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Robert E. Lee


Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee (May 1869, Levin C. Handy)
Birth name Robert Edward Lee
Nickname(s) Bobby Lee (never to his face), Uncle Robert, Marse Robert, Granny Lee, the King of Spades, the Old Man, the Marble Man
Born (1807-01-19)January 19, 1807
Stratford Hall, Virginia, U.S.
Died October 12, 1870(1870-10-12) (aged 63)
Lexington, Virginia, U.S.
Buried at
Years of service
  • 1829–1861 (U.S. Army)
  • 1861–1865 (C.S. Army)
Commands held
Other work President of Washington and Lee University

Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was an American soldier best known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 until his surrender in 1865. The son of Revolutionary War officer Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III and a top graduate of the United States Military Academy, Robert E. Lee was an exceptional officer and combat engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. During this time, he served throughout the United States, distinguished himself during the Mexican–American War, served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, and married Mary Custis.

When Virginia declared its secession from the Union in April 1861, Lee chose to follow his home state, despite his personal desire for the country to remain intact and despite an offer of a senior Union command.[1] During the first year of the Civil War, Lee served as a senior military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. Once he took command of the main field army in 1862 he soon emerged as a shrewd tactician and battlefield commander, winning most of his battles, all against far superior Union armies.[2][3] Lee's strategic foresight was more questionable, and both of his major offensives into the North ended in defeat.[4][5][6] Lee's aggressive tactics, which resulted in high casualties at a time when the Confederacy had a shortage of manpower, have come under criticism in recent years.[7] Union General Ulysses S. Grant's campaigns bore down on the Confederacy in 1864 and 1865, and despite inflicting heavy casualties, Lee was unable to turn the war's tide. He surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. By this time, Lee had assumed supreme command of the remaining Southern armies; other Confederate forces swiftly capitulated after his surrender. Lee rejected the proposal of a sustained insurgency against the North and called for reconciliation between the two sides.

After the war, as President of what is now Washington and Lee University, Lee supported President Andrew Johnson's program of Reconstruction and intersectional friendship, while opposing the Radical Republican proposals to give freed slaves the vote and take the vote away from ex-Confederates. He urged them to rethink their position between the North and the South, and the reintegration of former Confederates into the nation's political life. Lee became the great Southern hero of the War, a postwar icon of the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy" to some. But his popularity grew even in the North, especially after his death in 1870.

Stained glass of Lee's life in the National Cathedral, depicting his time at West Point, service in the Corps of Engineers, the Battle of Chancellorsville, and his death

Early life and career

Lee was born at Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the son of Major General Henry Lee III (Light Horse Harry) (1756–1818), Governor of Virginia, and his second wife, Anne Hill Carter (1773–1829). His birth date has traditionally been recorded as January 19, 1807, but according to the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor, "Lee's writings indicate he may have been born the previous year."[8]

Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County
the family seat, Lee's birthplace
Oronoco St., Alexandria, VA
"Lee Corner" properties

One of Lee's great grandparents, Henry Lee I, was a prominent Virginian colonist of English descent.[9] Lee's family is one of Virginia's first families, originally arriving in Virginia from England in the early 1600s with the arrival of Richard Lee I, Esq., "the Immigrant" (1618–64).[10] His mother grew up at Shirley Plantation, one of the most elegant homes in Virginia.[11] Lee's father, a tobacco planter, suffered severe financial reverses from failed investments.[12]

Little is known of Lee as a child; he rarely spoke of his boyhood as an adult.[13] Nothing is known of his relationship with his father who, after leaving his family, mentioned Robert only once in a letter. When given the opportunity to visit his father's Georgia grave, he remained there only briefly yet, while as president of Washington College, he defended his father in a biographical sketch while editing Light Horse Harry's memoirs.[14] In 1809, Harry Lee was put in debtors prison; soon after his release the following year, Harry and Anne Lee and their five children moved to a small house on Cameron Street in Alexandria, Virginia, both because there were then high quality local schools there, and because several members of her extended family lived nearby.[15] In 1811, the family, including the newly born sixth child, Mildred, moved to a house on Oronoco Street, still close to the center of town and with the houses of a number of Lee relatives close by.[16] In 1812, Harry Lee was badly injured in a political riot in Baltimore and traveled to the West Indies. He would never return, dying when his son Robert was eleven years old.[17] Left to raise six children alone in straitened circumstances, Anne Lee and her family often paid extended visits to relatives and family friends.[18] Robert Lee attended school at Eastern View, a school for young gentlemen, in Fauquier County, and then at the Alexandria Academy, free for local boys, where he showed an aptitude for mathematics. Although brought up to be a practicing Christian, he was not confirmed in the Episcopal Church until age 46.[19]

Anne Lee's family was often supported by a relative, William Henry Fitzhugh, who owned the Oronoco Street house and allowed the Lees to stay at his home in Fairfax County, Ravensworth. When Robert was 17 in 1824, Fitzhugh wrote to the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, urging that Robert be given an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Fitzhugh wrote little of Robert's academic prowess, dwelling much on the prominence of his family, and erroneously stated the boy was 18. Instead of mailing the letter, Fitzhugh had young Robert deliver it.[20] In March 1824, Robert Lee received his appointment to West Point, but due to the large number of cadets admitted, Lee would have to wait a year to begin his studies there.[21]

Lee entered West Point in the summer of 1825. At the time, the focus of the curriculum was engineering; the head of the Army Corps of Engineers supervised the school and the superintendent was an engineering officer. Cadets were not permitted leave until they had finished two years of study, and were rarely allowed off the Academy grounds. Lee graduated second in his class behind Charles Mason,[22] who resigned from the Army a year after graduation, and Lee did not incur any demerits during his four-year course of study, a distinction shared by 5 of his 45 classmates. In June 1829, Lee was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.[23] After graduation, while awaiting assignment, he returned to Virginia to find his mother on her deathbed; she died at Ravensworth on July 26, 1829.[24]

Military engineer career

Lee at age 31 in 1838, as a Lieutenant of Engineers in the U. S. Army

On August 11, 1829, Brigadier General Savannah River. Lee was involved in the early stages of construction as the island was being drained and built up.[25] In 1831, it became apparent that the existing plan to build what became known as Fort Pulaski would have to be revamped, and Lee was transferred to Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula (today in Hampton, Virginia).[26]

