How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War

How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War

by Edward Bonekemper

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Overview

How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War by Edward Bonekemper

In this book, Ed Bonekemper challenges the general view that Robert E. Lee was a military genius who staved off inevitable Confederate defeat against insurmountable odds -- a critical component of the Myth of the Lost Cause. Instead, he contends that Lee was responsible for the South's loss in a war it could have won.

His theory: The North had the burden of conquering the South, a huge defensible area consisting of eleven states. The South only had to play for a tie and only had to wear down the northern will to win (as insurgents did against superior forces in the American Revolution, the Chinese Communist takeover of China, and the Vietnam War). Specifically, the South had to hold on to its precious manpower resources and convince the North to vote Lincoln out of office in 1864.

Instead, Lee unnecessarily went for the win, squandered his irreplaceable troops, and weakened his army so badly that military defeat became inevitable. Lee's army took 80,000 casualties in his first fourteen months of command--while imposing only a militarily tolerable 73,000 casualties on his opponents. This crucial period of the war extended from the Seven Days’ Campaign, in which Lee’s army went on the suicidal offensive almost every day for a week; Second Bull Run/Manassas, where the final offensive charge was costly; the Antietam Campaign, which Lee initiated on his own and almost cost him his army; Fredericksburg, a lesson in slaughter that Lee failed to learn; Chancellorsville, the “victory” that wasn’t; and finally the disastrous Gettysburg Campaign, in which he took his army on the strategic offensive and seriously damaged its future utility. With the Confederacy outnumbered almost four-to-one in white men of fighting age, Lee's aggressive strategy and tactics proved to be suicidal.

Also noteworthy are Lee's failure to take charge of the battlefield (such as the second day of Gettysburg), his overly complex and ineffective battle-plans (such as the Antietam and Seven Days' campaigns), and his vague and ambiguous orders (such as those that deprived him of Jeb Stuart's services for most of Gettysburg and his "if practicable" order to General Ewell to take the high ground on Day 1 at Gettysburg).

Furthermore, Lee's Virginia-first myopia played a major role in crucial Confederate failures in the West. Too little attention has been paid to Lee's refusals to provide reinforcements for Vicksburg or Tennessee in mid-1863, his causing James Longstreet to arrive at Chickamauga with less than half his troops, his idea to move Longstreet away from Chattanooga just before Grant's troops broke through the undermanned Confederates there, and his failure to reinforce Atlanta in the critical months before the 1864 Presidential election.

Lee's final failure was his continuing the hopeless and bloody slaughter after Union victory had been ensured by each of a series of events: the fall of Atlanta, the reelection of Lincoln, and the fall of Petersburg and Richmond.

This book also explores historians' treatment of Lee, including the deification of him by failed Confederate generals, such as Jubal A. Early and William Nelson Pendleton, in an attempt to resurrect their own reputations and justify secession and the Civil War.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013532885
Publisher: Sergeant Kirkland's Press
Publication date: 11/27/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 975,681
File size: 379 KB

About the Author

Ed Bonekemper is Book Review Editor of the Civil War News and a former adjunct lecturer in military history at Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania. He earned a B.A. cum laude in American history from Muhlenberg, an M.A. in American history from Old Dominion University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School.
He is the author of numerous Civil War articles and six Civil War books: How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War (Fredericksburg, Virginia: Sergeant Kirkland’s Press, 1998); A Victor, Not a Butcher: Ulysses S. Grant’s Overlooked Military Genius (Washington: Regnery Press, 2004) [Republished as Ulysses S. Grant: A Victor, Not a Butcher: The Military Genius of the Man Who Won the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2010)]; McClellan and Failure: A Study of Civil War Fear, Incompetence and Worse (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2007, 2010); Grant and Lee: Victorious American and Vanquished Virginian (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2008); Lincoln and Grant: The Westerners Who Won the Civil War (ebook 2011; CreateSpace softcover 2012); Lincoln and Grant's teamwork: Keys to Their Civil War Success (ebook 2011). All are available as e-books.
Ed is a frequent Civil War speaker to Civil War Roundtables and other groups. He served as a Federal Government attorney-manager for over 34 years, including 11 years on active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard. He is a retired Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. Ed lives with his wife Susan and their Susan-trained therapy cockapoo Ruby in Willow Street, Pennsylvania.

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How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The nook version is very confusing and distracting to read because there is no difference between the font used for the footnotes and the body of the text. Evidently the original copy had footnotes at the bottom of each page, which because the nook edition doesn'f follow the same page breaks, has the effect of placing the footnotes in the middle of paragraphs and even in the middle of words! The nook editor's should have moved the footnotes to end of the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As the author goes to great lengths to point out, Robert E. Lee was the object of deification to the extreme during the years following his death in 1870. Many, many people over the following decades made it their quest to glorify the life and career of Robert E. Lee. Subsequently, iconoclastic writers who have taken the time to closely study Lee have felt the urge to tear down the myth. This is okay. Certainly Robert E. Lee was not perfect. He was simply a human being doing the best he could fighting for a cause he believed in deeply. Did he make mistakes? Yes. Could he have done a better job? Of course! Every single person who reads this book could do a better job than Robert E. Lee when benefiting from 140 years of hindsight just as we all could probably coach a win in the Super bowl on Monday morning following the Sunday game. I enjoyed this book. Bonekemper has done a huge amount of research and makes a strong case that Robert E. Lee's strategies and tactics while leading the Army of Northern Virginia were fatally flawed. He's correct. But, let's face it. The entire rationale for fighting the war was equally a mistake.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very thought provoking look at Lee's career. Read with THE REASON THE SOUTH LOST and WHY THE NORTH WON, it gives one a very different view of the relative capabilities of the generals involved and the constraints placed on both sides -- both physical and emotional. Lee undoubtedly has to bear the major blame for the South's defeat -- Bonekemper details and quantify's Lee's shortcomings in his grasp of strategy and the South's resources. I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it whether you agree with his argument or not.