Tag Archives: Robert E. Lee

Six Days in September: A Novel of Lee’s Army in Maryland, 1862 by Alexander B. Rossino

Greetings all – I am about to take something of a different tack with this blog – and get back to my roots: historiography, popular history, memory, and teaching. As much as I love calling out the asinine in the world…I think there is enough of that out there to go around. So there you go.

Let’s kick things off with a review of a first-rate book: Six Days in September….

Alexander B. Rossino’s Six Days in September: A Novel of Lee’s Army in Maryland, 1862, paints a vivid picture of Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland, which culminated in the bloody Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Rossino captures the spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia, simultaneously depicting the events as they unfolded for the upper echelon of command, a number staff and field grade officers, and a handful enlisted soldiers as they maneuvered from South Mountain to Sharpsburg to slug it out (spoiler alert: unsuccessfully) with George B. McClellan and the Union Army of the Potomac.

I found the layered narrative to be especially engaging. The narrative style reminds the reader to take both a wide and narrow view of the military landscape. Rossino deftly lays out the grand strategy with Lee and his lieutenants and then refocuses his attention on the more personal exploits and adventures (as it were) of a Maryland Confederate officer and a group of Alabama enlisted men.

Alexander B. Rossino

I was particularly satisfied with how Rossino chose to deal with the broader Civil War issue of slavery. Waters such as these are difficult to tread in a fictional recreation of a historic event. To simply sidestep the institution’s role in the cause of the war seems imprudent. And so an author might be tempted to resolve this problem by following one of two general paths: he or she might apologetically absolve the actors as people of their times or pander to a 21st century audience with cliché modernist critiques of the institution. By my estimation, both narrative courses are equally unwise. And thus I was relieved that Rossino chose neither. Instead, he is forthright about the issues that moved men to fight, including the Confederate preservation of slavery from a 19th century perspective.

Readers versed in Army of Northern Virginia lore will certainly be familiar with the strategic disputes between Lee and his most trusted lieutenant, James Longstreet. Rossino explores the tensions between these two, as well as others among the Confederate high command, in a way that foreshadows the more famous strategic disagreement between Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg the following year. In ways similar to Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels (1974), the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the 1863 Gettysburg campaign, Six Days in September leaves the reader questioning Lee’s wisdom in Maryland that preceding autumn, challenging the notion of the peerless Lee. In Six Days, Lee is not without virtue, but he is clearly flawed as any mortal man tasked with such great responsibility might be.

After reading this thought-provoking, well-researched, and beautifully written novel, my only hope is that Rossino adds an additional layer (or layers) to the story by once again taking on the battle from the perspective of Lee’s adversaries: George B. McClellan and the men of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan makes only a peripheral appearance in Six Days, and only through a Confederate understanding of his cautiousness. I would personally love to see how Rossino would have McClellan act (or fail to act) when he finds himself in possession of the Lee’s famous “lost orders.” I would be equally intrigued by Rossino’s take on McClellan’s relationship with his commander in chief. These, of course, are hopes for the future. For now I am quite satisfied with Rossino’s novel – and I recommend it highly.

Buy the book HERE – and stay tuned, I’ll be posting a lot more frequently in the days to come.

With compliments,

Keith

Still Confused About Confederate Monuments?

This weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia should clear things up for you. Have a look at these Nazis and neo-Confederates  marching in opposition to the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue…shouting racist and anti-Semitic epithets. Anybody with any sense at all should get over the old “heritage not hate” nonsense. Like, right now.

Let’s call this what it is: a bunch of domestic terrorists lamenting a challenge to their beloved white supremacy. Many who gathered to oppose home-grown Nazism and the  KKK  were badly hurt today, and at least one person was killed – all in the name of Robert E. Lee and white power.

I have always stated without equivocation that these statues were monuments to oppression. My mistake was to advocate for preservation with context, as a means to educate posterity on the legacy of racial slavery and a 400-year history of injustice. Yeah. I’m over it. We’re in no danger of losing any “history” by destroying these things…they’ve all been well documented.

The faces of white supremacy

Now – for all of you who think we need to “unify” and put the past in the past…no thanks. I have no desire to unify with any Nazi or neo-Confederate. They can take their marble men and shove them up their asses.

K

American Civil War Web-Course

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 8.04.38 PMGreetings all! I have been posting updates on Twitter of late chronicling the progress of my next web-course: The American Civil War. I am very pleased to announce that the launch date is May 14, 2016. The course includes nearly forty video lectures and other projects covering military, social, political, and economic aspects of the conflict.

I am most excited to offer this course to my founding web-students for a 50% discount off the already reasonable price. You won’t find this deal anywhere but through this site – and the offer goes away on launch day. So you had better get on the stick. Here’s what you need to do:

ONE – be a current student or enroll now in either my Gettysburg or Reconstruction Era web-course for the regular discounted price available only from Keith Harris History.