While home in the summer of 1829, Lee had apparently courted [27] Custis refused Lee the first time he asked to marry her; her father did not believe the son of the disgraced Light Horse Harry Lee was a suitable man for his daughter.[28] She accepted him with her father's consent in September 1830, while he was on summer leave,[29] and the two were wed on June 30, 1831.[30]

Lee's duties at Fort Monroe were varied, typical for a junior officer, and ranged from budgeting to designing buildings.[31] Although Mary Lee accompanied her husband to Custis Lee was born at Fort Monroe. Although the two were by all accounts devoted to each other, they were different in character: Robert Lee was tidy and punctual, qualities his wife lacked. Mary Lee also had trouble transitioning from being a rich man's daughter to having to manage a household with only one or two slaves.[32] Beginning in 1832, Robert Lee had a close but platonic relationship with Harriett Talcott, wife of his fellow officer Andrew Talcott.[33]

Fort Monroe, Hampton
Lee's early duty station
Fort Des Moines, Montrose
Lee's hand-drawn sketch

Life at Fort Monroe was marked by conflicts between artillery and engineering officers. Eventually the War Department transferred all engineering officers away from Fort Monroe, except Lee, who was ordered to take up residence on the artificial island of Rip Raps across the river from Fort Monroe, where Fort Wool would eventually rise, and continue work to improve the island. Lee duly moved there, then discharged all workers and informed the War Department he could not maintain laborers without the facilities of the fort.[34]

In 1834, Lee was transferred to Washington as General Gratiot's assistant.[35] Lee had hoped to rent a house in Washington for his family, but was not able to find one; the family lived at Arlington, though Lieutenant Lee rented a room at a Washington boarding house for when the roads were impassable.[36] In mid-1835, Lee was assigned to assist Andrew Talcott in surveying the southern border of Michigan.[37] While on that expedition, he responded to a letter from an ill Mary Lee, which had requested he come to Arlington, "But why do you urge my immediate return, & tempt one in the strongest manner[?] ... I rather require to be strengthened & encouraged to the full performance of what I am called on to execute."[26] Lee completed the assignment and returned to his post in Washington, finding his wife ill at Ravensworth. Mary Lee, who had recently given birth to their second child, remained bedridden for several months. In October 1836, Lee was promoted to first lieutenant.[38]

Lee served as an assistant in the chief engineer's office in Washington, D.C. from 1834 to 1837, but spent the summer of 1835 helping to lay out the state line between Ohio and Michigan. As a first lieutenant of engineers in 1837, he supervised the engineering work for St. Louis harbor and for the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Among his projects was the mapping of the Des Moines Rapids on the Mississippi above Keokuk, Iowa, where the Mississippi's mean depth of 2.4 feet (0.7 m) was the upper limit of steamboat traffic on the river. His work there earned him a promotion to captain. Around 1842, Captain Robert E. Lee arrived as Fort Hamilton's post engineer.[39]

Marriage and family

Robert E. Lee, around age 38, and his son William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, around age 8, c.1845

While Lee was stationed at Fort Monroe, he married Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, daughter of William Fitzhugh[40] and Ann Bolling Randolph. Robert and Mary married on June 30, 1831, at Arlington House, her parents' house just across from Washington, D.C. The 3rd U.S. Artillery served as honor guard at the marriage. They eventually had seven children, three boys and four girls:

  1. Mary Custis Lee (Mary, "Daughter"); 1835–1918; unmarried
  2. William Henry Fitzhugh Lee ("Rooney"); 1837–91; served as Major General in the Confederate Army (cavalry); married twice; surviving children by second marriage
  3. Anne Carter Lee (Annie); June 18, 1839 – October 20, 1862; died of typhoid fever, unmarried
  4. Eleanor Agnes Lee (Agnes); 1841 – October 15, 1873; died of tuberculosis, unmarried
  5. Robert Edward Lee, Jr. (Rob); 1843–1914; served as Captain in the Confederate Army (Rockbridge Artillery); married twice; surviving children by second marriage
  6. Mildred Childe Lee (Milly, "Precious Life"); 1846–1905; unmarried

All the children survived him except for Annie, who died in 1862. They are all buried with their parents in the crypt of the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

Lee was a great-great-great grandson of William Randolph and a great-great grandson of Richard Bland.[41] He was also related to Helen Keller through Helen's mother, Kate, and was a distant relative of Admiral Willis Augustus Lee.

On May 1, 1864, General Lee was at the baptism of General A.P. Hill's daughter, Lucy Lee Hill, to serve as her godfather. This is referenced in the painting Tender is the Heart by Mort Künstler.[42]

Mexican–American War

Robert E. Lee around age 43 when he was a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineers, c.1850

Lee distinguished himself in the Mexican–American War (1846–48). He was one of Winfield Scott's chief aides in the march from Veracruz to Mexico City. He was instrumental in several American victories through his personal reconnaissance as a staff officer; he found routes of attack that the Mexicans had not defended because they thought the terrain was impassable.

He was promoted to brevet major after the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847.[43] He also fought at Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec and was wounded at the last. By the end of the war, he had received additional brevet promotions to Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, but his permanent rank was still Captain of Engineers and he would remain a Captain until his transfer to the cavalry in 1855.

For the first time, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met and worked with each other during the Mexican–American War. Both Lee and Grant participated in Scott's march from the coastal town of Vera Cruz to Mexico City. Grant gained wartime experience as a quartermaster, Lee as an engineer who positioned troops and artillery. Both did their share of actual fighting. At Vera Cruz, Lee earned a commendation for "greatly distinguished" service. Grant was among the leaders at the bloody assault at Molino del Rey, and both soldiers were among the forces that entered Mexico City. Close observations of their commanders constituted a learning process for both Lee and Grant.[44] The Mexican–American War concluded on February 2, 1848.

After the Mexican War, Lee spent three years at Fort Carroll in Baltimore harbor. During this time, his service was interrupted by other duties, among them surveying and updating maps in Florida. Cuban revolutionary Narciso López intended to forcibly liberate Cuba from Spanish rule. In 1849, searching for a leader for his filibuster expedition, he approached Jefferson Davis, then a United States senator. Davis declined and suggested Lee, who also declined. Both decided it was inconsistent with their duties.[45][46]

Early 1850s: West Point and Texas

The 1850s were a difficult time for Lee, with his long absences from home, the increasing disability of his wife, troubles in taking over the management of a large slave plantation, and his often morbid concern with his personal failures.[47]

In 1852, Lee was appointed Superintendent of the [49]

Lee was enormously relieved to receive a long-awaited promotion as second-in-command of the Second Cavalry regiment in Texas in 1855. It meant leaving the Engineering Corps and its sequence of staff jobs for the combat command he truly wanted. He served under Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston at Camp Cooper, Texas; their mission was to protect settlers from attacks by the Apache and the Comanche.

