Life and Books and Everything
Life and Books and Everything

Episode · 2 weeks ago

‘Robert E. Lee: A Life’, with Dr. Allen Guelzo


On this episode, Kevin interviews Civil War historian Dr. Allen Guelzo , Senior Research Scholar at Princeton. Dr. Guelzo’s new biography of Robert E. Lee paints a portrait of neither a sinner nor a saint, but a full picture of a complex human being. Dr. Guelzo is a historian with a solid theological background. He and Kevin address how General Lee could be both opposed to slavery and commit treason to defend it. The South came very close to victory: How would that have changed history? How did Lee’s fatherlessness affect his leadership? And of course they cover the question of the removal of statues. 

Life and Books and Everything is sponsored by Crossway, publisher of new books by Michael Reeves and Dane Ortlund

For 30% off this book and all other books and Bibles at Crossway, sign up for a free Crossway+ account at


Dr. Allen Guelzo, First-time Listener [1:02 – 2:47]

Guelzo’s Other Historical Works [2:47 – 12:53]

The Making of a Great Course [12:53 – 14:13]

Writing a Biography of Robert E. Lee [14:13 – 19:21]

What Movies Get Right and Wrong about Lee [19:21 – 24:47]

“…the biography of someone who commits treason?” [24:47 – 29:24]

A Christian Way of Doing History [29:24 – 36:18]

Neither Saint Nor Devil [36:18 – 44:41]

Robert, Son of the Great Light Horse Harry Lee [44:41 – 48:37]

Before and After the War [48:37 – 51:53]

What if the South had won? [51:33 – 58:30]

Lee and Slavery [58:30 – 1:04:20]

Should statues be removed? [1:04:20 – 1:09:22]

Books and Everything:

Robert E. Lee: A Life, by Allen Guelzo

The Great Courses 

Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia: 175 Years of Thinking and Acting Biblically, by Philip Graham Ryken 

Edwards on the Will: A Century of American Theological Debate, by Allen Guelzo 

Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President , by Allen Guelzo

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion , by Allen Guelzo

Redeeming the Great Emancipator , by Allen Guelzo, et al

Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, by Allen Guelzo 

Faith of the Fatherless, by Paul Vitz 

Of Monuments & Men,” by Allen C. Gue lzo and John M. Rudy

F readings and salutations welcome backto life and books and everything I'm Kevin, deyoung and good to be withyou and have a special guest that I'll be introducing in just a moment andwant to think again our sponsor crossway publishing and encourage youto look at the newest books that they put out by Michael Reeves and alsothere's a new one by Dane or lans many of you listening. This probably haveread Danes Book, Gentle and lowly, probably bred and Michael Reeves, bothon the trinity and others, and both of them have new books coming out. Theyhave a similar cover, look and they are in this series that unionseminary is doing over in e, where Michael is at over in the UK,so check that out thankful for a crossway and we have A. I have just me,Colin and just are not with us, but a special guest here, I'm very excitedDoctor Allan Gesogen, Dr Galeso, thank you for being with US pleasure to behere and it's a very long introduction, which I found to give you your wholebio and all your many books. So I won't go through all of it, but you arecurrently teaching and leading government or policy institute atPrinceton University and before that you have taught at Gettysburg Collegeand way back when at some point you were at Eastern, I believe yes, that'sright yeah and have written many many books. I have been wanting to talk to Dr Gili forsome time. He doesn't know this and he he probably is a first time listenerright now to life and books and everything so glad to have him on. ButI have read oh at least half a dozen of your books and have benefited from allof them. So I am glad to have you here in person and I've listened to. I don'tknow there may not be too many of me out here, but I think I've listened toall of your courses on the Great Courses, oh Ma, so the American mindand the civil war and American history and on Lincoln and on the RevolutionaryWar. So any of our listeners. If you have not listened done, some of the thegreat courses- and you can- you can buy eighty hours of a course for one credit,UN audible- that's maybe the easiest way to get it, but Dr Gesa is afantastic lecturer, he's written for all sorts of publications on theBradley Prize, Numerous Lincoln Awards and is a real joy to have you on. Herewe are going to talk about Dr Gesa's new book, Robert e Lee, a life, but I'mtold that I do have permission to ask you about a few of your other bookswill spend most of our time on that. But I bet most of your interviewers will not start with thisbook, but I think the first work I've read from yours was your contributionto this history of ten Presbyterian Church. That does go back quite a way.Yes, so tell us, how did you get? Did you go to tenth were how were youfamiliar with tent? How did you come to write the opening chapters for thehistory of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia? When I was a college student inPhiladelphia, I would attend Tenth Presbyterian Church. I became a big fanof James Montgomery voice and got to know a Jim Boyce. I wrote a couple of pieces for what wasthen the church is quarterly magazine, tenth and Evangelical Quarterly, and when the church decided it was going topull together a volume to celebrate its anniversary. Jim Asked if I'd be interested inwriting the opening chapter setting the colonial background to Presbyterianism,basically to take take the history of the church before it was the church setthe background from the Colonial Times Rieman of the moment when Tenth Churchwas founded. So this was I'm reflecting. I think his must have Esan nine hundredand seventy seven when jim asked. If I would do this and,of course, being a student, I mean I was just flattered beyond measure or astudent at the time yeah and was happy to do it so wrote the chapter and itcame out of the book. Then many years later the book was reissued with PhilRiken in charge of it right filled by that point. Being the president of thepastor of Netchuk, so I have had over the years what I would regard as an importantconnection with tents. Some of my...

