Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee
Robert Edward Lee.jpg
Robert E Lee Signature.svg
Robert E. Lee, General of the Confederate Army. (1863, Julian Vannerson)
Nickname "Marble Man"
Born January 19, 1807 (1807-01-19)
Stratford Hall, Virginia
Died October 12, 1870 (1870-10-13) (aged 63)
Lexington, Virginia
Buried at Lee Chapel
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, Virginia
Allegiance United States United States of America
Confederate States of America Confederate States of America
Years of service 1829–61 (USA)
1861–65 (CSA)
Rank Colonel (USA)
General (CSA)
Commands held Superintendent, U.S. Military Academy
Army of Northern Virginia
Battles/wars Mexican–American War
Harpers Ferry Raid
American Civil War
Other work President of Washington and Lee University

Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. The son of U.S. Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III and a top graduate of West Point, Robert E. Lee distinguished himself as an exceptional officer and combat engineer in the United States Army for 32 years before resigning to join the Confederate cause. By the end of the American Civil War, he was commanding general of the Confederate army. He became a postwar icon of the South's "lost cause", and is still admired to this day.

In early 1861, President Abraham Lincoln invited Lee to take command of the entire Union Army. Lee declined because his home state of Virginia was, despite his wishes, seceding from the Union. When Virginia declared its secession from the Union in April 1861, Lee chose to follow his home state.[1] Lee's eventual role in the newly established Confederacy was to serve as a senior military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. Lee soon emerged as the shrewdest battlefield tactician of the war, after he assumed command of the Confederate eastern army (soon christened "The Army of Northern Virginia") after the wounding of Joseph Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines. His abilities as a tactician have been praised by many military historians.[2][3] They were made evident in his many victories such as the Battle of Fredericksburg (1862), Battle of Chancellorsville (1863), Battle of the Wilderness (1864), Battle of Cold Harbor (1864), Seven Days Battles, and the Second Battle of Bull Run. His strategic vision was more doubtful—his invasions of the North in 1862 and 1863 were designed to help gain foreign recognition, seize supplies, take the pressure off his beloved Virginia, and mobilize antiwar elements in the North.[4] After a defeat at Antietam in 1862 and disaster at Gettysburg in 1863, hopes for victory were dashed, and defeat for the South was almost certain. However, due to ineffectual pursuit by the commander of Union forces after both defeats, Lee escaped back to Virginia. His decision in 1863 to overrule his generals and invade the North, rather than help protect Vicksburg, proved a major strategic blunder and cost the Confederacy control of its western regions, according to critical historians such as Sears and Eicher.[5][6][7] Nevertheless, there is no dispute that Lee's brilliant defensive maneuvers stopped the Union offenses one after another, as he defeated a series of Union commanders in Virginia.

In the spring of 1864, the new Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant, began a series of campaigns to wear down Lee's army. In the Overland Campaign of 1864 and the Siege of Petersburg in 1864–65, Lee inflicted heavy casualties on Grant's larger army, but was forced back into trenches; the Confederacy was unable to replace their losses or even provide adequate rations to the soldiers that did not desert. In the final months of the Civil War, as manpower drained away, Lee adopted a plan to arm slaves to fight on behalf of the Confederacy, but the decision came too late and the black soldiers were never used in combat. In early April 1865, Lee's depleted forces were overwhelmed at Petersburg; he abandoned Richmond and retreated west as Union forces encircled his army. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, marking the end of Confederate hopes; the remaining armies soon capitulated. Lee rejected as folly the starting of a guerrilla campaign against the Yankees and called for reconciliation between the North and South.

After the war, as a college 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, and his popularity grew in the North, as well, after his death in 1870. He remains an iconic figure[8] of American military leadership.

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

Farewell address by Lee to the Army of Northern Virginia, Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 10, 1865


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."[9]

Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County
the family seat, Lee’s birthplace

One of Lee's great-great grandparents, Henry Lee I, was a prominent Virginian colonist of English descent.[10] 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).[11] His mother grew up at Shirley Plantation, one of the most elegant homes in Virginia.[12] Lee's father, a tobacco planter, suffered severe financial reverses from failed investments.[13]

Little is known of Lee as a child; he rarely spoke of his boyhood as an adult.[14] Nothing is known of his relationship with his father, who, after leaving his family, only mentioned Robert 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.[15] 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 terrific local schools there and because several members of her extended family lived nearby.[16] 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.[17] In 1812, Harry Lee was badly injured in a political riot in Baltimore, and Secretary of State James Madison arranged for Lee to travel to the West Indies. He would never return, dying when his son Robert was 11.[18] Left to raise six children alone in straitened circumstances, Anne Lee and her family often paid extended visits to relatives and family friends.[19] 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.[20]

