Saturday, 27 September 2014


1952 Bowman card of  Larry Dody, the first
African-American in the American League
(US Public Domain)
In 1950, Veeck married Mary Frances Ackerman, a showbiz press agent for the Ice Capades. She was not only attractive, but intelligent too and an enormous help to her husband in his future baseball operations. In 1951, Veeck then made what many people considered the greatest mistake of his life by purchasing the American League St Louis Browns, one of the worst major league teams ever. His plan was to run the crosstown National League St Louis Cardinals, owned by Fred Saigh, out of the city. Veeck signed ex-Cards like Rogers Hornsby and then Marty Marion to manage the Browns and ex-Card pitching great Dizzy Dean to announce the games. His promoting helped to increase attendance from a pitiful 247,000 in 1951 to a much-better 519,000 (almost 300,000 increase), while the Cardinals attendance dropped by 300,000.

Veeck also decorated Sportsmans Park--owned by the Browns and rented out to the Cardinals--with Browns paraphernalia, just to bother Saigh. Saigh ended up leaving all right, but he sold out to super rich Gussie Busch of Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Veeck knew his days in St Louis were numbered once that happened because he’d never to able to compete with the Busch beer money backing the Cardinals. Veeck eventually sold after the 1953 season. Once again, he was without a team. The Browns then moved to Baltimore in 1954 to become the Orioles.

But Veeck left behind the great story about 26-year-old Eddie Gaedel, the 3-foot-7, 65-pound  midget entertainer. In 2014, we have to be politically correct. So let’s call Gaedel vertically-challenged…or how about just a little person. Veeck brought him to St. Louis for a doubleheader on 19 August. In the bottom of the first in the second game, Browns manager Zack Taylor called Gaedel out of the dugout to pinch hit for Frank Saucier. Suddenly, the 18,000 fans in at Sportsmans Park came alive. Tigers manager Red Rolfe protested, but Taylor produced a legit contract. Then pitcher Bob Cain walked Gaedel on 4 straight pitches because he couldn’t come anywhere close to Gaedel’s strike zone, which was the size of a leather wallet.

It was Gaedel’s one and only appearance in the majors. He was banned from baseball the very next day. But his one plate appearance still stands in the record books. When Gaedel died 10 years later, his obituary made the front page of The New York Times. Also in 1951, Veeck brought back Satchel Paige, after the Indians released him in 1949, and turned him into an outstanding relief pitcher, one of the few on-field bright spots for the lowly Browns.

By 1959, Veeck was back in baseball when he purchased the Southside Chicago White Sox (as opposed to the Northside Chicago Cubs) for a reported $27 million, just in time to take the American League pennant with solid defense and tight pitching, plus timely hitting with very little power. The press dubbed them the “Go-Go Sox.”  And the White Sox attracted a then-White Sox record of 1.4 million fans.

Veeck added players last names on the back of uniforms, mostly for the benefit of the female fans who wanted to know the names of the players. For years, going back to his minor league days in Milwaukee, he had geared his fan base to the female needs. To him, women weren’t just baseball fans in dresses. He made sure their washrooms were spotless. As time went on, he added full-length mirrors, and inserted players’ first names to scorecards, along with nurseries for mothers with babies who wanted to come to the park. All due to suggestions from females. Veeck still loved his door prizes. He gave away 1,000 cans of beer to one fan, and 10,000 cupcakes to another--all delivered to their homes, whether they wanted them or not.

The epitome in Chicago was the 130-foot-long exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park, built at a cost of $300,000. Debuted 12 April 1960, it lit up with spinning wheels, music and fireworks when a Sox player hit a home run. An even-better 1.6 million came to the park in 1960, thanks to the glitzy scoreboard, I’m sure.  Once again, Veeck’s ownership of a major league was short-lived. In 1961, he sold out due to health reasons.

