Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, July 16, AD 2017

And, after that, the chunky man from the West,
Stranger to you, not one of the men you loved
As you loved McClellan, a rider with a hard bit,
Takes you and uses you as you could be used,
Wasting you grimly but breaking the hurdle down.
You are never to worship him as you did McClellan,
But at the last you can trust him.  He slaughters you
But he sees that you are fed.  After sullen Cold Harbor
They call him a butcher and want him out of the saddle,
But you have had other butchers who did not win
And this man wins in the end.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body


“I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and, in giving my reasons for it, I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant’s continuance in command. I could form no judgment during the conversation as to what effect my arguments had upon him beyond the fact that he was greatly distressed at this new complication. When I had said everything that could be said from my standpoint, we lapsed into silence. Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then gathered himself up in his chair and said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget: ‘I can’t spare this man; he fights.‘”

Alexander McClure recalling a meeting with President Lincoln shortly after the Battle of Shiloh

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Palm Sunday 151 Years Ago

Sunday, March 20, AD 2016



It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884




I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.

Grant in his memoirs wrote, “When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag.”

Lee so appreciated the generosity of the terms of surrender given by Grant, that for the remainder of his life he would never allow a word of denigration about Grant to be spoken in his presence.

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3 Responses to Palm Sunday 151 Years Ago

  • Interesting find, Don… so this method of vivid documentary story-telling did not originate with Ken Burns, as I sometimes hear.

    Haven’t watched it all yet, but so far, pretty balanced presentation, with a slight bent in the direction of the victors! Even Vallandigham gets a mention, the Democrat congressman who amazingly was imprisoned for giving speeches critical of the war and of Lincoln, whom he called “King Lincoln.”

    Definitely love seeing Hal Holbrook at Appomattox, just an hour down the road from my house.

  • “Haven’t watched it all yet, but so far, pretty balanced presentation, with a slight bent in the direction of the victors! Even Vallandigham gets a mention, the Democrat congressman who amazingly was imprisoned for giving speeches critical of the war and of Lincoln, whom he called “King Lincoln.””
    Vallandigham was ultimately exiled to the Confederacy. He made his way back into the Union through Canada, after seeking money from Confederate representatives in Canada to buy weapons to set up a Northwest Confederacy, with Lincoln turning a blind eye to his reappearance. He was the moving force behind the peace plank of the Democrat platform in 1864 and was listed by the Democrats as Secretary of War in a McClellan administration. After McClellan repudiated the peace plank Vallandigham withdrew for a time in campaigning for him.

    Vallandigham had a shadowy relationship with the undercover Southern spy group, the Knights of the Golden Circle, later renamed the American Knights. He testified at the trial of several of them in April 1865. While denying that he had joined that organization, he admitted to talking with representatives of the Confederacy in Canada.

    His death in 1871 is a caution to all defense attorneys:

    “Vallandigham died in 1871 in Lebanon, Ohio, at the age of 50, after accidentally shooting himself in the abdomen with a pistol. He was representing a defendant (Thomas McGehan)[citation needed] in a murder case for killing a man in a barroom brawl at the Golden Lamb Inn. Vallandigham attempted to prove the victim, Tom Myers, had in fact accidentally shot himself while drawing his pistol from a pocket while rising from a kneeling position. As Vallandigham conferred with fellow defense attorneys in his hotel room at the Golden Lamb, he showed them how he would demonstrate this to the jury. Selecting a pistol he believed to be unloaded, he put it in his pocket and enacted the events as they might have happened, snagging the loaded gun on his clothing and unintentionally causing it to discharge into his belly. Although he was fatally wounded, Vallandigham’s demonstration proved his point, and the defendant, Thomas McGehan, was acquitted and released from custody (to be shot to death four years later in his saloon).”

  • Oddly coincidental, I just received this post, also dated Palm Sunday.
    Fascinating stuff on Vallandigham too, Mr. Mac.

February 8, 1865: Lincoln to Grant

Sunday, February 8, AD 2015



Lincoln and Grant


As news spread of the abortive Hampton Roads Conference, members of Congress demanded to know what was said.  Lincoln sent the following telegraph to Grant on February 8, 1865:

Lieut. Gen. Grant Executive Mansion
City Point, Va. Washington, Feb. 8. 1865

I am called on by the House of Representatives to give an account of my interview with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter & Campbell; and it is very desireable to me to put in your despatch of Feb. 1st. to the Sec. of War, in which among other things you say “I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence” I think the despatch does you credit while I do not see that it can embarrass you. May I use it?



Here is the message from Grant to Stanton on February 1:

CITY POINT, VA., February 1, 1865-10.30 p.m.


Secretary of War:

Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticence. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this despatch, if not all there now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.



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November 25, 1863: Missionary Ridge

Monday, November 25, AD 2013


The culmination of the Chattanooga campaign, the battle began in the morning on November 25 with Sherman attempting to take Tunnel Hill.  His attacks met with no success in the face of fierce Confederate resistance.

Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to advance against Missionary Ridge, and the attack began at 3:30 PM.  Grant, doubting that the heavily fortified Missionary Ridge could be taken by a frontal assault, ordered that only the rifle pits at the base of the ridge be taken, with the troops to await further orders.  Thomas launched a four division attack, about 23,000 men.  The rifle pits were taken, and the Union troops began to come under heavy fire from Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge.  They immediately began a charge up the ridge to the astonishment of Grant:

 Our men drove the troops in front of the lower line of rifle-pits so rapidly, and followed them so closely, that rebel and Union troops went over the first line of works almost at the same time. Many rebels were captured and sent to the rear under the fire of their own friends higher up the hill. Those that were not captured retreated, and were pursued. The retreating hordes being between friends and pursuers caused the enemy to fire high to avoid killing their own men. In fact, on that occasion the Union soldier nearest the enemy was in the safest position. Without awaiting further orders or stopping to reform, on our troops went to the second line of works; over that and on for the crest—thus effectually carrying out my orders of the 18th for the battle and of the 24th for this charge. 

