Fact or fiction Essay
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Overtime, tales of the most miniscule historic characters have been slowly distorted into tales of gigantic warriors and near perfect individuals. For instance, stories of Jesus Christ from the bible have always caused people to necessitate an image of purity and selflessness, however, newly discovered testaments are beginning to establish a love affair with a women, whom produced children: living descendants of Jesus Christ. This is just one of many examples that have been continually misrepresented throughout history.
Additionally, this raises questions as to whom are the real iconic figures that have shaped our memoirs.
One of the model Americans is Robert E. Lee, a timeless figure of American history that has widely been altered in various publications, however, what will remained unchanged is that Robert E. Lee is the true symbol of southern Americanism of his time. BACKGROUND Son of Ann Hill Carter, a wealthy successor of Scottish Royalty, and Harry Lee, an attractive commander in the Revolutionary War, Robert Edward Lee was born in Virginia’s Westmoreland County on January 19th, 1807.
Ann Hill Carter married Harry Lee and produced 5 children during their marriage while Harry was governor of Virginia. Throughout the course of their marriage, Harry began drowning the family in debt, thus rendering Robert to take on as head of the household while his father remained unwilling to stop his overzealous spending habits and relentless affairs with other women. It is undoubted that Robert was the favorite of his mother’s children, thus giving him the authority to make decisions as head of the household and care for his mother.
“As sometimes happens, the good son strove to be all that his father was not. When Anne was lonely he kept her company; when she was sick he nursed her; in his teens he helped manage the household. His father had been reckless and unfaithful” (Epstein 23). After years of frivolous spending, thus spiraling the family into debt, Harry Lee fled the country and settled in the West Indies where he lived out the rest of his days. Nonetheless, Ann Carter continued to use the remainder of her bequest to support her children.
Lacking the money needed to attend a university, Robert applied to West point and was granted admittance in 1829. Shortly thereafter, Lee also attended the U. S. Military Academy and graduated with honors. Due to various scandals that surrounded Roberts family, such as his father’s abandonment and his older brother Henry’s murderous scandal involving Henry’s sister-in -law, whom he seduced and produced a child with thus giving him the nickname ’black horse’, it was not easy for Robert to find a companion for himself.
Nonetheless, Robert married Mary Anna Randolph Custis in 1831 and together they produced 7 children. From thereon, Lee earned recognition for his role as engineer in the construction of the St. Louis Harbor, as well as his is prevailing military operations in the Mexican War. As a Virginian aristocrat, Robert Lee was already accustomed to the ethics behind slavery, consequently, when his father-in-law, George Washington Custis became ill, Lee took leadership in the distribution of slaves to corresponding plantations.
It was Lee’s understanding that slaves were the foundation of the south, in which many products of labor were necessary for financial survival. This stance was the drive in Robert Lee’s struggle to maintain the south that he had become habituated to. Although the Lee-Custis families remained relatively respectful and kind to slave families throughout the years, during his leadership in the Civil War, his comportment turned from reverential to malicious. Elizabeth Brown Pryor states that “ Lee rented out so many hands that the black community at Arlington was badly fragmented.
The youngest and strongest were chosen to be hired away because they brought in the greatest revenue…. Worst of all, Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families. By 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate” (Nolan 24). In addition to this testimony, there are scores of other attests to Lee’s brutal violence towards slaves as well. Although modern Lee patriots have highly scrutinized these testaments, they have been corroborated with consistent authentic eye witness accounts found in various writings.
Nevertheless, Lee has been noted for his leadership during the Mexican War in as well as his achievements and calamities during the Civil War. Well educated, yet incapable to produce a strategic victory, Lee is doubtless renowned for his defeat at Gettysburg. “The disaster at Gettysburg highlights Lee’s chief shortcoming as a strategist, his lack of the political instinct–in the strictest sense, a sagacity in working with men. Lee was so rigid in his devotion to a hierarchy that he held most of his generals at a distance, often keeping them in the dark or ignoring their advice.