Out of the game for more than a decade, he repurchased the White Sox in December 1975. The White Sox were now a team facing bankruptcy. Baseball had changed a lot in the years he was away. For one thing, artificial turf was the norm. Veeck tore it out of Comiskey and returned the playing field to natural grass. For 1976, he also brought in 53-year-old Minnie Minoso, a White Sox star from the 1950s, to DH for 3 games, then again for 2 at-bats in 1980, thus giving Minoso the distinction of playing in the majors for 5 decades. Opening Day 1976 saw a White Sox record crowd of 40,318. Wilbur Wood threw a 5-0 shutout. But by year’s end, Veeck’s team finished last in the AL West. 

Exhibit card of Satchel Paige,
Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (US Public Domain)
Another thing Veeck had to deal with was the Free Agent era. To answer that, he came up with his unique “Rent-a-Player” idea. He would trade away for players in their option years, then sign them usually for only one season. And it worked. At first, anyway. In 1977, the White Sox contended for most of the year and led the division for 61 days before finishing third with 90 wins, an increase of 15 wins from the previous season. They set a new White Sox attendance record and Veeck was voted Executive of the Year. They hit a team-record 192 homers (second in the AL), breaking their old mark of 138. Richie Zisk (30 HRs, 101 RBIs, .290 BA) and Oscar Gamble (31 HRs, 83 RBIs, .297 BA) were the prime Rent-a-Player contributors, along with Eric Solderholm (25 HRs) and pitcher Steve Stone (15 wins). Then all four quickly moved on. After the 1980 season, Veeck sold out for $20 million, unable to compete competitively in the salary-rising Free Agent market.

He spent the remaining summer months of his years relaxing in the stands of his old stomping grounds of Wrigley Field, soaking up the sunshine, signing autographs, and engaging in conversation with the chatty fans around him. A chain smoker most of his life, he died in 1986 at age 71 of cancer. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1991.

As an owner, he always wanted to be remembered, first and foremast, for promoting the game of baseball that he loved so much. That was his prime objective. Unlike the other owners, he wanted his objective accompanied with some glitz and fun. That’s all. Veeck was not only a business man engaged in deals here and there sometimes resulting in millions of dollars changing hands. He was also an avid reader of history. Not just American, but worldwide history.

Deep down inside, Veeck was a commoner. My kind of guy.

Saturday, 20 September 2014


Jim McKay (left) of ABC Wide World of Sports with
Bill Veeck at Comiskey Park, Chicago, 1964
(United States Public Domain)
Some called him baseball’s Barnum & Bailey. Bill Veeck Jr (pronounced Veck) was the first and the only real master showman of major league baseball. He was the champion of the underdog, an owner who preferred to roam around his park, sit and talk with the fans, instead of hiding out in a skybox somewhere, swizzle-stick in hand, sucking up to some fat dignitaries. He hated neckties and refused to wear them. He insisted on being called by his first name, never Mr Veeck. In short, he was certainly not part of the status quo.

As an owner of three different major league teams (one of them twice), he was loved by sportswriters, fans and players, but despised by most of the other owners, the league officials and the traditionalists whom he liked to call in print the “Old Guard,” the same ones who claimed he was making a travesty of the hallowed game of baseball. Veeck is probably best remembered--above all else--for sending a midget to the plate in a major league game in 1951. But he did a lot of other noteworthy things for baseball.

Bill Veeck Jr was born 9 February 1914 in Chicago, Illinois. At the time, his father, Bill Veeck Sr, was employed by the Chicago Evening American, eventually writing a sports column for them in 1917 under the byline Bill Bailey’s Column. At times, Bill Sr criticized the Chicago Cubs for how they had been run for several years, finally leading team owner William Wrigley Jr saying to him, “All right, if you think you’re so smart, why don’t you run the team.” So, Veeck did. Bill Sr joined the Cubs as vice-president in 1918, the same year the Cubs won the National League pennant. He then became president in 1919, a position he held until his death from leukemia in 1933 at the age of 56.

