BRIAN LAMB, HOST: H.W. Crocker III, why a book on Robert E. Lee and leadership?
Mr. H.W. CROCKER III, AUTHOR, "ROBERT E. LEE ON LEADERSHIP": There have been many books written about Robert E. Lee, but I thought it was time to write a practical one that people could actually use. This book intends to tell Robert E. Lee's story with all the storm and controversy that surrounded--all the tragedy that surrounded it, the blood and thunder of combat of the four years of the Civil War, which he's most famous for. And--but also to make it a book that you could actually take and apply to your life.
Now Robert E. Lee himself believed in the power of emulation. He believed you could study the lives of great men and learn something from them, not in the academic way, but in a way that you would actually apply to your own life. For example, Robert E. Lee--his father, Light-Horse Harry Lee, had served under George Washington in the Revolutionary War, and Lee idolized Washington as an American. He even married into Washington's family. And as a soldier, he admired Napoleon, studied Napoleon's campaigns very thoroughly. And--and as a Christian, he attempted, as all sincere Christians do, the imitation of Christ very, very sincerely.
And--and I think for those of us who admire Robert E. Lee as a man, we too can--can learn from him. We can actually emulate and employ both the principles he consciously held, but also those that we can extract from his actions, actions in the field of combat, actions as an educator after the war at what was then Washington College, what is now Washington and Lee University. And he--he was also superintendent at West Point. So he had a--he had a--he was, you know, a versatile man in some ways. He--also a business man, o--a plantation operator for a small time.
LAMB: When did you first become aware of Robert E. Lee?
Mr. CROCKER: A long time. I mean, I've always admired Robert E. Lee. I am originally h--from California. It wasn't really till I moved back here that I really got deeply, deeply interested in--in Robert E. Lee. And one of the interesting experiences for me writing this book was I went into the book obviously admiring the man, but contrary to what you might expect, after learning everything I could about him, I didn't find myself focusing now on the feet of clay. I didn't find myself marveling at his small flaws. I found myself admiring him even more than when I began. And--and I do consciously think, both in my personal life, my family life, my business life, I find myself asking the question, `What would Robert E. Lee do?' And I do think he is a--a beacon for people who are seeking to do the right thing.
A friend of mine, a Mississippi-born journalist named Charlotte Hayes, once told me that Robert E. Lee was the finest man the North American continent ever brought forth. She actually told me this when I told her I was writing this book. And I thought at that point that was obviously a little bit hyperbolic. But, frankly, at the end of the day, after I finished the book, I started thinking that was true. I cannot think personally of a better exemplar of sort of mature leadership, of someone who shows us not only h--how to advocate useful principles, but somebody who actually lived them. It's very easy to give lip service, even well-meaning lip--lip service, to high-minded ideals. But Robert E. Lee lived it and even paid the price for it in--in some of the sadder parts of his life.
LAMB: What price?
Mr. CROCKER: Well, the price of having sided with Virginia during the--during the war. He lost everything. He lost his home; he lost his investments. One of his children died during the war, with two grandchildren. He lost countless friends and saw the state that he valued among all other loyalties devastated by the war. His region, the South, I mean, completely destroyed. A quarter of the draft-age men, white males in the South, perished in--in the war, either from combat or from disease related to combat. You know, the industry of the South was famously destroyed. Sheridan said he was--he'd so destroyed the Shenandoah Valley that a crow could fly over it and not find anything to eat.
So Robert E. Lee lost a great deal. But for him, the decision--though, he said it came to him in tears of blood--was in other--another way very simple. Robert E. Lee was tied to the founding of this country. His family had been in Virginia since the 17th century. His family was one of the leading families in the--in the state. His father had not only served under Washington in the Revolutionary War, he had been governor of the state. So--and as I mentioned before, he was married into Washington's family.
So Robert E. Lee had no interest in seeing this country torn asunder. But on the other hand, as an American, as a Virginian, as someone who believed in the right of people to determine their own government, he believed that Americans don't settle disputes by force. No matter how controversial the political issue, no matter how meaningful, something like slavery, you don't settle these disputes at the point of a gun. He said--wa--this is a quote from Lee--that "A union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets has no charm for me."
He also paid the price in his career. He was a stellar officer in--during the Mexican War. Winfield Scott, then commander of all US forces, thought that Robert E. Lee was the finest officer he had ever seen in the field, and he worked Robert E. Lee practically to death. He kept him in the--on horseback doing everything for days at a time, until Lee at one point actually received a flesh wound and collapsed, he was so exhausted.
But at the outbreak of the war between the states, Lee was offered command of the Union army. He was offered every professional ambition he could ever have wanted, and he turned it down. And he turned it down saying that though opposed to secession, he could not consent to raise his hand against his family, his friends, his native state. He would return to Virginia and share whatever Virginia was going to suffer and, save in defense of Virginia, he would raise his sword against no one.
I mention in the book that, you know, today, taking the side of the Confederacy is a very controversial thing, but it obviously was even more controversial back then. I mean, more than political correctness was at stake; men's lives were at stake. The future of the Union was at stake. The future of a new potential independent Southern Confederacy was at stake.
And I--you know, in an odd way, I think that Robert E. Lee's position is more understandable if we approach it with an open mind to contemporary Americans than would be, say, Lincoln's position. How many of us would wish to settle a dispute amongst our fellow Americans by force of arms? I mean, if some other controversial were--issue were to come up today, say, the--the states of the Southern Confederacy wanted to secede so that it could act--enact pro-life legislation, the--the federal--the Supreme Court didn't think was constitutionally justified, would we think it proper to send armored divisions across the 14th Street bridge here in Washington, carpet-bomb Southern cities and blockade Southern ports to settle this dispute? You know, I tend to think that would be--sort of the lunatic fringe would be advocating that. I--Lee was standing with the right of a people to determine their own destiny.
LAMB: In 1861, when the Civil War started--and anybody that's come to this town knows right over there, across the river, is Arlington House, Custis-Lee Mansion. Did he live there?