Late 1850s: Arlington plantation and the Custis slaves

Arlington House, Arlington
Mary Custis' inheritance in 1857
Christ Church, Alexandria
the Lees worshiped here

In 1857, his father-in-law [50] The estate was in disarray, and the plantations had been poorly managed and were losing money.

Lee tried to hire an overseer to handle the plantation in his absence, writing to his cousin, "I wish to get an energetic honest farmer, who while he will be considerate & kind to the negroes, will be firm & make them do their duty."[51] But Lee failed to find a man for the job, and had to take a two-year leave of absence from the army in order to run the plantation himself. He found the experience frustrating and difficult; some of the slaves were unhappy and demanded their freedom. Many of them had been given to understand that they were to be made free as soon as Custis died.[52] In May 1858, Lee wrote to his son Rooney, "I have had some trouble with some of the people. Reuben, Parks & Edward, in the beginning of the previous week, rebelled against my authority—refused to obey my orders, & said they were as free as I was, etc., etc.—I succeeded in capturing them & lodging them in jail. They resisted till overpowered & called upon the other people to rescue them."[51] Less than two months after they were sent to the Alexandria jail, Lee decided to remove these three men and three female house slaves from Arlington, and sent them under lock and key to the slave-trader William Overton Winston in Richmond, who was instructed to keep them in jail until he could find "good & responsible" slaveholders to work them until the end of the five year period.[51]

The Norris case

In 1859, three of the Arlington slaves—Wesley Norris, his sister Mary, and a cousin of theirs—fled for the North, but were captured a few miles from the Pennsylvania border and forced to return to Arlington. On June 24, 1859, the anti-slavery newspaper New York Daily Tribune published two anonymous letters (dated June 19, 1859[53] and June 21, 1859[54]), each claiming to have heard that Lee had the Norrises whipped, and each going so far as to claim that the overseer refused to whip the woman but that Lee took the whip and flogged her personally. Lee privately wrote to his son Custis that "The N. Y. Tribune has attacked me for my treatment of your grandfather's slaves, but I shall not reply. He has left me an unpleasant legacy."[55]

Biographers of Lee have differed over the credibility of the letters in the Tribune. They broadly agree that Lee had a group of escaped slaves recaptured, and that after recapturing them he hired them out off of the Arlington plantation as a punishment; but they disagree over the likelihood that Lee flogged them, and over the charge that he personally whipped Mary Norris. In 1934, [58] In 2014, Michael Korda wrote that that "Although these letters are dismissed by most of Lee's biographers as exaggerated, or simply as unfounded abolitionist propaganda, it is hard to ignore them. [...] It seems incongruously out of character for Lee to have whipped a slave woman himself, particularly one stripped to the waist, and that charge may have been a flourish added by the two correspondents; interestingly enough, it was not repeated by Wesley Norris when his account of the incident was published in 1866. [...] [A]lthough it seems unlikely that he would have done any of the whipping himself, he may not have flinched from observing it to make sure his orders were carried out exactly."[59]

Wesley Norris himself spoke out about the incident after the war, in an 1866 interview printed in an abolitionist newspaper, the brine.[52]

The Norris men were then sent by Lee's agent to work on the railroads in Richmond and Alabama. Wesley Norris gained his freedom in January 1863 by slipping through the Confederate lines near Richmond to Union-controlled territory.[52] Lee freed the other Custis slaves after the end of the five year period in the winter of 1862, filing the deed of manumission on December 29, 1862.[60]

Lee's views on slavery

Since the end of the Civil War, it has often been suggested Lee was in some sense opposed to slavery. In the period following the war, Lee became a central figure in the Lost Cause interpretation of the war. The argument that Lee had always somehow opposed slavery helped maintain his stature as a symbol of Southern honor and national reconciliation. Freeman's analysis places Lee's attitude toward slavery and abolition in a historical context:

This [opinion] was the prevailing view among most religious people of Lee's class in the border states. They believed that slavery existed because God willed it and they thought it would end when God so ruled. The time and the means were not theirs to decide, conscious though they were of the ill-effects of Negro slavery on both races. Lee shared these convictions of his neighbors without having come in contact with the worst evils of African bondage. He spent no considerable time in any state south of Virginia from the day he left Fort Pulaski in 1831 until he went to Texas in 1856. All his reflective years had been passed in the North or in the border states. He had never been among the blacks on a cotton or rice plantation. At Arlington, the servants had been notoriously indolent, their master's master. Lee, in short, was only acquainted with slavery at its best, and he judged it accordingly. At the same time, he was under no illusion regarding the aims of the Abolitionists or the effect of their agitation.[61]

A key source cited by defenders and critics is Lee's 1856 letter to his wife:[61]

... In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.
—Robert E. Lee, to Mary Anna Lee, December 27, 1856

The evidence cited in favor of the claim that Lee opposed slavery included his direct statements and his actions before and during the war, including Lee's support of the work by his wife and her mother to liberate slaves and fund their move to Liberia,[62] the success of his wife and daughter in setting up an illegal school for slaves on the Arlington plantation,[63] the freeing of Custis' slaves in 1862, and, as the Confederacy's position in the war became desperate, his petitioning slaveholders in 1864–65 to allow slaves to volunteer for the Army with manumission offered as a reward for outstanding service.[64][65]

In December 1864 Lee was shown a letter by Louisiana Senator Edward Sparrow, written by General St. John R. Liddell, which noted Lee would be hard-pressed in the interior of Virginia by spring, and the need to consider Patrick Cleburne's plan to emancipate the slaves and put all men in the army who were willing to join. Lee was said to have agreed on all points and desired to get black soldiers, saying "he could make soldiers out of any human being that had arms and legs."[66]

Harpers Ferry and Texas, 1859–61

Both Harpers Ferry and the secession of Texas were monumental events leading up to the Civil War. Robert E. Lee was at both events. Lee initially remained loyal to the Union after Texas seceded.