I watched their progress with intense interest. The fire along the rebel line was terrific. Cannon and musket balls filled the air: but the damage done was in small proportion to the ammunition expended. The pursuit continued until the crest was reached, and soon our men were seen climbing over the Confederate barriers at different points in front of both Sheridan’s and Wood’s divisions. The retreat of the enemy along most of his line was precipitate and the panic so great that Bragg and his officers lost all control over their men. Many were captured, and thousands threw away their arms in their flight.

Missionary Ridge

The battle of Missionary Ridge was the most stunning example in the War of a frontal attack against a fortified position succeeding.  Bragg’s center was broken and his army routed, with headlong retreat being the only course of action open to him.  Confederate and Union casualties were each about 10,000 with another 4000 Confederates taken prisoner.  Many of the Army of the Cumberland Union troops went into battle yelling “Chickamauga!  Chickamauga!”  That defeat was now well avenged, and the Chattanooga Campaign was at an end.  Here is the report of Major General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland:

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November 24, 1863: Battle Above the Clouds

Monday, November 25, AD 2013

Battle Above the Clouds, the song in the above video, commemorates the battle of Lookout Mountain fought 150 years ago yesterday, part of a series of Union attacks that drove the Confederate Army of Tennessee reeling in retreat from its positions around Chattanooga that it had occupied in the aftermath of the Confederate victory of Chickamauga in September of 1863.

Major General Joseph Hooker was assigned the task of attacking the Confederate position on Lookout Mountain.  Grant was dubious that the Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain could be taken, and told Hooker to take the mountain only if it seemed practicable to do so.  Hooker had three divisions, ten thousand men, not a much greater force than the 8,000 Confederates that held the position.

Hooker, intent on regaining his reputation as a field commander, pressed the assault.  The Confederate defense was hampered by the rough terrain and lackluster commanders who put up a feeble defense.  By midnight the mountain was quiet with the Confederates withdrawing in the wee hours of November 25, aided by a lunar eclipse.  The battle electrified the North, being hailed as the battle above the clouds, a reference to the mists that clung to the slopes of Lookout Mountain.


Brigadier General John W, Geary, who led one of Hooker’s three divisions, shared the excitement, writing to his wife:

I have been the instrument of Almighty God. … I stormed what was considered the … inaccessible heights of Lookout Mountain. I captured it. … This feat will be celebrated until time shall be no more.

In some ways the battle was actually more of a skirmish.  Casualties were light for the Union, only 408.  Confederate casualties were higher, totaling 1251, with an additional 1064 captured or missing.

Grant, who had never had any use for Hooker, in his memoirs denigrated the “battle”:

The Battle of Lookout Mountain is one of the romances of the war. There was no such battle and no action even worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain. It is all poetry.

The Union troops who participated in taking Lookout Mountain would beg to differ.  After the fighting around Chattanooga was over many of them had photographs taken on Lookout Mountain, clearly proud of their accomplishment:

Union troops posing on Lookout Mountain

Here is Hooker’s report of the battle:

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November 23, 1863: The Battle of Chattanooga Begins

Saturday, November 23, AD 2013

Something for the weekend.  The Chattanooga Boy’s Choir singing The Battle Cry of Freedom.  An appropriate selection as 150 years ago the battle of Chattanooga began which resulted in a complete Union victory.  Actually three battles:  Orchard Knob, November 23;   Lookout Mountain, November 24;   and Missionary Ridge, November 25;   these engagements were the culmination of the Chattanooga campaign that began when Bragg and his Army of Tennessee, put the Army of the Cumberland under siege in Chattanooga in the aftermath of the Confederate victory at Chickamauga.


With strong Union reinforcements, and with Grant placed in overall command, the siege was effectively broken on October 28, 1863 with the Union establishing the “cracker line” to bring supplies into Chattanooga.  With the lifting of the siege and with the Union forces opposing him growing ever stronger, Bragg made the strategic blunder of keeping his main force in place confronting Chattanooga and sent Longstreet’s Corps, 11,000 men, on an ultimately futile campaign to capture Knoxville.

Bragg doubled down on this error by ordering two divisions to withdraw from the lines around Chattanooga and march to the rail head to be transported to reinforce Longstreet on November 22.  Seeing the movement of the Confederate forces, Grant decided to launch the long planned offensive against the Confederate positions around Chattanooga, partially to prevent Bragg from reinforcing Longstreet.

Grant ordered 14,000 Union soldiers to seize Orchard Knob, a position held by 600 Confederates in front of the main Confederate defensive lines along Missionary Ridge.  The position was taken with light casualties, and it did cause Bragg to cancel the movement of one of the divisions he had intended to send to Longstreet.

Here is Grant’s description of the engagement in his Memoirs:

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Grant and Vicksburg

Saturday, April 13, AD 2013

 By the swollen flood
Of the Mississippi, stumpy Grant is a mole
Gnawing at Vicksburg.  He has been blocked four times
But he will carry that beaver-dam at last.
There is no brilliant lamp in that dogged mind
And no conceit of brilliance to shake the hand,
But hand and mind can use the tools that they get.
This long way out of Galena.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Something for the weekend.  The song I Left my Love from the movie The Horse Soldiers (1959) a fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavalry raid of the war, Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.  The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the raid will occur on April 17th.

