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Perfect company for those long waits in doctor's offices or hospital clinics. A must for ER visits.
-Gerard Houarner, author of THE BEAST THAT WAS MAX; ROAD TO HELL; VISIONS THROUGH A SHATTERED LENS
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That having been said, I am not totally satisfied with Nolan's approach. He rightfully criticizes various historians for drawing conclusions about Lee based on single statements or letters written by Lee (often after the fact). However, Nolan is often guilty of the same misdeed. While I suspect that the documentary record would tend support Nolan's thesis than undermine it, nonetheless the documentation Nolan provides is quite limited. Carefully selecting the evidence that supports your argument might work in a court of law, but not in a work of history.
I also think that Nolan at times indulges in unnecessary hair-splitting, such as in the 5-page Chapter 5, where he discusses Lee's feelings towards his adversaries. The chapter seemed to me to be totally superfluous and contributed nothing to the book overall.
Nolan, in an effort to discredit the dogma of the Lost Cause, at times goes overboard in his assumptions. When criticizing Lee for undermining the Confederacy's war effort by going too much on the offensive, Nolan states that the South actually had a realistic chance of winning the war. His argument is that if Lee had preserved his manpower more prudently, the South could have withstood the North's attempts at conquest. This is a valid argument, because it is obvious that Lee did a good job of wrecking his army from 1861-1863.
However, Nolan's larger argument rests on the supposition that the South was effectively managing its war effort elsewhere. Ironically, like many of the devotees of the Lost Cause, Nolan ignores the impact of the war in the Western Theatre while focusing on the Eastern Theatre. The reality was that in the Western Theatre, especially in the first two years of the war when North & South were more or less equally matched in the field, the South was steadily losing ground virtually from the beginning. This is due as much to the incompetent generalship of the Confederacy as anything else. Even if Lee had carefully husbanded his manpower, he could not have undone the damage caused by generals such as Polk & Bragg in the Western Theatre.
The best part of Nolan's book is the final chapter, where he discusses the overall effort by the South (with very willing collusion from the North) to turn the Civil War & the Antebellum period into some sort of idyllic fairy tale, due to the racist attitudes that both regions shared. He gives a convincing argument about century-long effort to change the very nature of the war, of which the Lee mythology is only one element.
While at times this book veers dangerously close to being a commonplace chop-job, overall it makes a decent contribution to the literature. If Nolan had provided more comprehensive documentation, its impact would be all the better. As it is, one cannot consider it the last word, but it has ushered in an honest debate on the subject.
Lee is a paradox of sorts, while owning slaves he was opposed to the institution of slavery. Lee left the United States Army so as not to take his sword and use it against his native Virginia. A most revered but misunderstood man, Lee was a brilliant military leader who was tactically effective in bringing the exploits of the Confederacy to those of Northern aggression.
This book brings out a more human man, complete with all of the frailties and fallacies. A man or moral character, but a man whos job is that of a soldier. This book gives us a more honest view of Lee... a Lee not on his terms, but a Lee in the eye of history. No assumptions, just a rigorous reexamination through correspondence and historical sources.
Everyone knows the larger than life Lee, but knowing Lee is to know that he is a man... a man who happens to be the Commanding General of the Confederate Forces, a native Virginian, and a Southern aristocrat who opposed slavery.
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