Harpers Ferry

John Brown led a band of 21 abolitionists who seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859, hoping to incite a slave rebellion. President James Buchanan gave Lee command of detachments of militia, soldiers, and United States Marines, to suppress the uprising and arrest its leaders.[67] By the time Lee arrived that night, the militia on the site had surrounded Brown and his hostages. At dawn, Brown refused the demand for surrender. Lee attacked, and Brown and his followers were captured after three minutes of fighting. Lee's summary report of the episode shows Lee believed it "was the attempt of a fanatic or madman". Lee said Brown achieved "temporary success" by creating panic and confusion and by "magnifying" the number of participants involved in the raid.[68]


In 1860, Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee relieved Major Heintzelman, Fort Brown, and the Mexican authorities offered to restrain "their citizens from making predatory descents upon the territory and people of Texas...this was the last active operation of the Cortina War". Rip Ford, a Texas Ranger at the time, described Lee as, "dignified without hauteur, grand without pride...he evinced an imperturbable self-possession, and a complete control of his passions...possessing the capacity to accomplish great ends and the gift of controlling and leading men."[69]

When Texas seceded from the Union in February 1861, General David E. Twiggs surrendered all the American forces (about 4,000 men, including Lee, and commander of the Department of Texas) to the Texans. Twiggs immediately resigned from the U. S. Army and was made a Confederate general. Lee went back to Washington and was appointed Colonel of the First Regiment of Cavalry in March 1861. Lee's colonelcy was signed by the new President, Abraham Lincoln. Three weeks after his promotion, Colonel Lee was offered a senior command (with the rank of Major General) in the expanding Army to fight the Southern States that had left the Union. Fort Mason, Texas was Lee's last command with the United States Army.[70]

Civil War

Lee in uniform, 1863

Lee privately ridiculed the Confederacy in letters in early 1861, denouncing secession as "revolution" and a betrayal of the efforts of the founders. Writing to his son William Fitzhugh, Lee stated, "I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union." While he was not opposed in principle to secession, Lee wanted all peaceful ways of resolving the differences between North and South—such as the Crittenden Compromise—to be tried first, and was one of the few to foresee a long and difficult war.[71]

The commanding general of the Union Army, Winfield Scott, told Lincoln he wanted Lee for a top command. Lee accepted a promotion to colonel on March 28.[72] He had earlier been asked by one of his lieutenants if he intended to fight for the Confederacy or the Union, to which Lee replied, "I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty."[73] Meanwhile, Lee ignored an offer of command from the CSA. After Lincoln's call for troops to put down the rebellion, it was obvious that Virginia would quickly secede. Lee on April 18 was offered by presidential advisor Francis P. Blair a role as major general to command the defense of Washington. He replied:

Mr. Blair, I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four millions of slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?[74]

Lee resigned from the U.S. Army on April 20 and took up command of the Virginia state forces on April 23.[22] While historians have usually called his decision inevitable ("the answer he was born to make", wrote one; another called it a "no-brainer") given the ties to family and state, recent research shows that the choice was a difficult one that Lee made alone, without pressure from friends or family. His daughter Mary Custis was the only one among those close to Lee who favored secession, and wife Mary Anna especially favored the Union, so his decision astounded them. While Lee's immediate family followed him to the Confederacy, others, such as cousins and fellow officers Samuel Phillips and John Fitzgerald, remained loyal to the Union, as did 40% of all Virginian officers.[71]

Early role

Julian Vannerson's photograph of Lee in 1863

At the outbreak of war, Lee was appointed to command all of Virginia's forces, but upon the formation of the Confederate States Army, he was named one of its first five full generals. Lee did not wear the insignia of a Confederate general, but only the three stars of a Confederate colonel, equivalent to his last U.S. Army rank.[75] He did not intend to wear a general's insignia until the Civil War had been won and he could be promoted, in peacetime, to general in the Confederate Army.

Lee's first field assignment was commanding Confederate forces in western Virginia, where he was defeated at the Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the former U.S. Secretary of War. While in Richmond, Lee was ridiculed as the 'King of Spades' for his excessive digging of trenches around the capitol. These trenches would later play a pivotal role in battles near the end of the war.[78]

Commander, Army of Northern Virginia

Following the wounding of Gen. Fort Monroe, eventually reaching the eastern edges of the Confederate capital along the Chickahominy River. Lee then launched a series of attacks, the Seven Days Battles, against McClellan's forces. Lee's assaults resulted in heavy Confederate casualties. They were marred by clumsy tactical performances by his division commanders, but his aggressive actions unnerved McClellan, who retreated to a point on the James River and abandoned the Peninsula Campaign. These successes led to a rapid turnaround of Confederate public opinion, and the newspaper editorials quickly changed their tune on Lee's aggressiveness. After the Seven Days Battles until the end of the war his men called him simply "Marse Robert", a term of respect and affection.

Lee mounted on Traveller (September 1866)
This stunning Unionist setback—followed by an alarming drop in Northern morale[80]—impelled Lincoln to adopt a new policy of relentless, committed warfare.[81] Three weeks after the Seven Days Battles, Lincoln informed his cabinet that he intended to issue an executive order to free slaves as a military necessity.[82]

After McClellan's retreat, Lee defeated another Union army at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Within 90 days of taking command, Lee had run McClellan off the Peninsula, defeated John Pope at Second Manassas, and the battle lines had moved from 6 miles (9.7 km) outside Richmond, to 20 miles (32 km) outside Washington. Instead of a quick end to the war that McClellen's Peninsula Campaign had promised, the war would go on for almost another 3 years and claim a half million more lives, and end with liberation of four million slaves and the devastation of the Southern slave-based society. Lee then invaded Maryland, hoping to replenish his supplies and possibly influence the Northern elections to fall in favor of ending the war. McClellan's men recovered a lost order that revealed Lee's plans. McClellan always exaggerated Lee's numerical strength, but now he knew the Confederate army was divided and could be destroyed by an all-out attack at Antietam. McClellan, however, was too slow in moving, not realizing Lee had been informed by a spy that McClellan had the plans. Lee urgently recalled Stonewall Jackson, concentrating his forces west of Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. In the bloodiest day of the war, with both sides suffering enormous losses, Lee withstood the Union assaults. He withdrew his battered army back to Virginia while President Abraham Lincoln used the Confederate reversal as an opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation[83] which put the Confederacy on the diplomatic and moral defensive, and would ultimately devastate the Confederacy's slave-based economy.[84]

