Robert E. Lee

American History

January 20, 2004

Robert Edward Lee was born in 1807 and was a great general who commanded the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. He is one of the most famous figures in American history. Roberts’s fame rests on his military achievements as a Confederate Commander in the face of overwhelming odds. He won the respect and admiration of Northerners as well as Southerners. He fought for one section of the young nation, but the struggle did not make Lee intolerant. He fought, not just for personal gain, but to prove himself worthy of a cause. Union General Ulysses S. Grant, to whom Lee was finally forced to surrender, said to someone about Lee: “There was not a man in the Confederacy whose influence with the whole people was as great as his.”

Unlike President Lincoln, who was the person who led the North into the Civil War, Lee was not a self-made man. Lee’s family was the leading of Virginia, and one of the most distinguished in the United States. A kingsman, Thomas Lee, had served as a royal Governor of the colony. Lee was also related to Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee, who had been statesman and soldiers in the revolutionary war days. Henry Lee, his father, known as “Light-Horse Harry” was a brilliant Calvary Commander in the Revolutionary War. When Lee’s mansion, Matholic, burned down in the early 1700’s, Queen Caroline of England gave Thomas Lee money to help rebuild it. Robert called the new building Stratford Hall.

Robert E. Lee was a very handsome man and stood 5ft. 10 ˝ in. tall and weighed about 170 pounds. Lee had a commanding appearance – straight, alert and intelligent. He was never known to smoke, drink or use profane language.

In 1862 Lee was recalled to Richmond and appointed by Davis to be general chief of the confederate army. Soon after Lee took office a large Federal army approached Richmond and penetrated to the gates of the city. In the fighting before the capital, the commander of the Confederate army was seriously injured. Davis then appointed Lee commander of the organization known as the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee’s great military career was about to begin.

If there can be such a person as a natural field general, Lee was one. He was aggressive and combative. In his strategy, he was original, sometimes brilliant. Realizing that the weaker side had to take chances to succeed, He was willing to gamble. His character and devotion aroused the loyalty of his men who called him “Marse Robert.”

He was big enough to take the blame for failure as when after Gettysburg he said: “It is my fault.”

In the years after the war, Lee was the hero of the South. With dignity and without bitterness he accepted defeat and preached to his people the necessity of peace and national unity. Offered many jobs, he accepted the presidency of Washington College at Lexington Va. Later it was renamed Washington and Lee. It was his duty, he thought, to guide the youth of the South in the postwar years. He died on October 12, 1870. His body rests in a mausoleum in the chapel of the college.

The Lee Mansion now stands as a national memorial and museum for all to enjoy and relive his experiences.