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General Robert E. Lee An Gettysburg Essay Sample

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General Robert E. Lee An Gettysburg Essay Sample


             The military appointed me to provide psychological services to the confederate troops stationed in Virginia during the civil war. I served under Gen. R. Lee in the year 1863. I was privileged to work with a man who performed well under pressure and for who despair featured not in his vocabulary. I have detailed seven key concepts that guided us on military psychology especially in the run up and the end of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Selection and Classification of War Fighters       

             As the war progressed the commitment of soldiers towards the war effort in the confederate army of the state of Virginia began to come into question. Some fought with their conscience over the fact that they had to go to war against their brothers and sisters over what was basically a political matter. There was the other group that welcomed a battle against the union forces seeing it as an opportunity to assert themselves and gain real independence. The loss of troops on their side , encouraged about 75% of the troops. To them it was a worthy sacrifice for worthy cause.

To ensure that the best fighters were placed in the most strategic areas it was necessary to conduct a discrete ‘commitment audit’ of all exiting soldiers and new recruits. They were classified into class A, B and C. Class a consisted of those who were diehard supporters of the confederate aims. They also had some previous military experience. Class B was made up of those men whose commitment was tempered by the family responsibilities but whose resolve was nonetheless very strong. Thirdly, class C was made of inexperienced men who s decision to join the army was not very clear. Most likely peer pressure and the threat of reprisals from those who had joined played a part in their recruitment.

            As a general rule, class C were given the menial duties, class B formed the frontline and class A the vanguard. At the Battle of Gettysburg, the huge losses forced a rethink of positioning and a lot of those in class C were thrown into the frontline. It was only towards the end of the war that the confederate army attempted to recruit black slaves to help in the war effort. But it was too little too late.

Leadership Style

            General Lee was an exceptional leader. Initially he was against the succession of Virginia from the Union. But when he changed his mind and joined the confederate forces he gave himself 100% to the war effort. He had a very high self esteem and confidence in his abilities which shone through in battles like that of Seven Days Battle and the Second Battle of Bull Run. He had compassion for his troops and never lacked words of encouragement. He was a man of humility who accepted mistakes when he made them. After the loss at Picket’s charge he met his troops saying,’…this is my entire fault.’(Davis, William C., et al. 1997) He was leader who can be said to lead from the front. Not shy of defeat, he risked a lot at the Battle of Gettysburg in the hope of victory. He was also a rational man. At the end of the war he discouraged disgruntled elements from waging a guerilla war. He gained countrywide fame for his gallant efforts in both the union and confederate armies in which he both served.

Team Performance

            General Lee scored highly in the area of team performance. The rapport between him and his peers was exceptional and this led to the early victories against the Union forces. His ability to inspire his troops in the aftermath of military reverses was a contributing factor to the unity of purpose that prevailed throughout the war. In decision making he may not have involved his fellow commanders as much as he should have.

Human Performance, Under Adverse Conditions

Unlike many people General Lee was able to draw on his unquenchable reserves of willpower to push forward in the task of pursuing the war effort. It was incredible that after the serious losses at Gettysburg that he could continue to perform without facing a mental breakdown. He was able to put into practice the philosophy of living one day at a time. Consequently he did not allow the reverses of previous battles to dampen his fighting spirit rather he drew upon the successes and inspired those around that things could only get better. When defeat was certain he had the clarity of mind to accept the reality rather than live in denial.

Stress in the Military Setting

            His initial reluctance to support the succession moves by the confederates and his undying loyalty to his home state, must have placed him under a lot of stress. But once he resigned from the union army his mind was settled and the dilemma resolved. (Davis, William C. et al. 1997) This gave him the peace of mind to pursue his goal with a singleness of purpose. The early victories helped to dissipate any doubts or worries of his decision to join the war. The reversals, he handled with the soberness of wisdom that dictated the realities of war. The final showdown and his attitude towards the outcome show a man well in control of his mental faculties. In a nutshell this was a man who handled stress like a chef would handle a cutting knife, careful it could cut but useful all the same. His offer to resign after the battle of Gettysburg shows he had the humility to accept the consequences of his actions

Information Warfare

The deployment of spies helped the General in the Battle of Antietam. By getting to know of the plans of the Union army, he was able to redeploy his troops to defend their positions. The battle was bloody but the Union forces were pushed back.  He was out on his defensive by an article in the ‘Tribune’ that he mercilessly whipped his slaves that had attempted to escape. This included a female slave. He decided not to counter these claims preferring to ignore them despite the damage it did to his character. (Blassingame, John W (ed.) 1977)

Diversity and Gender Issues

            The general did not believe the black slave community could help in the war effort. The war was actually being fought for the emancipation of slaves. Thus it was only in the face of sure defeat that he offered them a chance to fight for his side in exchange for emancipation. He found convincing other people of this idea difficult. His army was forced to turn to inexperienced men and untrained soldiers and this must have had a net effect on the performance of his armies. That there were no mass defections shows that he could make men out of boys within no time. Women were not directly deployed in the warfront as the policy had not yet come of age.


                       The defeat of the confederate army was bound to happen. The army was not as well prepared for the war as was the Union army. The reliance on any available able bodied man rather than trained soldiers meant that there were outnumbered and out performed from the start. The reckless deployment of troops rather than tactical attacks would have saved him many troops.  He seems to have made all the decisive decisions without the input of his other commanders. The Battle of Gettysburg may have turned out differently if he had sought the advice of other people. (Connelly, Thomas L., 1969)


Blassingame, John W (ed.) (1977), Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, and Interviews, and Autobiographies. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press (ISBN 0-8071-0273-3).

Connelly, Thomas L., (1969):  “Robert E. Lee and the Western Confederacy: A Criticism of      Lee’s Strategic Ability.” Civil War History 15 116-32

Davis, William C., Pohanka, Brian C., Troiani, Don, eds., (1997) Civil War Journal, The            Leaders, Rutledge             Hill Press, , ISBN 0-517-22193-4.

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