On the eve of the Civil War, one soldier embodied the legacy of George Washington and the hopes of leaders across a divided land. Read more...
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On the eve of the Civil War, one soldier embodied the legacy of George Washington and the hopes of leaders across a divided land. Both North and South knew Robert E. Lee as the son of Washington's most famous eulogist and the son-in-law of Washington's adopted child. Each side sought his service for high command. Lee could choose only one.
In "The Man Who Would Not Be Washington," former White House speechwriter Jonathan Horn reveals how the officer most associated with Washington went to war against the union that Washington had forged. This extensively researched and gracefully written biography follows Lee through married life, military glory, and misfortune. The story that emerges is more complicated, more tragic, and more illuminating than the familiar tale. More complicated because the unresolved question of slavery--the driver of disunion--was among the personal legacies that Lee inherited from Washington. More tragic because the Civil War destroyed the people and places connecting Lee to Washington in agonizing and astonishing ways. More illuminating because the battle for Washington's legacy shaped the nation that America is today. As Washington was the man who would not be king, Lee was the man who would not be Washington. The choice was Lee's. The story is America's.
A must-read for those passionate about history, "The Man Who Would Not Be Washington" introduces Jonathan Horn as a masterly voice in the field.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-11-17
- Reviewer: Staff
Robert E. Lee was frequently compared to George Washington, not only because of his personality and “military genius” but also because he married Washington’s granddaughter, and his father had a close relationship with the Founding Father. But at the start of the Civil War, Lee made a decision that made such a comparison highly controversial: Lee rejected the Union and loyally followed Virginia into the Confederacy, despite his personal opposition to secession. Horn, a former White House speechwriter, puts a captivating spin on Lee’s story by comparing and contrasting the two great men. Detailed yet accessible descriptions of battles are coupled with stories of Lee’s personal life, revealing a man as complex as the war he reluctantly joined. Horn also points out the reverence for Washington during this time, and the way each side claimed him as their own. In the book’s oddly underdeveloped final strides, Horn condemns Lee for not following his initial opposition to rebellion, for “not being Washington.” That flaw aside, Horn takes a fair and equitable approach to Lee, his life, and his struggle over participation in a war that tore apart the nation. (Jan.)
The evolution of George Washington
When “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert E. Lee’s father, eulogized George Washington, he memorialized the late president’s effort to forge a unified nation that would bring happiness forever to the people of America. On the eve of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, married to the daughter of Washington’s adopted son, appeared poised to preserve the Union that Washington had fought so hard to establish.
Yet, as journalist and presidential speechwriter Jonathan Horn points out in his stirring and elegant The Man Who Would Not Be Washington, Lee chose to lead rebel forces against the Union, leaving division and discord in his wake. Although Lee’s proponents argue that he is the “second coming” of Washington and point to similarities between the two men, others note that Lee’s legacy lies in his painful decision to preserve the values of his beloved state of Virginia above all else.
While Horn does not draw on any new archival materials, he chronicles Lee’s life with a vitality that captivates our imagination and keeps us glued to Lee’s story. With graceful vigor, he traces Lee from his childhood to his days at West Point, his command in Mexico, his leadership at Harper’s Ferry and ultimately to his decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army. Lee’s decision to turn his back on the Union—and his canny leadership in battle—meant that he would be forever estranged from the nation he cherished.
Horn’s illuminating study offers a fascinating comparison between two figures who shaped American history.