and it's worth reiterating here. An exemplary work. It is at
times quite arid, but that is far preferable to what Thomas wrought.
And, of course, both Lee and Lincoln were at Gettysburg, and in
the same year.
David Wieck

From: "James F. Epperson" <epperson@s10.math.uah.edu>
Date: Fri, 1 Mar 1996 11:22:01 -0600 (CST)
I am afraid I am going to have to speak out in favor of the Emory Thomas
biography of Lee. It is not nearly as fawning or hagiographic as
Freeman's work, it does have terrible maps, and the treatment of some
military issues does suffer from an occasional odd choice of sources
(Robert Krick as almost the sole source on Gettysburg, for example), but
it is still a good character study.

We need to keep in mind that Thomas is not a military historian, but a
Southern historian. It was not his intent to write a military biography
of Lee so much as to write a biography of a man who happened to be a
military officer.

Personal note: I used to teach at the University of Georgia and I knew
Thomas casually. So I cannot claim to be entirely objective. I like the
man; hell, he occasionally bought the beer!

Jim Epperson

From: jeff beckner <jbeckner@finan.com>

Man, I swear -- although I have great respect for Freeman's talents and
find his work valuable, his being star-struck with Lee and the ANV was
always a bit difficult to swallow. However, this genetics business at
Stratford opens up a whole new universe of swooning over the Old
Dominion. This nonsense has ruined my whole Friday afternoon. Gag.

It is certainly true that those officers who took great care not to
waste the lives of their men were greatly beloved by them. Why then is Lee
the most beloved of all civil war generals? He, after all is the man
responsible for the disaster of July 3rd. Is it because generals who bring
victories, such as Lee did so often, are even more beloved by the fighting
Any thoughts on this by the group?


From: nikki@postoffice.ptd.net (Nikki Roth-Skiles)

nikki@postoffice.ptd.net (Nikki Roth-Skiles) says:

This is something I have always wondered about and something I have read on
other lists - why IS Lee so beloved - even to this day and even after the
Battle of Gettysburg where so many say he made bad errors in judgment?
There are many people who to this day will not hear a bad word mentioned
about Lee. Why are people so adamant in their opinions? Why did so many
follow his orders even when they knew he may be sending them to their
deaths? Please feel free to answer me on e-mail as this may not be
appropriate for the Gettysburg group.
Nikki (nikki@postoffice.ptd.net)

From: Steve Haas <Steveh@worldnet.att.net>

Steve Haas <Steveh@worldnet.att.net> says:
Lee was the symbol for the South. He was the epitome of a Southern
Gentleman. His ancestry was impeccable, including some of the most
influential and oldest of the old Virginian families; including both George
Washington and Light Horse Harry Lee, of Revolutionary War fame.

That would be enough. However, in addition HE HIMSELF was an impeccable
individual. His reputation prior to the war was nationwide, and, during the
war, he and his army, composed largely of Virginians, became the symbol of
the hope of the South. His string of victories in the early part of the war
was the only bright hope the South ever had. His final defeat was an almost
religious experience for the South, representing the loss of hope of final

Hope that gives some ideas...I'm sure others will supply others.

Steve Haas

From: nikki@postoffice.ptd.net (Nikki Roth-Skiles)

nikki@postoffice.ptd.net (Nikki Roth-Skiles) says:

I should have been a little more clear - I personally KNOW why Lee is so
beloved - I feel that way about him - I am looking for reasons why others
feel this way - and maybe for a little insight into why I feel so adamant in
my own opinions. It is the personal view I am looking for. I have seen some
intense letters over defense of Lee for just about anything - even Gettysburg.



Two points: Lee became a legend in the 1880's when the Virginia
influence came to be so pronounced in the Confederate Veteran magazine. Part
of the Lee reputation is the deliberate creation of his supporters in that time
period when veterans were beginning to publish their memoirs, some of which
were not complimentary of Lee. Second, Lee's behavior as a college president
and his general demeanor in defeat enhanced his standing even among the men of
the western armies who had never fought under Lee.