A Lee Oronoco House, Alexandria, VA
"Lee Corner" properties were Lee family owned

Anne Lee's family was often succored 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.[21] 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.[22]

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 permitted to leave the grounds of the Academy. Lee graduated second in his class behind Charles Mason,[23] who resigned from the Army a year after graduation, and Lee did not incur any demerits during his four-year course of study—five of his 45 classmates earned a similar distinction. In June 1829, Lee was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.[24] After graduation, he returned to Virginia while awaiting assignment to find his mother on her deathbed; she died at Ravensworth on July 26, 1829.[25]

Combat engineer career

Robert E. Lee, near age 24, c.1831
Lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. Army

On August 11, 1829, Brigadier General Charles Gratiot ordered Lee to Cockspur Island, Georgia; plans were to build a fort on the marshy island which would command the outlet of the Savannah River. Lee was involved in the early stages of construction, as the island was being drained and built up.[26] In 1831, it became apparent 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).[27]

While home in the summer of 1829, Lee had apparently courted Mary Custis, great granddaughter of Martha Washington whom he had known as a child. Lee obtained permission to write to her before leaving for Georgia, though Mary Custis warned Lee to be "discreet" in his writing, as her mother read her letters, especially from men.[28] Custis refused Lee the first time he asked to marry her; her father, George Washington Custis did not believe the son of the disgraced Light Horse Harry Lee was a suitable man for his daughter.[29] She accepted him, with her father's consent, in September 1830, while he was on summer leave,[30] and the two were wed on June 30, 1831, at the Custis home at Arlington House in the southern portion of the District of Columbia (today in Arlington County, Virginia).[31]

Lee's duties at Fort Monroe were varied, typical for a junior officer, and ranged from budgeting to designing buildings.[32] Although Mary Lee accompanied her husband to Hampton Roads, she spent about a third of her time at Arlington, though the couple's first son, 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.[33] Beginning in 1832, Robert Lee began a platonic, but close relationship with Harriett Talcott, wife of his fellow officer Andrew Talcott.[34]

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.

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."[27] 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 blasting a channel through the Des Moines Rapids on the Mississippi by 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

While he was stationed at Fort Monroe, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis (1808–73), great-granddaughter of Martha Washington by her first husband Daniel Parke Custis, and step-great-granddaughter of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Mary was the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington's stepgrandson, and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, daughter of William Fitzhugh[40] and Ann Bolling Randolph. They were 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. George Washington Custis Lee (Custis, "Boo"); 1832–1913; served as Major General in the Confederate Army and aide-de-camp to President Jefferson Davis; unmarried
  2. Mary Custis Lee (Mary, "Daughter"); 1835–1918; unmarried
  3. William Henry Fitzhugh Lee ("Rooney"); 1837–91; served as Major General in the Confederate Army (cavalry); married twice; surviving children by second marriage
  4. Anne Carter Lee (Annie); June 18, 1839 – October 20, 1862; died of typhoid fever, unmarried
  5. Eleanor Agnes Lee (Agnes); 1841 – October 15, 1873; died of tuberculosis, unmarried
  6. Robert Edward Lee, Jr. (Rob); 1843–1914; served as Captain in the Confederate Army (Rockbridge Artillery); married twice; surviving children by second marriage
  7. 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.

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.[42] 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.[43] 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. Lee declined an offer from Cuban rebels to lead their fight against Spain.[44]

The 1850s

The 1850s were a difficult time for Lee, with his long absences from home, the increasing disability of his wife, and his often morbid concern with his personal failures.[45]

In 1852, Lee was appointed Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point;[46] he was reluctant to enter what he called a "snake pit", but the War Department insisted and he obeyed. His wife occasionally came to visit. During his three years at West Point, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee improved the buildings and courses and spent much time with the cadets. Lee's oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, attended West Point during his tenure. Custis Lee graduated in 1854, first in his class.[47]

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.

