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Robert Edward Lee

Robert Edward Lee

General in chief of the Confederate armies in the American Civil War, Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) displayed strategic sense and tactical skill that rank him among the great military captains of history.

Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia's Westmoreland County on Jan. 19, 1807, the third son of Henry ("Light Horse Harry") and Ann Hill Carter Lee. Declining fortunes forced the family's removal to Alexandria, where Robert distinguished himself in local schools. His father's death in 1811 increased responsibilities on all the sons; Robert, especially, cared for his invalid mother.

Lee graduated number two in his class from the U.S. Military Academy in 1829. Commissioned a brevet lieutenant of engineers, he spent a few years at Ft. Pulaski, Ga., and Ft. Monroe, Va. At Ft. Monroe on June 30, 1831, he married Mary Ann Randolph Custis. The Lees had seven children. Lee worked in the chief engineer's office in Washington, D.C., from 1834 to 1837. He was transferred to Ft. Hamilton, N.Y., where he remained until 1846.

Mexican War

In August 1846 Lee joined Gen. John E. Wool's army in Texas. In the battle of Buena Vista, Lee's boldness drew his superiors' attention. Transferred to Gen. Winfield Scott's Veracruz expedition, in the battle at Veracruz and in the advance on Mexico he won additional acclaim. Following American occupation of the Mexican capital, he worked on maps for possible future campaigns. Already a captain in the regular service, he was made brevet colonel for his gallantry in the war.

Lee returned to engineer duty at Baltimore's Ft. Carroll until 1852, when he reluctantly became superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point. In 1855 he was made lieutenant colonel of the 2d Cavalry, one of the Army's elite units.

The years 1857-1859 were bleak. Lee had to take several furloughs to deal with family business and seriously thought of resigning his commission. However, in 1859 he and his men successfully put down John Brown's insurrection at Harpers Ferry, Va. (later, in W.Va.). In 1860 he became commander of the Department of Texas.

Coming of the Civil War

Talk of secession in the South grew strident during Lee's Texas sojourn. No secessionist, he was loyal to the Union and the U.S. Army; yet he had no doubts about his loyalties if Virginia departed the Union. Ties of blood bound him to the South.

Lee accepted a commission as colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry in March 1861. But offered command of the entire U.S. Army a month later, he hesitated. If he accepted, he might have to lead the Federal Army against Southern states and, if Virginia seceded, he might have to lead troops across its borders. He could do neither. So, painfully, Lee resigned his army commission in April 1861.

Secession and Virginia Service

Appointed commander of Virginia forces, Lee devoted himself to building an effective state army. He was so efficient that the new president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, asked him to become a full general in the Confederate Army and serve as presidential military adviser. This appointment was confirmed by the Confederate Senate.

A bad brush with field command in western Virginia— in a campaign marked by military rivalries, lack of supplies, wretched weather, and overly ambitious strategy on Lee's part—tarnished the new general's reputation. Davis still regarded him highly and sent him to organize southern Atlantic coastal defenses. Lee pursued this task efficiently until recalled to the Confederate capital, Richmond. In his role as presidential adviser, he tried to smooth the abrasive personalities of Davis and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and to utilize the daring of Gen. Stonewall Jackson to frustrate Federal plans for sending aid to Gen. George B. McClellan's army, which was approaching Richmond.

Lee's Army

When Johnston was wounded in May 1862, Davis gave Lee command of Johnston's army. Lee renamed his force the "Army of Northern Virginia." The new commander looked the part: 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall, robust at 170 pounds, Lee had graceful, almost classic features. He attracted men and women alike, was easy in manner, courteous and kind as a friend, and was a loving husband and father.

Though Lee's was the largest Confederate army in the field, it was outnumbered almost 3 to 2 by McClellan's Federal Army of the Potomac, which was preparing for siege operations on Richmond. While Lee struggled to fortify Richmond, he and Jackson planned a daring campaign, which Stonewall executed brilliantly and victoriously in the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, June 8-9, 1862. Lee promptly called Jackson to Richmond and added his 18,000-man force to the Army of Northern Virginia.

