Tag Archives: Robert E. Lee

Was Grant a Drunk? (Part 3)

“If Grant had a drinking problem, the answer to your question could be that he was willing to sacrifice thousands of more men due to the fact his judgment was impaired by alcohol.”Richard Williams [scroll down for comment]

Thousands of more men compared to what exactly?  Compared to someone who is best remembered as the embodiment of civilized warfare?

Robert E. Lee’s Casualties (1862-1865)

  • Seven Days battles – 20,204
  • Second Manassas – 9,000
  • Sharpsburg – 13,000
  • Chancellorsville – 13,000
  • Gettysburg – 21,000
  • Overland Campaign – 31,000
  • Petersburg Campaign – 28,000

Ulysses S. Grant’s Casualties (1861-1865)

  • Battle of Belmont – 3,100
  • Forts Henry and Donelson – 2,700
  • Shiloh – 13,000
  • Vicksburg – 4,800
  • Chattanooga – 5,800
  • Overland Campaign – 38,000
  • Petersburg Campaign – 42,000

Yesterday I mentioned that beliefs about Grant and alcohol typically have something to do with larger issues.  Williams’s comment is a case in point.  If it can be shown that Grant had a serious enough problem with alcohol it might provide evidence for another long-standing belief, which is that he needlessly sacrificed his men in battle.  The image of “Grant the butcher” provides the perfect foil against Robert E. Lee who embodies the martial characteristics of the Virginia cavalier.  Does anyone doubt that this is exactly who Williams had in mind in his implicit comparison.  As the argument goes Lee fought a traditional war of virtuous generals and civilized tactics while Grant and Sherman ushered in a new era of warfare that anticipated the blood baths of the twentieith century.

My noting Lee’s casualty statistics should not be interpreted as an attack of any kind.  I tend to agree with Gary Gallagher’s analysis of Lee as a modern general who understood the importance of offensive, but costly operations as representing the best strategy given issues related to infrastructure, manpower, and the expectation of the civilian population.  Still, one might conclude that Grant’s casualty figures demonstrate that he did indeed needlessly sacrifice his men in battle.  Of course, you do not have to be an alcoholic to order large numbers of young men to their deaths.  You could just as easily be a Virginia gentleman.

Women as Objects in Civil War Art

Richmond Bread RiotIt’s difficult to deny that the image of women in the work of contemporary Civil War artists tells us much more about the individual artist than the reality of women’s lives or the way those lives were transformed during the Civil War.  I pick on Mort Kunstler quite a bit, but his characters beg for analysis and often ridicule.  Such is the case with his most recent offering, “Autograph Seekers of Bel Air.”  One could even go so far as to suggest that in a great deal of the Civil War print culture women don’t even exist outside of the gaze of men or, in this case, fawning over men – usually Confederates.  Historians of the Lost Cause have noted the role that women played in support of the Confederate cause and their admiration for Confederate chieftains such as Jackson, Stuart, and most importantly, Lee.  Of course, while there is a great deal of evidence to support such claims, it also offers a very narrow view of women that obscures class distinctions and the hardships that they faced throughout the conflict.

I recently finished reading Stephanie McCurry’s lead essay in the newly-published collection, Wars Within a War: Controversy and Conflict Over the Civil War (UNC Press, 2009).  McCurry focuses on poor soldiers’ wives who took steps to organize in response to an increasingly encroaching Confederate government which left them with serious food shortages and unprotected from the Federal army and slaves.  In her analysis, McCurry uncovers interstate communication and organization that led to food riots in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, Salisbury, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia and Mobile, Alabama.  According to McCurry, the extent that the war politicized women involved a renegotiation of their relationship with the state.

McCurry’s essay (part of a larger and much anticipated book project) represents a small piece of a much larger story about women during the Civil War that historians have uncovered over the past few decades.  Much of this literature has redefined what we know about women, their roles, and the consequences of the war on the place of women in the polity.  It would be silly of me to inquire into the absence of these women in contemporary Civil War art.  Most of these images tell us very little about the lives of Southern white women during the war, though they tell us a great deal about how white men today choose to depict them or what they hope their customers (white men) will want to purchase.  And that is their purpose.  They reaffirm an image of women as apolitical and submissive in the presence of men and a world where gender roles have been solidified.  Northern women may have pushed for the suffrage, equal pay, and other anti-discrimination laws, but not white Southern women.  They have always been content to worship and serve at the altar of men.

Is This What James Longstreet Meant?