Mr. CROCKER: Yes, he did. In fact, it was the closest thing Lee's had--he was in the army, so he was traveling a lot, but it was the closest thing they had to a family home. It was their first...
LAMB: And there was no Arlington National Cemetery then?
Mr. CROCKER: No. Arl--Arlington House, being just across the Potomac River, was occupied by federal forces shortly after hostilities broke out, and Lee was never allowed to return. It was turned into a--a national cemetery, partly as punishment for the Lees, obviously. But it also is part of the tragedy of his life and his family that they lost some of Washington's heirlooms there, which had been passed down through his wife. Some were actually stolen; others were just taken by the federal government.
LAMB: How much of a Washington was his wife?
Mr. CROCKER: She was, if I remember right, Lee--his great-granddaughter. It's a little bit confusing the way these lines work. She was the daughter of Washington Custis, who was Washington's adopted grandson. So it's through the m--the mother's line.
LAMB: How did it work at the--you know, when Winfield Scott offered him the job of running the Union army? How did it work? I mean, did he call him from over at the Arlington House over here somewhere in the District and...
Mr. CROCKER: Y--it--it--it wasn't actually Winfield Scott who made the offer. Winfield Scott greeted him right after he made the offer, and when Lee--Lee told him of what he'd decided, Winfield Scott said, `Lee, you've made the worst decision of your life, but I feared it would be so.' And then he turned around and told his colleagues in federal service that the addition of Robert E. Lee to con--to the Confederacy was gonna be worth at least 50,000 men to the Southern cause.
LAMB: Who did they offer that job to, then, once he said he wasn't gonna take it?
Mr. CROCKER: Well, the job eventually fell to George McClellan, who was Lee's first--the first Union general he faced head-on in Virginia.
LAMB: Did they know each other at West Point or any place like that?
Mr. CROCKER: No. The--McClellan--well, McClell--McClellan was actually a roommate of A.P. Hill, who was another Confederate officer in Virginia. But McClellan--they--they knew each other, but they were not close friends.
LAMB: Who did Robert E. Lee know on the other side?
Mr. CROCKER: Well, he--he knew many of the officers as a career officer, but I don't think any of them were really close friends. It's an odd thing about Robert E. Lee. Actually, most of his closest friends were women, though he was a masculine man. He--he--his friendships with men were pretty much professional, and the people he liked to socialize with were--were women.
LAMB: You say he didn't swear.
Mr. CROCKER: No. I mean, this is one of the things that actually initially attracted me to Robert E. Lee was here was this man who combined the most daring battlefield maneuvers, who was an audacious and aggressive military commander, taking huge risks and always seeking to take the offensive whenever he could. But in his personal conduct with people, he was incredibly gentle. He operated by suggestion rather than direct order if he could.
And, actually, this is one of the leadership principles that I--I try to draw out of the book is that Robert E. Lee was a man who believed in self-control. And one of his famous dictums about leadership was, `I cannot consent to put under the control--a man who cannot control himself is someone I will not give control of others,' or words to that effect, because he believed that men's passions blinded their logic. They blinded their ability to make the proper decision. Robert E. Lee was very respectful, both of his superiors and of his subordinates.
LAMB: Let me ask you about--because you talk about Lee's lessons in all of your chapters--how did you decide to do this, and how many of them are there? Do you know? Did you ever count them up?
Mr. CROCKER: I--I actually never did count them up, and the--there's not a set number per chapter. It--this book is actually the third in a series that the--the publishing company, Prima Publishing, has done. The first was "Churchill on Leadership." The second was "Reagan on Leadership." And then they had me do "Lee on Leadership," and that was part of the format that they--that they had adopted. I think it's actually very useful. Not always, but sometimes, the bull's-head points at the back are direct quotes from Robert E. Lee, and other times they're just things you can easily extrapolate from what you've just read.
LAMB: What do you do on your day job?
Mr. CROCKER: Well, in my day job, I work with books, actually. I'm a book editor. I acquire books and knock books into shape, work with authors on books for a--a company here in town called Regnery Publishing.
LAMB: How long have you done that?
Mr. CROCKER: Off and on for probably close to a decade. I--this is my second tour with Regnery. I went off and did some political speechwriting in between.
LAMB: Who'd you work for?
Mr. CROCKER: Governor of California.
LAMB: Which governor?
Mr. CROCKER: Pete Wilson.
LAMB: And w--do you remember the moment when this book became a project for you? How'd it happen?
Mr. CROCKER: It happened--I actually signed the contract--let's see--April of '98. It--it happened actually very quickly. I mean, most--the book industry generally works very slowly, and you go through this arduous process of doing a long proposal and talking to people about it. And it's a tribute to the--to Prima Publishing that I actually did it on the basis of a one-page fax. I actually thought the idea was just so obviously a good one that I just stated my qualifications to write the book, and said, `Here are some things I'd like to cover,' and they took a flier on me.
LAMB: Why did they think of you?
Mr. CROCKER: I don't know. I can only assume it's because I've done writing before; they knew I was a qualified author in that regard. And I just had a great interest in the subject.
LAMB: Have you ever written a book before?
Mr. CROCKER: Not under my n--own name. I've--and I--I've helped authors assemble books and rewrite books a lot.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Mr. CROCKER: San Diego, California. Actually, my mother's side, I'm something unheard of, like a fifth- or sixth-generation Californian. But I moved out here after college.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
Mr. CROCKER: UC-San Diego for my undergraduate work, and then went to England for two years, where I got a degree through the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, though I've never been to the LA campus. I did all my course work and everything else in--in London.
LAMB: And your name is H.W. Crocker III.
Mr. CROCKER: Right.
LAMB: What's H.W. stand for?
Mr. CROCKER: Harry William.
LAMB: Why do you use the initials?
Mr. CROCKER: I've done a lot of freelance writing and book reviewing in my day, and that's just how I started off doing it. I don't--I don't particularly know why. I--I get--perhaps just to distinguish myself from my father, and--and just sort of stuck with it.
