Robert E. Lee: A Life Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
A WALL STREET JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR From the award-winning historian and best-selling author of Gettysburg comes the definitive biography of Robert E. Lee. An intimate look at the Confederate general in all his complexity—his hypocrisy and courage, his inner turmoil and outward calm, his disloyalty and his honor.
"An important contribution to reconciling the myths with the facts." —New York Times Book Review
Robert E. Lee is one of the most confounding figures in American history. Lee betrayed his nation in order to defend his home state and uphold the slave system he claimed to oppose. He was a traitor to the country he swore to serve as an Army officer, and yet he was admired even by his enemies for his composure and leadership. He considered slavery immoral, but benefited from inherited slaves and fought to defend the institution. And behind his genteel demeanor and perfectionism lurked the insecurities of a man haunted by the legacy of a father who stained the family name by declaring bankruptcy and who disappeared when Robert was just six years old.
In Robert E. Lee, the award-winning historian Allen Guelzo has written the definitive biography of the general, following him from his refined upbringing in Virginia high society, to his long career in the U.S. Army, his agonized decision to side with Virginia when it seceded from the Union, and his leadership during the Civil War. Above all, Guelzo captures Robert E. Lee in all his complexity--his hypocrisy and courage, his outward calm and inner turmoil, his honor and his disloyalty.
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|Listening Length||22 hours and 33 minutes|
|Author||Allen C. Guelzo|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||September 28, 2021|
|Publisher||Random House Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #17,290 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#9 in American Civil War Biographies (Audible Books & Originals)
#21 in American Civil War
#46 in American Civil War Biographies (Books)
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Guelzo has unearthed no new facts. And where Guelzo ventures judgements, they tend to be poorly supported. He states that for Lee slavery was "an abstraction." This is absurd. Slavery was anything but an abstraction for Lee; he lived with slaves most of his life, and was on intimate terms with a great many of them. It is Guelzo for whom slavery is an abstraction; for Lee it was an institution made up of individual human beings whom he knew well. Certainly Lee's views of slavery are open to criticism, but not because slavery was an abstraction to him.
Guelzo also suggests that Lee was motivated to cast his lot with Virginia by a desire to save his wife's family estate, Arlington. The evidence for this contention is extremely thin (23 years after the fact Edward Townsend reported that he "overheard" a comment to that effect in a meeting between Lee and Winfield Scott to which he was not privy), and has been discounted by other historians. It is also implausible; Lee was well aware that, because of its strategic position, the Union would almost certainly seize Arlington, and within less than a week of his resignation from the Army was urging his wife to leave to avoid capture.
Guelzo condemns Lee as a traitor, but his discussion of that issue is superficial and obtuse. As a legal matter, Lee could be guilty of treason only if secession was unconstitutional. That had not been determined in 1861, and was ultimately determined, not in a court of law, but on the battlefield. This was endlessly debated in the 19th century. Even in the North, opinion was divided. Thaddeus Stevens, the most radical of the radical Republicans, did not believe that the Confederates were traitors, an offered to help defend Jefferson Davis in court. If you want a good introduction to the legal issues, read Secession on Trial by Cynthia Nicoletti. As a moral matter, if Lee was a traitor, then so was Washington, and many others who are now considered national heroes in their countries.
Guelzo describes Lee's General Orders No. 9, his last communication with the Army of Northern Virginia, as an "episode in bitterness" and "incendiary." Really? Read General Orders No. 9 for yourself:
"After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.
But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell."
An episode in bitterness?
Perhaps someday another Robert E. Lee biography will be written which really breaks new ground and adds a new dimension, or greater depth, to our understanding of Lee. This is not that book. If you are looking for a good introduction to Lee, stick to Emory Thomas or Douglas Southall Freeman.
It’s beautifully composed and Guelzo courageously tackles the issue of Lee’s treason, treating it with measured intelligence and cool judgement. This is also an astute treatment of Grant’s strategy after Cold Harbor, when he abjured Lincoln’s instructions to attack Lee’s army head on and instead isolated and besieged Petersburg and Richmond, severing Lee’s lifelines to the rest of the Confederacy. This was the very strategy of economic strangulation Grant employed to bring down Vicksburg. As Guelzo points out, Lee was also an astute strategist, initially striking the North audaciously to break home front morale, and later, when Grant pinned him down at Richmond and he no longer possessed the resources to go on the offensive, prolonging the war by holding on defensively in order to bring on the defeat of Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential election. Both strategies nearly worked.
Finally , this biography is also a masterful personal portrait of Lee, and that may be its greatest strength.
Top reviews from other countries
Reviewed in Germany on February 5, 2022
Was Lee a traitor? Well, yes, but so were Washington, Jefferson et. al. who rebelled against their lawful sovereign. The difference? They won their war.