View single post by PvtClewell
 Posted: Tue Nov 6th, 2007 03:05 pm
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Joined: Wed Jun 13th, 2007
Location: North Carolina USA
Posts: 420

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The interesting Gen. George Thomas thread seems to have evolved into a discussion on Lee, so I thought I'd start a new thread specifically aimed at Lee's generalship.
I understand some of this may have been discussed in the past on previous threads, but then, some of us were not members of this board at that time, and now seems to be a good opportunity for some of us to add to the discussion. Anyway, the theme is timeless and endless.

Besides, how cool is it to see "Is Lee overrated?" on the home page discussion board teaser?

Anyway, a comment that Lee is overrated 'to the point of ridiculousness' was one bite too much even for a Yankee like me to digest. And I like to eat.

As I previously noted, I am currently reading Elizabeth Brown Pryor's 'Reading the Man,' which is Pryor's character interpretation of Lee built around unpublished letters and documents of Lee's found in Arlington House, which survived all these years. It's all explained in the preface of the book. The preface itself is worth the price of the 658 page book (476 pages of text, the rest notes, bibliogpraphy and index).

Anyway, I've just read the chapter, 'Apogee/Perigee' which deals with the Gettysburg Campaign. The last graph of the chapter Pryor offers her summation of Lee's generalship:

'How then are we to assess the famous military prowess of Robert E. Lee? There were sublime moments — and not all of them were delivered at the hands of inferior generals. He stands out for his daring, physical and intellectual, which challenged his opponents into near intimidation. When he allowed his rational training to supercede instinct he was capable of devising some of the most ingenious tactical plans in the history of warfare. Lee's sway over his troops is unsurpassed in military annals. Yet he never resolved the fundamental difficulty facing him — that is, manpower and material — and indeed on many occasions he reacted as if these resources were unlimited. In terms of grand strategy, more questions must be asked. His forays into the North were not only operationally unsuccesful, but politically naive. His penchant for aggression, attack, and the near-impossible annihilation of the Union army may have cost him the war. Many believe that had he remained on the defensive, which the technology of the day favored, he could have conserved his scarce resources and outlasted the ennui of the Yankees. Extended guerilla-type warfare, so admirably executed by his father during the struggle for independence, was another option. It has been the classic tool of revolutionaries for centuries, and in terrain and temperament the South was well suited to it — if the tenacity of the populace could be tapped. Loyal E. Porter Alexander was among those who came to believe this would have been the most fruitful approach. "We could not hope to conquer her," Porter wrote of the Union. "Our one chance was to wear her down." Twentieth- and twenty-first century Americans will appreciate how quickly superior strength can be sapped by unremitting, targeted, and occasionally heinous attacks against a supposedly unbeatable power. But all of this carries the 'what-ifs' and the 'if-onlys' that sometimes threaten to make Civil War history a kind of science fiction. Let us allow Lee to set the benchmark for fine generalship. In 1847, he wrote a letter to his friend Jack Mackay, exuberantly describing the qualities he admired in Winfield Scott. "Our Genl. is our great reliance..." he told Mackay. "Never turns from his object. Confident in his powers & resources, his judgment is as sound as his heart is bold and daring. Careful of his men, he never exposes them but for a worthy object & then gives them the advantage of every circumstance in his power." Later, he added to this the importance of "producing effective results." We can only guess how Lee measured himself against these standards.'

I've read books on Lee from Freeman to Piston to Emory Thomas, along with countless magazine articles and have attended untold numbers of seminars, and this is about as good a description of Lee as I've come across. She's also a captivating speaker.

Last edited on Thu Nov 8th, 2007 04:53 pm by PvtClewell

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