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The Mystery of Robert E. Lee
(Video, Media Consultants, 6003-153 Chapel Hill Road, Raleigh, NC 27607, $39.95 plus $4.50 for shipping and handling).

Early in The Mystery of Robert E. Lee, Elliot Engel tells the tale of Lee’s daughter who, confused by the postwar deification of her father, asked him, “Daddy, I can never remember, was General Lee in the Old Testament or the New Testament?”

Stories such as this one abound in this 63-minute video. The first volume in Media Consultants’ The Legends Series, the video shows Engel, an English professor at North Carolina State University, sitting in a garden, lecturing to the viewer. With enthusiasm and well-chosen words, Engel portrays Lee not as a god, but as a symbol for the South’s struggle. “When you give a talk on Robert E. Lee, you want to talk about Robert E. Lee, the man,” Engel explains. “Unfortunately, all too often, you end up talking about Robert E. Lee, the monument.”

The Mystery of Robert E. Lee chronicles Lee from his childhood with his extravagant father, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, through his marriage into a distant wing of his own family, his military service, and his days as president of tiny Washington College.

Lecturing face-to-face for more than an hour, Engel can be unnerving. Often his eyes shift, as if looking at cue cards stationed behind the camera. His lesson, however, has merit.

Three things Lee learned from his mother, Engel says, served him all his life: economy, denial, and control. “There is no one less a Rebel than Robert E. Lee. He did not want his state to secede. But when his state went out, he had no choice. He was a dutiful son. Now Virginia is his parent; he will follow her.”

Engel offers viewers, his students, the “new testament” of Robert E. Lee, “not the military genius, but the great man, the great and good heart that beat beneath this fantastically important figure of both Southern culture and American history.” The video is expensive (about $40), but it does paint a portrait of Lee rarely seen: Lee as a man, Lee as a son, Lee as a father.

Jeff Clouser