R D Winthrop <am0149@mail.arrownet.com> says:

Not to mention Pollard's LOST CAUSE, etc.
The point is true enough, but sjould not obscure the unusual reverence
which troops displayed for Lee on the Orange Plank Road at the Wilderness,
amonmg other places. That the reverence was a). unusual and b). arose during
the war (yes, it continued to grow postwar and did seem to assume a life of
its own) is clear.

Now, it need only be explained!

Regards - R D Winthrop

May I add that my g-g-grandfather fought under Lee, 7th TN Vol,
Archer's Brigade, Heth's Div., Hill's Corps(earlier Jackson's Corps) and that
he had a very high opinion of Lee. He was a Presbyterian minister and, in
later years, often said "Lee is almost a member of the Trinity."

deicher@astronomy.com (Dave Eicher) says:


>>Two points: Lee became a legend in the 1880's when the Virginia
influence came to be so pronounced in the Confederate Veteran magazine. Part
of the Lee reputation is the deliberate creation of his supporters in that time
period when veterans were beginning to publish their memoirs, some of which
were not complimentary of Lee. Second, Lee's behavior as a college president
and his general demeanor in defeat enhanced his standing even among the men of
the western armies who had never fought under Lee.<<

Actually, Lee's reputation, which had blossomed substantially during the
final year of the war to the point where Lee and his army "represented the
Confederacy itself," skyrocketed in mythological terms in the 1870s,
beginning in earnest almost immediately after Lee's death. The important,
detailed thrust of the Lee revisionism came not from the CV but from Jubal
Early, J. William Jones, and others chiefly in the pages of the Southern
Historical Society Papers (SHSP).

A mass of literature exists on these issues, including recent and
relatively recent studies by Gary Gallagher, Gaines Foster, Alan Nolan,
James McPherson, and the late Tom Connelly.

But in the pages of the SHSP and in many other works from the 1870s through
the early 1900s - such as Fitz Lee's *General Lee*, George Cary
Eggleston's *A Rebel's Recollections*, J. William Jones' *Army of Northern
Virginia Memorial Volume*, the same author's *Life and Letters of Gen.
Robert E. Lee*, and Long and Wright's *Memoirs of General Robert E. Lee*
- one can trace the transformation of Lee from human to superhuman.

Very balanced and thoughtful reflections on the Lee mythology exist in two
new books: Gallagher's *Lee the Soldier* and McPherson's *Drawn with the

- Dave

Tom_Desjardin@nps.gov (Tom Desjardin) says:

Nikki -

There are a few good short books which may help you understand
what historians call the "Lost Cause Myth," and how Lee's image
became so important to the South.

The Marble Man by Thomas Connelly

God & Gen. Longstreet by Thomas Connelly

Baptized in Blood: Religion and the Lost Cause by ??

All of these are in cheap paperback form ($9.95 or so) and are
very fascinating explanations about the psychology (or sociology)
of the southern people in the post-war years. This is really
fascinating stuff about how people deal with and process events.

Tom Desjardin
Gettysburg, NMP

Steve Florman <florm001@maroon.tc.umn.edu> says:

Although I agree that the Lee legend was enhanced after his death as
ex-Confederates "refought" the war among themselves, there is substantial
period evidence, both personal and anecdotal, that Lee was loved and revered
by his men and Southern civilians both during and immediately after the war.
"It's not your fault" at Gettysburg, "Lee to the rear!" at the Wilderness,
and "We love you" at Appomattox come to mind. Someone (Nikki, maybe)
mentioned earlier that this was partly due to his having led his army
repeatedly to victory, which is no doubt true; he also seems, however, to
have been that sort of magnetic individual who comes to be loved by those
with whom he comes in contact.

