Friday, November 16, 2018

Booknotes: The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee

New Arrival:
The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case Against an American Icon
  by John Reeves (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

The reputations of major historical figures often follow an undulating course according to the changing cultural zeitgeist and many other factors that tell us just as much about the judges as they do those put in the dock. This is certainly the case with Robert E. Lee. While later generations of Americans would find much to admire in Lee, the years immediately following the end of the Civil War were filled with attacks on the character and moral standing of the Confederacy's leading general. It is this early period in the development of Lee's historical legacy that is the subject of John Reeves's The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee.

From the description: "Immediately after the Civil War, ... many northerners believed Lee should be hanged for treason and war crimes. Americans will be surprised to learn that in June of 1865 Robert E. Lee was indicted for treason by a Norfolk, Virginia grand jury. In his instructions to the grand jury, Judge John C. Underwood described treason as “wholesale murder,” and declared that the instigators of the rebellion had “hands dripping with the blood of slaughtered innocents.” In early 1866, Lee decided against visiting friends while in Washington, D.C. for a congressional hearing, because he was conscious of being perceived as a “monster” by citizens of the nation’s capital. Yet somehow, roughly fifty years after his trip to Washington, Lee had been transformed into a venerable American hero, who was highly regarded by southerners and northerners alike."

The book "tells the story of the forgotten legal and moral case that was made against the Confederate general after the Civil War" and "illuminates the incredible turnaround in attitudes towards the defeated general by examining the evolving case against him from 1865 to 1870 and beyond."

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