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Robert E Lee : A Harsh Assessment & Critical Defense Of The Confederate General

Portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, officer of the Confederate Army, The Library of Congress

Robert E Lee : A Harsh Assessment & Critical Defense Of The Confederate General

US Civil War

Lee threw away the lives of his men with arrogant abandon. He had the highest casualty rate (suffered) of any field officer in the war.

Robert E Lee was the butcher of the Civil War. He was willing to throw away the lives of his men to preserve his reputation of tactical brilliance. This worked well up until Gettysburg, when he finally paid the piper. At the end of the war, his losses were greater in magnitude than the losses of General Grant.

Lee in uniform, 1863

Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson, who shed light on Grant and Lee’s casualties in their book “Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage”, point out that an average of “only” 15 percent of Grant’s Federal troops were killed or wounded in his major campaigns over the course of the war, a total of slightly more than 94,000 men. In contrast, both a greater quantity and a greater fraction of Lee’s men fell during combat: An average of 20 percent of his troops were killed or wounded in his major campaigns, a total of more than 121,000 (far more than any other Civil War general).

Lee had 80,000 of his men killed or wounded in his first 14 months in command (about the same number he started with).

Battle Of Gettysburg

In “Reading the Man,” historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor writes that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man ever see[n].”

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Well that’s an overly harsh take!

Robert E. Lee, around age 38, and his son William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, around age 8, c.1845
A potential reason for the disparity in death between Lee and Grant was the arsenal and the logistical advantage the Union had.

The Union had more powerful cannons that killed more Confederates and better access to doctors and medicine saved more Union troops. In addition, the Union generals prior to Grant were extraordinarily timid. And did not put much at risk, which is how the South and Lee took an early advantage. 

But Lee just played that daring style a bit too long…hindsight is 20/20, I guess.  
Robert E. Lee around age 43, when he was a brevet lieutenant-colonel of engineers, c. 1850

On the slave point, I don’t know about that. Lee was against slavery and had released slaves he inherited prior to war. He wrote about his time running a plantation in Texas post-Mexican American war, where he really hated the practice and experienced how difficult it was to motivate slaves.

Lee recognized that the slave economy was a bad economy because labor had no autonomy and lacked motivation. 
Lee with son Custis (left) and aide Walter H. Taylor (right) by Brady, April 16, 1865

Moreover, Lee also recognized that slavery was preventing the US from receiving foreign aide.  

I think Lee was daring but just was outmatched in his stomach for blood and devastation when Lincoln turned on the heat of true ‘Total War.’  

That aspect was a real fact as to why the guerilla style defense that seems so obvious was not so easily done as well. The Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves and allowed slavery to continue in Union loyal states. It was just an effort to create a slave uprising.  

Lee’s birthplace

In fact, Lincoln had no care for southern civilians. Sherman’s march was a devastating destruction of country that led to starvation and poverty for generations

I think Lee gets a bit overly glorified but there is no question who the real villain in American history is: Lincoln.

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US Civil War

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Robert E Lee : A Harsh Assessment & Critical Defense Of The Confederate General

US Civil War