Monday, April 1, 2019


By John Reeves


Gen. Robert E. Lee, CSA Photo Library of Congress

 THE LOST INDICTMENT OF ROBERT E. LEE , The Forgotten Case against an American Icon,  by John Reeves . A Review and Response


 As most of you know by now I'm a 3,000 year old retired Japanese "demigod" and long time observer of America, like since way before Columbus stumbled across it. I watched the American very uncivil war as it unfolded, and I witnessed the aftermath. I recently observed that certain historical  revisionist elements have been taking down monuments of various Confederate leaders including the formerly much revered Gen. Robert E.Lee late of the Army of Northern Virginia. In THE LOST INDICTMENT OF ROBERT E. LEE , The Forgotten Case against an American Icon, written by John Reeves and published by Rowman and Littlefield (copyright 2018, ISBN: -1-5381-1039-3); John Reeves reminds us that during the General's life time, especially immediately after the civil war he collected a lot of negative press and had some serious enemies who wanted to see him hanged. So badly did his enemies want to see him hanged they even attempted to pack grand juries and a petite federal jury with like minded folk. Supposedly this track by Mr. Reeves takes on the task of explaining how Lee was transformed in the public mind from monster to paragon of virtue. We observe that recent events seems to have reconverted him back into a monster, this book appears to be an attempt to justify that development. 

 On the dust jacket of Reeve's book we read that :

 " History was kind to to Robert E. Lee. Woodrow Wilson believed General Lee was a "model to men who would be morally great".  Douglas Douthhall Freeman , who won a Pulitzer Prize for his subject as 'one of a small company of great men in whom there is no inconsistency to be explained, no enigma to be solved.'  Winston Churchill called him "one of the noblest Americans who ever lived...."

 The stained glass window dedicated to the General in the National Cathedral was one of the memorials and monuments that was recently removed from public view . The pedestal that bore his image at Lee Circle in New Orleans is now standing without the statute while the Democratic administration of the city tries to decide how else they may affect the area so as to remove all memory of the General. General Lee and all of the leaders of the Confederacy are no longer politically correct objects of any public affection. How did General Lee rise from a public perception as a "monster" to an icon of virtue, and fall again to an officially ( at least by democratic city administrations in the south having public monuments to Confederate leaders) despised "monster'?

 The truth is, as Mr. Reeves points out,  that Robert E. Lee in his life time was lionized by about half of American society and soundly hated by the other half. His rise in public estimation both nationally and abroad to a reputation as a paragon of soldierly virtue came after his death. According to Mr. Reeves and to Democratic politicians such as the former Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu, who supervised the removal of the Lee and other Confederate monuments from the city scape; the scrubbing of the General's reputation was the work of the Southern Historical Society and especially one of its most prolific writers Gen. Jubal Early, CSA. According to the proponents of the removal of the monuments, and Mr. Reeves, the writers of the Southern Historical Society created the "myth" of the "Lost Cause" which rehabilitated General Lee's reputation with inhabitants of the North, and abroad. This "myth" as the opponents of seeing any of the Confederacy's leaders military or civil as anything other than monsters is based on a consistent body of writing out of the Southern Historical Society in the late 19th and early 20th century that presented some ideas that the politically correct crowd now see as onerous, if not heinous.

   Chief among those supposed "myths" addressed by Mr. Reeves was the idea that the South didn't go to war over slavery but for states rights . All such objectors to the idea that preservation of chattel slavery wasn't the primary goal of the South conveniently ignore that slave states such as Delaware, and Kentucky that weren't also cotton producing states, and didn't succeed from the Union. Why? No where do the proponents of a Southern white wash of history ever want to mention the dispute between Southern planters and Northern textile manufactures over open markets. The North wanted severe export penalties upon Southern exports of cotton to England. England was  willing to pay world prices, while the Northern Textile interests wanted the South to have to sell to them at low prices dictated by the fact that Southern supply outpaced Northern demand resulting in depressed prices. Never will you hear from the proponents of Southerners as monsters the effect that low cotton prices had on perpetrating the slave system in the South. If you are forced to produce at extremely low prices even free laborers will be forced into near starvation wages. 

