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Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox Hardcover – October 28, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Contradicting popular belief that Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was defeated because it was vastly outnumbered, out-equipped, and out-fed, Marvel sets the record straight on the last retreat and surrender of the Confederate army. Concentrating on the final days of the Confederacy in April 1865, Marvel asserts that past works have placed too much reliance on embellished memoirs that bolstered perceptions of the wartime bravery and conduct of both armies. Journalist Marvel, the award-winning author of Andersonville: The Last Depot, has meticulously researched contemporary diary accounts and letters and convincingly concludes that mistakes made by General Lee and his staff, coupled with the huge numbers of deserters during that final week, led to the Confederate defeat. The reader needs prior knowledge of Civil War history to be able to follow the narrative. Suggested background reading includes Bruce Catton's A Stillness at Appomattox and J. Tracy Power's Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox. The narrative would have benefited from larger and more detailed maps. Essential for academic and larger public libraries.
Maria C. Bagshaw, Lake Erie Coll., Painesville, OH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Marvel sets the record straight on the last retreat and surrender of the Confederate army." -- Library Journal

"Offers thought-provoking analyses and insights that will likely stir debate." -- Washington Post Book World

Marvel sets the record straight on the last retreat and surrender of the Confederate army. -- Library Journal

Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1St Edition edition (October 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807827452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807827451
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,732,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

WILLIAM MARVEL is the author of Lincoln's Darkest Year, Mr. Lincoln Goes to War, Lee's Last Retreat, Andersonville, and several other acclaimed books on the Civil War. He has won a Lincoln Prize, the Douglas Southall Freeman Award, and the Bell Award.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on October 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William Marvel is well known for books of Civil War history challenging conventional wisdom, such as his very sympathetic biography of Ambrose Burnside. In "Lee's Last Retreat" Marvel's target is the hazy romanticism of the Lost Cause version of Appomattox wherein a band of peerless heroes gracefully surrender their arms only because they faced with a numberless horde of enemies led by the plodding, remorseless U.S. Grant. Marvel successfully demonstrates, in my opinion, that in fact Lee's army at the start of the affair was much larger than popularly supposed -- more than 70,000 men available to him -- and that Lee's army was plainly outmaneuvered and outmarched over the next week, its morale collapsing disastrously as thousands of soldiers deserted its ranks (Marvel includes an interesting discussion of how the records show that the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia were more likely to desert the closer to their own homes they were). Marvel also devotes substantial space to discussing why Lee fatally delayed for an entire day at Amelia Court House, permitting Grant to catch up to him; the usual claim that Lee was waiting for supplies is rejected in favor of an explanation that the failure to erect a needed pontoon bridge over the Appomattox River was the primary reason. And there is an interesting discussion of the final surrender ceremonies. Our traditional view has been largely shaped by the writings of two remarkable men -- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John B. Gordon, both fine warriors and both men unable to resist romanticizing and expanding their own roles in post-war writings; Marvel's version is that mutual salutes exchanged by the two sides never happened and that Gordon tried desperately in violation of the agreed conditions to avoid making a public surrender.Read more ›
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on February 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
William Marvel has come under a fair amount of criticism for this book. Mostly he is accused of being anti-southern and attempting to re-write history in a manner that is not flattering to the troops of the Army of Northern Virginia. On the contrary, I found this to be an engaging book that not only does not rip away the luster of courage that is usually bestowed on the common Confederate soldier but actually accentuates it.
After nine months in the trenches of Petersburg it is no wonder that Lee's men were beaten down. A late uncle of mine fought in the trenches during WW I and his stories of the trenches made it clear to me just how awful trench warfare is. Finally the tenacious Grant turned Lee's flank at Five Forks and the Confederate Chieftain knew the game was up. Marvel takes up his story with the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond and tells the story of the miserable conditions faced by both armies in the days that followed. Lee made mistakes and Marvel has the courage to point them out. Still one has to wonder if Lee could have gotten his army to North Carolina even if he had conducted a flawless retreat. As the author points out, the Yankees could smell a final victory and the chance to at last go home. They were therefore much more inclined to accept a lack of rations and forced marches than were the Confederates. A few more days of hardship could send the men in blue home while all the boys in gray could look forward to was a Yankee prison.
I really have to wonder if Lee really wanted to make it to North Carolina. Marvel fails here to delve into the talks Lee had held with Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge long before Petersburg fell.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Moody on January 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The denouement of the Civil War in the East has been the subject of many volumes from noted historians and battle participants. All seem to paint this episode as some grandiloquent occasion with diplomatic surrender actions from both sides. William Marvel's latest work attempts to refute many of these myths and he indeed does succeed at making this seem like any other Civil War skirmish with "Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox".
Targeting mainly the versions of the Confederate surrender rendered in later post-war years by John B. Gordon and Joshua Chamberlain, Marvel proves that these accounts are largely ficticious and laiden with numerous self aggrandizing points. Marvel systematically shows that the Confederate retreat from Petersburg and the subsequent chase by the Union forces was a desperate action bent on consolidating Southern forces in North Carolina and (hopefully) extending the struggle. The final surrender at Appomattox then, under Marvel's pen, is an anti-climactic action by an exhausted army and leader.
Using in depth narrative and many first-person accounts and diary/journal entries, Marvel recreates the military atmosphere prevelant during the early April 1865 timeframe when the Confederate rebellion reached it's conclusion. The end of the Petersburg siege starts the book and Marvel discusses in detail the actions taken by R.E. Lee's forces to escape from this front and the capital at Richmond to march West towards Amelia Courthouse. Many rearguard battles ensue as the escape route gets very complex with many Confederate divisions and brigades involved. The first myth is dissolved when Marvel refutes the long-held opinion that this escape was essentially doomed by the lack of Confederate provisions at Amelia Courthouse.
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