Toward the Battle of Second Manassas

Inexperience and haste led Lee to plan an overelaborate attack on McClellan's lines. Coordination failed, as Lee's campaign stuttered onward in a series of actions. McClellan was defeated in the Seven Days Battles and finally retreated to the Federal gunboats on the James River. Richmond was freed of threat, but Lee's planned annihilation of the Federal force had failed. Lee was unhappy with his results; but his men, almost completely rearmed with superior Federal arms, had developed great confidence in him.

Meanwhile another Federal army appeared in Virginia under Gen. John Pope. Lee sent Stonewall Jackson against Pope early in August. Jackson defeated part of Pope's force, then joined Lee for a combined campaign to destroy the rest. Lee planned more simply this time. Jackson captured Pope's supply base at Manassas Junction. Near the battlefield of First Manassas (Bull Run), Jackson stood off Pope's entire army while Lee's remaining force under Gen. James Longstreet concentrated close to Jackson's lines. On August 30 a sweeping assault by all Confederate troops won the Battle of Second Manassas. Lee had hoped for annihilation, but Pope's remnants escaped.

To Maryland and Sharpsburg

Lee's army could not subsist in war-ravaged northern Virginia, so he determined to carry the war into the North. With Virginia cleared of invaders and his army's morale superb, this seemed a likely time to force European recognition of the South by threatening Washington, D.C., and changing the locale of the war. In a campaign distinguished for daring—Lee broke his army into segments, each with a specific task—he crossed the Potomac River and reached Frederick, Md., sending Jackson's men to capture Harpers Ferry and open a supply route through the Shenandoah Valley. However, McClellan, restored to Federal command, was fighting with unexpected skill. Lee sought to reconcentrate his scattered men near Sharpsburg, Md., behind Antietam Creek. There on Sept. 17, 1862, with badly reduced strength he withstood searing assault; the arrival of Gen. A. P. Hill's division saved him from defeat. Several lessons had been learned, but Lee had lost 13,000 men in Maryland, and replacements were the scarcest commodity in the Confederacy.

Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville

Reorganizing his forces occupied Lee until December 13, when his men, holding high and virtually impregnable ground overlooking Fredericksburg, Va., beat off gallant attacks by the Army of the Potomac (now commanded by Gen. Ambrose Burnside). During the rest of the winter Lee tried to increase ranks and supplies. Jackson and Longstreet, his two corps commanders, improved their commands, new men were elevated to leadership, and Lee's army was ready by the time a new Federal general, Joseph Hooker, started his campaign in April 1863. Jackson clashed with Hooker in Virginia's Wilderness at the end of April. When Hooker withdrew to entrenchments near Chancellorsville, the initiative passed to Lee. He sent Jackson to a flanking position from which he almost destroyed Hooker's force. Jackson might have completed the destruction had he not been wounded, and his death later robbed the victory of any savor as the whole Confederacy mourned. Lee mourned especially, for there were no officers to match Jackson. With the initiative in his grasp, Lee had to decide how to use his army.

Battle of Gettysburg

Vicksburg, Miss., the South's last bastion on the Mississippi River, was under siege; its loss would cut the South in two. Food supplies in northern Virginia were scarce. However, Europeans were becoming convinced of the South's right to recognition, and peace sentiment was growing in the North. All these factors influenced Lee's summer strategy. Another invasion of the North might relieve Vicksburg, feed his men, and win recognition.

Lee reorganized his army into three corps: one under Longstreet, a second under Richard S. Ewell, the third under Hill. Subordinate commands were shaken up, so a new command structure guided the Confederate Army as it moved toward Harrisburg, Pa. Lee's vanguard encountered opposition near Gettysburg and on July 1 won modest spoils. Lee wanted to push the advantage. But Ewell delayed, and the next day Longstreet, convinced of defeat, also delayed attacking the Federal left. On July 3 Gen. George Pickett charged against the Federal center and was repulsed.

For the first time Lee's army had been defeated. Lee assumed all blame. Questions still arise over why he ordered the attack on July 3. But Lee seems to have had no choice. To miss this chance would have been a miserable compromise. Typically, he did not lament for long; instead, he planned to refit his army and renew the offensive. But the loss of 20,000 men and as many arms was unrecoverable. Vicksburg's loss, with a 30,000-man garrison, on July 4 confronted the South with a double disaster in men and supplies.

