Lee the Soldier, edited by Gary W. Gallager, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1996, $45.
America has produced more than her share of heroes. Some have even been called “beloved,” but that title has usually beenreserved for those who also served in some public capacity, such as George Washington. Arguably the most beloved militaryfigure in American history not to hold an elected office is General Robert Edward Lee.
The past 20 or so years have seen a number of books published that present Lee in a less than favorable light. A recentbiography of Lee shows the human side of the man who has achieved near-godlike status. Through it all, Lee still emerges as aman worthy of the enormous admiration accorded him.
Now comes a collection that is true to its title. Lee the Soldier tells the story of the man during the four years of bloody warthat raised him to such prominence. This collection of essays–some old, some new–does not attempt to show us Lee as afather, husband, slaveholder or emancipator. Rather, it presents him in his best-known role, as commander of the Army ofNorthern Virginia.
Gary W. Gallagher, professor of history at Pennsylvania State University, has done an excellent job assembling and editingthese 26 essays. Gallagher has carved a niche for himself as one of the pre-eminent editors of Civil War history, with suchworks as Fighting for the Confederacy, winner of the Douglass Southall Freeman Award. Lee the Soldier will stand asanother example of his editorial skill. With his two contributions to the collection, Gallagher proves that he can also write well.
As might be expected, not all of the essays are uncontroversial. Certainly there are some who will take exception to ThomasConnelly’s and Alan Nolan’s contributions. This should not, however, diminish the merit and worth of the book. If one findssomething disagreeable in one essay, he needs only to turn to another section. If all else fails, turn to the last section, “The R.E.Lee 200,” and choose another title from one of the most comprehensive bibliographies of Lee ever published. For mostreaders, the bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.
B. Keith Toney