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Thread: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

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    Default A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Lee is regarded, perhaps, more than any other general, as the greatest general of the civil war. In almost ever poll he is either first or second. I don't deny he was a brilliant general and deserves his name and much of his reputation. However I believe his shortcoming are often not spoken of and he at times is given the credit of others.

    Virginia my Home

    “His mind and heart were attended only to the armies of northern Virginia. Inability to remove his attention from Virginia”
    -E Merton Coulter The Confederate States of America


    To Lee the most important thing that mattered in the confederacy was his home state of Virginia. This hurt the rest of the confederacy's cause and defense. Lee would not be a good commander of all a nations forces like Grant excelled at, as his focus was with Virginia. Davis wanted Lee to take command in Tennessee for the Chickamgua offensive when Virginia was not under threat. Lee rejected and even did not want to send any of his force away to reinforce Bragg for the needed offensive.

    “Lee was a department commander..he constantly opposed any transfer of troops out of his command and contently agitated for their return”
    -Steven E Woodworth Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns University of Nebraska press 1998


    Finally Davis was able to pry Longstreet and 2 divisions from Virginia to help with the offensive in Tennessee. However the delay caused by Lee's objections caused the Virginians to arrive late to the battle and almost cost the south the victory and may have allowed Rosecrans to escape. Know this downfall of Lee caring for his home state may seem less important as Virginia and Richmond were the most vital areas of the confederacy to defend, for sure this played a part in Lee's thinking. However had Lee been from North Carolina it may have taken him almost out of the war. So by chance it lessons the criticism of him. However Lee almost nullified a great advantage the south had. Interior lines and the ability to quickly maneuver troops from Virginia to Tennessee and back. Because Lee was always asking for more troops in Virginia and to weaken forces elsewhere, while not allowing his forces to leave and help elsewhere. This may have hurt the rest of the confederacy.

    The Army of Northern Virginia

    Lee had the best army the confederacy could muster under him. What made this army better than the other confederate armies is not simply Lee, but the army as a whole. Yes Lee was the south's best army commander but the army in Virginia got first dibs on weapons, supply, as well as generals. This made the army under him more productive than other confederate commanders had. No northern army would have the talent of commanders under their commander as Lee enjoyed. Thus credit should be spread around the army not just its commander. I also believe Lee was the best defensive general of the war. The fact that he generally fought defensive battles makes him appear a better general than he was since it played into his strength. He could not win a major attacking battle after Jackson was gone. The confederates also had shown they could beat a larger army at Bull Run before Lee was in command.

    Lee's Strategy

    Lee's overall strategy of meeting the enemy strength head on in large battles looking for a decisive victory turned out to be a bad idea for the south. The manpower and material of the north was such that made this strategy unsuccessful. Had Lee adopted a strategy like Jackson of hitting the enemy where they are weak and outmaneuvering strategically, more so than tactically, it would have served the south better and conserved its manpower.

    Lee in Western Virginia

    “Outwitted, outmaneuvered and outgeneraled,"
    -Richmond Examiner


    Many think Lee's first action was as commander of the army of northern Virginia. However Lee's first action of the civil war ended in defeat in western Virginia at Cheat Mountain in September of 1861. Lee performed terribly, and after was sent to South Carolina to build fortifications. The Richmond press described the Lee's campaign as being timid, and building trenches instead of fighting. He was called “Granny Lee” King of spades” and the “Great entrencher.”

    Lee Takes Command

    “Lee upheld the defense of Richmond as an absolute priority...its integrity was the foundation of his strategic and tactical outlook. His hallmark audacity and daring offensive tactics were built upon the imperative that the enemy be kept away from Richmond”
    -Thomas J Rowland George B McClellan and civil war History


    Davis replaced Joe Johnston after being inured in the Peninsula campaign with his than military adviser Robert E Lee. Lee saved Richmond, but by direct frontal assaults against defensive terrain. Near the end of the 7 days campaign Lee ordered an attack on Mavern hill that was unneeded as the federals were already in retreat, and Lee could have flanked the position and forced its retreat. Instead he took 5,600 losses in the attack. Lee could have went along with Jackson's plan or reinforcing the valley to take the offensive, and move towards D.C and pull McClellan from the peninsula without direct frontal assaults, and accomplish the same thing that cost the south 20,000 men.