Loser's Game

Lee could not resume the offensive; his army was divided, with Longstreet moving west to help Gen. Braxton Bragg and the rest committed to holding Richmond. Lee maneuvered against Gen. George Meade throughout the remainder of 1863, and in spring 1864 he met the advance of Meade and Ulysses S. Grant. A series of bloody engagements followed. On June 3 at Cold Harbor the Federal assault on Lee's entrenchments was repulsed. Meade and Grant moved south of the James River, hoping to take Petersburg and enter Richmond from the south. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard saved Petersburg, with help from Lee. The formal siege of Petersburg ran from June 18, 1864, to April 2, 1865.

In those months, attrition cut Lee's ranks. Daily casualties and desertion whittled down his strength; dwindling food for men and animals almost immobilized the army. Heavy actions through the summer, combined with the necessity of keeping Richmond's southern rail connections open, sapped Lee's resources.

The Confederacy's military situation worsened throughout the summer as Federal general William T. Sherman forced the Army of Tennessee backward through Georgia to the sea. Lee, appointed general in chief of all Confederate armies in February 1865, could give only general direction to lingering disaster.

Sherman marched upward through the Carolinas, threatening Petersburg. Lee failed to split Grant's front. On April 2 Grant's attack snapped Lee's lines; the Confederates began evacuating Petersburg and Richmond. Lee was compelled to surrender his shadow force of no more than 9,000 soldiers at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

Last Years

Arlington, the Custis family seat, was gone now; the Lees had no real home. They remained in Richmond, well treated by the Federals. In September Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College, in Lexington, Va., where he remained until his death.

Devoted to education and to resurrecting the South, Lee became a symbol of reunification. He refused to abandon his distressed country, hoped for Southern re-assimilation, and set a lofty example. Without bitterness, he obeyed the law and counseled all Southerners to do the same. Indicted for treason, he never stood trial; and although never granted a pardon, he lived in comfort and in great honor. In September 1870 he was stricken, probably with an acute attack of angina, and died on October 12. Mourning swept the South and the world. Lee was the embodiment of a cause and the symbol of an age.

Assessing Lee

Lee had better strategic than tactical sense. As a logistician, he became a consummate master of troop deployment. He had audacity in abundance; caution he could display when needed, but attack was his way. He inspired men as did few other generals and earned respect from friend and foe. He had one command weakness—an inability to deal with disgruntled subordinates. For example, when Longstreet sulked and dallied at Second Manassas and at Gettysburg, Lee deferred to, rather than commanded, him.

History knows Lee as a man of uncommon devotion, calmness, and goodness. His biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, concludes that Lee was duty's man, "that is all. There is no mystery in the coffin. … ."

Further Reading

Lee's writings were collected in Lee's Dispatches, edited by Douglas Southall Freeman (1915) and revised by Grady McWhiney (1957), and in The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, edited by Clifford Dowdey (1961). The outstanding biography is Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee (4 vols., 1934-1937). Among more recent works are Burke Davis, Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War (1956); Earle Schenck Miers, Robert E. Lee (1956); Clifford Dowdey, Lee (1965); and Margaret Sanborn, Robert E. Lee (2 vols., 1966-1967).

Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command (3 vols., 1942-1944) discusses Lee as army commander. A study of Lee's last years is Marshall William Fishwick, Lee after the War (1963). Good studies of the South during the war are Ellis Merton Coulter, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865 (1950), and Clement Eaton, A History of the Southern Confederacy (1954). A documentary account of the war is Henry Steele Commager, ed., The Blue and the Gray: The Story of the Civil War as Told by Participants (2 vols., 1950). A solid general history is Bruce Catton, The Centennial History of the Civil War (3 vols., 1961-1965). □

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Lee, Robert E.

Lee, Robert E. 1807-1870

TRADITIONALIST AND REVISIONIST HISTORY ON LEE

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Robert Edward Lee was the most famous general of the Confederate forces during the American Civil War (18611865). Lee served as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually general-in-chief of the entire Confederate Army until the wars completion in 1865.

