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General Robert E. Lee astride Traveller, after the Civil War. As the son of a Revolutionary War hero whose thirty-two years of exemplary military service had actually earned him an invitation to lead the Union Army in suppressing the southern rebellion, Robert Edward Lee had known his own very personal Gethsemane before respectfully declining this offer, explaining that he could not bring himself to take up arms against his native state.


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Former subordinates like Generals Jubal A. Early and John B. In a Gilded Age America rife with scandal and greed, such a selfless and incorruptible hero was not a hard sell. In addition to New South propagandizing about the reciprocal benefits of northern investment in southern economic revitalization, the racial practices and attitudes of white southerners seemed far less troubling amid the frustrations of dealing with the nonwhite peoples brought under American supervision by the imperialist ventures of the s.

Further discouragement against meddling in southern race relations came not only from Rhodes and Adams, but a new generation of southerners who earned their doctorates at Columbia under Professor William A. Dunning and did their part as academic historians to portray the Reconstruction experiment as both ill-advised and unduly harsh on defeated and struggling white southerners.

Union veterans of the war, meanwhile, were encouraged to forget the bitter antagonisms that had fueled the conflict itself and to respect, even embrace, their former enemies who had battled so courageously for a cause effectively ennobled simply by their steadfast dedication to it.

In short, what mattered now was not why each side had fought, but simply that each had fought honorably and well, a fact that should inspire feelings not of resentment but of brotherhood, regardless of who wore the blue and who the gray. In fifty years after some of the fiercest fighting of the Civil War, veterans from opposing sides met again at Gettysburg. More than two generations later, Walker Percy, who had been thoroughly catechized in the Reconciliationist gospel as a youth, found it alive and pervasive as the nation began its official observance of the Civil War centennial.

Yet it is all very good-natured. In the popular media the war is so friendly that the fighting is made to appear as a kind of sacrament of fire by which one side expresses its affection for the other. As the nation entered what would become the most acutely dangerous years of the Cold War, national unity and morale clearly took precedence over the divisive issue of racial equality.

In addition to the sweeping changes in the political and economic status of many African Americans that have marked the last half century, scholars have effectively toppled the historical pillars that once supported the old Reconciliationist temple, showing, for example, that slavery was not only the root cause of the Civil War but an incredibly brutal rather than benign institution.

Moreover, contrary to Reconciliation lore, enslaved blacks had readily abandoned their old masters in great numbers as the Yankees approached and thus had played a critical role in their own emancipation, not to mention the outcome of the war. Fifty years ago, African Americans gained little traction in protesting their virtual exclusion both from the planning process for the Civil War centennial and from the core narrative that centennial officials were pushing. Suffice it to say, the sesquicentennial observance promises to be different.

Paul Johnson

Not only are blacks themselves far better positioned politically and economically to influence the tone and content of the various activities, but in an era of heightened racial sensitivity, a great many whites are less inclined to allow for ambiguity in Confederate symbols, human and otherwise.

Over the last generation, we have seen heated conflicts about the Confederate battle flag in Georgia and several other states. Statues and paintings could be just as divisive. Elsewhere in the South, African-American activists demanded the removal of monuments or the renaming of public streets, parks, buildings, and schools commemorating Confederate leaders or prominent slaveholders.

In New Orleans, for example, the majority black school board voted to change Robert E. Lee Elementary School to Ronald E. McNair Elementary in honor of the first black astronaut, who was also a victim of the Challenger disaster. For many black southerners, the widespread assault on Confederate icons and symbols went hand in hand with celebrating the crusade to free the South from the racial system constructed on the ruins of the Confederate legacy. Martin Luther King Jr. In this, Lee served both of his countries, the South and the US. This was a very good book, it focuses on the military aspect, and while it doesn't go into detail about the battles, it is because it focuses upon the strategic and operational, not the tactical.

Much like Lee himself did. As such it tends to demolish many of the caveats of those like Bevin Alexander who assume flaws in Lee's leadership that doomed the South to defeat.

Reid argues that Lee gave the South its best chance of victory and that he understood, far better than Davis even, the grand strategy the South had to pursue to achieve victory or at least a political settlement. All in all this is a highly recommended, if brief, book on Lee, certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, American general. Jan 21, Robin Friedman rated it it was amazing. Lee It is easy to overlook the many contributions that non-Americans have made to the study of the American Civil War. Brian Holden Reid's outstanding study "Robert E.

Lee: Icon for a Nation" brings an informed, fresh and balanced perspective to bear upon the Confederacy's greatest general. He has taught military strategy and tactics and written extensively about America's Civil War.

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Any new study of Lee must work on two levels. First, of course, it must examine Lee himself, his life, his career, and his generalship. Second, any study must come to terms with the extensive writing and radically shifting perspectives about Lee over the years. His character and success, for a time, against long military odds soon elevated Lee into a figure respected and revered by many Americans, north and south. Then, in midth Century a reaction set in against Lee, questioning some of the mythology that had grown around him and challenging his aggressive conduct of the War, his focus on the Eastern theater, his alleged lack of broad strategic vision, and the high casualty rate to which he subjected the Army of Northern Virginia, among other things.

