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Robert E. Lee and His High Command

Robert E. Lee and His High Command

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Robert E. Lee and His High Command

Course No. 8557
Professor Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
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4.7 out of 5
80 Reviews
81% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8557
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Course Overview

Few events have captivated students of American history like the Civil War. Its battles are analyzed repeatedly, studied and "what-ifed" by professional tacticians and tireless amateurs. Its profoundly dramatic implications and moments have no parallels in our history, whether it be friend fighting friend, the end of slavery, or an entire society and way of life burned away, sometimes literally. The war's most striking personalities seem somehow magnified—and few among those personalities have ever held our attention like General Robert Edward Lee.

An Embodiment of the Confederacy Itself

With his Army of Northern Virginia, he came to embody the cause of the Confederacy itself, inspiring a commitment from troops and civilians that eventually overshadowed even those given to its political leaders and institutions.

How did this come to pass?

In a war that produced no other successful Confederate armies, how was Robert E. Lee able to create and inspire an army whose achievements resonated not only across the Confederacy but also in the North, as well as in foreign capitals such as London and Paris?

Answers to the Most-Asked Questions about Lee

This course addresses and answers the most-asked questions about Robert E. Lee and the men he chose to serve under him:

  • What was Lee actually like?
  • Was he someone whose character and ideas—as some have claimed—were mired in the past?
  • Was he really an "old-fashioned" general who was too much of a traditionalist and gentleman to fight the kind of modern, ruthless war demanded by the times?
  • Or was he a brilliant and aggressive strategist and tactician who understood exactly the kind of war he would need to wage, the size of his window of opportunity, and the kind of senior officers he would need if his strategy was to succeed?
  • How did he choose those officers, and what personal and tactical characteristics did they share?
  • What experiences shaped them?
  • Why did they succeed or fail?
  • How did what happened on the war’s extraordinarily bloody battlefields influence public opinion on the home fronts of both the Confederacy and the Union?
  • And how did that opinion, in turn, shape the actions of Lee and his officers?

Gain a New Understanding of How the War Unfolded

This course addresses these and other issues with an approach designed to appeal to everyone who wants to understand more about the Civil War and why it unfolded as it did:

  • It’s a course that will appeal whether your interest is in the strategy and tactics underlying its major battles or in the broader context within which those battles took place.
  • If you’re relatively new to exploring this conflict, these lectures offer a refreshingly balanced starting point.
  • And if you’re already knowledgeable, this course will deepen your appreciation of the decisions made by Lee and his generals and the implications they had both on and off the battlefield.

Perhaps more than anything else, you gain a tremendous depth of insight into how those decisions were a function of the individuals who made them. You learn how Lee’s choices in elevating these 15 men to high command influenced, for better or worse, the course of the war.

Guiding you through this human and strategic drama is Professor Gary W. Gallagher, whose 48-lecture course on The American Civil War remains one of our most popular.

Professor Gallagher’s teaching, writing, and research skills have made him one of the most respected Civil War authorities in the world.

Meet the Men Who Waged the Confederacy’s War

As you would expect, these lectures contain vivid portraits of the men whose names are familiar to anyone with even a passing curiosity about this great conflict:

  • Lee himself, whose striking appearance undoubtedly helped contribute to the almost mystical aura with which many authors have endowed him but whose experiences serving under the famous Winfield Scott in the war with Mexico taught him invaluable practical lessons about modern warfare.
  • Lee’s skill at managing military resources and his awareness that audacity and ruthless aggressiveness can contribute to victory against a more powerful opponent threatened to disrupt the Union war effort more than once.
  • "Stonewall" Jackson, whose dogged purpose and initiative helped forge, with Lee, a military partnership second only to that of Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.
  • "Jeb" Stuart, the great cavalryman whose flamboyant battle dress, complete with scarlet-lined cape, yellow sash, and an ostrich plume in his hat, belied his superb skills at reconnaissance and screening, the crucial responsibilities of Civil War cavalry
  • James Longstreet, whom Lee warmly greeted as "my old war-horse" and who served as Lee’s senior subordinate throughout Lee’s tenure at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia.

