A sympathetic portrait of General Robert E. Lee at war.
Set in late June and early July in 1863, this five-act play showcases Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Gettysburg. The general’s role in this historic conflict that yielded some 43,000 casualties and a major Confederate defeat has been much debated; many historians hold Lee, whose army prior to Gettysburg had not known defeat, accountable for the loss. Here, Lee says, â€œIt’s all my fault. [...] My shoulders ask the full share here of blame, / And they will stand beneath it,” but Ranier’s dramatic recasting of history places responsibility squarely on Lee’s inept or quietly insubordinate generals. James Longstreet’s passive-aggressive inaction, in particular, spells trouble for the noble Lee, who doesn’t know how to handle such defiance. In a telling aside, an aide remarks on Lee’s polite response to the obstinate Longstreet: â€œThat all were as kind, and patient! [...] How this one swells, all pleased like a pheasant at feast, / To think he’s changing time by count’ring betters. / Obedience is time’s demand, not argument.” In addition to other soldiers’ descriptions of him in action, Lee’s stateliness comes across both through the import of his speech as well as its cadence, and his accounts of the battle’s progression are exciting and engaging. Apart from Lee’s maneuverings, there are smaller, contrasting scenes involving the rank and file of both North and South, but these, especially those concerning divided brothers who accidentally shoot each other, prove less compelling and more contrived than the vivid battle sequences.
Perfect for Civil War buffs, but the action is focused enough to appeal to general readers as well.