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Robert E. Lee – a Brilliant Tactician

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Many consider Robert E. Lee a great general and while some do not support the cause he was fighting for they must give credit where credit is due. Lee was a natural leader who took control and led the southern army to great successes during the Peninsula Campaign, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and the most notable, Chancellorsville. Lee continued his command until the spring of 1863, where he experienced a devastating loss at the Battle of Gettysburg. After this, Lee continued to fight with his diminishing army which, after putting up quite the fight, ultimately ended with the North on top. Even with the war lost, Lee still went down as a legendary general and remained a popular figure in the South. One of the reasons for this is due 1 to the fact that Lee won numerous battles and put up an overall good fight against an army that greatly outnumbered his and had access to an almost never-ending supply source. With that said, it brings me to my next argument. 

Throughout the span of the war, it is fair to say that Lee played the cards he was dealt almost perfectly. On the South side stood a smaller army of about 750,000 to 1,227,890 men. On the North side stood an army of 2,673,841 men which more than doubled the South’s army. As far as the resources available to each side go, the North won in almost every category. In industry, the North had a total of 101,000 factories to the South’s 21,000 and had about ten times as many workers as in the South too. In finances, the North had about $234,000,000 in bank deposit compared to South’s $74,000,000 in their bank deposits. Furthermore, one of the most influential factors in the outcome of the war had to be because of the railroads. Spanning across the North was a large railroad network system totalling just over 20,000 miles. In the South, a mere 9,000 miles of railroad spanned across the already down Confederacy. Due to these huge 2 differences, the South was unable to get nearly the same amount of supplies and reinforcements the North was. An example of this can be found in one of Lee’s letters to Mrs. Lee in which he was stationed at Camp Fredericksburg. Lee wrote “The weather is now very hard upon our poor bushmen. This morning the whole country is covered with a mantle of snow fully a foot deep. It was nearly up to my knees as I stepped out this morning, and our poor horses were enveloped. We have dug them out and opened our avenues a little, but it will be terrible and the roads impassable. No cars from Richmond yesterday. I fear our short rations for man and horse will have to be curtailed.” In this letter, it is easy to see the dire situation that the South is in and Lee knows it as well. However, what makes Lee so great is his ability to work with what he’s got. This will later be demonstrated in the Battle of Chancellorsville where Lee pulls off an astounding victory. This was previously demonstrated although during the Battle of Fredericksburg in which Lee once again wins through his strategic greatness. 

During this battle, Lee was, once again, outnumbered and out-reinforced. What Lee did have was great positioning and a great plan. Lee’s army was stationed on higher ground with two smaller forces ordered by Lee to defend both his right and left flank. This proved to be a remarkable move by Lee for when the enemy crossed the river they were met by a strong fighting force that lay down rifle fire and volleys of grapeshot. One not-so-lucky soldier who experienced this painted the scene perfectly once they advanced across the river. “We advanced to support the skirmishers and when we got within range they gave us a volley and ran. We returned the fire and advanced at a charge bayonet, about 40 rods, when we were met by a volley of grape and canister which cut us terribly, but still we went on and took the battery in front, but our reinforcements failed to come up and the rebels rallied and drove us a short distance.” In the end, the Union Army lost more than 13,000 men in the battle compared to the Confederates loss of only 5,000 men. When news of this reached both the North and the South it affected them in totally opposite ways. The North was devastated and gave Lee the mental edge that he needed. The South was thrilled as they have found a new found confidence because of the doings of Lee. Fredericksburg is a prime example of how one man can change the tide of the war. The South was down on troops, down on supplies, and down on spirit. This all changed when Robert E Lee put his brilliant mind to use and beat an opponent that previously seemed unbeatable. Robert E. Lee will go on shortly after in the Battle of Chancellorsville in which he will make a bold tactic that truly shows why he is the best general in the Civil War. The Battle of Chancellorsville seemed like a lost cause for the South. Once again, the South were down on men like every other previous battle in which they fought in. Overall, the South had been very unlucky throughout the Civil War. Earlier, knowing of the great advantage the enemy had on them, the Confederacy was hoping for some support from Great Britain. 

Unfortunately for them, this did not happen. “Ultimately, Great Britain, like France, disappointed the Confederacy‘s hope of an alliance, leaving the outnumbered and out-resourced states, that had left the Union, to fend for themselves.” Despite this, Lee, being the great general he is, decides to outsmart the enemy with position and tactics rather than beat them through brute force. Before fighting began, “General Lee was busily employed in disciplining the forces under his command, and introduced many improvements to the organization of the staff service.” Due to this leading initiative Lee had, the South were better positioned and better prepared for an enemy attack. That is why, whenever the fighting began, the South won an outstanding victory that know one else could have seen coming. 

Overall, Lee was just a generally good person and good general. He saw each individual troop as a human being rather than something that can be simply exhausted. “Lee was markedly free from the chill demeanor of the martinet, and had become greatly endeared to the men by the unmistakable evidences which he had given them of his honesty, sincerity, and kindly feeling for them” Because of the person Lee was and the remarkable feats he accomplished in the war, it is only fair to consider Lee the best general of the Civil War. 


  • Cooke, John. ​A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee​. Gutenberg, 2004.
  • P, Samuel. ​The Battle of Chancellorsville​. Cornell University, 2014.
  • Gayle, Mcfarland. “1863 The Union Triumphant.” 2019, Harleton Tx, Harleton High School.
  • Burch, Martin. “Fredericksburg.” Received by Wife, Hospital, 16 Dec. 1862, Fredericksburg, Virginia.
  • Lee, Robert. “‘Camp Fredericksburg.’” Received by Mary Lee, Camp, 23 Feb. 1863, Fredericksburg, Virginia.
  • ​Editors, NPS. “Facts – The Civil War.” ​National Parks Service​, U.S. Department of the Interior, 6 May 2015, ​​.
  • ​ Editors. “Robert E. Lee.” ​​, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009,

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