After his rise to fame, the judgement of Robert E. Lee carried tremendous weight with influential people throughout the South. His clear and logical views were sought on matters of importance, and in many instances the Government acted according to those views. No Southerner was more devoted to the cause. No soldier strived harder to secure victory for the South. Yet Lee was dubious at best for the South's chances of gaining its independence. At the beginning of the war, before any of the bloody battles had been fought, before the land had been scarred by the ravages of war, he had prophesied its outcome, and his insight was so correct that it could have served as a script for what was to follow. In the spring of 1861, his views were not in line with popular opinion, though. Easy victories and the glamour of war was the talk of the day. Keeping his thoughts free from such talk, Lee described how the war would be fought as he saw it:
"I fear our people do not yet realize the magnitude of the struggle they have entered upon nor its probable duration, and the sacrifices it will impose on them. The United States Government is one of the most powerful upon earth. I know the people and the Government we have to contend with. In a little while they will be even more united than we are. Their resources are almost without limit. They have a thoroughly organized Government, commanding the respect, and, to some extent, the fears of the world. Their army is complete in all its details and appointments, and it will be commanded by the foremost soldier of the country, General Scott, whose devotion to the Union cause is attested by his drawing his sword against his native state. They have also a navy that in a little while will blockade our ports and cut us off from all the world. They have nearly all the workshops and skilled artisans of the country, and will draw upon the resources of other nations to supply any deficiency they may feel. And above all, we shall have to fight the prejudices of the world, because of the existence of slavery in our country. Our enemies will have the ear of other powers, while we cannot be heard, and they will be shrewd enough to make the war appear to be merely a struggle on our part for the maintenance of slavery; and we shall thus be without sympathy, and most certainly without material aid from other powers. To meet all this we have a Government to form, an army to raise, and equip, as best we may. We are without a treasury, and without credit. We have no ships, few arms, and few manufacturers. Our people are brave and enthusiastic, and will be united in defence of a just cause. I believe we can succeed in establishing our independence, if the people can be made to comprehend at the outset that to do so they must endure a longer war and far greater privations than our fathers did in the Revolution of 1776. We will not succeed until the financial power of the North is completely broken, and this can occur only at the end of a long and bloody war. Many of our people think it will soon be over, that perhaps a single campaign and one great battle will end it all. This is a fatal error, and must be corrected, or we are doomed. Above all Virginians must prepare for the worst. Our country is of wide extent and great natural resources, but the conflict will be mainly in Virginia. She will become the Flanders of American before this war is over, and her people must be prepared for this. If they resolve at once to dedicate their lives and all they possess to the cause of constitutional Government and Southern independence, and to suffer in modern times, we shall, with the blessing of God, succeed in the end; but when it will all end no man can foretell. I wish I could talk to every man, woman, and child in the State now, and impress them with these views."
All Lee's views proved correct. His people did unite behind the cause and they came very near to success on several occasions, but the strength of the North that Lee noted, eventually proved to be too much to overcome.
D Jarwick, 43rd North Carolina
Extract from Campfires and Campaigns of The Civil War, by Robert P Broadwater.
The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, June 2000