With his victories at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh, for a time it seemed in 1862 that Grant was spearheading a Union drive that would lead to an unraveling of the Confederacy in the West and a rapid end to the War.  Instead Grant was stymied since December by Vicksburg, which was earning its nickname of the Gibraltar of the West.  Located on high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi at a horseshoe bend, the heavily fortified city prevented Union control of the Mississippi, vital for the Union war effort in cutting away from the main Confederacy, Arkansas, Texas and most  of Louisiana, while restoring the Father of the Waters to the Union for commerce.

The heavily fortified city, garrisoned by a Confederate army, seemed impregnable.  Union fleets trying to run the batteries of the City faced potentially ruinous losses.  The Mississippi Delta north and east of the city, 200 miles of largely trackless swamp, made it impossible to march an army from the north and take Vicksburg by land assault.  Somehow Grant needed to get his fleet south of Vicksburg so he and his army could cross the Mississippi.  To accomplish this Grant made five efforts prior to mid-April of 1863, all of which ended in frustration:

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4 Responses to Grant and Vicksburg

  • That movie depicts an age/war both of high gallantry and virtue.

    I especially enjoy watching the military school cadets marching out to the fifes’ “Bonny Blue Flag”; the young boy escaping from his bedroom to join the charge; and the charge itself.

    Mac, I recommend a book by Gregory J. W. Urwin, Custer Victorious, The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer. I’m sure you would enjoy it.

    God bless John Ford and John Wayne.

    PS: The “Anaconda Plan” was the War Department’s grand strategy from day-one.

  • The War Department’s strategy, or “Old Fuss ‘n Feathers’s”?

  • Thank you, Mac!

    My wife would not be insensible to the emotions of the mother in the scene. Our son saw a year in Afghanistan.

    The Confederacy (as in the North) had imposed universal conscription.

    Colleges, including Va. Military Inst., had no students and were forced to reduce to 16 years the age for admission.

    My edition of Campfires and Battlefields, on page 433, presents the 15 May 1864 Battle of New Market. Conf. Gen. Breckenridge ordered a regiment of veterans and the battalion of cadets from VMI to capture an unsupported battery on the Union right. Of the 550 veterans, 241 were either killed or wounded. Of the 225 sixteen year-old cadets, 44 were casualties.

    If the Union had won at New Market, the book states, likely Richmond would have been laid bare to Union attack “almost inevitable capture.”

    Again, God bless John Ford and John Wayne.

Palm Sunday One Hundred and Forty-Eight Years Ago

Sunday, March 24, AD 2013

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.

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6 Responses to Palm Sunday One Hundred and Forty-Eight Years Ago

  • Mr. McClarey. You are doing them justice by trimming the tree that they planted so many years ago. Thank you!

  • Don McClarey: You ain’t so bad yourself!

    May God grant you and your family with a Holy, Blessed Easter.

    Karl J Wengenroth

  • Thank you Karl. A blessed Holy Week and Easter to you and yours!

  • Thank you for this wonderful information.

    As we all see things through our own personal lenses, and as a different “civil” contention goes on this current holy weeK, in our Supreme Court, my hope that we could be as great and good as those generals and soldiers.

    This statement of U. S. Grant spoke aloud to me: “I knew there was no use to urge him to do anything against his ideas of what was right.”

    This week the Supreme Court talks about marriage on a national level. I hope they can be great enough to carefully discern and good enough do what is right.

  • The end of the war would quite possibly have even gone better if President Lincoln had not been shot. Lincoln’s overriding agenda with the ceasefire was to be far more magnanimous in victory than President Johnson was to prove to be. Whether that would have worked out in reality (as opposed to theory) better of course we will never know. But even with what we got, it could have gone a lot worse if not for the basic decencies of Lee and Grant in the conclusion of hostilities between the two sides.

Grant, Grant, Grant

Saturday, October 27, AD 2012

Something for the weekend.  Grant, Grant, Grant the campaign song for Ulysses S. Grant when he ran for President in 1868.  Unsurprisingly Civil War themes were hit hard, along with Republican rage against what they perceived as the soft Reconstruction that Andrew Johnson attempted to give to the South.  The song is sung to the tune of Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching!, (Originially entitled Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (The Prisoner’s Hope) which would have had huge emotional connotations in the North as that song was written in 1864 to give hope in ultimate liberation to Union POWs.

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February 6, 1862: Surrender of Fort Henry

Monday, February 6, AD 2012

Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,

Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,

And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.

Her stiff hands were busy now with an odd piece of wood,

Sometime Westpointer, by accident more than choice,

Sometime brevet-captain in the old Fourth Infantry,

Mentioned in Mexican orders for gallant service

And, six years later, forced to resign from the Army

Without enough money to pay for a stateroom home.

Turned farmer on Hardscrabble Farm, turned bill-collector,

Turned clerk in the country-store that his brothers ran,

The eldest-born of the lot, but the family-failure,

Unloading frozen hides from a farmer’s sleigh

With stoop-shouldered strength, whittling beside the stove,

And now and then turning to whiskey to take the sting

From winter and certain memories. 

It didn’t take much. A glass or two would thicken the dogged tongue

And flush the fair skin beneath the ragged brown beard.

Poor and shabby–old “Cap” Grant of Galena,

Who should have amounted to something but hadn’t so far

Though he worked hard and was honest.

