From the 16 November 1907 issue of The New York Times.

NEW BIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT E. LEE


South Honors, Above All, Man Who Never believed in Secession and Prayed Daily for Yankees.*


By Prof. WILLIAM E. DODD.

THE people of the United States have much to learn about the greatest Confederate General, and as much to be grateful for to him. Lee was a remarkable character, one of the rare men of earth: a Puritan and a Cavalier, fighter and a peacemaker at the same time. No American would make a mistake in placing a good “Life” of this greatest of all Virginians in the hands of his boy.

The histories of the civil war and the myriad biographies and memoirs of that period pay due attention to the military leader who failed at Gettysburg and surrendered a heroic army at Appomattox; but from none of these do we get the essential value of the man to the South, together with his significance to the North—as yet hardly ready, with Charles Francis Adams, to erect in the National capital a statue in his honor.

Lee was never genuinely Southern; his father’s brother once wrote to John Adams that he could not endure the aristocratic ways of Virginia and that he contemplated laying his bones in the soil of Massachussetts; his father was no friend of Thomas Jefferson, the architect of modern Virgina; and Lee himself declared the oncoming war of 1861 an unnecessary revolution. But the blood of a resolute race flowed in his veins; he was by the necessities of his early training a Puritan in Cavalier environment. He learned self-control and absolute reliance upon God from his mother; at West Point and during his ante-bellum career in the United States Army he manifested a will to ascertain and do his duty that would have graced Cromwell himself. When he once decided on which side his allegiance lay in 1861 a great point had been won for the South.

The South that brought on the war was not of a religious frame of mind; Western Marylanders were astonished at the mighty oaths of Lee’s men in 1862. Here and there the pietist Methodist and Baptist had gained a foothold among the well-to-do classes, and stern but intellectual Presbyterianism had a small aristocratic following. But as the terrible stress and grief of 1862 came home to nearly every Southern plantation, when the great outside world seemed to turn its back upon this resolute people, men began to take counsel of the Invisible and to steel themselves for whatever fate might decree. It was now that Lee and Jackson, their successful Generals, came to be known to them. Davis became a devout Christian; Lee and Jackson were known in the army as “praying men”; the Bible, being precious to the heroes, won a place on the fashionable table; men who had never darkened the doors of evangelical churches began to take heed as to what the preachers said; overflow prayer meeting were common in Richmond after 1862, and in 1863 and 1864 great “revivals” spread through the armies. The South became actively Christian and Puritan in spirit as the war wore on; and since 1865 this great section of unmixed English stock has steadily become more like the Puritan and Calvinist of the seventeenth century. There is hardly a regionof the world more profoundly religious than the South to-day. The examples of Lee and Jackson—embodiments as they were of Southern ideals in other things—did much, perhaps most, to work this remarkable revolution. The life of Lee, then, true every day as it was to the strictest religious regime, can but impress for good the mind of any child or adult.

Lee was never quite a disunionist, even during the war; he declared in 1864, when he heard of the death of Gen. Scott, that a great and good man had gone; he was willing at any time, if his people could be brought to agree with him, to abolish slavery and reconstruct the Union; and once he almost reprimanded President Davis for saying that reconstruction was impossible. He seldom spoke of the Union Army as “the enemy,” and never as “the Yankees”; he seemed to feel that both sections would one day come to live under the same roof, and it was not in his heart to speak harshly of any one. “Those people” or “our opponents” were his terms for designating the hostile Norht; and he says in one of his characteristic letters that there was never a day during the long struggle in which he did not pray for the Northern people and the soldiers of the opposing army! Such generosity, such breadth of soul, was as rare then as now, and to know more of such a character, I take it, is the duty of every Amrican. Such a man, at least, the South honors beyond all others to-day; old men wear their beards and trim their hair “like Gen. Lee,” and the children of every household look upon those familiar and benignant features from their very cradles.

The South thus honors most, strange as it may seem, the great war leader who daily prayed for the “Yankees,” who never believed in secession, and who was first to counsel a genuine reunion of his disjointed and bleeding country.

This is the character which Mr. Bruce, the foremost historian and scholar of the Old Dominion, presents to the reader in his all too brief biography. Mr. Bruce is too well known to require any introduction to the American public; his economic history of Virginia has given him enduring fame. His “Life of Lee” will not detract from his established reputation, though the book is not what can be called critical or “final.” The great phases of Lee’s career are well told with due emphasis upon the historical setting; the remarkable oligarchy from which Lee sprang, the precocious years and the early army life; the struggle which it cost Lee to leave the “old army” the long and almost unbearable responsibility of leading his people through the crises of the war; and the poetic retirement to Washington College in 1865 are the main topics. A chapter on the “Character of Lee” and another on “Military Genius” fitting close the little book. The story is well told; the author’s style is straightforward and sometimes eloquent. Mr. Bruce believes in the grandeur of his hero.

And perhaps this very devotion to the fame of Lee leads him to do Longstreet, as the reviewer, who is no champion of the latter General, feels, some injustice. Longstreet was slow and self-willed, but he would have obeyed his superior at any crisis. The trouble lay probably in Lee’s leaving too much to the discretion of his lieutenants.

Possibly some complaint might be brought against Mr. Bruce for not bringing out more clearly the weakness of Lee’s strategy after Cold Harbor and before the siege of Petersburg. And possibly, too, there is too much blame laid at the door of President Davis for the long defense of Richmond when yielding the capital might have saved the Confederacy. It is not, I believe, generally known that a strong movement was started in 1861 to make Huntsville, Ala., the Southern capital.

Mr. Bruce’s excellent “Life of Lee” is one of the American Crisis Series of Biographies, and, like most of the others thus far published, it is well worth the few hours required for its perusal. It presents in brief outline one of the great and tragic figures of world history.

W.E.D.

[Notes]

* THE LIFE OF ROBERT E. LEE. By Philip Alexander Bruce. George W. Jacobs & Company. Philadelphia.