...fondest memories from college days wereattending The Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology at Chet and thereI met some of the great luminaries. That was where I met and shook handsand got autographs with John Stott, with JI packer with Ralph kiper arcscroll, John Gerse. Those who are those were really wonderful times reallyreally wonderful times, and is this you did your your masters and your doctorwork at? U Pen so this, where, when I was correct yeah we had over it overlapwith that. Yes Yeah and you have I've picked this up from listening to yourlectures, reading a number of your books but uncommon, I think, to most historiansyou have a real, solid, theological background. Did you teach theology youtrained in some theology? I I see I'm a seminary Grad. I went to the old,reformed episcopal seminary, also in Philadelphia. So, yes, I have that and did someteaching there for a number of years it was it was while I there was there. Iwrote the book that I thought he were going to point two. Yes right were on no Edwards on thewill. So yes, there is. There is a goodhelping of theology knocking around inside of me. I want to ask about yourbook on Lincoln, which one the two thousand Lincoln Prize RedeemerPresident Great Book. When people ask me, I've read number of Lincolnbiographies, but this is the first one. I always recommend just give a snapshot. What what did you mean by the subtitle here? Redeemer President, I was actually borrowing a phrase froman editorial written by Walt Whitman in eighteen. Fifty six whitman at thatpoint was looking back at the rubbish of the administration of Franklin,Pierce and looking forward, not with a whole lot of anticipation to the nextpresident, James Buchanan, and he writes this anguish up bed for theBrooklyn Eagle, which he was then editing saying. When are we ever goingto get the redeemer president of this country and the phrase stuck with me, and Ithought he got his answer- He didn't quite he didn't quite anticipate theform in which it was going to come, but he did get his answer. He did get aredeemer president who, in the sense, redeemed us from the political morass in which the country had becomeinvolved, but redeemer president also had asomewhat more ambiguous aspect to it as well, because that then raised thequestion Redeemer Redemption. This is a theological category. Does that meanthat Lincoln is also a religious figure and there is where the ambiguitiesentered in, because if there is one theme whichdoes not enter into any aspect of what you can call Lincoln's religion, itsRedemption Lincoln is the only president never tohave joined a church. He never made any kind of formalprofession of faith and people throughout his lifecriticized him for that. He understood this was a tax on his politicalvisibility, and yet he is the president who, in themiddle of a civil war, turns most often to God for answers. Trying to sort out in remarkablytheological terms exactly what is going on in this war and what it means, andthe culmination of that, of course, is his second and augural dress, which isabout as close as a president of the United States ever comes in aninaugural address, or almost any other address to preaching a sermon M, and yet eventhere, the one factor which is most significantly absent, even from thesecond inaugural, with malice toward none with charity. For All thesignificant absence is any sense of redemption being part of the results of the war.So yes, I latch onto this phrase because there is the marvelousambiguity which is packed into it and which I open up an explorer at a numberof points during the book. Yeah, that's one of the things I really enjoy aboutyour books as a historian, you're, not just chronicling, and that thishappened, and this happened, but you're always trying to give something of aninterpretation without being anachronistic. But an interpretation totry to get behind the man and understandsomething, and so Lincoln isyou know, has this very predestinarian...

...religious upbringing? Oh Yeah Yeah ithas that and is very God, haunted and is constantly referring back to theBible, and yet I've heard many Christians and pastors want to makeLincoln into an evengelical Christian. Maybe there's this this letter thatcame through a bridge too far. You think I understand the desire to shall we sayposthumously baptized like Im e right, but no this this just no evidence of it.He was raised in a devout Baptist household predestinarian baptist of theI mean these were reformed, baptists of the stiffest imaginable constructionand yet very early on he rebels against us and that he takes that rebellion with himthrough life and yet, while he's rebelling against it, he also continuesto wear the imprint of it, so that you might say that calvinism calvinismcreates the map of his mind and he spends the rest of his life traversingthat map, even though he won't commit himself to believing it there's almosta sense in which his calvinism got in his way. He once made the comment tosome one who, who pressed him on the subject that he really couldn't make a decisionabout. Christianity, because decisions like that were out of the hands, Ubadahuman beings and that he had to fumble his way around in the dark, as he putit like poor, doubting Thomas did and maybe one day grace would be given to him. But untilthat time he just simply had to wait for it to happen. Well, let's take incalvinism directions, Calvin would never have approved, but neverthelessit's the logic that many people use sometimes as an excuse, but also sometimes as a rationale forthe struggle that they had yeah. I just mentioned a few other books andit will get to to leave, but just the ones I pulled off my shelf here thismorning, so for listeners here certainly check out Gettysburg the lastinvasion. This was a New York Times best seller. So everything you want toknow about Gettysburg and maybe even more- and these were lectures that weregiven a number of years ago and then put into a book redeeming the greatadvanceage and wonderful series of lectures and then just for a civil war,history, decor Gosos, written thankful, lightning, a new history of the civilwar and reconstruction. There are many others, but we'll get those in the shownotes. So people can look at those. I do want to just ask you about thesegreat courses which I've I've listened to more than a dozen and I've listened tothree or four of yours. It's sure you're such a good lecture. It soundslike you're reading a manuscript, but are you? Are you just from notes? Whatis it like? Recording those lecture series I am Reading Yeah because in thestudio of course, they're recording not only audio bid, video as well, and theteaching company employs three large cameras and a teleprompter and I'mhappy to make use of the teleprompter. So I write out myself all of thematerial and then it goes up in the teleprompter and I read it off.Teleprompter- and I do that because that safeguards me from wandering offsubject, which is something as you well know-preachers and teachers are very want to do so. I do it, I do it as a disciplinarymeasure. It keeps me it keeps me on focusing it very good tolisten to, because, oh that's good, I'm glad to there are no wasted words andthere's a certain panache in your delivery, which which is really good.So I do come in those to our listeners to go find some of those. We want to talk about this newbiography, Robert e Lee, a life, so I'm a pastor and that's my first job. Mysecond job is to teach systematic theology at seminary and sort of mythird thing, or I don't know where it is down the line, but I did doctoral work in history andstudy John Witherspoon. We could do a whole podcast and ask you about. JohnWitherspin is really good I'll delay that maybe I'll work in a JohnWitherspoon question, but as someone who's done, academic history work. Ilook at a biography like this and the first question that comes to my mind ishow long did it take you? What was the...