    Second Bull Run

    “Much of Lee's success was due to the skills of James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson”
    -David G Martin The Second Bull Run Campaign


    Second Bull Run was a great victory but it was Jackson that deserves the most credit. Jackson got behind Pope, destroyed his rail and supply, prevented any reinforcements from D.C and drew Pope into attacking him. He than defended for two days from pope attacks and set up the battlefield perfect for Lee to win the fight. Lee even resisted not wanting to engage, but finally when conditions were to good to pass up, he attacked. His delayed attack allowed Popes army to escape at nightfall. All the heavy work was done by Jackson and tactically by Longstreet flanking attack, Lee almost negated it and prevented a decisive victory by not attacking sooner. Union general George Gordon said “It was fortunate that Jackson was not in command of the confederate forces” who would have attacked with Longstreet on day 1.

    Antietam

    Davis had wanted to appear to Europe as only defending and wished not to invade so as to gain their support. Without permission from Davis Lee decided to invade into Maryland despite that, as he admitted to Davis, his army was in no shape for an invasion. ¼ of the army deserted before the battle due to lack of supply, food and exhaustion. Than despite being outnumbered 87,000 to 47,000 Lee set up his army in front of a river that could have led to disaster had he lost the battle. After the heavy fighting that ended in a tactical draw, the next day Lee chose to stay on the field even though all his commanders said they could not hold against another attack. Lee's first invasion had been stopped and he returned to Virginia. With the loss Lee cost the south any chance of European reorganization and with it, perhaps the best chance the south had for independence.

    Fredircksburg

    At fredircksburg Burnside actually had the upper hand on Lee. He left his position and reached the opposite side of Fredricksburg without Lee noticing he was gone. However his pontoons were not up yet so he could not cross. Lee was known to anticipate his enemies moves, but admitted to Davis he was unsure of Burnsides intentions at this moment. Butlers buildup and the delay from the pontoons made his plan clear, Lee was than able to react with his army and fight from a very advantageous position.

    Chancellorsville

    “Hookers flanking movement had caught Lee off guard”
    --David G Martin The Chancellorsville Campaign


    This time it was Hooker who got the step on Lee. Hooker “stole a march” and was able to maneuver 70,000 men across a river and got on Lee's flank without his knowledge. Hookers men and commanders were jubilant and predicted either a complete victory, or the inglorious and know dangerous retreat of Lee's army back to Richmond. The only other option as they saw it was for Lee to attack Hooker on the defensive that they believed would destroy Lee's army. Never had been the union army in a better position to destroy Lee than know. Lee was simply out of options.

    “This is splendid... we are on Lees flank and he does does not know it”
    -George Meade

    “God almighty will not be able to prevent the destruction of the rebel army...The rebel army is now the legitimate property of the army of the Potomac”
    -”Fighting Joe” Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac


    However Lee would be saved from defeat by one of his talented commanders Stonewall Jackson. Lee sent an outnumbered Jackson to meet the flanking force and defend. But Stonewall would alter the course of the battle by attacking the flanking army of Hooker putting the federals on the defensive. This enabled Jackson to than conduct his know famous flanking maneuver around Hooker and turn what could have been a disastrous defeat, into yet another victory for Lee.

    “[Jackson] Transformed a desperate situation for the confederacy into an opportunity for a great victory”
    -David G Martin The Chancellorsville Campaign


    For Jackson's maneuver he took 26,000 men and left Lee with just 14,000 to face Hookers 75,000 in front of Lee. Clearly Lee was desperate and handed the battle over to Jackson and the fate of his army. Jackson yet again won Lee a victory.

    “I congratulate you upon the victory. Which is due to your skill and energy”
    -Robert E Lee Letter to Stonewall in the Hospital

    “Could I have directed events, I should have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead”
    -Robert E Lee letter to Jackson in hospital


    Vicksburg/Gettysburg

    Lee's best know failure was at Gettysburg. Instead of doing as Davis thought best, to send a force from Virginia to relive Vicksburg to save the 29,000 or so confederates trapped within, manpower the south could not lose. Lee's concern was of Virginia and its farmland and he convinced Davis of an invasion into the north. Lee's invasion was simply to get the enemy army in the open and destroy it where he could take advantage of a victory on northern soil that he could not have done in Virginia while giving Virginian farmers a rest while collecting supply in the north. So instead of capturing a major northern city or doing damage to the war capacity of the north, Lee's aim was the federal army only, its strength not its weakness. Had Lee followed Longstreet and Jackson's [before his death] plans of a strategic offensive invasion while a defensive tactical battle. By getting to a point such as a major city/ rail and forcing the enemy to attack on ground of the defenders. It would have most likely ended with a confederate victory. I believe at this point Lee and many others may very well have thought his army invincible and attacking could potentially bring about a major victory. Lee wanted to end the war.

