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Monday, 09 April 2018 20:05

Episode 34 - Life Lessons from the Civil War (Part VIII- Robert E. Lee)

Episode Description:

On April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. U.S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. So, it is appropriate that this podcast episode is posting on April 9, the 153rd anniversary of Lee’s surrender. While the North was blessed with more successful political leadership in the Civil War, the South was endowed with more successful military leadership, and probably no one was more successful than the wily Robert E. Lee. When the Civil War began in 1861, the South was vastly outnumbered by the North in almost every category except for tobacco and cotton, neither of which a person can eat. So, in retrospect it is almost unbelievable that the South could stand for four years against the Northern onslaughts, and Lee was a huge factor in this. Take a listen to find out more about this man who was the son of a famous Revolutionary War general, who married a great-granddaughter of George Washington’s wife, who is the only person in world history to have been offered a generalship on OPPOSING sides of the same conflict, and who how has a university named after him: Robert E. Lee.

Listen to Episode 34 below.  

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In a recent Advanced Writing Class, I asked my students to listen to this episode and write a brief summary. Here is what Aaron, a high school in Hsinchu, Taiwan, wrote.


Even though he was born into an aristocratic family, Robert E. Lee did not simply become lazy and rely on his family's wealth, but instead became one of the most renowned generals in his time. Born in 1807 in Virginia, Lee led a remarkable life: he followed his father's footsteps as a soldier and went on to become a war hero of the South during the Civil War. At a young age, Lee attended West Point, a school purposed to train military leaders for the future. He studied engineering, and eventually graduated with no demerits and received the opportunity to construct Fort Monroe, an impregnable fort that never fell to the South. The Civil War first began at Fort Sumter, where its inherent design impeded its ability to defend against inland attacks. Given that by the outbreak of the Civil War, Lee had already served in the Mexican-American War and had led great successes, both the North and the South vied for his support in the new conflict. Because Lee had always held his native state as his priority, he resolved to join the South in its efforts to defeat the North. With the death of John Brown and the heightened tensions, Lee was determined to make his home state proud. However, despite his brilliant leadership against McClellan, which allowed the war to drag on, Lee was eventually surrounded by Grant's forces due to a lack of men and resources, and was ultimately forced to capitulate.


After the signing of the terms of surrender in Appomattox, Lee exemplified outstanding grace, ordering people in his presence to never denigrate Ulysses Grant. He also dedicated the rest of his life to promoting education, serving as the president of Washington College, which was later named Washington and Lee University. Like many Confederate leaders, Lee was stripped of his US citizenship, and due to a clerical error, he was finally awarded his United States citizenship posthumously in the 1970s by President Ford. All in all, Robert E. Lee was not only a successful general in the American Civil War, but also a honorable individual who went down as a war hero in history.


Here is the summary from Aaron's classmate, Tim, also a 10th grader at a prestitious high school in Hsinchu, Taiwan.


Robert E. Lee was a giant in American history, and one of the brightest military tacticians among his contemporaries. As a young man, he was an outstanding soldier: he graduated second in his class and received no demerit in his four years in West Point-- an extraordinary feat. After graduation, he worked as an engineer, designing and working on multiple projects, the most famous of them being the construction of Fort Monroe. A few years later, he served in the Mexican-American War. He cemented his military fame in this war by displaying his tactical genius in battles. However, despite fighting in the Mexican-American War, most of Lee’s fame, or some might say infamy, came from being the chief general for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He brilliantly held off the Union Army, preserving the already economically-failing Confederacy for many years. One exemplary display of his military might was the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he defeated the Union Army led by Joseph Hooker despite being outnumbered two to one. Unfortunately, even Lee’s military genius could not save the failing Confederacy in the end. Running out of food, men, and resources, the fate of the Confederacy seemed to be sealed. Finally, when General Grant caught Lee’s army at Appomattox, Lee made a historic decision-- to surrender and stop fighting. As Lee signed the surrender papers at Appomattox, his legendary military career ended. However, he himself became involved in the promotion of education and ultimately became President of Washington College (later renamed Washington and Lee University). Robert E. Lee was not only a man who changed American history, but a truly unique human being who may serve as a model for anyone. Ingenious yet humble, Lee was truly a hero who should be commemorated and venerated.



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Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.