The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

nelly, who argued in The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Soci-
ety that Lee was human, subject to the foibles that beset mere mortals.
Alan Nolan in Lee Considered goes a step further, taking historians to task for
failing to investigate Lee. "No other actor in the drama of Western history,"
writes Nolan, "has enjoyed such immunity" from scholarly scrutiny. Writers have
accepted "a set of uniform premises" about the general and competed with one
another "in describing Lee's virtuous qualities and heroic actions" (pp. 6-7).
Nolan examines Lee's views on slavery, secession, Yankees, and the postwar ef-
fort to justify Southern conduct from 1840 to 1865. He finds Lee's ideas on
these issues not materially different from those of most white Southerners. Tra-
ditionally, for example, Lee has been depicted as critical of slavery. Nolan, how-
ever, found convincing evidence that Lee shared the white South's
"commitment to slavery as an institution" (p. 46). Nolan disproves another myth
by demonstrating that Lee harbored bitterness toward the Federals against
whom he waged war from 1861 to 1865.
In questioning Lee's conduct of military operations, Nolan deals with more
substantive matters. He argues that Lee's penchant for offensive battles cost the
South unnecessary casualties, making Confederate defeat inevitable. Lee, Nolan
asserts, should have waged a defensive war to wear down the Northern will to
win. Nolan also criticizes Lee for continuing to fight after realizing that defeat
was inevitable. (In effect, Nolan faults Lee both for hastening Confederate de-
feat and for prolonging the war.)
Nolan's main thesis suffers from a myopic focus on the war in the East. Lee,
whatever his methods, achieved in Virginia the stalemate that Nolan believes
should have been the objective of his strategy. That Eastern stalemate, however,
benefited the North far more than it did the Confederacy. While both armies in
the East were stymied, the Federals won the war in the West. Indeed, one can
make a very strong argument that Northern victories in the Fort Henry-Fort
Donelson-Shiloh campaign made Confederate defeat inevitable months before
Lee ever took command in Virginia. Because of Rebel failure in the West, the
Confederacy's only chance for independence lay in the possibility that Lee could
win so great a victory that the North would give up the effort to defeat secession.
Such a victory could not have been won on the defensive. Lee Considered should
get scholars to think about Lee. If so, it will serve a useful purpose.
Decatur, Georgia RICHARD M. MCMURRY
A Question of Character: A Life ofJohn F. Kennedy. By Thomas C. Reeves (New York:
Maxwell Macmillan International, 1991. Pp. xv+510. Preface, acknowledg-
ments, black-and-white photographs, notes, index. $24.95.)
In A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy, Thomas C. Reeves presents
an interesting, well-written account of the character of President Kennedy. With
a riveting style, he compiles most of the printed material on Kennedy into a fast-
moving biography which will no doubt please those who favor the revisionist in-
terpretation of the thirty-fifth president and his administration. The Kennedy
that Reeves constructs never had a chance to develop character. In detail, Reeves


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 24, 2015.