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Long's memoir of General R. E. Lee.

A review by J. Wm. Jones.
Memoirs of Robert E. Lee: His Military and Personal History. Embracing a large amount of Information Hitherto Unpublished. By A. L. Long, formerly Military Secretary to General Lee, afterwards Brigadier-General and Chief of Artillery Second Corps Army of Northern Virginia. Together with incidents relating to his private life subsequent to the War, collected and edited with the assistance of Marcus J. Wright, formerly Brigadier-General Army of Tennessee, and Agent of the United States for the Collection of Confederate Records. New York, Philadelphia and Washington: J. M. Stoddart & Co. 1886.

We never fail to seek and to read with interest any and everything which can shed light on the life and character of General R. E. Lee, and hail with peculiar delight any new contribution to our knowledge of this superb soldier and peerless Christian gentleman. Knowing well the ability of the gallant and accomplished soldier, General A. L. Long, and his peculiar qualifications for his task, from the fact that he served for a time as military secretary and confidential staff-officer of General Lee, and afterwards as Chief of Artillery of the old Second [564] corps, we expected a book of deep interest and great historic value. We have not been disappointed. General Long has done his work admirably, and deserves the thanks of all admirers of our grand old chieftain—all lovers of true greatness and true nobility.

The real object of General Long's book is best given in the following extract from his preface: ‘To overcome the inactivity to which loss of sight has for some years subjected me, I have sought occupation in recording the recollection of familiar events. Having obtained a slate prepared for the use of the blind; I soon learned to write with a moderate degree of legibility. In order to excite a pleasing interest in my work, I undertook something that might prove of future benefit. Having served on General Lee's personal staff during the most important period of his military career, I began an eye-witness narrative of his campaigns in the war between the States. * * * * * * * My work is now completed, and I offer it to the public, hoping it may prove of value as a record of events which passed under my own observation, and many of which have been described directly from my notes made at the time of their occurrence. It is not intended to be a history of the war in detail, but a statement of my personal knowledge of General Lee's life, actions, and character, and of the part played by him in the great events of which he was the ruling spirit.’ * *

This design to make a narrative of personal recollections of Lee, and of the great events of the war in which he figured under the eyes of our author, has been so admirably done and is so valuable a contribution to the material for a biography of the great chieftain, as to make us on the one hand admire the patient perseverance of the blind soldier whose memory was quickened as he ‘fought his battles o'er again,’ and, on the other hand, to deeply regret that the sad affliction of his blindness prevented his thorough study of the official records on both sides, so that he might have added to his exceedingly valuable work the full statement of relative numbers and able criticism of military movements of which General Long is so capable.

But, then, had he been spared this sore affliction—this ‘thorn in the flesh’—in the loss of his vision, he might have been (like Venable, and Marshall, and W. H. Taylor, of Lee's staff, and others of our ablest soldiers) so absorbed in active business that we should have lost these invaluable Recollections of Lee, as a gallant and accomplished soldier saw him.

The genealogy of the Lee family, and the account of the early [565] youth and opening manhood of Lee, are very interesting, and contain some new matter in the reminiscences of cotemporaries of the boy, the cadet, the skillful young engineer officer, and the account of his marriage to Mary Custis, and home life at Arlington.

The sketch of the career of ‘Captain Lee’ in the Mexican war, is the fullest and most valuable which has yet been published, and is rendered the more interesting by contributions of General Wilcox, General Hunt, and General J. E. Johnston, besides free quotations from the official reports, which show that even then he was the rising soldier of the army.

The life of Lee from the Mexican war to the breaking out of the great war between the States—his service as engineer near Baltimore; his three years as Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, and his service on the frontier as Lieutenant-Colonel of the famous Second cavalry—is briefly sketched.

His views and feelings on the breaking out of the war are presented in interesting letters, which had been before published, but are none the less valuable as showing the real sentiments of this great man.

General Long brings out clearly the invaluable service rendered by General Lee as commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces, and for a time of all of the Confederate forces in Virginia, in organizing, disciplining, and equipping the raw recruits and preparing them to win the first battle of Manassas and other victories of the next year.

Shortly after the battle of First Manassas, General Long had his first interview with General Lee, and was made Major and Chief of Artillery to the Army of Northwest Virginia. Henceforth Long served to the sad end at Appomattox, under the immediate eye and in the most confidential relations with General Lee, and we have a narrative greatly enhanced in interest and value by this fact. The writer of this review remembers to have heard General Lee, upon more than one occasion, speak in high terms of General Long—his ability as a soldier and his character as a man—and the remainder of the memoirs of General Lee's military career are therefore the work of a competent military critic, who speaks of what he saw and learned of General Lee himself, and of which admiring friends may justly say (what our author's own modesty would forbid), Magna pars fuit.

