Lee & His Army in Confederate History

Lee & His Army in Confederate History

Lee & His Army in Confederate History

Lee & His Army in Confederate History


Was Robert E. Lee a gifted soldier whose only weaknesses lay in the depth of his loyalty to his troops, affection for his lieutenants, and dedication to the cause of the Confederacy? Or was he an ineffective leader and poor tactician whose reputation was drastically inflated by early biographers and Lost Cause apologists? These divergent characterizations represent the poles between which scholarly and popular opinion on Lee has swung over time. Now, in eight essays, Gary Gallagher offers his own refined thinking on Lee, exploring the relationship between Lee's operations and Confederate morale, the quality of his generalship, and the question of how best to handle his legacy in light of the many distortions that grew out of Lost Cause historiography.

Using a host of contemporary sources, Gallagher demonstrates the remarkable faith that soldiers and citizens maintained in Lee's leadership even after his army's fortunes had begun to erode. Gallagher also engages aspects of the Lee myth with an eye toward how admirers have insisted that their hero's faults as a general represented exaggerations of his personal virtues. Finally, Gallagher considers whether it is useful--or desirable--to separate legitimate Lost Cause arguments from the transparently false ones relating to slavery and secession.


Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia have engaged my interest for nearly forty years. As a young person drawn to the Civil War, I read Douglas Southall Freeman's R. E. Lee: A Biography and Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command. Freeman's works, together with many of the participants' accounts to which his footnotes led me, created a sense that Lee and his army held center stage in the Confederate drama. Indeed, the military conflict in Virginia seemed synonymous with the Civil War as a whole, and Lee emerged as a fabulously gifted soldier whose only weaknesses—including excessive amiability with lieutenants—represented outgrowths of his personal virtues. Subsequent exposure to studies by Thomas L. Connelly and other revisionist historians tested my early reading of Confederate military affairs. These scholars emphasized the importance of the Western Theater and averred that Lost Cause writers such as Jubal A. Early had distorted the record by vastly inflating Lee's abilities and wartime stature.

My own research over the years indicated that Freeman might have been closer to the mark than many of those who insisted Lee and his army had been overrated. Various kinds of Confederate testimony bespoke a national focus on Lee and his operations. Considerable evidence also supported the Lost Cause idea that superior northern numbers and resources played a fundamental role in the Confederate defeat. That Lost Cause warriors sometimes argued from positions of strength not only helps explain why their writings have been tenaciously influential but also raises an important concern. Can we accept part of what Lost Cause authors said about Lee and his army without also lending a measure of authority to their denial of slavery's centrality to secession and the Confederacy, their romantic portrayal of a united white South battling to the end, and their blatant distortions regarding other aspects of the war?

The essays in this collection explore the relationship between Lee's operations and Confederate national morale, the quality and nature of his generalship, and the thorny problem of how best to handle Lost Cause writings about the Army of Northern Virginia . . .

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