Robert E. Lee: Tribalist Anti-Hero (EP. 348)

Robert E. Lee’s loyalty to his home state of Virginia and not the United States was the reason that the Civil War lasted for four years. That is the subject of today's 10 minute episode.
Robert E. Lee’s loyalty to Virginia was why Civil War lasted four years.

Introduction

Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s loyalty to his home state of Virginia and not the United (key word here) States was the reason that the Civil War lasted for four years, created more casualties than all of our other wars put together, tore our country apart, and reduced the South to ashes. 

President Lincoln first offered command of the Union Army to Lee, who turned it down saying that his loyalty was to Virginia, not the Union. Days after he refused Lincoln’s offer, he resigned his commission in the US Army, accepted a commission as a Major General in the Confederate Army, and fought brilliantly against the US under the Confederate flag, winning victory after victory despite being outmanned and outgunned. How is that any different from people and groups today who turn their backs on the flag? And none of them are leading an army determined to defeat the US in combat. 

Had Lee accepted Lincoln’s offer, seeing himself as an American first, and a Virginan second, we would have had 90% fewer deaths on both sides, likely 75K and not 750K, and the war which started in April of 1861 would have ended in late 1861 or early 1862, not a full four years later in April of 1865. The physical, economic and emotional damage to our country would have been dramatically less. 

That is the subject of today’s 10 minute episode.

Continuing

The Union had almost everything going for it; money, manpower, a massive war materiel industry–everything. The war should have been over in six months with a fraction of the casualties and destruction. What it lacked was leadership. President Lincoln initially offered the command of the Army of the Potomac, the Union Army, to Lee, who turned it down because Lee saw his senior loyalty being to the State of Virginia, not the United States.

The original and popular image of Lee was that of a brilliant General, beloved by his troops, who out thought and out fought superior Union forces in battle after battle. All in pursuit of the laudable goals of state’s rights and economic freedom. After all, isn’t the principle of state’s rights at the philosophical heart of our Republic? And don’t we all deserve economic freedom? Then we tumbled upon the truth that the only state’s right that really mattered to the South was the “right” to own other human beings. And the economic freedom they sought was the ability to exploit those owned humans, blacks, to work for free under punishing conditions.

The image, the view, of Lee that I am sharing here is indeed that of a brilliant General, beloved by his troops, who turned his back on his country and its flag, and fought with everything he had to defeat the United States. His primary motivation was not the everlasting shame of preserving slavery, but to fight for the state of Virginia and defeat her enemy–the United States. The same United States that had put him through West Point, and honored him with a senior command in the Mexican-American War. 

Nazi General Erwin Rommel, The Desert Fox, and General Robert E. Lee had much in common. Both were brilliant, winning against all odds, both were beloved by their troops, and both knew they were fighting for evil causes, but overlooked the evil because of misplaced loyalty. Rommel was loyal to Germany and his command, despite the horror of what Hitler was doing, and Lee was loyal to Virginia and his command, despite the evil of slavery. Rommel’s death came when he was found guilty of plotting Hitler’s asssination; he chose suicide over execution because it allowed his pension and other benefits to pass to his family. Lee died in bed of a heart attack. 

Let’s hear about Lee from no less an authority than the Library of Congress. “After resigning from the U.S. Army, Lee assumed command of Virginia’s forces in April of 1861. Lee’s genius as a military tactician came to the fore after he was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June, 1862. Despite being consistently outnumbered and outgunned by his enemy, the United States, Lee led his forces in a series of remarkable victories that included Second Manassas (Second Bull Run), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863 marked Lee’s last major campaign on Northern soil. Remaining thereafter in Virginia, he mounted skillful defenses against the Union’s unrelenting Overland Campaign and the siege of Petersburg. After Petersburg and Richmond fell, Lee was finally compelled to surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Later that year, Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, a position he retained until his death on October 12, 1870.” Pause for a moment: Did you get the part about how Lee was rewarded with a University Presidency? 