He had a very high reputation in the prewar US Army, and his family was of
course prominent - since "the Virginia influence" has been around in the
South since well before the War, the prominent scion of an FFV could not
help but draw some attention. It speaks to his character that most, if not
all, of the attention was essentially positive. He seems to have been able
to combine integrity and competence in a very effective manner.
Steve Florman

From: deicher@astronomy.com (Dave Eicher)

The last title is: *Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause,
1865-1920* by Charles Reagan Wilson (256 pp., University of Georgia Press,
Athens, 1983)

One can't ignore Alan Nolan's *Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and
Civil War History* (231 pp., University of North Carolina Press, Chapel
Hill, 1991)
as well; or,

*Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of
the New South, 1865 to 1913* by Gaines M. Foster (306 pp., Oxford
University Press, New York, 1987)

- Dave

"James F. Epperson" <epperson@s10.math.uah.edu> says:

(1) Good to see Steve Florman here.

(2) While I agree with much of what Steve says, I seem to dimly recall
that in THE MARBLE MAN, Connelly presents some material which suggests
that Lee's reputation in the 1865-1870 period was non-trivially lower
than it came to be, and that he in fact was not viewed as the CSA's best
commander by some folks (Jackson being the common alternate choice).

nikki@postoffice.ptd.net (Nikki Roth-Skiles) says:

Thanks for the info - the books have been read as have many others. I DO
understand the Lost Cause Myth. I think what I am looking for everyone is
overlooking. I guess I really wonder why people are so adamant in how they
feel - even today. On what do they base their opinions? Lee was beloved
before the end of the war - some of his men would have followed him to hell
if he had asked - look at the ill-fated charge of July 3 - and even after
Gettysburg and the bad decisions made there. Do people today such as
yourselves base their opinions of Lee on what they have really learned of
him or on the lost cause books? Do they really know Lee or do they admire a
myth - which by the way was greatly enhanced by the Battle of Gettysburg
despite the loss? That I attribute to the old sociology thing which says
people becaome more human when they make mistakes and admit they have done so.

I know the lost cause supposedly contributed to his godlike status, but I do
feel many early works were honest. If indeed the lost cause myth is a
reality - then why did so many feel so intensely about Lee that they would
write as they did just in defense of a cause - or was it maybe just because
they cared about him?

I distrust the newer so called "truth on the myth" books because we are
living in a period of revisionism - and the "true history" of the Civil War
is changing with each new "truth" book. For some reason, historians today
believe they know the motives of those in the past better than those in the
past knew their own motives. We are placing today's standards on men who
lived in a different time and age - at a time when the things we deride
today were a way of life and acceptable. We are also basing a lot on our
perceptions of what others "meant" with what they said and wrote. How do WE
know why they wrote or said what they did unless they told us? Most didn't
tell us - so do we accept it as truth or judge someone's modern opinion of
why it was said?


deicher@astronomy.com (Dave Eicher) says:

You're absolutely right, Nikki. In their quest to inject excitement and
"newness" into their studies (necessary attributes for successful book
contracts), many writers, even many scholarly ones, arrogantly step over
the line in their interpretations and assert things they could not possibly
know as fact. One would think that not only were they present in the room
with Lee or whomever but had administered sodium pentothol to boot.
Unfortunately you need to selectively ignore various aspects of otherwise
outstandingly researched and written books because the author insisted on
concocting a "psychoportrait" or whatever. Nowhere is this better
exemplified than with Gettysburg topics and individuals.

The only way around it is to sift through the mass of literature and
determine by the preponderance of the evidence who has relatively good
credibility and who doesn't.

As the worthwhile recent books have shown us, revisionism is hardly a
modern invention - it was occurring on paper even as the war raged on.

- Dave

lawrence@tyrell.net (Dennis Lawrence) says:


Lee would be the first to put a stop to the deification of his
memory. He was a very private man. So private that it is hard to see the
man. _The Marble Man's _ thesis is NOT that Lee WAS a marble man, but that
those who came after him chiseled his memory so.

The deification has made it hard to see the human Lee, and the best
way to see this Lee is to read his own words to his family. _The War Time
Papers of Robert E. Lee_ contain many messages to his wife, children and
friends. These reveal a little of the personal anguish he went through
during the war.

