19 Jan 2017

Robert E. Lee’s Birthday


This photograph was taken in late February-early March 1864 by Julian Vannerson. Lee is shown in the Confederate colonel’s coat he habitually wore and the photograph certainly supports the diarist Mary Chesnut’s description of the General as “cold, quiet and grand.”

Robert Edward Lee, the greatest American military commander of all time, was born January 19, 1807 at Stratford Hall Plantation, Westmoreland County, Virginia.

11 Feedbacks on "Robert E. Lee’s Birthday"


Greatest “battlefield” commander. Lee was brilliant tactically and operationally, but he was a lousy strategist. As if it wasn’t obvious, Williamson Murray’s superb new book, “A Savage War” makes an irrefutable case.

Dan Kurt

re: “Robert Edward Lee, the greatest American military commander of all time”JDZ

No way! One example: he arrived at Gettysburg ahead of the Union Forces and failed to take the high ground.

Even worse, he had no follow up plan for after his victory at First Bull run. He could have captured Washington, D.C. and with it bagged Lincoln et al probably ending the war.

The greatest American military commander was by far Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Dan Kurt


Both of these accusations are wrong. Union cavalry and the Union First Corps (which included the Iron Brigade) arrived at McPherson Ridge between Heth’s Divsion (the first Confederates to arrive) and Gettysburg. Late in the afternoon, Richard Ewell’s Corps arrived from the North, down the Carlisle Pike, on the Union flank. Most commentators agree that Ewell should have pushed on and occupied Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Ridge, but he did not. Lee had already ordered Ewell to take Cemetery Hill “if practicable.” Ewell decided otherwise.

You cannot blame Lee for the First Battle of Bull Run. He was not there. The Confederate commander was Beauregard.

Dan Kurt

Dear JDZ:

You must be a Lawyer.

Lee should have taken the high ground if he was to insure a win at Gettysburg. He did not apparently understand that hence he ultimately lost. Stonewall Jackson, had he lived, surely would have explained that to Lee; no doubt about that.

As to First Bull Run, Lee was Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia beginning in June 1861 and was responsible for planning. First Bull Run took place on July 21, 1861. Lee should have had a follow up plan to exploit in case of a rout and did not.

Dan Kurt


> Lee was Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia beginning in June 1861 and was responsible for planning. First Bull Run took place on July 21, 1861.

Nope, Lee became commander of the Army of Northern Virginia June 1, 1862.

As to taking Cemetery Ridge late on the afternoon of the First Day of Gettysburg, Lee was not present to be in immediate command. The responsibility was in the hands of Corps Commander Richard Ewell. If Jackson had survived, he would have been commanding instead of Dick Ewell. Most people believe Jackson would not have failed to occupy Cemetery Ridge.


Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June 1862after Joseph Johnston was wounded at Seven Pines. Lee was in Richmond at the time of First Manassas and had no combat role in that battle. Many volumes have been written concerning his supposed mistakes at Gettysburg but as General Pickett replied when asked what caused the Confederate defeat: “I believe the Union Army had something to do with it.” Lee was a great battlefield commander but was fortunate to be faced by incompetent opponents for most of the war. Whether he was the greatest is open to debate.

Dan Kurt

re: “Nope, Lee became commander of the Army of Northern Virginia June 1, 1862.” JDZ

The one reference I checked prior to posting gave the June 1861 Date: http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/robert-e-lee It was the correct date but the incorrect name. The name actually was the Confederate Army of the Potomac. Lee the next year changed its name to the Army of Northern Virginia prior to a battle to defend Richmond.

This arcana is missing the point of my posting: R. E. Lee in no realistic way can be considered the the greatest American military commander of all time. He may have been a great man of unusual ability and high character, no doubt, but he fails the test of being America’s greatest general officer as he failed to demonstrate military skill many times.

Dan Kurt

T. Shaw

Pacem Dan Kurt and JDZ. If Jackson had lived, Gettysburg could have ended differently.

Of course, Forrest, but would he have been as successful commanding an army with the problems of command and control over extended lengths of distance and time, the foibles of corps commanders, etc.?

Ewell and the phrase in the order, “if practical” can be debated forever.

In fact, after a string of victories: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, etc. both Lee and his army were overconfident and, worse, contemptuous of the Union Army generals.

The second-day Confederate attacks were disjointed (at no point was sufficient the mass of attack) and delivered too late in the day.

Lee demonstrated his fallibility by offering the Union Army “Fredericksburg in reverse” on the third day. Although, that may be result of his underestimation of depth and strength of the Union artillery compared to his.

On the other hand, if J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry attack in the Union rear had not been defeated . . .


If,if,if…Gettysburg could have gone either way but it didn’t. Lee’s genius as a battlefield commander is based on victories where he divided his forces in a way that would have proved disastrous in the face of a competent opponent. Antietam, which was a tactical loss for him, would have been a strategic lights out had McClellan been more aggressive. Second Manassas and Chancellorsville were based on tactical dispositions that could have lost the war in an afternoon. Maybe Lee’s greatest strength was in understanding his opponent ‘s limits and planning on that basis. But his luck ran out with Grant.


So did the luck of the enormous numbers of Yankee troops that Grant spent trading casualties 10 to 1 with Marse Robert.


Actually the casualty ratio was about 1.5:1 for the Overland Campaign and Petersburg. Too many lost on both sides.


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