By heritage, education, profession, and talent Douglas Southall Freeman was ideally fitted to write the definitive biography of Robert Edward Lee. The son of a Confederate veteran, a Doctor of Philosophy in history from Johns Hopkins University, editor of the Richmond News Leader, whose “chief avocation” was “the study of military history” and whose prose style was fascinating, he accepted in 1915 a publisher’s invitation to tell the life story of the South’s best beloved hero. It seems that Douglas Freeman’s ambition to compose such a book was born in 1903, when as a youth of seventeen he attended a reunion of Confederate veterans in Petersburg, Virginia, in the company of his father, who lived to see his son’s work published. At first the biographer expected to write only a single volume, but a wealth of compelling material, much of it scarcely tapped, expanded his number to four; as a title for his monumental production, Dr. Freeman chose the general’s autograph: R. E. LEE. Following this work, Freeman returned to the life of General Lee himself for a one-volume biography entitled LEE OF VIRGINIA, and intended for a young adult audience or for readers who found the four-volume work too formidable. The author then laid aside the manuscript —which was published posthumously — to begin work on his exhaustive biography of George Washington, which had reached six volumes at the time of his sudden death in 1953.
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