Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee

By Laskin, Lisa Lauterbach | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee


Laskin, Lisa Lauterbach, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee * Peter S. Carmichael * Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004 * xxi, 174 pp. * $24.95

It is obligatory these days for all new books on Robert E. Lee to open by raising the question of whether the world actually needs another book on Robert E. Lee. In this regard, and in many others, Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee does not disappoint. But the subtitle of this volume might well be "With Apologies to Douglas Southall Freeman." Per Carmichael, these investigations are an attempt to loosen the dominance of Freeman in Lee scholarship. The perspectives presented in these works "call into question longstanding beliefs that have been accepted as dogma since the publication of Freeman's remarkably influential and detailed R. E. Lee: A Biography" (p. xvi). But this is not a new approach, because as Carmichael notes earlier, revisionist critiques of Lee have always fed off Freeman. It is a narrow path that these historians tread, essentially revisionists themselves, and yet simultaneously paying conscious homage to Freeman. The not-so-subtle message is that though Freeman's interpretations of Lee may bear challenging, so too do the less-than-successful revisionist versions of recent years.

These historians largely succeed in their efforts to review questions about Lee's military leadership. Carmichael is joined by several well-known Civil War historians, each of whom takes a close look at a particular aspect of Lee's generalship, ranging from strategic to political considerations. Carmichael himself addresses the question of how Lee's desire for the great battle of annihilation influenced his tactical operations, at great cost to his resources. William J. Miller takes this argument a step further by providing a reassessment of the Seven Days Campaign, showing Lee's movements to have been motivated at least as much by a desire to maneuver the Union forces away from Richmond as by the desire to crush them in the field. Gordon C. Rhea offers an important reconsideration of Lee's supposed "prescience" in predicting his opponents' movements, while Robert E. L. Krick revels in the details, taking on more than just Freeman in his effort to demonstrate that the Army of Northern Virginia's staff system was not the Achilles heel it has often been made out to be. …

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