Paul Johnson

Civil Warrior

Robert E Lee: Icon for a Nation

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 271pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

General Robert Lee was the South’s answer to Lincoln: a leader and hero who could also be turned into a saint. Brian Reid’s opening chapter – the most interesting in his book – surveys the way in which Lee’s image and reputation have been handled, by Southerners and others, since his death in 1870. He has been overpraised, both as general and man, and that in turn has provoked critical reassessments; but on the whole historians agree that he was a fine general and a man of impeccable honour. Indeed, ‘honour’ was a word often on his lips. He had no affection for slavery and little more for slaves’ rights, but loved his state, Virginia, even more than he loved his country, and felt honour-bound to come to her aid in her hour of need, when, as he saw it, she was invaded by the North. He tried to fight an honourable war against impossible odds, and when the almost inevitable defeat came he might have echoed François I’s words after the disaster of Pavia: ‘All is lost save honour.’

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Since Dylan’s commercial and ideological heyday, the intrusion of sociology, semiology and post-structuralist thou… ,
    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,