Tag Archives: Appomattox

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.

Exploding the Lost Cause Myth

(December 9, 2020) Academic historians widely deny a tenet of the so-called Lost Cause Myth that the North won the Civil War because of its overwhelming manpower and economic advantages. The South, they eagerly argue, could have readily won the war despite the North’s numerical and resource advantages. Consider the following examples:

In explaining Confederate defeat, the Lost Cause says that the main factor was not qualitative inferiority in leadership or fighting ability but the massive quantitative superiority of the Yankee industrial machine. —— Wikipedia “Lost Cause of the Confederacy.”

Ultimately, in the Lost Cause interpretation, a unified South did not really lose the war but was simply overwhelmed by the manpower and material resources of the North. . . Few scholars today, however, accept it as an accurate portrayal of the history of the era. —— Carl H. Moneyhon

To adherents of the Lost Cause . . .  the Confederacy fought to uphold the supposed virtues of the antebellum South, advanced by leaders who were exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry [and was] defeated by the Union armies not through superior military skill, but by overwhelming force.  Historical scholarship in recent decades has since disabused Civil War students of the merits of this ideology.  —— Danny Lewis, Smithsonian Magazine October 20, 2016

The venerable James McPherson argues that other nations won independence against greater odds than did the Confederacy. Among the examples adduced is the success of the United States during our war for independence. Yet McPherson overlooks the relative casualties.

Soldier deaths during the Revolutionary War totaled 25,000, which was 1% of the population. In contrast, at least 300,000 Confederate soldiers died during the Civil War, which was about 5% of the available white population. (Assuming a larger 400,000 Northern soldiers died during the Civil War their loss ratio would have been only 1.8%.)   Thus, the Confederate death ratio was five times the rate of the Revolutionary War in half the time. Such casualties were unsustainable. If America were to engage in a war today and endure the same proportional losses, the number of dead soldiers would total nearly 17 million.

Another historian suggests that Robert E. Lee planted the seed of the Lost Cause version of the Southern military defeat when the General declared at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 that his men had fought honorably but were overwhelmed by superior Northern resources and numbers. Yet Grant himself apparently agreed with Lee when he described his strategy for winning the war as commander of all Union armies in a July 22, 1865 letter: “The resources of the enemy, and his numerical strength, were far inferior to ours. . . I therefore determined . . . to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but . . . submission. . .”

Other contemporary Northerners shared the opinion that the South could only be defeated by overwhelming numbers. Henry J. Raymond, who was Chairman of the Republican National Committee, advisor to President Lincoln and Editor of the New York Times wrote in the fall of 1864, “The Rebels have exhibited a most wonderful energy and skill. No people on Earth ever made such a hard fight with such limited means. . .  All candid men, whatever their hatred of the rebellion, are free to admit that the final triumph of our national armies will be due only to superiority in numbers.”

Charles Wainwright who was a leading artillerist with the Union army opposing Lee wrote at the latter’s surrender: “The Army of Northern Virginia under Lee . . .  today . . .  has surrendered. During three long and hard-fought campaigns it has withstood every effort of the Army of the Potomac; now it is obliged to succumb without even one great pitched battle. . . The rebellion has been worn out rather than suppressed.”

When newspaperman William Swinton, who often accompanied the Union Army of the Potomac, published Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac a year after the war ended, he wrote of Lee’s surrender: “the army of Northern Virginia fell before the power of the North, yet what vitality had it shown! How terrible had been the struggle.”

Even President Lincoln agreed that the North had overwhelming resources relative to the South. His frustration at the inability of larger Union armies to vanquish smaller Rebels ones in the Eastern Theater is well known. Upon meeting with the commander of the Army of the Potomac and a subordinate on the eve of the Battle of Chancellorsville he said, “I want to impress upon you two gentlemen, in your next fight, put in all of your men.”

Finally, after visiting nine of the eleven Confederate states in 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur J. L. Fremantle of her majesty’s Coldstream Guards departed for home from New York shortly after observing the Battle of Gettysburg. He wrote of his brief time in Philadelphia and New York, “The luxury and comfort of New York and Philadelphia strike one as extraordinary after having come from Charleston and Richmond. . . The streets are as full as possible of well-dressed people and are crowded with able-bodied men capable of bearing arms, who evidently have no interest in doing so. They apparently don’t feel the war at all here; . . . I can easily imagine that they will not be anxious to make peace.”

Evidently Shelby Foote was correct in remarking that the North could have fought the Civil War with one hand tied behind its back. Such a conclusion is forbidden among academia where the agenda is to portray the Confederate military as inferior. Adam Domby, for example, ridicules the Confederate soldier. Nonetheless, the Southerner has a warrior tradition that still lives. Forty-four percent of our nation’s volunteer army come from the South although the region accounts for only thirty-six percent of the national population.