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Posted By: Dave Gaddy on: 05/18/2005 07:00:52 EDT
Subject: Field Glasses (Gen. Lee's)

Message Detail:
We've touched before on the subj of field ("marine") glasses. For the signal officer (SigO) they provided broad sweep with less magnification, as opposed to the narrow focus but greater magnification of the telescope. They generally sufficed for the SigO until a distant object needed to be kept in view, for observation or communication.

An article by Dr. Robert E.Zaworski, M.D. ("Blue & Gray," August 1995, pp. 32-35, "The Field Glasses of Robert E. Lee") examines Gen. Lee's field glasses at the Museum of the Confederacy. (These often appear in photographs--an example faces p. 290 of Freeman's "R.E. Lee," Vol. Three.) These are English products of G.J. West & Co., Fleet Street, London, and they are simple, non-prismatic glasses of the general types we've discussed.

Dr. Zaworski ran some comparative tests, with expert assistance, and came to the conclusion that Lee's glasses were of approximately 5x (magnification five times, or five-power), with a constrained field of view, compared to today's prismatic glasses. He then tried that conclusion to produce some modern photographs of "what Lee saw at Gettysburg," and the results are with the article. He seemed surprised at how low the magnification and how restricted was the view.

A friend of mine has faulted some of the conclusions reached, but let's assume that the 5 or 6 power glasses were Gen. Lee's choice. (Compare that with the WW II era standard of 6x for a forward area leader--inf company or platoon.) Gen. Lee was an engineer, acquainted with, and could have been provided with, a pair of those "binocular telescopes" we see Little Mac hiding behind his back in a well-known photo. Instead, he chose these, a quality English product in a well-fitted case.

Maybe this is consistent with what I noted ("Assignment of Signal Officers" post) about Gen. Lee's style of generalship. He was the overall commander, not the subordinate executive officer. He did his stint as topo/recon officer back in the Mexican War. What he wanted as the commanding general was an "overview," not pinpoint magnification requiring a rest--he had subordinate specialists he could ask or borrow from. His glasses could be brought into play quickly, into focus promptly, and expand his eyesight 5-6 times.

So don't apologize for those Bardou or similar glasses in your kit--they're about equal to "what Gen. Lee saw."
(If you prefer to copy Little Mac, dealers are standing by.)

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