The death in 1857 of his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, created a serious crisis, as Lee had to assume the main burden of executing the will. The Custis estate was in disarray, with vast landholdings and hundreds of slaves balanced against massive debts. The plantations had been poorly managed and were losing money. Lee took several leaves of absence from the army and became a planter and eventually straightened out the estate. On June 24, 1859, Lee was accused by the New York Tribune of having three runaway slaves whipped and of personally whipping a female slave, Mary Norris. One of the captured slaves, Wesley Norris, confirmed the account in an 1866 interview[48] printed in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, though he denied Lee personally whipped Mary Norris. Lee did not respond to the attack until 1866, claiming in a letter the accusation was not true. The Custis will called for emancipating the slaves within five years, but state law required they be funded in a livelihood outside Virginia, and that was impossible until the debts were paid off. They were all emancipated by 1862, within the five years specified.[49][50]

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 Civil War and Reconstruction, and after his death, Lee became a central figure in the Lost Cause interpretation of the war, and as succeeding generations came to look on slavery as a terrible immorality, the idea that Lee had always somehow opposed it helped maintain his stature as a symbol of Southern honor and national reconciliation.

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,[51] the success of his wife and daughter in setting up an illegal school for slaves on the Arlington plantation,[52] the freeing of Custis' slaves in 1862, and his insistence in 1864–65 that the Confederacy enroll slaves in Lee's Army, with manumission offered as an eventual reward for outstanding service.[53][54]

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."[55]

A key source for Lee's views is his 1856 letter to his wife:[56]

... 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.

Freeman's analysis puts Lee's attitude toward slavery and abolition in historical context:

This [letter] 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.[57]

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.[58] 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.[59]


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.[60]

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.[61]

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.[62] 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."[63] 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 turned down an April 18 offer by presidential aide Francis P. Blair to command the defense of Washington D.C. as a major general, as he feared that the job might require him to invade the South. When Lee asked Scott if he could stay home and not participate in the war, the general replied "I have no place in my army for equivocal men."[61]

Lee resigned from the Army on April 20 and took up command of the Virginia state forces on April 23.[23] 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.[61]

Early role

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.[64] 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 Battle of Cheat Mountain and was widely blamed for Confederate setbacks.[65] He was then sent to organize the coastal defenses along the Carolina and Georgia seaboard, appointed commander, "Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida” on November 5, 1861. Between then and the fall of Fort Pulaski, April 11, 1862, he put in place a defense of Savannah that proved successful in blocking Federal advance on Savannah.[1] Confederate fort and naval gunnery dictated night time movement and construction by the besiegers. Federal preparations required four months.[2] In those four months, Lee developed a defense in depth. Behind Fort Pulaski on the Savannah River, Fort Jackson was improved, and two additional batteries covered river approaches.[66] In the face of the Union superiority in naval, artillery and infantry deployment, Lee was able to block any Federal advance on Savannah, and at the same time, well-trained Georgia troops were released in time to meet McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. The City of Savannah would not fall until Sherman's approach from the interior at the end of 1864.[4]

At first, the press spoke to the disappointment of losing Fort Pulaski. Surprised by the effectiveness of large caliber Parrott Rifles in their first deployment, it was widely speculated that only betrayal could have brought overnight surrender to a Third System Fort.[5] Lee was said to have failed to get effective support in the Savannah River from the three sidewheeler gunboats of the Georgia Navy. Although again blamed by the press for Confederate reverses, he was appointed military adviser to 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.[67]

Commander, Army of Northern Virginia

Following the wounding of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines, on June 1, 1862, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia, his first opportunity to lead an army in the field. Early in the war, his men called him "Granny Lee" because of his allegedly timid style of command.[68] Confederate newspaper editorials of the day objected to his appointment due to concerns that Lee would not be aggressive and would wait for the Union army to come to him. He oversaw substantial strengthening of Richmond's defenses during the first three weeks of June. In the spring of 1862, as part of the Peninsula Campaign, the Union Army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan advanced upon Richmond from 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[69] – impelled Lincoln to adopt a new policy of relentless, committed warfare.[70] 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.[71]

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 Pope at Second Manassas, and the battle lines had moved from 6 miles outside Richmond, to 20 miles 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[72] which put the Confederacy on the diplomatic and moral defensive, and would ultimately devastate the Confederacy's slave-based economy.[73] Disappointed by McClellan's failure to destroy Lee's army, Lincoln named Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside ordered an attack across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg. Delays in getting bridges built across the river allowed Lee's army ample time to organize strong defenses, and the attack on December 12, 1862, was a disaster for the Union. Lincoln then 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 succumbed to pneumonia.

