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Lee and His Generals: Essays in Honor of T. Harry Williams

Edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Thomas E. Schott; University of Tennessee Press

Even though he has been dead for 33 years, the quality of T. Harry Williams’ scholarship remains vital to modern Civil War historians. Ten of his former students, and one almost-student, have collaborated to produce essays in his honor, focusing on Robert E. Lee and his generals. All but one were written for this volume, and all are valuable contributions to the seemingly endless analysis of perhaps the South’s greatest general.

Two of the best essays are actually about Williams himself. Frank Wetta gives a comprehensive accounting of Williams’ career and writings, while Roger Spiller analyzes his stature among American military historians—perhaps incongruous company for a progressive Midwestern agrarian Democrat who avoided any form of government service in World War II and once wrote, “I don’t want to be connected with the army in any way, shape, or form.”

The essay by Williams’ almost-student, Englishman Brian Holden Reid, reviews the ebb and flow of Lee’s reputation since 1964, providing incisive analysis of Lee’s proponents and detractors. Lawrence Lee Hewitt makes a compelling case for a reappraisal of Richard H. Anderson, whom he calls “Lee’s most maligned general.” And Joseph G. Dawson III enters the crowded field of historians discussing J.E.B. Stuart’s questionable conduct at Gettysburg. Like others before him, Dawson concludes there was plenty of blame to go around.

A. Wilson Greene, director of Pamplin Historical Park and an expert on the Siege of Petersburg, persuasively argues in his essay on P.G.T. Beauregard that “[o]nly a markedly lackluster performance by the enervated Army of the Potomac and stellar combat engineering work by Beauregard and his little army allowed the Petersburg Campaign to extend beyond mid-June.” Thomas E. Schott concludes that “[e]ver since the 1870s, when an utterly unreconstructed Jubal A. Early was rendering far better service to the Confederate States than he ever did in a major general’s uniform,” his contrary personality became the public voice of Lost Cause mythology.

The balanced pragmatism exhibited in all these contributions is fitting testimony to the lasting influence of Williams as a teacher and historian.


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.