Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee

(1807-1870)

Robert E. Lee was born at his family estate of Stratford in Westmoreland County,Virginia. His father was Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, a well-known Revolutionary War soldier. Lee graduated second in his class from U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Glory first came to Lee during his service in the Mexican War. Serving as a scout, an engineer and a builder of bridges, he made the American march from Veracruz to Mexico City possible.

He received the highest possible commendation from General Winfield Scott (see no. 71) for his services.

d he start of the Civil War found Lee in personal conflict. He believed in the Union and was in fact offered the supreme command of the U.S. armies by President Abraham Lincoln’s chief of staff, Winfield Scott.

After his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861, however, he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate army.

Lee became a full general in the Confederate armies, and at the end of May 1862, he replaced General Joe Johnston as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. In his new capacity, Lee immediately showed the breathtaking audacity that would become his trademark.

He attacked a Union contingent that outnumbered his own by two-to-one and drove it back during the Battle of Seven Days. Lee’s actions saved Richmond.

Using his quiet charisma, personal daring, and the services of talented subordinates such as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (see no. 78), Lee won impressive victories at the Second Battle of Bull Run (1862), Fredericksburg (1862) and Chanceilorsville (1863).

Knowing that he needed to win a victory on northern soil, Lee pushed north twice. He was fought to a standstill at Antietam (1862). In June 1863, he moved north again and col-lided with the Union armies at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Confident that his men would follow him anywhere and carry the day, Lee sent them forward on the disastrous attack known as Pickett’s Charge. Seven thousand men were lost in a half-hour, men whom the South could not replace.

After Gettysburg, Lee was permanently on the defensive. He fought a grinding set of bat¬ tles against General Ulysses S. Grant (see no. 76). However, the high Union casualties at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor did not dissuade Grant.

Lee was soon surrounded and besieged in a 20- mile ring from Richmond to Petersburg. In this confined setting, Lee’s tactical brilliance had little effect.

Lee and his men broke out from the siege in the spring of 1865 but were quickly run down by the Union armies. Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, effectively ending the war. Paroled on his honor, Lee later served as president of Washington College in Virginia.