Sailor’s Creek: Major General G. W. Custis Lee, Captured with Controversy


by Frank Everett White, Jr.

 

Published by SCHROEDER PUBLICATIONS 2008. Softcover, 304 pages, index, more than 70 photos and maps, size 8.5″ x 11″. ISBN 978-1-889246-40-6.

With Frank White’s work on the battle of Sailor’s Creek focusing on the capture of Confederate Major General George Washington Custis Lee, eldest son of the famed General Robert E. Lee, new light is shed on this often overlooked pivotal battle during the final days of the Civil War.

Indeed, one could easily argue that the Confederate defeat at Sailor’s Creek was more disastrous to the Confederacy than at Gettysburg. After the Battle of Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia continued to fight for nearly another two years. After the Battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6, 1865, Lee’s army ceased to exist as a combat force within three days. The loss of more than 8,000 men and nine generals (one-fifth of Lee’s army, with 7,700 being captured, the largest field surrender of the Civil War without terms following) directly affected Lee’s ability to combat Grant’s pursuing legions.


Among those nine Confederate generals captured was Robert E. Lee’s son, a former aide to Jefferson Davis, in his first combat action. However, controversy quickly developed over Custis Lee’s capture. Mr. White is out to set the record straight.
Was a Congressional Medal of Honor for the capture of Custis Lee awarded to a man undeserving of that honor? In a style different from your typical Civil War manuscript, Mr. White compiled and reviewed the evidence, much of it previously untapped material, to determine the facts in the matter.


The question is answered by using the evidence presented in a fashion as if it was a court case. Did Private Harris S. Hawthorn of the 121st New York or David D. White of the 37th Massachusetts actually capture Custis Lee? Through this study, White aptly reveals the answer. By doing such thorough research, Mr. White has added to the history of the Battle of Sailor’s Creek and also calls for an in-depth review of the award in this case, “for the integrity of the esteemed Congressional Medal of Honor.”


Illustrated by more than 70 photos and maps, this well-indexed study breaks the mold of the typical Civil War book. White presents the detailed account of the capture of General Custis Lee at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek and the controversy that surrounds it drawing on a myriad of sources, which allows the reader to make their own determination.  The topic of Custis Lee’s capture has certainly been a largely ignored event, seldom receiving more than a mention by historians. Thanks to White’s diligent and copious research, this is no longer the case.

 

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