Civil War Institute; History
Just hours before the Army of Northern Virginia raised the white flag at Appomattox Court House, Confederate Colonel Edward Porter Alexander approached his commanding officer, Robert E. Lee, with what he hoped was a game-saving plan. Rather than suffer the mortification of surrendering, Alexander begged Lee to scatter his men across the countryside like “rabbits & partridges” where they could continue waging war, not as regular Confederate soldiers, but as elusive guerrilla fighters. Lee listened patiently to his subordinate’s reasoning for irregular warfare. Before Alexander finished, he reminded Lee that the men were utterly devoted to their commanding general, and that such loyalty would continue to inspire the sacrifice of more blood, even if it meant taking to the woods and fighting like common outlaws. When Alexander concluded his impassioned plea, Lee asked his subordinate to imagine what would happen if he turned Alexander’s suggestion into official policy. But before Alexander had a chance to respond, Lee reminded him that virtually every Southern community had been overrun by Union armies, that farms were in disarray, and that crops were ruined. Lee feared that his veterans, upon returning home, would have no choice but to plunder and rob for survival. It would take no time for his disciplined army to descend into a demoralized mob that would take the rest of the South into a downward spiral of unending and unrestrained violence. “As for myself,” Lee concluded, “while you young men might afford to go to bushwhacking, the only proper & dignified course for me would be to surrender myself & take the consequences of my actions.” [excerpt]
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Carmichael, Peter S. "The High Water Mark of Social History in Civil War Studies." Reviews in American History 39.2 (June 2011), 299-306.
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