The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case Against an American Icon

John Reeves. Rowman & Littlefield, $27 (264p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1039-3

In this well-crafted narrative, Reeves demystifies the Confederate general Robert E. Lee and the reasons he was given amnesty after the Civil War. After the end of the Civil War, Tennessee-born President Andrew Johnson and members of Congress vehemently argued in favor of indicting and executing Confederate leaders, while Ulysses S. Grant, who enjoyed rising popularity as a magnanimous war hero, publicly argued for amnesty for his former rival. Though Lee was reluctant at first to take the oath of loyalty to the United States that Johnson required for amnesty, he finally did upon becoming president of Washington College so as to “set [the students] an example of submission to authority.” By 1900, he was a popular, even heroic, figure in both the South and the North. A substantial look into Lee’s own letters and public opinions on slaves and freedmen offers the strongest refutation of this supposed benevolence; Lee favored extreme racial inequality, though he did argue against the “theory” of slavery. Reeves offers a timely portrait of how the cults of Lee and the states’ rights lost cause became firmly entrenched in American culture within only 25 years of the Civil War—and still haunt 21st-century debates over Confederate monuments and battle flags. [em](May) [/em]