Comment of the Day: Charles Steindel: Weekend Reading: Stephen Vincent Benet: Army of Northern Virginia (From John Brown's Body): "It seems to me that John Brown's Body is a sadly neglected piece...

...The evocation at the start, and the first passage on the slave ship, are magnificent. I first read that description of Lee a half-century ago in high school; doesn't seem like anybody has topped it.

There's an anecdote connected with the famous but weirdly skewed Douglas Southall Freeman biography. Sometime in the 1830s Lee was part of an engineering team charged with accurately plotting the U.S.-Canadian border between the islands in Lake Erie. Lee and a colleague went (against orders) onto a Canadian island to get a better fix with their instruments. Afterwards, Lee wrote home that while on the island they were persistently and continually hassled by a "Canadian," reaching the point that Lee killed the intruder with a hoe or pickaxe. Freeman discovered the letter, was aghast, and interpreted the incident as a justifiable act against a homicidal lunatic, not reported because of the complications that would be caused by the illegal intrusion of U.S. Army officers on Canadian soil (I think Freeman went to the point of checking Canadian records to see if there had been a missing person in the area who never turned up again). Of course, Lee (who at one point in the letter referred to the attacker as a "Canadian snake") had dispatched a rattlesnake. This is a great example of the "Marble Man" illusion—an absurd over-interpretation (and with ridiculous apologetics) of an interesting, but unimportant, event, reported in a normal letter home.