TWO – sign up to be part of the Keith Harris History CREW so I can be sure to get you the info you need.

Get that all squared away and on launch day you will receive your discount code via email. And that’s it. Easy right?

With compliments,

Keith

 

Was the Battle of Gettysburg the Turning Point of the Civil War?

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.48.41 AMI got an email recently from a Battle of Gettysburg  student (Mike B.) asking me to clarify something I said about the battle on the Interwebs.

I mentioned something along the lines of “Gettysburg is not as important as you might think it is.” Thanks for the note, Mike – lets see if I can clear things up a bit.

When analyzing history from the vantage point of the present (as I have warned people not to do), one could surmise that the battle was indeed the turning point. The Confederates never again could claim a decisive victory along the lines of Chancellorsville or Fredericksburg. But the Union victory here was not by any means the stepping off point towards guaranteed victory.

The participants and citizens of their respective countries certainly didn’t think so. Just read a newspaper from the period. The Confederates, with Lee at the helm the Army of Northern Virginia, still firmly believed that victory was within their grasp – Gettysburg or not. The Union Army was bogged down in Virginia, the northern civilian population was growing increasingly weary of the war, and even Abraham Lincoln thought he was going to lose the election of 1864 and perhaps the war along with it.

Sure as shit – the letters home from the Confederate Army indicated that morale was up. I have read them myself…tons of these letters are housed at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Go there yourself and check them out if you don’t believe me.

So all this “High Tide of the Confederacy” stuff is a postwar creation. Sure, the citizens of the North and South thought the battle was important to be sure, but perhaps for different reasons than many Americans believe today.

And…if you read all the way to the end of this post I have a got a surprise for you – you can get the super-uber-deep- discount on my Gettysburg web-course HERE. You’re welcome 🙂

With compliments,

Keith

Union Veterans Reflect on Robert E. Lee

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 4.43.30 PMAfter the Civil War, the renown of Robert E. Lee spread far beyond the borders of the former Confederacy. He was respected and praised in the North for his virtues, his fighting prowess, and his conciliation in defeat. Historians such as Alan T. Nolan have noted that the North, whose people “had to acknowledge the honor of the South,” fully embraced the Lee tradition. “Revisionism,” especially in terms of Lost Cause interpretations of the war where Lee figured centrally, argues Nolan, “could not become part of the Civil War legend without northern acceptance, and the North did accept the South’s rewriting of the record.”

While some in the North may have been retrospectively kind to the former Rebel general, Nolan has made far too great a generalization. Union veterans, for example, were hardly generous in their assessment of Lee. To them, Lee was a traitor. In 1891, the Grand Army Record passionately objected to the “saintly slopping over Robert E. Lee,” and others agreed. In fact, GAR protests against Lee helped create a lasting thread in northern commemorative literature. In 1910, one Union veteran wrote, essentially expressing in the same breath how some might find Lee both virtuous and reprehensible: “Though in his Confederate uniform [Lee] may possess all the culture and personal worthiness he had before he thus clothed himself, this badge of disloyalty – of rebellion – so characterizes him that by it he must be judged.” As late as 1922, a variety of groups continued to honor the veterans’ legacy by protesting in “unmeasured terms” the organizations that celebrated the Rebel chief, arguing that treason should never be forgotten, much less rewarded. “No Grand Army man,” offered one Union veteran, “can honorably lend his name to any movement which shall dignify to posterity the name of the traitor Robert E. Lee, or shall make him the equal of the loyal, victorious Grant.”

Union veterans remained determined to praise only the Union heroes who saved the country, rather than a Rebel who had tried to destroy it. The praise allotted to the rebel chieftain wore Grand Army veterans particularly thin. One Collier’s Weekly article citing Lee as America’s most “noble citizen” especially drew fire from the GAR’s patriotic instructor, Robert Kissick of Iowa. “If Lee was all you claim, then the men I represent were wrong in fighting to preserve the nation he fought to destroy.” Further arguing that “Lee did not follow his state out of the Union,” but rather, “his state followed him,” Kissick lambasted the Confederate hero and heaped much of the blame for upper South secession on Lee’s shoulders. As decades passed, few Union veterans could stomach the praise of Robert E. Lee. In 1922, when the American Legion attempted to honor Lee’s birthday, veterans of the Pennsylvania GAR shuddered at the idea that anyone would “place a premium on Disloyalty to the Flag and our Country.”

Although adulation of the Rebel general found a place among northern civilians who perhaps sentimentalized or romanticized the genteel south and all that the Lee family embodied, Lee’s standing among Union veterans never reached the heights the general obtained in the South.

With compliments,

Keith