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04 January 2011


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John Minnerath

I watched it last night too, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
So much so that I think I'll try to catch it again this evening.


Thank you Colonel for your most eloquent and learned defense of General Lee.

PBS is so besotted with political correctness, they could do no less than try to besmirch such a fine human being as General Lee.

One word from Lee, and the Confederate Army would have faded away into the mountains and swamps of the South and conducted and on going insurgency for another 10 years,

But Lee being a wise and noble man,knew the time for peace had come.

Patrick Lang


the least I could do. He appears as a character in my novels. I hope I did him justice. pl

ex-PFC Chuck

As I watched it I was wondering how someone from the South, and especially Virginia, would react to it. You've answered my question.

While on the subject of TV, there was a great "After Words" interview on Book TV over the weekend that may be if interest to regulars here. Pierre Sprey hosted William Hartung, the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, which was published on this past Christmas Day. Go to www.booktv.org and scroll down to the "Recently on Book TV" frame on the bottlm left, and then scroll again. As I write this "After Words" interview is about the fifth one up from the bottom. The book (http://amzn.to/gBWlTP) sounds like a very worthwhile read.

Charles I

I watched it last night too, mindful of the history shared here and in your books. And my general ignorance. I thought it was quite goo. Wondered, as a default arm-chair Northerner as it were, how fair it was in all the circumstances.

Command in civil war against brothers would have tried any sage or saint. Your experience of this gigantic character, and Highlander's penultimate comment put the human into the history - one of my favourite parts of SST.

Fits in nicely with "the man is everything' debate.

Would the war have turned differently if he had not took sick, had managed to destroy US 2nd corps?

I'm trying to visualize a ten year insurgency from the mountains and swamps. Be a great theme for historical fiction.



Your Consideration of General Lee is clear and moving.

General Lee’s opponent, Grant, greatest ability was also his clear language. If you received a written order from General Grant you knew exactly what you had to do.

Perhaps, this is the curse of the Modern Era. Our current leaders do not want clarity of thought or of writing.


Couple of links for the Col to peruse.

Serious but OT, did you know this guy?


Funny Satire on Topic.


Patrick Lang


No. pl

Sidney O. Smith III

Yes…Grant was known for issuing concise orders. Take, for example, General Order 11, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Another related term is Judenfrei.

Grant’s view was consistent with that of another leader of the “liberation army”, commanding General Halleck, who equated all Jews with traitors.


Longstreet’s quartermaster was Jewish. And of course there was JB and MJE. Some estimate that roughly 10,000 Jews served in the CSA. It makes sense because the Jewish people, for very good reason, were extremely wary of centralized national governments - a thought that of course segues into the recent discussions of the rise of national socialism.

But, alas, the historical narrative single mindedly points to the racism of R. Lee, not that of the leaders of the liberation army. And that blindspot in the national pathos exists to this very day.



What's your opinion of Grant?

Patrick Lang


High. IMO only he or Thomas would have had the fortitude to take the abuse meted out by "Lee and his boys" and keep driving forward to the end. pl


Charles (Joyeux Nouvel An),

Re: "Command in civil war against brothers would have tried any sage or saint."



These gents commandered armies & dealt in casualty rates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion) that would have made those of The War Between the States seem minute (no offense to the Col. & other aficionados). Wonder what it was like for scholar-warriors to stain their hands with so much blood...


"He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbour without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward."

Col. sir, did I post this the year before?

ex-PFC Chuck

re CP @ 1:34 pm:
I saw that news item yesterday. I'd like to know if the John Wheeler whose apparent murder is described in your first link is a descendant (grandson, perhaps?) of John Archibald Wheeler, the physicist who died about three years ago at the age of 96. He was one of the giants in that field. I didn't learn much in that regard from the ten or so minutes of online sleuthing I did on the subject. Does anyone else here know?


As Col. Lang notes, the situation Lee faced at Arlington after the death of his Custis father-in-law was most difficult. Arlington was in horrid shape and Lee, running the property not for himself but on behalf of the heir, his eldest son Custis, had to come home, cope with a sick wife and his father-in-law's contradictory will, and make everyone go to work. I hope the program said something about that.

Lee did have days when the younger men tended to stay out of his way and let Venable deal with him, but I would assume that if he had been an ill-tempered snob with no regard for the lower orders the men of his Army would have been clever enough to suss that out. He was a man of his class and shared its views, but it's hard to see how it could be otherwise.

There was a time when Lee’s military and personal reputation was being run down in the Alan T. Nolan manner, but more recent books I’ve read rate his generalship as highly as any.

If Lee's ambition had come before all, then he might have been the man on horseback that some in the Confederacy were seeking.

I didn’t see the program last night but will make a point of checking it out. There's no way Lee can get a completely fair shake in the current environment, but it sounds like a good show.

Lincoln was also called "the Tycoon" by his secretaries Nicolay and Hay. It had a different connotation then.


"Tycoon (taikun a title for the shogun)," the wiki says, entered usage after Commodore Perry's trip to Japan in 1857- fast employment for the times.

Wonderful comments about Robert Edward Lee. He was in many ways an echo of what his father had said about George Washington, First in War, First in Peace, & First in the Hearts of his Countrymen.