LAMB: Who is H.W. Crocker II?
Mr. CROCKER: He--he's a retired schoolteacher out in--out in California.
LAMB: What's your mom do?
Mr. CROCKER: She was a schoolteacher, too, but she retired as soon as I was born.
LAMB: How did you get interested in writing?
Mr. CROCKER: That was just innate. I--I've always been interested in books and writing and reading and history and--and military subjects.
LAMB: And then when you have this assignment, how did you get ready to write?
Mr. CROCKER: I'd done a lot of reading beforehand. But once it was now totally official, the--the ink was dry on the contract, I did--I did put myself through another crash course, reviewing all of the books and whatnot. I hoped, initially, to do a lot of the writing early in the morning or at night, but between the demands of job and family, that really proved more or less impracticable. So I--I ended up really blocking off every weekend I could, which was m--virtually all of them, and putting in very long hours on the weekend and, I'm proud to say, turned the book in before my deadline.
LAMB: How ma--how humble was Robert E. Lee? You talk about his humility.
Mr. CROCKER: He was a very humble man. He was completely devoid--people noticed this, too; this wasn't just--just my spin on him. People noticed that he was--ego was a thing that was absent from his character. Fame didn't spoil him. And he just--it was--part of this innate sort of Christian--he d--he embodied many Christian paradoxes. Among them were to lead is to serve. He never thought that being a leader w--meant that he had any claims over other people. He meant--he thought that being a leader meant he was there to serve other people, to make them succeed.
Another officer, one of his staff officers, Walter Taylor, who observed him, said that Lee conducted his affairs of business as a general--he was doing all his paperwork and making decisions and doing whatnot--as though he were beholden for everything he did to a higher power. And I think this is another sort of crucial thing about Lee. Another, in fact, British observer, a field marshal named Garnet Wolseley, said that Lee was quick in decision, yet methodical in all he did. And I think this was sort of combination of being able to make quick decisions, but also taking due care for details, knowing that you're responsible for everything, and not seeking as you're drawing up these plans to find any--I mean, there's--from the movie "Patton," some of us get this idea these flamboyant generals like Montgomery and Patton who each trying to outdo the other. And Lee didn't think in those terms at all. The idea was to win the objective; he didn't really care who got the--the credit.
LAMB: Where was he born?
Mr. CROCKER: Lee was born in Virginia.
Mr. CROCKER: At a place called Stratford Hall, which is down in the northern neck of Virginia.
LAMB: Have you been there?
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah, it's a beautiful place. Stratford Hall was actually lost to the family--to the Lee family while--shortly after he was born. His father was a very swashbuckling character, but sort of a ne'er-do-well, who--he and actually Lee's half-brother went through a series of financial other scandals.
LAMB: Father is Light-Horse Harry?
Mr. CROCKER: Light-Horse Harry. And the half-brother was known as Black-Horse Harry because of some of the scandals he got involved with.
LAMB: Where did Light-Horse get his first name or his nickname?
Mr. CROCKER: That was as an officer, as a cavalry officer. He was--he was Henry Lee, officially, but he became Light-Horse Harry Lee because he was just this sort of dashing man on sword and horseback.
LAMB: So what kind of a world was Robert E. Lee born into down in Stratford Hall and...
Mr. CROCKER: He was born into a world of both grace--they were very gentle people. His mother's side was also very well-to-do, famous Virginia family, the Carters--but to trouble, because his father sort of squandered the family fortunes. And I mention in the book that in some ways, Robert E. Lee had a contemporary upbringing. He was brought up by what we would call today a--a single mother. His father left the family when Lee was six years old. It was the last time Lee saw his father. His father went to the Caribbean to try to restore both his health--he'd had some bad health problems--and his finances.
And so--though his mother had been born to these vast estates, they lived in a fairly humble home in Alexandria, Virginia. And he--from an early age, he--he learned frugality, he learned dutifulness and all the sort of--you know, a Boy Scout virtues. But it's remarkable that none of this ever compromised Lee's sense of humor or his sort of warmheartedness. He was very dutiful, but he was also very--people just innately respected him and liked him and looked up to his character as--as a perfect thing. And he was known as the `Marble Man,' not because he was cold, but because he seemed perfect. And he graduated from West Point without a single demerit, without a single black mark on his--his character part of his report card, second academically in his class.
And he was built, as I--as I mention in the book, sort of like an inverted pyramid. He was--he was physically imposing. He had a very big chest and shoulders, but which tapered down in a thin waist and very small feet. He actually had size four and a half shoes. So on horseback, he looked great. Must've looked kind of odd, though, on those small feet on--on the ground.
LAMB: Now Stratford Hall is how far from Alexandria?
Mr. CROCKER: Well, nowadays, probably by car, it may be an hour and a half, two hours.
LAMB: Why did they come north to Alexandria? Why'd his mother come north?
Mr. CROCKER: There were familial connections. There--Lees and Carters were all over the state, and they ended up settling in--in Alexandria.
LAMB: What year was he born in?
Mr. CROCKER: 1807.
LAMB: And when did they move to Alexandria?
Mr. CROCKER: It was in his boyhood. I--I can't remember the exact date.
LAMB: What years did he go to West Point?
Mr. CROCKER: That would be--let me think--the 1820s. He went back and became superintendent of West Point, I think, in the 1840s, late 1840--I can't really recall.
LAMB: How did he get his original appointment to West Point?
Mr. CROCKER: It was done in the usual--he applied, and he was recommended by all the political figures who had to take care of it. And it was--it was not a hard thing. He prepped for it. He went--did some in--intensive tutoring. But he--he--I mean, he w--he was academically sound; he had all the right credentials.
LAMB: When did he marry?
Mr. CROCKER: He married young. He married shortly after he graduated from West Point. The--one--one interesting thing about his marriage is that he--his--his wife began developing health problems at a fairly young age, in her late 20s. She was crippled virtually by her arthritis by the time she was in her 40s. And she nevertheless bore Lee seven children, and he was completely devoted to her.
