Lee, Robert Edward
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Lee, Robert Edward,1807–70, general in chief of the Confederate armies in the American Civil War, b. Jan. 19, 1807, at StratfordStratford,
home of the Lee family, overlooking the Potomac River, E Va., SE of Fredericksburg. A national shrine dedicated in 1935, the site was purchased in 1716 by Thomas Lee, who built the mansion Stratford Hall in 1729–30.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 MemorialArlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial,
28 acres (11 hectares), NE Va., in Arlington National Cemetery; est. 1955. Formerly called the Custis-Lee Mansion, it is a memorial to the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
..... Click the link for more information. ). 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 BrownBrown, John,
1800–1859, American abolitionist, b. Torrington, Conn. He spent his boyhood in Ohio. Before he became prominent in the 1850s, his life had been a succession of business failures in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York.
..... Click the link for more information. 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. McClellanMcClellan, George Brinton,
1826–85, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Philadelphia. After graduating (1846) from West Point, he served with distinction in the Mexican War and later worked on various engineering projects, notably on the survey (1853–54) for
..... Click the link for more information. , whose army was threatening Richmond, was brilliantly executed by T. J. (Stonewall) JacksonJackson, Stonewall
(Thomas Jonathan Jackson), 1824–63, Confederate general, b. Clarksburg, Va. (now W.Va.), grad. West Point, 1846. Like a Stone Wall
..... Click the link for more information. in the Shenandoah Valley. When Joseph E. JohnstonJohnston, Joseph Eggleston,
1807–91, Confederate general, b. Prince Edward co., Va., grad. West Point, 1829. He served against the Seminole in Florida and with distinction under Winfield Scott in the Mexican War.
..... Click the link for more information. was wounded at Fair Oaks in the Peninsular campaignPeninsular campaign,
in the American Civil War, the unsuccessful Union attempt (Apr.–July, 1862) to capture Richmond, Va., by way of the peninsula between the York and James rivers. The Plan
Early in 1862, Gen. George B.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 battlesSeven Days battles,
in the American Civil War, the week-long Confederate counter-offensive (June 26–July 2, 1862) near Richmond, Va., that ended the Peninsular campaign. After the battle of Fair Oaks the Union general George B.
..... Click the link for more information. (June 26–July 2), he thoroughly defeated John PopePope, John,
1822–92, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Louisville, Ky. He fought with distinction at Monterrey and Buena Vista in the Mexican War and later served with the topographical engineers in the West.
..... Click the link for more information. at the second battle of Bull RunBull Run,
small stream, NE Va., c.30 mi (50 km) SW of Washington, D.C. Two important battles of the Civil War were fought there: the first on July 21, 1861, and the second Aug. 29–30, 1862. Both battlefields are included in Manassas National Battlefield Park (est. 1940).
..... Click the link for more information. (Aug. 29–30). McClellan, however, checked him in his first Northern invasion, the Antietam campaignAntietam campaign
, Sept., 1862, of the Civil War. After the second battle of Bull Run, Gen. Robert E. Lee crossed the Potomac to invade Maryland and Pennsylvania. At Frederick, Md., he divided (Sept.
..... Click the link for more information. (Sept.). Advances by Ambrose E. BurnsideBurnside, Ambrose Everett,
1824–81, Union general in the U.S. Civil War, b. Liberty, Ind. He saw brief service in the Mexican War and remained in the army until 1853, when he entered business in Rhode Island.
..... Click the link for more information. and Joseph HookerHooker, Joseph,
1814–79, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Hadley, Mass. After fighting the Seminole and serving in the Mexican War, Hooker resigned from the army in 1853 and was for several years a farmer in California.
..... Click the link for more information. were brutally repulsed in the battles of Fredericksburg (Dec. 13; see Fredericksburg, battle ofFredericksburg, battle of,
in the Civil War, fought Dec. 13, 1862, at Fredericksburg, Va. In Nov., 1862, the Union general Ambrose Burnside moved his three "grand divisions" under W. B. Franklin, E. V.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and ChancellorsvilleChancellorsville, battle of,
May 2–4, 1863, in the American Civil War. Late in Apr., 1863, Joseph Hooker, commanding the Union Army of the Potomac, moved against Robert E.
..... Click the link for more information. (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 campaignGettysburg campaign,
June–July, 1863, series of decisive battles of the U.S. Civil War. The Road to Gettysburg
After his victory in the battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate general Robert E. Lee undertook a second invasion of the North.
..... Click the link for more information. (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 LongstreetLongstreet, James,
1821–1904, Confederate general in the American Civil War, b. Edgefield District, S.C. He graduated (1842) from West Point and served in the Mexican War, reaching the rank of major. At the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned from the U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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. GrantGrant, Ulysses Simpson,
1822–85, commander in chief of the Union army in the Civil War and 18th President (1869–77) of the United States, b. Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was originally named Hiram Ulysses Grant.
..... Click the link for more information. moved against him. He repulsed Grant's direct assaults in the Wilderness campaignWilderness campaign,
in the American Civil War, a series of engagements (May–June, 1864) fought in the Wilderness region of Virginia. Early in May, 1864, the Northern commander in chief, Grant, led the Army of the Potomac (118,000 strong) across the Rapidan River into the
..... Click the link for more information. (May–June), but was not strong enough to turn him back, and in July, 1864, Grant began the long siege of PetersburgPetersburg,
city (1990 pop. 38,386), politically independent and in no county, SE Va., on the Appomattox River; inc. 1850. A port of entry and an important tobacco market, it has industries producing chemicals, pharmaceuticals, furniture, structural steel, lumber, paper goods,
..... Click the link for more information. .
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 AppomattoxAppomattox
, town (1990 pop. 1,707), seat of Appomattox co., central Va.; inc. 1925. Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant at nearby Appomattox Courthouse on Apr. 9, 1865. After Gen.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
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 matériel, 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.
The definitive biography, R. E. Lee (4 vol., 1934–37; abr. ed. 1961), is by D. S. FreemanFreeman, Douglas Southall
, 1886–1953, American editor and historian, b. Lynchburg, Va. He was editor of the Richmond News Leader from 1915 to 1949, when he retired to devote most of his time to historical writing.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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).
Lee, Robert Edward
Born Jan. 19, 1807, at “Stratford,” in Virginia; died Oct. 12, 1870, in Lexington, Va. Theater commander and then commander in chief of the armies of the slaveholding Confederacy during the American Civil War of 1861–65.
Lee fought in the annexationist war of the United States against Mexico (1846–48) and in wars of extermination against the Indians of Texas in the 1850’s. Lee directed the suppression of the abolitionist revolt led by John Brown (1859). In 1862 he became head of the army of the rebel slaveholding states on the Virginia front, where he inflicted a number of defeats on the armies of the North. In early July 1863, Lee’s forces were smashed by the North at Gettysburg. On Apr. 9, 1865, Lee’s army capitulated at Appomattox.