Billy Jr began working for the Cubs at age 11 in several capacities…ticket office, switchboard, concessions, plus getting his hands dirty with the groundskeepers down at field level. When his father died, young Bill learned the business side of the game by taking night classes, paid for by the owner, Phil Wrigley, who took over the Cubs reins upon his own father’s death. Veeck soon became team treasurer and assistant secretary on a $22 a week salary. Despite his busy schedule, Veeck also had time to get married to Eleanor Raymond, his first wife, in 1935. A family man now, Wrigley quickly upped his salary to $25 weekly.

Phil Wrigley’s new idea was selling the public on coming to “Beautiful Wrigley Field” and enjoying a ballgame. So, the park was cleaned up and freshly painted. The attendants had to be neat and courteous. Young Bill contributed in his own way by approaching the owner with his own idea to plant the now-famous, beautiful ivy on the outfield walls. Wrigley gave Veeck the OK. Veeck even helped in the physical installation of it in 1937, which happened when the Cubs were on the road. Although the ivy wasn’t ready in an abundant supply for the entire job, Veeck and a hand-picked crew planted bittersweet, interspaced with ivy that eventually took over the walls in a couple years.

By 1941, Veeck needed an outlet for all the crazy ideas he had spinning around in his head. In mid-season, with partner Charlie Grimm, an ex-Cub great who eventually became his manager, and with the help of an investor group, he bought the American Association AAA Milwaukee Brewers, a financially-strapped team with a zero fan-base, and an awful 19-43 won-loss record. An independent operation not affiliated with any major league team (although once subsidized by the Cubs), Veeck operated by selling his best players to the majors. A prime example was Eddie Stanky, whom he sold to the Chicago Cubs for $40,000 after the 1942 season. For the five years that Veeck part-owned the team, the Brewers finished well off the pace in the first season, lost the pennant by one game in the second season, then won three straight pennants before he and Grimm sold the team for a $275,000 profit in 1945.

One game, Veeck gave away orchids to every woman who entered the park. On other occasions, he handed out live birds, live lobsters, a swayback horse, and a 200-pound block of ice. Before another game in 1943, as a present to Grimm, Veeck had a newly-acquired and much-needed southpaw pitcher named Julie Acosta pop out of a cake for the surprised manager. Acosta was quickly put to good use by pitching that same day. He lost in 13 innings, but struck out 17 batters. He won his three other starts in their pennant drive. While in Milwaukee, Veeck also introduced “Rosie the Riveter” morning games for the female night shift workers, which was quickly copied by major league baseball during the remaining war years.

While still a half-owner of the Brewers, Veeck spent three years in the US Marines during World War II, where an accident cost him his right foot. Many years and 36 operations later, he eventually lost his whole leg almost right up to his groin and had to use a series of wooden limbs. He even cut large holes into them to double as ashtrays for his smoking habit. After selling the Brewers, he bought a ranch in Arizona to settle down with his wife to save a troubled marriage. But it didn’t work out for them, and they decided to go their separate ways. Meanwhile, Veeck was restless, or as  he put it, “A vulture in search of a ball club.”

1948 Cleveland Indians, Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (United States Public Domain)

He got back into the game in 1946 by shelling out $2.2 million for the lowly Cleveland Indians whose biggest assets were fire-balling pitcher Bob Feller and sleek shortstop, player-manager Lou Boudreau. When Veeck took over in late spring, only 290,000 fans had come through the gates. The previous owner was so cheap that he demanded balls hit into the crowd be returned to the playing field. He also refused to have Indians ball games broadcasted on radio for fear of hurting attendance. Attendance certainly couldn’t have been any worse. Veeck changed both of those indiscretions in a hurry. He also hit the road and made hundreds of speeches around Ohio. By season’s end, over one million fans entered the park, part of that due to promoting Bob Feller, who won 26 games and set a modern record by striking out 348 batters.

In 1947, the team hauled in 1.5 million fans, and Veeck signed Larry Doby, the  first African-American in play in the American League. By 1948, he added the most famous of all Negro Leaguers, the skinny, long-legged, rubber-armed  Satchel Paige, the oldest rookie in the majors at 42. Some baseball people thought it was only a publicity stunt. But Paige contributed immensely in the stretch drive with a 6-1 record, a 2.48 ERA and two shutouts, while setting five different park attendance records in his first five starts.