And--but they were--they were a study in contrast. Where Lee was prompt, she was always late. Where he was handsome, she was rather plain. Where he was neat, she was messy. Where he had--was a man of tremendous self-control, she was kind of a free spirit and spoke her mind. And she also liked living in ….she liked living in luxury, while Lee was less concerned of those two things.
LAMB: You--y--I counted five children you talked about in the book: Rob, Rooney, Custis, Mildred and Annie, I believe.
Mr. CROCKER: There are two other daughters.
LAMB: Did they live, or you...
Mr. CROCKER: All of the children lived save for one, who died--she had a--a fever during the war.
LAMB: And you say that a couple of his sons--well, for instance, Rooney was a prisoner of war during the ci--war?
Mr. CROCKER: Right.
LAMB: And before you answer that, I just almost said it myself; I almost said `Civil War.' You never refer to the Civil War; you always refer to the war between the states.
Mr. CROCKER: Right. I do that out of deference to--to my Southern friends. I mean, I think they make a good point. The Civil War is sort of what you would see in Romania or Yugoslavia; it's an insurrection within defined borders. This is really a separation between two--what sort of thought of themselves what--two distinct regions. So it was a war between self-defined, at least, and the South thought of it as an independent nation rather than internal conflict. There wasn't any struggle for power within a--within the same country.
LAMB: You write a lot about the battles of the Civil War.
Mr. CROCKER: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Did you go to these places?
Mr. CROCKER: Been to most all of them, which, in--living in Virginia, is an easy thing to do. I mean, most of them are, you know, two, three, at the most four hours away from northern Virginia, and some of them are very, very close, indeed. This last weekend, I was just up at Antietam and Harpers Ferry again, and the weekend before that, I was in Gettysburg. And--so they're easy to get to.
LAMB: Well, let me just ask, for those who've never been there, Antietam is how far from here?
Mr. CROCKER: Maybe an hour and a half. Harpers...
LAMB: Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Mr. CROCKER: Right, yeah. Harpers Ferry is about an hour.
Mr. CROCKER: An hour and a half, two hours.
LAMB: And one that you write about and I want you to talk about, Chancellorsville and Stonewall Jackson. How far is that from here?
Mr. CROCKER: Probably about two hours.
LAMB: In Virginia?
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: What happened at Chancellorsville, and when did it happen?
Mr. CROCKER: Chancellorsville is probably the most stunning Confederate victory in the war. I think in the book I call it the high tide of Lee's Confederacy. The high tide of--of the Confederacy is generally regarded as Gettysburg; it's the farthest north the army down in Virginia ever got. But--but Chancellorsville is stunning because Lee was outnumbered roughly 3:1; he had federal troops coming at him from two directions, from Fredericksburg to the east and at Chancellorsville to the west. They were led by a Union officer who was known as a--a braggart and a man who liked his liquor, named Joseph Hooker, who was convinced he was going to crush the--the--the Confederate army.
LAMB: And, by the way, Hooker's where they got the name `hooker' for prostitute?
Mr. CROCKER: Yes.
LAMB: Why was that? Do you remember.
Mr. CROCKER: It happened--some instance here in Washington, DC, but I don't remember the--the details. And maybe he was charged with rounding them up at one point or something; I c--I can't recall.
LAMB: What year was Chancellorsville?
Mr. CROCKER: It's--I can--put me on the spot.
LAMB: I can look it up; go ahead. I mean, it was early in the war, though, or--or--or earlier than...
Mr. CROCKER: Well, it's kind of mid--it's middle of the war.
LAMB: I mean, it's not late.
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah, yeah. It's b--it's before Gettysburg. And the--the stunning thing about Chancellorsville, though, is what Stonewall Jackson does under Lee's direction. Lee, outnumbered now on--on two sides, is trying to find a way to, in his words, get out those people, and getting out those people was one of his constant things. He never liked to be static on the defensive. And he sent Stonewall Jackson out on reconnaissance to find out if there's a way to get around the Union flank.
LAMB: Who was Stonewall Jackson at that moment? And tell us something about him.
Mr. CROCKER: Stonewall Jackson was a man who actually--his genius was discovered by Lee when Lee was still a desk officer, as he was at the beginning of the war. He was a--sort of Jefferson Davis' troubleshooter in Richmond. And Lee saw this man in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, who was conducting all these independent operations that were stunning and befuddling Union forces much his superior numbers, and was doing this largely on his own hook. And Lee liked men like that. He liked men who could take the initiative.
So Lee captured him, brought him back with the army of northern Virginia, and they had the greatest partnership of any two generals of the war. Stonewall Jackson was, in many ways, an odd man. He was very--well, he--he--he was known for being very dour, but there were actually many winsome, sweet things about him. He'd been a professor at Virginia Military Institute. He'd been a soldier before that; he'd gone to West Point. He served bravely in the Mexican War.
And he was known as an eccentric, though. He was a extremely devout Presbyterian, Sabbatarian; didn't like fighting on Sunday, didn't even like to draw ammunition on Sunday if he could avoid it, and was very uncommunicative with his--not only with his troops, with his fellow officers. He never liked to tell them when they--where they were going because he--he liked the idea of secrecy.
LAMB: How old was he when he was doing this?
Mr. CROCKER: He was in his 30s. Most of these men are also--they're very young.
LAMB: His generals.
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah. The youngest--you know, the youngest general--but the youngest general was probably Custer on the Union side. But a lot of these men--Lee is a little bit of the exception, being a bit older, but men like Jeb Stuart and A.P. Hill. Jeb Stuart--he was really more of a striking example of the Confederate side. They're all--they're all fairly young men given huge responsibility. But, anyway, at--at Chancellorsville, it was--Jackson comes back to Lee, and this is around the campfire, and says, `I intend to go around their flank this way. I found this road. We can do it.' And he says, `Well, how many men do you take--intend to take with you?' And he intends to take roughly two-thirds of Lee's men, leaving Lee to face the front of Hooker's forces with, you know, a--a h--a holding force that wouldn't have held them for 20 minutes.
