On Monday 22 April 1861…

Time to Read: Just over a minute

Time to Listen: A little bit more

On Monday 22 April 1861…

Robert E. Lee was named commander of Virginia forces, after turning down the offer to command the entire Union army.

Perhaps the most beloved American General of all time – what were his three most outstanding qualities of leadership?

1. He genuinely cared for his men.

In short, Lee turned a rag-tag bunch of men into one of the most impressive fighting forces history has ever known. And, at the end, at Appomattox Court House, with the South a beaten force, Lee chose surrender on terms that would ensure his men had safe passage home, and could keep their horses.

2. He was a brilliant battlefield commander.

He outwitted his opposite number on the Union side for most of the war, but was eventually crushed by the sheer weight of the Northern army’s numbers. He knew how to do a lot, with a little. Lee’s most brilliantly fought battle was the defeat of Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville on May 1-4, 1863, when he was vastly outnumbered. Sadly, his early victories in the war are overshadowed by his one big mistake – fighting at Gettysburg, when he was advised (By General Longstreet)
not to fight, and instead to march in the other direction, to take Washington, capital of the North.

3. His leadership skills were transferable across different contexts.

He inherited the debt-ridden Arlington plantation and streamlined its operations, as a teacher he took a backwater college, Washington, and transformed it into the prestigious Washington and Lee University, and after the war he became a figurehead in uniting the nation.

The leader in history that I would most want to meet –
General Lee.

With love and best wishes to you all

David

x


6 Comments

  • Kevin Hurst

    Hi

    I am not an expert on the American Civil War but somehow I find it hard to admire a person when you consider what they stood for (slavery) – plus of course we cannot escape the fact (thankfully) that he lost the war.

    You have got me thinking though is it right to blank out all the detestable leaders that have occupied our planet just because they were pretty nasty human beings ??

    All the best

    Kevin

    • David

      Now this is what we want – the first comment being controversial – thank you Kevin!

      The Civil War was caused by far wider issues than just slavery, and Generals of both sides had slaves back home. Lee was an exception, famously saying that “…slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”

      Issues for causing war aside, your question is fascinating.

      Adolf Hitler, arguably the most reviled military leader in history, was the leader whose army conquered Europe in under seven weeks – seven weeks! How did he/they do that?

      And of course history is always written by the winning side – if the Axis Powers had prevailed in World War Two would the French Resistance be remembered as terrorists?

      My view is there are lessons of leadership throughout history in every context, including, and sometimes especially, war.

      David

      PS Told you Stoke would be safe…

  • Francis Greve

    Not sure the French resistance had an element of terrorism within their ranks, although they were often militant and had to be brave and combative to stand up to, and collaborate with, the German army for the good of themselves and the good of who they were trying to help.
    I’m afraid I can’t help think of them as bubbling, loveable rogues having watched Allo Allo!

  • Liam Roake

    French resistance terrorists?!
    Nothing could be further from the truth in my eyes.
    Agree that General Lee is an excellent example of a true leader,

    • David

      Francis and Liam – thank you for your posts. The point I was making was that history is written by the winning side – if Germany had won the war the French Resistance would almost certainly be labelled as “terrorists” David

  • stanford

    The authoritative point of view, curiously..

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