How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War


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Whether his marriage was less than a success, as has been argued, is not something that can be clearly settled at this distance, but it is clear that Lee complained about the seemingly endless separations from wife and family during his service in the old Army. And it is hardly surprising that amid the uncertainties of war he would fall back increasingly on the rationalization that God ruled all human affairs, the outcome of which were beyond earthly control. At the same time, it must be said that Lee was hardly singular in his musings about the unfairness of life and in questioning his choice of the Army as a career.

There cannot have been a single officer in the s who expressed himself satisfied with his lot in that bureaucracy-ridden, glacier-paced antebellum army. The only surprise is that Lee did not resign to pursue a civilian career, as many others did. As for his religious fatalism, that too was common enough among Civil War generals. Nagel, the biographer of the Lees of Virginia. These were on the battlefields of the Mexican War and the Civil War.

But across the longer stretches of time, he seemed lethargic and inclined to stick with what was familiar and at hand. It was this supreme confidence in his own generalship that enabled Lee to face down every general he met in the war but the last one, U. Grant, who possessed equal confidence in himself as a commander. The corollary to this battlefield selfconfidence is equally important to any understanding of Robert E. Lee the soldier: He invariably fought to win. Not every Civil War general fought that way. Halleck, for example, was primarily interested in gaining territory when in field command.

General McClellan was notorious for fighting, when he did fight, so as not to lose.

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Joseph E. Johnston, when he opposed McClellan in Virginia and later Sherman in Georgia and the Carolinas, constantly retreated in order to avoid defeat. Harry Williams and the Englishman J.

Robert E Lee's Civil War Battles

Fuller charge him with being both overly aggressive and strategically parochial, interested only in the Virginia theater of war. He understood exactly where the South might win this war and what was required to win it, and he singlemindedly bent every effort to that victory. It was a decidedly modern concept. Southerners might win the war through foreign intervention, as their forefathers had won the Revolution, or they might win on the battlefield and so force the North to the peace table.

Militarily the best the Confederacy could hope from any Western victories was simply to arrest the Federal advance there and gain a stalemate. On the other hand, the Confederacy could win its independence at a stroke by winning victories, or just one great victory, in the East. While Lee did not discount the possibility of British and French intervention, he was realistic in warning against relying on it. That Lee frequently acted very aggressively in his strategy and often in his tactics is beyond dispute. That he often had no other practical choice is not always appreciated by those critics who, viewing Civil War battles through the lens of hindsight, rule them inherently indecisive because of the new weaponry and the old tactics of that day.

In and , before the two armies became locked in the trenches before Petersburg, Lee fought battles that were decided by chance or by fate or simply by human frailty. He grasped the enormous advantage in war of holding the initiative, of forcing the enemy to march to his drum, especially so since his was always the smaller army. At every opportunity he aggressively seized the strategic initiative, as he did on taking field command for the first time in June during the Peninsula campaign.

Robert E. Lee's Last Day in Uniform: Civil War Richmond

While his overall strategy was excellent, his tactics reflected his inexperience: his battle plans were too complicated, his staff work was poor, his orders were too demanding. The closest he came to a Cannae was at Glendale on June 30; Malvern Hill, the next day, was a disaster. Yet Lee had no real alternative to playing the role of aggressor in this week-long battle. To remain on the defensive was to allow McClellan to besiege Richmond, and to lose Richmond was a blow the Confederacy could not have survived, armchair generals to the contrary.

Lee took note of that lesson. His margin in accomplishing this feat was a matter of only a few hours, but Lee was unruffled. I knew he could hold on till we came, and that we should be in position in time. His two great divisions under Longstreet and Jackson were like pistols in his two hands, so perfectly could he handle them. Was it intended as an invasion? A raid? Of course, all did not go as Lee intended, for chance intervened.

A careless courier lost a copy of his campaign plan, and it was found by a Yankee soldier and brought to McClellan. The consequence was the Battle of Sharpsburg or Antietam , on September Sharpsburg was a battle Lee did not have to fight; so slow was McClellan to act on the lost order that Lee could have slipped back across the Potomac had he wished. Lee ever made.