That year, Veeck’s Indians won the city’s first pennant as well as their first World Series  in 28 years. They also set a major league attendance record attracting 2.6 million customers through the turnstiles at the huge monstrosity known as Municipal Stadium. In the first home game, the Indians had a paid attendance of 73,181. In the last regular season game, they had 74,181. In between, they set a single attendance record of 82,781 for a doubleheader with the New York Yankees. For Game 5 of the World Series, 86,288 entered the park.

Recently, The Sporting News ranked the 1948 Indians as the ninth-best major league team ever. Besides owning a great roster that led the American League in batting average, homers, fielding average, shutouts, saves, and ERA (all categories by a wide margin), Veeck also put his usual gimmicks on display like fireworks after games, marriages at home plate, and being part of a funeral procession in 1949 that buried the 1948 AL pennant flag in the outfield ground.

But, it all came crashing down before the start of the 1950 season, when he had to sell his shares in the Indians--which went for $22 million--to help pay for a very expensive divorce from his first wife.

Part Two --(after the break) Next Week

Saturday, 13 September 2014


Jack Scott, Carlton label record cover (United States Public Domain)
Recently, my brother-in-law, Barry--a Windsor, Ontario resident since 1966--and I were talking about rock-and-roll musicians. I mentioned Jack Scott. To which he answered, “Who’s Jack Scott?”

So, I hummed a few bars of Goodbye Baby, and The Way I Walk. Barry nodded, curiously. I also said he did Burning Bridges and What in the World’s Come Over You. And, of course, I mentioned that Scott was born and raised in the Windsor-Detroit area. Barry knew the songs but hadn’t really attributed them to Scott. Barry’s reaction seems to be very common over the years with so many rock-and-roll enthusiasts such as us when the name Jack Scott is mentioned. In short, Scott has never really received the recognition that he deserves, which brings me to that very subject.

Jack Scott was the first rock-and-roll artist to come out of the Motor City. Before Del Shannon, before Motown and the Supremes and the others. While so many artists in the Golden Age of rock-and-roll were “one hit wonders” with their second and third songs not anywhere on par to their first, Scott put out song after song with no two alike. He did rockabilly, ballads, country, gospel, and good ol’ rock. He had the range. He could sound smooth and he could sound tough, as he did in The Way I Walk, my personal favorite.

He could also write, and well. From June 1958 to November 1961, he recorded 19 single releases on US charts. No other musicians, outside of the Beatles, Elvis, Fats Domino and Connie Francis, had as many in any similar length of time. Of those 19, Scott wrote them all except for the ballad Burning Bridges. He had hits on regular Hit Parade, as well as R-and-B and country charts. Twice he reached #3 on the US Hit Parade. Without a doubt, Jack Scott is the most underrated musician of the early rock-and-roll era, as well as an unsung hero in the Windsor-Detroit area.

Scott was born Giovanni Scafone Jr on 24 January 1936 in Windsor, Ontario--the oldest of seven--to an Italian family whose father gave him a guitar and taught him to play at the age of eight. At ten, his family moved across the border to the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park. At an early age, Scott loved country music, especially Hank Williams, and listened on the radio to the then-popular “Grand Ol’ Opry” and the “Louisiana Hay Ride.”

In 1952, Jack Ihrie, a country music DJ on WEXL in Ferndale, Michigan, caught Scott--known then as John Scafone--and his sister, Linda, singing at a Hazel Park high school concert. Ihrie arranged to have Scott perform on radio. He also advised him to change his name. Now as Jack Scott, he began to make a few dollars here and there playing at country music concerts, where he met stars such as Carl Smith and Marty Robbins.

At 18, Scott formed his own country band called the Southern Drifters and played at local dancehalls. By now times were changing. As Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry came on the scene, the young crowds started to ask for rock tunes. Scott and the other band members inserted this new craze into the act.