And you’ll meet others as well, from the profane and acerbic Jubal A. Early, a West Pointer who had chosen law over the military before joining the Confederate forces, to a fascinating group of younger officers.

You also learn how Lee’s officers were often distinguished by extraordinary aggressiveness and courage on the battlefield, often at great personal cost.

A Human-Sized Look At the War

Among them was a young general named Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

The retreating medical wagon carrying him from the battlefield was captured by Union forces. And Professor Gallagher paints a deeply moving scene of several Union officers who had been cadets with Ramseur at West Point—including George Armstrong Custer—coming to sit with him through the night until he died.

This West Point connection was not an isolated incident.

With a wealth of officers who had been trained at West Point—Lee himself had been superintendent—along with those who had come from prestigious academies such as the Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel, the Confederacy had a distinct advantage in the depth of its officer corps.

This was especially evident during the first two years of the war, when many young Union officers were still gaining experience in military basics.

The Confederacy’s Extraordinary Problem of Attrition

Ramseur’s death also illuminates the extraordinary problem of attrition faced by Lee.

You learn that in this last war in which generals actually commanded from the front, attrition among the Confederacy’s generals sometimes exceeded 25 to 30 percent in a single campaign.

The struggle to replace them forms a leitmotif throughout the history of Lee’s army.

Examine the Idea of the "Lost Cause"

Professor Gallagher concludes the course with a highly critical look at the body of post-war writings embodying the viewpoint that came to be known as the "Lost Cause."

This viewpoint, much of it orchestrated by Jubal Early, shunted aside the issue of slavery and used States’ rights and other arguments to defend the Confederacy’s actions. It emphasized Lee’s greatness and the Union’s massive advantage in men and other resources.