"Forever Marching" by Ed MurinA historian friend of mine recently decided that he needs to add another 22 ft of shelf space to his library.  To achieve this he decided to unload some back issues of the old Civil War magazine and asked if I was interested.  Of course, I jumped at the offer and within a short period of time I found myself with issues going back to the mid-1980s.  I don’t remember the magazine when it was known as Civil War Quarterly, but I am quite impressed with the quality of the writing.  One issue in particular stood out, which featured an article on Lee at Gettysburg by Kent Masterson Brown and a painting of Lee that I have never seen before [Jan-Feb 1993].  The painting is titled, “Forever Marching” and was done by Ed Murin.  I tried to find some information about Murin, but came up short.  Since I couldn’t find an image Online I took one with my camera which you can see here.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this image of Lee.  I would place it on the extreme opposite end of those silly prints of Lee reading to a child or praying with Jackson. [How about the jigsaw puzzle version?]  As far as I can tell the closest image to Murin’s is L.M.D. Guillaume’s “Gen. Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville.”  Lee appears bloodthirsty as he sends his men into battle and over what appears to be the graves of their comrades.  What I find so striking is Lee’s eyes, which seem utterly lifeless.

Is this what James Longstreet meant when he noted in his memoir that at Gettysburg “Lee’s blood was up”?  And is this a side of Lee that we would rather not be reminded of?

“The Robert E. Lee Memorial: A Conflict of Interpretation”

The following is an abstract for an essay that I am contributing to an edited collection on tourism in the American South, which is being edited by Karen Cox.  Your feedback and questions are strongly encouraged.

In recent years Civil War landscapes (especially battlefields) have come under increasing pressure from various interest groups to broaden their site interpretations beyond a traditional narrative of national reconciliation and the heroism of the Civil War soldier. The evolution of Civil War historiography over the past few decades as well as the changing racial and gender profile of public and private institutions has led to calls for increased attention, among other things, to slavery and race along with the roles that women and civilians played in the war.  As the custodian of some of the most prominent and sacred Civil War sites, the National Park Service has been on the front lines in working to manage the tension between and within groups who continue to struggle for control over this nation’s collective memory. Overlooking Washington, D.C., Arlington National Cemetery, surrounding the Robert E. Lee Memorial, which is also known as Arlington House, serves as a repository for the U.S. military dead while the home functions as a shrine to the life and legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Like other Civil War sites, the problem of how to meaningfully interpret slave life has proven to be the most vexing for National Park Service staff in recent years.  Specifically, a 2004 report on the subject highlighted just how little information is being shared with the general public as well as a certain amount of resistance from visitors who question whether slave life is even relevant to understanding Robert E. Lee, Arlington House, and the surrounding grounds.

The challenge for the NPS in bringing their interpretation of Lee’s home more in line with recent scholarship and in integrating competing narratives long ignored has much in common with other related landscapes.  When in 1925 the NPS took over Arlington House, it concentrated on Lee himself by restoring the home to the period just before the Civil War, thus providing the proper context in which to emphasize his decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army and eventually align himself with the Confederacy.  In doing so, the NPS presented the general public with a heroic story of Lee that highlighted his ascendancy to the pantheon of American heroes.  As late as 1962, the NPS maintained Arlington House as a “national monument to one of America’s greatest men.”  Absent, however, was the presence of a large slave population that worked the grounds as well as a Freedmen’s Village at the end of the war.  The challenge of presenting slavery at Arlington House within this “Lost Cause” paradigm is, of course, not unique to this particular site.

What makes the ongoing debate about how to interpret the history of Arlington House worth examining, however, is its location within the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.  Specifically, the use of the grounds as a final resting place for fallen U.S. soldiers adds another layer of meaning to the landscape and one that the NPS has struggled to effectively integrate. It is here at Arlington House that visitors arrive after having walked by the “Eternal Flame”, the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, and row upon row of marble headstones – all of which are symbols of national pride and sacrifice.  Such a situation presents NPS interpreters with a set of unique challenges. First, the NPS must bring their site interpretation more in line with recent scholarship on slavery, the Civil War, and Lee specifically because we cannot fully understand the home or Lee without a fuller understanding of slave life at Arlington. Secondly, they must do this in an environment where visitors may not be prepared to contemplate these controversial topics: slavery and race versus the solemn landscape of fallen heroes. One speaks to what binds us together as Americans while the other reminds us of what once divided us and continues to prove difficult to understand.