The reasons underlying the reassessment were complex. They included correcting an overly iconic and uncritical account, the changing perspective with which Americans viewed the Civil War, and a general and, I think, unhappy tendency to debunk and to criticize important historical figures. In clear, elegant prose, Reid examines Lee and Lee historiography. Although Reid avoids hero worship, he clearly admires greatly Robert E. Lee as a person and as a general. He finds that much, but not all, of the traditional picture of Lee has merit: he was an imaginative, aggressive, savvy, and gifted commander who, importantly, inspired the love and the trust of his men.

He fought and won many battles against long odds and prolonged the life of the Confederacy, giving it its best chance to achieve independence. Reid is far from uncritical as he points to flaws in, among other things, the command structure of Lee's army, the commander's frequent over-confidence, his tendency to over-delegate to subordinates, his conduct of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the failure to make the most of his opportunities in battles such as Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredricksburg, and Chancellorsville.

For all these faults, Lee emerges in this study as a remarkable, charismatic commander whom Reid believes is properly regarded as one of the greatest in history. The book opens with a chapter on Lee the icon with a summary of how historians of the "Lost Cause" school have viewed him, under the influence of the writings of Confederate General Jubal Early.

Paul Johnson - Civil Warrior | Literary Review | Issue

The book then discusses Lee's pre-Civil War career, focusing on his service in Mexico, but gathers force in its consideration of Lee's three-year career as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's assumption of command in June, , and the battles for which he is famous -- Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign, Petersburg, and Appomattox, are discussed clearly and with sufficient detail.

Reid keeps his and the reader's focus on the main themes of his study: showing Lee's greatness as a leader but his shortcomings as well. In common with most books about Lee, his military exploits are discussed in detail but we see little of his inmost thoughts and feelings. Lee was a highly reserved individual.

I would have also liked more emphasis on Lee's pre-Civil War career and, particularly, a fuller discussion of Lee's life and career as President of Washington University following the Civil War. The book includes some basic maps of the key theatres of Lee's operations -- placed at the beginning of the book to avoid cluttering the text -- a good, basic bibliography, and no footnotes. Reid has written an excellent study of a great commander which argues convincingly that Lee deserves most of the esteem that he has traditionally received.

This book will appeal to serious students of the Civil War. Robin Friedman Jul 16, Tom rated it really liked it. Holden Reid, a British historian, makes for a compelling and readable biography of Robert E. He states early on he is not interested in making his book a "Lost Cause" romantic view of a mortal man, or engage in the reaction to said views and deny Lee his greatness.

Instead, Holden Reid takes a path that suggests Lee was not only a great general, but contrary to a lot of popular opinion, he was an exceptional general in an army the Confederate Army that lacked a lot of exceptional generals Holden Reid, a British historian, makes for a compelling and readable biography of Robert E. Instead, Holden Reid takes a path that suggests Lee was not only a great general, but contrary to a lot of popular opinion, he was an exceptional general in an army the Confederate Army that lacked a lot of exceptional generals, as seen in the Confederacy's inability to hold the west.

The book is fair, showing where Lee made mistakes, but all the while showing him to be every bit the great general he was.

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May 02, Claire Baxter rated it really liked it. A very readable biography although like others have said, I would have liked a bit more on his life outside of the civil war. I think only the first two chapters and then the last covered the rest of his life. Jul 03, D Enderby rated it liked it. Well written and a good analysis of Lee as a confederate battle leader. Lacking in depth of him as a man and person outside of the battles. Reasonable coverage of the period and the man.

The topic was new to me and fairly informative.

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Jan 18, Marcia rated it really liked it. If you're interested in Robert E. Lee this is a good place to start. Steve S rated it liked it Mar 18, Russ rated it really liked it Jan 05, Steve rated it really liked it Aug 25, Brendan rated it liked it Aug 28, Brandan Willis rated it liked it Nov 15, Robert rated it liked it Jul 03, Pat rated it it was amazing Jul 13, Emily Punzalan rated it liked it Jun 04, Todd Theiste rated it liked it Oct 02, Richard rated it really liked it Oct 03, Jeff James rated it liked it Aug 22, Edoardo Dalmonte rated it it was amazing Jan 02, Ryan Diamond rated it liked it Nov 27, Mackenzie rated it it was ok Jul 08, Colt Allgood rated it liked it Jul 11, Jim Justice rated it really liked it Nov 29, Daleskha rated it liked it Feb 12, Chris rated it liked it Nov 16, Benjamin rated it really liked it Jan 04, Kyle Davis rated it it was amazing May 17, Simon Shayler rated it it was amazing Nov 24, Hrcpins4us rated it really liked it Apr 02, Scott rated it really liked it Mar 24, There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

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