    Because of this Lee's first mistake was to actually march his men south to meet the enemy near Gettysburg somewhat tiring some of his troops for the battle. The confederates were well supplied and Lee had a large army at his command. The federal army of the Potomac morale was at its lowest point. 40,000 men had deserted between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and they had yet another commander George Meade. Yet over three days of intense fighting Lee could not dislodge Meade. The lowest point for Lee came when he ordered the know famous Pickett's charge on day 3 over open ground, while every federal gun could have a clear shot. The battle was a disaster and Lee lost around 28,000 men to causalities. Combined with the loss of the Vicksburg garrison of near equal amount, Lee's decision to invade cost the south its ability to take the offensive in Virginia and greatly reduced national morale and its ability to resits further federal invasions in 64 before the elections.

    Spread the Blame Around?

    “All this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight”
    -Robert E Lee


    Some say the battle was not Lee's fault and put the blame on a mix of Longstreet, Ewell or Stuart. Perhaps some of that might be justified. However ultimately the responsibility goes to the commander. What made a good civil war commander was not just making great plans for battle, it was how a commander could react to unseen circumstances and failures that came up. Ewell should have taken Culps Hill and Cemetery Hill on day 1 that was a victory for the south. However Lee told Ewell only to take the hills “if practicable” as he was use to with the aggressive Jackson who would than do the job. So blame should be placed on both and not Ewell alone. Also Lee was still handed Gettysburg on day 2 and Ewell did not force his actions from than on, Lee was in command and decided to attack a more murmurous defender on the high ground.

    Lee encouraged generals to act on their own when they saw advantages and Stuart as well was given loose orders on raiding and was simply on one of his raids that Lee had encouraged before. Stuart was not “out for glory” and fulfilled his commands the best way he could given the circumstances. However two couriers Stuarts sent did not reach Lee. He left Lee multiple cavalry brigades and Lee did not use them as he should have as he came to trust Stuart only. Lee was given intelligence of the presence of union Calvary at Gettysburg with infantry likely behind and decided to move on anyways. Lee simply believed he could combine his force faster than he could to Gettysburg, for an offensive.

    Longstreet is blamed for his delayed attack on day 2. However slow acting commanders is something every army commander had to deal with. Ultimately the blame should be spread around to all with the majority resting on Lee the army commanders over confidence and aggression. To show this was true Lee offered his resignation on return to Virginia.

    Lee vs Grant

    Wilderness

    During the battle of the wilderness Longstreet was injured preparing for a surprise flank on the federals. Lee did not trust Longstreet inexperience replacement Anderson to accomplish the flanking maneuver, so Lee instead ordered and tactically controlled a frontal assault on fortified union lines. These attacks failed and were repulsed with heavy losses. Had Longstreet's flanking maneuver been carried out by Lee or Anderson, the Wilderness may very well have been a major defeat for the union and severed there supply line forcing a retreat.

    Spotsyvania

    During the battles Grant, not Lee was able to maintain the intuitive, besides minor attack on Grants flanks that caused no real change to the battle by Lee. At one point Lee thought Grant was retreating from the Muleshoe and removed the artillery as he thought there was no longer a threat to the area. This allowed the major union success and breakthrough at the Muleshoe where federals captured thousands of confederates.

    Petersburg

    “During the Petersburg campaign Grant outmaneuvered Lee from start to finish....by exploiting Lee's preoccupation with the safety of Richmond”
    -John Horn Great Campaigns The Petersburg Campaign


    Grant was able to use a diversionary moment to distract Lee and slip across the James. Lee was obsessed with Richmond and had thought Grant would attack by direct assault on Richmond. Beauregard who commanded the peninsula and Richmond area defenses had warned both Davis and Lee multiple times that Grant was preparing to cross the James in force, yet Lee did nothing. Despite the warning of Beauregard, despite 2 federal corps attacking, and multiple holes punched through the entrenched confederate lines. Lee was slow to react to Grants move across the river “Lee was not yet convinced that Grant had crossed the James.” Lucky for Lee, Grant was slow to send Burnside's army of the James and Meade to take advantage of Lee's slow reaction.