But Lee, you know, joyously endorsed this and said, `Well, go on then.' And that sort of calm trusting to a daring subordinate was also a hallmark of Lee, and it--it's a hallmark of Lee's for a couple of reasons. One is he very much trusted Jackson. He believed in people; he didn't believe in numbers. And when--when Lee first took battlefield command, which was during the Seven Days Campaign in front of Richmond early in the war, the--the Confederate troops up to that point had been continually retreating, trying to find a good defensive position. They'd finally stopped within sight of Richmond, the capital of--of Virginia and the capital of the Confederacy.
And when Lee called his first staff meeting, the--he wanted to know what the generals thought they should do, and they thought that they should retreat further. And they were doing all these calculations, and he said, you know, `Stop figuring. If you keep ciphering or--we're beat before we even get started.' So he didn't believe in numbers. He didn't believe in sort of textbook strategy. He believed to find the right man for the right job, you wanted him to be audacious and daring and you turned him loose. That's what he did with Jackson, and Jackson responded well to that sort of independent command.
LAMB: How was he killed?
Mr. CROCKER: He was killed, unfortunately, by friendly fire. And he was out riding in front of his troops. The--the--Jackson's movement at Chancellorsville starts about 5:15, if I remember rightly, in the evening. So they di--didn't have much time. Darkness is falling. And once they had the Union forces routed, they wanted to keep them going. This is one of Jackson's stratagems, was that once you have a--your enemy flustered, on the run, don't let up, keep after them. And he wanted to keep after them, even after darkness was falling, and he was looking out at a--on a scouting expedition to find ways to keep the offensive rolling, and as he was riding back, he was actually shot down. He was mistaken for--for federal calvary.
LAMB: How'd they lose his arm? And I understand that the arm is buried one place and he's buried another?
Mr. CROCKER: Right. The--the wounds that went into him went into his arm. The arm was amputated. He died later of pneumonia. And, in fact, you can go visit the--the little house where he died. It's a place called Guinny Station off the main interstate here in Virginia, 95. And the--one striking thing, I think, for visitors--you want to go find that place--is that the freeway signs that direct you there are to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, and to go off the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, you go off--on--off through--in off this--it eventually becomes a little dirt road. And it really is kind of like a shrine because there's nothing hyped about it. You go in there, the only thing that's there is the room and a r--ranger, who will tell you about the--what happened there. But there's no gift shop and there's no ticky-tacky stuff. It's--it's all very sober. And Stonewall Jackson died on the Sabbath, as he wished to do. It was kind of a long-term wish of his.
And before Lee w--this was a devastating blow for Lee. There was a famous quote where Lee said, "Jackson has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right." And it was recorded by some that Lee--he was known as a religious man--never prayed harder than when he prayed that Stonewall Jackson might recover. And even Jefferson Davis, who was slow to see Jackson's gifts and who, in any event, was a man of fairly stoic demeanor, when someone went to go see him shortly after Jackson's funeral, they saw him staring off into space and, you know, said, `What's the matter, Mr. President?' And he said, `I'm just trying to recover from a stunning blow.'
There were many Confederates after the war--in fact, there's one person who says that Lee actually said this, that, `If Stonewall Jackson had been with Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, that battle might have gone another way,' because at the battle of Gettysburg, Lee's--Lee wanted the same sort of independent operations he saw at Chancellorsville and couldn't get them done.
LAMB: In 1861, Civil War starts. How many men are there under arms in the North and in the South?
Mr. CROCKER: I don't remember the exact numbers, but the differentials between the two are on the basis of 2:1. But the South was taking a much larger section of its draft-age population and putting them under arms. The North had--I mean, in a sense …but they really had endless supplies of men. During the 1864 campaign, when Grant takes command against--against Lee, Grant is losing casualties at the rate of 2:1 for every one--every--every Confederate he's able to kill of Robert E. Lee's, he's losing two men. But he's able to do this, he's able to win this endless war of attrition because Lee's resources are, more or less, static. When these men are gone, they're not replaceable.
LAMB: Let me ask you this. If Robert E. Lee had had the same number of men that the North had, what would have happened?
Mr. CROCKER: It would have been an entirely different game.
LAMB: Was it a war of attrition then?
Mr. CROCKER: No, no. Lee didn't believe in wars of attrition. Lee would have--if--if Lee...
LAMB: Did Grant?
Mr. CROCKER: Yes. Yes. I mean, Lee--Grant believed that the--`What I'm going to do is I'm just going to ground this guy into powder,' and essentially that's what happened. L--Grant didn't succeed in beating Lee in any of these battles. Lee had gone to the siege of Petersburg. The siege of Petersburg goes on for eight or nine months.
LAMB: And what year was that?
Mr. CROCKER: That l--ends up in 1865, where--the war actually ends in April 1865, where Lee is finally forced to abandon Petersburg. But all the way up till then, Grant has just been pounding Lee, but not ever defeating him.
LAMB: What were the major battles that you write about that Robert E. Lee was involved in?
Mr. CROCKER: He wasn't actually in command at the battle--the battle of the First Manassas, but he had helped draw up the strategy for the first Confederate victory. The battle of Second Manassas, battle of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the 1864 campaign, which encompasses many battles, and the sort of...
LAMB: The Wilderness. Was that in there?
Mr. CROCKER: The Wilderness, Cold Harbor.
LAMB: Did he lose--did Lee lose any of those?
Mr. CROCKER: No. All of them are, at a minimum, tactical victories. Some of them actually were pretty stunning victories. It was at the battle of Cold Harbor that...
LAMB: Where is that, by the way?
Mr. CROCKER: It's east of Richmond. That Grant had thrown so many troops in this sort of ceaseless assault that kept failing, that federal officers thought they would not be able to order them in forward again. The m--Army was so demoralized, Grant himself was supposedly just shocked and stunned at what was going on.