...process? Obviously you have a lifetimeof expertise in the civil war and American history. But what was theprocess like in putting together a six hundred page biography? It took quiteliterally almost eight years, which is not as long as some peoplehave labored over a biography out of one people who put a lot longer intowriting a book of similar length. But for me it. This wasan eight year adventure which actually took longer than I thought it was goingto take. It took longer for three reasons: oneis that the primary sources, only his letters,for instance, are not concentrated in any one singlearchive. Nor are there published editions of thecomplete letters and correspondence and writings of Robert Lee, such as thereare for Abraham, Lincoln Ulysses, grant even Jefferson Davis. Even AndrewJohnson has a complete writing sedition. A lead is not, and, and one principalreason for that is. First of all, the man was a compulsive letter writer. Hemust have written something, but between six and eight thousand lettersin his lifetime, but they are scattered in Penny, packets, in archives, fromthe Morgan Library, in New York City to the Huntington Library and San Marinoand- and it seems like it- almost all points in between and tracking tracking,these down required a great deal of time. Greatdeal, labor great till of patience. So I'm pulling Lee collections fromGeorgia, I'm pulling Lee collections from isere and playing Lee collectionsfrom Texas and try to assemble these all together so as to form a coherentpicture of the man. So that took a lot of time. So visits had to be made, requests hadto be filed that was time consuming. Another factor was I had to deal rightsmack in the middle of all this with meningitis. So I had a nasty spell with that that thatwas five days in the hospital and then several weeks after with recovery, sothat slowed everything down, and then there was this, this business of the of a jobtransition from Gettysburg College, where I'd been for fifteen years toPrinceton University, where I am now and that transition subtracted time forwriting Ly. So when you factor in those three things, the wonder is that itonly took eight years. Maybe I should have given it longer. I don't know, butI think by the time I got to two thousand and twenty. I was pretty muchat that point that biographers reach when they are thoroughly sick of theirsubject, and they just want the project to be done. Right. That's right is the:Is the Witherspoon Statue still up at Princeton or have they taken it down? oThe witherspoon stature was still there. There have been complaints that havebeen made by some people about John Witherspoon, and you did this nastything and he was guilty of this unspeakable crime. My response is: Let he who is without historical sin,cast the first stone. I would like to point out that this man,by signing the declaration of Independence, put a halder around hisneck for all of our benefit. Maybe that should count something to him reckon tohim for righteousness right, but I don't know, will we will? We will haveto see what happens? There is a statue of Witherspoon by the way in Washington,DC yeah righd across curiously enough from themayflower hotel. I don't know if anyone's noticed it, but as far as Iknow, that is still there yeah there's that there's a one in Glasgow and justwondering or in Paisley how long before will save the Witherspoon discussion,but I was curious that it's still up yes, it is still up- or at least untilsomeone listens to this podcast and with malice of forethought and realizesa Ha. We have to go after that one, so we have to be careful here. Yes, wewill be. Let me ask this questions we get into the Leebiography. Are there any portrayals of Lee in popular culture that are closetoo accurate, I'm thinking of by popular culture? I mean that you know the Gods in generals movie orbook, or the Gettysburg Movie Course based on the book by the same author oreven kin burn civil war series, which has, for I grew up. You know going toschool in the S and S, and I watched that thing every single year thatshaped probably more than anything H my...

...generation of how we understand thecivil war are those. What do they get right? What do theyget wrong about? How they depict Lee? Well, one thing which certainly comesright in, for instance, the Gettysburg Movie Ron Maxwell to gethisburg movie,and I know Ron and he's he's a good friend. One thing that does come clear in theGettysburg movie is how intimidating a presence Robert Leewould be one thing which Martin Shen got absolutely. I think it was MartinShan Martin new that yeah, not carale. That would have been very differentyeah I'm because I'm trying to remember it was I in the subsequent movie that run maygods and generals e. He had Robert Duval yeah, that's right likely, who iscuriously a Lee relative. That's his name! That's his name, Robert Le Duvant,Oh yeah yeah. I didn't put that together, but to come back to theGettysburg movie. One thing which, which she really did very well, whichreally got right, was how intimidatingly could be when he wasangry. You see that in two scenes one were he's facing down his generalsafter the first days, fighting and basically letting them know they wereall in the dog house for not having pressed their advantages and the otheris the scene with Jeb Stewart, both of which really really capture. Howformidable and forbidding Robert Lee could be when some one failed him. Leewas a perfectionist and if you did not measure up to his standards, a woe beunto you and that included even people of his of his personal staff. His longtime, adjutant and Military Secretary Walter Taylor once wrote a letter tohis fiancee during the war saying you have no idea how difficult it is towork for General Lee. He is so she's so unresponsive he is so uncooperativehe's so mean, and yet, at the same time, Taylor wouldgo on and to add yes, but he really is a great man. So I guess old great menare like that, but Lee could be difficult to deal with that way and Ithink the movies at least captured that one aspect of the pretty effectively,certainly the Gettysburg movie, does beyond that. It's actually hard to puta finger on what you would call popular culture, portrayals of LE, unlike AbrahamLincoln, who has appeared in over two hundred and twenty movies documentaries, educationalshorts. My goodness even an episode of Star Trek, Robert Lee has not made it on to thesilver screen very much so those those apparent thoseappearances are comparatively few and difficult to evaluate, which Ithink is a reflection of the fact that the man himself could be very difficult to evaluatecould be. He could seem almost opaque to people, I'm glad you mentioned thescene with where he dresses down Jeb Stewart. Mycongregation here will know that that that's one of my favorite sermonillustrations and I won't give my my poor accent, but then again I didn'tthink Martin Sheen's accent was particularly convincing either, butwhat I illustrate from that, so he dresses down Stewart you the eyesand the ears in my army and but then, when Stewart wants the hand and hissword, he just says I have no time for this. Yes get on your sore get back,and so I've used. That illustration differ a couple different sermoncontexts to say when you sin repent before the Lord,but you don't have to grovel. You know just repent be forgiven, get back intothe fight. So that's maybe my favorite scene fromat least from the Lee side from that movie. This is interesting, but becausefor years at Gettysburg College, of course, where that's a subject of lie of attention, I would always hearstudents quoting back to each other. In still in there is no time yeah. It'snot that that's right! Now I don't want to, I don't want to disenchant things,but I have to tell you Kevin that encounter between Stuart and Leeprobably did not occur. Yeah, that's what I've gathered. If it didn't happenin it should have yeah, but the tethe odds are that it probably did notoccur yeah. I E T e, the very first description of that encounter doesn'tsurfice in ine thousand nine hundred and fifteen, the first line from the book and laterwe'll get to the last line, because it really it's a great opening and a greatclosing. You say this Bookbegan in two thousandand fourteen and what now seems like...