    During the siege Grant was able to maintain the intuitive, use faint attacks in one area to send the main attack in another. He was able to pin down Lee's men, replace units on the line, and move men behind the lines for large attacks making it hard for Lee to respond. He was able to tighten the noose around Lee's army cutting roads, bridges, and rail lines and finally with an all-out assault that broke the Peterburg lines in multiple places. Lee was forced to retreat and gave up Peterburg and the confederate capital of Richmond.


    Atlanta?

    The loss of Atlanta cost the south their last and best chance to win independence. By mid 64 it looked to most that Lincoln would not be re-elected and peace democrats would win in the north. Lincoln himself thought this was true. The north was tired of war and the heavy casualties in the spring and summer of 64 with no end in sight caused many in the north to want peace. The capture of Atlanta changed northern opinion. Had the south reinforced Johnston or Hood they may well have held onto Atlanta. Instead Lee sent Jubal Early on a “long shot” mission towards D.C. Instead of helping in the west and possibly saving Atlanta.

    Appomattox

    Lee was unable to distance himself from Grant and Sheridan on his retreat from Appomattox. His tired, worn out army was fading fast from desertion and casualties. Grant and Sheridan cut off Lee's retreat to North Carolina and forced his surrender of the confederacies largest army. Around 28,000 men were surrendered to Grant by Lee at Appomattox. Grant had defeated Lee.

    References
    -Great Campaigns Jackson's Valley Campaign David G Martin Combined Books PA 1994
    -Great Campaigns The Peninsula Campaign David G Martin Combined Books PA 1992
    -Great Campaigns The Shiloh Campaign David G Martin Combined Books PA 1996
    -Great Campaigns The Second Bull Run Campaighn David G Martin Combined Books PA 1997
    -Great Campaigns The Antietam Campaign John Cannon Combined Books PA
    -Great Campaigns The Chancellorsville campaign David G Martin Combined Books PA 1991
    -Great Campaigns the Atlanta campaign John Cannan Combined Books PA 1991
    -Great Campaigns The Wilderness campaign John cannon Combined Books PA -Great Campaigns The Spotsylvania John Cannan Campaign Combined Books PA
    -Great Campaigns The Petersburg Campaign John Horn Combined Books PA
    -Great Campaigns The Appomattox Campaign Chris M Calkins Combined Books PA
    -The Shenandoah in Flames The Valley Campaign of 1864 Thomas A Lewis Time Life Books Alexandria, Virginia
    -Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East Ronald H Bailey Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia 1985
    -Rebel Resurgent Frederiscksburg to Chancellorsville Willliam K Goolrick Time life Books, Alexandria, Virginia William K Goolrick 1985
    -Receding Tide Vicksburg and Gettysburg the Campaigns That changed the civil war Edwin C Bearess and J Parker Hills National Geographic D.C 2010
    -Thomas J Rowland George B Mcclellan and Civil war History in the Shadow of grant and Sherman Kent State University Press 1998
    -Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns Steven E Woodworth University of Nebraska press 1998
    --John J Hennessy The first battle of Manassas Stackpole Books 2015
    -The Campaigns of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest's Cavalry Da Capo Press 1996
    -Such Troops as these The Genius and Leadership of confederate General Stonewall Jackson Bevin Alexander Berkeley Caliber 2014
    -How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat Bevin Alexander 2008 Crown Forum
    -Personal Memoirs of U.S Grant Da Capo Press 2001
    -The North Anna campaign http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields...ww.google.com/ --The Confederate war Gary Gallagher Harvard University press 1999
    -A History of the south the Confederate States of America E Merton Coulter Louisiana State Press 1950
    -James V Murfin Battlefields of the Civil war
    -Battle Tactics of the Civil war Paddy Griffith Yale university Press 1989
    -The Rifel Musket in Civil war Combat Reality and Myth Earl J Hess University of Kansas Press 2008
    -The Civil war Ken Burns PBS documentary
    -The Ultimate Civil war Series 2012
    -America's Civil war Magazine http://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war
    -Civil war Trust http://www.civilwar.org/
    -Rutland Free Library
    -Gary Gallagher the American civil war great courses in modern history lecture series Teaching company 2000
    “Its been said that when human beings stop believing in god they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse, they believe in anything.” Malcolm maggeridge

