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— Russell F. Weigley
— Richard B. McCaslin
— Albert A. Nofi
"This superb biography gives as full a portrait of nineteenth-century family dynamics as of the dynamics of the battlefield."
--The New Yorker
"Gripping and original, this is the definitive modern study of the Civil War's most feared fighter."
"A penetrating study of one of the most enigmatic and controversial figures in American history."
--The Boston Globe
"Boldly argued and gracefully written."
--The New York Times Book Review
"A vivid portrait of perhaps the most savage warrior of the Civil War period."
--The Wall Street Journal
"A fascinating and readable book about a famous and furious man, brilliant, insightful, garrulous, complicated, tightly wound,
energetic, aggressive, salty, angry, and racist. Here is a man who is grudge-bearing, yet often kind; insecure, yet positive about what the war was about, how to win it, and how it would end."
--The Washington Post Book World
In 1867, the president of Washington College, a small men's institution in Lexington, Virginia, was asked by the Educational Society of his state to serve on a committee of three that was to prepare an address to the parents of the sons of Virginia, urging on them a more hearty cooperation with teachers in matters of discipline and instruction. The Civil War had left a legacy of wildness among young men, and authority needed reinforcement.
President Robert E. Lee, former commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and former commandant at West Point, was as expert on education and discipline as any man in the state. Upon his appointment, he wrote a lengthy position paper in the form of a letter to the other two members of the committee--one a professor, the other an Anglican minister--to outline the basic purposes and goals of education, which were also the markers of a proper gentleman's character. In many ways, he also painted a picture of the man he hoped he had made of himself.
Education, not nature, made the man. "Education embraces the physical, moral and intellectual instruction of a child from infancy to manhood," Lee wrote. "Any system is imperfect which does not combine them all, and that is best which, while it thoroughly develops them, abuses the coarse animal emotions of human nature and exalts the higher faculties and feelings." Repression of the brute beneath was a sine qua non; therefore, "obedience is the first requisite" in family training as in school, the two central sites for the struggle to inculcate order in the unruly child.
But education was not to be the simple dictatorship of the teacher: The appropriate control of othershad to stem not from sheer force but from example. "Neither violence or harshness should ever be used and the parent [and teacher] must bear in mind that to govern his child he must show that he can control himself," Lee stressed. The essential need was for "firmness mixed with kindness." Not merely should the child's "mind be expanded," but "his heart must be affected, his feelings moved." The "sentiments of religion" had to be inculcated by "systematic instruction." Likewise, learning to love labor, to develop independence and quash animal idleness, must be "pursued by earnest and regular exertion." But, as with the teaching of religious sentiments, all drills had to be coupled to demonstrations of piety and industry by parent and teacher.
If all went well, the heart as well as the head of the student would become attuned to self-control. "The love of truth is equal in importance to habitual obedience," Lee reiterated. Nobility of character was the chief end of education--careers would follow--and any choice would be socially responsible and individually fulfilling if made by the dutiful man.
These calmly stern teachings came without hesitation or doubt from the pen of the sixty-year-old Lee, who had seen so much of the affairs of men, including the most base. As he wrote this letter, two books sat on his desk: the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer and a well-worn Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Roman emperor. These sources and values, inherited from the milieu of the Virginia slaveholding gentry in which he was bred, explain much about the persona of Robert E. Lee, the Lee who was an exemplar, in his own eyes as well as those of others, of the best of his class, his place, and his time. Perhaps more than any other American, with the exception of George Washington, whom he consciously emulated, Lee has long been taken as a moral hero, the greatest Southern white gentleman, the Marble Man. Lee was complicit in this creation because he held himself to a life of endless discipline and selfless virtue in a very determined way.
The struggle for self-mastery--the effort to repress every potentially disruptive impulse and emotion--was perpetual. The Christian virtue of humility instructed this moral wrestler that he would, of course, never reach his goal, but the older Stoic virtue of pride--one of the seven deadly Christian sins--kept him marching along the stony path of control and denial.
Such a character ideal had been typical for the eighteenth-century Virginia slaveholding gentry. But Lee lived in the midnineteenth century, in a society still defined in part by such traditions but also deeply influenced by Romanticism and the warm piety of Evangelical Christianity. In middle age, to be true to his religious striving, Lee felt obliged to open himself to soul-searching and spiritual passion during a conversion experience. Once he had reached upward, however, Lee turned toward an even more distant and chilly sense of duty, as if in flight from the vulnerability his transformation had demanded.
As a young man, Lee often had been quite ebullient. One story Lee told on himself to a close friend demonstrated in a lighthearted way some of the tension between the less repressed side of his character and his endless drive for self-mastery and self-abnegation.
