Although I read it less frequently than I should, Civil War military history always engrosses me and leaves me wanting to read more. Lee’s Lieutenants by Douglas Southall Freeman was yet another book that proves that observation to be true.
While reading, I was fully absorbed into every single page and wanted to read even more about the talented and courageous officers that carried out General Lee’s commands.
So far, I’ve only finished volume one. But, as with An Army at Dawn, I thought I’d review the first part first and then review the others as I read them.
It’s a book that every American should read, so I highly recommend you order a copy and read it after reading through this review! Enjoy!
Summary of Lee’s Lieutenants
Despite what you might think from reading the title, little of Lee’s Lieutenants is about Lee or his contribution to the war effort. Freeman does mention Lee to some extent, especially toward the end, but most of Lee’s Lieutenants is about the early officers that commanded Confederate armies and the lower-ranking officers that commanded divisions and brigades.
Great men and generals like Stonewall Jackson, AP Hill, Longstreet, Jubal Early, and Richard Ewell are the subject of the book, with other notable leaders like Johnston and Beauregard playing supporting roles. To me, that was perfect. So many other books about the campaigns in Northern Virginia and Richmond’s environs focus almost exclusively on Lee.
Although he’s certainly interesting to read about and a great example of fortitude and firm character, plus an excellent general, it was a nice change of pace to read about other officers and their contributions to the war effort.
Additionally, Freeman only focuses on about the first year of the Civil War in the first volume of Lee’s Lieutenants, which is what I read. So, Lee’s Lieutenants (volume 1) spans from slightly before the Battle of Manassas to a few days after Lee’s victory in the Seven Days Campaign of 1862. By limiting the scope of his work, Freeman was able to hone in on key battles and figures and discuss them in deep detail. That allows him to fully flesh out his descriptions of the Confederate war machine and its leaders without making the book overly long.
Finally, Lee’s Lieutenants is a book that doesn’t shy away from praising Confederate leaders when praise is warranted. When praise is warranted, Freeman is quick to give praise. He is especially quick to do so when describing the conspicuous acts of bravery that many Confederate troops and officers were known for.
But, that doesn’t mean that he’s so pro-South as to disregard Confederate shortcomings. Freeman is quick to point out flaws in many Confederates too, especially if those flaws pertain to a lack of gallantry or organizational capability. So although it could be described as pro-South, Lee’s Lieutenants is anything but a piece of Lost Cause propaganda. Rather, it’s an excellent historical work about brave men and the battles they fought. Because of that, it’s important for every American to reed; we need to learn our history.
Analysis of Lee’s Lieutenants
You might have noticed that I included far less of a summary than I usually do, especially when reviewing books about military history. That’s not because I didn’t enjoy reading Lee’s Lieutenants or there is little to say about it; I did and there is. But, I didn’t want to give anything away. There’s so much in it to unpack, it felt like a crime to give much away in the summary other than the basic details about the book.
Few books about the Civil War are able to get over the fact that some men in the Confederacy owned slaves. For far too many writers, that action is the ultimate evil that made everything else their subject did either repugnant or irrelevant. Or, on the other hand, books written in the South soon after the war are full of lies and propaganda written to make their conduct look better or their cause more just. Neither type of books is ideal or what America needs.
Lee’s Lieutenants, even if not totally objective at times, is able to avoid both of those extremes. Freeman published it in 1942, so while he sides with the South he does so in a friendly and positive way rather than the normal overbearing way that exposes the writer to have questionable motives.
In that respect, it’s similar to Ulysses Grant’s Memoirs. It’s biased, but still mainly factual and thus informative rather than emotion-provoking. So, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s one of the best Civil War histories that I’ve read. The information in it is interesting and factual, Freeman’s style of writing is concise and kept me interested, and the subject matter is something I’ve always enjoyed. So, overall, it was a wonderful book.
Even if you’re not from the South or particularly into the Civil War, you need to read Lee’s Lieutenants. It does everything a truthful book about the Confederate side of the Civil War should do: describes the battles in intimate detail, helps one understand why we should remember General Lee and why great men like Eisenhower openly did so, and, most importantly, shows what happens when respectful dialogue breaks down in America.
Hopefully, America will never have to go through the gut-wrenching turmoil of the Civil War ever again. But, if we follow the lead of Western Europe and forget our history and early values, then it is very possible that we will. When the government’s lack of respect for its citizens is coupled with the violence and antipathy Antifa goons direct towards real Americans that support Trump, our outlook isn’t promising.
But, with the right leaders and mindset, we will prevail. We have to. We’re the last bastion of freedom left on Earth.
The first step to finding the right leaders is understanding our past and our history. That’s why autobiographies and books about the great leaders of history are so important. Lost Victories, Reminiscences, Memoirs, and yes, Lee’s Lieutenants, are all vitally important for you to read.
As the Federalists recognized and discussed in The Federalist Papers, no republic can survive without a well-educated citizenry. Read books about great men and be part of that well-educated citizenry the Founders recognized as vital to our homeland’s survival.
By: Gen Z Conservative