These days it seems I am spending more and more time on Youtube. Lots of my old professors from UVA and a host of other historians that I admire find their way there – either on their own accord or through the publication mechanisms of the various groups who invite them to speak. In this case, I have Washington and Lee University’s post of Gary W. Gallagher’s talk on Robert E. Lee from October, 2009.
Those of you familiar with the (short lived) post-war career of the former Confederate general know that he spent his remaining days as president of the old Washington University in Lexington Virginia. He taught there until his death in 1870 – and there he rests – beneath the Lee Chapel. If you are ever in Lexington, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It has been recently restored to its former glory and is quite the place for a Civil War enthusiast to visit.
Anyway…the video below (which is a tad long..but worth the time spent watching) deals with Lee in the wake of defeat. The focus…how Lee dealt with the profound degree of uncertainty in the aftermath of war. We have to keep in mind just how altered the southern states were in 1865. The physical landscape was of course shattered – but their social and economic systems were upended as well. The former Confederate chieftain played a central role in the South’s coming to terms with these chilling facts.
What I find most interesting is the audience reaction to Gallagher’s talk. The group gathered at the Lee Chapel are – shall we say – supporters of the Lee legend. What Gallagher has to say surprises more than a few of those in attendance. I have to hand it to them though. They take the good and the bad about Marse Robert in stride. So good for them 🙂