Monthly Archives: December 2020

Freeman on Lee’s Military Leadership

(December 28, 2020) The following are edited excerpts from Chapter 11 in the fourth (final) volume of Douglas Southall Freeman’s Robert E. Lee biography.

Had Lee’s sense of duty held him to the Union, as it held Winfield Scott and George Thomas, how much easier his course would have been! Never, then, after the first mobilization, would he have lacked for troops or been compelled to count the cost of any move. He would not have agonized over men who shivered in their nakedness or dyed the road with shoeless, bleeding feet. Well clad they would have been, and well fed, too. They would not have been brought down to the uncertain ration of a pint of meal and a quarter of a pound of Nassau bacon. The superior artillery would have been his, not his adversary’s. On his order new locomotives and stout cars would have rolled to the front,  swiftly to carry his army where the feeble engines and the groaning trains of the Confederacy could not deliver men. He would have enjoyed the command of the sea; so that he could have advanced his base a hundred miles, or two hundred, without the anguish of a single, choking march. If one jaded horse succumbed on a raid, the teeming prairies would have supplied two. He would, in all human probability, have won the war.

But, after the manner of the Lees, he had held unhesitatingly to the older allegiance, and had found it the way of difficulty. Always the odds had been against him, three to two in this campaign, two to one in that. Not once, in a major engagement, had he met the Federals on even terms; not once, after a victory, had his army been strong enough to follow it up. To extemporize when time was against him, to improvise when supplies failed him, to reorganize when death claimed his best lieutenants — that had been his constant lot. From the moment he undertook to mobilize Virginia until the last volley rolled across the red hills of Appomattox, there had been no single day when he had enjoyed an advantage he had not won with the blood of men he could not replace. His guns had been as much outranged as his men had been outnumbered. He had marched as often to find food as to confound his foe. His transportation had progressively declined as his dependence on it had increased. The revolutionary government that he espoused in 1861 had been created as a protest against an alleged violation of the rights of the states, and it made those rights its fetish. When it required an executive dictatorship to live, it chose to die by constitutionalism. Fighting in the apex of a triangle, one side of which was constantly exposed to naval attack by an enemy that had controlled the waterways, he had been forced from the first to accept a dispersion of forces that weakened his front without protecting his communications. Always, within this exposed territory, his prime mission had been that of defending a capital close to the frontier. With poverty he had faced abundance.

He believed that the general-in-chief should strive to bring his troops together at the right time and place and that he should leave combat to the generals of brigade and division. To this theory Lee steadfastly held from his opening campaign through the battle of the Wilderness. It was for this reason that he deferred to Longstreet at Second Manassas and did not himself direct the attacks of the Confederate right on July 2 and 3 at Gettysburg. Who may say whether, when his campaigns are viewed as a whole, adherence to this theory of function cost the army more than it won for the South? If this policy failed with Longstreet, it was gloriously successful with Jackson. If the failure at Gettysburg was partly chargeable to it, the victory at Chancellorsville was in large measure the result of its application.

In sum, the balance to the credit of his generalship is clear and absolute.

In three fast-moving months he mobilized Virginia and so secured her defense that the war had been in progress a year before the Unionists were within fifty miles of Richmond. Finding the Federals, when he took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, almost under the shadow of the city’s steeples, he saved the capital from almost certain capture and the Confederate cause from probable collapse. He repulsed four major offensives against Richmond and by his invasion of Pennsylvania he delayed the fifth for ten months. Ere the Federals were back on the Richmond line again — two years to the day from the time he had succeeded Johnston — Lee had fought ten major battles: Gaines’s Mill, Frayser’s Farm, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. Six of these he had indisputably won. At Frayser’s Farm he had gained the field but had not enveloped the enemy as he had planned. Success had not been his at Malvern Hill and at Sharpsburg, but only at Gettysburg had he met with definite defeat, and even there he clouded the title of his adversary to a clear-cut victory. During the twenty-four months when he had been free to employ open manoeuvre, a period that had ended with Cold Harbor, he had sustained approximately 103,000 casualties and had inflicted 145,000. Holding, as he usually had, to the offensive, his combat losses had been greater in proportion to his numbers than those of the Federals, but he had demonstrated how strategy may increase an opponent’s casualties, for his losses included only 16,000 prisoners, whereas he had taken 38,000. Chained at length to the Richmond defenses, he had saved the capital from capture for ten months. All this he had done in the face of repeated defeats for the Southern troops in nearly every other part of the Confederacy. Lee is to be judged, in fact, not merely by what he accomplished with his own troops but by what he prevented the hosts of the Union from doing sooner elsewhere.

