New in the Civil War Monitor for Fall 2014
The Fall 2014 issue of the Civil War Monitor is available online now, and should be appearing on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes soon. As always, Editor-in-Chief Terry Johnston and his crew have taken a little different angle on the conflict and its participants. This issue includes sesqui-stories on the Battle of Nashville, and a visitor’s guide to touring Franklin. An article by Craig Warren on the famous rebel yell is notable not only for its discussion of the yell on the battlefields of the Civil War, but its use and reputation after — during Reconstruction, at San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War, and later. Warren reminds us that, like that other iconic symbol, the Confederate Battle Flag, the rebel yell’s use and meaning didn’t end with the echoes of the last guns at Appomattox.
The article that’s really going to raise hackles, though, is the cover story by Glenn W. LaFantasie on Robert E. Lee, “Broken Promise.” LaFantasie cuts right to the core of Lee’s character, depicting him as a man fundamentally out of place in mid-nineteenth century America, “a rambunctious nation of go-getters and scramblers who sought to make their way in the world by whatever means might come along.” Lee, the FFV tidewater patrician, very consciously modeled his own demeanor on that of George Washington, an approach that served him well until the secession crisis of 1860-61. It was then that Lee, up to that point so unrelenting in his desire to emulate Washington and (to a much lesser degree) his own father, broke from their example and resigned his commission in the Old Army. LaFantasie goes on to detail how, after the war, Lee went to considerable effort to contort the well-known political philosophies of Washington and Light-Horse Harry — both men being strong Federalists by word and deed in their own lifetimes — into somehow justifying his own renunciation of the United States and taking up arms against it:
It is, in fact, open to question whether Light-Horse Harry [right] was as die-hard as his son claimed in his loyalty to state over nation. The elder Lee had been a fierce nationalist during and after the War for Independence. If, after the ratification of the Constitution and Washington’s two terms as president, he had decided that his state was more important than the Union, it is a wonder that he did not shift his political allegiance to the Jeffersonian Republicans, the party that became the beneficiary of the Anti-Federalist legacy. Instead, Light-Horse Harry spoke passionately against the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of1798 (in which James Madison and Thomas Jefferson introduced the idea of state nullification of federal laws), denounced Jefferson and his presidency, and, like other Federalists, distrusted the public and feared the growing excesses of “wicked citizens. . . incapable of quiet.” If states could override federal laws such as the Alien and Sedition Acts, he predicted, insurrection and disunion would be the result. “If we love the Union,” wrote Light-Horse Harry, “if we wish peace at home, and safety abroad; let us guard our own bosoms from a flame which threatens to consume all reason, temper and reflection.” He did not condone disunionism in his own time, so it was unlikely he would have approved the creation of the Confederate States of America or his son’s prominent involvement in fighting a bloody war for the southern nation. . . . These were the very things his father had warned his countrymen to avoid at all costs.
In short, Lee’s decision to take up arms against the United States went against the very things that Washington and his own father stood for. I told ya, it’s gonna raise some hackles.
LaFantasie’s manuscript will not be the last word on Lee, of course, but it does poke a sharp stick in 150 years of far-too-generous evaluations of Lee, the man. The Civil War Monitor was founded to be a new sort of CW magazine, one that challenges traditional ideas about the events and personalities of the war. It’s not the magazine you want to be reading if you’re looking for reassurance that what you always believed is The Truth. “Broken Promise” forwards those colors. Do yourself a favor and subscribe today.