The Making of Robert E. Lee

By McCaslin, Richard B. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Making of Robert E. Lee


McCaslin, Richard B., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


The Making of Robert E. Lee. By MICHAEL FELLMAN. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. xx, 363 pp. $18.95.

MANY readers may be surprised to learn that Robert E. Lee's "star is fading" and that he is "worshipped" mostly by "neoConfederates" who long for the "old white supremacist order" (p. 306). Yet that is exactly what Michael Fellman declares. Much of what has been written in praise of Lee during the last three score and ten years has fallen within the parameters defined by Douglas Southall Freeman in his admittedly eulogistic biography of Lee. The only significant challenges to Lee's reputation follow the path blazed by Thomas L. Connelly, who primarily focused on Lee's military competency. Fellman places himself squarely in the Connelly camp, praising Connelly's analysis as "brilliant" while describing Freeman as the "grandest codifier of the Lee cult" (p. 301). In truth, Fellman goes beyond Connelly's focus on generalship to criticize Lee's character.

Fellman's inquiry into Lee's personality begins with a brief review of his family background and youth. After twice writing that Richard Henry Lee was the Confederate general's grandfather (he was not), Fellman asserts that the younger Lee's childhood left him with deep emotional "scars" that made him "fear . . . close ties with other men" (p. 12). The failings of other men, especially his father, "LightHorse Harry" Lee, sparked a struggle for internal mastery within Robert E. Lee that became a damaging force in his development. Many of Lee's problems, according to Fellman, can be attributed as well to an overactive libido, which became Lee's "largest impediment" in his battle for selfcontrol (p. 33). Although he developed a relationship with his wife, Mary Randolph Custis Lee, that Fellman describes as an "affectionate attachment" (p. 27), Lee warped his children with his efforts to convey his own insecurities to them. Only in battle did Lee find an appropriate release for his "considerable erotic energy" (p. …

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