Lee was born January 19, 1807, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His father, whom he barely knew, was the famous Revolutionary War hero, Henry Light Horse Harry Lee (17561818). In 1829 Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class without a single demerit at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. In 1831 Lee married Mary Custis (18081873), a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington (17311802). Together they had seven children.

During the Mexican War (18461848), Lee served on the staff of General Winfield Scott (17861866). As an engineer, Lee directed the placement and transport of heavy artillery in the Veracruz landing and subsequent march to Mexico City in 1847. In 1852 he became superintendent of West Point. In 1859 he commanded a force of marines that together with local militia put down John Browns (18001859) raid of the Harpers Ferry armory.

Lee headed the Department of Texas from 1860 until March 1861. In April, in Washington, D.C., he was offered and then declined the command of the Union (North) Army. Within the month, he had joined the Confederate Army. In 1862 he assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia, leading Confederate forces to decisive victories at such battles as Second Bull Run (August 1862), Fredericksburg (December 1862), and Chancellorsville (May 1863). He and his army suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, arguably the turning point of the American Civil War. Shortly after the defeat at Petersburg, Lee surrendered the Confederate forces to Union general Ulysses S. Grant (18221885) on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Courthouse in rural Virginia.

Following the war, Lee served as president of Washington College (later renamed Washington and Lee College) in Lexington, Virginia. He died of pneumonia on October 12, 1870, and was buried underneath the chapel at Washington College.

TRADITIONALIST AND REVISIONIST HISTORY ON LEE

Much of the literature on Robert E. Lee can be categorized by two historical perspectives. The traditionalist perspective interprets Lee as noble and full of virtue, fighting for the South out of a sense of duty to protect his Virginia homeland and confronted by forces beyond his control that compelled him to serve and fight against the Union. This perspective originated in the 1870s, was reinforced and consolidated over the following decades, and culminated with the publication of Douglas Freemans four-volume biography, Lee (1934). In contrast, Thomas Connellys Marble Man (1977) exemplifies the revisionist perspective, which took a more critical view of Lee as a southerner and as a soldier.

Proponents of these perspectives contest much about Lees life, but three debates remain especially salient. The first surrounds Lees views on slavery (Fellman 2000, esp. chap. 4). Traditionalists resurrected a Lee that was antislavery, and fought for the Confederacy despite this. They cite as evidence Lees letters where he referred to slavery as a moral and political evil and that Lee manumitted slaves held by his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis (17811857), after the latters death. Nevertheless, this did not mean Lee supported abolition; although Lee spoke of slavery as a moral and political evil, in the same correspondence he also claimed that slavery was Gods will, that blacks are immeasurably better off here [enslaved] than in Africa the painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity, than the storms and tempests of fiery Controversy (Freeman 1934, p. 372).

The second debate focuses on Lees responsibility for the Confederate defeat at the crucial Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Many traditionalists, such as Confederate general Jubal Early (18161894), generally blamed General James Longstreet (18211904) for his slow execution of Lees plan to attack Union forces at Cemetery Ridge on July 2, 1863. Revisionist critics, including historical novelist Michael Shaara, author of The Killer Angels (1974), attribute the Confederate loss to Lees poor judgment in attacking a Union force that possessed superior ground and material and a greater quantity of troops.

A third debate centers on Lees involvement with the secessionist movement and his subsequent decision to serve in the Confederate forces in 1861. Proponents of both perspectives agree on two facts regarding this issue: (1) that Lee viewed secession as illegal, and (2) that he was offered, and declined, the position of commander of Union forces by the U.S. government. Traditionalists argue that Lee tortured over the decision to fight for the Confederacy, ultimately deciding to fight out of a sense of duty to Virginia: If secession destroyed the Union, Lee intended to resign from the army and to fight neither for the South nor for the North, unless he had to act one way or the other in defense of Virginia (Freeman 1934, p. 423). Revisionist Connelly, while conceding that Lee equated secession as nothing but revolution, questions the traditionalist interpretation, asking: One wonders why Lee did not endeavor to use his influence within Virginia to squelch the secession movement? He certainly might have been able to do it (1977 p. 198). In addition, almost instantaneously the secession movement which he supposedly abhorred was a holy cause, and the Union he loved had become a deadly enemy (p. 201). In contrast with the tragic hero of Freemans Lee, Connellys is a child of the seventeenth-century New England mind, and not of the later Enlightenment, one whose belief implied an unquestioning spirit which submitted to unseen forces and a denial of the reasoning process (p. 199). Yet no evidence exists that Lee was active in the secessionist movement. His service in Texas immediately prior to Virginias secession makes it difficult to suggest that Lee was a secessionist conspirator.