In early 1957, the band cut two recordings at United Sound in Detroit, both original Scott compositions, You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar and Baby She’s Gone. That same year, Scott signed on as a solo act with Joe Carlton at ABC-Paramount Records once Carlton had heard the tapes. With ABC-Paramount, Baby She’s Gone and another, Two-Timin’ Woman were local hits, but didn’t go national.

Carlton soon started his own recording company, Carlton Records. Seeing great potential in Scott, Carlton signed him to a contract. It was not until Scott recorded My True Love and the flipside, Leroy, that his career took off. For the two recordings a Windsor vocal group, The Chantones, had backed him up for the first time. The partnership continued with Scott’s records for the next four years, over 150 songs in all, including those on a gospel album. By comparison, Scott and The Chantones was the Detroit equivalent of Elvis Presley and The Jordanaires.

began as the A-side when it debuted on 9 June 1958, becoming popular enough for Scott to appear on American Bandstand to perform it. A short time later, DJs started to play the B-side, the ballad My True Love, which soared even faster and farther up the charts. In the summer of 1958, My True Love peaked at #3 on the national Hot 100, while Leroy was right behind at #11. Both reached #5 on the R-and-B charts. The record stayed in the Top 40 for 15 weeks and sold over a million copies, netting Scott his first gold disc.

Using the same two-sided strategy, Scott’s next single for Carlton in 1958 was a ballad called With Your Love, with the fast-paced Geraldine the B-side. With Your Love was the higher hit, reaching number #28. At the end of the year, Scott was mailed his induction notice into the United States Army. Before he left to serve, he wrote and recorded his excellent single, the classic Goodbye Baby, which was his way of saying goodbye to his girlfriend, with Save My Soul on the B-side. The songs reached #8 and #73 respectively on the Hot 100, making them the third straight two-sided hit for Scott.

Scott reported for duty at Fort Knox, Kentucky in January 1959, but was given an honorable discharge on medical grounds a few months later, due to an ulcer condition he had since his teen years. Returning to  Detroit in June, he picked up where he left off with another biggie--The Way I Walk, a #35 tune that summer. 

Publicity photo of The Chantones. Left to right, Larry Desjarlais, Jack Grenier, Roy Lesperance, and Jim Nantais (courtesy Roy Lesperance)

His popularity only increasing, Scott appeared on American Bandstand eight times over the next year, and also toured with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, along with Duane Eddy, Jan & Dean, Frankie Avalon, the Coasters and others.   Scott made one more hit--There Comes a Time at #71--with Carlton, then was bought out by the Top Rank label. Scott’s first song with the new label was the popular ballad What in The World’s Come Over You which soared to #5 on the Hot 100 national charts in 1960. Also that year, he came out with Burning Bridges, the biggest hit in his entire career, a #3 tune. The B-side was Oh Little One which made it to #35.

Jack’s last Top 40 tune was It Only Happened Yesterday, accompanied by Cool Water on the B-side. Two more recordings, Patsy and Is There Something on Your Mind hit the Top 100, then Scott’s contract was purchased by Capitol Records, where he recorded a number of songs, three of them barely making the charts. When his Capitol contract expired, Scott turned to country with RCA Victor, but with no real recording success. His last tune to make the Top 100 was a country one, You’re Just Gettin’ Better, which made it to #92 in 1974 on the Dot label.

Jack Scott is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends. But he is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What’s keeping him out of the last one?

This August 2014, I was fortunate enough to meet Roy Lesperance in Windsor, Ontario, thanks to my sister-in-law, Shauna, who knows him quite well and had worked for him for a number of years at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Windsor. Lesperance sang bass with  The Chantones, the four-man group who were a huge part of Scott’s success by backing up him on all his big singles except for Burning Bridges. They were billed as “Jack Scott and the Fabulous Chantones.”

