I enjoy all things Civil War. So, for me to have the opportunity to read about on the period’s greatest generals was for me a no-brainer. John Perry has written a compact biography entitled, “Lee: A Life of Virtue”. He has given the reader a comprehensive portrait of General Robert E. Lee. Perry walks the reader through Lee’s childhood, his days as a cadet at West Point, his early assignments including the Mexican War, and finally to his position as one of the most famous and loved generals of the Confederacy. The title “A Life of Virtue” is correctly given. Using the definition of virtue as “possessing moral excellence or goodness”, this describes the life of R.E. Lee. Perry does an excellent job in his book of showing the human and moral side of Lee. Woven throughout the pages of this book are the relationships with family, friends, and fellow leaders that show virtue in action. Lee often gave care to his mother as a young boy. The moral, health, and welfare of his troops were always at the forefront of his mind. Lee’s wife was sick for a great part of her adult life and he cared for her considering it one of his greatest opportunities. He took extended periods of leave in order to take care of her. Loyalty marked his life.
Lee’s virtue can be seen in one clear example given by Perry. After Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, the two generals began to work out the terms of the surrender. They agreed the Confederate officers could keep their firearms and horses. In a gesture that was consistent with putting others before himself, Lee stated that enlisted soldiers had provided their own horses and would now need them for spring planting. Grant agreed.
I found this book to be an interesting and encouraging read. I learned some things about General Lee that I did not know before and some things I knew were confirmed. Buried within this book is a challenge. It is a challenge to live a life of virtue, integrity, and goodness. It is a challenge to place others before self and to always do right by others. I recommend this book without reservation. Even if you do read books about the Civil War, you will find this book a good investment of your time.