Scholars and students of history and the social sciences should take special note of Robert E. Lee as a model of historiographyan example of how interpretations of the past may serve the interests of those living in the present.

SEE ALSO Confederate States of America; Davis, Jefferson; Mexican-American War; Secession; U.S. Civil War

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Connelly, Thomas. 1977. The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society. New York: Knopf.

Fellman, Michael. 2000. The Making of Robert E. Lee. New York: Random House.

Freeman, Douglas. 1934. R. E. Lee: A Biography. New York: Scribners.

Shaara, Michael. 1974. The Killer Angels: A Novel. New York: Ballantine.

Brent J. Steele

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Lee, Robert Edward

Robert Edward Lee, 1807–70, general in chief of the Confederate armies in the American Civil War, b. Jan. 19, 1807, at Stratford, Westmoreland co., Va.; son of Henry ( "Light-Horse Harry" ) Lee.

Pre–Civil War Career

After graduating second in his class from West Point in 1829, Lee was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers. He married (1831) Mary Anne Randolph Custis, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, and Arlington House, her father's residence in Virginia, was their home until the Civil War (see Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial). In the Mexican War, Lee made a brilliant record as captain of engineers with Gen. Winfield Scott's army, winning three brevets; his reconnaissances during the advance on Mexico City were important to the American success.

Lee was superintendent at West Point from 1852 to 1855, when he was made lieutenant colonel of the 2d Cavalry and sent to W Texas. He commanded that regiment from 1857 to 1861. While at Arlington House on an extended leave, he was called to lead the company of U.S. marines that captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry in Oct., 1859.

Civil War Leadership

In Feb., 1861 (after the secession of the lower South), General Scott, with whom Lee was a great favorite, recalled him from Texas. Lee had no sympathy with either secession or slavery and, loving the Union and the army, deprecated the thought of sectional conflict. But in his tradition, loyalty to Virginia came first, and upon Virginia's secession he resigned (Apr. 20, 1861) from the army. His resolve not to fight against the South had already led him to decline (Apr. 18) the field command of the U.S. forces.

On Apr. 23 he assumed command of the military and naval forces of Virginia, which he organized thoroughly before they were absorbed by the Confederacy. Lee then became military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and was made a Confederate general. After the failure of his efforts to coordinate the activity of Confederate forces in the western part of Virginia (July–Oct., 1861), Lee organized the S Atlantic coast defenses.

In Mar., 1862, Davis recalled him to Richmond. Lee's plan to prevent reinforcements from reaching Gen. George B. McClellan, whose army was threatening Richmond, was brilliantly executed by T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. When Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at Fair Oaks in the Peninsular campaign, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia (June 1, 1862). His leadership of that army through the next three years has placed him among the world's great commanders.

Lee immediately took the offensive, and after ending McClellan's threat to Richmond in the Seven Days battles (June 26–July 2), he thoroughly defeated John Pope at the second battle of Bull Run (Aug. 29–30). McClellan, however, checked him in his first Northern invasion, the Antietam campaign (Sept.). Advances by Ambrose E. Burnside and Joseph Hooker were brutally repulsed in the battles of Fredericksburg (Dec. 13; see Fredericksburg, battle of) and Chancellorsville (May 2–4, 1863), though in the latter victory Lee lost his ablest lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson.

Lee's second invasion of the North resulted in the Confederate defeat in the Gettysburg campaign (June–July). He sorely missed the services of Jackson, and some historians attribute his defeat at Gettysburg to the failures of his subordinates, particularly James Longstreet. Other authorities argue that Lee underestimated his opposition and failed to impose his will upon his subordinates. Lee assumed full blame for the defeat, but Davis refused to entertain his offer of resignation. After Gettysburg, Lee did not engage in any major campaign until May, 1864, when Ulysses S. Grant moved against him. He repulsed Grant's direct assaults in the Wilderness campaign (May–June), but was not strong enough to turn him back, and in July, 1864, Grant began the long siege of Petersburg.