We regret that the late date at which we have received the book (only several days before closing this volume), and want of space, must compel us to omit a detailed review of the admirable [566] account given. We can only indicate the headings of the chapters as follows: ‘West Virginia Campaign,’ where Lee sacrificed his own reputation rather than to sacrifice his men or injure the reputation of others who were ‘striking for the defence of the country as best they could’—‘The South Coast Defences,’ where General Lee left the impress of his engineering skill, which aided materially in the heroic defence which afterwards followed—‘The Peninsula Campaign,’ which brought McClellan to the gates of Richmond, and by the wounding of General Johnston at Seven Pines put Lee in command of the Virginia army—‘The Seven Days Fight,’ which raised the siege of Richmond, forced McClellan to cower under the protection of his gunboats at Westover, and gave immortal fame to Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia— ‘Pope Outgeneralled,’ shows how ‘Headquarters in the Saddle’ were dismounted, and Pope's braggadocio turned into the wail of a disgraceful disaster—‘Advance into Maryland,’ sketches that campaign—‘Fredericksburg,’ describes that great victory— ‘Chancellorsville,’ tells the story of that great triumph of military genius and indomitable courage—‘Gettysburg,’ is a valuable addition to the great mass of literature on that campaign, and gives cumulative proof of what the publications in our papers had abundantly proven, that the battle of Gettysburg was lost, not by any mistake of General Lee or any failure on the part of his brave boys, but by the disobedience of orders on the part of General Longstreet—‘A Campaign of Strategy,’ gives the history of the Bristoe campaign, the Mine Run affair, and the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid—‘Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor,’ brings out the marvellous :strategy by which Lee outgeneraled Grant at every point, and the ,heroic fighting by which the Army of Northern Virginia defeated the Army of the Potomac wherever they met until after Cold Harbor, having had more men put hors du combat than Lee had, it was compelled to sit down to the siege of Petersburg, a position which it might have taken at first without firing a shot or losing a man— ‘Early's Valley Campaign,’ gives a brief account of ‘the forlorn hope’ which was so ably led against Sheridan's overwhelming masses—‘The Siege of Petersburg’ and ‘The Siege Continued,’ give accounts of operations during the summer, autumn and winter along the long line which Lee and his mere handful of ragged veterans defended against Grant's ‘overwhelming numbers and resources’—‘From Petersburg to Appomattox,’ tells the sad story of [567] the breaking of our lines, the retreat, and the surrender—‘General Lee as a soldier,’ gives the estimate of an able soldier of his great chief, and concludes General Long's part of the book.

The two hundred and seventy one pages which follow are, as we understand it, compiled by General Marcus J. Wright, and embrace chapters headed ‘President of Washington College,’ ‘Home and Society Life,’ ‘Death and Memorial Ceremonies,’ and ‘The World's Estimate,’ and ‘An Appendix’ containing a number of official reports, letters, etc., some of which have never before been published and are of great interest and historic value.

General Wright, who was a gallant soldier in the Army of Tennessee, and is an accomplished gentleman for whom we cherish a high personal regard, seems to have attempted nothing but a compilation, and to have done his work with the earnest industry which characterizes him.

The publishers have brought out the book in good style—the engravings are good, though we do not think they have selected the best likenesses of General Lee, and the whole get — up of the book is satisfactory.

And now, having said so much in praise of a book which we desire to see widely circulated, and which we hope may have an immense sale (especially as a part of the proceeds are to go for the benefit of the ‘Confederate Soldiers' Home’ at Richmond), candor compels us to add several other things:

1. There is a marked and inexcusable failure to give proper credit to other authors, whose work has been freely used—e.g.: No one who has read ‘Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of General R. E. Lee,’ by J. Wm. Jones, can fail to see that nearly every chapter of this book draws largely on that. Letters, anecdotes, and sometimes whole pages of the substance, if not the language of that book, are freely transferred to this. Now we submit that while the free use of this material was entirely legitimate, there ought to have been distinct acknowledgment of the same. And yet, with the exception of a general acknowledgment in the Preface of ‘the use of the publications of Rev. J. M. Jones’ [whoever he is] and others, and an acknowledgment (on page 400), of a single anecdote as taken from ‘Jones's Personal Reminiscences of General Lee,’ there is not the slightest intimation of the wholesale use of a book which cost the author years of hard work.

2. The letters in the Appendix, taken from General Lee's letter books, which are in the War Records office at Washington, are, of [568] course, very valuable, but would be, in our judgment, much more interesting and valuable if they had been published in proper order in the body of the book, and used to illustrate the campaigns to which they refer.

3. The ‘field returns’ are, of course, valuable, but it would have been much more useful if (instead of scattering them through the appendix) their aggregates had been used in the text, and compared with the ‘returns’ of the Federal army in order to show the relative numbers engaged in the great battles.

4. We exceeding doubt the propriety of ‘padding’ the book with General Lee's official reports, which have been frequently published; which are easily accessible to those wishing to consult them, and for which the general reader will not specially care.

5. We are glad to be able to say that the statement made on page 645 to the effect that General Lee ‘prepared no formal report of his operations’ in the campaign of 1864 is incorrect. His subordinates prepared and forwarded their reports, and he had prepared his. These reports were unfortunately burned in General Lee's headquarter wagons on the retreat, but duplicates of many of them were preserved, [we have published a number in Southern Historical Society papers] and Colonel Charles Marshall, who was General Lee's military secretary after General Long went to command the artillery of the second corps, has fortunately preserved the original draught of General Lee's report. Colonel Marshall having been selected by the Lee family to write the full and authorized memoir of General Lee, has in his possession a number of documents of priceless value, besides all of the material which General Lee himself collected for his proposed history of his campaigns and we record here the earnest hope that the day may not be distant when his book shall be given to the world.

6. We are surprised to see introduced at page 464-465, the famous letter which was published at the North during the war, and purported to be a letter from General Lee at Arlington to his son, G. W. Custis Lee, at West Point, but which General Lee said, at the time, he never wrote, General Custis Lee said he never received, Mrs. Lee pronounced spurious, and we have had occasion several times to prove to be a forgery, from internal evidence as well as from the testimony of the family.

7. We are sorry to see also that, on page 338, the author copies an error, into which Jones, in his Reminiscences of Lee, was led, in attributing the incident of Gordon's men refusing to go forward [569] unless General Lee would go to the rear to the tenth of May, 1864, instead of to the twelfth, the real day, as General Early, Colonel Venable, General Gordon, and others showed, and we have several times published in our papers.

But let us say again that despite these blemishes the book is a valuable contribution to our Confederate war literature, and we cordially commend it as worthy of a place in every library. May our gallant friend, General Long, live to write other books, and our good friend, General Wright, be spared long to continue his valuable services to the War Records office.

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