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.[74]

Battle of Gettysburg, by Currier and Ives

In the summer of 1863, Lee invaded the North again, marching through western Maryland and into south central Pennsylvania. He encountered Union forces under George G. Meade at the three-day 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."[75] 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.
Lee photographed in 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.[76][77] 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.[78] 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."[79]

Lee's Civil War battle summaries

The following are summaries of Civil War battles where Robert E. Lee was the commanding officer:[80]

Battle Date Result Opponent Confederate troop strength Union troop strength Confederate casualties Union casualties Notes
Cheat Mountain September 11–13, 1861 Union victory Reynolds 15,000 2,000 100 21 Lee's first battle of the Civil War. Lee was severely criticized for the defeat and named "Granny Lee". Lee was sent to South Carolina to supervise fortifications.[81]
Seven Days June 25 – July 1, 1862 Decisive Strategic Confederate 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
Second Manassas August 28–30, 1862 Confederate victory Pope 49,000 76,000 9,197 16,054
South Mountain September 14, 1862 Union victory McClellan 18,000 28,000 2,685 1,813
Antietam September 16–18, 1862 Inconclusive (strategic Union victory) McClellan 52,000 75,000 13,724 12,410
Fredericksburg December 11, 1862 Confederate victory (Lee's troops and supplies depleted) Burnside 72,000 114,000 5,309 12,653
Chancellorsville May 1, 1863 Confederate victory Hooker 57,000 105,000 12,764 16,792
Gettysburg July 1, 1863 Union victory Meade 75,000 83,000 23,231–28,063 23,049 The Confederate army that returned from the fight at Gettysburg was physically and spiritually exhausted. Lee would never again attempt an offensive operation of such monumental proportions. Meade, who had forced Lee to retreat, was criticized for not immediately pursuing Lee's army. This battle become known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.[82] 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 (Lee's tactical victory, yet Grant continued his offensive) Grant 61,000 102,000 11,400 18,400
Spotsylvania May 12, 1864 Inconclusive (although beaten and unable to take Lee's staunch line defenses, Grant continued the Union offensive[83]) Grant 52,000 100,000 12,000 18,000
Cold Harbor June 1, 1864 Inconclusive (tactically, Lee was the victor, but Grant continue the strategic offensive) Grant 62,000 108,000 2,500 12,000
Deep Bottom August 14, 1864 Confederate victory Hancock 20,000 28,000 1,700 2,901 Union attempt to attack Richmond, the Confederate capital
Appomattox (campaign) March 29, 1865 Union victory, Confederate surrender Grant 50,000 113,000 no record available 10,780 General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant. Casualties on Confederate side are enormous.[84] After the surrender Grant gave Lee's army much-needed food rations, made them lay down their arms and return to their homes, never to take up arms against the Union again.
Mathew Brady portrait of Lee on April 16, 1865, Richmond, Virginia. (detail)
Lee Surrenders at Appomattox Court House.[85]

After the war

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. Lee supported civil rights for all, as well as a system of free public schools for blacks, but dissented regarding black suffrage. Most of all he became an icon of reconciliation between the North and South, and the reintegration of former Confederates into the national fabric.

President of Washington College, Lexington VA. From a photograph by Boude and Miley, late 1869.

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.[86]

Lee hoped to retire to a farm of his own, but he was too much a regional symbol to live in obscurity. 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. 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.[87]

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." Elsewhere, the same professor recalls the following:

To a recalcitrant student, who was contending for what he thought his rights as a man, I once heard General Lee say: "Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character," in those very words.[88]

While at Washington College, Lee told a colleague that the greatest mistake of his life was taking a military education.[89]

President Johnson's first amnesty pardon

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.[90]
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. The fact that he had submitted an amnesty oath at all was soon lost to history.[90]

Apparently Secretary of State William H. Seward had given Lee's application to a friend as a souvenir, and the State Department had pigeonholed the oath. More than a hundred years later, in 1970, an archivist at the National Archives discovered Lee's Amnesty Oath among State Department records (reported in Prologue, Winter 1970).[90] For 110 years Lee remained without a country, as the Confederacy had dissolved and Lee's United States application and oath were lost and disregarded. It is probable that someone at the State Department did not want Robert E. Lee to regain citizenship while Lee was alive.[91]

President Johnson's second amnesty pardon

President Andrew Johnson, in a proclamation dated December 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 711), gave an unconditional pardon to those who "directly or indirectly" rebelled against the United States.