A middle-aged clerk,

A stumpy, mute man in a faded army overcoat,

Who wrote the War Department after Fort Sumter,

Offering them such service as he could give

And saying he thought that he was fit to command

As much as a regiment, but getting no answer.

So many letters come to a War Department,

One can hardly bother the clerks to answer them all–

Then a Volunteer colonel, drilling recruits with a stick,

A red bandanna instead of an officer’s sash;

A brigadier-general, one of thirty-seven,

Snubbed by Halleck and slighted by fussy Frémont;

And then the frozen February gale

Over Fort Henry and Fort Donelson,

The gunboats on the cold river–the brief siege–

“Unconditional surrender”–and the newspapers.

                                                                                                                                     Stephen Vincent Benet

The taking of Fort Henry by Ulysses S. Grant on February 6, 1862, was important for a number of reasons:

1.  It opened the Tennessee River to Union gunboats and transports down through northern Alabama, effectively allowing the Union to outflank  Confederate

defenses in Memphis and  throughout eastern Tennessee.

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13 Responses to February 6, 1862: Surrender of Fort Henry

  • Was that fort also known as Fort Hood? My American History on Parade calendar names it “Hood.”

    It was the first major Federal victory in the war of northern aggression.

  • I do not believe so T.Shaw. It was named after Senator Gustavus Adolphus Henry of Tennessee. You are correct that it was a major victory in the Glorious Northern Crusade for Union and Liberty.

  • It seems my 2012 “American History on Parade” calaendar is in error. I will need to keep that in mind.

  • My copy of the Patriot’s Almanac made the same “Fort Hood” mistake yesterday. I corrected it before I read it to the kids. It also calls it the first “major victory.”

    Fort Hood was built and named after the War for the Union had concluded.

    Hood was a brave man–and a better soldier than he gets credit for, at least during the Atlanta campaign. Peachtree Creek was a near-run thing.

    But I can’t understand the neglect of other figures instead of him–George Thomas (speaking of Peachtree Creek), for example. Surely he deserves a military installation named after him.

    Much more so than that vindictive ditherer and near-incompetent Bragg.

  • Pap Thomas and Bragg, Dale, definitely are the two ends of military competency in the Civil War. The War might well have had a different outcome if Thomas had gone with Virginia and ended up commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

  • Thomas was a great general, and very underappreciated. Betrayed his native Virginia and took up arms against her, so that even some of his family would never speak to him again. I’d like to think it was wisdom not to send him East, where his presence could have provided a sort of negative morale boost due to the contempt his countrymen had for him.
    As to Grant, he did well out west, but when he came east, he earned, I think, the judgment made of him by Winston Churchill: “Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.” And so, with respect to Grant and his overland campaign, Churchill called his strategy “the negation of generalship.”
    But in his early wins in the west, he showed himself to be a competent, agressive leader, which the Union cause desparately needed.

  • I am a Churchill man to the bone, but his courtly sympathies were showing in that assessment of

    Grant’s lack of spectacular success in the eastern theatre is due to two things–1. Lee, and 2., the fact he did not take direct control of the Army of the Potomac. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the competent Meade, apart from excessive caution, but that extra layer of decisionmaking added unnecessary friction. This was especially true with the Cold Harbor horror.

    It’s also safe to say that Lee also lacked spectacular success facing Grant. The field of battle in Northern Virginia did not permit spectacular manuevers.

    The war in the East was decided after the Wilderness, when Grant gave the order to move south. Lee threw his best haymaker, and Grant kept on coming. Unlike McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, etc.

    As to Thomas, it is one of the minor tragedies of history that he ordered his papers to be burnt upon his death, and his beloved wife faithfully carried out that order. We have no picture of the inner man and his struggle over secession. It seems to have come down to what oaths men considered binding, and against whom they could draw their swords.

    For the significant–likely decisive–number of Southern Unionists like Thomas, they could not draw their swords against the Union, which itself would have constituted a betrayal.

  • “…that assessment of Grant’s generalship. He admired Lee greatly.”

    My goodness, maybe I shouldn’t start blogging again if that’s what’s going to happen to my thought processes. [Scare quotes around the word thought.]

  • I really appreciate learning about the history in these posts. It is very interesting and informative, especially now, that America may be heading towards another civil war against a grotesque form of totalitarianism. Thank you Donald McClarey and others. Mary De Voe

  • Lee was only hobbled by a lack of troops at that late time in the war. The opposite of Grant,he was a master of manuever, as Chancellorsville demonstrated, in the same area of Virginia as the beginning of the overland campaign. Outnumbered 2-1, despite continually inflicting twice the casualties on Grant as the ANV suffered, Lee could not replace his men, like Grant could. Grant knew this, and decided to simply spend his men’s lives by staying engaged with Lee, rather than attempting to defeat him or interpose between him and Richmond by manuever.

    As it was, there were at least two occasions I can think of where Lee came mighty close to inflicting what might have been a fatal blow to the AOP during the overland campaign.

    Cold Harbor was Grant’s responsibility, as he manfully acknowledged. He had been hoping for months that Lee and the ANV were demoralized and ready to crack. Cold Harbor disillusioned him of that idea.

  • Grant knew this, and decided to simply spend his men’s lives by staying engaged with Lee, rather than attempting to defeat him or interpose between him and Richmond by manuever.

    Except that it’s not true–Grant did by swinging around to Petersburg, which was, for a brief time, undefended.