Compare Lee to the generals that Lincoln was stuck with after being turned down by General Lee. President Lincoln removed his first appointee, General George B. McClellan, from command of the Army of the Potomac in November of 1862. McClellan ably built the army in the early stages of the war but was a sluggish and paranoid field commander who seemed unable to muster the courage to aggressively engage Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan was followed by Generals Burnside and Hooker, neither of whom showed any more desire to fight and win than did McClellan. All while Lee did both: he fought and he won. General Meade, after his key victory at Gettysburg in July of 1863, failed to pursue and eliminate Lee’s defeated and exhausted army, allowing it to recover and continue the war for almost two more years. 

Lincoln finally found his champion in Ulysses S. Grant. In July 1863, Grant’s forces captured Vicksburg, Mississippi, a Confederate stronghold. Grant, who was earning a reputation as a tenacious and determined leader and fighter, was appointed Lieutenant General by Lincoln on March 10, 1864 and given command of all U.S. armies. The Union finally had a General who wanted to take the fight to the enemy and win. Grant led a series of campaigns that ultimately wore down the Confederate army and helped bring the deadliest conflict in U.S. history to a close. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. A war that should have ended in late 1861 had Lee remembered that he was an American first, not a Virginian.

Today’s Key Point: Robert E. Lee was one of the original anti-US tribalists. He was the harbinger, the example for anti-American groups and movements like the 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory and the Black Lives Matter organization (not the philosophy). The difference is that Lee had a modern Army that fought for him for four years before surrendering.

Each one of us must be personally responsible for knowing history and the truth about what is happening today so that we can know when the media and our politicians are spreading more manure than an organic farmer. And we must be personally responsible for stepping up, actively using that knowledge to make things around us better. 

Speaking of personal responsibility, it does not stand alone; the two main and interdependent principles at Revolution 2.0 are:

  1. Personal Responsibility; take it, teach it and,
  2. Be Your Brother’s Keeper. The answer to the biblical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a ringing, unequivocal “Yes.” There is no other answer.

Where do you stand? What are you going to do? Remember, it does not matter where you stand if you don’t do anything. You can start by subscribing to these episodes, and encouraging others to subscribe with you.

As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty. 1 Corinthians 16:14

Contact

As we get ready to wrap up, please do respond in the episodes with comments or questions about this episode or anything that comes to mind, or connect with me on Twitter, @willluden, Facebook, facebook.com/will.luden, and LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/willluden/. And you can subscribe on your favorite device through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and wherever you listen to podcasts.

Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.

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4 Responses

  1. Thom Meeks, RVA Reply

    Yes, it is an individual problem in deciding whose side you’re on, Will. It is also a networking problem, in this case, whose tribe are you in. None of the Confederate states allowed Lincoln to appear on the ballot for 1860. So, there was little discussion of whom to vote for. When Lincoln won, most Virginians did not want to secede. Come to think of it, neither did Jefferson Davis. All of that changed when South Carolina seceded and Davis became president of the Confederate States. That’s nice example of the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino_effect.

    One way of resolving the problem of loyalties is to be able to predict which side will win. Sam Houston, governor of Texas at the time, knew a lot of things, including the determination of the North. He was removed from office when he refused to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. Afterwards he made this prediction/value judgment:
    Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it.

    Like Lee, he was against slavery. He was for state rights but not at cost of seceding.

  2. Karen Reply

    I wonder how many of us would reconsider the side we are on, because of potentially killing our own family and friends.

    Here is a quote from Robert E. Lee to his wife, 1864.

    “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

    Hindsight is easy! I wish he had made a different decision, but I doubt his conscience would have let him get much sleep at night either way.

    • Will Luden Reply

      Karen, I understand and appreciate his regrets. They came in 1864, after the crucial loss at Gettysburg, and defeat was all but inevitable. We will never know if he would have had the same regrets had the South triumphed, broken the Union, and preserved slavery. The cruel irony, one of the main points in this episode, is that if he had heeded the call of his country, the USA, when Lincoln asked Lee to lead the Union Army, the war would have lasted less than a year, with one tenth of the casualties. His letter would clearly have been far different then. Cheers, Will

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