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What if Lee had been a Yankee?

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: August 04, 2010 
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A video giving an opinion of what would have happened had General Robert E. Lee had been a Yankee.

To view the video, click here.


8 Responses to “What if Lee had been a Yankee?”


  1. 1
    A. J. DiRocco says:

    As an amateur historian, I agree with your analysis. Lee's strength as a commander was really in fighting a defensive battle and reacting to whatever strategy the North threw at him. Since the North HAD to be on offense, he would have been at a distinct disadvantage.

  2. 2
    Bill Hutchins says:

    Considering the significant resources the North had to fight the war compared to the South, Lee could have changed his strategy to be more offensive and may have taken more initative in early battles where is Union counterparts failed to do.so.. Had Lee accepted Lincoln's command request, the Civil War could have been over in half the time

  3. 3
    james says:

    Lee was a master at his craft and a brilliant man.He was opposed to slavery but took on the battle to defend states rights.This is the hypothetical question of all time in America's history.I believe he could have indeed whipped on the South with all of the Norths resourses.But instead chose right over might.The war of the states should never have been fought but the will of Abe and his whig policies of Centalized Federal Government won.With thousands dead and states rights dead also.

  4. 4
    Chris Evans says:

    I think that he would have defeated the Southern forces quicker. He would have done a superior job than McClellan did in 1862. Lee had a killer instinct that many Union commanders lacked.

    I also think he would have had better relations with Lincoln than most Union Generals had, similar to Grant.

    He would have been able to attack with the knowledge of the resources of men and material of the North behind him. For example, he could have implemented a similar strategy to Grant's Overland Strategy of hammering away at the Army of Northern Virginia much earlier in the war and forced the issue to be decided in the first year or two. The Confederates would not have had a similar General to Lee to oppose these movements in such a wily fashion as he did so many times to Union forces in the East.
    Chris

  5. 5
    Emmanuel Dabney says:

    Lee's commentary on slavery and his actions in the management of his own slaves and the Custis estate slaves during the antebellum period do not find a Robert E. Lee opposed to slavery OR in favor of black equality. This trope can be easily found to be untrue through reading of Lee's letters. Lee's upbringing with slaves in the household of his parents, extended family, his marriage into the Custis family has all been analyzed most recently by Elizabeth Brown Pryor in Reading the Man (Penguin Group Inc., 2007).

  6. 6
    Walter Ring says:

    As an amateur historian, I agree with your analysis. Lee's strength as a commander was really in fighting a defensive battle and reacting to whatever strategy the North threw at him. Since the North HAD to be on offense, he would have been at a distinct disadvantage.

    Ma'am or sir, with all due respect, have you studied the battles of Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, or Chancellorsville? Lee was a genius, whether it was on the offensive or defensive. If Lee had sided with the North, it would have been because Virginia chose to stay in the Union, which would led to a much shorter war for several reasons. First, because of Lee's military genius. Second, Virginia had more industry than the rest of the South COMBINED and many Northern states had more industry than Virginia which would have put more industry on the Union side. Third, several other Southern states would have not joined the Confederacy which obviously would have put even more manpower on the Union side.The war would not have lasted a year without Lee and Virginia on the Confederate side. God bless Lee and Virginia for siding with the South.

  7. 7
    Steve Lewis says:

    Just think of the fantastic battles that Lee and Jackson would have had against each other. Would Jackson's audacity have defeated Lee's calm persistence on the battlefield?

  8. 8
    William Hale says:

    Let me correct some errors here.

    1) James- Lee chose might over right, deciding to commit treason against the USA in a resort to the power of a bullet rather than allowing the resort to the ballot to be upheld.

    2) Chris Evans – My aunt sally could do a better job of being a field general than McClellan, that isn't the point. As the speaker said, Lee would have had to go into the Battle of Bull Run with an untrained army and he may not have survived the political in fighting that occurred after the loss. McClellan was a genius at training and organizing the AoP, I have no doubt that if Lee took over the AoP after 2nd Bull Run, then Lee would have been able to use it wonderfully. But the question is, would he have been able to train the AoP as well as McClellan did and would he then have survived the losses until the AoP was fit?

    3) Walter Ring – you make several mistakes, first is that your assumption that Lee would only have followed VA, he was conflicted over what to do, his duty or his heart, in the end he followed VA, but that doesn't mean that the decision couldn't have gone the other way as it did for other Virginians like George Thomas. Second, Lee was not the genius that you are making him out to be. The Seven Days battles was a strategic victory for Lee, but the fact is that because McClellan was convinced that Lee must have 200k men, even though the AoP won 5 of the 6 battles, McClellan continually ordered its retreat and allowed the corps commanders to run the battles as he was down river. 2nd Bull Run Lee ordered Longstreet to immediately attack Pope flank, he refused until he was ready and when Longstreet was finally prepared his attack was devastating. Are you seriously trying to use Fredricksburg as an example of Lee's brilliant tactical ability? Chancellorsville took Lee completely by surprise, had Hooker not ordered the AoP to stop, they would have met Lee rushing from Fredricksburg toward the Wilderness in the open field with only half of his army. In addition had ANYONE with a brain been in command of the AoP during the battle of Chancellorsville and noticed part of the enemy marching to the south, he would have immediately attacked the portion of the army still fighting him in overwhelming strength and run over it, thus ending the flank attack by Jackson.

    Lee was an excellent general, but he was not the genius claimed by the Lost Causers after the war and perpetuated by mythology today. He took an already well trained ANV against a superior army with incredibly inferior generals and took advantage of his enemies mistakes which is what good generals are supposed to do, that doesn't mean he is a genius.

    Face facts, the ONE thing that Lee knew and admitted repeatedly, was that if he was ever forced back into the Richmond defenses the war was over, so he knew what Grant's strategy was and still he could do nothing to stop Grant and he ended up exactly where he didn't want to be. It wasn't because Grant was a genius either, it was because Grant was Lee's equal and understood the advantages that he had and wasn't scared of Lee, as McClellan was. He was willing to fight it out all summer with the knowledge that if can get ahead of Lee just once, that Lee would have to fall back on Richmond and the siege would begin. Lee stopped Grant's maneuvers all summer until finally Grant got through and Lee had to march into the defenses of Richmond and the War was basically over.

    Lee was a great general, but he was not a genius.

    4) Steve Lewis – Jackson's genius is another question mark, he made huge mistakes at Kernstown and the Seven Days, and his valley campaign was fought against generals regarded as so incompetent that McClellan didn't want them with him.

    In addition, one reason that Jackson could be so audacious is that Lee always had Longstreet on hand. Jackson was Lee's sword, while Longstreet was his shield and they worked extremely well as a unit.

    Finally, Jackson got a lot of the glory, but Longstreet was Jackson's superior, so your battles would have been Lee vs Longstreet or more likely Lee vs Joseph Johnston once he recovered from his wounds.



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