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40 review for Lee: A Biography of Robert E. Lee

  1. 5 out of 5

    TMcB

    I started this extensive biography of Robert E. Lee well before the recent events in Charlottesville (and now ESPN removing Asian-American play-by-play man Robert Lee from a UVA football game broadcast) primarily to serve as a counterpoint to the 2016 biography of Ulysses Grant that I raved about last year and because, frankly, I only knew what I learned in school or read in history books. Considered by some to be a quintessential Lee biography, this book by Clifford Dowdey, first published in 1 I started this extensive biography of Robert E. Lee well before the recent events in Charlottesville (and now ESPN removing Asian-American play-by-play man Robert Lee from a UVA football game broadcast) primarily to serve as a counterpoint to the 2016 biography of Ulysses Grant that I raved about last year and because, frankly, I only knew what I learned in school or read in history books. Considered by some to be a quintessential Lee biography, this book by Clifford Dowdey, first published in 1965, is the perspective of a Virginia writer of both fiction and non-fiction history….and clearly, a fervent admirer of Lee (albeit surprisingly clear-eyed). You can divide the book into four parts of varying lengths: The history of the Lee and Custis families in Virginia, Lee’s life prior to the Civil War (West Point, army engineer, Mexican-American War vet, ran the US Military Academy), the war years, and then the post war years. The least compelling to me, because I’ve read enough accounts to be fairly knowledgeable, were the Civil War years. But even here, I was surprised to read scathing criticism of Lee’s generals, Jefferson Davis (he comes out of this book looking really bad), and, even at times, Lee himself…. who was burned more than once by his “hands-off” tendency to let his generals take their own initiative. Except for Stonewall Jackson, who himself failed miserably during the Seven Days campaign (Lee’s first as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1863), and Jeb Stuart, who’s cavalry failed to show up at Gettysburg, most of his generals come off as borderline incompetent much of the time. Also surprising to me was that Lee never commanded all CSA forces until the last five months of the war...Jefferson Davis acted (badly) as Commander-in-Chief for most of the war. What comes off clearly is Lee’s brilliance as a tactician and his devotion to (and reciprocated by) all the members of the Army of Northern Virginia. The battle passages could be mind-numbing to the casual reader…. I did make use of Google to pull up campaign maps. The other sections of the book are more than enlightening and well worth the read. Most interesting to me were the post-war years which began with a long section on the excesses of Radical Reconstruction but also focused on Lee’s efforts to rebuild tiny Washington College (now Washington & Lee) as a peaceful means to resuscitate the war-torn South through education and training. A failing heart and, finally, a stroke ended his life in 1870. You could arguably say there were numerous tragedies surrounding the Civil War. Perhaps, the first was Lee’s decline of the offer to command all U.S. forces at the outset of hostilities….it would likely have led to a shorter conflict. His belief, as he testified to a post-war Congressional sub-committee was, that as a citizen of Virginia, he felt compelled by his loyalty there…I’m not sure his boyhood hero, George Washington, would have done the same. Lee wrote about the inherent evil of slavery (he personally owned none) and opposed secession. He certainly was NOT racially enlightened by today’s standards but his pre-war belief in emancipation and repatriation mirrored Lincoln’s own. He emancipated the 200+ slaves his wife inherited in 1857 from her father by 1862 (as dictated by his will). If only Lee could have put the United States before his home state…. Secondly, was Lincoln’s assassination. Had he lived, he might well have been able to form a coalition to prevent what became the Radical Republican reconstruction agenda of retribution which disenfranchised moderate voices in the South (like Lee’s in the context of the times) and which likely gave rise to the Southern extremist post-Reconstruction regimes that set the South back decades socially and economically…. the results of which we live with, to an extent, today.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Avis Black

    This book, despite its publishing date, is still the best biography in existance about Robert E. Lee. All other attempts (including Douglas Southall Freeman's) suffer from being much too hagiographic. Dowdey, a Southerner, likes his Lee very much, but alone among biographers he's also interested in finding out what made Lee tick. This book would be better if some editor could add new information to it but as it stands, this is still the one to go to. This book, despite its publishing date, is still the best biography in existance about Robert E. Lee. All other attempts (including Douglas Southall Freeman's) suffer from being much too hagiographic. Dowdey, a Southerner, likes his Lee very much, but alone among biographers he's also interested in finding out what made Lee tick. This book would be better if some editor could add new information to it but as it stands, this is still the one to go to.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    Dowdey commits the ultimate sin of biography. Those who have problems with Lee are painted as selfish and conniving (Longstreet, Beauregard) and Davis is blamed for Lee's ultimate defeat and portrayed as a psychopath. Jackson and Stuart, the dead heroes of the Lost Cause, are painted with bright colors. It is all too convenient. Also, Dowdey does what most Virginians do when they consider Lee: he genuflects far too much. Dowdey commits the ultimate sin of biography. Those who have problems with Lee are painted as selfish and conniving (Longstreet, Beauregard) and Davis is blamed for Lee's ultimate defeat and portrayed as a psychopath. Jackson and Stuart, the dead heroes of the Lost Cause, are painted with bright colors. It is all too convenient. Also, Dowdey does what most Virginians do when they consider Lee: he genuflects far too much.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Brown

    Of all the books about Lee I've read in the last few years, this is one of the best. A must for anyone interested in Lee and the Civil War. Of all the books about Lee I've read in the last few years, this is one of the best. A must for anyone interested in Lee and the Civil War.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim Scott

  7. 4 out of 5

    David J. Kahle

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Beth

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alun Williams

  12. 5 out of 5

    Darrell Zuercher

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dan Hubbell

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  15. 5 out of 5

    Markham Pyle

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    Mark E

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joey

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    Valdon Smith

  19. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo de Rocco

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Short

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brian Edwards

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    Terri Prince

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bill S.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  26. 4 out of 5

    Valery Yura

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark Peebler

  28. 5 out of 5

    Darryl

  29. 4 out of 5

    Borud

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nick Cox

  31. 4 out of 5

    Valdon Smith

  32. 4 out of 5

    Christian

  33. 4 out of 5

    Les Prouty

  34. 5 out of 5

    J.

  35. 4 out of 5

    Kayla Mckinney

  36. 4 out of 5

    Troy

  37. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Jamie

  38. 5 out of 5

    Brett Anderson

  39. 4 out of 5

    Miles Smith

  40. 5 out of 5

    Steve Atwell

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