Robert E. Lee, the Soldier

by Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925. 8vo. viii+294 pp. Frontispiece and maps. $4.00.
THE Civil War has been amply and variously discussed by American writers, but there will always be an interest in the opinions of foreign military men who take an outside point of view. The judgment of earlier English observers, like Fremantle and Chesney, was no doubt partial and influenced by their decided Southern sympathies. Yet in the case of General Lee, at any rate, the most extreme eulogies of even the earlier English were no stronger than the sober judgment of careful Northern historians, and it was Theodore Roosevelt who declared that Lee ‘will undoubtedly rank as without any exception the greatest of all the great Captains that the English-speaking people have brought forth.’ Among later English studies the Life of Jackson by Henderson ranks as one of the most admirable military biographies ever written, and though Battine’s Crisis of the Confederacy is not equal to Henderson it is most useful and enlightening.
The singular value of General Maurice’s book consists in his own large military experience, and above all in his bringing the most intimate observation and knowledge of the great European War to bear on Lee’s career and military achievements. It is really remarkable to see how the Southern leader anticipated the developments of fifty years later, how great were his versatility and originality, in short how thoroughly he was stamped with the mark of a genius in the art of war.
General Maurice emphasizes from the beginning Lee’s power of organization, the breadth of view with which from the start he grasped the problems to be dealt with, and the energy with which he handled the very imperfect means available for meeting them. Lee’s instinct for discipline is recognized also, both in his treatment of the power above him and in his adaptability to the characters of his subordinates, though here General Maurice finds Lee’s one weakness in a too great consideration for those who did not carry out his orders. Most of all General Maurice insists upon Lee’s extraordinary intellectual power, his insight into conditions and into the characters of men, and his extreme and sudden daring in taking advantage of that insight, balanced by the wise caution which made his successes really a matter of judgment when they sometimes seemed to be a matter of fortune. And General Maurice concludes by placing Lee with Napoleon, Alexander, Hannibal, and Cæsar, among the greatest generals of the world.
No doubt America, all America, has reason to be proud of Robert E. Lee as its greatest military glory. But it has far more reason to be proud of him as one who turned defeat into victory by constancy, by magnanimity, by supreme cultivation of the spirit of sacrifice. Here was a man who might have perpetuated the attitude of bitterness and hostility through the whole South, which worshiped every word he uttered. Instead, he set himself with all his gifts and all his power to rebuilding the edifice he had failed to destroy. By precept and by example he taught his people to labor, to hope, to forget, and to forgive, and he bade them over and over again, in noble and memorable words: ‘Remember, we are all one country now. Abandon all these local animosities and make your sons Americans.’