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“Robert E Lee, A life” by Allen C. Guelzo.

If anyone had told me, a few months ago, that I would read another biography of R E Lee and actually enjoy it, I would probably have laughed at them. Those who know me know that my sympathies lie with the boys in blue (apart from an admiration for Lee’s “Old War Horse”) and I already have 2 biographies of Lee, both of which have been read, why buy another?

I watched a presentation on YouTube by the author, talking about this book, and he actually criticised Lee and used the word “traitor” more than once! Could this actually be a fresh look without the hero worship we normally get when reading about Lee? The answer is a definite yes!

The chapters on Lee’s life before and after the Civil War were of most interest to me and provided me with much information that was new. I don’t want to give too much of the game away but Mr Guelzo delves deeply into Lee’s personality and the difference between what he advised others to do and what he did himself. You won’t find detailed troop movements or battle histories here, the book is not about the battles, it’s a finely detailed and logical analysis of Lee the man and how effective he was as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. We know he relied on several of his general officers very heavily and often gave them too much leeway in his orders.

As well as criticising Lee, praise is given where it is due and adds to the view that this is a considered and carefully researched addition to the Lee story.

There seems little doubt that Lee actually committed treason by joining the Confederacy but, then again, so did all the rest of them. Mr Guelzo’s analysis of why Lee actually joined the rebel cause came as a complete shock to me. I’ve always accepted the oft quoted noble reason of “I will not draw my sword against my home state of Virginia.” The authors detailed reasoning behind his version is very convincing that this was not the case!

The period after Lee’s death is well covered and includes the birth of the lost cause movement and the start of the present unpleasantness regarding monuments and statues of confederate leaders and soldiers.

Lee comes out of this treatment as an excellent strategist who left the detailed tactics up to his “lieutenants” perhaps a little too often, a poor manager and an extremely poor man manager in both his military and private life!

I have absolutely no hesitation in saying buy this book and read it. It’s changed my view of Robert E Lee and may change yours as well and besides that, it’s an entertaining and enjoyable read!

Colin Wilks


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