Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Ascension of Robert E. Lee

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I often note that I consider counterfactual history to be an enormous waste of time. That goes for all varieties too - from the beer-and-peanuts "what ifs" to the nonsensical counterfactual "theory." Although I will admit to having come up with some absolutely ludicrous "what if" scenarios among friends in an effort to illustrate exactly how worthless counterfactual history is, I consider serious discussion in the realm of counterfactuals about as useful as watching reality television.

But as somebody probably really famous once noted - there is an exception to every rule. The one instance when I will lean just a little toward something that did not happen is when I talk about the Battle of Seven Pines outside of Richmond on May 31 and June 1, 1862. Why does this one instance get the counterfactual nod? Without going into details of the engagement, I can imagine things turning out very different over the next couple of months if not for the wounding of the Confederate army commander, Joseph E. Johnston.

On the evening on May 31, Johnston was wounded and put out of commission for a while - he was replaced by Robert E. Lee, a much more aggressive and audacious general who blunted the Federal advance and took the initiative against the Union Army of the Potomac. But things could have turned out really, really bad for the Rebels. With all the bad news in the Western Theater and Richmond of the verge of  capture (all indications suggest that Johnston would have retreated to the city and eventually lost it to a siege) I find it hard to imagine the Confederacy holding on for long had Lee not taken the reins.

Yeah...who knows, right? But we can say this - Lee essentially saved Richmond and prolonged the life of the Confederacy indefinitely (from an 1862 perspective). He seized the initiative from the Yankees and by that fall drew them northward from Virginia. This extended the fight and allowed for the implementation of Lincoln's proposed strike against slavery. Counterfactualists can just go ahead and call me "pot" if you like. Whatever. But the scenario seems reasonable to me. No Lee, Richmond falls, the war ends, McClellan is a national hero, no emancipation. Or something like that.



1 comment:

  1. The selection of Lee always amazed me. His record in northwestern Virginia and along the SC-GA-FL coast did little to presage his future. Who else could Davis have chosen?