To his daughter Annie - March 2, 1862

My Precious Annie:

It has been a long time since I have written you, but you have been
constantly in my thoughts. I think of you all separately and collectively
in the busy hours of the day and the silent hours of the night, & my anxious
thoughts drive away sleep. But I always feel that you & Agnes at those
times are sound and happy as you can be & that is immaterial to either
whether the blockaders are or what their progress in the river. I hope you
are all well & happy as can be in these perilous times to our country. They
look dark at present and it is plain we have not sufered enough, labored
enough, repented enough to deserve success. But they will brighten after
awhile, & I hope that a merciful God will arouse us to a sense of danger,
bless our honest eforts, & drive back our enemies to their homes....

Give much to your mother, Charlotte, Agnes, Mary, & the boys, among
who is included my grandson. I received a letter from Precious Life (
Mildred) the other day. She is well but in a starving position from her own
account, poor child, yet fattening. I hope it is not as bad as that, but you
must tell her not to be particular in her own diet, but eat everything
before her. It is not necessary for young ladies to become etherial to grow
wise. She moans after Tom (her cat left at Arlington) & knows he is alive &
that his precious heart will break if he doesn't see her soon. I shall have
to get General Johnston to send in a flag of truce & make inquiries. I hope
you girls are all learning to be useful & have entered into domestic
manufactures. Take separate departments & prepare fabric or it will end in
destitution. Has my poor little Agnes recovered from he neuralgia? I hope
her disease is not catching. Goodbye my dear child. May God bless you &
our poor country.

Your devoted father
R.E. Lee

Charlotte - married to his son Rooney - dies during the war as does
their son - the grandson referred to above. Rooney himself was imprisoned
during the war. R.E. Lee's daughter, Annie, to whom this letter is
addressed, dies in the fall of 1862. Lee's wife was a virtual invalid
causing him much concern ande guilt at his absence.

On top of this personal anguish was his obligation to fulfill the
impossible terms of the father-in-law's will who died in 1857. The $10,000
promised to each of the four daughters could not be raised when the land was
ravaged and seized during the war. As for the slaves of his father-in-law,
Robert E. Lee was under bond to free them all, which he did.

Take Care

Victor Vernon <vicv@voicenet.com> says:

Dennis Lawrence wrote:
> Charlotte - married to his son Rooney - dies during the war as does
> their son - the grandson referred to above. Rooney himself was imprisoned

Please tell the FULL story of Charlotte's death. Unless you do not wish
to expose Lincoln for what he was.


James F. Epperson wrote:> OK, Vic, you obviously have something in mind here, go ahead and tell
> us. Let me guess: Charlotte was ill, Rooney had been wounded and later
> captured, and then was selected as a hostage for one of two Federal
> officers who had been threatened with being hanged by the Rebels (i.e.,
> the Rebels had threatened to hang two Yankees, so Rooney and another CS
> officer were designated for retribution should the threat be carried
> out). Since Charlotte was dying, efforts were made by Lee's family to
> get him exchanged in time to return to her side. These efforts were to
> no avail and she died while Rooney was still in prison. Rooney was
> eventually exchanged.
> Lincoln's only involvement was to order that two men be selected as
> hostage should the Rebels carry out their threat to hang men. What else
> was he supposed to do? Let the enemy hang officers serving in his army?
> I frankly don't see anything wrong here. War is not a risk-free game,
> with favors routinely granted to the other side.
> Jim Epperson | I would like to see truthful
> Department of Mathematical Sciences | history written --
A semi-pertinent quote, via Old Abe: "I sincerely wish that war were a
pleasanter business than it is, but it does not admit of holidays."

