by Charles R. Knight
El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2021. Pp. xviii, 550+.
+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio. $24.37. ISBN: 1611215021
Day by Day with Robert E. Lee
With this work Knight, Military Curator at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, and the author of Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Campaign, gives us a look at the daily activities of Robert E. Lee during the 208 weeks from the secession of Virginia until shortly after his surrender at Appomattox. It is a very detailed treatment fitting somewhere among Lincoln Day by Day, by Earl Miers, Stonewall Jackson Day, by Day by John Schildt, and Civil War Day by Day, by E. B. Long, offering some very useful material for understanding how the war unfolded – what used to be called the “Big Picture”.
Let it be said up front that this book is not for the casual reader. This is quality scholarship, a useful supplemental reference book that will be primarily of interest to scholars and the serious student of Lee and the war, full of detail on the Army of Northern Virginia, decision making at the highest levels, and life in the field.
Some traditional interpretations are confirmed, others are challenged and new perspectives set forth, all of which are of unfailing interest. A few examples related to the Gettysburg Campaign will suggest the value of this work:
- When his son Rooney was captured, Lee, became concerned that he would become a hostage rather than a prisoner.
- During the retreat, an escaped prisoner, Lt. Thomas Norwood of the 37th North Carolina, provided Lee with important intelligence that contributed to the army’s success in returning to Virginia.
- On July 9th, Lee admitted to Francis Lawley and Fitzgerald Ross that had he known he faced the entire Army of the Potomac, he would not have fought at Gettysburg.
- After the campaign, Lee twice wrote George Pickett in an effort to sooth his hurt feelings following the failed July 3rd charge.
Knight provides readers with many details and anecdotes about Robert E. Lee that are not found in Douglas Freeman’s R. E. Lee, as he tells the general’s story on a daily basis. This is not an analytical biography, however, but concentrates on what Lee did, where he was, whom he wrote to or met with, and even what he ate. Readers will come away with a fresh sense of his struggles, both personal and professional.
Although Lee unfortunately did not keep a diary or write memoirs, Knight drew upon an impressive number of manuscript collections; officers’ memoirs, such as those by Walter Taylor and Charles Venable, letters, Lee family reminiscences, and many other primary sources, to offer a window into the thoughts and feelings of Robert E. Lee.
Knight writes very well, and does a great job of using the words of the participants to help us better understand Lee’s day-to-day activities, and makes good use of the many images and maps. A valuable read for anyone interested in the war in the East and, of course, Robert E. Lee, From Arlington to Appomattox is highly recommended.
Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews include The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War, Civil War Places, The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863, America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War, The Women's Fight: The Civil War's Battles for Home Freedom, and Nation, A Republic in the Ranks, An Environmental History of the Civil War, Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America, Arguing until Doomsday, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War, “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour, Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign, Defending the Arteries of Rebellion, A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era, Unlike Anything That Ever Floated, Meade at Gettysburg, A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, Grant's Left Hook, The Winter that Won the War: The Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778, Gettysburg Rebels, and The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River.
Note: From Arlington to Appomattox is also available in several e-editions.
StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium