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"The Myth of the Kindly General Lee" Topic

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian20 Jul 2019 5:05 p.m. PST

The legend of the Confederate leader's heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed…


D6 Junkie20 Jul 2019 5:31 p.m. PST

Now this is going to set off some fireworks. I would shut it down now Bill.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian20 Jul 2019 5:58 p.m. PST

I think General Lee can be discussed politely, and without getting into modern politics.

goragrad20 Jul 2019 6:45 p.m. PST

Good Grief!

That article is current politics Bill.

And ignorant. Brine was used (and still is they call it saline solution) to treat wounds and promote healing. It wasn't sadism when the Royal Navy had sea water thrown on the backs of men who had been flogged.

I think the rest of the article pretty much echoes that failure.

P.S. Flogging was only abolished as a punishment in the US Army in 1861.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2019 6:54 p.m. PST

First off, it is the Atlantic from which publication
I personally expect no unbiased reporting.

Secondly, much of what the article says about Lee is
true, but also much is left out. Selective reporting.
As an example, there is no mention of Lee's support of
the black people he sent to Liberia to live. Along
those lines, if you can find a copy of a book (19thC)
called 'Dear Master' do read it – nothing to do with Lee
but fascinating nonetheless.

There are many good biographies of Lee. I would counsel
people to read Freeman (described by a modern historian
[Eric Foner] as a hagiography) with a container of salt
handy, but also Elizabeth Pryor and Michael Fellman,
Franklin Riley and Noah Trudeau. Foner is an honest
historian, but sails pretty close to the wind with respect
to clearly stating 'fact' versus 'opinion'.

While reading these folks bear in mind they all have axes,
hatchets or at least penknives to grind on one side or
the other.

Landorl20 Jul 2019 7:08 p.m. PST

This article is factually wrong and uses sources that have been proven wrong. The statement that he personally beat slaves was published by abolitionists without any corroborating evidence, and is therefore not trustworthy.

The statement that they abducted free black people is also uncorroborated. There are legends that the army of Northern Virginia abducted hundreds and thousands of free blacks, but there is no supporting data other than "I heard it"

Finally, the idea that Lee was a poor general because he fought a "Conventional" war is stupid. That is using modern tactics in a war over a hundred years ago. Lee was considered a "gentleman", and it was considered cowardice to fight a guerrilla style of war. Plus, Lee's campaigns nearly did pay off. In the north people were tired of the war and the struggle. Many did push for peace terms, but Lincoln would not back down.

This article is politically motivated and is trying to justify the destruction of monuments to the ACW by destroying the legacy of a person who was like most people, he had good traits and bad traits.

BW195920 Jul 2019 7:45 p.m. PST

Lee's treatment of his Father-in-laws slaves is well known and he was rather harsh in dealing with them.


Bill N21 Jul 2019 5:58 a.m. PST

My argument with historical revisionists is that while they claim to be replacing myths with truths, they are usually replacing older myths with newer ones.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP21 Jul 2019 6:30 a.m. PST

Revisionist history. Lee was no paragon, but he was a gentleman. His behavior and efforts in the final months of the war especially saved this nation from a bitter guerilla war.

DFLange Supporting Member of TMP21 Jul 2019 7:17 a.m. PST

Lee was neither the saint he has sometimes been portrayed as nor was he any more racist than the majority of the whites, both South and North, at the time. He was a product of his era and should be seen as such. His public behavior both during and after Appomattox helped the South accept the results of the war. He is a hero to some and as long as it is for his military skill and public behavior after the war it is acceptable.

Condottiere21 Jul 2019 7:49 a.m. PST

Much of Lee's image was "rehabilitated" as part of the "Lost Cause" mythology.

Patrick R21 Jul 2019 7:56 a.m. PST

The psychological mechanisms of slavery are such that it's fairly hard to distinguish outright cruelty from violence for convenience's sake.

There is no such thing as benign slavery with accepting slaves accustomed to their lot and kind masters who will only punish at the very last resort, a condition of perfect symbiosis that leads to the lesser evil of situations.

If believe that, you never owned slaves or had to keep a group of unruly children under control.

We have testimonies from people who suddenly acquired slaves through inheritance and found that they were unable to use them for any intended purpose when treated gently. Similarly when two estates merged and two groups of slaves were thrown together the group dynamics became so antagonistic that both sides had to be punished harshly to discourage further disruptions.

In ancient Rome there was a flourishing business in curses aimed at owners or rituals that might facilitate an escape.

Slave uprisings are common throughout the history of the practice and generally without force and coercion slaves will avoid work in any way possible.

While this may not absolve Lee, it shows how much of a burden the entire system was on the slave-owners in the South and is a huge contributing factor to all attempts to preserve slavery in the first place. With slavery they lived in fear of a revolt, but if freed, they might go on a rampage (see also "The Klansman" aka "Birth of a Nation") and seek out revenge. They would rather stay with slavery than risk a test.

Lee was a pragmatist, he may not have liked the institution (not an uncommon sentiment even in the South), he did more or less perform to general expectations of his day when he had cause for it.

Blutarski21 Jul 2019 7:54 p.m. PST

One can only imagine why, with the secession crisis upon him, Lincoln first offered command of the US Army to Lee.