...almost another world with a singlequestion. So here's your question: You Begin the book. How do you write thebiography of someone who commits treason, in fact that most people- and you tie this up againthroughout the book and especially at the end when people think about Leessins today, and there are many- they don't think of treason strangely enough,but you want to remind us of that. Why do you start the book this way? I had written almost everything up to thatpoint about Abraham Lincoln about the unioncause even fateful lightning. It will not take readers terribly longgetting into it to realize that this is someone who's writing it from theperspective of the blue, not the gray and that's not entirely surprise. I'mbe Yankee Yeah from Yankee land here in Pennsylvania. I grew up with my grandmother whoherself as a school girl in Philadelphia, could remember at theturn of the last century, the old veterans of the civil war coming to herclassroom on what they caught then called decoration day to come and talkabout the real meaning of the civil war and these old veterans in their theirlittle blue caps and blue jackets from the Grand Army of the Republic, theywere determined to offer an entirely different understanding of the civilwar than the lost cause bothered by those rebels. They were still rebelsand they didn't have any romantic attachment to that word. Well, sheimbibed that and sure enough. I got exactly that at her knee as a young kidgrowing up, so I have come equipped to this subjectof the civil war all these years from that perspective, but there was itchingwithin me this curiosity. What did the civil war look like from the other sideof the telescope, and especially, how did you understand someone like RobertLee as prominent as he was as famous and lauded as he was yet committingwhat I could not call by any other name except treason? When my father was? U S Army, he tookthe oath to a pole, defend the constitution. My son is a captain inthe army. He also took the oath. I took the oath when I joined the NationalCouncil for the humanities some ten years ago, so I take that seriously. So how do Iunderstand the thinking of someone who goes back on that WHO commits treason,because I don't have a better or more accurate or softer word forwhat Robert e Lee did when you look at the how the constitution definestreason as giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States andmaking war against them, I can't escape the fact that that's thecategory into which he fell. How do you write the biography of somebody likethat? I mean in the larger sense. How do you write what I would calldifficult biography, because not everybody out there can beunqualifiedly admired in some res in some moral respects, it's easy to writeabout Jonathan Edwards, it's easy to write about Abraham Lincoln. What doyou do about someone who commits trees? How do you write and how do you writeabout people who create big mistakes where people who just areculturally near sighted, and how do you write about a Nevel Chamberlain and youthink how? How did he not see what was what was wrong with Adolffiddler? You even you look at Churchill and you wonder how could someone makeso many blunders like the dark nells like Edward, the eighth, and how do you write quote unquote,difficult biography, so there was a challenge, and Lee to me creates theultimate difficult American biography because he commits treason- and I mycuriosity was piqued and curiosity led me into it, and the book is really theresult of asking that question. You do a really good job of this throughoutthe book, and you say early on that. If you we cast Lee as either saint orsinner as either simple or pathological in the end, it will be a lessprofitable historical exercise, and so there is this people sometimes will say.Well what is what is a Christian way of doing history? Well, Christians can bebad. Historians are good historians and a lot of it, but one of the things Isometimes say is it does mean on the... hand, as a Christian, I want tolook with the lines of God's word at what people have done and who they were.On the other hand, it means loving my neighbor, as myself means even lovingmy dead neighbors as myself, and something of the the Quinton SkinnerSchool of intellectual history and trying to see things their way andtrying to at least understand, from our vantage points,very easy to see some of the really egregious sinse of Robert e Lee, and wealso want to try to understand who was he in his time what he was doing? Howdo you do? That is a historian and in particular, with this lead biography tonot portray him, because a lot of people would want him to be either a saint in some traditions.There is this, you say apotheosis this deification. He is the southern Arthur and redeemer andhe's not only the hero of the confederacy but he's the hero ofAmerica somehow at the same time, and yet it would be easy to do the otherside and just write about all the things he got wrong. How do you try todo both of those things? Well, at the very beginning, I dealwith myself as a sinner. I look at myself. I understand the many conflicting impulses and I think of those short prayerswhich I think everybody should use every day. Lord have mercy upon Nea Sinner M. The great thing is that the person whosaid that was exactly the one pointed out by Jesus as the one who was reallydoing the right thing. Lord had mercy on me a sinner. This was someone who had every reasonother way to be catalogued as as a horrible person, but for being able to go and say LordHave Mercy on me a center that that was what attracted the attention of Jesus. I also look at how many characters of the Bible have beenpeople of conflicted. Spiritual states. Look at some lady,like King David here was here, was a man after God'sown heart, and yet there's that terrible incidentof Bathsheba where Nathan, the prophet goes. Tom, isone of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible where Nathan, the Prophet, goesto him and says you know. Let me tell you about this man with the little: ULamb and the creep who came along and and stole the lamb from him and David'sall routhy and Nathan. Oh, my goodness. What is same Nathan says now all right,the man right and at that point David's whole self image of himself. You canjust hear it crack, so I'm coming at leg from a biblicalcomplexity of human nature, human motivation and human sin. How PeopleSin Repent Sin Again! Repent again, I remember in the songs a just man fallsseven times a day, so I come to Lee looking not either forstainless purity, because I don't believe that's that'sthere in any of us, but at the same time, I'm not lookingto put horns on him and imagine that everything he does is detestable,because that's not how human beings behave either it is. It is the measure of these things inpeople's lives that you have to take account of, and for me, one very important rule that I havetried to stay by is a rule that I learned years ago from the literary critic, John Gardener-and I cite this at the end, the very end of the Lee book- We're Gardner and he was talking aboutfiction, but it's butts. I think it is perfectly applicable in non fiction aswell. No true compassion without will m and no true will without compassionwhat he meant by. That was the writer and this, and I transposedthis to the historian. The historian has to have the will to judge to me. There is no point whatsoever inwriting history if it's merely fact fact fact and no philosophy effects aphrase I learned many years ago from Cornelius Fan till now. That has stuck with me. What thejob of the historian is to do is to take the facts, and I and the historymust pass some kind of judgment on them. Otherwise, the facts that no meaningwhatsoever they're merely an accretion of Marnie, so you have to have the willto judge that has to be there yet at the same time, that will hash to be tempered bycompassion, a compassion that...

