The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Leeby Clifford Dowdey
This monumental contribution to the literature of the Civil War brings together Lee's official correspondenceletters, orders, dispatches, battle reportswith his touching letters to his family, thus providing a previously unavailable view of Lee's life during the war. From the more than 6,000 items, the editors have chosen to reprint many
This monumental contribution to the literature of the Civil War brings together Lee's official correspondenceletters, orders, dispatches, battle reportswith his touching letters to his family, thus providing a previously unavailable view of Lee's life during the war. From the more than 6,000 items, the editors have chosen to reprint many letters in full for the first time, so that Lee is seen complete, self-revealed, in all his dignity and purpose. Short narratives connect each sectionon the mobilization of Virginia, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and the siege of Petersburg and Appomattox. Sponsored by the Virginia Civil War Commission to commemorate the Civil War Centennial, this expert work of scholarship dramatizes Lee's life as only his own correspondence could. As Lee himself said: ”Letters are good representatives of our minds. They certainly present a good criterion for judging of the character of the individual.”
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This is not a book that one can sit down and read cover-to-cover, and was never intended to be one. The papers record both the man and the mind for Lee, who despite being one of the most respected military commanders of all time, remains something of an enigma. Along with some of the key events of the war as recorded by the conflict's premier strategist are the letters home that reflect who Lee was. While useful as a tool for understanding the person, this book's true value is in its ability to decipher the Confederate army's actions during the war.
The collection of personal and official correspondence of Gen. Lee is very enlightening and offers many otherwise hidden insights into the man, who in all his modesty, is arguably the greatest American military leader to date. His personal correspondence with his family is very interesting in showing how, even in the death-grip of the Union army's hold on the Confederacy in its last days, his devotion to God and his family was unrelenting. His official communications shows Lee's constant desire to maintain his army's (the Army of Northern Virginia's) ability to maneouver, and his unceasing drive to provision his troops. His men returned his affection and carried with them the pride and responsibility to duty which Lee's personality and methods instilled in their character. The editing of this book, however, leaves some things to be desired. Some important documents are omitted, such as Jefferson Davis' reply to Lee's offer to resign following the Gettysburg campaign (the vast majority of correspondence included was originated by/for Lee, but in some cases communications sent to him are included, but not this particular letter). In the overview of the Battle of Spotsylvania, the editors leave-out the explanation for how the Union forces managed to penetrate the northern perimeter of the rebel fortifications (Lee received incorrect information that the Federals were retreating, and ordered a portion of his artillery withdrawn from that point). The editors also omit Lee's inquiry made to Gen. Meade following the failed Dahlgren raid of 1864. The overview of the breakdown of the Confederate command system (none of Lee's fault) at the onset of the siege of Petersburg is confusing to read and is not explained in a clear format (the whole situation was itself very confusing, however). Overall, the book is a treasure-trove of information if the avid Civil War reader is willing to take the plunge into a 900+ page compilation.