Disappointed by McClellan's failure to destroy Lee's army, Lincoln named [85] Lee reportedly stated after the Confederate victory, "It is well that war is so terrible--we should grow too fond of it".[85] At Fredericksburg, according to historian Michael Fellman, Lee had completely entered into the "spirit of war, where destructiveness took on its own beauty."[85] After the bitter Union defeat at Fredericksburg, President Lincoln named Joseph Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker's advance to attack Lee in May 1863, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, was defeated by Lee and Stonewall Jackson's daring plan to divide the army and attack Hooker's flank. It was a victory over a larger force, but it also came with high casualties. It was particularly costly in one respect: Lee's finest corps commander, Stonewall Jackson, was accidentally fired upon by his own troops. Weakened by his wounds, he died some days later, most likely of pneumonia.[86]

Battle of Gettysburg

The critical decisions came in May–June 1863, after Lee's smashing victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville. The western front was crumbling, as multiple uncoordinated Confederate armies were unable to handle General Ulysses S. Grant's campaign against Vicksburg. The top military advisers wanted to save Vicksburg, but Lee persuaded Davis to overrule them and authorize yet another invasion of the North. The immediate goal was to acquire urgently needed supplies from the rich farming districts of Pennsylvania; a long-term goal was to stimulate peace activity in the North by demonstrating the power of the South to invade. Lee's decision proved a significant strategic blunder and cost the Confederacy control of its western regions, and nearly cost Lee his own army as Union forces cut him off from the South. Lee had to fight his way out at Gettysburg.[87]

Battle of Gettysburg, by Thure de Thulstrup

In the summer of 1863, Lee invaded the North again, marching through western Maryland and into south central Pennsylvania. He encountered Union forces under Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July; the battle would produce the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War. With some of his subordinates being new and inexperienced in their commands, J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry being out of the area, and Lee being slightly ill, he was less than comfortable with how events were unfolding. While the first day of battle was controlled by the Confederates, key terrain that should have been taken by General Ewell was not. The second day ended with the Confederates unable to break the Union position, and the Union being more solidified. Lee's decision on the third day, against the sound judgment of his best corps commander General Longstreet, to launch a massive frontal assault on the center of the Union line was disastrous. The assault known as Pickett's Charge was repulsed and resulted in heavy Confederate losses. The general rode out to meet his retreating army and proclaimed, "All this has been my fault."[88] Lee was compelled to retreat. Despite flooded rivers that blocked his retreat, he escaped Meade's ineffective pursuit. Following his defeat at Gettysburg, Lee sent a letter of resignation to President Davis on August 8, 1863, but Davis refused Lee's request. That fall, Lee and Meade met again in two minor campaigns that did little to change the strategic standoff. The Confederate Army never fully recovered from the substantial losses incurred during the 3-day battle in southern Pennsylvania. The historian Shelby Foote stated, "Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Robert E. Lee as commander."

Ulysses S. Grant and the Union offensive

In 1864 the new Union general-in-chief, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, sought to use his large advantages in manpower and material resources to destroy Lee's army by attrition, pinning Lee against his capital of Richmond. Lee successfully stopped each attack, but Grant with his superior numbers kept pushing each time a bit farther to the southeast. These battles in the Overland Campaign included the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor.

Grant eventually was able to stealthily move his army across the James River. After stopping a Union attempt to capture Petersburg, Virginia, a vital railroad link supplying Richmond, Lee's men built elaborate trenches and were besieged in Petersburg, a development which presaged the trench warfare of World War I. He attempted to break the stalemate by sending Jubal A. Early on a raid through the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C., but was defeated early on by the superior forces of Philip Sheridan. The Siege of Petersburg lasted from June 1864 until March 1865, with Lee's outnumbered and poorly supplied army shrinking daily because of desertions by disheartened Confederates.


Lee with son Custis (left) and aide Walter H. Taylor (right) by Brady, April 16, 1865

On January 31, 1865, Lee was promoted to general-in-chief of Confederate forces.

As the South ran out of manpower the issue of arming the slaves became paramount. By late 1864, the army so dominated the Confederacy that civilian leaders were unable to block the military's proposal, strongly endorsed by Lee, to arm and train slaves in Confederate uniform for combat. In return for this service, slave soldiers and their families would be emancipated. Lee explained, "We should employ them without delay ... [along with] gradual and general emancipation." The first units were in training as the war ended.[89][90] As the Confederate army was devastated by casualties, disease and desertion, the Union attack on Petersburg succeeded on April 2, 1865. Lee abandoned Richmond and retreated west. Lee then made an attempt to escape to the southwest and join up with Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee in North Carolina. However, his forces were soon surrounded and he surrendered them to Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.[91] Other Confederate armies followed suit and the war ended. The day after his surrender, Lee issued his Farewell Address to his army.

Lee resisted calls by some officers to reject surrender and allow small units to melt away into the mountains, setting up a lengthy guerrilla war. He insisted the war was over and energetically campaigned for inter-sectional reconciliation. "So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South."[92]

Lee's Civil War battle summaries

The following are summaries of Civil War campaigns and major battles where Robert E. Lee was the commanding officer:[93]