Another patriot was Joseph E Johnston who ignored Jefferson Davis & made the largest Confederate surrender to Sherman in what is now Durham, NC. Unlike the bold Gen. Hood, Johnston knew that he could not defeat Sherman in a head on battle & tried to repeatedly trap him. The last strategem was in NC. Sherman was proceeding to the railhead at Goldsboro in two wings. Johnston had Gen Hardee engage one wing at Averasborough so he could defeat Sherman in detail at Bentonville, the last regular battle of the Civl War. But Gen Slocum slipped the trap and rejoined Sherman at Bentonville & Johnston had to retreat & ultimately surrender.


Norman Rogers

That's a program that I would have liked to have seen. Getting it here in Germany is a bit too technical for us right now. Perhaps in a few months.

I have always believed that it was Lee's conduct AFTER the war that should have cemented in the American consciousness the fact that the man was one of our greatest, and he should be held in high esteem for his work establishing Washington University (in his lifetime, they would not dare append it with his nom de plume).

Time and time again, Lee worked to establish a university that would educate a class of people below his own--a class of people who would go on to become engineers and civic leaders and people who could rebuild the infrastructure of the South. How does anyone square that with elitism? The man didn't have the elitist streak in him, other than to say he did respect military rank and the honor that went with it. Who could confuse that with elitism?

I remember the anecdote of how Lee admonished a young soldier for thinking that the young man's service during the war was a "waste." What elitist would tell a young man such a thing? Our current batch of elitists sneer at the military in private after paying them platitudes. Say what you will about that old fool McCain, but he has skin in the game. Who else has that same connection to the uniformed military? A handful, perhaps? I just don't think they care.

Lee cared. His deeds speak to that.

What a great man. A shame that they still no not get him right.

Patrick Lang

Norman Rogers

The "elitist" thing puzzles me. He was raised down the street from me here in Alexandria in a very middle class brick house and schooled in a white frame building on Washington Street two blocks from his mother's home. A Quaker named Holowell was the sole teacher. Lee went to West Point because then as now it was free of cost and he had no money. His wife owned property. She could be described as "land poor." The large number of slaves at Arlington was a financial burden and a problem created by her father's attitude towards them. that attitude was reflected in his will in which he wanted them manumitted while at the same time he left the place heavily in debt. I think you could argue that HE was an "elitist." Lee always insisted that the family should limit monthly expenditures to his army pay and still save money. His youngest son, Robert, was an enlisted man in the artillery in the army that his father commanded. "Uncle Bob" never made any effort to have this son comissioned or to move him away from the terribly hazardous job of being a sergeant gun captain. A strange "elitist." pl

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

Surely Robert E. Lee must be counted among the "Great Captains", though not among the "Great Men" of the post several days ago. The key, or common, attribute of those in the latter category seems to be the ability to recognize the "tide in the affairs of men" and, taking advantage of it, to change history. Lee was not in that category. He was not an opportunist, as you brought out. He was a superb organizer and leader of an army that contained a collection of the most independent minded men of any army in history and which always fought a foe that was more numerous, better armed, and better fed. In the ranks of other great captains, I would place the likes of Marlborough, Belisarius, Cromwell, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and Saladin. Some are also in the "Great Man" group, of course. WPFIII

Yellow Dog

A mildly humorous anecdote, only slightly off-topic:

As is common with many southern families, my wife's family has always claimed a distant relation to the General. Soon after our marriage, my mother-in-law and her cousin determined to apply for membership to the Daughters of the Confederacy, and began the genealogical research to confirm the link, an endeavor that literally consumed years.

No positive link to General Lee, but she did discover a distant relative who accompanied General Sherman on the Savannah Campaign.

She was mortified, to say the least.

Eric Dönges

I think there are three major problems with judging historical figures:

1. We tend to forget that what is obvious to us in hindsight was not necessarily obvious at the time, so we judge based on what we know, instead of what the historical person could be expected to have known.

2. We tend to judge historical figures with the (moral) standards of our time, not theirs, which is not really fair.

3. There is a tendency to misuse historical figures for contemporary political purposes. For example, I have a book about Shakespeare published in the former German Democratic Republic which argues that Shakespeare was a precursor to the Marxist revolutionary poets, which is of course absolute nonsense.


I saw the show last night and was disappointed. I didn’t expect it to be hagiography but I thought it went out of its way to put the worst construction on Lee’s motives and actions in large ways and small. I also thought it was poorly directed and shot. (How many shots of flowers do you need?)

“I have always believed that it was Lee's conduct AFTER the war that should have cemented in the American consciousness the fact that the man was one of our greatest, and he should be held in high esteem for his work establishing Washington University.”

The narrator described Lee’s work for the university as “hiding himself away.” Typical of the program’s approach.

The Mexican War segment was all right.

Norman Rogers

"He was raised down the street from me here in Alexandria in a very middle class brick house and schooled in a white frame building on Washington Street two blocks from his mother's home."

I've seen that home. It's typical of Alexandria, and the people who hail from there.

"The narrator described Lee’s work for the university as “hiding himself away.” Typical of the program’s approach."

And yet he raised money, recruited professors, and professionalized the university. He worked as much as he could, given his health, but he always took the time for university business.

Another great story is about Lee attending the traditional mineral baths in the mountains of Virginia (I am not steeped on this, I'm remembering it from a book I read years ago).

Lee insisted on the social aspects of greeting the people who went to these places, and I believe he walked across a ballroom and danced with a girl from the north, and "broke the ice" as it were. Would an elitist break the ice at a social function or would he go off and snore into his sleeve?

Yes, I agree. Another sad failure of the modern mass entertainment media.


Just curious: How did the family's slaves stay slaves if they were freed by their owner in his will?

Or did the father-in-law merely ask that they be freed?

Patrick Lang


A good question. I don't know. pl

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