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Like most people, Robert E. Lee was an extremely complicated individual . . .

Like most people — and especially those who rise to positions of decision and power — Robert E. Lee was an extremely complicated individual. Brilliant in some ways, I’ve never understood the mythos that arose around him during the rebellion. Oh certainly, he made some extraordinary tactical maneuvers, and won some battles he should have surely lost, but he made a disproportionate number of blunders as well, many of which cost him and the South much more than they could afford to lose and hope to prevail in their insurrection.

The ill-fated charge on the third day at Gettysburg is but one of many examples, though surely it is the most remembered.

For all his efforts, however, it is well to keep in mind that slavery was ultimately vanquished from our land because of Robert E. Lee. It is one of those supremely ironic situations that doesn’t get near enough recognition.

Up until the time Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia (June 1862) it was Mr Lincoln’s stated objective that if the South ceased its rebellion, and submitted again to Union control, then slavery would remain as it had been prior to the rebellion. The original 13th Amendment, the Corwin Amendment (after the Ohio Congressman who proposed it), held that slavery was to be unmolested in perpetuity. Mr Lincoln himself endorsed this idea in his First Inaugural. (1)

It was Robert E. Lee’s success against far superior Union forces in the Seven Days Battles that sealed the South’s fate and slavery’s demise. In driving the Army of the Potomac back, Lee turned Confederate morale around, and its soldiers took to battle with renewed purpose. That summer, however, convinced Mr Lincoln that every tactic needed to be deployed against the rebellion, including denial of its labor force and the eventual use of black soldiers. The die was cast -- by Robert E. Lee -- and the result was eventual total war and the destruction of Southern social and political order.

And there was another aspect of Lee that doesn’t get enough recognition, the idea that he saved the Union from a good deal of misery and unreconcilable destruction in the years after Appomattox.

In April 1865: The Month that Saved America (a book I cannot recommend highly enough; it’s one of the finest works on American history I’ve read), author Jay Winik details the enormous debt we owe Lee for the manner in which he surrendered. A lesser man may have given his men carte blanche to resort to guerrilla warfare and indiscriminate terror (and some Confederate cmmanders did), but Lee consistently held that his men should return to their families and fields, and energetically campaigned in the aftermath of the rebellion that reconciliation was in the best interest of everyone — South and North, freemen all.

All said and done, then, and pursued strictly from an historical stance, Robert E. Lee remains a deeply flawed, complex individual. General Kelly, however, proves almost hourly he's little more than a nitwit, an empty barrel fit ideally for use as a spittoon.

(1) "I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” ~ President Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural, March 4, 1861
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