Deleted by Moderator

Here is an interesting little historical footnote that you will not ever see appearing in the Atlantic or any of the other fake "news and opinion" media outlets. I'm sure all here recall the Confederate general, KKK founder and evil slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest. How many are aware that he was invited to address the national convention of the "Independent Order of Pole Bearers Association" (a black organized predecessor of the modern NAACP) in 1875.

A convention and BBQ was held by the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association at the fairgrounds of Memphis, five miles east of the city. An invitation to speak was conveyed to General Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the city's most prominent citizens, and one of the foremost cavalry commanders in the late War Between the States. This was the first invitation granted to a white man to speak at this gathering. The invitation's purpose, one of the leaders said, was to extend peace, joy, and union, and following a brief welcoming address a Miss Lou Lewis, daughter of an officer of the Pole-Bearers, brought forward flowers and assurances that she conveyed them as a token of good will. After Miss Lewis handed him the flowers, General Forrest responded with a short speech that, in the contemporary pages of the Memphis Appeal, evinces Forrest's racial open-mindedness that seemed to have been growing in him.

Forrest's speech to the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association July 5, 1875:
"Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God's earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. ( Immense applause and laughter.) I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don't propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I'll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand."

N. B. Forrest again thanked Miss Lewis for the bouquet and then gave her a kiss on the cheek. Such a kiss was unheard of in the society of those days, in 1875, but it showed a token of respect and friendship between the general and the black community and did much to promote harmony among the citizens of Memphis.

When Forrest died in 1877 it is noteworthy that his funeral in Memphis was attended not only by a throng of thousands of whites but by hundreds of blacks as well. The funeral procession was over two miles long and was attended by over 10,000 area residents, including 3000 black citizens paying their respects.

Don't fall for the big con. Our history is a lot richer, more complex and uplifting then they would have us believe.


Quaama21 Jul 2019 10:38 p.m. PST

It's pleasing to see that some, like Blutarski, can research items from the 1800s.
It's annoying that others, like Adam Serwer, rely upon hyperbole while attempting to support it with contemporary accounts, unsourced quotes and personal opinion.

Dynaman878922 Jul 2019 5:16 a.m. PST

No – the con job is that the south was fighting for a just cause.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP22 Jul 2019 11:02 a.m. PST

Once more, I'd suggest folks READ biographies of
Lee, adjust for maudlin hero-worship (Freeman) or
extreme iconoclasm (Foner) and then make up
their own minds.

BTW, cancelled my Atlantic subscription many years

MiniPigs In the TMP Dawghouse22 Jul 2019 2:34 p.m. PST

Deleted by Moderator

Anyway, wargaming is about ignoring these issues and focusing on the accomplishments of soldiers and commanders without outside distractions like rectal itch or bad table manners. Admire the SS for their fighting prowess and that's it.

But, at the same time, apologists along the lines of "But what about all the good things Hitler did?" (Which ive seen on a Tshirt!) also seems a little far fetched. The idea that Lee was petite with his slaves or danced the minuet with them or NBF licked some black girl's ear or whatever is going on up above is a little absurd.

Having said that, has it occurred to anyone that no one kicks a dead horse and that Lee is still a figure of awe and respect that someone has to write a fluff piece on what a baddie he was? If anything, an article like this will probably increase support for him.

Bill N22 Jul 2019 6:31 p.m. PST

A famous American Civil War historian frequently mentioned on this forum once said he viewed the American Civil War through the lenses of the 1960s civil rights movement. I happen to believe you cannot divorce historical events and the people involved in them from their times.

I have not been a fan of Lee for some time. My issues with Lee stem from him failing to live up to the standards of his own times though. That involves having an understanding of what the standards and rules were in the 1850s through 1870, the period during which Lee is being criticized today. This is something that many of today's populist critics lack.

Deleted by Moderator

Personal logo John the Greater Supporting Member of TMP23 Jul 2019 9:07 a.m. PST

"I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."

Ulysses S. Grant in his memoirs

RudyNelson23 Jul 2019 2:09 p.m. PST

I agree with the Revisionist history comment. I started seeing it in the 1970s with the feminist and economic deterrminist versions of history. I am a traditionalist.

Never viewed Lee as a sweetheart. No General can send men to their deaths without a heparin side.

Grant and his butcher bill for each battle still occurred in Southern commands as well.

donlowry23 Jul 2019 5:26 p.m. PST

"General Lee was a Christian gentleman; and he was defeated in the open field by YANKEES!" -- Katherine Hepburn in the movie "Rooster Cogburn," a sequel to the John Wayne version of "True Grit."

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2019 7:31 a.m. PST

IIRC, Ms. Hepburn portrayed a Boston Brahmin
'Yankee' in that film…a devout one, of

donlowry25 Jul 2019 8:35 a.m. PST

Not sure about the Brahmin part, but a Yankee for sure.

Old Contemptible30 Jul 2019 10:18 a.m. PST

Brilliant Strategist Yes
Devoted Christian yes
Man who abhorred slavery No
Labored tirelessly to bring the country back together ? (where did hear this

Old Contemptible30 Jul 2019 10:21 a.m. PST

I would rather we stick to Lee's strategy and tactics

Old Contemptible30 Jul 2019 10:21 a.m. PST

Brilliant Strategist – Yes
Devoted Christian – yes
Man who abhorred slavery – No
Labored tirelessly to bring the country back together – ?

I still say the author of this article is a fool.

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