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TitleGENERAL ROBERT E. LEE'S PERSONAL STAFF
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SIDWELL, ROBERT W., Ph.D,., May 2018 HISTORY

SACRIFICING FOR THE LOST CAUSE: GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE’S PERSONAL

STAFF (372 PP.)



Dissertation Advisor: Leonne Hudson





The dissertation examines the role of the six main officers who served on General Robert E.

Lee’s personal staff during the American Civil War. Historians have largely either ignored these

men or dismissed them somewhat offhandedly as ill-trained incompetents who were more of a

hindrance to General Lee than a help to him as he attempted to command and control the Army

of Northern Virginia. The dissertation thus helps fill a gap in the voluminous historiography of

the Civil War by examining a little-studied group of officers whose role was vital for the smooth

and correct functioning of the Confederacy’s most important army, and assessing their aptitude

in fulfilling their assigned duties. It utilizes both period and modern staff criteria for evaluating

their performance, and in so doing contributes to scholarly knowledge both about the staff

officers and General Lee himself.

In addition to answering these questions concerning military history, the dissertation analyzes the

reasons why, as they wrote of the war years, Lee’s staff consciously subverted their own roles

and sometimes literally disappeared in the shadow of their former commander. In articles,

memoirs, and speeches, Lee’s former staff officers seldom mentioned themselves; they instead

commented at length on Lee, in the most extreme cases implying that Lee wrote their postwar

works. The dissertation answers why these former staff officers sacrificed their own reputations

for Lee, and in the process analyzes the emergence of the Lee cult and its accompanying Lost

Cause tradition in the 1870s.

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5 “Widely-Known Man Claimed by Death,” Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, March 2, 1916, in Walter Taylor File, Kirn

Library, Virginia Military Institute.
6 “By Order of General Lee, Walter H. Taylor, A. A. G.,” The News Leader, Richmond, Virginia, Thursday, March

2, 1916, and “Col. W. H. Taylor, ‘Trusted Adjutant’ of Lee, is Dead,” Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark,

Thursday, March 2, 1916, both in Walter Taylor File, Kirn Library, Virginia Military Institute. Almost fifty years

later, on Robert E. Lee’s birthday, the Virginian-Pilot wrote a short piece on Taylor that continued to focus on his

service to Lee and pointed out that he rarely spoke or wrote about himself, simply stating that ““Col. Walter Herron

Taylor of Norfolk was a taciturn man. He wasn’t one to bounce his granddaughter on his knee and tell her of the

interesting things he’d done. He never told her stories of how he was Gen. Robert E. Lee’s most trusted staff

officer, the only one who was with him through all of his campaigns.” See untitled article, Virginian-Pilot, January

19, 1964, in Walter Taylor File, Kirn Library, Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia.
7 See untitled article, Thursday, March 9, 1916, Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, in Walter Taylor File,

Kirn Library, Virginia Military Institute.
8 “By Order of General Lee, Walter H. Taylor, A. A. G.,” The News Leader, Richmond, Virginia, Thursday, March

2, 1916, in Walter Taylor File, Kirn Library, Virginia Military Institute.
9 See Talcott Scrapbook, in Talcott Family Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia. See also

Carlton McCarthy to T. M. R. Talcott, May 1, 1890, and Thomas Ellett to T. M. R. Talcott, May 28, 1890, both in

Talcott Family Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia. McCarthy was the Secretary of the

Virginia Division of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia.
10 “Col. Talcott is Dead; On Gen. Lee’s Staff,” Washington Star, May 8, 1920, in Talcott Family Papers, Virginia

Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia, and Thomas M. R. Talcott Will, Talcott Family Papers, Virginia Historical

Society, Richmond, Virginia.
11 Ibid.
12 “Col. T. M. R. Talcott,” Insider, May 8, 1920, in Talcott Family Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond,

Virginia.
13 Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography, vol.4 (New York, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944),

533.

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