It is our good fortune that the life of Robert E. Lee, hero of the Confederacy and a giant in American history, coincided with the early years of photography. It is thus possible for Emory M. Thomas, author of the highly acclaimed recent biography of Lee, to assemble a wealth of images that, with engaging and extended captions, give us a picture of the man and his times impossible to render with words alone. Lee as commander of the Southern army is an imposing vision held by most Americans. Far less known are his childhood years; his family and home life; his early career as a civil engineer, redirecting the flow of the Mississippi River in St. Louis; his stint in the Mexican War; and his tenure as superintendent of West Point. After the Civil War Lee had a third career as president of Washington College (which would become Washington and Lee). Here are the people, places, objects, and events that intersected with Lee's life, a full and fascinating pictorial biography.
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(262mm x 226mm x 17mm)
WW Norton & Co
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US Kirkus Review »
A comprehensive new biography that seeks to give a balanced portrait of the famed Confederate general. Thomas (History/Univ. of Georgia; The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience, not reviewed) undertakes a daunting task here, seeking to recover the real, living human from the mythology surrounding Lee since his death in 1870. In this effort he hews a middle ground between early 20th century hagiographies and revisionist contemporary interpretations. Born in 1807, Lee was the son of Revolutionary War hero Light Horse Harry Lee; but he never knew his father, who was sent to debtor's prison when the boy was only 2 years old and died when he was 11. Attending West Point, the younger Lee was second in his class and graduated without accruing a single demerit. After fighting valorously and decisively during the Mexican War, and suppressing abolitionist John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, Lee became military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and later a field commander as the Civil War broke out. After the Confederate defeat, he was named president of Washington College (today Washington and Lee) and sought to transform it into a first-rate liberal arts school. As presented by Thomas, Lee was possessed of very human flaws. He considered himself a failure and was disappointed in his children. Although he viewed slavery as evil, he nonetheless owned slaves and believed in whites' innate superiority to blacks. His extreme inability to confront either superiors or subordinates often resulted in tragedy, as at the disatrous Battle of the Wilderness, which Lee knew he couldn't win but undertook because he didn't want to argue with Jefferson Davis. Lee considered restraint, discipline, and self-mastery the greatest virtues; Thomas candidly shows their negative aspects as well. Well written and based largely on primary documentation, a good effort at understanding a complex personality. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Emory M. Thomas
Emory M. Thomas is Regent's Professor of History at the University of Georgia and author of a number of books on the Civil War. He lives in Athens, Georgia.