    The simple believes every word: but the prudent man looks well to his going. Proverbs -14.15
    The first to present his case seems right,till another comes forward and questions him -Proverbs 18.17

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    Genesis 1.1

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  2. #2
    Praefectus Fabrum Senior Member Anime BlackJack Champion, Flash Poker Champion, Word Up Champion, Shape Game Champion, Snake Shooter Champion, Fishwater Challenge Champion, Rocket Racer MX Champion, Jukebox Hero Champion, Cub Shoot 2 Champion, My House Is Bigger Than Your House Champion, Funky Pong Champion, Cutie Quake Champion, Fling The Cow Champion, Treasure Diver Champion, Tiger Punch Champion, Virus Champion, Solitaire Champion, Worm Race Champion, Slack Man Champion, Japanese Baseball Champion, Rope Walker Champion, Penguin Pass Champion, Skate Park Champion, Super Mario Mushroom Champion, Watch Out Champion, Lawn Pac Champion, Weapons Of Mass Destruction Champion, Skate Boarder Champion, Fish Kill Champion, Lane Bowling Champion, Bugz Champion, Makai Grand Prix 2 Champion, KF 9000 Champion, White Van Man Champion, Parachute Panic Champion, BlackJack Champion, Stans Ski Jumping Champion, Smaugs Treasure Champion, Sofa Longjump Champion Seamus Fermanagh's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Some nice discussion of Lee in the ACW, and you and I concur over much of this. Lee was an acceptable strategist, very good tactician, but most of all a morale boost. He did, indeed, enjoy many of the best subordinate commanders the South had available, and his troop quality was good, consisting of the best mix of backwoods small farmers, plantation squirearchy, and city sophisticates that the South could put in the field. What Lee had above all else, particularly after he stopped McClellan before Richmond (yeah, I know, I know, credit Magruder for much of it in reality, but that is not what the troops "knew") was the "Baraka." Like Megos Alexandros, Napoleon, and Washington, he had that ability to make soldiers fight better than their skills or resources would seem to indicate. Your examples all speak to this, both for good (the turnaround at Chancellorsville) and ill (the hubris that Pickett could break the line -- which he came closer to than they had a rational right to expect).

    I will play the apologist in this much, however, because I believe that Lee was correct in seeking "decisive battles" and his attempts to invade (in concept if not in the specific instances). Lee was an engineer and Lee could count. Lee knew that the North could make the blockade stick -- so keeping the Tredegar works at Richmond in operation was not a luxury for the South and it was not simply a question of preserving Virginia's honor. Lee was also aware of just how much the numbers would tell against the South in the long run -- he was well aware of logistics, especially after Mexico -- and knew that the South would not win without some form of shock to the North that caused them to quit. It was this last that prompted him to seek decisive battle despite inferior numbers and prompted his efforts at invasion. The goal was to cow the Northern "person on the street" enough for them to pressure Lincoln's government for peace. Lee's decision to invade MD in 1862 was prompted by the desire to follow up on 2nd Manassas and continue to shock the Union while it was reeling (And I believe Lee had the better assessment of the real likelihood of English or French support -- that it would only happen if the South could engender an armistice from Lincoln). Similarly, the PA campaign was an attempt to follow up on Chancellorsville, AND the opposition to the draft, and sap the North's will to fight.

    Lee never had the force to both win his great victories and exploit them to the extent needed to create that "shock" that would knock the Union out of the war, but it was not for lack of trying.

    You were right that he never adjusted to the war of attrition that Grant waged. I suspect Lee, trained as were his generation of officers on the campaigns of Napoleon and the concept of decisive battle, never really saw that by holding Atlanta and simply defending in VA, that he might have won on Northern war weariness.

