Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

New in the Civil War Monitor for Fall 2014

Posted in Memory, Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 23, 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:

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LightHorseHarryIt 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.

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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.

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GeneralStarsGray

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11 Responses

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  1. Foxessa said, on August 27, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks, Andy, for shouting out the magazine and the articles.

  2. jfepperson said, on August 28, 2014 at 6:45 am

    The elder Lee is reputed to be the author of a tract written during the Federalist period which rather explicitly denies the right of secession. I have a copy of that somewhere within the chaos of my home office, but cannot find it right now. Does Glenn talk about this?

    • Andy Hall said, on August 28, 2014 at 8:51 am

      I think so — he quotes Light Horse Harry but cites Royster’s 1994 biography, which I don’t have and can’t access the bibliography for online. Royster really seems to drive home Lee’s commitment to Union.

      LaFantasie doesn’t mention that the elder Lee took command of federalized militia and marched them into another state to put down a rebellion over federal taxes. The Lost Cause crowd forgets that, too.

      • jfepperson said, on August 28, 2014 at 9:11 am

        I have long wanted to type up that tract and edit it for publication—one of my many “things to do after I retire” 😉

        • Andy Hall said, on August 28, 2014 at 9:15 am

          I know some folks who are busier in retirement than they ever seemed to be when they were working a regular job.

          On the other hand, I also know some retirees whose approach is, “Tuesday? No, we can’t do that on Tuesday. Tuesday is the day we go to the post office.”

          • jfepperson said, on August 28, 2014 at 10:51 am

            I finally remembered more details: The tract is titled “Plain Truth,” and was published anonymously in 1799, but is usually credited to the elder Lee—Royster does, according to Google Books. I just need to find the damn thing now …

            • jfepperson said, on August 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

              FOUND IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

              • Andy Hall said, on August 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm

                Yes, I tried looking online but couldn’t find a copy of the text that I could access — just various discussions of it.

  3. jfepperson said, on August 29, 2014 at 6:47 am

    You can access an online version (images of the same microfilm UM has) through a good university library. There’s a lot of noise in the copying process, though.

  4. William Lewis said, on September 24, 2014 at 7:13 am

    When one looks at the post-war efforts of Lee as a mentor of young men at Washington College, as a leader in his church and community in Lexington, as the caretaker for an invalid wife, as a man who turned down several offers from insurance companies and the like to pay to use his image, Lafantasie’s attempt to associate Lee with “a rambunctious nation of go-getters and scramblers who sought to make their way in the world by whatever means might come along ” simply does not fit.

    There are hundreds upon thousands of personal testimonies regarding the character of Lee from former classmates, soldiers and officers, both Confederate and Federal, students, and civilians that far over shadow, out weight, out number, and discredit what Lafantasie is attempting to portray in regards to Lee’s character.

    • Andy Hall said, on September 24, 2014 at 7:59 am

      Thanks for taking time to comment. You wrote,

      Lafantasie’s attempt to associate Lee with “a rambunctious nation of go-getters and scramblers who sought to make their way in the world by whatever means might come along ” simply does not fit.

      LaFantasie said explicitly that Lee was out of place in that environment.


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