A cogent analysis of General Robert E. Lee’s personal admiration for President George Washington’s legacy and its effect on both his military and civilian careers.
McCaslin (History/High Point Univ.; Tainted Breeze, not reviewed) traces how Washington’s revolutionary exploits served as Lee’s leading inspiration for leaving the US Army to lead the Confederate Army during the Civil War. His close analysis of the friendship between Washington and the future general’s father, General “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, effectively demonstrates the impression this heritage made on young Robert. McCaslin persuasively links Lee’s decision to wed Mary Custis, a descendant of the first American president, and subsequently acquire and preserve Washington artifacts to his revolutionary upbringing. He traces the military similarities between Lee’s attempt to break away from the union and Washington’s war against the British. More interestingly, he shows how Lee’s adoption of Washington as his model for personal conduct resulted in a military career marked by moral character and martial brilliance, eventually culminating in his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Confederate Army. According to McCaslin, Lee’s enduring respect for Washington’s vision of a united nation led him, as president of Washington College, to dedicate himself to healing the rift between northern and southern states. He argues that the combination of Lee’s family ties to Washington, his personal admiration for America’s founding father, and his battlefield audacity with the Army of Northern Virginia insured that Lee’s legacy ultimately emerged as that of a vanquished hero, inspired by the example forever doomed to overshadow him.
Useful to scholars of both Washington and Lee, as well as to readers interested in social issues surrounding the Civil War and military history.