D. S. Freeman’s 4 Vol. Robert E. Lee Biography FREE Online

The internet can be indescribably awesome sometimes.  This is one of those times.  A recent thread posted at the Civil War Talk message board informed readers that Douglas Southall Freeman’s classic four volume biography of Robert E. Lee is online in its entirety, free, indexed, and searchable.  All 4 volumes.  All 2421 pages.  Simply amazing.

Robert Edward LeeIf you know, like I do, that the first edition by Charles Scriber’s Sons was published in 1934, then you’re probably wondering how this is legal.  The bottom of the linked page above states the following:

Edition Used

The original edition, in four volumes, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York and London, 1934.

It is now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright was not renewed at the appropriate time. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

So the copyright is not being violated and the text is in the public domain.  Good deal.  Reading further, I was amazed again to see that Bill Thayer, who seems to be the kind and dedicated soul behind this project, transcribed the whole thing without using OCR.  As someone who has transcribed hundreds of newspaper articles for my Siege of Petersburg site, I can’t even imagine the amount of time this took:


As almost always, I’m retyping the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if successful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription is being minutely proofread. I run a first proofreading pass immediately after entering each chapter, so that the text of all the chapters is quite good already. I then run a second proofreading, detailed and meant to be final: in the table of contents above, chapters the text of which I believe to be completely errorfree are shown on blue backgrounds; any red backgrounds indicate that the chapter has not received that second final proofreading: illustrations and notes may also be missing. The header bar at the top of each chapter page will remind you with the same color scheme.

The bottom line is, if you’re still reading this…why?  Get over to Bill Thayer’s site and read Freeman’s massive classic biography of Robert E. Lee in its entirety.  It won’t cost you anything but time…


5 responses to “D. S. Freeman’s 4 Vol. Robert E. Lee Biography FREE Online”

  1. Bill Thayer Avatar

    Thanks for your kind notice … I’ve often noticed that compliments reflect just as much, if not more, on the person making them as on the person complimented … At any rate, I’m glad you and others are finding Freeman’s Lee useful. (By the way, I’m a WhiteSox fan — until the Cards get into the post-season as they usually do. I even wear my “Got Squirrel” T‑shirt from time to time.)

    Bill (on Twitter: @LacusCurtius)

    1. Brett Schulte Avatar


      You’re very welcome. As I said above, I can’t even imagine all of the time you spent transcribing that. I’ve been transcribing various things for the last five years for my Petersburg web site, and it doesn’t come close to what you’ve done. I’ve been reading over the Petersburg material with interest the last few days, and I even took a step back to read Freeman’s chapter on Lee’s performance during the Overland Campaign. I hope others find the site as useful as I have, and I’m sure they will.

      On the baseball note, I’ve lived near St. Louis on the Illinois side most of my life. I had a lot of friends at the University of Illinois who were Cubs and White Sox fans. As for this year, the injuries are mounting and almost everyone is having a below average year. Despite that, I just hope they make it in. Once you do, anything can happen…


  2. Phil Leigh Avatar
    Phil Leigh

    November 6, 2014

    Unfortunately the link appears to be dead as of the date above.

    1. Brett Schulte Avatar


      I’m not sure what you saw this morning, but I just tried the link and it loads fine for me this evening.

  3. Charlton Griffin Avatar
    Charlton Griffin

    Do you know whether or not Freeman’s biography of George Washington has also fallen into public domain?

    Also, see this… https://www.audible.com/pd/Bios-Memoirs/R-E-Lee-Volume-One-Audiobook/B077ZBQGRG/ref=a_search_c4_1_3_srImg?qid=1513648653&sr=1-3

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