For a discussion of Robert E. Lee’s supposed choice not to pursue guerrilla operations at war’s end, see this post.
For those of you who want a refresher on Lincoln and the Corwin Amendment, see this post.
I recall that post and at the time (having read Alexander’s version in FFTC several years earler) I concluded that it was Lee’s description of the consequences (“lawless bands”, etc.) which I (and no doubt others) sloppily converted into guerrilla warfare. But if by “guerrilla warfare” we mean small but organized, mobile and at least loosely-directed forces striking targets of opportunity with a uniform goal, that certainly was not what Alexander claims was discussed. That said, it seems to me that it may have been an insoluble contradiction had it been considered. The premise of the CSA was an independent nation of 11 states. Having had a centralized goverment with centralized institutions and centralized armies, resort to “guerrilla warfare” was fundamentally inconsistent with the premise. That, of course, doesn’t even get to the other insurmountable practical hurdles which would have rendered it futile in 1865. My guess is that Lee would have opposed it as a realistic proposition had it been raised.
After the Confederate Government left Richmond, it was full of lawless bands, setting fire to the city, looting, drunkenness, etc., that the Union Army had to deal with. I notice that the gifts that keep giving never mention who burnt Richmond.
Interesting. Thank you reposting this again, Professor Simpson. I had not read this until now and was not familiar with Alexander’s discussion with Lee. As other commentators have suggested under a recent post about Robert E. Lee, the chances for the soldiers of the ANV to break out of Grant’s trap in April, 1865 for the purpose of sustaining any sort of organized military activity against the Union, whether regular or irregular in nature, were extremely remote to say the least. Alexander’s account supports the notion that Lee was fully aware of the utter hopelessness of his army’s situation. However, rather than surrender, Lee could have attempted to save face by disbanding the ANV and ordering his soldiers to attempt to break through Union lines either in groups or individually. As Lee said to Alexander, this would have been a futile and costly exercise without military purpose, but it would have spared Lee the personal humiliation of surrender and denied history the fact the Confedracy signed its own death certificate at Appomattox. Of course, Lee would have desperately wanted to avoid surrender and there is no reason to doubt him when he said that he would rather have died a thousand deaths rather than have to see Grant. I am not a fan of either Marse Robert, or the ignoble cause that he served, and certainly U. S. Grant deserves much more credit for the humanity, decency and graciousness he demonstrated at Appomattox. Nevertheless, Lee should be given at least some due for swallowing his pride, as difficult as that must have been for him, and showing fidelity to the obligation he had to the men under his command by surrendering, thus finally ending the useless spilling of their blood. True, he should have done it much sooner, but at the end he honored his duty to his soldiers rather than continue throwing away their lives in a vain attempt to redeem the reputation of a bankrupt cause that had reached a dead end. Had it been up to him, I suspect Jefferson Davis would have done things much differently in order to avoid the acknowledgment of defeat.
>> Nevertheless, Lee should be given at least some due for swallowing his pride, as difficult as that must have been for him, and showing fidelity to the obligation he had to the men under his command by surrendering, thus finally ending the useless spilling of their blood. True, he should have done it much sooner
True, but this implies recognizing that others would have judged their men’s lives more important than his reputation in about any circumstance and did. So while we give him credit for doing the bare minimum, and better than Davis perhaps, the honor according to him by legend is far more than that. The South needed a hero, and so they made one.
I don’t disagree with your point about how the mythology created in the many decades following the Civil War went way beyond reality in order to mould the popular percetion of Lee into some sort of “Captain Confederacy”‘, a stoic superhero fighting for truth, justice and the Southern Way. Your observations are fair and my only point was to suggest that at the very end, notwithstanding the enormous pride and vanity of both the man and his cause, Lee nevertheless saw his way to do the right thing in regards to his men. While you are correct to suggest that this ought to have been expected from any decent human being, I suspect there would have been more than a few Confederate dead-enders whose pride and fanaticism would not have allowed them to concede defeat.
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