Lee of Virginia Essay - Critical Context

Douglas Southall Freeman

Critical Context

Freeman was both a journalist, in Richmond, Virginia, and a historian. Among the papers found after his death in 1953 was the unpublished manuscript for Lee of Virginia. It was not condensed from his four-volume R. E. Lee: A Biography (19341935) but was an entirely new work written specifically for young people.

Freeman began writing Lee of Virginia before starting on his massive biography of George Washington, which occupied his remaining years. The publisher’s preface to Lee of Virginia notes that it was a project close to Freeman’s heart, because he had wanted to present the revered Southern leader to those for whom reading his multivolume definitive biography would be too great an undertaking.

Lee of Virginia is a classic book for young adults because it is one of the most lucid, detailed, and well-constructed one-volume biographies of Lee ever written. Freeman entertains without insulting the intelligence of his readers. He educates without being pedantic. He is concise without slighting the essence of the life of Lee.

Lee of Virginia places special emphasis on the individual rather than on the soldier, even though much of the book discusses the Civil War. Lee was a great and important person but one who possessed the common touch, and readers sense that fact in the pages of Freeman’s book. He dealt with people, as well as life’s misfortunes, with patience, good humor, optimism, and faith. He serves as a role model not only for young people but for adults as well. For that reason, this book holds great interest for readers of all ages.