Lee was pre-eminently a strategist, and a strategist because he was a sound military logician. It is well enough to speak of his splendid presence on the field of battle, his poise, his cheer, and his manner with his men, but essentially he was an intellect, with a developed aptitude for the difficult synthesis of war. The incidental never obscured the fundamental. The trivial never distracted. He had the ability to visualize his fundamental problem as though it had been worked out in a model and set before his eyes.

Once his problem was thus made graphic, he projected himself mentally across the lines to the position of his adversary. What was the logical thing for his opponent to do? Assuming that the Federals had intelligent leadership, he said, “It is proper for us to expect [the enemy] to do what he ought to do.” After he had studied the probabilities, he would turn to his intelligence reports. Prisoners’ statements, captured correspondence, newspapers, information from his spies, dispatches from the cavalry outposts — all these he studied carefully, and often at first hand.

In assembling this information he was not more adept than many another capable general, and in studying it he was not more diligent, but in interpreting it he excelled. Always critical of the news that came from spies, few of whom he trusted, he was cautious in accepting newspaper reports until he learned which correspondents were close-mouthed or ill-informed and which were reckless or well-furnished with fact. When he discovered that the representative of The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, knew what he reported and reported what he knew, he attached high importance to his statements. A credulous outpost commander received scant attention when he forwarded countryside rumor; but Stuart’s “sixth sense” Lee soon learned to appreciate, and when the tireless officer affirmed that the enemy was marching toward an objective he named, Lee rarely questioned it. The infantry were apt to move quickly in the hoof-prints made by Stuart’s returning courier. If Lee’s strategy was built, in large part, on his interpretation of his intelligence reports, that interpretation was facilitated more by Stuart and Stuart’s scouts than by anything else.

Dealing with four Secretaries of War in order — Walker, Benjamin, Seddon, and Breckinridge — Lee encountered little or no friction. To each of the secretaries Lee reported and before each of them he laid his difficulties. Usually he was candid with them as to his plans, so much so, indeed, that often if a letter were not addressed to the “Hon. Secretary of War,” one would think it were intended for the confidence of the President. Only when important moves were afoot and secrecy was imperative was Lee ever restrained in addressing the war office.

No commander ever put a higher valuation on the innate qualities of leadership. “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself,” he said. For personal cowardice he had a soldierly scorn, but he rarely encountered it. There was only one brigadier general in his army, and none above that grade, concerning whose personal courage in the presence of the enemy there ever was serious question. Except perhaps in the case of Longstreet, the more a soldier was capable of doing, the more Lee demanded of him. Although he realized that a trained and disciplined officers’ corps was the greatest need of the army, he was almost alone among the higher commanders of the Confederacy in realizing that the volunteer leaders of a revolutionary force could not be given the stern, impersonal treatment that can be meted out to the professional soldiers of an established government. How different might have been the fate of Bragg and perhaps of the Confederacy if that officer had learned this lesson from Lee!

All that can be said of Lee’s dealings with his officers as one of the reasons for his success can be said in even warmer tones of his relations with the men in the ranks. They were his chief pride, his first obligation. Their distress was his deepest concern, their well-being his constant aim. His manner with them was said by his lieutenants to be perfect. Never ostentatious or consciously dramatic, his bearing, his record of victories, his manifest interest in the individual, and his conversation with the humblest private he met in the road combined to create in the minds of his troops a reverence, a confidence, and an affection that built up the morale of the army. The men came to believe that whatever he did was right — that whatever he assigned them they could accomplish. Once that belief became fixed, the Army of Northern Virginia was well-nigh invincible. There is, perhaps, no more impressive example in modern war of the power of personality in creating morale.

The final major reason for Lee’s successes in the face of bewildering odds is akin to the two just considered. After many failures in the West, the South came to fix its faith on the Army of Northern Virginia and on its commander. Elsewhere there was bickering and division; in Virginia there was harmony and united resistance. The Southern people remembered that Washington had lost New York and New England, Georgia and South Carolina, and still had triumphed. Lee, they believed, would do no less. As long as he could keep the field, the South could keep its heart. Morale behind the line, not less than on the front of action, was sustained by Lee. The qualities that created this confidence were essentially those that assured Lee the unflagging aid of the President, the loyalty of his lieutenants, and the enthusiastic devotion of his men.

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To understand how crony capitalism got its start and how the postbellum South was put into nearly a century of poverty, read Ulysses Grant’s Failed PresidencyAutographed copies are available from me [phil_leigh@me.com] for $25 with free deliveries in the USA. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon and other books stores for $20.

