From the 26 December 1908 issue of The New York Times.


Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Status as a General—Various Opinions Expressed on the Writing of Biographies—Some “Poetic Driftwood”—Other Communications.

New York Times Saturday Review of Books:

IN the literary section of THE NEW YORK TIMES, dated Nov. 14, appears a review of Dr. Thomas Nelson Page’s “Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee.”

Your reviewer states it to be his opinion that the work will not be universally accepted as presenting a fair and just estimate of Lee’s military genius and his performances asa commanding General, and that Dr. Page has written unqualified eulogy rather than cold and impartial history.

It is further stated in this review that Dr. Page accounts for the ability of Lee’s army to withstand the gigantic efforts of the North to crush it on the theory that its commander was incomparably superior to the Union Generals, and that he commanded far better soldiers than those who fought under the Stars and Stripes.

Southerners do claim that Lee was the greatest soldier the war produced on either side and that he is the greatest soldier who ever spoke the English tongue. I am not much of a controversialist, especially where engaging in a dispute is not likely to change opinions already most emphatically announced, but I would like to invite attention to the following authorities:

President Theodore Roosevelt says, (Life of Thomas H. Benton, Twenty-three American Statesmen, page 34):

The world has never seen better soldiers than those who followed Lee, and their leader will undoubtedly rank as, without any exception, the very greatest of all the great Captains that the English speaking peoples have brougt forth; and this, although the last and chief of his antagonists may himself claim to stand as the full equal of Marlborough and Wellington.

Lieut. Col. Henderson of the British Army states in his “Science of War,” (page 314), in discussing the Wilderness campaign, that

At the head of the Confederate Army was Gen. Robert E. Lee, undoubtedly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, soldier who ever spoke the English tongue.

It is further stated by your reviewer that the war was inevitable. This statement is merely a case of hindsight being better than foresight. In August, before the surrener of Lee’s army at Appomattox, the Union Army in the trenches before Petersburg was sick of the struggle and ready to give it up, and but for one man, Abraham Lincoln, they would have done so. He is the one man who preserved the Union.

As obiter dicta, let me say that Senator Lodge of Massachusetts concedes that the South was right in the struggle in the civil war, and the Hon. James Bryce, in his “American Commonwealth,” has stated that if the controversy between the North and South could have been determined judicially the South would have been entitled to judgment.

I suppose the North and South will continue to view this war from their respective points of view for at least one generation more, and it may be that both sides take too partial a view of the great struggle.

I will state in closing a very amusing thing related to me recently by a gentleman who has lived in the West since the war closed, and it is that in the schools of the West the children are taught that the only reason the war lasted four years was that the Southerners hid in the woods and were afraid to show themselves.

Another erroneous view of the great struggle very generally held in the North is that the South waged the war to perpeturate slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth. The war was fought for constitutional liberty, and slavery was only an incident to the great question.

Lynchburg, Va., Dec. 22, 1908.