... unconditionally, and without reservation, to all and every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion, a full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof.[91]

Lee, with this full amnesty pardon by President Johnson, could not be held liable for treason or insurrection against the United States. Lee was posthumously officially reinstated as a United States citizen by President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Postwar politics

Robert E. Lee, oil on canvas, Edward Calledon Bruce, 1865. Virginia Historical Society
Lee in 1867

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).[92]

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."[93] 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."[94][95]

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."[96]

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.[97] 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."[98] 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."[99]

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.[100] In 1869–70 he was a leader in successful efforts to establish state-funded schools for blacks.[101] 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."[102]

Illness and death

Lee's death mask
"Recumbent Statue" of Robert E. Lee asleep on the battlefield, by Edward Valentine. Located in the Lee Chapel in Lexington, Virginia, it is often mistakenly thought to be a tomb or sarcophagus, but Lee is actually buried underneath the chapel.

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,[103] his last words on the day of his death, were "Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent", but this is debatable because of conflicting accounts and because Lee's stroke had resulted in aphasia, possibly rendering him unable to speak.

He was buried underneath Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University, where his body remains.


Robert E. Lee stamp, Liberty Issue of 1955

Among Southerners, Lee came to be even more revered after his surrender than he had been during the war, when Stonewall Jackson had been the great Confederate hero. In an address before the Southern Historical Society in Atlanta, Georgia in 1874, Benjamin Harvey Hill described Lee as:

... 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.[104]

His reputation continued to build, and by 1900 his followers had spread into the North, signaling a national apotheosis.[105] Today among the devotees of the Lost Cause, General Lee is referred to as "The Marble Man."

"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[106]

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. 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.

Civil War–era letters

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.[107]

Citizenship restored

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 resolution was to restore the U.S. citizenship to Robert E. Lee effective June 13, 1865. This resolution was the result of a five year campaign to posthumously restore Robert E. Lee's U.S. citizenship.[108][108][109]

Congressional summary

  • January 30, 1975 S. J. Res. 23 introduced.
  • March 19, 1975 Reported to Senate from the Committee on the Judiciary, S. Rept. 94-44.
  • April 10, 1975 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Measure passed Senate.
  • June 24, 1975 Reported to House from the Committee on the Judiciary, H. Rept. 94–324.
  • July 22, 1975 Passed/agreed to in House: Measure passed House, roll call #415 Vote: 407 Yea 10 Nay
  • July 22, 1975 Cleared for White House

On July 24, 1975, after passing the Senate and House of Representatives, the resolution was presented to President Gerald Ford. The resolution, S.J. Res. 23, was signed on August 5, 1975 by the President and became Public Law 94-67 (89 Stat. 380). The signing took place at a ceremony at Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia. The house was formerly known as the Custis-Lee Mansion, and was the home of General Lee. The ceremony was attended by a dozen of Lee's descendants, including Robert E. Lee V, the general's great-great-grandson. Also attending were: Governor Mills E. Godwin, Jr., Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr., and congressmen M. Caldwell Butler, Herbert E. Harris II, David E. Satterfield III, Thomas N. Downing, and Robert W. Daniel, Jr.[108][109][110]

President Ford signing and speech

  • July 24, 1975 Measure presented to President.
  • August 5, 1975 Signed by President.
  • August 5, 1975 Public law 94-67

Before signing President Ford spoke at 2:12 p.m. at the signing ceremony:

I am very pleased to sign Senate Joint Resolution 23, restoring posthumously the long overdue, full rights of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee. This legislation corrects a 110-year oversight of American history. It is significant that it is signed at this place.

Lee's dedication to his native State of Virginia charted his course for the bitter Civil War years, causing him to reluctantly resign from a distinguished career in the United States Army and to serve as General of the Army of Northern Virginia. He, thus, forfeited his rights to U.S. citizenship.

Once the war was over, he firmly felt the wounds of the North and South must be bound up. He sought to show by example that the citizens of the South must dedicate their efforts to rebuilding that region of the country as a strong and vital part of the American Union.

In 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier concerning his signing the Oath of Allegiance, and I quote: "This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony....

As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox.

General Lee's character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.

In approving this Joint Resolution, Congress removed the legal obstacle to citizenship which resulted from General Lee's Civil War service. "Although more than a century late, I am delighted to sign this resolution and to complete the full restoration of General Lee's citizenship."