    On the other hand, his "Baraka" was also the quality which prevented the ACW from becoming a decades-long guerilla conflict as some of his officers wished. For that, if nothing else, my country owes him a debt.
    "The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that's why it's so essential to preserving individual freedom.” -- Milton Friedman

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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Quote Originally Posted by Seamus Fermanagh View Post
    Some nice discussion of Lee in the ACW, and you and I concur over much of this. Lee was an acceptable strategist, very good tactician, but most of all a morale boost. He did, indeed, enjoy many of the best subordinate commanders the South had available, and his troop quality was good, consisting of the best mix of backwoods small farmers, plantation squirearchy, and city sophisticates that the South could put in the field. What Lee had above all else, particularly after he stopped McClellan before Richmond (yeah, I know, I know, credit Magruder for much of it in reality, but that is not what the troops "knew") was the "Baraka." Like Megos Alexandros, Napoleon, and Washington, he had that ability to make soldiers fight better than their skills or resources would seem to indicate. Your examples all speak to this, both for good (the turnaround at Chancellorsville) and ill (the hubris that Pickett could break the line -- which he came closer to than they had a rational right to expect).

    I will play the apologist in this much, however, because I believe that Lee was correct in seeking "decisive battles" and his attempts to invade (in concept if not in the specific instances). Lee was an engineer and Lee could count. Lee knew that the North could make the blockade stick -- so keeping the Tredegar works at Richmond in operation was not a luxury for the South and it was not simply a question of preserving Virginia's honor. Lee was also aware of just how much the numbers would tell against the South in the long run -- he was well aware of logistics, especially after Mexico -- and knew that the South would not win without some form of shock to the North that caused them to quit. It was this last that prompted him to seek decisive battle despite inferior numbers and prompted his efforts at invasion. The goal was to cow the Northern "person on the street" enough for them to pressure Lincoln's government for peace. Lee's decision to invade MD in 1862 was prompted by the desire to follow up on 2nd Manassas and continue to shock the Union while it was reeling (And I believe Lee had the better assessment of the real likelihood of English or French support -- that it would only happen if the South could engender an armistice from Lincoln). Similarly, the PA campaign was an attempt to follow up on Chancellorsville, AND the opposition to the draft, and sap the North's will to fight.

    Lee never had the force to both win his great victories and exploit them to the extent needed to create that "shock" that would knock the Union out of the war, but it was not for lack of trying.

    You were right that he never adjusted to the war of attrition that Grant waged. I suspect Lee, trained as were his generation of officers on the campaigns of Napoleon and the concept of decisive battle, never really saw that by holding Atlanta and simply defending in VA, that he might have won on Northern war weariness.

    On the other hand, his "Baraka" was also the quality which prevented the ACW from becoming a decades-long guerilla conflict as some of his officers wished. For that, if nothing else, my country owes him a debt.

    Great post, thanks. I do think his strategy could have won. But did not work at all as he hoped. I think it proved itself wrong and war weariness and hit them where they are weak would have worked best. To decide to invade at Antietam was a big mistake, and to face the enemy at Gettysburg was as well.
    “Its been said that when human beings stop believing in god they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse, they believe in anything.” Malcolm maggeridge

    The simple believes every word: but the prudent man looks well to his going. Proverbs -14.15
    The first to present his case seems right,till another comes forward and questions him -Proverbs 18.17

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    Genesis 1.1

  4. #4
    Headless Senior Member Pannonian's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Quote Originally Posted by Seamus Fermanagh View Post
    Some nice discussion of Lee in the ACW, and you and I concur over much of this. Lee was an acceptable strategist, very good tactician, but most of all a morale boost. He did, indeed, enjoy many of the best subordinate commanders the South had available, and his troop quality was good, consisting of the best mix of backwoods small farmers, plantation squirearchy, and city sophisticates that the South could put in the field. What Lee had above all else, particularly after he stopped McClellan before Richmond (yeah, I know, I know, credit Magruder for much of it in reality, but that is not what the troops "knew") was the "Baraka." Like Megos Alexandros, Napoleon, and Washington, he had that ability to make soldiers fight better than their skills or resources would seem to indicate. Your examples all speak to this, both for good (the turnaround at Chancellorsville) and ill (the hubris that Pickett could break the line -- which he came closer to than they had a rational right to expect).

