Marvel’ous’ debunking of a myth, Lee and the Appomattox Campaign

Last ight I picked up Primedia’s Appomattox Commemorative Issue from the editors of America’s Civil War and Civil War Times. William Marvel has two articles that critque the Lee’s actions and decisions during the retreat to Appomattox. In his article “Many have offered excuses for the Confederate retreat to Appomattox” Marvel breaks down the myth that claims Lee faced “6 to 1 odds” in terms of relative troop strength during his retreat to Appomattox. By Marvel’s calculation he estimates Lee had at least “72,000 to as many as 79,000 men” within his ranks between March 25 and April 9. According to Marvel it is estimated that Lee suffered 26,000 casualties for the same time period. Taking into the account the 3,000 desertions in March as reported by Lee’s staff and the 28,000 Confederate soldiers that surrendered at Appomattox there are close to 20,000 Confederate soldiers that somehow disappeared during the campaign. Referring to the regimental and brigade returns form March 1 to April 9 in the eight infantry brigades from Virginia their was a 75.4 percent reduction in strength and in the nine North Carolina brigades there was a 64 percent loss of strength. According to Marvel these reductions in troop strength prove that many Confederate soldiers “took off for home” realizing that the war was lost. The fact that both Virginia and North Carolina units showed the highest degree of loss indicates that many soldiers who were closer to their homes then soldiers from the other states opted to return home on their own before the Army of Northern Virginia actually surrendered. Even with these losses Marvel points out that Lee was still able to a mass close to 45,000 men at Amelia Court House by April 5. With 45,000 troops Lee still had almost as many troops as he did after Antietam and during his retreat from Gettysburg. Instead of facing 6 to 1 odds as the mythology claims Lee actually faced more manageable odds of 2 to 1.

I think Marvel has shown that the belief that Lee was forced to surrender because his army was vastly out numbered but still “unconquered in spirit” was nothing but a myth put forth by believers in the Lost Cause.


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