Total War: March to September 1864

Death of a Cavalier

What was the attitude of the Northern newspapers in May 1864?

There was a new hardline, which was evidenced by the New York Times attack on Robert E. Lee. On May 23, 1864, the Times ran a special column entitled “The Chivalry of Robert E. Lee.” Readers could see the trend right in the opening sentence, “When monkeys are gods, what must the people be?”

Lee was supposedly the paragon of Southern chivalry, the article declared, but when one traced his bloodlines, he or she found something else entirely. The Times mistakenly declared that Lee’s father, “Light-Horse” Harry Lee of Revolutionary fame, was his granduncle, but it correctly described his financial and personal woes. Another Lee relative was found, upon some research, to have voted for approval of the Constitution, but to have privately said he hoped it would unravel one day. What is significant about the essay, or column, is that one cannot imagine it having been written three years earlier. The Times went as far as to say that when one committed an act of treason—and in Lee’s case this meant abandoning the flag under which he was raised—it perverted something in one’s character, an irretrievable error. Very likely, this new hardline was the result of the enormous lists of battle casualties.


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