 This economic dispute, unmentioned in Mr. Reeve;s book,  precedes the states rights issue. When the South could not get any relief from Congress on the tariff issues there was a realization that the cotton producing states (not all of the slave states) faced perennial economic subjugation to the Northern tier of states. Among the possible remedies was succession which now seems far fetched. However, prior to the civil war the U.S Military Academy at West Point, NY taught that states had a right to succeed , the constitution itself being silent on the subject. Most people in the pre-Civil War United States on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line viewed themselves as primarily citizens of their native state and secondarily citizens of the Federated nation called the United States of America. Their history taught them that the States created the Federal Union, so it was logically assumed that the states could dissolve it or individual states with draw. General Lee pointed this out in his own defense when he answered a subpoena from Congress noting that before the start of the war, the constitution was silent on the subject of succession and the right was assumed. He did not incite anyone to succession, it was an official  act of his native state, and place of official residency that he initially opposed but was swept along with it once it was decided. The General also noted that the issue had at the time of his appearance before Congress been decided by force of arms, and the leaders of the South now conceded the point. 

 The General did lament that the decision by force of arms placed the Federal union in the ascendancy over the states and that he regarded this as a danger to freedom. The debate over states rights continues to this day. Why do we have states vice Providences? There is supposed to be a significant level of sovereignty not to be trampled on even in a state that is part of a Federation. But to today's progressive liberals hold such a views to be "racists". To the liberal progressives of today to believe that states have sovereign rights of any sort is speech that is permitted to be suppressed.

 Mr. Reeves correctly points out in his book that many Northerners and also the Tennessee born President Andrew Johnson firmly believed that Jefferson Davis and General Robert E Lee were part of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. He also correctly and fairly points out  that they held these views despite a total lack of evidence. General Lee strongly condemned the murder of President Lincoln as a most heinous act as soon as he learned of it, and expressed serious doubt that any Southern leader military or civilian would have condoned it. Mr. Reeves also points out that debate over how to indite Davis and Lee for the Lincoln assignation delayed their progress on attempts to bring them to trial on capital treason. Davis was already in custody and scheduled for trial in Washington DC when preliminary motions and other actions went against the prosecution.

  First it was decided that the military tribunals which hung the Lincoln conspirators and the Commandant of the infamous Confederate POW prison at Andersonville would be the end of military tribunals. Mr. Reeves doesn't mention that such tribunals in the occupied Southern States had hung quite a number of "rebels" some on dubious evidence of actual crimes and some for actions that today we would call "civil disobedience". One such was the trial and execution of an individual in New Orleans who took down the Stars and Stripes from atop the Custom House. At the time New Orleans was occupied by the Union Army but had not surrendered, so this action was an act of symbolic civil disobedience by a citizen of an internationally recognized belligerent. The perpetrator injured no one. Yet he was executed in violation of the international laws of war even as understood in the nineteenth century. Then of course there was the attention that the Federal government was drawing to itself concerning the behavior of its own forces such as the scorched earth policies and the burning of Atlanta. Great Britain had sent military observers into the field with the Confederate Army and they had observed some unflattering behaviors of the Union Army to say the least. While Great Britain didn't join the war on the side of the South, as the Southern leadership had hoped, they did recognize the belligerency of the South. The military tribunals were not endearing the newly restored American nation to the world. There was a court order that Davis and 36 or so Confederate leaders including General Lee should be tried for Treason by a Federal District Court in Virginia where their alleged "crimes" took place . Davis remained in custody. Lee with the help of General Grant successfully maintained that he was a "paroled prisoner of war" and remained free until such time as the war would be officially declared over.  The military occupation of the South made any declaration of "peace" not too palatable to the international community. During the Delay Congress acted with a general amnesty and that killed the indictments of Confederate leaders. General Lee continued as President of a impoverished Virginia College and Davis retired to a home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Both men lost virtually all of their property and wealth to a combination of the fall of the Confederate monetary and banking system, and Federal property seizures. 

 And so the proponents of hanging General Robert E. Lee lost their opportunity to officially bury him as the "monster" they portrayed him to be. General Early returned from his exile in Canada and began to write. Jefferson Davis wrote his famous "APOLOGIA" and the Southern Historical Society began to publish writings that pointed out the causes of Southern belligerency other than slavery, an issue they clearly avoided. Among the points that the writers of the Southern Historical Society pointed out was the motivation of the Southern enlisted soldiers. Most, according to the society's writers, saw the union forces as invaders of their native lands, and not being slave holders themselves (only a little more than 1% of the Southern white population could afford slaves) did not rally to any banner purporting to defend the "peculiar institution", they were simply defending their homes. The burning of Atlanta, the scortched earth policy of the "march to the sea, and the occupation of New Orleans by General "Spoons" butler would prove their homes needed protection.