Lee and the Wise Men

(December 27, 2020) After Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on Palm Sunday 1865, probably no man was in a better position to persuade Southerners to accept the verdict of the war. This became clear over the ensuing weeks as the other Confederate armies surrendered. As explained in my December 8th video, no man was more beloved throughout the South during the war than was Lee despite contrary claims by some modern historians. They falsely argue that his reputation was only artificially created by a conspiracy of ex-Confederate officers who weaved a web of so-called lies known as the “Lost Cause Narrative.” Nonetheless, the falsehood of their narrative is revealed by none other than Union General Ulysses Grant who requested a second meeting with Robert E. Lee the day after he accepted Lee’s surrender. Lee’s biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, describes the scene:

Grant began by telling Lee that his interest was in peace and in the surrender of the other Confederate armies . . .  He added that there was no man in the South whose influence with the soldiers and with the people was as great as Lee’s, and that if Lee would advise the surrender of all the armies Grant believed they would lay down their arms. For his part Lee believed that Grant’s proposal was a question for President Davis. He promptly said that he could not advise the remaining Confederate armies without first consulting the President. Grant understood Lee’s viewpoint and did not attempt to persuade him.

Shifting the subject, Lee talked of the paroling of the army and asked that the instructions of the officers who were arranging the details should be made so explicit that no mis­understanding could arise. Lee was seeking assurances concerning two factors. First, that his men would not be imprisoned because Grant’s surrender terms provided that they “will be allowed to return to their homes not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the law in force where they may reside.” Second, that each Confederate claiming to own a horse or mule will be allowed to take the animals home with them. Grant again provided such reassurances.

Thus, by deferring to civil authority, Lee refused to take authority away from President Davis and the remaining Confederate armies to decide for themselves their future courses of action. Nonetheless, it was obvious that Lee had already become the only symbol of resistance that mattered among fellow Southerners. Consequently, all Confederate armies surrendered within two months of Appomattox notwithstanding that tens-of-thousands of Confederates remained under arms after Lee surrendered. Again, Freeman summarizes:

Southern civilians saw in Lee the embodiment of the faith and piety they believed a just Heaven would favor . . . Among such people of faith during the last year of the struggle Lee became a kind of spiritual mediator for his nation. The army, seeing him in battle, put his ability first and his character second. The civilian population, observing him from afar, rated his character even above his ability.

About forty-five days after Lincoln was assassinated, President Andrew Johnson announced that he would grant amnesty to ex-Confederate if they would take a new loyalty oath to the Union and agree to various other stipulations. Many were resentful of the oath because they considered that their parole oaths at the Appomattox surrender—and others elsewhere—covered the matter. Johnson’s new oath, some inferred, suggested that the words given in their parole oaths could not be taken at face value, which they considered as an insult to their honor.

Lee, however, took the oath. He wanted to be an example of reconciliation. One story underscores the point.

When a son of former Virginia governor Henry Wise told his dad that he had taken the oath, the father barked: “You have disgraced the family!”

His son replied, “But General Lee told me to do it.”

“Oh,” said the father, “that alters the case. Whatever General Lee says is all right, I don’t care what it is.”

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To understand how crony capitalism got its start and how the postbellum South was put into nearly a century of poverty, read Ulysses Grant’s Failed PresidencyAutographed copies are available from me [phil_leigh@me.com] for $25 with free deliveries in the USA. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon and other books stores for $20.

Lee Versus Grant

(December 26, 2020) One of the reasons the cultural elite attacks Robert E. Lee today is because selected historians wanted to teardown his reputation in order to lift that of Ulysses Grant. It began in 1981 when William McFeely’s Grant biography won the Pulitzer Prize, which enraged the cabal because the book was, at times, critical of their hero. During the ensuing decades they so distorted Lee’s performance that by 2015 our military academies have been teaching that Grant was the best general of The War Between the State.  The opinion is erroneous for three reasons.

First, Grant nearly always had a sizeable resource advantage over his opponents. Even when he fell short of a significant numerical advantage, he generally had the coupled power of the United States Navy. Thus, the inferior Confederate commanders at Vicksburg and Fort Donelson could have evacuated their armies had not the Federal Navy prevented escape across the Mississippi and Cumberland rivers, respectively. Even in Virginia had the Confederate Navy been a match for the Federal one, Grant could not have sneaked the first several corps of his army across the James River to open attack on lightly defended Petersburg while leaving most of Lee’s army north of the river.  Similarly, if the Confederate Navy had control of the Tennessee River as Shiloh, Grant’s army could not have been rescued by Buell’s on the second day of the battle because Buell would have had no way of getting across the river.

Second, aside from being prone to drunkenness, Grant’s personal conduct sometimes put his army at risk. At Shiloh, for example, he appropriated the Cherry Mansion for his headquarters and was, therefore, ten miles away from his army when the Confederates launched their surprise attack. In contrast, Lee normally slept in a tent among his soldiers.

