At present, I happen to be living in Richmond. I must confess to having fallen in love with the state to the extent that I wish to transform myself into a Virginian, which—if nationality is a matter of heart rather than birth—seems possible. To this end, I picked up a work covering one of Virginia’s most famous sons: Robert E. Lee on Leadership by H. W. Crocker III. This work combined with a Civil War documentary have inflamed my desire to study about the man. To this end, I have begun reading the biography by Emory Thomas, who happens to have grown up in Richmond.
His work is apparently the best single volume life of the man. A friend of mine and native of Lynchburg recommended a work by one of that city’s sons to me: Douglas Southall Freeman’s four volume biography. This work was published in 1934, needed 10 years of research, and is still considered the best life of the man. Interestingly, Thomas mentions that this work represents a more hagiographic view. In the 60’s, a new vision of Lee came about which focused on the man’s faults: his obsessive concern with sin, his feelings of failure after the war, hatred of paperwork, and his love of female company and flirtaceous dialogues with them. True, these are faults, but hardly the worst into which a man can fall. Thomas endeavors to find the real Lee, neither a melancholic nor a demi-god.
But, in reading the first fifty pages of the work, there do not yet seem to be any grave faults in the man, which one might expect of someone who said: “Duty is the most sublime word in the English language.” One officer referred to him as polished marble, which is a remark reminiscent of George Washinton, to whom Lee has been compared. Lee did not receive a single demerit during his time at West Point. He always treated both his men and fellow officers with respect and kindness and performed his duty with such diligence that General Winfield Scott called him “indefatigable.”
At any rate, I hope that this biography gives me a balanced portrait of the man and that I can share my thoughts with you soon.