    I will play the apologist in this much, however, because I believe that Lee was correct in seeking "decisive battles" and his attempts to invade (in concept if not in the specific instances). Lee was an engineer and Lee could count. Lee knew that the North could make the blockade stick -- so keeping the Tredegar works at Richmond in operation was not a luxury for the South and it was not simply a question of preserving Virginia's honor. Lee was also aware of just how much the numbers would tell against the South in the long run -- he was well aware of logistics, especially after Mexico -- and knew that the South would not win without some form of shock to the North that caused them to quit. It was this last that prompted him to seek decisive battle despite inferior numbers and prompted his efforts at invasion. The goal was to cow the Northern "person on the street" enough for them to pressure Lincoln's government for peace. Lee's decision to invade MD in 1862 was prompted by the desire to follow up on 2nd Manassas and continue to shock the Union while it was reeling (And I believe Lee had the better assessment of the real likelihood of English or French support -- that it would only happen if the South could engender an armistice from Lincoln). Similarly, the PA campaign was an attempt to follow up on Chancellorsville, AND the opposition to the draft, and sap the North's will to fight.

    Lee never had the force to both win his great victories and exploit them to the extent needed to create that "shock" that would knock the Union out of the war, but it was not for lack of trying.

    You were right that he never adjusted to the war of attrition that Grant waged. I suspect Lee, trained as were his generation of officers on the campaigns of Napoleon and the concept of decisive battle, never really saw that by holding Atlanta and simply defending in VA, that he might have won on Northern war weariness.

    On the other hand, his "Baraka" was also the quality which prevented the ACW from becoming a decades-long guerilla conflict as some of his officers wished. For that, if nothing else, my country owes him a debt.
    Ironically, On War, written by Clausewitz about the Napoleonic experience and before the ACW, ended with a section on the strategy to pursue should France seek to regain her position in Europe. Count the population figures of the enemies of France compared to France, and make the numbers count. In the longer run all warring technology and methodology will equalise as the factions involved catch up with the most effective methods. When that happens, resources are what matters. Clausewitz also concluded, over the course of his book, that brilliance of generalship counts for less than is usually supposed, and can never overcome sufficient superiority in numbers (sensibly applied). The sensible application of force was what his book was about.

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    Old Town Road Senior Member Strike For The South's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Good post.

    When talking about Lee, I am reminded of Shelby Foote. The North would have simply brought out its other hand.

    Lee needed a decisive battle to strengthen the Copperheads. He never got it.
    There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford

    My aim, then, was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. Fear is the beginning of wisdom.

    I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation.

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    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    total relism, thanks for putting together such a lengthy and thoughtful analysis of Lee's generalship. As you point out, he was good but not a flawless God of the Battlefield. Your post was an interesting read.

    Have you, or anyone else reading this, found a good book focusing solely on Lee? I didn't see any such book listed in your references list. I've only found references and commentary regarding Lee from books with the main focus on the war, another general or a specific battle, e.g., Gettysburg, Longstreet, etc. I did read "General Lee" by Walter Taylor of Lee's staff, but I found it lacking. It started off promising, recalling Lee's work ethic, his head/neck jerk when agitated and General MaGruder's lisp, but soon dissolved into a standard re-telling of the war (from the Southern point of view, of course). I'd love to read some more about Lee throughout the war, either from one of his contemporaries or a modern examination of the man. I haven't found reference to a must-read about Lee.
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregoshi View Post
    total relism, thanks for putting together such a lengthy and thoughtful analysis of Lee's generalship. As you point out, he was good but not a flawless God of the Battlefield. Your post was an interesting read.

    Have you, or anyone else reading this, found a good book focusing solely on Lee? I didn't see any such book listed in your references list. I've only found references and commentary regarding Lee from books with the main focus on the war, another general or a specific battle, e.g., Gettysburg, Longstreet, etc. I did read "General Lee" by Walter Taylor of Lee's staff, but I found it lacking. It started off promising, recalling Lee's work ethic, his head/neck jerk when agitated and General MaGruder's lisp, but soon dissolved into a standard re-telling of the war (from the Southern point of view, of course). I'd love to read some more about Lee throughout the war, either from one of his contemporaries or a modern examination of the man. I haven't found reference to a must-read about Lee.

    I have not read a book based solely on Lee myself. I decided when I was studying various civil war generals I was going to evaluate them based on their performances that looked at each campaign, and than decided how each general impacted those campaigns. Of course I have read books based on certain generals i am interested in, but in general tried to keep the campaign centered perspective.