At the battle of Cold Harbor Grant ordered one of the most reckless frontal assaults of the war against Confederate entrenchments. After it was quickly repulsed with appalling casualties and he order it renewed, many of the soldiers refused to advance a second time. At best they remained in place and opened fire in order to create the illusion of an attack, by sound if not visually. Grant compounded his misconduct by leaving most of the dead and wounded between enemy lines for three days out of a stubborn refusal to request a conventional truce to rescue them. When he finally agreed few of the wounded had survived. Lee suffered 5,000 casualties as compared to 12,000 for Grant during the multi-day battle. On the day that Grant made his five-corps assault, Lee casualties totaled only 1,500 as compared to 7,000 for Grant.

Third, the thrashing that Grant received after about only one month of tangling with Lee left his army so afraid of the enemy that they let the golden opportunity of capturing lightly defended Petersburg slip away after first crossing the James River. As a result, it would take Grant another nine months to get into Petersburg. Moreover, the losses he suffered against Lee in May and June 1864 left Lincoln with the opinion that the voters would not re-elect him as President when the autumn elections arrived. Lincoln was saved by the fall of Atlanta and not by anything that Grant did, except hold Lee in a stalemate.

The following is an excerpt and edited version of Joseph Rose’s analytical summation of the 1864 Overland Campaign from his book, Grant Under Fire:

 Grant began his forty-day campaign against Lee with an approximate two-to-one numerical advantage. He had 124,000 troops compared to 66,000 for Lee. At the end, Grant had suffered 55,000 casualties, which was also about twice as large as Lee. Grant had thereby earned the epithet “butcher” from his own soldiers and Northern civilians, not Confederates or members of the so-called Lost Cause school of Civil War history. Losses for the two sides during the battles at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor correspond closely to the federal disasters at Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg.

Ulysses Grant had finally “met” Lee, although not with the results he expected. Each of his four maneuvers (passing through the Wilderness to open country, reaching Spotsylvania first, crossing the North Anna and flanking Lee at Cold Harbor) failed. Each of his three major engagements ended in defeat. The stalemating of Grant constituted a major Confederate victory, which was reflected in Lincoln’s potential for electoral defeat. Although he stumbled a few times Lee ably dealt with a force nearly twice the size of his own. Grant never came close to his goal of bringing Lee’s army into an open battlefield and beating it. In fact, Grant’s massive losses in only forty days during May and June destroyed the effectiveness of his army for the rest of the year.

Georgians Should Vote Democrat on January Fifth

(December 22, 2020) Even though the latest military funding bill includes a provision that would require that all military bases named for Confederate leaders must drop the names within three years, only five Republican senators voted against it. Both of the Georgia Republican senators voted for it. In short they have thrown those of us that care about preserving Confederate Heritage under the bus. It is time to show them they cannot take our votes for granted any more. . . that we would rather the Democrats take control of the Federal government than let the GOP continue to presume our loyalty.

Additionally, only six GOP senators voted against the new trillion dollar COVID relief bill notwithstanding its reckless spending. It puts our national debt at more than 100% of annual GNP, which is a level that has not been seen since World War II. Republicans are okay with it because the artificial money keeps the Stock Market going ever higher. It is a Ponzi scheme. Like all Ponzi Schemes it will eventually collapse. If the Democrats get control of the Senate it will just happen sooner, that’s all. Here’s how.

1. The Democrats may grant statehood to Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico thereby gaining four more Democrat senators. 2. The Democrats may stack the the Supreme Court in order to gain control of all three branches of the Federal Government. 3. The Democrats may outlaw filibuster. Given the three above the Democrats will wreck our society with initiatives such as Slavery Reparations and foster even more rapid growth in the national debt.

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To understand how crony capitalism got its start and how the postbellum South was put into nearly a century of poverty, read Ulysses Grant’s Failed PresidencyAutographed copies are available from me [phil_leigh@me.com] for $25 with free deliveries in the USA. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon and other books stores for $20.

Elevator Pitches for Saving Statues

(December 19, 2020) One viewer asked for advice on how to present a case to a county commission concerning the defense of a Confederate statue.

1. Limit your remarks to a single topic. Don’t try to provide multiple reasons to save the statue. Focus on one and support that reason with three minutes of evidence. Perhaps you can get others to join you and have each of them focus on a single reason. That way you can provide multiple reasons as a team.

2. Write down your remarks. Read them aloud to yourself at least a half-dozen times. Edit and modify until you get down to the three minute limit. If in doubt about a remark, cut it. That way your three minutes will be at its best.

Do the above and you will be less nervous because you will be prepared.

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Readers can order signed copies of my new book, Causes of the Civil War, for $25. They may be purchased with credit card, PayPal, or check. If you’d like a copy email me: phil_leigh(AT)me.com. I will pay for shipping to USA destinations. Please provide your postal address. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon for $22.

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