    Yes, Lee could have defeated the Union at the North Anna–with the army of 1863. But he had no lieutenant who understood him implicitly, as Jackson and Longstreet did. There’s a reason he couldn’t manuever as well by that point–the ANV wasn’t the same army, and not solely because of the Overland Campaign. The losses had been piling up for a couple of years by that point, and the relative advantage in leadership had been worn away.

    Grant came within a hair of crushing the ANV with Hancock’s assault at the Wilderness. But, leaving aside the relative merits of the commanders, there was a reason armies were (with one exception) not destroyed during the War. It was extremely hard to do.

    Finally, Grant’s strategy was extremely good–force the Confederates to fight at multiple points in Virginia, and keep them from shifting forces between east and west. If he had had two non-incompetents instead of Butler and Sigel, things might have ended much sooner.

  • Gordon found the Union right open at the Wilderness, and a strong strike against it would likely have rolled up the federal right. Delay unfortunately resulted in a loss of daylight to complete the maneuver.

    Grant crossed the James finally because he realized at Cold Harbor courtesy of 7,000 dead soldiers that his attrition strategy had no end in sight. He had stayed true to his pledge to fight it out along the overland front all summer, and had certainly bled Lee, but at a fearsome price of his double the losses of his own men.

    His delay in striking at Petersburg, which was open for a brief window, guaranteed months of further bloody attrition until Sheridan finally flanked the ANV, stretched thin as paper, at Five Forks.

  • Of course, if Grant had led the AOP in 1862 on the Penninsula, the war likely would have ended that year with the capture of Richmond… imagine how an early federal victory would have resulted in a much different post-war outcome.

Gingrich 48-Obama 50: Remember Grant

Wednesday, January 25, AD 2012


The most recent poll by Gallup matching Newt Gingrich against Obama has Obama up by a whopping two points:  48-50.   This, after a week when Gingrich has had a concerted attack by ABC to take him out as a candidate after the Marianne Gingrich non-revelation that Newt cheated on her, as she had cheated with Newt while he was married to his first wife.  Gingrich has gained 4 points in the trial heat.

Of course polls of the general election at this point in a presidential election year don’t mean spit, as President Carter could attest, as he led Ronald Reagan, often by vast margins, in the trial heat polls almost all of the year in 1980.  I bring up this poll now to counter-act some of the “woe is us” commentary too often seen in GOP circles currently.  Obama has presided over a disastrous first term, and will likely go down to defeat in the fall.  All the signs are there.  To listen to some of the Republican caterwauling at the present time, one would think that Obama was a shoo-in for a second term.  He isn’t and I am getting tired of the doom and pessimism brought on by a perfectly normal contested presidential nomination race.  This reminds me of an event in the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864:

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4 Responses to Gingrich 48-Obama 50: Remember Grant

  • U. S. Grant was short for “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.

    Newt is a fighter. The country needs him.

    Anyone remember November 2010?

    Latest 0 approval rating was 44: worse than Ford and Bush 41, a tad above Carter.

    Obama must go.

  • I bring up this poll now to counter-act some of the “woe is us” commentary too often seen in GOP circles currently.

    Yesterday Mark Steyn subbed for Rush. Not only is Steyn the best co-host, he is sometimes a more enjoyable listen than El Rushbo himself. After about forty minutes I had tot turn him off because it was non-stop “oh these guys are so terrible” navel gazing. He’s not entirely wrong, but the GOP electorate have been behaving like a bunch of ninnies lately.

  • To listen to some of the Republican caterwauling at the present time,

    I see you read Peter Lawler’s blog too.

  • Never have Art, although I will now!

Sam Grant, the Beatles and the Internet

Saturday, October 15, AD 2011

I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”  

Ulysses S. Grant, written just before his death


Something for the weekend.  Quotations from Ulysses S. Grant to the Beatles song  In My Life.  A follow up to my post on Robert E. Lee, the Beatles and the Internet.  Another demonstration of what a wild and wacky place the internet truly is!


Few men in American history have gone from complete obscurity to being a  central figure in the life of the nation faster than Ulysses Simpson Grant.  Known as Sam Grant by his West Point friends, his first two initials making Sam an inevitable nickname, Grant had an unerring ability to fail at everything he put his hand to, except for war, his marriage and his last gallant race against the Grim Reaper, as he was dying of cancer, to finish his memoirs and provide financially for his wife and children.  Most great figures in our history have known success more than failure.  Not so Sam Grant.  He would encounter humiliating defeats throughout his life, from beginning to end.


At the beginning of the Civil War, he was a clerk, barely able to support his family.  Seemingly a dull plodder, but possessed of iron determination and an uncanny ability to never let the trees obscure the forest;  happily married and a firm believer in God, but subject to bouts of depression when he would grasp for the bottle;  the shabby little man who, incredibly, ended up winning the greatest war in American history.


His men didn’t hold him in awe as Lee’s men did Lee;  Grant was far too common and prosaic a figure for that.  However, they did respect him, as this section of Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, indicates:

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2 Responses to Sam Grant, the Beatles and the Internet

  • I have never made the time to look at them extensively or, even, carefully, but Grant’s memoirs have reputed, among critics and college academics (stuck with teaching ill-prepared and indifferent undergraduates to distinguish between “its” and “it’s” and “there” and “their” (and, even, “they’re” and imparting the trick of assembling complete sentences into a coherent paragraph) to be if not the pinnacle of, then among the very finest prose writing in American letters.
    So–he was good at two things.

  • True. Grant was a fine writer. Some people have accused Mark Twain, a former Confederate and friend of Grant, of ghost writing the memoirs but that is untrue. Twain gave Grant some help in getting the publishing deal for his memoirs, but that is all. Grant’s memoirs read like his written orders during the War: Crisp, direct and easy to understand.

Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

Friday, June 18, AD 2010

Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative, and I run a blog on American History:  Almost Chosen People.  Yesterday Paul raised the question:  Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

Yeah, the post title is somewhat deliberately provocative, but it’s also meant to be a serious question that I hope will spark some discussion.  I was going to ask it in the comments to Donald’s post below, but thought it might be useful fodder for debate in its own right.

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9 Responses to Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

  • Yeah, what Donald said.


  • Personally, I think that the General Lee was in fact overrated.

  • I agree Lee was by far the best general of that war and probably in American history.

    Overrated? Some in perpetuating the Lee legend have tended to overstate Lee’s abilities. Longstreet, for instance, after the war flirted with Republicans, became a Catholic, and hob-knobbed with President Grant. The Lost Cause folks and especially Lee’s hagiographers in Virginia stepped up their criticisms of Old Pete, beginning a slander against him that is referenced even in the movie from which the clip headlining this post is taken. That is, that Longsteet’s reluctance vigorously to execute Lee’s orders on the second and third days at Gettysburg led to that defeat (and hence, to the ultimate fall of the Cause). Never mind that this slur was uttered only after Lee’s death, for Lee himself acknowledged many times that the fault for Gettysburg lied with him, not Longstreet. Never mind, too, that Longstreet was just plain right, no confederate army could successfully have dislodged Meade from the heights outside of Gettysburg. That battle was lost when Ewell neglected to do what Stonewall certainly would have, and that is press the broken Federal army on day one to capture Cemetery Hill and Culp’s.

    So the moral of the story is that while our greatest general, even Lee has been oversold somewhat. He was only mortal after all, and did make other mistakes (e.g., Malvern Hill, North Anna).

  • It depends.

    A read of Lee’s Terrible Swift Sword tells of his string of decisive victories from Antietam through Second Bull Run. Chancellorsville was the most dramatic drubbing of the Union army. If the Sun stayed up as it did for the Israelites, he’d likely have destroyed that federal army. Other federal armies would have been raised.

    Lee lost it at Gettysburg and it was mostly downhill from there. This is not to say that the South had an even chance. Without Lee the South likely would have been defeated much earlier.

    Tom is correct in all respects. IF Ewell had taken the Union lines before they could bring up the entire seven (was it five?) corpses (Obama!). That’s a big IF. The armies would yet have been in close proximity and a fight would have been fought; probably with a different outcome, assuming Lee lured Meade into doing for him that which Burnside did at Fredrucksburg or Hooker at Chancellorsville.

    Gettysburg seems the battlefield where Lee departed from his “modus” at very high cost. I believe it was that Lee abandoned the tactical defensive and made the same mistakes Burnside made at Fredericksburg. In fact the Irish Brigade soldiers at Picket’s Charge said, “It was Fredericksburg in rivarse.” And, the Union troops chanted “Fredericksburg” as Picket’s broken men retreated.

    Given the Confederacy’s limitations (compared to Union resources) the only salutary tactics available were tactical defenses (maybe guerrilla warfare) even if they went over to strategic offense.

    Another factor, the generals were just learning how to employ 19th century weapons and railroad supply movements. Attackers nearly always suffer higher casualties against a well-emplaced, well-led, prepared army.

    I believe George Washignton was the greatest American general. He cannot be overrated.

    “Late Unpleasantness”, “Lost cause”?? How about calling it what is was: the war of northern aggression? Is that in the Constitution?

  • In my view, Lee was a brilliant strategic and operational commander. He was also normally a very successful risk-taker. One of his problems during the Gettysburg Campaign was that he had grown accustomed over the last couple of years to the rabid aggressiveness of Stonewall Jackson. He had not really adjusted to the initiative and drive he lost when his most brilliant Corps commander was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville.
    Some have attributed the loss (with good reason) to muddling Corps commanders, others to Stuart’s absence (again, with reason), still others to Lee’s inability to compensate for the lack of his Cavalry’s scouting and screening functions), and many others to Longstreet’s reluctant and even tardy obedience to orders.
    Having retired as a mere Captain in Air Defense Artillery, I am unqualified to offer recommendations to one of the nation’s Great Captains. That being so, neither will I offer criticism as if I could and would have done better. Lee was aging and suffering from heart disease at the time. These factors may have contributed to Lee’s seeming inability to communicate his intentions and vision with accuracy and timeliness to his subordinates.
    I am profoundly grateful to God that there was a Robert E. Lee in the South. Without his leadership, however it may have failed at Gettysburg, Lincoln’s 75,000 volunteers may have been enough to suppress the rebellion within a year and a half. As it is, Lee gave the Union both the time and the necessity (more political than military) to re-tool public opinion of the war by casting it as being one of emancipation, rather than mere oppression. Without Lee’s leadership, all the world would have seen Lincoln for the Constitutional disaster that he was (and intended to be), and would have robbed many in both north and south of the comforting fiction that so many fought and died to free the slaves because that was the only way to get it done.

  • “Personally, I think that the General Lee was in fact overrated.”

    I am ashamed to admit how much time as an undergrad I wasted watching the Dukes of Hazard!