Dennis' post of yesterday makes an excellent point about Lee's probable
amazement with his deification. I think he would be shocked. In addition to
*The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee*, superb personal correspondence can be
found in Capt. Rob Lee's *Recollections and Letters of General Robert E.
Lee* (Doubleday and Page, New York, 1904, reprinted many times; and Agnes
Lee's *Growing Up in the 1850s* (ed. Mary Custis Lee deButts, University of
North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1984). The personal correspondence is
obviously far more revealing on a multitude of levels that Lee's rather
stiff reports and military correspondence, and his highly reverential
dispatches to Jefferson Davis.

Not only did the incidents occur with Rooney and Charlotte, as well as Mary
Custis Lee's terrible plague of rheumatic disorders, but Lee himself was
frequently ill with colds and rheumatism himself (for a crisp summary, see
Jack Welsh's *Medical Histories of Confederate Generals*, Kent State
University Press, 1995). He became particularly sickly during the last year
of the war, took to routinely using houses rather than tents as
headquarters sites, appeared markedly older, and seemed in fuzzier mental
condition than he had previously, to a wide variety of friends and
associates. The mild alarm some family and staff members felt was
compounded by the fact that during the period Lee's beard and hair both
turned white from the previous gray-white.

Attributing all this hardship to Abraham Lincoln, however, is a just a l i
t t l e bit of a stretch (!)

- Dave

nikki@postoffice.ptd.net (Nikki Roth-Skiles) says:

I believe there are many facets to Robert E. Lee as a person that when
brought together give a better understanding of the kind of man he was. I
try to look at his decision to turn down command of the Union army as a very
personal decision based upon whether he wanted to lead an invading army upon
his home, family and friends. In choosing to defend his state, he was
choosing those he cared about and the place he called home. Many people
forget that Lee's sister, Anne Lee Marshall, and her family, as well as
other members of the Lee family, supported the Union cause. Anne's son,
Louis, was an officer in the Union army serving on Pope's staff.

The first thing lost as a result of his decision to lead the Army of
Virginia was their home and the family lived virtually as nomads throughout
the war.
Lee continued correspondence with his family, writing to his wife and
daughters, taking seriously everything where he felt a decision should be
made. As with any other person who has the type of responsibilities Lee had
involving the Confederacy, he also had a family who needed him, including a
wife who became more crippled everyday. His daughter, Annie, died of
typhoid fever in 1862. His grandson and namesake, son of Rooney and Chass
Lee, also died in 1862. In 1863, Rooney's wife died.

Lee was a religious man - and a moral man based on the values of the time.
Sometimes one can wonder about whether he may have philandered due to Mary's
illness, but he was so open with her on his friendships with other women
that it remains an enigma in my mind. He was definitely a devoted parent
and always did what he felt was best for his children - even if it was
scolding. I believe he was kind, a gentleman, carried himself extremely
well and did remain calm in the eye of the storm - making decisions that
needed to be made. If one reads some of his letters home, one realizes he
believed God had given them more blessings than hardships to bear.

Up until Gettysburg, Lee did feel his army was the best - after all, they
had just come from Chancellorsville with another win under their belts! Now
at Gettysburg, Lee believes they can do it again - and for whatever reasons
he made the decisions (not a topic for now), his army lost. Stunned and
defeated, Lee still manages to pull his army together for the retreat south.
In his heart, Lee has to know the end is coming. He leaves behind
unbelieveable devastation and death, and he now knows he made mistakes. Yet
what does Lee do? He doesn't crawl under a rock and hide. He pulls his army
back together, and leads them on. Personally, I would like to know what
this shows about Lee - what kind of a man is he, who can deal with all that
was given and still lead on? Does this in some way show us what his men may
have felt toward him? This is what I personally see in Lee - a man who was
human just like we are. Not just the General of the ANV, but the man who
led an army and still maintained his family; survived many personal losses
and still believed he had more blessings than hardships; lost a war for his
home - no matter what the war was about - and went back and tried to help
rebuild and heal.