...recognizes. I am also a sinner. We are.We are sinners who have all fallen short of the glory of God. Similarly, there are many people whowant to write compassionately, and sometimes the compassion is what leadsthem to the the stainless sacredly and that's wrong too, because Jesus also makes judgment whenhe says to the woman called an adultery. I am not going to judge you. He then says: Go and sin no more.There's a moral injunction. There he's going to hold her to a stander himself and there has to be along with thecompassion. There also has to be that will therehas to be that judgment, and I have tried to keep those in view, as I havemoved through this Lee biography and move towards some kind of evaluation atthe end. That would leave us in a position where we can look at Lee,Judge Lee and still somehow, at the end of it, live with me because he's there, whether we like itor not, how do we deal with him? That's those are the the signs I have tried touse as my gods, the last paragraphs, I'll just read it because I was at terrific. It was a great lastparagraph e'vil to it here. There can be no true compassion without will, butthere can be no true will without compassion for without compassion, noone can summon the will to live a true life for fashion. A true art self pityplayed a far larger role than compassion in these character in hispursuit of perfection froze compassion into obligation, but that need not bethe case in us mercy, or at least a nale prosecute, to mean abandon theprosecution may perhaps be the most appropriateconclusion to the crime and the glory of robert lee. After all, i can'timagine there are too many lebigre that end on the note of mercy is that someof your ocrisia yeah, oh yeah, the greatest of le biography, is the mounteverest. So to speak, almost the himalyas. The entire range is douglassunthal freeman for volume, biography re le e, published in thound iris one apeal, a surprise for it. Freeman was a lost cause of advocateand for him robert e lee, as he put it himself, freeman says straight up.Robert e lee's character was simple: it was guided purely by duty and in theclose of the fourth volume lee is in his coffin and, oh, my goodness,freeman pick has this scene, it's his own imagination, but he has this scene,the sun coming up in the morning and the rays of the sun coming through thewindows on to lee's, coffin and you're thinking. Oh, don't tell me, there aregoing to be the women waiting at the edge for the resurrection and i'mthinking yeah. This is freeman. This is this is really overthe top. So you get one extreme that way and infrankly it's fits repulsive, but then there's the other extreme,which uses lee as a whipping boy and lee is a person who is evil. He isracially unenlightened. He is a terrible person, he ispsychologically crippled and this becomes the story of robertlelas told by people like thomas connolly and is one thousand ninehundred and seventy seven book the marble man, which was actually thefirst book. I ever read about robert eley long long ago, but it also informs alan nollas leeconsidered and michael filmation, robert le, and both of them go entirely in the other direction fromfrom freeman. I think in some respects it's an overreaction that does not factor in so many otheraspects of le. So i am trying to chart something of the middle course yeah. Idon't adore the le because i don't think i should bow down and worship men. At the same time, i want to be cautiousabout how i condemn, because there's so many mitigations andso many contradictions built into the character of robert delay that hedoesn't fit. He doesn't fit. The outlining of arobin hood villain- he just doesn't yeah, so you talked about the lostcause which is shorthand for this idea that that the south never hada chance to win the war, and it was just grant, was a butcher. The southhead all of the d, the glorious...

...generals and they didn't have thepersonnel they didn't have the material but lee he wasn't even conquered. Hemerely surrendered and displayed christian valor throughout, and thisbegins you saying about you know early on, of course, dubil early, reallypopularizes- that in there's a whole book to the lost cause, but even inlead lifetime. It begins was lee supportive of this growing mythologyaround himself in the south, but in large measure, leed dies before thelost cause really takes off. If we want to pin a date on the birth of the lostcause, i think it really begins with jubal early as memorial address aboutle in lexington, one had eight hundred a d sevyay. Now, two years after we haddied, but you they were, but they werealready the stirrings of this and, on the one hand, lee discouragesit leas constant message in the five yearsthat he lived after the surrender apomatica was we have lost. We have tocome to grips with the fact that we have lost. We are now once again partof the united states. We are all one country and southerners need to pickthemselves up rebuilt rehabilitate themselves and get on with the projectof being part of one nation. Part of his labor as president of washingtoncollege was to equip and educate the youngsageness to take up leadership roles in creating a new south that would be partof the united states as a home. So lee himself never goes on some kind ofcampaign to glorify the confederacy. When tom rosser, one of his cavalryofficers, writes to him about proposing monuments, i le tells him forget it.You know this. This is not what we should be doing when a northern entrepreneur rights tolead to try to solicit lee's interest in participating in a reunion atgettysburg lead to clients m. He does not want to go back and revisit things.Unlike ulysses grant, when grant becomes,president grant brings all of his old staffers. He brings john rawlins. Hebrings e lie parker into his administration. Lee doesn't do that ad washingtoncollege. She never attends reunions. He never brings his old officers tolexington to serve in positions at at washington college. He corresponds somewith them, but not very much he's not busy trying to build this edifice ofsouthern memory. He constantly toys with the idea that he will write ahistory of the army of northern virginia, but he never gets around toit. Yeah. The only thing like that he ends up. Writing is a memoir of hisfather light horse, harried lee from the revolution. So if the lost causehad anything to attract robert lee, certainly perishingly little evidenceof it, the lost cause really is the confection of a number of other people like les biographer john jones and likelike juble early, who certainly had a personal interest in promoting a lostcause because it attracted attention away from how much he contributed tothe south losing the war. You can blame it on long street, allthe better. Oh, yes, oh, my goodness talk about a historical injustice of ofmassive proportions so ho off the bed, the battle of gettysburg. Why did thesouth lose? Somebody asked george pickett thatquestion and i was supposed that george picka bel. No one was better thananybody else, but but someone asked george pick up that question: why didthe confederacy lose that le gettysburg and fices answer was, i suppose the yankees had something todo with it, and i i think at the end of the day,that's that's very much the case. I think at gettysburg. Really whathappens is robert e lee is not so much lose a battle as heloses an opportunity m. He came close though it has to be saidthat really the confederacy came within an inch of victory at gettysburg, butsometimes an inch is all that matters. You mentioned light horse harry lee andhe looms large in this biography. You say toward the beginning that lee grewup practically fatherless yeah. What what? How did that influence the restof his life? Well, when you consider the trauma that isinflicted by the loss of a parent...