Lee's appointment as general in chief of all Confederate armies came (Feb., 1865) when the Confederacy had virtually collapsed. On Apr. 2, the Army of the Potomac broke through the Petersburg defenses, and Lee's forces retreated. One week later Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse (see under Appomattox).

After the war Lee became president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee Univ.). Although President Andrew Johnson never granted him the official amnesty for which he applied, Lee nevertheless urged the people of the South to work for the restoration of peace and harmony in a united country.

Character and Influence

Many historians consider Robert E. Lee the greatest general of the Civil War, and it is generally agreed that his military genius, hampered though it was by lack of men and materiel, was a principal factor in keeping the Confederacy alive. Others point out, however, that he never developed a coordinated overall strategy, that he failed to provide an adequate supply system for his armies, and that he was reluctant to deal with difficult subordinates, such as Longstreet. Of admirable personal character, Lee was idolized by his soldiers and the people of the South and soon won the admiration of the North. He has remained an ideal of the South and an American hero, although some late 20th cent. historians have tended toward a more critical view of him as a general and as a man.

Bibliography

The definitive biography, R. E. Lee (4 vol., 1934–37; abr. ed. 1961), is by D. S. Freeman. See also Capt. R. E. Lee, Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (2d ed. 1924; new ed., My Father General Lee, 1960); S. F. Horn, ed., The Robert E. Lee Reader (1949); D. S. Freeman, ed., Lee's Dispatches (new ed. 1958); The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee (ed. by C. Dowdey, 1961); M. W. Fishwick, Lee after the War (1963); T. L. Connelly, The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society (1977); C. Dowdey, Death of a Nation: The Story of Lee and His Men at Gettysburg (1988); A. T. Nolan, Lee Considered: Gen. Robert E. Lee and Civil War History (1991); E. M. Thomas, Robert E. Lee: A Biography (1995); J. D. McKenzie, Uncertain Glory: Lee's Generalship Reexamined (1997); E. H. Bonekemper III, How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War (1997); B. Alexander, Robert E. Lee's Civil War (1998); M. A. Palmer, Lee Moves North (1998).

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Lee, Robert E.

Lee, Robert E. (1807–1870), Confederate Civil War general.Born at Stratford, a family plantation in Virginia, Robert E. Lee was the son of Henry Lee (“Light‐Horse Harry”) of the Revolutionary War. He graduated with great distinction from West Point in 1829, and in 1831 he married Mary Custis, daughter of Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, who was also George Washington's adopted son. The Lees made their home at Arlington, the Custis mansion overlooking Washington, D.C. The marriage produced four daughters and three sons. The sons— George Washington Custis Lee, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, and Robert E. Lee, Jr.—all served as officers in the Confederate army.

Lee's continuous and distinguished service in the U.S. Army before the Civil War included highly acclaimed action in the Mexican War, the superintendency at West Point from September 1852 to March 1855, and western Indian fighting. Lee was a protégé of Gen. Winfield Scott, general‐in‐chief of the U.S. Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. When Virginia seceded, Colonel Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army (he had previously been offered high Federal command, but rejected it) and accepted command of his state's military forces. After service that included a position as military adviser to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Lee in June 1862 succeeded Joseph E. Johnston as commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia. Three years later, in February 1865, he was also appointed general‐in‐chief of the Confederate forces. In April 1865, having been besieged in the Richmond defenses, he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. Lee and his soldiers were paroled by Grant to go home.

After the war, Lee rejected lucrative business opportunities and accepted the presidency of Washington College at Lexington, Virginia. An excellent educational administrator, Lee's leadership was marked by curriculum development in advance of the times. He died there in 1870 and is buried on the campus of the college, subsequently known as Washington and Lee University.

Lee was a man of high personal character and intelligence, charismatic and charming, a natural leader. As a leading actor in the Civil War legend of martial glory, he has become a legendary figure, an American hero of exceptional nobility. The legend rationalizes or rejects characteristics of the man that might lessen his appeal.

