7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Better and more balanced appraisal,
This review is from: Biography - Robert E. Lee (DVD)
I have seen the two recent film biographies of Robert E. Lee. This one is the better of the two. PBS sheds no light at all upon Lee as a military strategist- his most remarkable talent and completely fails to document Lee's last years as President and saviour of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University nor his commitment to the re-unification of his country. PBS tries to depict Lee as an enthusiastic defender and supporter of slavery, an opinion not only unsupported by documents, but positively discredited by documents, one of which I copy here to show that Lee was interested in winning the war for the independence of the Confederate States with or without slavery-- an ironic mirroring of Lincoln's 1st inaugural address in which he sought to preserve the union with or without slavery. Lee described slavery in a letter to his wife thus: "slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country."
Here is a reprint of part of a letter sent to the Confederate government by Lee in the final year of the war to urge them to combine the recruitment of black soldiers with emancipation of all slaves. Strange this was left out of PBS' film:
"We should not expect slaves to fight for prospective freedom when they can secure it at once by going to the enemy, in whose service they will incur no greater risk than in ours. The reasons that induce me to recommend the employment of negro troops at all render the effect of the measures I have suggested upon slavery immaterial, and in my opinion the best means of securing the efficiency and fidelity of this auxiliary force would be to accompany the measure with a well-digested plan of GRADUAL AND GENERAL EMANCIPATION. As that will be the result of the continuance of the war, and will certainly occur if the enemy succeed, it seems to me most advisable to adopt it at once, and thereby obtain all the benefits that will accrue to our cause.
The employment of negro troops under regulations similar in principle to those above indicated would, in my opinion, greatly increase our military strength and enable us to relieve our white population to some extent. I think we could dispense with the reserve forces except in cases of necessity.
It would disappoint the hopes which our enemies base upon our exhaustion, deprive them in a great measure of the aid they now derive from black troops, and thus throw the burden of the war upon their own people. In addition to the great political advantages that would result to our cause from the adoption of a SYSTEM OF EMANCIPATION, it would exercise a salutary influence upon our whole negro population, by rendering more secure the fidelity of those who become soldiers, and diminishing the inducements to the rest to abscond.
I can only say in conclusion that whatever measures are to be adopted should be adopted at once. Every day's delay increases the difficulty. Much time will be required to organize and discipline the men, and action may be deferred until it is too late.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
SOURCE: Reprinted in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series IV, volume III (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900), pages 1012-1013.