July 13, 2011

R. E. Lee: A Biography

I was doing a bit of internet surfing the other night and came across a description of Douglas Southall Freeman's legendary four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee from the C. Dickens Fine & Rare BookSellers in Atlanta, Ga. It reads in part:

When approached by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1915 with the request for a biography of Gen. Robert E. Lee, CSA, Douglas Southall Freeman embarked on a 19-year journey that would finally produce the epic four-volume R. E. LEE in 1934. This set won a Pulitzer Prize in 1935 and has become one of the most respected biographies ever written.

Freeman, realizing that many biographies of Lee had been written prior to his accepting the task, sought sources that had been rarely, if ever, consulted. These sources included: the records of the Bureau of Engineers and of the United States Military Academy; collections of Southern families that included Lee's letters; correspondence and memoirs of those who served with and against him in the War Between The States; and the files of Washington and Lee University.

The portrait of Lee that Freeman paints in these four volumes is that of a true leader, who was loved by his troops and respected by those who opposed him. Lee was able to exhibit some of the best qualities of humanity in some of the most inhumane situations. In example after example, Freeman introduces us to this noble Victorian.

Along with its companion set, Lee's Lieutenants (also by Freeman), R. E. Lee provides a realistic, informative and sympathetic portrait of "Marse Robert", a man loved and respected in victory and defeat.

A first edition set of Freeman's biography of Lee is by any measure a cornerstone for Civil War book collectors and, almost needless to say, can be quite pricey. The work was published by Charles Scribners, bound in red cloth with gilt lettering on the spine, and in a slipcase. First editions are indicated by the Scribner "A" on the copyright page. Sets with a Freeman signature are even more rare, as seen here.

After winning the Pulitzer Prize, Scribners published the four volumes in a "Pulitzer Prize Edition," (pictured) which is far more affordable and visually more attractive. The second printing of Pulitzer Prize Edition was housed in a wooden crate that is now quite rare. The crate is printed on two sides with "R.E. LEE, 4 VOLUMES, PULITZER ED., SCRIBNER'S". Any set that includes the original slipcase or wooden crate will command a premium.


Harry said...


Hopefully you can answer this. My Pulitzer set of RE Lee looks a little different. The spine does not say "Pulitzer Edition". The circular star pattern logo is further down towards the bottom, and the spine design also includes cross hatching and dual serpentine laurels from "Freeman" near the top to "Scribner's" near the bottom. What is the difference between my set and the one pictured here? The copyright is 1935, 1936.

Paul Taylor said...


I'm not sure I can give you a factual answer. Every picture of the Pulitzer set I came across on the internet looks like the one in my post. I did however, come across a set for sale on ABE, like the one I showed, where the seller identified it as the 1948 edition of the Pulitzer set. If that's the case, then it's possible that your set is a first or earlier printing of the set.


Harry said...

Here's an image of my set I found online:


The site described it as the 1944 edition.