Battle Date Result Opponent Confederate troop strength Union troop strength Confederate casualties Union casualties Notes
Cheat Mountain September 11–13, 1861 Defeat Reynolds 15,000 2,000 100 21 Lee's first battle of the Civil War. Severely criticized, Lee nicknamed "Granny Lee". Lee was sent to SC and GA to supervise fortifications.[94]
Seven Days June 25 – July 1, 1862 Victory
  • Oak Grove: Draw (Union withdrawal)
  • Beaver Dam Creek: Union victory
  • Gaine's Mill: Confederate victory
  • Savage's Station: Draw
  • Glendale: Draw (Union withdrawal)
  • Malvern Hill: Union victory
McClellan 95,000 91,000 20,614 15,849 Lee acquitted himself well, and remained in field command for the duration of the war under the direction of Jefferson Davis. Union troops remained on the Lower Peninsula and at Fortress Monroe, which became a terminus on the Underground Railroad, and the site terming escaped slaves as "contribands", no longer returned to their rebel owners.
Second Manassas August 28–30, 1862 Victory Pope 49,000 76,000 9,197 16,054 Union forces continued to occupy northern Virginia
South Mountain September 14, 1862 Defeat McClellan 18,000 28,000 2,685 1,813 Confederates lost control of westernmost Virginian congressional districts which would later be the core counties of West Virginia.
Antietam September 16–18, 1862 Inconclusive (strategic Union victory) McClellan 52,000 75,000 13,724 12,410 Confederates lost an opportunity to gain foreign recognition, Lincoln moved forward on his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
Fredericksburg December 11, 1862 Victory Burnside 72,000 114,000 5,309 12,653 With Lee's troops and supplies depleted, Confederates remained in place south of the Rappahannock. Union forces did not withdraw from northern Virginia.
Chancellorsville May 1, 1863 Victory Hooker 57,000 105,000 12,764 16,792 Union forces withdrew to ring of defenses around Washington, DC.
Gettysburg July 1, 1863 Defeat Meade 75,000 83,000 23,231–28,063 23,049 The Confederate army was physically and spiritually exhausted. Meade was criticized for not immediately pursuing Lee's army. This battle become known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.[95] Lee would never personally invade the North again after this battle. Rather he was determined to defend Richmond and eventually Petersburg at all costs.
Wilderness May 5, 1864 Inconclusive Grant 61,000 102,000 11,400 18,400 Lee's tactical victory, yet Grant continued his offensive, circling east and south advancing on Richmond and Petersburg
Spotsylvania May 12, 1864 Inconclusive[96] Grant 52,000 100,000 12,000 18,000 Although beaten and unable to take Lee's defenses, Grant continued the Union offensive, circling east and south advancing on Richmond and Petersburg
Cold Harbor June 1, 1864 Victory Grant 62,000 108,000 2,500 12,000 Although Grant was able to continue his offensive, Grant referred to the Cold Harbor assault as his "greatest regret" of the war in his memoirs.
Fussell’s Mill August 14, 1864 Victory Hancock 20,000 28,000 1,700 2,901 Union attempt to break Confederate siege lines at Richmond, the Confederate capital
Appomattox Campaign March 29, 1865 Defeat Grant 50,000 113,000 no record available 10,780 General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant.[97] After the surrender Grant gave Lee's army much-needed food rations, they were paroled to return to their homes, never to take up arms against the Union again.

After the war

General Lee and his Confederate officers in their first meeting since Appomattox, August 1869. This is the only from life photograph of Lee with his Generals in existence, during the war or after.

After the war, Lee was not arrested or punished, but he did lose the right to vote as well as some property. Lee supported President Johnson's plan of Reconstruction, but joined with Democrats in opposing the Radical Republicans who demanded punitive measures against the South, distrusted its commitment to the abolition of slavery and, indeed, distrusted the region's loyalty to the United States.[98][99] Lee generally supported civil rights for all, as well as a system of free public schools for blacks, but forthrightly opposed allowing blacks to vote. "My own opinion is that, at this time, they [black Southerners] cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the [vote] would lead to a great deal of demagogism, and lead to embarrassments in various ways," Lee stated.[100] Emory Thomas says Lee had become a suffering Christ-like icon for ex-Confederates. President Grant invited him to the White House in 1869, and he went. Nationally he became an icon of reconciliation between the North and South, and the reintegration of former Confederates into the national fabric.[101]

Lee's prewar family home, the Custis-Lee Mansion, was seized by Union forces during the war and turned into Arlington National Cemetery. The family was compensated in 1883.[102]

Lee hoped to retire to a farm of his own, but he was too much a regional symbol to live in obscurity. From April to June 1865, he and his family resided in Richmond at the Stewart-Lee House.[103] He accepted an offer to serve as the president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and served from October 1865 until his death. The Trustees used his famous name in large-scale fund-raising appeals and Lee transformed Washington College into a leading Southern college expanding its offerings significantly and added programs in commerce, journalism, and law. Lee was well liked by the students, which enabled him to announce an "honor system" like West Point's, explaining "We have but one rule here, and it is that every student be a gentleman." To speed up national reconciliation Lee recruited students from the North and made certain they were well treated on campus and in town.[104]

Several glowing appraisals of Lee's tenure as college president have survived, depicting the dignity and respect he commanded among all. Previously, most students had been obliged to occupy the campus dormitories, while only the most mature were allowed to live off-campus. Lee quickly reversed this rule, requiring most students to board off-campus, and allowing only the most mature to live in the dorms as a mark of privilege; the results of this policy were considered a success. A typical account by a professor there states that "the students fairly worshipped him, and deeply dreaded his displeasure; yet so kind, affable, and gentle was he toward them that all loved to approach him. ... No student would have dared to violate General Lee's expressed wish or appeal; if he had done so, the students themselves would have driven him from the college."[105]

While at Washington College, Lee told a colleague that the greatest mistake of his life was taking a military education.[106]

President Johnson's amnesty pardons

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon to persons who had participated in the rebellion against the United States. There were fourteen excepted classes, though, and members of those classes had to make special application to the President. Lee sent an application to Grant and wrote to President Johnson on June 13, 1865:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April '61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Virginia 9 April '65.[107]
Oath of amnesty submitted by Robert E. Lee in 1865

On October 2, 1865, the same day that Lee was inaugurated as president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, he signed his Amnesty Oath, thereby complying fully with the provision of Johnson's proclamation. Lee was not pardoned, nor was his citizenship restored.[107]

Three years later, on December 25, 1868, Johnson proclaimed a second amnesty which removed previous exceptions, such as the one that affected Lee.[108]

Postwar politics

Robert E. Lee, oil on canvas, Edward Calledon Bruce, 1865. Virginia Historical Society

Lee, who had opposed secession and remained mostly indifferent to politics before the Civil War, supported President Johnson's plan of Presidential Reconstruction that took effect in 1865–66. However, he opposed the Congressional Republican program that took effect in 1867. In February 1866, he was called to testify before the Joint Congressional Committee on Reconstruction in Washington, where he expressed support for President Andrew Johnson's plans for quick restoration of the former Confederate states, and argued that restoration should return, as far as possible, the status quo ante in the Southern states' governments (with the exception of slavery).[109]

Lee told the Committee, "...every one with whom I associate expresses kind feelings towards the freedmen. They wish to see them get on in the world, and particularly to take up some occupation for a living, and to turn their hands to some work." Lee also expressed his "willingness that blacks should be educated, and ... that it would be better for the blacks and for the whites." Lee forthrightly opposed allowing blacks to vote: "My own opinion is that, at this time, they [black Southerners] cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the [vote] would lead to a great deal of demagogism, and lead to embarrassments in various ways."[110] Lee also recommended the deportation of African Americans from Virginia and even mentioned that Virginians would give aid in the deportation. "I think it would be better for Virginia if she could get rid of them [African Americans]. ... I think that everyone there would be willing to aid it."[111][112]

