Skip to main content

The Rating Game

June 2024
1min read


As a long-time reader of American Heritage and a student of history, I always look forward to each issue and devour it in its entirety. Your cover of the May/June issue on overrated and underrated was quite inviting, but I could see trouble coming from about a mile away.

Here in the South we have a saying that opinions are like certain parts of the human anatomy: Everyone has 10 one. But one has to worry what they are teaching in the U.S. Army if one of its professors states that Robert E. Lee was not only overrated but a “traitor.”

Before the Civil War there was no “United States.” Rather, history shows that such a single entity did not exist in the minds of “Americans.” People tended to be much more provincial, considering themselves New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Virginians, Georgians, et cetera. It was to their own home states that individuals pledged their allegiance, and the Constitution was regarded as a compact, a contract among sovereign entities. The idea that the “Union” was an entity unique unto itself was convincingly proved only by the Civil War itself. Therefore, Robert E. Lee, true to Virginia, which was his “country,” was no traitor. To ask him to act otherwise, on the basis of the concepts of the times, would have been almost unthinkable.

Furthermore, the idea that Lee was overrated as a general is horribly wrong. Time after time, in the face of amazing odds, Lee somehow brought off amazing victories (Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville) or fought a gigantic foe to a virtual stalemate (Sharpsburg or Antietam). Lee did more with less than any general in history.

U. S. Grant, on the other hand, was successful at playing the war of attrition that was very much in his favor. He could also be bold at times, and for that he should be given credit. But if one could tweak history so that Lee commanded the Army of the Potomac and any other Civil War general, including Grant, was given command of the Southern armies, how long would the Civil War have lasted? So much for being overrated.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate