Robert E. Lee is back in the news, and not for the best of reasons. He’s certainly not a target for Union snipers, but rather a target for political correctness, for those that want to erase history. And a car named after him won’t be outrunning any tv sheriffs again.
For years, this brilliant American mind–tactician, patriot, warrior, and Virginian–has occupied a place of honor among revered historical figures for the grace and dignity with which he represented a defeated nation. There is no denying that the Confederate army he headed was on the wrong end of history and fought to continue the wicked institution of slavery, what Lee himself called “a moral and political evil.” There is also no doubt that Lee himself–a slave owner–was an embodiment of that evil: a man who owned other men. Can we separate those paradoxes within our historical figures–the great men and those faults they harbored? Maybe that’s another show altogether, one for the philosophers.
But Lee is certainly still worthy of our study, and Jonathan Horn has just written a brilliant biography of Lee, The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision that Changed American History. Horn is no stranger to great men. He was a speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush. We hope he’ll write about that experience in the future.