Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Southern Discomfort Robert E. Lee Embraces Virginia at the Expense of the Country He Loved

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Southern Discomfort Robert E. Lee Embraces Virginia at the Expense of the Country He Loved

Article excerpt

THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT BE WASHINGTON"

By Jonathan Horn.

Scribner ($28).

Secession was treason, Robert E. Lee wrote to his oldest son in January 1861, shortly before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president of the United States. Dissolution of the country would be a calamity, he warned, and "I am willing to sacrifice every thing but honor for its preservation."

Biographer Jonathan Horn writes that Lee's sense of honor, however, was bound to his being less an American and more a Virginian. When his native state withdrew from the Union, Lee refused Lincoln's offer to head the Union army. He, instead, accepted command of Virginia's secessionist armed forces.

Lee drew his inspiration, in part, from his connections to George Washington, who had led the Continental Army during the American Revolution against the British Empire. Lee, the son of one of Washington's commanders, had married to Mary Custis, a direct descendant of the childless Washington's wife Martha. Their palatial home in Arlington, across the Potomac River from the District of Columbia, was a shrine to the nation's first president.

Mr. Horn hears an echo of Washington's advice to "his heirs never to raise their swords, save in 'defense of their country,' " in Lee's pledge never to draw his sword except to defend Virginia. But in Lee's mind, " 'Country' had somehow mutated into 'state,' " he writes.

That decision ultimately makes Lee the smaller man. It also makes the title of Mr. Horn's biography of Lee, "The Man Who Would Not Be Washington," seem very apt.

Mr. Horn is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and "The Man Who Would Not Be Washington" is his first book. The resulting work is well-written, fair-minded and short.

Lee, as described by Mr. Horn, is brave, courteous, occasionally flirtatious and always dutiful. Lee was determined not to repeat the mistakes of his father, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, and of his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis. Custis was the adopted son of Washington.

Both men struggled with detail. Neither proved able to complete projects, leaving their families in financial difficulties. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.