...before adolescence, it is, it is hardto see how there would not be an impact, and that's particularly true, i think,but the loss of fathers. A number of years ago, a a cologn wrotea book called faith of the fatherless, and i thought it was an interestingexploration, because what the book was about was about atheists, but faith of the fatherless. Had thisreally creative insight- and they pointed out how often prominentatheists were people who had grown up in fatherless households, in otherwords, in their personal experience, they had no way of conceiving of god astheir father, hence their unbelief their atheism, and it was a patternwhich was repeated in so many biographies of atheism that was worthtaking into account. Well, when i transpose that to robert lee,whose father the father basically walked out on himwhen he was a you know before his eighth birthday and never came back, that is, that is a serious trial forrobert dale and robert e lee is a person who spends a large part of hislife trying to compensate for that loss. He compensates for it as an adolescentby becoming a kind of surrogate father. In this case he becomes his mother'shousehold servant is his mother's messenger boy. His mother's householdmanager he's trying to be what his father had subtracted from thehousehold and when you watch how lee operates in later years, he's alwayslooking for these surrogate fathers em. He finds one in charles gracia. Who wasthe chief engineer when lee began life as an army engineer, and it's likewise for winfield scott, and it's only after robert d lee comesinto his own as a personality and in eighteen sixtytwo, but he really starts to lose this. This obsession with being a replacement father were findingreplacement fathers. It's actually the moment when he pays his first visit tohis father's grave. The irony of this, of course, is that,through all of those years as an adolescent right up until the beginningof the civil war, whenever people talk about robert lee, they always talkabout him. As the son of light horse harry the famous revolutionary cavalrycommander, i often wonder, as he is being introduced in place after placeand time after time as the son of lagors harry wonder if these peoplehave any idea of how much pain they're inflicting on him by saying it, evenwhen he receives his commission from the virginia legislature to takecommand of the virginia forces in in eighteen. Sixty one he's introduced as the son of lighthorse harry former governor virginia and these walls can still at vibratewith the sound of harry lee's voice, and i'm thinking, oh, my goodness, dothey have any idea what they're saying what ideas and memories that generatingin robert lee's mind when they're saying this? Well, he doesn't tell us,but i cannot help for speculating many people when we think of leadsbasically a eighteen, a d sixty one eighteen, sixty five and sort ofeverything. After that. Oh, that's right famously, you know lincoln asks them tolead the federal troops, but you remind us in the biography he was mostly anengineer in his military career and you know famous in fifty nine forsuppressing john brown's rebellion. But what did what did lincoln see in leethat he would offer him that commission? Well? I don't know that lincoln himselfsaw much inly because lincoln was not a military man lincoln often joked abouthis almost complete absence of anyunderstanding of military life, but lincoln at that point was being heavilyadvised, first of all by winfield scott, who thought that robert e lee simplywalked on water and by francis preston blair, the longtime washington, political operative and the blair some blair offspring hadhim player's daughter had married ali. It was a distant cousin of robert e lee,but people knew the leaves. So it becomes logical for scott and for blairto recommend to lincoln that robert lee with that point is colonel of the firstcattle right be given command of federal fieldforces and lincoln through francis...

