President Trump is just plain wrong about Robert E. Lee’s skill as a general. Believe me, if there’s anything this former Confederate officer can speak to with authority, it’s “Bobby” Lee’s skill as a general. He was my commanding general and I owe my fame to his dubbing me the “gallant Pelham,” but I don’t allow that to color my assessment. He had the unqualified love and loyalty of his men, admittedly myself included at the time, but the years have proven such loyalty was horribly misplaced. Actually, I had come to see the error of my ways in the last months of my life, but that’s a long story (which I encourage you to read more about on my website). After my death, Lee said I was irreplaceable, which I was, of course, but again, that doesn’t change my assessment.
But let me first address why Lee’s skill as a general is irrelevant to the issues at hand – President Trump’s defense of his remarks about the “very fine people” carrying tiki torches in Charlottesville, NC last year. As we know, and numerous commentators have pointed out, Lee championed a terrible cause, the perpetual enslavement of African Americans by the Cotton Kingdom for the indefinite perpetuation of their wealth and power. In order to win the South’s independence, and thus perpetuate slavery indefinitely, Lee and the Confederate leadership sent thousands upon thousands of poor, non-slaveholding white boys and men to their deaths, all the while letting them think the Confederate cause was theirs. But the vast majority weren’t slaveholders and were given only the pathetic delusion that it was in their interests to keep the Negroes in bondage.
Not only that, but well after he knew the confederate cause was lost, for at least a good year before his surrender at Appomattox, he continued sending them to their grave based on some tragically misplaced belief in duty and honor. Maybe he truly thought he owed it to his men and the Southern people to fight to the last, but at that point he was the one who was deluded. If he had surrendered in the spring of 1864 he would have saved thousands of lives on both sides.
Next time I’ll talk about why Lee was NOT a great general, regardless of the cause he fought for.