“Jack wrote a lot of his own lyrics,” Roy said to me and Shauna, over breakfast. “He’d come to the studio and sing a song through by himself, then he’d ask for our comments and we’d join in, improvising as we’d go. Then we’d record. By the way, the Chantones made $112.50 an hour recording, split among the four of us. That was good money in those days. Jack was very easy to work with and always respected our impute. In fact, the first time we heard Jack sing The Way I Walk, he said after that he only had a couple verses for it. So, I came up with one more verse. He liked it and we used it.”

“It’s too bad. We never got our real big break, like some other groups such as The Four Lads did.  You know,” Roy continued, “Jack could have been an even bigger star and us along with him. But he was a homebody. He didn’t like to travel, which musicians usually had to do to promote their records. He liked to be around his family and friends.”

After, the three of us went back to Roy’s apartment where he showed us some photos and mementos from his singing career. He then whipped out his guitar, and I got a chance to hum a few bars of The Way I Walk, including a bass part with him. I did my best to get my voice as low as his. We actually harmonized quite nicely, I thought.

A year away from 80, Roy performs still, volunteering at retirement homes in the Windsor area approximately 100 times a year. He still keeps in touch with the other three Chantones and sees Jack Scott occasionally.

Today, Jack Scott lives in a Detroit suburb and still performs at 78. You can catch his many great songs on His website is

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Confederate General Robert E Lee
of the Army of Northern Virginia
(United States Public Domain)
There’s a saying that old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Not in General Robert E Lee’s case. Without his daring American Civil War tactics as commander of the mighty Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederacy would not have lasted anywhere near the four years that it had during the 1861-1865 North-South conflict.

Virginia-born in 1807 at Stratford Hall, Lee was the son of Revolutionary War cavalry hero Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III. Second in his 1829 West Point class, Robert E Lee married Mary Custis, a descendent of George Washington, in 1831. Lee fought in the Mexican-American War, then was appointed superintendent of West Point from 1852-1855, where he taught many men who would later serve under him, as well as oppose him during the coming American Civil War. Leaving West Point, he joined the Union cavalry, and it was he who with a force of men captured abolitionist John Brown at Harpers Ferry after Brown’s failed raid on the federal arsenal there in 1859.

Following the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina that subsequently sparked the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the command of all Federal forces in April 1861. But Lee’s home state of Virginia had seceded from the Union. A man of honor and loyalty, a true-blue Virginian, Lee turned the offer down, stating that he could not fight against his own people, although he was opposed to secession in principle. Lee resigned two days later from the Union army, accepting a position with the new Confederate army instead.

Meanwhile, Lee and his wife had to flee their family estate situated across the Potomac River from Washington, within sight of the Union capital. The sprawling Lee-Custis mansion called Arlington House was built by John Park Custis, George Washington’s stepson, and was willed to Lee and Mary by Lee’s father-in-law, George Washington Custis. Three weeks after Lee left the capital and the Union army, his estate and grounds were seized by the Federal government and remained that way throughout the war.

Lee commanded forces in the western Virginia interior and the South Atlantic coast, then became a military advisor to President Davis in Richmond until June 1862 when he took command of the newly-named Army of Northern Virginia. It’s there he made his reputation ten-fold as the mastermind behind the early Rebel victories. For almost three years he totally frustrated his adversary, the Army of the Potomac, and embarrassed their Washington-appointed commanders one by one--Generals George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, and Joe Hooker. All three made ill-fated attempts to take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, until each one them was fired by Lincoln.

Lee held certain advantages in most of the battlefield situations, although he had inferior numbers. He had excellent scouts, people he trusted who knew the land. His cavalry leader, Jeb Stuart, helped to keep him informed of the enemy’s positions, and his corps commanders, Generals James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson, executed Lee’s plans when called upon. Lee held his own at the Seven Days Battles, the Second Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Antietam, Maryland, following his first invasion of the North in 1862. Furthermore, Lee was forced to use deceptive measures and moves that he would not have made had he the superior numbers. An excellent example was Chancellorsville, 2 May 1863.

