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This book challenges the general view that Robert E. Lee was a military genius who staved off inevitable Confederate defeat against insurmountable odds. Instead, the author contends that Lee was primarily responsible for the South's loss in a war it could have won.His theory: The North had the burden of conquering the South, a huge defensible area...
This book challenges the general view that Robert E. Lee was a military genius who staved off inevitable Confederate defeat against insurmountable odds. Instead, the author contends that Lee was primarily responsible for the South's loss in a war it could have won.His theory: The North had the burden of conquering the South, a huge defensible area consisting of eleven states. The South only had to play for a tie and only had to wear down the northern will to win (as insurgents did against superior forces in the American Revolution, the Chinese Communist takeover of China, and the Vietnam War). Specifically, the South had to hold on to its precious manpower resources and convince the North to vote Lincoln out of office in 1864.Instead, Lee unnecessarily went for the win, squandered his irreplaceable troops, and weakened his army so badly that military defeat became inevitable. Lee's army took 80,000 casualties in his first fourteen months of command-the same number of troops he inherited when he took command. This crucial period of the war extended from the Seven Days' Campaign, in which Lee's army went on the suicidal offensive almost every day for a week; Second Bull Run/Manassas, where the final offensive charge was costly; the Antietam Campaign, which Lee initiated on his own and almost cost him his army; Fredericksburg, a lesson in slaughter that Lee failed to learn; Chancellorsville, the "victory" that wasn't; and finally the disastrous Gettysburg Campaign, in which he took his army on the strategic offensive and seriously damaged its future utility. With the Confederacy outnumbered four-to-one in white men of fighting age, Lee's aggressive strategy and tactics proved to be suicidal.Also noteworthy are Lee's failure to take charge of the battlefield (such as the second day of Gettysburg), his overly complex and ineffective battle-plans (such as the Antietam and Seven Days' campaigns), and his vague and ambiguous orders (such as those that deprived him of Jeb Stuart's services for most of Gettysburg).Furthermore, the book describes how Lee's Virginia-first myopia played a major role in crucial Confederate failures in the West. Too little attention has been paid to Lee's refusals to provide reinforcements for Vicksburg or Tennessee in mid-1863, his causing James Longstreet to arrive at Chickamauga with only a third of his troops and none of his artillery, his idea to move Longstreet away from Chattanooga just before Grant's troops broke through the undermanned Confederates at Missionary Ridge, and his failure to reinforce Atlanta in the critical months before the 1864 Presidential election.Lee's final failure was his continuing the hopeless and bloody slaughter after Union victory had been ensured by each of a series of events: the fall of Atlanta, the reelection of Lincoln, and the fall of Petersburg and Richmond.This book also explores historians' treatment of Lee, including the deification of him by failed Confederate generals, such as Jubal A. Early and William Nelson Pendleton, attempting to resurrect their own reputations and restore the pride of the South through creation of the Myth of the Lost Cause.Readers and listeners are not neutral about this stinging critique of the hero of The Lost Cause.
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