  • I would not say that Lee was overrated as a commander. Overrated I would apply to the following commanders:

    Major General John C. Fremont
    Major General Daniel Sickles
    Major General Ambrose Burnside
    Major General John Pope
    Major General Irvin McDowell
    Brevet Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick
    Brevet Major General Alfred Pleasonton

    General Braxton Bragg
    Lieutenant General James Longstreet
    Major General John B. Floyd
    Major General John Bell Hood
    Major General Lafayette McLaws
    Major General Earl Van Dorn
    Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow

  • Lee recognized prior to the ‘Gettysburg’ offensive that the South would eventually lose a war of attrition in which it stayed on the strategic defensive, growing weaker as the North grew stronger. A Southern victory on Northern soil was the only chance to bring the war to a favorable conclusion. Fighting not to lose worked fine for the Yankees, but the Rebels had take the riskier course, and fight to win.

  • Robert E Lee probably lost the war for the South. One contribution he did make, however, was to encourage and end to violence at the end of the war.

    However, Lee often wrote that God fully intended the negro to be treated cruelly and painfully, in order to teach the negro his place. The letter most people assume shows Lee is anti slavery, is actually one of the most amazing pro slavery letters ever written.

    Lee claims its fine to pray for an end to slavery — someday. But God has to end slavery, he said, not man. And God might take 2,000 years or more. Meanwhile any man who would try to end slavery is evil. He equates owning slaves with spiritual liberty.

    But what about Lee’s supposed military genius?

    Shelby Foote said (paraphrasing) “Losing Gettysburg [and therefore the war] was the price the South paid for having Lee in charge.”

    Lee had remarkably able generals under him — Stonewall Jackson for one, Johnston for another. Lee’s speciality was taking credit for their daring successes. Lee shamelessly “brown nosed” Davis, while most other generals refused.

    Davis was known for his favoring people who flattered him — and Lee flattered Davis shamelessly. Few people today understand that Lee had virtually NO military battle experience at the begining of the Civil War — he was an engineer, and a good one. He was not a battle tested general.

    In fact, he wasn’t even a full colonel, until Lincoln made him one. This persistant myth that Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union forces is nonsense, –often repeated, but never by Lincoln, or Lee, or Scott, the person who supposedly offered it.

    Lee’s generals were very capable, particulary Jackson and Johnston. When Lee spurned their advice, or when they were not available, was almost criminally stupid. Lee got most his “true believers” killed off, and these men were irreplacable.

    The men that took their place were far different from those Lee sacrificed in stupid moves. The new men were eager to desert — in fact, over 2/3 of the rebel soldiers deserted. As early as Lee’s inept handling at Shaprsurg, out of 19,000 men who were suppposed to refor, only 5,000 did. A desertion ratio of 2/3– Davis himself went on a speaking tour later to beg, shame, and frigthen deserters to return. It didn’t work. Desertion is by far the biggest reason the war ended. And Lee’s ineptness is a big reason they deserted.

    Lee sincerely thought God should sort out who got killed– it was his job to send men to battle, God’s job to decide who died. But notice when Lee faced any personal danger, he wasn’t going to let God decided anything — he was going to run.

    Lee left Richmond on the FALSE rumor of a breach in the line. (By the way, Lee personally led the construction of the earth works around RIchmond and Petersburg — all done by slave labor, probably the biggest construction job in the South to that point — he used 100,000 slaves, under penalty of death or torture)

    He left the citizens without notice, without a word, and worse, ordered fires to be set to warehouses. With no men available to put out the spreading fires, the mayor of Atlanta had to ride out to the Union troops, under a white flag, and ASK FOR HELP to put out the fires.

    The Southern apologist have been forced to pump Lee into some kind of hero, militarily and personally. Yet Lee was all too human on both counts.

    We know now, from Elizabeth’s Pryors book “Reading the Man” that Lee did in fact have young women tortured, screaming at them during their torture. He also apparently regularly sold the infants from these young girls.

    We know Lee kept a “Hunting List” in his own account books of slave girls he most wanted captured. We know his slave almost universally hated him, and rebelled before the Civil War, to which Lee hired bounty hunters and paid extra for the torture of at least one young girl.

    We know Lee had sharpshooters in the rear of his own soldiers — killing those who would run away during battle, a tactic later mimiced by Stalin. (Page 410 of Pryors book). We know Lee’s soldiers hated him, and were deserting en masse.

    The real picture of Lee is almost directly opposite of the nonsense that has so far been deliberatedly fabricated about the man.

General Lee and Guerrilla War

Friday, May 7, AD 2010

Hattip to commenter Dennis McCutcheon for giving me the idea for this post.  We Americans today view the Civil War as part of our history.  If different decisions had been made at the end of that conflict, the Civil War could still be part of our current reality.  Just before the surrender at Appomattox, General Porter Alexander, General Robert E. Lee’s chief of artillery, broached to Lee a proposal that the Army of Northern Virginia disband and carry out a guerrilla war against the Union occupiers.  Here history balanced on a knife edge.  If Lee had accepted the proposal, I have little doubt the stage would have been set for an unending war between the North and the South which would still be with us.  Douglas Southall Freeman, in his magisterial R. E. Lee, tells what happened next, based upon Alexander’s memoirs, Fighting for the Confederacy.

“Thereupon Alexander proposed, as an alternative to surrender, that the men take to the woods with their arms, under orders to report to governors of their respective states.

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9 Responses to General Lee and Guerrilla War

  • Probably the greatest general America has ever had.

  • Lee’s quintessential decency saved America from a horrible fate. We owe him more than we will ever be able to describe.

    Not so BTW, Charles Harness’ excellent sci-fi short story, “Quarks at Appomattox,” explores a related proposal from time travellers with an agenda.

