PBS American Experience: Robert E. Lee

| February 22, 2013

Anyone ever watch these PBS specials?

I got hooked into a 2 hour special on American Whaling a while back, and today have been listening to the one on Robert E. Lee which is exceptional. There is also one about the Dinosaur Wars which I think I shared earlier that is outstanding. Anyway, wanted to share this in case anyone hadn’t seen for whatever reason.

Watch Robert E. Lee on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Category: Politics

Comments (19)

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  1. SJ says:

    Thanks for the alert. They do some good stuff. During their money begging events I was call and ask if I can specify the programs I support (i.e., no political/”news”). They always say no so I say bye…my taxes will be all they get then.

  2. Just an Old Dog says:

    One of my idols growing up, though there has been a trend during the past 30 years to tear down his reputation ( probably because of him being betrayed as almost God-like by DS Freeman and others) in the end he was the best General in the war. Not being critical of other fine Generals but he made the most out of what he had better than all of them.

  3. The Dead Man says:

    I was always more of a fan of Sherman myself, but Lee was just as fascinating to study. My last history teacher actually had me watch the great big 11 hour set that they’ve got about the civil war which is absolutely worth the watch.

  4. NHSparky says:

    TSO–are you upset by the fact Patrick Swayze isn’t in the PBS special? Be honest, now.

    But I’m like SJ–they and NPR get my tax money, and that’s it. About the only show I’ll watch or actively seek out that shows up on PBS up here is Red Green.

  5. Charles says:

    I watched this off Netflix a couple of nights ago and thought it was utter and total BS. They didn’t explore the history of the Robert E. Lee and they didn’t explore the reasonings behind the choices he made. Instead all they did was tie him to Slavery and that was his motivation in life.
    Not that he was trying to redeem the family name which was destroyed by his drunken father (Harry “Light Horse” Lee), even if he was a hero of the Revoultionary war, in the Virginia Aristoractic circles. Nothing about how he was raised not to follow a national government but the state government and constantly if you study his writings and speeches he always said “Which way Virginia goes I go” with respect to the dividing nation at the time. No mention of his bringing down John Brown at Harpers Ferry. Also, no discussion at all about how his family suffered for his obsession about the family name and no discussion about how he did after the war with Washington and Lee school presidenacy, nor how he prevented an active rebellion following the surrender by telling all of his men to lay down thier arms.
    It was typical Ken Burns (who owns the American Experience name) and PBS left leaning revisionist BS with respect to the American Civil War.

  6. TSO says:

    @5, I don’t disagree with it being lefty. I also noted the lack of the John Brown thing, and a few other things.

    But, I got out of it what I paid to watch it I suppose. Will have to go back and read something more flattering to him to round it out.

  7. TSO says:

    Also, I was just reading about the Washington and Lee side.

    One last thing, I read how his citizenship was reinstated by President Ford in like 1976. Do you know where I can find that?

  8. Pandora says:

    I like the American Experience series. I found the one they did on the Crash of ’29 very informative. Love the little musical interludes.

  9. Charles says:


    I grew up for a while in Virginia and remember getting out on “Lee and Jackson Day” in Janurary which happened to fall on the same day as MLK day. I don’t know all the politics behind that decision, but do remember it being basically a four day weekend deal. The state of Virigina treats Lee as a folk hero and they actively try and paint his sides as both wrong (for owning slavery and being part of the CSA) and noble (for standing up in something that he believed in which was states Rights). There are all sorts of bios on him and I haven’t read a biography on him in years (like 30+) so its going to be hit or miss if you want something that tries to balance him out. My only suggestion would be to dive into your local used book store and look for something printed initially prior to 1995. It is just since the PC crowd has had a chance nearly all of the men who were involved with the CSA or even the antebellum South have been tainted that all they cared for was slavery and oppression. Which just drives me nuts because the history was more then just the issue of Slavery.

  10. Cacti35 says:

    Funny thing where I live in Washington State has a large population of Arkansas folk from the Great Depression days. We have 5 elementary schools in our school district, one is the Ulysess S Grant school and another is the Robert E Lee school. They were both built back in the early 50’s. I have heard that after the Grant school was built the southerners demanded and got a school named after Lee. Probably would not fly today with the PC crowd.

