But Lee never in war arose to such sublime heights if indeed ever in a military sense.
Even Longstreet's Chief of Artillery, General Alexander, a man of splendid sense and judgment, in his “Military Memoirs of a Confederate,” holds that the real crisis of the War did not occur until Grant's movement against Petersburg, which is correct, and that his strategy in that campaign was well planned and successfully executed. He acknowledges that Grant completely out-manoeuvered Lee for the last three days during the Petersburg movement, thus saving his army from attack by the combined forces of Lee and Beauregard, which is also correct. Imagine Lee's disappointment when he found out what had been going on after Grant had crossed the James river! It completely checkmated him, even his last kick — Early's Shenandoah Valley campaign — proving worse than a failure it so weakened Lee's army. Think you Lee then thought himself a greater field marshal than Grant? Or after being continually flanked by him from the Rapidan to Petersburg and later to Appomattox where his surrender occurred?
In bringing up this matter at this opportune time when contrasts can be sharply and tellingly drawn as at Winchester and Gettysburg, my purpose has not been to disparage anyone unfairly, but to get at the truth as I see it for the sake of true history. So long a time has elapsed since the war that I look upon it and its actors dispassionately, and I can award praise or censure on either side whenever deserved with calmness and impartiality. Therefore if, as a veteran, I have advanced any new ideas on a subject necessarily somewhat perplexing to the general public, at any period, my object in treating it will have been accomplished.
Possibly there may be some excuse for such as did not fight in the Army of the Potomac three years and have not read the latest history on the Civil War and made it a study, erring in their estimates of the leaders in that conflict. I always, even during the war, thought the South had abler men to command its army of Northern Virginia even in that army than Lee, but none more lovely in disposition and character. He was a good man and good but not a great general; and, much less, in the same class with Marlborough, Wellington, and others of modern wars, or Grant, Sheridan, and others of the Civil War, which facts prove. Any man who is a military expert familiar with the subject both from participation, history and study, if of good judgment and honest, will readily concede this. Lee's distinguished lineage has nothing to do with his military history. He should be judged on his own merits in such a way, but his antecedents and charming personal character seemingly makes it difficult for most writers to place him in a military sense where he belongs. In my opinion, all things being equal, he was no match for Grant.
SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 207-9