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 Posted: Thu Aug 7th, 2008 12:39 am
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Wrap10
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The Iron Duke wrote: Perry that is an excellent post.

I think if Lee were crushed at Antietam history would view him as insanely foolish. I believe Lee did indeed prolong the Confederacy but I tend to view him as way too impulsive. Others generals like Washington, Wellington, and Thomas seemed to have understood when it's proper to attack and when it's proper to defend.

Lee's reaction to every situation was to attack if he was able to. After all the thousands that got butchered at Mechanicsville, Malvern Hill, and Fredericksburg it's absolutely mind boggling to me that he would attempt Pickett's Charge. An excellent example of his impulsiveness, IMO, is when Longstreet had to talk him out of attacking prematurely at Second Manassas.

I don't see what Lee had to gain at fighting at Antietam either. He lost 10,000 men and to what purpose? The Confederacy couldn't throw away men like they were plastic soldiers. They had to husband their resources and be more clever than their enemy. Like Longstreet said about Gettysburg, the Confederates tried to pit force against force in a head to head match-up and they lost. The Union could afford to rely on brute force; the Confederacy couldn't and I'm not sure if Lee ever understood this. Lee bled his army to death.

Hi Robert,

Some good points you make. In Lee's defense, he wasn't the only commander in the war with an attack-first mentality. Grant was like that as well I think. But in Lee's case it was often very costly, and as you point out, the South could not afford to pay that kind of a price. Certainly not for very long.

Speaking of Grant and Lee, I'm not sure I can think of a moment in the war where Grant made a decision that totally mystifies me the way Lee's decision at Antietam does. Even when I find myself disagreeing with a decision that Grant made, I think I can understand, or figure out, his reasoning behind it. (And I don't fancy that I could have done better than Grant, Lee, or anyone else. I'm an armchair general in the truest sense.) But Lee holding his army in place after the carnage on the 17th, I just cannot understand. I've seen explanations, but for me at least they just don't hold up, especially when you judge it on a risk/reward scale. What Lee was risking, that's easy to see. But what he had to gain, and how it balanced the risk he was running, that's where my understanding hits a dead-end.

I remember Shelby Foote saying that Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Robert E. Lee. Even though he was speaking directly of Gettysburg, it could be he meant that in a broader sense. Even if not, it certainly applies. Final victory might well be acheived with a commander like Lee. But the price of that victory could be high indeed.

Perry

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