Robert E. Lee- Brilliant tactician or traitor?

I’ve been kinda torn since my sweetie denounced him as just that, a traitor. I see him as one of the top of his class at West Point. One who took his stock military training and took it to the next level. Took an inferior army and won victory after victory, albeit against McLelland’s “sitting” force.

I know he has a fixed place in military history. But was he a traitor? Or just a victim of his times?

“Brilliant tactician” and “traitor” are obviously not mutually exclusive terms, of course.

:stuck_out_tongue: Good point. I meant this more a poll on his traitor… ness. Personally, I don’t see him as such, but others certainly might.

In my mind there’s quite a bit of difference between someone like Bennedict Arnold and Robert E. Lee. Lee felt more loyalty towards his home state of Virginia and was open about his decision to fight on their side. A lot of people back then, at least in the south, felt more loyalty toward their state then they did the Union. Contrast Lee with Arnold who turned traitor because he felt spurned by his superiors and he wanted to make some money. You could call Lee a traitor, after all he could have been tried, convicted, and hanged for treason had the Union not been so merciful after they won.


I think Lee was a traitor in that he took up arms against his nation. He felt greater loyalty to his state than he did the nation in which army he served. I don’t think he is that different than John Walker Linde the American convicted of serving with the Taliban, both men felt a calling to fight against the forces of the United States.

What loyalty did those of northern states feel to their states? As opposed to their nation? I know many way north eastern states are to this day disdainful of the fed gov. Don’t tread on me and all.

“Treason” is one of those loaded words that tyrants like to throw around in order to suppress dissent, and the framers of our Constitution therefore established a pretty limited definition of treason (which, like many constitutional rights and liberties, was rooted in earlier English or British definitions). The thing is, though, even by the carefully limited definition of treason in the U.S. Constitution:

Well…Robert E. Lee certainly levied war against the United States (and pretty damned effectively, too).

“Treason” for many people seems to be a very emotionally loaded word. Of course it’s a serious crime, the sort of crime that traditionally got you some gruesome and public death, and for many people it seems to be a sort of unforgiveably awful thing, like child molestation.

To me, though, treason is too political for me to view it as some always unforgivable evil. “Treason is a matter of dates”; “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason”, and all that. George Washington and company were traitors; or they would have been considered as such if they hadn’t won.

Treason is a serious crime, yes, but more like murder than child-rape–it can be an utterly heinous act, but it seems easy enought to imagine feeling a certain understanding if not approval of a murderer. (Say, for example, the parent of a child killing the molester of same.) And there many homicides which aren’t murders at all (self-defense, killing in war, etc.), and frequently disagreements about which is which (is so-and-so a lawless vigilante, or a hero who defended himself against a pack of thugs?) A Belgian military officer who gave secrets about NATO defense plans to the Soviets during the Cold War we would probably regard with contempt; but a Polish officer who gave Warsaw Pact defense plans to the Americans may be seen as a hero and a “true patriot”. It matters who you betray, and why.

Now, I consider the Confederate cause to have been a pretty bad one, so I’m not inclined to view Robert E. Lee and the rest as great heroes, however undeniably brave many of them were and brilliant some of them may have been as military commanders. I do think it was the wise and prudent thing to do after the war to temper justice with mercy, rather than putting hundreds of thousands of people on trial.

Much along the same lines… I’m not sure how to Google the exact phrase… Thomas Jefferson said it was a citizen’s duty to rebel against a government they couldn’t abide by.

Whether my personal leaning that REL was sucked into the southern side, by way of family history or vague circumstances or whatever, or if he was a fervent supporter, who rushed to the southern side… wasn’t he justified to fight the government that he so fervently opposed?

Or justified to support the side he found himself on and that he felt more righteous?

I’m not sure I understand the point; some Northerners apparently valued the nation as they fought to preserve it. I know that NY toyed with the idea of leaving the union, but not much came of it.

Lee led an army against the nation that educated him and whose uniform he once wore. He resigned from the US army to join an army that was in rebellion to the US. That seems pretty clearly the acts of a traitor. Whether it is possible to be a traitor and still a moral person is a separate issue.

:stuck_out_tongue: I guess that’s what I struggle with. I revere Lee very much, for his brilliant battlefield manueverings, and for his loyalty to his troops, and their loyalty to him. Yet you are right… he abandoned the army that trained him and took up arms against them.

I know where you are coming from. I grew up in Virginia and my family fought for the CSA, and the myth of the war was very strong as a kid, but at the end of the day you were either with Lincoln or you were against him. Also, there is no denying that the side lead by Lee wanted to preserve slavery.

Can’t he be both, like the future Earl Warren?

We need to consider that the South seceded before hostilities commenced; hence, those members of the US Army who left weren’t US citizens, at least by one method of counting. That would, of course, invalidate the charge of treason.

Maybe. Another point of view might be that secession itself was an act of treason.

What a hoot! All of our Revolutionary War heroes were traitors, you know.

Yes, I know. That is why I said it was a separate issue. For example, I think you could label some of citizens of the Soviet Union who worked towards its downfall as traitors to the USSR, which in my opinion makes them morally superior to those who were faithful to the Soviet system and worked to prop it up.

I can’t agree here. One of the things that distinguishes the USA under its current consitution form the Articles of Conferderation is that the US government has a direct relationship with its citizens. Even if a state seceded, that doesn’t mean that the people of that state ceased to be US citizens.

Well, what I’m saying is, it depends on why he so fervently opposed it. Mere fervor of belief doesn’t really say anything one way or the other, morally speaking. If someone opposes his government because it is or has become an evil murdering tyranny, then his becoming a “traitor” might be quite admirable. On the other hand, if someone opposes his government because it’s fallen into the hands of despicable, wishy-washy liberals who refuse to extirpate the enemies of the True Faith with fire and sword, then he’s both a traitor and a religious bigot.

The Confederacy seceded to preserve slavery; on the other hand, Robert E. Lee famously didn’t even really approve of slavery (or secession). He sided with the Confederacy basically out of sentimental ties to his “native land” of Virginia. I suppose that makes him better than some ardent white supremacist fighting “to keep the Negroes in their place” (and I’m sure a lot of ordinary Confederate soldiers fought for no particular ideological reason, but only out of feelings of emotional loyalty to “their land”), but I still say his emotional feelings led him to choose a bad cause over a better one.

You got it completely backwards. The Don’t Tread on Me flag was used during the Revolutionary War and it had nothing to do with state’s rights. The image of the snake was first depicted during the French and Indian War in a political cartoon. The snake was shown cut up in parts with the legend “unite or die”, so one could argue from the start that the snake represented the Union. More info here.

Maybe you are thinking of the “Live Free or Die” motto on the NH flag. New Hampshire is the most conservative of the New England states, but the motto has nothing to do with disdain for the federal govt. It was adopted as the motto in 1945, hardly a time when the fed govt was out of favor. The phrase was contained in a letter by one of NH’s revolutionary war heroes.