...preston. Blair does make that authorextends that offer, but le refuses. I lead declines its. It was not an illogical decision,because the army, the unicated army, at the outbreak of the civil war, is avery small affair. We were talking. Sixteen thousand people, though bothofficers and enlisted and lee had made quite an impression during the mexicanwar serving under winfield scott when he starts out as an engineering officer.But scott quickly sees that lee's got a lot of capabilities. He begins reallyto use lee as his principal reconnaissance officer, advisor staffer, scott, would say later speaking toreverdy johnson that all the glory he won in the great campaign to mexicocity in eighteen. Forty seven was really owed to robert h, l, that if there was scot once made thecomment that if he was on his death bed and had to make a recommendation to thepresident as to who should succeed him in command of the army, he wouldunhesitatingly say that it should be robert e lee and scott just thought theworld of robert le and when lee turns down the offer scott tells you you have made thegreatest mistake of your life. One one of scott staffer said thatscott scott so distraught, he laid himselfdown on the sofa in his office, told everybody to leave. He didn't want to.He didn't want to talk to anybody. He didn't want to discuss anything and hesaid he never wanted to hear the name of robert lee again. He he had put somuch of his personal capital in robert lee, and it was. It was a torment toscott when lee decides in fact not to accept the offer, and i have twenty quest twenty fivemore as all of them. So what we try to ask some encapsulated questions both onthe satin on the center side. So if you were making the case for at the end, you talkin about the gloryand the crime, so the glory of lee as a man as a military strategist. What goesin that column of the glory of lee and what his troops, who revered him saw inhim? The glory of le lies in the fact thathe turned out without anything as precedent, to be a really skilful strategic thinker. He was one of those military people whocould take in an entire vista of of military territory and know exactly what had to be doneand when it had to be done, he has so to speak, the coup of the eye and that in the largest sense, and notjust a particular piece of battlefield terrain, but the overall connections ofwhat would make a war happen and how a war could be brought to a successfulconclusion. He understood that probably better than almost anyone else in thesouth and what he understood about it was this. The south did not have theresources to go a long, full heavy weight bout. Itwasn't going to go fifteen rounds, it just couldn't do it against the north.If it was going to win, it had to score a surprise, knock out in the first tworounds, and that was what he demanded by taking his army north of the potomacin eighteen, sixty two. He might have succeeded if he had movedsuccessfully moved across the potomac up into pennsylvania as he had planned,and there inflicted some kind of defeat on mister hyper caution. George mcclellan, then the political fall out for this might have been catastrophicfor the link on administration and the lincoln administration might have beenforced to the negotiating table with a confederacy that could very possiblyhave happened. It didn't happen because of the famous lost orders, special orders number undred, a d,ninety one they get picked up in a field by my federal soldiers, from the twentyseventh in diana, and it goes up to mcclellan and suddenly mc clellan hasall of lee's campaign plans in his hand, so that cut short that effort. But ayear later, lees at it again again, he crosses the potomac. Again, it's upinto pennsylvania once again looking to create political havoc for the link ofadministration and forced the lincoln administration to the negotiating table.He almost did it if she had been victorious to get. Is burg, my my the earl, the possible outcome ofthat right, it is the army of the potomac would have gone to. Pieca isquite frankly, it'd have been. It had...

...lost, so many battles ranking what i orprobably lost the next year he well. It might not have even lasted that longyea, because in the fun o thsang ten and sixty two elections, thegovernorships of new jersey and new york went into the hands of antiadministration democrats, joel parker and jersey, horatio seymore in new york.No, there are gubert elections coming up in pennsylvania and ohio in the fall,and there are significant anti lincoln candidates running for governor inthose states. If there had been some kind of major success for theconfederacy in pennsylvania in the summer of eighteen, sixty three thatwould have put all the juice necessary to elect anti lincoln governors in ohioand pennsylvania. That means you've got new york, new jersey, ohio,pennsylvania. Moving over into the anti lincoln column. Those governors can sayto lincoln we're not putting any more resources into this war. No more troopswere not allowing the draft to operate. That's going to pull down the tent leesaw that that would be the train of events. That was why he launched thoseinvasions in sixty two and sixty three. So i'm looking this and saying this isa man who really understood what the strategic needs of the situation were,and he almost pulled it off yeah, and that is one of the ironies of the lostcosmotheology. Actually now the south could have one people a foregoneconclusion. Kevin people often ask me what i think the turning point of thecivil war was and what they're expecting? Is that i'll say an tide orgettysburg, or something like that? I tell them turning point of the civilwar was apomatica courthouse yeah because- and i'm exaggerating a little,but the truth is that right up until lincoln is re elected in november ofeighteen, sixty four, it could have gone the other way if george mc clellanhad been elected president rather than lincoln in november of sixty fourthere's, simply no question that mc clellan would have had to go to thenegotiating table with the confederates. His party would have forced him to doit kicking and screaming, but he would have gone to the negotiating table onceat the table. No one was going back to war, they mean they'd been these yearsof blood, letting no one was going back to war, they would have divided thecountry we'll have it. We would have had a balkanized to north americabecause look once you separated the south from the united states. That wasonly going to be the signal for other clumps of the country. To do the same.The north west, around the great lakes, would have formed its own confederacy.The pacific coast would have formed its confederacy. You would have beenbalkanized what, then, would have happened in the twentieth century, a different world, not any? Oh, my jo, i mean it's another kind of thing.You want to lay awake at night. Thinking about so yes, it was what wellington said atwaterloo. It was a close run thing yes and right up until november of sixtyfour, it really could have gone the other way. So all through this conflict,the options for catastrophe were all too open and they could have happenedthough, and of course, i'm calling him catastrophe because all right, yes, i'ma yankee from yankee land, that's a catastrophe, but i think i'm alsospeaking as an american and yes, even as a christian. I think that would havebeen a catastrophe in world history. On the other side, we would be remiss if ididn't ask you something about lee's views of race and slavery. Was he anymore or less enlightened than other men of his class and providence? He was more enlightened, but no more willing to do anythingabout that. Enlightenment lee occupies a position in virginia. That is very peculiar. He only ever in his lifetime owns oneslave family in his own name and that's that's a family he inherited from hismother. It was a carter and you know virginia carters, that's still a nameto conjure with virginia all the that doesn't mean he wasn'tconnected to slavery, though, because he marries into the custos family andthe custis family are major slave owners right. The custus is ownsomething close to two hundred slaves. So while he doesn't own slaves in hisown name, he benefits from their services. Clearly, on the other hand, when he finally doesfinally say something on the subject of slavery in a letter of the writes tohis wife in the eighteen s when he is off in texas as lieutenant colonel thesecond cavalry he comes out and says, slavery is amonera and political evil in any country. You look at a atingoh, no,...