  • Charles Harness’ excellent sci-fi short story, “Quarks at Appomattox,”

    Apologies for the off-topic snicker, but was this a sequel to “Bosons at Bull Run?” Personally, “Gluons at Gettysburg” was a pretty good yarn, too. (Sorry! Couldn’t resist.)

  • “Guns of the South” was also a good alternative-history book where South African Apartheiders went into the past to ensure a Confederate victory (by Harry Turtledove).

  • The night before the formal surrender, General Chamberlain had decided to salute the Army of Virginia. The decision “was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?”

    The next morning, on April 12, the salute was rendered.

    “When General Gordon came opposite of me, I had the bugle blown and the entire line came to ‘attention’…The General was riding in advance of his troops, his chin drooped to his breast, downhearted and dejected in appearance almost beyond description. As the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment of its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow and General Gordon dropped his swordpoint to his toe in salutation…On our part, not a sound of trumpet more, nor the roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breathing-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead.”

    After the war, General Gordon would address Chamberlain as “one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army.”

    As other units passed Chamberlain, one Confederate said as he was delivering his flag, “boys, this is not the first time you have seen this flag. I have borne it in the front of battle on many victorious fields of battle and I had rather die than surrender it to you.” Chamberlain replied, “I admire your noble spirit, and only regret that I have not the authority to bid you keep your flag and carry it home as a precious heirloom.” One officer said to Chamberlain, “General, this is deeply humiliating; but I console myself with the thought that the whole country will rejoice at the day’s business. Another officer said, “You astound us by your honorable and generous conduct. I fear that we should not have done the same to you had the case been reversed.” A third officer went even farther by saying, “I went into that cause I meant it. We had our choice of weapons and of ground, and we have lost. Now [pointing to the Stars and Stripes] that is my flag, and I will prove myself as worthy as any of you.”

    However, most of the Confederates were too humiliated to be reversed so quickly. General Wise told Chamberlain, “You may forgive us but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in hour hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, Sir…you go home, you take these fellows home. That’s what will end this war.”

    Chamberlain replied, “Don’t worry about the end of the war. We are going home pretty soon, but not till we see you home.”

    No matter how ill Chamberlain’s salute to the fallen South may have been received, it still remains one of the greatest acts of honor in the military history of the United States.

    Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence.“Bayonet! Forward” My Civil War Reminiscences.
    Gettysburg: Stan Clark Military books, 1994.

    Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. The Passing of the Armies: The Last Campaign of the
    Armies. Gettysburg: Stan Clark Military books, 1915.

    Dllard, Wallace M. Soul of the Lion; A Biography on General Joshua L. Chamberlain
    Gettysburg: Stan Clark Military books, 1960.

  • When the War ended, Robert E. Lee was a man without a home and without citizenship.

    Before the War, Lee and his family lived at Arlington House, a mansion on top of a hill in Alexandria County, Virginia. The place is across the Potomac River from Washington. Mrs. Lee had inherited the place from her father, who was related to George and Martha Washington. Mrs. Lee’s father had put together the largest private collection of George Washington memorabilia at Arlington House.

    When Robert E. Lee joined the Confederate Army, he had to abandon Arlington House, which the Union Army soon took over. Yankee soldiers looted the house, not sparing some of the Washington memorabilia. The Union Army buried dead Yankee soldiers at the front yard, at the backyard, and all around the house. This was to ensure that Robert E. Lee and his family would never again live at Arlington House. Thus, the place became Arlington National Cemetery.

    After the War, Washington College needed a leader to take it through the rough postwar years. The college, which had received an endowment from George Washington, asked Robert E. Lee to be their next college president. Lee accepted, and served at the college for five years until his decease in 1870. Later, the college would adopt the name Washington and Lee University.

    Interestingly, both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were residents of Lexington, Virginia at different times, Jackson as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute before the War, Lee as president of Washington College after the War.

    In the postwar years, Lee’s citizenship was under a cloud. He applied for amnesty, but the federal government sat on it. In 1975, Congress finally restored Lee’s citizenship.

  • To suggest that the nation’s future balanced “on a knife’s edge” during that moment of temptation by Alexander is to besmirch the noble name of Lee. Even the quoted recouting of the story exposes the blatant lie in the suggestion that Lee considered it seriously, even for a moment.

    You might as well sully the reputation of Washington (another famous Virginian) by saying he was giving serious thought to keeping the presidency as long as he could.

    What’s this facsination with dancing on the graves of the South’s warriors? You don’t really want to bring up the issue of relative goodness here. Though slavery was certainly horrible, you have to stretch the meaning of words and tarnish your reputation for truth to suggest that the federal government entered into the war to abolish slavery. So what end must have been declared to justify the means of 75,000 volunteers in the spring of 1861? Was it really emancipation? If that were true, would any have been able to argue that it was the only way?

    Those of you who actually say the word “indivisible” in the Pledge certainly see nothing wrong in completely destroying the consent of the governed that had existed in the repuiblic until that day.

    Now Obama merely takes it all to it’s natural conclusion. If southern consent was not required in 1861 under Lincoln, his 21st century political descendent cannot be blamed for deciding that no consent is required today.

  • Kevin, you took offense where none was intended. The entire post was in praise of Lee. Some Lost Cause enthusiasts are just as quick to take offense against purely imaginary insults as devotees of other forms of identity politics.

  • i have lived in a country with guerrilla war that has lasted a hundred years,it never ends! this kind of fight has no honour,which is a reflection of our times.Lee was a model to all men of how to act-charity, kindness and true courage.Never thinking of himself,always of others and the greater good.His foundation his faith.Godbless Lee Godbless the south!