In command of 60,000 battled-hardened troops, Lee split his force in two, despite outnumbered two-to-one by Hooker’s 130,000. Then he sent Jackson and 28,000 men on a 16-mile, end-run march through a heavily-wooded area known as the Wilderness to attack Hooker’s exposed right flank. At 6 PM, Jackson was in position, thanks to a local guide who knew every available trail through the bush. Jackson attacked and it was a near rout, the advance of nightfall the only thing saving the Federal forces from total annihilation. However, Jackson was shot accidentally in the arm a few hours later while on a scouting mission for a possible night attack.  He had the arm amputated, leaving Lee to send a dispatch to Jackson’s doctor, saying, “He has lost his left arm, but I my right.” Jackson died eight days later of pneumonia resulting from the wound.

Although Chancellorsville was a great victory (the Union suffered 17,000 casualties to Lee’s 13,000), loosing Jackson was a terrible blow to Lee. Nevertheless, Lee arranged for his second invasion of the North, hoping that one solid victory on enemy soil would bring an end to the war. This time he had his sights set on Pennsylvania. In a three-day battle beginning 1 July 1863 at Gettysburg, Lee’s 75,000-strong Army of Northern Virginia faced the 90,000-strong Army of the Potomac under new command--General George G Meade.

Robert E Lee's Virginia mansion occupied by Union Forces in 1864 (Photo Courtesy of United States Public Domain)

After a clear Confederate victory the first day, and a draw the second, Lee went too far on the third day by thinking a mammoth frontal infantry assault  led by General George E Pickett on Meade’s center position would break the Union army and send it scurrying. History would record it as “Pickett’s Charge.” Similar tactics worked before in earlier battles when Lee ordered attacks on Union forces on high ground. But not this time. Meade’s men held firm and picked off the exposed Confederates coming head-on at them. Pickett’s men suffered 50 percent casualties. With total casualties at 27,000 for the three days, Lee was soundly defeated and forced to retreat back to Virginia, never to invade the North again. Many Confederate officers believed that they could’ve won had Stonewall Jackson been there. Back in his home state, Lee realized the error of his ways, expecting far too much from his troops during that third day at Gettysburg. He wrote President Davis on 8 August 1863 offering to resign. But Davis wouldn’t hear of it.

It was not until President Lincoln appointed Ulysses S Grant as the commander of all Federal forces that Lee finally met his match. Instead of trying to take Richmond, like the other commanders before him, Grant turned his focus on crushing Lee, something the previous commanders could not do. On 31 January 1864, President Davis promoted Lee to General-in-Chief of all Confederate forces. But it was a lost cause, by now. The tight Union blockade of Southern ports was squeezing the Confederacy of any incoming European supplies and Union General William Tecumseh Sherman was in the midst of his “scorched earth” policies of the South throughout Georgia and the Carolinas.

Prior to Grant, whenever a Union force was trounced by Lee, they would retreat or sit and lick their wounds. With Grant, they pressed on no matter what, which gave the troops a strong belief in their new commander. Grant never let up, until he forced the surrender of Lee’s exhausted, ill-equipped Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on 9 April 1865.

Following the war, Robert E Lee became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, 140 miles from Richmond, renamed Washington and Lee University in honor of Lee upon his death in 1870.

In 1874, Custis Lee, the eldest son of Robert E Lee sued the Federal government for confiscating the Lee-Custis property during the war and refusing to return it. The family eventually won the house and 1,100 acres surrounding it. Custis didn’t necessarily want the property back, he just wanted the family properly compensated. So, he sold it back to the government for $150,000 (over $3 million in today’s money) in 1883. Lee’s beloved mansion and vast grounds is now hallowed ground. Directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial, over 400,000 American soldiers of many conflicts are buried on the famous 624-acres known as Arlington National Cemetery.

One hundred and fifty years after the American Civil War, Lee’s battlefield strategies and maneuvers are taught in military classrooms around the world. In short, he is one of the most revered generals in the history of warfare, especially in the South, where he made his troops feel as though they were invincible.

And for a time, they were.