LAMB: Did Robert E. Lee have slaves?
Mr. CROCKER: Yes, but for a very short period of time. When--and I--and by the standards of plantation owners, he didn't have very many slaves. He in--he inherited slaves when he inherited Arlington House. Washington Custis, his father-in-law, had a plantation at Arlington, and--it was an interesting plantation, though, because Washington Custis not only didn't like to work himself, he didn't like to see other people work. He was a very lazy man. And the--when he--i--in the terms of his will, he mandated that the slaves be freed within five years of the will's taking effect.
So Robert E. Lee did free all the slaves for which he was responsible. The slaves were all freed before the Emancipation Proclamation became a law.
LAMB: In '63.
Mr. CROCKER: In '63, right. And he made an extraordinary effort to make sure that every slave for which he was responsible found employment afterwards. Now th--slavery does touch regularly in other parts of his life, up to then, but in, you know, very miniscule ways. The--the family--the Lee family had maybe half a dozen slaves, but L--Lee really had nothing to do with them. He inherited, I believe, four slaves from his mother, but he got rid of them almost as soon as they officially became hi--his possession.
And early in his career, he was given an old man to go take with him as sort of a servant down to one of his early commands, I believe, in Georgia, but they were really sort of one-off things. And by the standards, he--he wasn't a planter. He was a soldier.
LAMB: This is way out of context, but at the end of the war, you tell a story about a church service in Richmond...
Mr. CROCKER: Right. I think it's...
LAMB: ...and a black man.
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah. It's one of--it's a great Robert E. Lee story 'cause it tells a lot about him. The war is just over. He's in Richmond, a place called St. Peter's Church, upper class, then white Episcopal church. And during the service, a black man went up to the chancellor rail to receive Communion. This had never happened before. And the congregation was all rather embarrassed, shuffling in their seats. Even the priest didn't know what to do. And it was Robert E. Lee who took the initiative and went up and knelt beside the black man at the chancellor rail. And w--never said a word, but through this act made this obvious public gesture that, `What matters is we're all Virginians, we're all Episcopalians, and now we're all Americans again.'
And after the war, Robert--Robert E. Lee was opposed to continuing any sort of dissention. He believed the cause he felt for was just and right, but he also believed it'd been settled in a--on the battlefield.
LAMB: What was his cause?
Mr. CROCKER: His cause was the cause of constitutional government and the cause of people being allowed to determine their own destiny. B--when--when the s--when the Confederacy gets hit with these charges of being a s--a--when--when its distinguishing feature is identified as slavery, I really think that's unjust because that's only true if America's distinguishing feature was slavery before the war. I mean, the South, at the outbreak of hostilities in the Civil War, is only upholding the status quo and upholding rulings of the Supreme Court on the issue of slavery.
Slavery does not--the ending of slavery does not become the Union war aim until af--the battle of Sharpsburg in 1862, when--when Lee--or when Lincoln announces the Emancipation Proclamation, which becomes law in 1863. But even Lincoln admitted that this was a--it really had no binding legal force. A president just can't announce a law. This is not a law that--it wa--it--it was--it was a war aim. It was a--it was--it applied only to those states--not even to those states, those areas that were in rebellion against the Union. Border states, like Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, which were not part of the Confederacy, were not affected; nor were places that had been occupied by federal forces early in the war where it--slavery existed. Slavery was not abolished there. It was targeted only on those areas that were s--that were rebelling against the Union.
LAMB: This is a quote. You've got Robert E. Lee saying this: "Let him never touch a novel. They print beauty more charming than nature and describe happiness that never exists. They will teach him to sigh after that which has no reality, to despise the little good that is granted us in this world and to expect more than is given," speaking to Rooney, his son. What's that about?
Mr. CROCKER: It's a very Robert E. Lee sentiment, actually, and Lee believed in taking reality for what it was. He believed, as I say in the book, in the religion of things as they are. He thought that nothing--or few things contribute more to human unhappiness than the sort of harkening after things that can never be. Lee believed when you take circumstances, and you make the--the most of them and if you daydream about these, you know, fantastical things you could do for yourself, you won't be able to appreciate, as he says there, `the little k--the little mercies, the glories of nature that we are granted.' And--and it--again, it's a Christian vision, a sort of veil of tears that we go through.
LAMB: You--you also write this. You say that, `In any event'--this is your words--`In any event, today our hopes for producing men like America's Virginia-born Founding Fathers are about as distant as our hopes of hearing news of rising SAT scores, the growing unpopularity of television and the demise of rock music.'
Mr. CROCKER: It is true that Lee comes from this tradition--it--within Virginia--I mean, he's a--he's son of one of the men who served the founders. It's a Virginia that produced Washington, Madison, Monroe. And even among the Confederate officers, these are remarkable men. I mean, like A.P. Hill and Stonewall Jackson and--and Lee. Y--we don't--we--often now it's kind of a cliche. People say, `Where are our Washingtons today? Where are our Lincolns today? Where are our Jeffersons today?' And we don't seem to have them.
And I argue in the book that it's partly because we've misunderstood what it means to be a leader. I think all too often now, people think that to be a leader, it means that you take names and you kick butts and you--it becomes a sort of self-fulfillment-driven vocation. And Lee believed that was not true; that--in fact, there's a famous incident in L--Lee's life after the war, where a woman holds up her young son to Robert E. Lee and says, `General Lee, what should I teach my son? What's the most important lesson I can teach him?' And he says, `Teach him he must deny himself.' And that was really one of the bywords of Robert E. Lee's life, was, `Teach him he must deny himself.'
And on top of that, Lee believed--and this, again, ties in to what--the cause he fought for during the war. He believed in a gentleman and a leader is best graded by the avoidance of the use of force. The more you lead by example, the m--the more qualified you are to be a leader. And he believed in conscience. He believed in freedom of conscience. Even during--after he made his decision to cash his lot with the Confederacy, he makes this somewhat startling comment to his wife. He says that, `If I have done wrong, let him'--that is, his sons--`do better.' He didn't want his sons guided by his example in making this controversial decision. As it turned out, they all entered Confederate service.