  11. Anonymous says:

    His citizenship papers were “lost” to be “never found again”.


    they found them about a hundred years later and reinstated his citizenship. all confederates had to sign a oath, but certain people in the government believed that certain generals and above basically, could never be loyal. this was the case with Lee, so his papers were “lost”.

    he was a firm believer of states rights, and did not “like” slavery, but knew deep down it was still essential to the economy at the time.

    all the PC crowd in the last years blames slavery for the main cause of the civil war, it was one of the MANY causes, leading back to 1840s and 1850s with the formation of “slave and free” states. but the PC crowd wont accept this.

  12. James says:

    If he had told his men to not cooperate and resist (which many strongly urged) the U. S. would had a vastly different post war history. The same could be said of Lincoln. In a way it is strange that such a bitter civil war would have produced such leaders on opposite sides.

  13. Hondo says:

    Charles: Lee was a talented and complex man and commander. He was neither the infallible saint that the “Lost Cause” apologists writing most early biographies of Lee portray nor the fiend that his contemporaries in the Northern press made him out to be. For better or worse, he seems to have been an archetype for the Southern Gentleman of his day – in other words, a man of his time and upbringing.

    Like most of the other Confederate senior officers, he was put in a “no-win” situation by secession and the war when he had to choose between home state and oath of office (“I will support and defend . . . “). Most chose home; a few chose oath. Lee was among the majority who chose home.

    I can understand either choice; I’m glad I’ve never faced the same.

    In evaluating Lee as a battlefield general, I’d personally recommend staying away from biographies as well as most other accounts of the Civil war written in the South before about the 1950s or 1960s. Most earlier Southern accounts embraced the “Lee the Infallible” thesis (if you wanted to get published locally, anyway). He wasn’t. Like all the other Generals in that war, Lee made his share of errors. Lee’s mistakes have simply been overshadowed by his brilliant performances on other occasions.

    Three books that paint an incomplete but nonetheless instructive picture of Lee as a battlefield commander are two by Glenn Tucker and one by Steven W. Sears. The two by Tucker are his classic “High Tide at Gettysburg” and his follow-up “Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg”. The work by Sears is “To the Gates of Richmond”. All three are IMO fairly evenhanded and fair in their assessment of the performance of Lee and his senior subordinates at Gettysburg (Tucker) and during the Seven Days’ Battles (Sears). They’re definitely not hagiographic towards anyone involved – Lee included.

  14. proof says:

    When I was a lad, Lee’s birthday (Jan. 19th) used to be listed on the calendar, same as Washington and Lincoln.

  15. Charles says:


    I fully believe that too. He was neither a full on saint as some have painted him (that whole “Lost Cause” BS is a joke in my mind because that is just trying to be noble in the march of defeat, like the Imperial German Army and the so called “Stab in the Back”), but I hate how some of my history instructors in college (they aren’t teachers IMHO) have painted him as the devil incarnate. I would consider Lee in the same class Patton, MacAuthur, and a few others that have had brilliant careers on the battlefield eclipse thier big mistakes at other points in the war.

    I just like some balance and some fair treatment of the CSA members when we talk about the ACW in popular media for the low information citizens to grasp the hardship of that decision between heart and mind.

  16. MAJMike says:

    Marse Robert is one of the most beloved figures in American military hitory. That said, in some historians’ opinion he the lacked stratgic vision that Grant had. His great tactical skill failed him at Gettysburg when he became obcessed about attacking a well entrenched Meade. Lee squandered his strategic opportunities by not recognizing that Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or New York City were more likely centers of gravity rather than the Army of the Potomac.

    Grant was no where near as elegant as Lee, but he recognised that the Army of Northern Virginia was the Confederacy’s center of gravity and focused on destroying. Sherman, likewise, recognised that the destroying the South’s armies were not critical to success, but the destruction of their supply source was.

    Still in all, Lee is a most admirable figure from our history.

  17. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    @5. Regarding harpers Ferry, a few years ago, I wrote about a religious fanatic who engaged in terrorism to move his cause forward. I set it up so that most who read it thought that I must have been describing OBL but I was actually describing John Brown and said so in the last line. Man, some people got quite pissed off!

  18. MAJMike says:

    @#18 — Sweet. Wish I could’ve read it.