Meanwhile he went groveling to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government for guns, food, and uniforms–as if he were scarcely worthy–when he should have demanded the essential materiel, without which his soldiers stood in peril” (Epstein 23). After his military command, Lee retreated back to his home in Virginia, where he died in 1870 at the age of 63. LITERATURE REVIEW Rationalizing realism versus simulated characteristics of Robert Lee begins with previous analysis. Robert E. Lee was born in1807, thus leaving the impossibility of retrieving factual information from the primary source.
Consequently, interpretation of fact from fiction lies within previous texts and comparison of those texts against each other. Many contemporary authors such as Carl Moneyhon report that “In his foreword, the editor of this collection of articles justifies this volume as an effort to break away from the paradigm of scholarship that has produced what he considers to be a stale rehashing of arguments over the merits of the generalship of Robert E. Lee. The core of the interpretive problem, in Peter S.
Carmichael’s view, is the tendency of many recent studies to begin with assumptions based upon generalizations made over seventy years ago in Douglas Southall Freeman’s works, then to use Freeman’s own evidence to challenge his conclusions Carmichael suggests that a new scholarship might emerge if scholars return to primary Lee-related manuscript sources. The six articles that follow are unified by that effort, beginning with the contemporary Lee rather than the Lee created by Freeman” (777). Moneyhon’s elucidation of other author’s works display the bias between authors, most of which erratically render Lee as the patron saint of the south.
Many publications regarding Lee have rendered him as somewhat mythological, while others have painted him as a failing general, one whom orchestrated many mistakes. According to Alan T. Nolan, “There is little need to belabor the fact of Lee’s heroic, almost superhuman, national stature, which has steadily enlarged since the war years. Writing in 1868, Fanny Dowling described Lee as ‘bathed in the white light which falls directly upon him from the smile of an approving and sustaining God” (4-5). Many Lee loyalist have portrayed him as a god-like creature, attaining purity and perfection, however, others deemed him anything but.
Regarding the issue of slavery, despite its unethical perspective, as a Virginian aristocrat, Lee was accustomed to slavery for all of his life, however, considering his reverential conduct towards slaves before the war, it is alarming that Lee’s behavior took such an impulsive change during and after the war. For instance, despite praises of loyalty and kindness in respect to slaves under Lee’s orders since his attainment of George Washington Custis’s estate, narratives of harsh lashings and slave separation from their families are mottled through historical accounts of Lee’s alleged generosity and empathy.
Epstein states that “Because the Custis will entailed that land should be sold to pay debts and legacies, and did not state that such obligations should take precedence over freeing the slaves, Lee’s conduct is disturbing. Even more chilling is the 1859 testimony of one Wesley Norris, a slave who ran away from Arlington with his sister Mary to Westminster, Maryland. They were caught and imprisoned, and returned in chains. When Lee asked why they had run away, Norris said that they believed they were free.
Lee replied that ‘he would teach us a lesson we would never forget. ’ Leading them to the barn, he gave orders to his overseer McQuinn to strip the slaves to the waists, tie them to posts, and apply fifty lashes to the man and twenty to the girl. When McQuinn refused to take up the lash, ‘Dick Williams, a county constable was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to ‘lay it on well. ’ When Williams was done, Lee ordered the overseer to wash the bleeding slaves with brine (24).
Many Lee scholars do not like to explore the possibility that Lee was cruel towards slaves as this attribute disrupts the harmony of assimilated perfection of Lee’s character, however, these accounts of vindictiveness reassure Lee’s less god-like capabilities. Additionally, in with regard to military expertise, Lee scholars are divided as well on this issue concluding that most of Lee’s military career is focused around the failure of Civil War expeditions, while others concur that Lee exerted the symbol of a genuine confederate liberator.
It is undisputed that Lee was very well educated and skilled in military delegations, however, most of Lee’s military career is focused around the failure of thus overshadowing the more positive aspects of his military career. In the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee was very careless thus ruining the lives of the men in his regime. Ballard states that “Lee could have and should have won” (948). Lee carelessly destroyed his regime during the Battle of Gettysburg, by not waiting for incoming supplies that were to be given to his regime’s depleted arsenal.
His soldiers were starved and malnutrition and did not have the proper weaponry for combat, thus presenting an easy victory for the union. (Adams 66). Moreover, despite how conflicting accounts represent Lee, most scholars such as Gallagher agree that “In a conflict often characterized, whether accurately or not, as the first great modern war, the Confederate commander frequently appears as a soldier of considerable martial gifts who harkened back to an earlier time.
Lee is cast as a man who thought of the struggle in terms of protecting his own state rather advancing the cause of the entire Confederacy, forged a personal bond with his soldiers reminiscent of feudal relationships, focused on winning set-piece battles without taking in the broader political and social landscape of a modern war, and failed to understood the implications of new weaponry such as the rifle-musket” (295). Most importantly is to include the feelings of others that admired Lee from enemy lines as those of the North.
Although commonly, enemies do not sing the praises of each other, this is not the case in those towards Lee. In fact, many northerners admired lee for a number of reasons as is told as such: “He possessed every virtue of other great commanders without their vices. He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile.
He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward. He was obedient to authority as a servant, and royal in authority as a true king. He was gentle as a woman in life; modest and pure as a virgin in thought; watchful as a Roman vestal in duty; submissive to law as Socrates; and grand in battle as Achilles” (Warrior and Gentleman’s Gentleman 39). Although this excerpt seems a little over dramatized, it does reflect Lee’s impinge on realistic people versus overly inflated scholarly accounts, thus rendering Lee as a true individual of his time.
CONCLUSION In conclusion, Robert Edward Lee, born in 1807 to Ann Hill Carter, wealthy Scottish heiress, and Harry Lee, the former Virginia Governor. Whilst his family endured many problematic episodes, including financial hardships despite their mother’s dwindled fortune due to his fathers erratic spending habits, and his brothers Henry’s alleged murder of his illegitimate child, Lee prevailed in most of his endeavors, including his role in the Mexican War. However, undisputable evidence exhibits the differentiating portrayals of General Robert Edward Lee.
Many scholars initiate depictions of a true southern liberator to maintain the south as it was during the early 1800s, whilst others disagree as to the true characteristics of Lee as much less than pure and holy. Nonetheless, both portions of testaments enable the true disposition of Robert Lee as he was. For instance, as a Victorian aristocrat, Lee understood the ethics of labor that slavery entailed, however, Lee’s attitude changed throughout the course of the war.
Instead of maintaining the healthy relationships between slaves and Lee, he separated the families and also assisted in harsh beating of slaves, thus severing the once tight-knit relationship between the two. Also, in terms of Lee’s military endeavors, Lee was skilled, however, mostly unprepared for his battles in the Civil War. For example, in the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee was strategically unprepared for the battle, consequently costing the confederate army its most important mission.
However, this did not deterred Lee from admitting his faults for his role in losing the battle, which shoes humility for his wins and losses. Finally after many interpretations of literary works, the true formation of Robert E. Lee is quite clear. A Victorian aristocrat he was, accustomed to the south as it was and its dependence on slavery, he maintained humility, strength, and most of all, leadership. Lee was not pure, nor holy, however, he was a man of God, family, and campaign for the southern beliefs, and he preserved those relationships simultaneously.
WORKS CITED Adams, Michael C. C. :Review Essay: Robert E. Lee and Perspective over Time. ” Civil War History. 49 (2003): 64-70. Ballard, Michael B. “Robert E. Lee: Icon for a Nation. ” Journal of Southern History. 76 (2006): 947-949. Epstein, Daniel M. “Who Cares about Robert E. Lee. ” New Criterion Sept. 2007: 22+. Gallagher, Gary W. “An Old-Fashioned Soldier in a Modern War Robert E. Lee as Confederate General”. Civil War History. 45(1999): 295. Lee, Robert E. Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee .
Westminster, 1904. Moneyhon, Carl H. “Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee” The Historian. 67 (2005): 777-780. Nolan, Alan T. Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History. North Carolina: North Carolina Press, 1991. “Robert E. Lee. ” UXL Newsmakers. (2005): Find Articles. 28 Feb. 2008 <http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_gx5221/is_2005/ai_n19138137>`. “Warrior and Gentleman’s Gentleman: Despite Being a Battle-Hardened General, Robert E. Lee Never Lost His Most Admirable Trait His Devotion to God, Friends, Duty, and Honor. ” The New American. 23 July 2007: 33- 39.