In an interview in May 1866, Lee said, "The Radical party are likely to do a great deal of harm, for we wish now for good feeling to grow up between North and South, and the President, Mr. Johnson, has been doing much to strengthen the feeling in favor of the Union among us. The relations between the Negroes and the whites were friendly formerly, and would remain so if legislation be not passed in favor of the blacks, in a way that will only do them harm."[113]

In 1868, Lee's ally Alexander H. H. Stuart drafted a public letter of endorsement for the Democratic Party's presidential campaign, in which Horatio Seymour ran against Lee's old foe Republican Ulysses S. Grant. Lee signed it along with thirty-one other ex-Confederates. The Democratic campaign, eager to publicize the endorsement, published the statement widely in newspapers.[114] Their letter claimed paternalistic concern for the welfare of freed Southern blacks, stating that "The idea that the Southern people are hostile to the negroes and would oppress them, if it were in their power to do so, is entirely unfounded. They have grown up in our midst, and we have been accustomed from childhood to look upon them with kindness."[115] However, it also called for the restoration of white political rule, arguing that "It is true that the people of the South, in common with a large majority of the people of the North and West, are, for obvious reasons, inflexibly opposed to any system of laws that would place the political power of the country in the hands of the negro race. But this opposition springs from no feeling of enmity, but from a deep-seated conviction that, at present, the negroes have neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power."[116]

In his public statements and private correspondence, Lee argued that a tone of reconciliation and patience would further the interests of white Southerners better than hotheaded antagonism to federal authority or the use of violence. Lee repeatedly expelled white students from Washington College for violent attacks on local black men, and publicly urged obedience to the authorities and respect for law and order.[117] In 1869–70 he was a leader in successful efforts to establish state-funded schools for blacks.[118] He privately chastised fellow ex-Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and Jubal Early for their frequent, angry responses to perceived Northern insults, writing in private to them as he had written to a magazine editor in 1865, that "It should be the object of all to avoid controversy, to allay passion, give full scope to reason and to every kindly feeling. By doing this and encouraging our citizens to engage in the duties of life with all their heart and mind, with a determination not to be turned aside by thoughts of the past and fears of the future, our country will not only be restored in material prosperity, but will be advanced in science, in virtue and in religion."[119]

Illness and death

Lee's death mask
"Recumbent Statue" of Robert E. Lee asleep on the battlefield, Lee Chapel, Lexington VA

On September 28, 1870, Lee suffered a stroke. He died two weeks later, shortly after 9 a.m. on October 12, 1870, in Lexington, Virginia, from the effects of pneumonia. According to one account, his last words on the day of his death, were "Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent",[120] but this is debatable because of conflicting accounts and because Lee's stroke had resulted in aphasia, possibly rendering him unable to speak.

At first no suitable coffin for the body could be located. An undertaker had ordered three from Richmond that had reached Lexington, but due to unprecedented flooding from long-continued heavy rains, the caskets were washed away. Two neighborhood boys, C.G. Chittum and Robert E. Hillis, found one of the coffins that had been swept ashore. Undamaged, it was used for the General's body, though it was a bit short for him. As a result, Lee was buried without shoes.[121] He was buried underneath Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University, where his body remains.


Among Southerners, Lee came to be even more revered after his surrender than he had been during the war, when Benjamin Harvey Hill described Lee in this way:

Robert E. Lee,  Stonewall Jackson and Stratford Hall, Army Issue of 1936
Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Stratford Hall, Army Issue of 1936
Robert E. Lee stamp, Liberty Issue of 1955
Robert E. Lee stamp, Liberty Issue of 1955
He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbour without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward.[122]
Washington and Lee University Issue of 1948
Washington and Lee University Issue of 1948
R. E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson. Stone Mountain Issue of 1970
R. E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson. Stone Mountain Issue of 1970

His reputation continued to grow. By the end of the 19th century, his popularity had spread to the North.[123] Lee's admirers have pointed to his character and devotion to duty, and his brilliant tactical successes in battle after battle against a stronger foe.

According to my notion of military history there is as much instruction both in strategy and in tactics to be gleaned from General Lee's operations of 1862 as there is to be found in Napoleon's campaigns of 1796.
—Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley[124]

Military historians continue to pay attention to his battlefield tactics and maneuvering, though many think he should have designed better strategic plans for the Confederacy. However, it should be noted that he was not given full direction of the Southern war effort until late in the conflict.

Robert E. Lee has been commemorated on U.S. postage stamps at least five times, the first one being a commemorative stamp that also honored Stonewall Jackson, issued in 1936. A second 'regular issue' stamp was issued in 1955. He was commemorated with a 32-cent stamp issued in the American Civil War Issue of June 29, 1995. His horse Traveller is pictured in the background. Explanatory text is imprinted on the back of each stamp, issued in a sheet of 20 commemorative Civil War stamps. Stamp Ventures printed the stamps in the gravure process. An image of the stamp is available at Arago online at the link in the footnote.[125]

Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia was commemorated on its 200th anniversary on November 23, 1948, with a 3-cent postage. The central design is a view of the university, flanked by portraits of generals George Washington and Robert E. Lee.[126] Lee was again commemorated on a commemorative stamp in 1970, along with Jefferson Davis and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, depicted on horseback on the 6-cent Stone Mountain Memorial commemorative issue, modeled after the actual Stone Mountain Memorial carving in Georgia. The stamp was issued on September 19, 1970 in conjunction with the dedication of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in Georgia on May 9, 1970. The design of the stamp replicates the memorial, the largest high relief sculpture in the world. It is carved on the side of Stone Mountain 400 feet above the ground.[127] On September 29, 2007, General Lee's three Civil War–era letters were sold for $61,000 at auction by Thomas Willcox, much less than the record of $630,000 for a Lee item in 2002. The auction included more than 400 documents of Lee's from the estate of the parents of Willcox that had been in the family for generations. South Carolina sued to stop the sale on the grounds that the letters were official documents and therefore property of the state, but the court ruled in favor of Willcox.[128]

On January 30, 1975, Senate Joint Resolution 23, A joint resolution to restore posthumously full rights of citizenship to General R. E. Lee was introduced into the Senate by Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (I-VA), the result of a five-year campaign to accomplish this. The resolution, which enacted Public Law 94-67, was passed, and the bill was signed by President Gerald Ford on September 5.[129][130][131]

