Robert Edward Lee
(January 19, 1807
- October 12, 1870) was born at Stratford, in Westmoreland County, Virginia,
son of Revolutionary War hero Henry Lee ("Lighthorse Harry"). Lee is best
remembered in his role of commanding general of the Confederate forces
during the American Civil War
Lee entered West Point in 1825. When he graduated (second in his class
of forty six) in 1829 he had not only attained the top academic record
but was the first cadet to graduate the Academy without a single demerit.
He was commissioned as second lieutenant in the engineers.
Lee served for seventeen months at Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island,
Georgia. In 1831, he was transferred to Fort Monroe, Virginia, as assistant
engineer. While he was stationed there, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis,
the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. They lived in the Custis
mansion, located on the banks of the Potomac River in Arlington, just across
from Washington, D.C.. They eventually had three sons and four daughters.
Lee served as an assistant in the chief engineer's office in Washington
from 1834 to 1837, but spent the summer of 1835 helping to lay out the
state line between Ohio and Michigan. In 1837, he got his first important
command. As a first lieutenant of engineers, he supervised the engineering
work for St. Louis harbour and for the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
His work there earned him a promotion to captain. In 1841, he was transferred
to Fort Hamilton in New York harbour, where he took charge of building
Lee distinguished himself in the Mexican War 1846-1848. Initially he
was sent as a supervisor of road construction but his skills as a cavalryman
soon lead to a more direct involvement in the fighting.
He was promoted to Major after distinguishing himself in the battle
of Cerro Gordo, in April, 1847. He also fought at Contreras, Cherubusco
and Chapultepec, and was wounded at the latter. By the end of the war he
had been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel.
After the Mexican War, he spent three years at Fort Carrol in Baltimore
harbor then became the superintendent of West Point in 1852. During his
three years at West Point, he improved the buildings, the courses, and
spent a lot of time with the cadets.
In 1855, Lee became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Second Cavalry and was
sent to the Texas frontier. There he helped protect settlers from attacks
by the Apache and the Comanche.
These were not happy years for Lee as he did not like to be away from
his family for long periods of time, especially as his wife was becoming
increasingly ill. Lee came home to see her as often as he could.
He happened to be in Washington at the time of John Brown's raid on
Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1859, and was sent there
to arrest Brown and to restore order. He did this very quickly and then
returned to his regiment in Texas. When Texas seceded from the Union in
1861, Lee was called to Washington, DC to wait for further orders.
On April 18, 1861, on the eve of the American Civil War, President Abraham
Lincoln, through Secretary Francis Blair, offered him command of the United
States (Union) Army. There was little doubt as to Lee's sentiments. He
was opposed to secession and considered slavery evil. He had freed his
own inherited slaves long before the war began. However his loyalty to
his native Virginia led him to join the Confederacy. At the outbreak of
war he became military adviser to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy,
whom he knew from West Point.
On June 1, 1862 he received the command of the Army of Northern Virginia
and later that year won the Seven Days Battles defending Richmond, Virginia,
the Confederate capital, against General George B. McClellan's Union forces.
In 1863 Lee won victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, both
in Virginia in 1864 at Cold Harbor, Virginia. On January 31, 1865 Lee was
promoted to be general-in-chief of Confederate forces. He was besieged
in Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865. He surrendered to General
Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Courthouse.
Following the war Lee applied for but was never granted the official
postwar amnesty. His wife's family home the Custis-Lee Mansion, where they
had lived before the Civil War, had been confiscated by Union forces and
now is part of Arlington National Cemetery.
He served as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee
University) in Lexington, Virginia from October 2, 1865. He died there
on October 12, 1870.
In 1975 Lee's USA citizenship was restored posthumously by an act of
the U.S. Congress.