Lee: The Last Years by Charles Bracelen Flood. Specifically, it will review and discuss the book. Flood's book looks at the final five years of Lee's life after the Civil War. It is a moving look at a man who gave so much to his people, and yet always felt that he had given so little.
The author's thesis in this book is quite clear. He wants to show the last years of General Lee's life, and the effect the Civil War had on him and his fellow Southerners. The book reads partly like a historical documentary, and partly like a novel, and keeps the reader's interest throughout the book by interspersing personal information on Lee with general accounts of his life and times after the war. He also seems quite determined to show Lee the man, rather than Lee the General and leader. His portrayal is of a man at the end of his life, who never really has felt that his life has amounted to much, and faces his last year's ill, without a home, and without a purpose now that his command days are done. Flood portrays Lee as a hero, but never as a haughty or full of himself, man. He seems modest and unassuming, which makes him all the more sympathetic and likeable.
Lee was well respected, even by the Union troops, who he had once fought with before he resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy. Author Flood writes of a moving time just after the surrender at Appomattox, "When he realized that this was Lee leaving, he stopped and took off his hat. So did every other Union soldier in the yard" (Flood 13). Flood fills his book with emotional scenes like these, pulling the reader into the action and giving them a fuller idea of what Lee was really like, underneath the command and the power. Even more, Flood fills his book with stories of Lee's family, which gives a more well rounded picture of the General's personal life, and what he has waiting for him after losing the war. Lee's family was close, and this was an all-important part of his life before the war, and even more so after the war. Portraying Lee's family with detail actually helps give more detail about the General, in the end, and makes the reader feel more like a friend of the family than an outsider looking back on the lives of some of the most influential people in the South.
The author illustrates his thesis by following Lee through the years after the war to his deathbed, with his daughter Mildred at his side. The Notes and Bibliography section are extensive, showing the author did quite a bit of extensive research before completing the book. He uses personal remembrances as a major portion of the book, as well as secondary research sources and other published biographies. The detail all adds up to a very detailed biography that is both interesting and difficult to put down. The book also includes an extensive selection of photographs of Lee from a young man to just before he died. Included are photographs of the family, their home, and Lee's last employment, his office at Washington and Lee University. The photographs complete the details the author is so careful about in the book, because they give the reader an even closer feeling to the family that Lee loved so much. They also show how war changes a man. His final photos show a war-weary man who looks much older than his years, and it is clear from the photos he has suffered much, and could never be the same young man shown in the painting when he was just beginning his long military career.
In conclusion, Flood's book is an intimate look at the last days of the Confederacy's greatest and most enduring General. The picture Flood paints is of a man determined to find peace in his own life, and build peace in a country still divided by a war. He is a man who only longs for a simple life in the country, and some way to take care of his family. Another man could have seemed pathetic in these conditions, but somehow Lee holds on to his dignity just as he holds his family together and puts back the pieces of his life after the war is over.
Flood, Charles Bracelen. Lee: The Last Years. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.
Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee
This paper analyzes the book "Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and The Civil War" by Burke Davis. Specifically, it will review and discuss the book.
Robert E. Lee is one of the best-known figures of the Civil War, and perhaps one of the most misunderstood. This book attempts to make his Civil War years more understandable and real to the reader, while portraying the man as a genuine person with real problems, emotions, and failings.
This book follows Robert E. Lee's career through the Civil War, giving just enough background on his life to make him more real to the reader. The author's thesis appears early in the book, he wants to show Lee's performance during the Civil War, but he also wants to show that Lee's loyalties were severely torn before the war, and that he did not want the country to split. Lee wrote in a letter before the war " I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is to be dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native state and share the miseries of my people, and save in defense will draw my sword on none" (Davis 9). At the beginning of war, Lee was pessimistic, but he chose to remain with the South, even though he felt secession was a poor idea. Yet, he took the post of commander of the Southern Army, and then later took command in the field. His prophesies of Southern defeat came true, but not without a long, hard fight on his part.
The author proves his thesis by concentrating on the long years of war, when Lee faithfully served the Confederacy. The author uses extensive research, including Lee's personal letters to his family, to show the man as he was behind the strict face of command. The extensive Notes and Bibliography sections indicate the depth of research the writer used, and how extensive his knowledge is of Lee and his actions during the war.
The book shows Lee was a brilliant commander-in-chief, but a modest man who could not see his own strengths, but often lingered on his own weaknesses, which he felt were many. The book is well illustrated with maps of the key battles, and with some excellent photographs of Lee, and of the devastation of just a few of the many battles of the war. The book also goes into great detail about life in camp between battles, and shows General Lee was an officer and a gentleman. He did not believe in having more than his ragged men, and the book notes, "His usual dinner in this camp was a head of cabbage boiled in salt water, with a piece of cornbread" (Davis 266). The General was not a primadonna; he was a man who served his men and his Confederacy to the best of his ability, even when he was in ill health and poor spirits. The book makes him out to be a hero, and that is what he still is to the Southern people.
If there is anything to criticize in the book, it is the author's common practice of mixing his research with fictionalized conversations and meetings during the book. It is clear the author knows Lee well, but he creates fictionalized scenes among the research and commentary, creating dialogue for General Lee and many of his peers and soldiers. While many of these scenes may be well documented, they read more like fiction than fact, and the reader is torn between believing them and wondering just how the author knew exactly what words were spoken on the battlefield.
In conclusion, this is a valuable book to the student of history, the researcher, and to anyone who wants to know more about General Lee, his motivations, and his performance throughout the Civil War. Though it is not a complete account of his life, it is a very thorough account of the war itself, and Lee's incredibly important part in the war. The Confederacy was doomed from the time they succeeded from the Union, and Lee saw that. Yet, he performed his duty with courage and with skill. If Lee had not been in command, the war might have ended sooner, because he was a great commander and leader, and he inspired his men greatly.
Davis, Burke. Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War. New Jersey: Burford Books, 1998.