A Student of History

October 25, 2007

Reading the Man

Filed under: Early America,New books,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 11:18 am

The LyceumOn Wed. night I attended a presentation made at the Alexandria Historical Society at the Lyceum, by Elizabeth Pryor.  She is the author of Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.  It was excellent, as Ms. Pryor is a superb presenter (if not sufficiently loud!) and has done a remarkable job with the “truck letters” recently found at Burke & Herbert Bank in Alexandria.  Among the more interesting points she made:

  • Lee was pro-slavery (this flies in the face of some well-know Lee quotes)
  • Lee was bitter after the war
  • He regretted his decision to enter a military career
  • Lee may actually have been born in 1806, not 1807
  • Lee’s religious beliefs were complicated and evolving

Here’s some info from the publisher:

Robert E. Lee’s war correspondence is well known, and here and there personal letters have found their way into print, but the great majority of his most intimate messages have never been made public. These letters reveal a far more complex and contradictory man than the one who comes most readily to the imagination, for it is with his family and his friends that Lee is at his most candid, most engaging, and most vulnerable. Over the past several years historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor has uncovered a rich trove of unpublished Lee materials that had been held in both private and public collections. Her new book, a unique blend of analysis, narrative, and historiography, presents dozens of these letters in their entirety, most by Lee but a few by family members. Each letter becomes a departure point for an essay that shows what the letter uniquely reveals about Lee’s time or character. The material covers all aspects of Lee’s life—his early years, West Point, his work as an engineer, his relationships with his children and his slaves, his decision to join the South, his thoughts on military strategy, and his disappointments after defeat in the Civil War. The result is perhaps the most intimate picture to date of Lee, one that deftly analyzes the meaning of his actions within the context of his personality, his relationships, and the social tenor of his times.

Robert E. Lee Photograph


  1. Unfortunately, the loud speaker connected to the microphone at the Lyceum is located in the podium so anyone in the audience not directly in front of the speaker has difficulty hearing. Ms. Pryor is soft-spoken, but the simplest of modern technology (a couple of stereo speakers) would have solved the problem. I was embarassed by people shouting at the distinguished author.

    Comment by Hunt Burke — October 26, 2007 @ 9:23 am | Reply

  2. Yes, there were a bunch of folks asking her to speak louder, which was a bit of a problem. But overall, she was great and such a fun evening in a super location.

    Comment by John Maass — October 26, 2007 @ 11:18 am | Reply

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