You learn that although most modern historians have long abandoned it, the "Lost Cause" continues to be evident in popular conceptions of the war.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia
    Professor Gary W. Gallagher begins by examining the factors that helped make Lee and his army the most important national institution in the Confederacy long before the end of the war. x
  • 2
    The Making of a Confederate General
    Robert E. Lee's early military career affords him a range of experiences and highlights disparate talents that will influence his role as the Confederacy's most famous field commander, even though many would not have predicted success. x
  • 3
    Lee’s Year of Fabled Victories
    Lee's first year in command of the Army of Northern Virginia catapults him to a position of unequaled fame and popularity, cementing a remarkable bond with his soldiers that would endure during the trying times ahead. x
  • 4
    Lee From Gettysburg to Appomattox
    Lee and his army continue to carry the hopes of the Confederacy on their bayonets through the remainder of the war. His surrender to Grant represents the practical end of the war. x
  • 5
    Was Lee an Old-Fashioned General?
    This lecture examines one of the most common portrayals of Lee—as a throwback to an earlier style of warfare, far different from the modern approach attributed to the Union's Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. x
  • 6
    The Making of the Mighty “Stonewall” Jackson
    With this lecture, focus shifts to Lee's most famous subordinate, a once-obscure military instructor whose battlefield record won him renown as Lee's "right arm." x
  • 7
    Stonewall Jackson as Lee’s “Right Arm”
    Lee and Jackson form a legendary partnership, with Lee developing strategic plans that often place Jackson in the role of a semi-independent commander. x
  • 8
    James Longstreet’s Road to Prominence
    James Longstreet stands next to Jackson as one of Lee's two premier lieutenants. With the loss of Jackson at the war's midpoint, he stands unchallenged as Lee's most important subordinate and the Confederacy's best corps commander. x
  • 9
    Longstreet’s Later Confederate Career
    The last two years of Longstreet's Confederate career include more negative than positive experiences, though at the time of surrender, none of Lee's senior subordinates stand higher in his estimation. x
  • 10
    The Rise of Jubal Anderson Early
    Experienced as a lawyer rather than a soldier, this West Point graduate's ability to function in a semiautonomous manner impresses Lee and sets him apart from most of his peers in the army. x
  • 11
    Early’s Path to Defeat
    This lecture examines operations in 1864 and 1865, during which Early justifies Lee's confidence in his abilities yet suffers a series of defeats that eventually brings his removal from command. x
  • 12
    “Jeb” Stuart as Soldier and Showman
    The gaudy trappings affected by this superb officer cannot obscure his superior record as a cavalryman whose skills at reconnaissance and screening—the crucial tasks of Civil War cavalry forces—are unexcelled on either side. x
  • 13
    One Promotion Too Many—A. P. Hill
    We shift our focus to the first of two famous commanders who never fulfilled their early promise and stand as examples of soldiers promoted beyond their levels of competence. x
  • 14
    Forced from Center Stage—Richard S. Ewell
    Richard Stoddert Ewell's record, like that of A. P. Hill, marks him as one who cannot make the transition from division to corps command. x
  • 15
    A Straight-Ahead Fighter—John Bell Hood
    Though few so personify the type of offensive spirit Lee seeks in his officer corps, John Bell Hood's lack of the administrative and political skills needed for high command make failure the dominant feature of his record. x
  • 16
    Could Robert E. Lee Make Hard Decisions?
    Though both historians and Lee's own contemporaries have accused him of being too much of a gentleman to make hard personnel decisions, the historical record suggests otherwise. x
  • 17
    The Problem of Attrition
    With battlefield attrition among generals sometimes exceeding 25-30 percent in a single campaign, Lee's efforts to replace officers wounded or killed forms a leitmotif throughout the history of his army. x
  • 18
    Younger Officers I—Robert Emmett Rodes
    This is the first of four lectures examining a group of talented junior commanders who climb rapidly to positions of considerable authority and directly control much of the most successful fighting in the army's history. x
  • 19
    Younger Officers II—Stephen Dodson Ramseur
    Stephen Dodson Ramseur shares a number of characteristics with Rodes and other successful young officers, including aggressiveness on the battlefield, conspicuous bravery that inspires his soldiers, and a habit of getting wounded that ultimately costs him his life. x
  • 20
    Younger Officers III—John Brown Gordon
    Though entering Confederate service with no formal military training, John Brown Gordon's record compares favorably to those of all but a handful of the most accomplished Confederate generals in the eastern theater. x
  • 21
    Younger Officers IV—Edward Porter Alexander
    "One of a very few whom General Lee would not give to anybody," this young artillerist's eye for ground, grasp of artillery tactics, and overall brilliance places him in a position to affect the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. x
  • 22
    Gifted but Flawed—J. E. Johnston and Beauregard
    Though they consider themselves Lee's peers—if not his superiors—as field commanders, the records of Joseph E. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard reveal an absence of the key attributes that helped fuel Lee's accomplishments. x
  • 23
    Drama and Failure—Magruder and Pickett
    The careers of both John Bankhead Magruder and George Edward Pickett reveal much about what Lee required in his senior leadership. x
  • 24
    Before the Bar of History—The Lost Cause
    This final lecture critically examines an interpretation of the war that remained influential for many decades afterward and continues to be evident in popular conceptions of the war. x