    I would assume a quick look on amazon would give you a large variety to chose from .
    “Its been said that when human beings stop believing in god they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse, they believe in anything.” Malcolm maggeridge

    The simple believes every word: but the prudent man looks well to his going. Proverbs -14.15
    The first to present his case seems right,till another comes forward and questions him -Proverbs 18.17

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    Genesis 1.1

  8. #8
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    I hear you with regards to evaluating generals based on campaigns. I've been taking an opposite approach. I was feeling like too much was glossed over in most of the books on various campaigns. So, since Gettysburg is very near by and a pivotal battle, I've adopted it for more detailed study. The general story of Days 1-3 is well known, but I've been drilling down to deeper reading: Pfanz's books on Day 1, Day 2 and Culps Hill/Cemetery Hill, a book on just the Wheatfield, the pre-battle burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge, Coddington's "The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command" as well as biographies/autobiographies on principal figures in the battle: Meade, Reynolds, Buford, Chamberlain, Longstreet and Porter Alexander* so far. A book on Lee, in particular the Gettysburg campaign, would be helpful, I think. The idea being that understanding all the various aspects of the campaign and battle will allow me to have a better informed opinion on the battle. Where all this has broken down is with my memory of what I've read and noting any conflicting information between all the sources. I should have been taking notes and putting something together like you did above. I might just have to start over and do that...and that thought isn't the least bit disappointing. Thanks for the idea and the inspiration to do just that.

    * If you haven't read Porter Alexander's "Fighting for the Confederacy", I highly recommend it. This is my favorite Civil War book I've read to date. His experiences, commentary and analysis of all the battles he fought in is very entertaining and very enlightening. His analysis of the failing of the Confederate artillery at Gettysburg was fascinating.
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregoshi View Post
    I hear you with regards to evaluating generals based on campaigns. I've been taking an opposite approach. I was feeling like too much was glossed over in most of the books on various campaigns. So, since Gettysburg is very near by and a pivotal battle, I've adopted it for more detailed study. The general story of Days 1-3 is well known, but I've been drilling down to deeper reading: Pfanz's books on Day 1, Day 2 and Culps Hill/Cemetery Hill, a book on just the Wheatfield, the pre-battle burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge, Coddington's "The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command" as well as biographies/autobiographies on principal figures in the battle: Meade, Reynolds, Buford, Chamberlain, Longstreet and Porter Alexander* so far. A book on Lee, in particular the Gettysburg campaign, would be helpful, I think. The idea being that understanding all the various aspects of the campaign and battle will allow me to have a better informed opinion on the battle. Where all this has broken down is with my memory of what I've read and noting any conflicting information between all the sources. I should have been taking notes and putting something together like you did above. I might just have to start over and do that...and that thought isn't the least bit disappointing. Thanks for the idea and the inspiration to do just that.

    * If you haven't read Porter Alexander's "Fighting for the Confederacy", I highly recommend it. This is my favorite Civil War book I've read to date. His experiences, commentary and analysis of all the battles he fought in is very entertaining and very enlightening. His analysis of the failing of the Confederate artillery at Gettysburg was fascinating.
    lol that is great stuff. Maybe if you do such a thing and take notes, you would be kind enough to post them hear with your findings for us. I like the in depth approach you are tacking as well it is the best method, sounds like much work. I took the lazy more general approach. I have heard much of Alexanders book and it has been quoted in my sources but have not got around to reading it.

    I am glad you liked my post. My next book is a bio on Stonewall. My second book on him alone as I like Stonewall.
    “Its been said that when human beings stop believing in god they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse, they believe in anything.” Malcolm maggeridge

    The simple believes every word: but the prudent man looks well to his going. Proverbs -14.15
    The first to present his case seems right,till another comes forward and questions him -Proverbs 18.17

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    Genesis 1.1

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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Quote Originally Posted by total relism View Post
    My next book is a bio on Stonewall. My second book on him alone as I like Stonewall.
    What in interesting character TJ was too. Something of a 'stable fanatic' from what I can tell. A rare thing, and powerful. Reminds me of some of the old Roman early Republic types. Stick to your principles for the win.
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    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Critical Look at Robert E Lee

    Reading a bio on Stonewall is in my future too. I only have high level knowledge of him and my opinion of him is mixed based on his performance: lackluster at Peninsula Campaign and Antietam(?) vs brilliant at Shenandoah Valley and Chancellorsville. So learning a bit more about him might change my stance on him as a general. Bios on Ewell and Sickles are also on my radar since both of these generals had rather controversial roles at Gettysburg. But I think after your above piece on Lee, he moves to the top of the reading list. Now I just have to find a good book on him.
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