In 1846, when he was thirty-nine, Lee was stationed at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, engineering new fortifications. One winter's day, when a heavy snowfall blanketed the roads of New York City, several enterprising liverymen brought out horses and sleighs and offered rides up and down Broadway. Lee wrote to John Mackay, his closest West Point chum, about his experience on the sleighs. "The girls returning from school were the prettiest sight, piled on each other's laps, with their bags of books and laughing faces. Indeed there were no lack of customers at sixpence a ride, and you might be accommodated with a lady in your lap in the bargain." Temptation. "Think of a man of my forbidding countenance, John Mackay, having such an offer." Will the mask cover the desire? "But I peeped under the veil before accepting and though I really could not find fault either with her appearance or age, after a little demurring preferred giving her my seat." The gentleman dominates the man when he recalls the discretion demanded of a properly married gentleman such as he. "I thought it would not sound well if repeated in the latitude of Washington," where his wife's family lived, as well as many other young women of his acquaintance, "that I had been riding down BW with a strange woman sitting in my lap. What might my little sweethearts think of it, Miss Harriet H[ackley Talcott]," the wife of another West Point friend, "among the number. Upon reflection I think I did well, for though you know I am charmed when I can get one of the dear creatures on my knee, yet I have my fancies in this as in other things. I found however that I was looked upon as such a curmudgeon by my fellow passengers that I took the first opportunity to leave them." Hooted at for his punctiliousness, which some took to be prudery, the proper Lee conquered his desires by getting off that dangerous sleigh.
Struggling for Self-Mastery
Chapter 1 Patrimony Recaptured
Chapter 2 Marriage, Eros, and Self
Chapter 3 Fatherhood and Salvation
Chapter 4 Race and Slavery
Chapter 5 Politics and Secession
Chapter 6 The Trials of War
Chapter 7 Audacity
Chapter 8 Defeat at Gettysburg
Chapter 9 To the Lost Cause
Chapter 10 The War He Refused
Chapter 11 Cincinnatus
Chapter 12 Barbarians in the Garden
Chapter 13 Southern Nationalist
Epilogue Hannibal's GhostAcknowledgments
Johns Hopkins University Press
Posted August 24, 2005
One star is for a nice cover. I got this book off of the sale rack and now I know why it was there. I majored in history in college and one thing that one had to be careful about when writing papers was finding good, objective sources. This is not one of them. It is just plain slander. Fellman paints Lee as a racist. Lee was not a man without fault, however his prejudeces must be viewed in the context of his time, not ours. Even Lincoln if viewed by today's standards would be considered a racist. Lee could be extreamly kind, but he also had an awful temper. He considered himself somewhat of a failure and he may have been over confident on the third day of Gettysburg. He was a man who felt that slaves were better off in captivity in this country than in Africa but at the same time he would be the only white man who would kneel beside a black man to recieve the Eucharist. He would also go on to grant freedom to his father-in-law's slaves and say that slavery would in the end be more detrimental to the white man. Fellman is clearly not an objective author and to a first time Lee biography reader the image the author would give the poor soul is one of the general wearing a sheet and a pointed hood rather than a military uniform. I have read countless books on Lee, some that portray the man as a saint and others showing his human frailties. A more objective title to check out would be Charles Roland's Refections on Lee: A Historian's Assessment. Dr. Roland provides the reader with a fair treatment of Lee and shows his strengths and his human side. Douglas S. Freeman's 'Lee' is a very favorable look at Lee, but it is highly detailed from a military standpoint. It is clear that Dr. Freeman admired Lee, but the book does not go as far as to put the general up for sainthood. As for Fellman's book, the only reason I'm glad I procured it was that my copy will not fall into the hands of some poor uninformed reader. I have never until now given a title such a low mark, but what Fellman has done is write a book that should be sold next to the other scandal rags one would find at the grocery store check-out line.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 12, 2001
Liberal Northeastern views came thru loud and clear from the author. I have my doubt's that Lee was altogether racist, he certainly was prejudiced but we are judjing him by todays standards. What about him breaking the ice by knelling next to a black man during communion in a racially divided church in Lexington?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 26, 2001
I found this book readable and revealing. I suppose the reader brings some baggage to bear on the reading. I did not know that Robert E. Lee came from the upper crust of Virginia society and that his father was so famous and infamous and that Robert was so poor, he married a rich cousin as was the rule. The author bears down hard on telling the reader of the meaning of certain activities and statements. There is also a heavy dose of Roberts letters with young women and what this could mean erotically in a Victorian setting. I understood a little better the racist ideology of southern nationalism and white suprematism esp. the betrayal of African-Americans after ReconstructionWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.