What were Robert E. Lee's weaknesses as a military commander during the American Civil War?

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General Robert E. Lee was certainly a brilliant military tactician. He has been praised by friend and foe alike for the last century and a half for his political prowess and tactical mind. However, he did make some significant mistakes and had faults of his own.

Some historians argue that General Lee was too aggressive. He was never able to match the Union Army in terms of manpower and supplies, yet he was frequently trying to bring the war into the North. By taking his army out of familiar terrain and away from ready supplies on his offensive campaigns, he ceded the advantage to his opponents. This led to two of his biggest defeats at Antietam and Gettysburg. He came close to losing his entire army during both of these offensive campaigns after suffering heavy, and needless loses.

It has been argued, that if he was able to draw the Union Army south, he would have been better able to defeat it on his own ground, or at least wear it out to the point of a stalemate. Instead, he sought grand victories in unfavorable circumstances and only survived as long as he did due to the ineptitude and inaction of northern military commanders.

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Graduating first in his class at West Point, fellow cadets nicknamed Lee "The Marble Man" because he just seemed too good to be true.  As the story goes, he did not earn a single demerit in his four years there.  So his caliber as a student of military science was almost as unquestioned as his discipline and brilliance on the battlefield.

He made few mistakes, but one of his weaknesses was his inability, at times, to listen to his junior commanders when they made suggestions about specific tactics and plans.  General James Longstreet tried in vain to convince Lee not to attack at Gettysburg on the third day, arguing, correctly, that it was a suicide mission.  But, as historian Shelby Foote characterized it, "Lee's blood was up", and you couldn't talk to him in that state.

Some historians say the southern loss at Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Robert E. Lee as their commander.  It is near blasphemy to suggest that among fans of the Confederacy today, and he is still a hero in the American South, but his decision-making in that three day fight was clearly flawed.  There is little else to find fault with in his military tactics and strategies, and he was a very personable, charismatic and inspiring leader to his men and the country he fought for.

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