A masterful biography of the beloved Civil War general.
Former Simon & Schuster editor in chief and acclaimed biographer Korda (Hero: Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, 2010) is well-acquainted with heroes of the ages and has learned to present his subjects as true human beings with foibles, faults and failures. Robert E. Lee’s (1807-1870) days at West Point showed him to be a master engineer and master of maneuvers, talents borne out in the Mexican-American War and in the making of St. Louis as an important port on the Mississippi River. Those abilities came into play throughout the Civil War, as he built the defenses for Northern Virginia that protected it when all seemed lost. George Washington was Lee’s idol, and during his schooling, he discovered the writings of Napoleon, which he applied throughout his life—especially the use of speed, audacity and élan to defeat an army twice the size of his forces. Lee was a member of one of Virginia’s oldest families, and his devotion was to his state, family and country, in that order. He felt that secession was unmerited and that slavery should not be extended but be allowed to dwindle away. Korda’s clear descriptions of Lee’s battles illuminate his closest subordinates, especially Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet, his curious methods of leading and his incredible patience. The author also points out that, as a gentleman, Lee would never raise his voice in anger, and he avoided confrontation and gave his orders as “if practicable”—unfortunately, that became a way out for those who disagreed with his strategies and “knew better.” It was Lee who kept the South going as his barefoot army starved and froze but followed him with unqualified devotion.
Lee is a man for the ages, and Korda delivers the goods with this heart-wrenching story of the man and his state. Readers with the stamina for long biographies should follow this book with S.G. Gwynne's biography of Stonewall Jackson, Rebel Yell, to publish in September.