I think to understand Lee, you have to look at him as a person. Too many
times we look to what a man was like as an officer or leader and forget that
what he is like as a person is more evident in the ordinary.


mosby@nando.net says:

The problem with all this discussion about Lee as a "traitor" is
that secession was an unsettled question at the time. How can it be
treasonous to support the legitimate secession of your home state
from a group of states? Today, it clearly would be treason. In 1865,
there was much debate, and there had in fact been an earlier movement
in New England (around 1814?) indicating a belief in the right to

As historians, we should be very careful not to toss around words like
"treason" to describe people whose thoughts and actions we can only
struggle to understand. Lee was clearly guilty of violating an oath; whether
that constituted treason is a much more complicated question which
perhaps no one on this list is really qualified to address.

Sean Dail
Raleigh, N.C.

deicher@astronomy.com (Dave Eicher) says:

>LlDdd@aol.com says:
>My read on Lee is that this is not an either/or issue. Lee could be a
>"traitor" and a "hero" (my conclusion is that he was both). These are not
>mutually exclusive events. In other words, this is not a black or white
>issue. In reviewing Lee you must take the emotion out and look at the facts.
>The facts have been covered quite extensively by the group over the last
>several days.

I agree, and it may sound ridiculous to propose, but I think that treason
in Lee's case is a clear and obvious description of the legal violation of
his oath, but does not at all prevent his heroism as a Confederatre officer
nor cast a moral judgment against him, nor downplay the sincere sense of
honor he felt in staying with Virginia. (Remember he was against secession
until it was clear that Virginia would secede as well).

To support this, I will say that I am in the midst of a detailed book
project on Lee that will cast him generally in a highly favorable light,
and my collaborators include Lee's great-grandson (and Rooney Lee's

I wish that we could find it in ourselves to discuss controversial or
difficult issues without reacting so severely to them or seeing things in
exaggerated shades of contrast -all black or all white. History is colored
gray, and issues are far more complex and less polarized than we often tend
to believe. (And they are more interesting that way, too.)

And with that, in agreement and sympathy with Bill Cameron's plea, I will
say no more on the subject.

- Dave

rank@thirdwave.net (Richard Rollins) says:

On April 5 Tom Desjardin posted
>As to traitors, I think it is perfectly clear that Lee was indeed a
>traitor by almost every definition of the word. He did, after all, lead an
>army against the U.S. Government. As to Jefferson, Washington, et al. they
>too, were traitors by definition as they organized an effort to fight
>against the government of England. I would be willing to bet that each of
>these men would clearly admit that they were traitors Lee, Washington,

The point is - so what? Obviously, there are times in history when being a
traitor against a government one disapproves of is considered heroic. The
term does not necessarily always have a negative connotation.
>but WE MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER that these are people we are discussing. They
>had the same human flaws that each of us has and were affected by their
>society and culture as much as any one of their time.

I couldn't agree with you more. Even more to the point, each of us must
decide: are we here to celebrate someone, or to understand why he did what
he did, and of what significance his actions might have been. Lee and most
of his peers were racists. How important is that fact, and how did it shape
the Civil War? White Southerners could not see the contradiction of their
freedom being in some ways dependent upon black slavery. Most modern
Americans cannot see beyond it. The difference is a measure of our
distance from them. The fact that both generations were blinded by it
should be a warning to anyone trying to understand the past: they were
not us; they lived and thought differntly than we do.

Norman Levitt <njlevitt@math.rutgers.edu> says:

I'm surprised about the delicacy of feeling that surrounds Lee, even in
this group. The question that mystifies me is why it's so hard to study
the CW, especially for Americans, without making up a list of Heroes and
Villains, and attaching very strong feelings to them. For my own part,
when I first started studying Gettysburg seriously, I regarded
Chamberlain as a major hero--largely on the basis of the Ken Burns
series. It's a view I've since abandoned for a number of reasons,
including a sense of the complexity of the man, whose characteristics
included considerable vanity and a strong, sometimes slightly ridiculous,
authoritarian streak.

What, exactly, are the characteristics that lead some of us to impute
superhuman characteristics to at least some of the men on the field at
Gettysburg (or elsewhere)?

