To make it very clear the Author I do not agree with his thinking on the first part of his essay. Although he is ''redeemed'' on the 2nd part.

Bevin Alexander’s “How Great Generals Win” wasan intellectual watershed in my life. By applying the wisdom of Sun Tzu tofamous Generals throughout history Alexander makes clear that battlefieldwisdom is based in practical reason not passion. War is a contest of mind notmuscle. His list of who counts as a truly great General is both iconic and atthe same time iconoclastic, bolstering the reputation of universallyacknowledged geniuses like Scipio Africanus and Napoleon but also busting manymyths along the way.

Sadly one of those busted myths was thegreatest symbol of southern resistance next to the Bonnie Blue flag itself.Alexander completely changed my perspective on General Robert E. Lee, and itwas not a favorable change. For years afterwards I was fond of shocking folksby saying that I thought Lee was a terrible general. It’s amazing how manyoutside of the south buy into Lee’s mythology, at least the martial aspect. Amythology that I came to believe was entirely a sham.

My reasoning for Lee’s inferiority was simpleand straightforward. One of the greatest war fallacies is a frontal assault ona defensive position. Lee did this all the time. He was reckless in battlefailing time and again to show that better part of valor: discretion. Under normalconditions this would have been devastating to any army but ultimately Lee’sbrutal offensive methodology lost the war to the tyrant who need not always benamed. For Lee skeptics (of which there are many varieties) his ultimate follyof course comes at Gettysburg when he ordered almost a dozen brigades to marcha mile under fire against a defensive position. From this perspective it’ssimple arithmetic that dooms his legacy. The soldiers of the Tyrant sufferedrelatively normal casualties in the engagement, about 1/10. But tragically whenall was said and done almost half of the men Lee sent out that day were killedor wounded.

Just to be clear that’s about 10% casualtiesto 50%, aka utter devastation. And famously Longstreet was against it. Some evenblame Longstreet’s hesitancy and failure to execute on that fateful day withthe tragic defeat. But it was a plan conceived in folly, no matter theexecution it was doomed to fail. The miracle is that the Tyrant’s lines werebroken at all that day. The infamousBloody Angle is one of the most amazing feats of daring in United Statesmartial history. Those lines should not have broken, and it was only becausetrue Patriots of the Old Dominion marched upon it that they were…howeverbriefly.

The Gettysburg film captures the tragedy ofLee’s folly perfectly when Martin Sheen confronts a confounded Picket(brilliantly played by Stephen Lang) who is wandering alone making his way offthe battlefield. With great concern Lee says to Pickett “General, you must lookto your division.” Then with unbearable shock and sadness Pickett responds“General Lee… I have no division.”

I have NO division.

Total devastation.

Great Generals do not attack defensivepositions with frontal assaults. It is folly. And so for years I thought thatLee was a fool. A total failure as a general and solely responsible for theTyrant’s victory over Dixie.

When I watched Gettysburg as a child it washard not to be swept up in the tragic romance of the whole thing. After allLincoln’s War is the closest thing America has to an Iliad. It wasn’t reallyuntil I read Bevin Alexander that I understood just how devastating war wasbecause most generals are truly awful. The NeoCon indoctrination programteaches us that wars are glorious and inevitable. This is especially true ofLincoln’s War. The Myth of the Righteous Cause is always draped ineschatological patriotism. But the wisdom of Sun Tzu washes away all theromance of war focusing on the truly essential and for a long time General Leehad been washed away for me as well in the ice cold waters of rationalsobriety. The man so many Americans revered for his martial prowess had becomemy ultimate symbol of a false idol…maybe not as ultimate as the Tyranthimself but close. How could Lee have been so foolish? And not just atGettysburg. He repeatedly made this same mistake throughout the war. Did he notrealize that rifling had made the weapons both sides used twice as deadly? Thehorrific casualty ratios became an unforgivable blemish on his myth.

And to add insult to Southern injury Alexanderrightly includes Sherman in his pantheon of great generals. Lee and Sherman arepolar opposites in every way. Sherman was a horrible segregationist thatpioneered total war whereas Lee was a conflicted but mostly benevolent slaveowner who brought gentlemanly grace to the battlefield. But more importantlytheir tactics were also polar opposites. Sherman only engaged in a full onfrontal assault once: the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. According to Alexander,one of the reasons he did this was that he had never done it before. Histactics in Georgia had been as near to perfect from a Sun Tzuian perspective asany General is capable. He always avoided the enemies strengths whileexploiting their weaknesses, flanked and forced enemy withdrawal with as littleenergy expended as possible. But he thought that the utter surprise of histactical change at Kennesaw would win him the day. The Gray did withdraw but atgreat cost to Sherman’s men. It was a tactical error and, to my knowledge, henever made the mistake again.