Lee's fame rests principally on his leadership of the Army of Northern Virginia. Having driven a numerically superior Federal army from the Virginia Peninsula near Richmond in 1862, Lee, ably supported by “Stonewall” Jackson, won a series of brilliant tactical victories in 1862 and 1863 at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and he fought George B. McClellan to a standstill at the Battle of Antietam. These battles were followed, however, by defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Subsequently, Lee conducted a skillful, costly defense against Grant's Overland Campaign in Virginia in 1864–65, but in this he eventually failed.

Questions have been raised about Lee's leadership. In strategic terms, Lee believed that the South had to defeat the North militarily, that is, by actual combat in the field as distinguished from conducting the contest so that the North would give it up as too costly in blood and treasure. Thus, in a letter to President Davis on 6 July 1864 he wrote that it was necessary for the Confederacy to “defeat or drive the armies of the enemy from the field.” Accordingly, before being besieged, Lee took the offensive whenever possible. Critics argue that in view of the South's manpower and materiel disadvantages, it could not defeat the North militarily. Lee's strategic and tactical aggressiveness produced unnecessarily large and disproportionate Confederate casualties, which the outnumbered South was unable to replace. These casualties significantly reduced the number of troops, increasing the South's disadvantage. This, in turn, deprived his army of mobility and ultimately led to its being caught in the fatal siege.

Lee's defenders reply that a desperate situation required desperate gambles, and that his battlefield successes were perhaps the principal encouragement to the continued Confederate resistance. Whatever his shortcomings, Lee became the white South's greatest hero, and many northern and foreign commentators have praised both the man and the general.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Civil War: Changing Interpretations; Petersburg, Siege of; Wilderness to Petersburg Campaign.]

Bibliography

Douglas Southall Freeman , R. E. Lee, 4 vols. 1934–35.
J. F. C. Fuller , Grant & Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, repr. 1957; 1982.
Thomas L. Connelly , The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society, 1977.
Alan T. Nolan , Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History, 1991.
Emory H. Thomas , Robert E. Lee, 1995.
Joseph L. Harsh , Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861–1862, 1997.

Alan T. Nolan

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Robert E. Lee's Farewell to his Army (10 April 1865)

ROBERT E. LEE'S FAREWELL TO HIS ARMY (10 April 1865)


Robert E. Lee's surrender to U.S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse on 9 April 1865 effectively ended the American Civil War. A well-respected military strategist and organizer with experience in the war with Mexico, in 1861 Lee was asked by General Winfield Scott to take command of the armies of the Union to put down a rebellion by a number of southern states. An avowed anti-secessionist who had freed his slaves long before, Lee nonetheless remained loyal to his native Virginia and refused, instead offering his services to the newly elected president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. Following the war, he became president of Washington University, later renamed Washington and Lee in his honor. In many parts of the north and south today, Robert E. Lee remains a much-admired figure, not only for his military acumen, but also as a model of grace and poise, even in defeat. Oddly enough, his petition for reinstatement of citizenship was somehow inadvertently mislaid, and it was not until more than a hundred years later, during the administration of Gerald Ford, that Robert E. Lee once again became a citizen of the United States of America.

Laura MMiller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Army, Confederate ; Army of Northern Virginia ; Virginia ; Civil War .

Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia,

April 10, 1865.

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to over-whelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but, feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection. With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. Lee, General.

SOURCE: Lee, Robert E., Jr. Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee. New York: Doubleday, 1904.

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Lee, Robert E.

Lee, Robert E. ( Edward) (1807–70) Commander of the Confederate forces in the American Civil War and military adviser to Jefferson Davis. In 1862, Davis appointed Lee as commander of the Army of Virginia, the main Confederate force. Lee successfully defended Richmond and won the Second Battle of Bull Run. Although checked at Antietam (1862), he defeated the Union forces at Fredericksburg (1862) and Chancellorsville (1863). His invasion of the North ended in defeat at Gettysburg in July 1863. He was finally trapped by Ulysses S. Grant and surrendered in April 1865.

http://www.civilwarhome.com

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