First of all, there's the question of simple physical courage. But in
that case, it would be quite difficult to setle on one or two or several
figures, since physical couarage was close to ubiquitous among the
officers--it was a sine qua non of command--and, it goes without saying,
among most of the enlisted men as well. Sickles, everyone's favorite bad
guy, had as much raw guts as any of them--witness his insistence of
remaing on the field cooly smoking a cigar after his leg had been all but
shot off.

Secondly, there's the question of military competence. But here things
get a bit blurry. Meade, who outgeneraled Lee on this occasion, and was
never really outgeneraled by him, is still, so far as I can see, no one's
big-time hero. Moreover, there's an element of luck. Had, say,
Longstreet or Hood or McLaws done something idiotic on July 2, and had
Sickles been quick to take advantgae of it, then old Dan would have a
secure reputation as a brilliant commander, a man of great foresight and
decisiveness for his initiative in making the move to the Peach Orchard,
etc. Similarly, had McClellan refused to be bluffed in front of
Richmond, Lee would never have had the chance to become anything but a
marginal figure and a footnote. As it stands, most of the men who count
as "heroic" on the basis of military effectiveness --Lee, Forest, Sheridan,
Jackson, Grant, etc. --deserve it, on average, although none of them is
beyond criticism, and Lee, in particular, had shortcomings as a
large-scale strategic thinker that may well be viewed as fatal to his cause.

Finally, there's the question of "moral" qualities, beyond simple
courage. This is a shadowy but important business. It involves
perception as much as fact--and not only the perception of contemporaries
and comrades. Philosophically (if I may essay such a term in this group)
one has to distinguish between "reputation"--what gets perceived, under
a given culture as "Virtuous"--and the inner and authentic realm of moral
sentiment--admittedly, a difficult matter to discern.

Lee's stature, I think, arises from his "moral" qualities, but (here I
invite flame) in the first sense, rather than the second. He was, in
terms of his time and culture, a thoroughgoing gentlemen, with a
limitless capacity for self-control and tact, as well as an instinct for
presenting himself to his colleagues and subordinates as a paragon of
these virtues. In other words, he had a capacity for avoiding the
displays of petulance, paranoia, vanity, and childishness that were
common in men under stressful and difficult circumstances.

On the other hand, in terms of "inner" and more abiding moral qualities,
the picture is much darker. Lee was a resolutely conventional man,
fanatically loyal to his class and its privileges, not particularly
anguished by its deep moral contradictions. He was, for a fact, an
oathbreaker in his relations with the United States government--and a
wily and underhanded one, as well. Nolan's book makes this clear beyond
dispute. The "country" to which he was loyal was one in which he, his
family, and their circle, were, inevitably, the top dogs. He had, so far
as I can see, nothing resembling a universal moral vision--merely a
conventional, high-church religiosity. It's anachronistic to worry
about whether he was "racist"; but certainly, he was not possessed of a
moral compass that directed him to agonize over the issues of his time
that we have come to recognize as having, ultimately, the greatest moral

Lee was, in sum, a man whose military acumen and personal demeanor
inevitably evoked reverence from men who were, let's face it, in a
continual state of anxiety and who were under unrelenting pressure to
find some rationalization for the hardship and danger they endured for
years. But that, in the cool light of history, and the probing of
genuine moral concern, leaves him far short of "heroic" stature, at least
so far as I'm concerned. Purely personally, if I were to nominate a
"hero" at Gettysburg, it would be Oliver Howard, despite his grim fortune
as a general on this occasion. The reason, simply, is that he seems to
me to be a far larger moral figure than Lee (or damn near anyone else on
the field).

Beyond that, I won't name my heroes, who have little to do with the Civil
War, as it happens.

I'll conclude with a plea for all of us to be a little less obsessed with
ultimate "heroism", while esteeming the people we study for their good
qualities, of which courage was the most common, and remembering that
damn near all of them (including Lee) were, on occasion, fools or knaves.

Expecting gouts of flame I remain
Yr. very humble & obdt. srvt.

Norman Levitt