Monuments, memorials and commemorations

Jefferson Davis, Lee, and Stonewall Jackson
at Stone Mountain
Unveiling of the Equestrian Statue of Robert E. Lee, May 29, 1890, Richmond, Virginia

Since it was built in 1884, the most prominent monument in George Washington Cable wrote:

"In Tivoli Circle, New Orleans, from the centre and apex of its green flowery mound, an immense column of pure white marble rises in the ... majesty of Grecian proportions high up above the city's house-tops into the dazzling sunshine ... On its dizzy top stands the bronze figure of one of the worlds greatest captains. He is alone. Not one of his mighty lieutenants stand behind, beside or below him. His arms are folded on that breast that never knew fear, and his calm, dauntless gaze meets the morning sun as it rises, like the new prosperity of the land he loved and serve so masterly, above the far distant battle fields where so many thousands of his gray veterans lie in the sleep of fallen heroes." (Silent South, 1885, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine)

Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion,[133][134] is a Greek revival mansion in Arlington, Virginia, that was once Lee's home. It overlooks the Potomac River and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. During the Civil War, the grounds of the mansion were selected as the site of Arlington National Cemetery, in part to ensure that Lee would never again be able to return to his home. The United States designated the mansion as a National Memorial to Lee in 1955, a mark of widespread respect for him in both the North and South.[135]

In Richmond, Virginia, a large equestrian statue of Lee by French sculptor Jean Antonin Mercié is the centerpiece of the city's famous Monument Avenue, which boasts four other statues to famous Confederates. This monument to Lee was unveiled on May 29, 1890; over 100,000 people attended this dedication. Lee is also shown mounted on Traveller in Gettysburg National Military Park on top of the Virginia Monument; he is facing roughly in the direction of Pickett's Charge. Lee's portrayal on a mural on Richmond's Flood Wall on the James River, considered offensive by some, was removed in the late 1990s, but currently is back on the flood wall. Also in Virginia, the Robert Edward Lee Sculpture at Charlottesville was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.[136]

CSS Robert E. Lee

In Baltimore's Wyman Park, a large double equestrian statue of Lee and Jackson is located directly across from the Baltimore Museum of Art. Designed by Laura Gardin Fraser and dedicated in 1948, Lee is depicted astride his horse Traveller next to Stonewall Jackson who is mounted on "Little Sorrel." Architect John Russell Pope created the base, which was dedicated on the anniversary of the eve of the Battle of Chancellorsville.[137]

An equestrian statue of Lee is located in Robert E. Lee Park, in [138]

The birthday of Robert E. Lee is celebrated or commemorated in several states. In Virginia, [144]

Three United States colleges were named for Lee: Robert E. Lee Academy in Bishopville, South Carolina; Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia; and Lee College in Baytown, Texas. Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University marks Lee's final resting place. Throughout the South, many primary and secondary schools were also named for him.

In 1900, Lee was one of the first 29 individuals selected for the Hall of Fame for Great Americans (the first Hall of Fame in the United States), designed by Stanford White, on the Bronx, New York, campus of New York University, now a part of Bronx Community College.[145][146]

In 1862, the newly formed Confederate Navy purchased a 642-ton iron-hulled side-wheel gunboat, built in at Glasgow, Scotland, and gave her the name of CSS Robert E. Lee in honor of this Confederate General. During the next year, she became one of the South's most famous Confederate blockade runners, successfully making more than twenty runs through the Union blockade.[147]

The ballistic missile submarine built in 1958, was named for Lee,[150] as was the M3 Lee tank, produced in 1941 and 1942.

The Commonwealth of Virginia issues an optional license plate honoring Lee, making reference to him as 'The Virginia Gentleman'.[151] In February 2014, a road on Fort Bliss previously named for Lee was renamed to honor Buffalo Soldiers.[152][153]

In popular culture

Lee serves as a main character in the Shaara novels The Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, and The Last Full Measure, as well as the film adaptations of The Killer Angels and Gods and Generals. He is played by Martin Sheen in the former and his descendent Robert Duvall in the latter. Lee is portrayed as a hero in the historical children's novel Lee and Grant at Appomattox by MacKinlay Kantor. He is a major character in Harry Turtledove's alternate history novel, The Guns of the South, in which he ends up as President of a victorious Confederacy. His part in the Civil War is told from the perspective of his horse in Richard Adams' book Traveller.

On September 18, 1960, the American actor ABC television series The Rebel, starring Nick Adams in the title role.[154]

The Dodge Charger featured in the CBS television series The Dukes of Hazzard was named The General Lee.[155][156]


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  108. ^ "Proclamation 179 - Granting Full Pardon and Amnesty for the Offense of Treason Against the United States During the Late Civil War". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
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  146. ^ "Hall of Fame for Great Americans". Bronx Community College. Retrieved June 13, 2014. 
  147. ^ Konstam, Angus; Bryan, Tony (2004). Confederate Blockade Runner 1861-65. Wisconsin: Osprey Publishing. p. 48. 
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  153. ^ Polk, Andrew J. (20 February 2014). "Ft. Bliss renames street Buffalo Soldier Road". 
  154. ^ "Johnny Yuma at Appomattox".  
  155. ^ Dukes of Hazzard's" General Lee Tops Edmunds''s List of 100 Greatest Movie and TV Cars of All Time""". Retrieved June 3, 2012. 
  156. ^ "The Dukes of Hazzard: Happy Birthday, General Lee". allmovie. Retrieved June 3, 2012. 


External links

Primary sources

  • Original Historical Letters: Lincoln Refuses Lee's Armistice Shapell Manuscript Foundation
  • Interactive Animation of the Battle of Gettysburg - A chronicle of the 3-day battle, it also touches on Lee's tactical strategies during the American Civil War.

Monuments and memorials

  • Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University where Robert E. Lee is buried
  • Robert E Lee / Virginia Monument at Gettysburg
  • "Robert E. Lee".  
Military offices
Preceded by
Henry Brewerton
Superintendent of the United States Military Academy
Succeeded by
John Gross Barnard
Preceded by
Gen. Joseph E. Johnston
Commander, Army of Northern Virginia
June 1, 1862 – April 12, 1865
End of War
Preceded by
None, position was created with Lee's appointment
General-in-Chief of the Confederate States Army
January 31, 1865 – April 12, 1865
Academic offices
Preceded by
George Junkin
President of Washington and Lee University
Succeeded by
George Washington Custis Lee
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