Douglas Southall Freeman was the son of a former Confederate soldier prominent in the United Confederate Veterans. His parents took him to Richmond when he was six years old, and he later attended Richmond College. After graduating in 1904 he enrolled at The Johns Hopkins University, which had awarded him a fellowship in history, and he received his doctorate at the early age of twenty-two. He then accepted an assignment to write articles on taxation for the Richmond Times Dispatch, and for two years he was secretary to the Virginia Tax Commission. A period of intense activity began in 1915, when he became the editor of the Richmond News Leader. He was later made rector and president of the board of the University of Richmond, gave commutation lectures in journalism at Columbia University, and was appointed to many committees and foundations. By maintaining an inflexible schedule, he was able to work at many tasks concurrently.
Freeman ranks as one of the most learned biographers and historians of the Civil War. His four-volume R. E. Lee (the first two volumes won a Pulitzer Prize) was followed by the equally impressive three-volume Lee’s Lieutenants. His George Washington, which was projected as an eight-volume work, of which he completed six before he died, has been widely acknowledged to be a definitive study. The seventh and final volume of this monumental work, published in 1957, was written by John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, who had worked as research associates on the earlier books of the series.