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Your professor

Gary W. Gallagher

About Your Professor

Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. He graduated from Adams State College of Colorado and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to teaching at UVA, he was Professor of History at The Pennsylvania State University. Professor Gallagher is one of the leading historians of the Civil War. His...
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Robert E. Lee and His High Command is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 80.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Worthwhile Being a big fan of The Great Courses, most of my reviews are strong endorsements for courses that have been particularly impressive which I would like recommend to others. True, there have also been a couple of strongly negative reviews for courses that seemed to miss the mark and in my opinion were best avoided. This is my first ‘middling’ review - it was good, glad I listened, but could have been better. I imagine that most listeners look for the same things from a Great Course that I do - some deep insights that give us a new perspective, some interesting ‘nuggets’ of the ‘take home message’ variety, and some entertainment. Prof. Gallagher’s overall main insight is very interesting - that during the course of the Civil War there were only three men - Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, and Jubal Early, from all the officers available to the Army of Northern Virginia, capable of command at the corps level. Many others did quite well as divisional commanders but were found wanting when they were promoted. Part of this was undoubtedly the structure of the army, which was divided into only two, then three corps. At Gettysburg, for example, the 90,000 Union troops were in seven corps, the 70,000 confederate troops were in three. Expecting one general to control a corps of 25,000 to 30,000 men was apparently a mistake. Paradoxically, the Union army could never find a good commanding general of the army, but developed several very solid commanders for their smaller corps. Most readers with knowledge of the Civil war are aware of this, but the fact that only three men arose who could handle the task is a valuable insight. The course is divided into several sections - Lee’s generalship, Jackson and Longstreet, the corps commanders who didn’t get the job done, and promising younger commanders who might have been promoted. The section on Jackson and Longstreet, easily the most interesting, is very repetitive. Prof Gallager’s main point is that Jackson was better at independent command while Longstreet was the better battlefield tactician under Lee’s direct supervision. Honestly, this oft repeated argument is not convincing. The case against Jackson is made based on deficiencies in the Seven Days Battles and Fredericksburg, in both of which Jackson was successful. Yes, it is true Longstreet bungled badly in his one true independent command, the Knoxville campaign against Burnside, but by far Longsteeet’s best performance was at Chickamauga, where he was virtually an independent commander. Given their personalities and relationship, one can hardly imagine Longstreet would take any orders from Braxton Bragg more specific than ‘ Put your Corps in the right flank.’ The sections on Early, and on Rhodes, Ramseur, Gordon and other promising younger generals, are largely confined to the second Shenandoah campaign - (not “Jackson’s” but “Sheridan’s”. )You will learn a LOT about this campaign and, honestly, having occurred after Gettysburg, the Wilderness etc etc, where the issue of the war had already been decided, this is a bit of an afterthought. Had any of the younger generals proven themselves worthy of corps command, (almost all were killed), it would not have mattered as there was little left to command. All in all a good listen, an interesting comparison of the eccentric Jackson and the stolid Longstreet and how Lee attempted generally with great success, until Jackson’s death, to utilize the talents of each, but with a bit too much ‘dead space’ to rank with the best of The Great Courses’ offerings.
Date published: 2018-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good presentation. Exposed to much detail previous unknown reference Confederacy.
Date published: 2017-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Strengths and Weaknesses An in-depth account of the strengths and weaknesses of the command structure of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Date published: 2017-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of America's most tragic figures I bought this last year when the statue controversy started to heat up and wanted to know more about the man. Great history,so sorry to see Americans no longer learn this tragic story /
Date published: 2017-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Content and Careful Analysis I thought this was an outstanding series. It is chocked full of information, original sources, extra nuggets, clear chronology, and careful analysis by Professor Gallagher. He seems careful to be fair and objective. He discusses both sides of things debated. You can make up your own mind about those. His style is the same as his larger series, American Civil War, which is truly outstanding, too.
Date published: 2017-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Lectures I bought the Gallagher's set on the Civil War. It was an outstanding series of lectures. This set on Lee is too. Very informative.
Date published: 2017-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intense Presentation I am happy that I bought this series. Mr. Gallagher brings us the men with their honors and faults. It is interesting to make me sit and listen to something for the whole half hour when I usually get up and move around for TV.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved the Course - Gained New Perspective! Professor Gallagher's course provides a great overview of the challenges facing the CSA as well as a very detailed and informative look at the leaders available to the South. The lectures focus on one or two military leaders, providing both a solid biography and a detailed battlefield accounting for each. I have a much better appreciation of the opportunities and challenges facing the Confederacy, thanks to this course. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2017-01-13
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