Yes those of us who love the South justly hateSherman for being the Tyrant’s greatest stooge. He should’ve been strung up asa war criminal regardless of which side won. But facts are facts and the factis that he was a brilliant tactician.

But recently my mind changed concerning Lee.This change came from an unlikely place: the Great Courses. You see there’s anentire great Course dedicated just to General Lee and his high command. It isan absolutely essential listen for any student of Lincoln’s War and the South.The instructor is Gary Gallagher and he does not paint a rosy picture of Lee,Jackson, Jeb and the others but he also doesn’t tear them down. ProfessorGallagher portrays them with utmost accuracy taking pains to bust myths alongthe way. And he convinced me that I had completely misunderstood General Lee.

Tactically Alexander’s deconstruction of Leeis sound. He was recklessly offensive and made numerous mistakes from a purelytheoretical perspective. But that’s the problem. Lee wasn’t fighting atheoretical war. Lee was fighting a holistic war and the choices he made impactall of us lost causers down to this day.

What Lee did on the battlefield was alwaysintentional. He wasn’t a fanatic who believed that the South was invincible andhe wasn’t a fool who didn’t realize how much more dangerous rifles were fromsmooth bore muskets. He fought in the Mexican war with basically the samemartial technology. He knew how it worked. He was reckless for a reason. Heunderstood the politics and the psychology of the great struggle better thanany of us could possibly imagine. He understood how razor thin the chances ofsuccess were and that his approach was the only way the South had any chance ofemerging victorious.

Every Southerner needs to read this littlebook called “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger. His conclusions are unfortunately asort of soft nationalism along Roussean lines, but the story he tells aboutwhat war does to people is surprising and profound. During the blitz in Londonall the elites and leaders assumed that the city would go mad. They assumed itwould be utter anarchy. But it wasn’t in fact it was the opposite. With demonsin the air Londoners became angels on the ground. Mental and emotional healthimproved. Everyone got along. No one acted out of individualism or selfishnessbecause they understood that there was a War on. The National Socialists turnedLondon into an exemplification of the Golden rule. The luftwaffe turned theminto a tribe.

In fact morale was so great that the allieswere absolutely terrified of what it would be like to invade Europe. The samepsychological rules should apply. They weren’t wrong. The closer they got tothe lion’s den the fiercer the fighting.

I believe that General Lee understood this. Heunderstood that everything was stacked against the South with one exception:they were fighting for home. And he used that one advantage as much aspossible. He formed the South into a tribe.

High casualty rates did not destroy Southernresolve, it strengthened it. They knew they were fighting for hearth and home.They were fighting for something real whereas the Tyrant was fighting for theimaginary eternal union, centralization, and money. The North was not fightingfor anything except their tyrant. Lee understood that he needed to simply fightthe tyrant to a stand still to win. And since the North had nothing to fightfor and the South had everything to fight for that meant making the battles asbloody as possible. They must be more aggressive than their foe to win. Theyneeded to be build Southern resolve throughout the society and all eyes were onthe Army of Northern Virginia. His tactics were political and long term. Histactics were designed to exhaust northern resolve and strengthen southernmorale.

And the proof is ultimately in the pudding,the lost cause pudding that is. TS Eliot famously said:“If we take the widest and wisest view of aCause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thingas a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat anddismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victoryitself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in theexpectation that it will triumph.”

I take this to mean that eschatological causesare false. Nothing is resolved until the Lord returns to earth and the finalrestoration begins. Until then we labor for causes and none of our causes arecompletely lost or entirely won. That’s the real
about the lost cause: the cause was never lost. Lee fought abrutal war without ever succumbing to Sherman’s barbarism. When it became clearthat they had lost he could have started a Guerrilla campaign that would’velasted for God knows how long. But he chose to trust providence instead knowingthat defeat is always what we make of it, that no cause is ever truly lostunless we lose ourselves.

And this is the truest brilliance of Lee as aGeneral. He still gives us reason to fight not just for the South but againstthe cult of the tyrant (Lincoln or otherwise). He gives us reason to fight forour black brothers and sisters because he stood up to those who would ship themback or recolonization them elsewhere. He reminds us that there is dignity inthe struggle itself, that self defense is the only just cause for war, and thatthe cause is not lost because we’re still here keeping it alive.

But most importantly he reminds us that humansare at their biggest when they are small, when they realize and embrace thatonly God is God and none of us truly understands what is coming down the road.These words of Lee cannot be quoted enough:

“My experience of men has neither disposed meto think worse of them, nor indisposed me to serve them; nor, in spite offailures, which I lament, of errors, which I now see and acknowledge, or of thepresent state of affairs, do I despair of the future. The march of Providenceis so slow, and our desires so impatient, the work of progress is so immense,and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, and thatof the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancingwave, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”And it is still General Lee that teaches us tohope.