I was doing some research for my novel when I ran across a series of reviews about a new biograpy about Lee. The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. The book was published in 1978 so that should tell you how old the scholarly journals were that I was reading. LOL! I remember checking out Connelly's book when I first became interested in the Civil War. I read about three chapters and threw it down in disgust.
The reviewers on the other hand were not disgusted. They reveled in Connelly's bravery to take on an icon of American history and deconstruct him. Lee wasn't the paragon of virtue that the Lost Cause devotees had created. The myth of Lee was contrary to the the reality of Lee.
I had to ask myself what all the hoopla was about. The three chapters I read before my disgust took hold were poorly written, poorly researched, and based entirely on Connelly's opinion. It was bad history with one goal in mind. Destroy the reputation of Robert E. Lee. Which, the reviewers thought was a good thing, a brave thing, a necessary thing.
How many Civil War enthusiasts believe that Robert E. Lee was a flawed man just like the rest of us? How many Civil War enthusiasts believe that Robert E. Lee made mistakes when he led the Army of Northern Virginia? How many Civil War enthusiasts believe that Robert E. Lee's homelife might not have been all bliss considering Arlington House was home to his in-laws and his family of seven children (and some of them teenagers!!)? Lastly, how many Civil War enthusiasts believe that Robert E. Lee was frustrated in an army career that he found, at times, stifling and boring?
Now, I came to those conclusions about Lee reading Freeman, Dowdey, and other authors, so Connelly isn't ripping off my blinders and revealing something shocking or devastating. So, again, I ask why were the reviewers positively giddy about Connelly's courage?
Because they do not believe in heroes. For scholars, heroes are passe, the opium of the masses, something that they are duty bound to destroy for the good of humanity. A good, kind, and decent man like Lee must be deconstructed and destroyed. He cannot be allowed to exist in his virtue and his flaws. All Southerns were slave owners and that makes all those who fought in the Army of Northern Virginia racist, redneck, slavers. Oh, my! And no letter, document, diary, or account will convince these historians otherwise. That is how, in their infinite wisdom, they have presented the war in all their writings. So, that is the only truth they will receive.
That is why I threw down Connelly's book. I want my heroes. And Lee is one. I don't need a scholar to protect me from myself. I like the Lee I have come to know just fine. He's not perfect, but that's why he appeals to me. In this crucible called life, he lived for God,stayed true to his code of honor, fought for his home and family, and was an example for his men in battle and surrender. He can be an inspiration to me all these years later.
It's been over 25 years since Connelly's book was published. The poison he released into the historiography has had some effect on Lee's reputation. But not with me. Never with me. So, to all those scholars who think it is their mission to deconstruct Lee, Jackson, Stuart... I have just one thing to say. Get your grubby hands off my heroes!