But he believed that individual conscience--or conscious was--was im--important. It--it sounds, again, kind of cliche, but he--he told his children as he was raising them that the most important thing they could do was to always abide by the dictates of conscience: `And the decisions you make on that basis may not be pleasurable or profitable even in the way we consider these things, but you would have this one great consolation: that if you do what you think is right, and you--if you exert every sinew that you have in your body to execute that duty, you'll have no cause to ever doubt yourself, no matter what happens.' And this was true for Lee throughout the war. He trusted the providence. Also after the war, he--he said, `You know, I may not understand why our cause was doomed'--I'm paraphrasing here right now, but, you know, `We have--we have to trust our merciful prophets that all things will be turned to--to right.'
LAMB: How many of his children fought in the war?
Mr. CROCKER: His three sons were all...
LAMB: Any of them wounded?
Mr. CROCKER: Yes. Rooney was wounded. He wa--the one who became the prisoner of war. He also had a nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, who actually took command after Jeb Stuart died. His son, Robert E. Lee Jr.--I don't believe he was wounded, but there's a great anecdote about him, which is at the battle of Sharpsburg, if I remember rightly, where...
Mr. CROCKER: Or Antietam, I'm--is--yeah. The--Lee rides up to this artillery piece and is ordering it back into action, after the pieces actually have been destroyed, and he sees this man covered in--in ashes and dirt and gunpowder, and it's his son. And his son says, you know, `Are you going to order us back into that--in that fighting?' And--and Lee kind of cracks this grin and says, `Yes. You must go back and do all you can to keep those people back.'
LAMB: Was he wounded?
Mr. CROCKER: I don't think so. I think he ended the war pretty much unscathed.
LAMB: When did he develop a heart problem?
Mr. CROCKER: Oh, you mean Lee himself?
Mr. CROCKER: He--he--he was wounded not by gunfire. He--he did injure himself in a--in a horse accident in the war. He developed heart problems at least during the war. It's hard to trace these things back, but the--sort of the symptoms start hitting him during the war. During the battle of Gettysburg, he was famously not feeling up to par. And as the war dragged on, it was obviously becoming more and more painful. It became hard for him to move. He was becoming sh--his breath was--was leaving him. And his features were becoming--he aged rapidly during the war. In fact, when he was going to take his first position after the war, as president of this college--it was offered to him, he said, `You know, I've got to tell you, I don't think I have the--the strength to do much teaching. I think I can handle the administr--the administrative role, but I'm not the man I used to be.'
LAMB: How old is he in this picture?
Mr. CROCKER: That picture is--he's probably around--do some quick math--about 58. That's a famous Matthew Brady picture taken just after the war.
LAMB: Inside the book--oh, by the way, in any battle, where would you find him?
Mr. CROCKER: Well, especially towards the latter part, at the front. Lee...
Mr. CROCKER: No, no, on--on horseback. He--he would ride to the front and be--be with his men.
LAMB: What was the name of his horse?
Mr. CROCKER: Traveller. He--he had several horses, but his favorite mount, his most famous mount was--was Traveller. In fact, he became so attached to Traveller that he said he didn't think he could have endured what he'd had to go through in the war unless he'd been able to ride out in the countryside, as he always tried to do, a half-hour a day or so on Traveller. Two of them sort of communed.
LAMB: Where's Traveller today?
Mr. CROCKER: Traveller's actually buried in Lexington, Virginia, just outside of Lee chapel in Lexington. Le--Lexington, Virginia, actually, if--if anyone comes out this way to visit, is a great, great place. It's--it's where Stonewall Jackson taught and is buried. His horse is buried there on the grounds of VMI, the Virginia Military Institute.
LAMB: What was his horse's name?
Mr. CROCKER: Little Sorrel. And there's Washington Lee University with Lee chapel and the burial spot of Traveller and...
LAMB: VMI, Virginia Military Institute, and...
Mr. CROCKER: Right next door to each other.
LAMB: ...right next--I mean, literally right next door to each other...
Mr. CROCKER: Right.
LAMB: ...what--is there any symbolism there, or why are they together that close?
Mr. CROCKER: I think it's just chance. It's just--they've developed that way. Both schools were badly damaged, destroyed during the war. And it was one of Lee's first projects to--to really restore what was--again, what was then Washington College.
LAMB: Your say in your book about leadership that one of the things that Lee lived by was, `Do your own reconnaissance.' I mean, all your--I don't know how many you've got of these leadership tips in here. Are they supposed to be leadership of anything?
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah. I mean, I think something like that is something that could be adapted to--to business pretty easily. I mean, to go out and get the details about the--what affects your marketplace yourself. Don't necessarily trust on other people to filter the information for you. And go out and mix it up with the people out in the field. The id...
LAMB: I--I ought to read a bunch of these because we--we've been talking about him literally stated them: `A leader must keep hope alive'; `a leader must recognize that, in the end, there are those things worse than even defeat'; `when facts dictate the one's business is failed and that one's war is lost and that no further effort could possibly achieve success, a leader knows it is far better to face facts squarely than to carry on a struggle that results only in needless effusions of red rink or red blood.'
Mr. CROCKER: Actually, two of those points have very interesting stories connected to them. On `do your own reconnaissance,' there's a famous and somewhat humorous incident in the Mexican War, where Lee was out doing reconnaissance, and his Mexican guide pointed to these what appeared to be white tents and campfires in the distance and said, `There's the Mexican army. We've got to get out of here.' And Lee didn't take his word for it. And while his guide ran away, he rode on into the darkness to get a better--closer look. And as he rode up closer, he discovered that those white tents were actually white sheep, and the fires were the fires of the shepherds who were taking care of them. And through the shepherds, he found out where the Mexican army actually was.
