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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

TV Show Review: Robert E Lee

Robert E. Lee: At War With His Country…and Himself
American Experience Series

90 mins
January 3, 2011

Source: Received for Preview from WGBH

“He is celebrated by handsome equestrian statues in countless cities and towns across the American South, and by two postage stamps issued by the government he fought against during the four bloodiest years in American history. Nearly a century and a half after his death, Robert E. Lee, the leading Confederate general of the American Civil War, remains a source of fascination and, for some, veneration. This two-hour film examines the life and reputation of the Confederacy's pre-eminent general, whose military successes made him the scourge of the Union and the hero of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and who was elevated to almost god-like status by his admirers after his death.”
Growing up in New England I was taught about the Civil War from a pro-Unionist viewpoint. We looked at why the Civil War was fought, some of the big name battles, and the outcomes – but we never really looked at the people involved. I think that the people are left out of school lessons a lot of times, and these could be the things that teach you the most. This episode of American Experience really helped me to see who Robert E. Lee was and why he did many of the things that he did. I really appreciated getting a straightforward view of this man and what I think was a non-biased account (as opposed to my school lessons!).

As I have said in previous reviews, American Experience does a very good job of setting the tone and hooking the viewer right from the start, and this was no exception. I found it ironic that they opened with Robert E. Lee taking an oath at West Point to support and uphold the United States and the army. They carried this theme all the way to the wrap up of the episode where he is giving an oath after the surrender to support the Union and the United States. It really brought you full circle.

This episode’s central focus was the man himself, the decisions he made, why he made them, and how they affected him, rather than an emphasis on battles. Several battles certainly were featured, but it was less about the minutiae of how they happened and more of how they affected Lee. Through this episode you really start to get a sense of how much of a struggle fighting this war was for Lee. He initially wanted to sit out the war because he was torn between his honor and his country and didn’t want to destroy either.

Most of the episode’s visuals were made up of portraits of Lee and co, drawings, maps and interviewing experts. Overlaid across these were many quotes by Lee that supported their points. There were also some great sound effects used for the war sections.

The one thing that I would have liked to have seen more of was his upbringing before he attended West Point. There was a little bit about his parents and wife mentioned, but I think having a little more of his early life would have aided the “making of the man” a little more.

Overall, another very good outing by American Experience.

If you missed this episode during its initial airing, check out the American Experience website during the coming week as it will be available to watch online. While you are there take a minute to check out the other available resources such as primary documents by Lee and much more.

Also, on January 10, 2010 they will be reairing U.S. Grant: Warrior. I will be planning on watching this one to compare these two great men.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I caught part of this. It gave a different view of the man, made him a real person, not just an historical figure. I agree with you that more of his early years should have been included. It would have explained more about why he felt and acted as he did. Hope to catch the Grant episode.

  2. Librarypat - I am hoping to catch Grant tomorrow too! I must remember to write a note somewhere!


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