On the eve of the Civil War, one soldier embodied the legacy of George Washington and the hopes of leaders across a divided land. Both North and South knew Robert E. Lee as the son of Washington’s most famous eulogist and the son-in-law of Washington’s adopted child. Lee was a brilliant soldier bound by marriage to Washington’s family but ultimately turned by war against Washington’s crowning achievement, the Union. Former White House speechwriter Jonathan Horn follows Lee through married life, military glory, and misfortune. The story that emerges is more complicated, more tragic, and more illuminating than the familiar tale. More complicated because the unresolved question of slavery—the driver of disunion—was among the personal legacies that Lee inherited from Washington. More tragic because the Civil War destroyed the people and places connecting Lee to Washington in agonizing and astonishing ways. More illuminating because the battle for Washington’s legacy shaped the nation that America is today. As Washington was the man who would not be king, Lee was the man who would not be Washington.
- Wednesday, May 28: Lecture, 7 pm: Michael McNaught: “Clash of Titans: Grant vs. Lee, Virginia 1864”
In May 1864 newly-minted Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant launched what he hoped would be the final campaign of the Army of the Potomac. Designed to destroy Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and end the war by capturing Richmond, what became known as the “Overland Campaign” saw over 40,000 Union casualties over a forty-day period (earning Grant the unwanted sobriquet “Butcher Grant”), with major battles fought in the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna River and Cold Harbor. At the end of the campaign Richmond was still in Confederate hands, and Grant was forced to put Petersburg under siege for the next ten months.