 Thus began the era between 1870 and about 1930 that Reeves and former Democratic and leftist mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu refer to as the era of the "Lost Cause Myth".  This is an era that Reeves and Landrieu are quite open about labeling a generator of a "false narrative". Reeves notes near the end of his book his true opinion that the war was fought primarily over slavery and was an evil cause violating the essence of our founding principals. He states that ..."Only by restoring the black experience to the narrative does that become clear to all Americans" This where I loose all respect for him as a historian. 

 By contrast General Jubal Early wrote:
  " Shall we permit the indictment to go forth to the world and to posterity without vindication of our motives and our conduct? Are we willing that our enemies shall be historians of our cause and our struggle? No! A thousand times no!

 My observation is that slavery was actually recognized and addressed in the U.S. constitution as originally written. It was a societal problem that predated the Revolution and a can that the American founding fathers kicked down the road. It eventually bounced up and hit their descendents in the face. Slavery along with the issue of succession and Federal supremacy were dealt with by force of arms. The views of the Southern Historical Society did in fact not incorporate the views of Black America or the abolitionist, but neither did the Society or its various authors seek to suppress those views. The Black and abolitionist views drew much ink both before and after the close of hostilities. While no one defends the leaders of the Confederacy today it is not because they are somehow indefensible, but because it has become politically incorrect to do so. Anyone who dares hold a view separate and distinct from the Progressive liberal narrative espoused by the progressive liberal media is labeled "racists", even on issues that have nothing to do with race. The progressive liberals say that all the Confederate leaders were monsters and that the Southern Historical Society and their writers were myth makers.

 Apply the PC logic for a moment to the liberal progressive demand that the "Era of the Lost Cause" with all of its writings and land marks be erased from history, and that the leaders of the Confederacy be labeled forever "monsters", and that anyone who says other wise is engaged in impermissible speech. Really, if the White Southern version of history is incomplete because it doesn't consider the "black experience", isn't it true that  any version of history, including the black or abolitionist history. that simply dismisses the narrative of the Southern leadership is incomplete. The first rule of reliable historical research and good forensics in any field is that the narratives of all participants must be considered. It has always been true that each side will write their own, but the victors will write the history. That is at least true until events are so distant in the past that they have no emotional hold over the generations reexamining history. 

 Yet the liberal progressives insist that we eliminate what they call the "Lost Cause Era" along with all of its artifacts and writings and adopt the narrative of White Southerners as monsters completely and without question. No one who wants to eliminate any of the voices of the past from any side of a conflict should be able to call themselves a historian.

 What a disservice that has been done by the proponents of the destruction and burial of the "Lost Cause Writings and Artifacts". I know Catholic Christians who love to visit Rome. Terrible things were done to Christians at the Colosseum and elsewhere and by people who still have standing monuments there to their memory erected in their own times. You can't find Catholics advocating for the tearing down of the Colosseum or any surviving imagery of Nero and others despite the pain that these people inflicted and was inflicted in these standing ruins when they were viable structures. Yesterday's monument politically correct or not in some subsequent era have a way of becoming over protracted time, an antiquity. With the American tendency to be tolerant of the demands and destructive actions of the PC forces, American Cities, especially in the South at the moment will never develop antiquities. The archives and artifacts and monuments related to the American Civil War should be preserved for the moment somewhere down the road when the then "present generation" can view them without so much emotional baggage. When it comes to this book, this author, the politicians who take solace in this book as they continue to destroy monuments writings and artifacts in an effort to rewrite history to their preferred narrative , `I say act like a responsible adults. This could have been a very useful book had it not been carefully subjected to spin doctoring. If you' re going to read this book I suggest that you also read Jefferson Davis's APOLOGIA at a minimum. There is a lot of historical value in the body of literature produced by the Southern Historical Society. Yes you will find some bias there, but there is plenty of bias in the opposing views plus a desire to suppress any other views or contradictory information, no matter how accurate.

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