And on the story of `sometimes defeat has to be faced squarely,' there's actually a very moving story connected with that, which is that shortly before Lee rode into Appomatox Court house to surrender to Grant, he was talking to one of his young artillery officers, a man named Alexander, and talking about what they should do. He wa--he was--he always liked to talk. You know, he generally knew what he wanted to do. He would talk it through with his officers to go through the different scenarios. And Alexander, being a high-strung young man, said, `You know what we should do? We should go out in the--become bushwhackers. We should wage a guerrilla campaign. We shouldn't give up.' And Lee said, `That might be very well for--for you and for me, for--for whom surrender is hateful. And it might be something we like to do for our own personal honor. But we can't think of ourselves first. We've already seen reprisals against civilians. We've already seen Sherman burning down Southern cities and destroying Southern property. This will only get worse. If we launch a partisan campaign, there'll be reprisals against civilians. We have to think first of the women and the children of the South.'
And Lee believed in what they--what the South, at the time, regarded as civilized warfare. You only fight against uniformed armed men. And they were ha--horrified by the sort of Union policy of total war.
LAMB: Quick point on Appomatox that you made it. Where is it?
Mr. CROCKER: Right. It, too, is in Virginia. It's--it's off the major freeways. It's maybe four hours from--from here, from Washington.
LAMB: South of Washington?
Mr. CROCKER: South, yes. It's south of Richmond. It's...
LAMB: How far from Petersburg?
Mr. CROCKER: It's to the west of Petersburg maybe an hour and a half by car, two maybe.
LAMB: When Lee surrendered to grant at Appomatox Court house, what was the date? And how--how far away was it from the Lincoln assassination?
Mr. CROCKER: It was Good Friday, 1865. And an interesting sidelight to--to the surrender is that Lee was so taken by the generosity of spirit of Grant at the surrender that after the war he would not allow a harsh word about Grant to be said in his presence, which shows, I think, again the spirit of Lee as being a kind, generous, forgiving man who ha--who bore no personal animosity, even against those he thought had been, you know, fighting against his native soil and countrymen.
LAMB: If Abe Lincoln died on April the 15th, 1865...
Mr. CROCKER: It was a week.
LAMB: ...What was that?--just days--just a week there.
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: More lessons--we're running out of time, unfortunately--`A leader who earns the respect of his adversary can save himself battles,' as Lee did after Gettysburg. `A leader should always conduct himself so that he might enjoy the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed. A leader seizes the opportunity of the day, carpe diem. A leader knows when to put himself on the front line to inspire his people.' Anything that comes to mind as you hear those?
Mr. CROCKER: Well, Lee--actually, again, towards the end of the war, he was always worried about his loss of officers. The casualty rate among Confederate officers was extremely high. And Lee, at one--at--well, at a couple points actually during the battle of the Wilderness, in particular, was riding forward unarmed aga--as the Union forces were pouring out, charging the Confederate line, as though he was going to stop them himself. And he had to be grabbed and forcibly removed from charging the federal forces. And he said, `All right, I'll go back if you men will charge in there and--and stop them.' And they did.
LAMB: On page 194 of this 248-page, $22 book is kind of--it--it sounds like this might be your point. I'll get you to expound on it. You write, `His method of leadership,' meaning Robert E. Lee, `was far removed from the childish, ersatz challenges and rewards contemporary managers like to dangle before their employees. Selecting managers of the month, gathering self-conscious team cheerleading sessions, organizing weekend whitewater rafting or mountain climbing to teach leadership and teamwork, it is hard to think of anything more removed from Lee's natural dignity and respect for his men and his officers.' Is that--that's where you're coming from?
Mr. CROCKER: Yeah, I--yes. I think it's where Lee is coming from, too. I mean, Lee--a--another Confederate once said that the Army of Northern Virginia, which is what Lee led, was an organization of gentlemen that was driven to do one thing, which was to drive out Yankees. And I--I think businesses need to be serious about this and realize that when you have employees from nine to five or nine to six or however long these people work, they can be devoted to your business, but it's not their lives. They're individuals.
And Lee, who always respected his subordinates and respected individuals, w--di--wouldn't believe in party games. He believed if your objectives are important enough to be organized, as a business or something, that's motivation enough to succeed. You don't need to offer all these rewards.
LAMB: H--how'd he die?
Mr. CROCKER: He died after coming back from a vestry meeting, actually, at--he--it was a cold, drizzly day. He came home and suddenly just couldn't speak.
LAMB: Was his wife still alive, by the way?
Mr. CROCKER: Yes. He--he died before she did. He actually had sat down at the table to say grace, and no words would come out. And he just sort of sat there ramrod straight and was just sort of frozen. He--he l--he didn't die immediately. There was a period where he was sort of feverish. And he actually did get his voice back a little bit. He spoke in monosyllables, and he did cry out a couple times. He called out for one of his officers, A.P. Hill...
LAMB: Who was dead.
Mr. CROCKER: ...who was dead already. And he--it is recorded in--someplace that his last words were, `Strike the tent,' which is a fitting epitaph for him.
LAMB: What kind of a funeral did they have for him?
Mr. CROCKER: It was a very big deal. He--he'd--he'd already become a--it--he was obviously a hero to Virginia and to the South, but interestingly enough, Lee, before his death--and he died only five years after the war...
LAMB: How old was he?
Mr. CROCKER: He was 63. He--he became a national hero. And when you think of that five-year period in--after the bloodiest conflict this country has ever known by far--it's usually said that if you add up all of America's wars put together, it's less than everybody who perished in the war between the states. And yet before he died, a big New York newspaper, the New York Herald, was recommending that the Democratic Party nominate Robert E. Lee for president. And this was when Robert E. Lee didn't even have his citizenship back yet. He couldn't vote. So I really think that it's--it's very few people who come to blows, come to--come to warfare who, that quickly, regard one of their former opponents as a hero.
LAMB: Our guest has been H.W. Crocker III. "Robert E. Lee On Leadership" is the name of the book, "Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision" by Prima Books. Thank you very much.
Mr. CROCKER: Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.