Early military career

He was certain he could beat the timid, cautious McClellan in any pitched battle, and indeed, he did out-general him that day and gain a narrow tactical victory, inflicting 20 percent more casualties than he suffered. Even at that, his army was too badly hurt to continue the campaign, and he had to fall back to Virginia.

The profit of Sharpsburg was not worth the cost. To say this is not to say that Lee was being overly aggressive in crossing the Potomac and marching north. With his army intact and rested and operating as he intended on ground of his own choosing, facing a general he was supremely confident he could beat, Robert E. Lee had every reason to believe he would win the showdown battle he sought. In these fall months of his troops and his lieutenants were in good form and good morale, and he was at the peak of his own powers, and when he insisted that without the mischance of the lost order he would have crushed McClellan, his opinion is worth respect.

The wounding of his army in Maryland forced Lee to surrender the strategic initiative for the first time since taking command, but thanks to the two generals who faced him next, this proved to be no disadvantage. He need not have worried. He understood these two perfectly. Longstreet remarked that so long as his ammunition held out and they kept coming, he would kill Yankee soldiers until there were none left in the North.


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At Chancellorsville, Hooker lost his nerve and halted. For Lee the great victory was marred by the mortal wounding of Jackson; with Jackson gone, he said, he had lost his right arm. In opening the Gettysburg campaign a month after Chancellorsville, Lee was once again acting to hold the strategic initiative, and he was once again challenging a general, George G.

Meade, who was commanding an army in battle for the first time. It was a familiar pattern, one that Lee had exploited with great success before, and it is not surprising that he would try it again. In the first two days of the fighting at Gettysburg, Lee came tantalizingly close to winning his Cannae.


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  7. He would do so if the president wished, Lee said, but he suggested it be a permanent change; the Western high command would never cordially support a visiting general. Of equal concern, who would command the Army of Northern Virginia in his stead? Jackson was dead and Longstreet was in the West, and Lee could suggest no one else competent for the post. Davis agreed, and Lee remained in the East. With an army failing steadily and inevitably, against a general who was at last a true match, Lee countered every advance and repelled every charge and inflicted nearly twice the casualties he suffered.

    At Petersburg the two armies went to ground in a siege that lasted nine months.

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    Here the Army of Northern Virginia was finally brought to bay by Grant, who was the sixth general to attempt it, yet at the same time the effort stalemated the Army of the Potomac, leaving the war in the East on dead center. Hood, could not achieve a comparable stalemate, however, and by the spring of Lee saw that final defeat was inevitable. In line with his earlier call for the entire Southern nation to mobilize for war, he advocated arming the slaves, which act would earn them their freedom.

    Lee felt duty-bound that spring to attempt one last campaign, and he managed to extricate his army from Petersburg and head it westward, hoping to join Joe Johnston in North Carolina and somehow carry on the fight. By the time he approached Appomattox Courthouse he had but eight thousand armed men left and knew he must meet General Grant and end it.

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    But he goes on to say that slavery was "a greater evil to the white man than to the black race" and "while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. He considered himself a paternalistic master but could also impose severe punishments, especially on those who attempted to run away. Lee said almost nothing in public about the institution.


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    His most extended comment, quoted by all biographers, came in a letter to his wife in Here he described slavery as an evil, but one that had more deleterious effects on whites than blacks. The end of slavery would come in God's good time, but this might take quite a while, since to God a thousand years was just a moment.

    In , Lee voted for John C. Breckenridge, the extreme proslavery candidate a more moderate southerner, John Bell, carried Virginia that year. Reeves explains that after losing the war, Lee attempted to present himself as always being against slavery. In an interview after his surrender, Reeves says, Lee said that "the best men of the south" were eager to do away with it, and in a testimony in he had "always been in favor of emancipation — gradual emancipation.

    A battle of wills: why the South lost the American Civil War

    A Facebook post says that the prophet Muhammad owned many slaves while Robert E. Both men owned slaves. Meanwhile, Lee, besides serving as commander of the army that fought to uphold slavery, imposed harsh punishments when his slaves disobeyed and said he thought the "painful discipline" was necessary for the "instruction of the race," and that the end of slavery would come when God willed it. While Lee made some mixed statements on his feelings toward slavery, his actions and political positions contradict that he opposed it.

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    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War
    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War
    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War
    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War
    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War
    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War
    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War
    How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War

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