...and yet he then immediately goes on andsays, but we really can't do anything about it, because it's so ingrained andit's going to take so long for this evil to be dealt with. Look how long ittook two thousand years for christianity to civilize, europe andamerica, we're just going to have to wait for god's time to come for the endof slavery, and you look at that and you think you have looked at slavery.Mr lee, you have looked at it. You have seen it for what it is. You have calledit for what it is. You know what it is. It is a violation of natural law, andyet first thing you do is turn your gaze away from it and when he does, that he's doing something very similar towhat a lot of upper south slave owners did and they could do it, they couldafford to do it because for forty years slavery had been slowly leached out ofthe upper south and moved into the lower south and down toward the south.West virginia was a neck exporter of slaves and slavery was, was slavery was bleeding out in virginiabecause it was ceasing to be to be as spectacularly profitable as it was inthe minisi pi river valley. So there were a lot of people like that who thosaid the same exact thing that led did his father in law. George washingtonpark, custis says the same thing: slavery he says is a vulture, but he doesn't. He doesn't manumit his slaves, exceptin his will, and then he turns around and makesrobert the executor. So the robert has to be the one who emancipates theslaves, but here's the interesting thing. That is what robert does a i mean: betwen and eighteen and fiftyseven when old park, custis dies and eighteen sixty two. When the will mandated the emancipation of the slaves, lee moved steadily along towardsemancipating those slaves and the end of december eighteen sixty two, hesigns the final manumission papers now you've got to think the end of december.Eighteen, sixty two. If robert e lee had gone into any confederate virginiacourt and said, ah, look hey, you know we're just not going to go through withthis. The i'm sorry, i can't imagine a confederate virginia judge sink. Nogenerally, you have to do this. You have to amasite he's like no, thatwasn't going to happen. He could have gotten out of it. He doesn't he pushesstraight through to the emancipation and only that he emancipates that oneslave family that he owns, which he wasn't obligated to do by the terms ofhis father in law's will by the beginning of deighton and sixty threerobert lee is slaveless and he's trying to lecture jeffersondavis about how the confederacy needs to move to emancipation too, becauseslavery is a millstone around the confederacy's neck and does he thinkthey might fight on the side of the confederacy? That's what he moves towar in february of eighteen and sixty five: let's emancipate, the slaves andrecruit them for the confederate armies and the hard core confederate types go.Absolutely nuts. If you want to hear people, say nasty things about robertlee, don't go to northern abolitionists, go to what the charleston mercury hadto say about. Robert lee after lee endorses the proposal for emancipatingslaves and recruiting a charston mercury says robert lee is just anotherstinking old federalist he has never been with us. He's never been one of ushe's betraying us you're thinking. This is the charleston mercury and they'retalking about robert lee. These people are crazier than i thought they were so the response he gets. I mean howl comsenator from georgia stands up in the confederate senate. If this proposal isright, then our whole theory of this war is wrong. Man at that point, i saidgreat great howl. You got it right. You know the broken clock just struck thetime correctly right so, but this is what this is. The reaction generatethat lee generates. So you look at that. You think my that doesn't sound likethe lead that, after the war people wanted to make over into the palate andof the lost cause right, let me ask ask you this one last question: it's thequestion that probably listeners would want me to have started with, but i'llend with it, and that is the board of trustees. Come to you. Maybe they do. Idon't know, and they ask you dr geza you've written this. The board ofwashington and lee. Should we remove leave from our name, the city ofrichmond comes to you and says: what should we do with the lee statue? Howdo you help us as americans, or these particularinstitutions, were the whole countries? You know embroiled in these sort ofcontroversies, but lee in particular ought his name tobe stricken out all ofthe statues to be taken down after the...

...charlottesville riot in two thousandand seventeen, i co wrote with one of my former students who's, aninterpretive officer for the national park service, an article aboutmonuments and especially about lea monuments, butabout confederate monuments and and questionable monuments in general, and what i suggested in this and johnsuggested this with me, john rudy, my my coal author was a decision tree because toppling statues renamingthings. This is this is playing with history and you don't play with that onan impulsive or emotional basis. So, let's, let's create a decision treeand we created a five step decision tree that we recommended people gothrough. We didn't have any predetermined answers, but what we wanted to say at the endwas that no matter what conclusion people come to, whether to keep thestatue or not to keep the statue keep the name not to keep it it. At least,there has been a reasonable and thoughtful process that people havegone through, and i would point people to that article. It appeared in civilwar monitor in two thousand and seventeen, and i would say that, for cases likethese, first of all, you do have to approach them on a case by case basis. Secondly, you need to resist the overwhelming demand of the moment, because i'm always reminded of howeasily this kind of thing moves into iconoclasm. The tate gallery in london hasestimated that, at the time of the protestant reformation in england, something like about seventy per centof england's religious art was destroyed and it was done with the bestof motivations. It was done with people who were terribly sincere, who believed that these pictures of thevirgin mary and these statues and churches were only leading people tothe worship of the godless, papal andie christ and they were going. People weregoing to be going to hell because of us. We had to destroy these things and theydid in the old testament right and they did yeah. So four hundred years later, we look backand we hit our foreheads with the palm of our hands and said what were wethinking and my anxiety about iconoclasm is thatthat may be what we think fifty years from now, where we just functioning on the basisof impulse and have we in fact on ourselves a good deal of harm. This way,i don't know, i said why i said i want to proceed on aon a cautious basis, a reasonable basis and a situation by situation basis and in some of those situations, i'mnot even going to be the best expert to make any kind of recommendation. But iwhat i am anxious to see in all these situations is that a reasonable processbe gone through and all too often a reasonable process is not what i haveseen him well, i have so many more questionsi'll, let that be. The last word, dr gals, with thank you again want toencourage everyone to get don't be intimidated by the big size. It is veryreadable. Is a wonderful author and his story, robert lee, a life his book justcome out and, of course, all of the other books that was mentioned andother things it's a real privilege. I've learned a lot. Thank you forcoming on the program and look forward to the next thing you write and maybewe'll have you come on again we'll talk about john witherspoon. That will be apleasure and it was a pleasure today, talking with you and being able to talkyes, a little history, but also talk a little the ill at you to wonder. Thankyou for being with us until next time for all of our listeners, noriy godenjoy him forever and read a good book now. That is worth repeating. That's mytag. Yes, i.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (41)