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 New Orleans has been a 60-foot (18 m)-tall monument to General Lee. A sixteen and a half foot statue of Lee stands tall upon a towering column of white marble in the middle of Lee Circle. The statue of Lee, which weighs more than 7,000 pounds, faces the North. Lee Circle is situated along New Orleans' famous St. Charles Avenue. The New Orleans streetcars roll past Lee Circle and New Orleans' best Mardi Gras parades go around Lee Circle (the spot is so popular that bleachers are set up annually around the perimeter for Mardi Gras). Around the corner from Lee Circle is New Orleans' Confederate Museum, which contains the second largest collection of Confederate memorabilia in the world.[111] In a tribute to Lee Circle (which had formerly been known as Tivoli Circle), former Confederate soldier 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)
  • A large equestrian statue of Lee by French sculptor Jean Antonin Mercié is the centerpiece of Richmond, Virginia'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.
  • Robert E. Lee is also featured in the carving on Stone Mountain.
  • Robert E. Lee is shown mounted on Traveller in Gettysburg National Military Park on top of the Virginia Monument
  • A large double equestrian statue of Lee and Jackson in Baltimore's Wyman Park, directly across from the Baltimore Museum of Art, was dedicated in 1948. Designed by Laura Gardin Fraser, Robert E. 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.


The birthday of Robert E. Lee is celebrated or commemorated:

  • In Virginia as part of Lee-Jackson Day, which is celebrated on the Friday preceding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day which is the third Monday in January.[112]
  • In Texas as part of Confederate Heroes Day on January 19, Lee's actual birthday.
  • In Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi on the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • In Georgia on the day after Thanksgiving.
  • In Florida, as a legal and public holiday, on January 19.[113]

Geographic features

Schools and universities

  • Robert E. Lee Academy, Bishopville, South Carolina
  • Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia
  • Lee College, Baytown, Texas
  • Several high schools and middle schools. See Robert E. Lee High School (disambiguation).
    • Lee High School, Houston, Texas
    • Lee-Davis High School, Mechanicsville, Virginia
    • Southern Lee High School, Sanford, North Carolina
    • Lee County High School, Sanford, North Carolina
    • Robert E. Lee High School, Baytown, Texas
    • Upson-Lee High School, Thomaston, Georgia
    • Washington-Lee High School, Arlington, Virginia
    • Robert E. Lee Junior High School, Monroe, Louisiana
    • Robert E. Lee Junior High School, San Angelo, Texas
    • Robert E. Lee High School, Jacksonville, Florida
    • Robert E. Lee Middle School, Orlando, Florida
    • Robert E. Lee High School, Springfield, Virginia
  • Several elementary schools. See Robert E. Lee Elementary School (disambiguation).



In other media

Robert E. 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.

On September 18, 1960, the American actor George Macready portrayed Lee in the episode "Johnny Yuma at Appomattox" of the ABC television series The Rebel, starring Nick Adams in the title role.[114]


  1. ^ Elizabeth Brown Pryor "Robert E. Lee's "Severest Struggle,"" American Heritage, Winter 2008.
  2. ^ Josiah Bunting, Ulysses S. Grant (2004) p. 62
  3. ^ Jay Luvaas, "Lee and the Operational Art: The Right Place, the Right Time," Parameters: US Army War College, Sept 1992, Vol. 22#3 pp 2-18
  4. ^ McPherson, Battle Cry pp 538 and 650
  5. ^ Stephen W. Sears, "'We Should Assume the Aggressive': Origins of the Gettysburg Campaign," North and South: The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society, March 2002, Vol. 5#4 pp 58–66
  6. ^ David J Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (2001) p 462
  7. ^ It was too late to help Vicksburg, counters Albert Castel, "The Historian and the General: Thomas L. Connelly versus Robert E. Lee," Civil War History (March 1970).
  8. ^ John F. Ross "Unlocking History: Treasures of Robert E. Lee Discovered," American Heritage, Winter 2008.
  9. ^ Pryor, Elizabeth Brown (October 29, 2009). "Robert Edward Lee (ca. 1806-1870)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved February 18, 2011.
  10. ^ William Thorndale, "The Parents of Colonel Richard Lee of Virginia," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 76 (December 1988): 253-68
  11. ^ Freeman, Douglas (1934). R. E. Lee, A Biography (First Edition Set ed.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  12. ^ His maternal great-great grandfather, Robert "King" Carter of Corotoman, was the wealthiest man in the colonies when he died in 1732.
  13. ^ Davis, Pohanka & Troiani 1997, p. 135
  14. ^ Fellman 2000, p. 12
  15. ^ Fellman 2000, pp. 16–17
  16. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 30–31
  17. ^ Thomas 1995, p. 32
  18. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 32–34
  19. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 34–35
  20. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 38–45
  21. ^ Fellman 2000, pp. 13–14
  22. ^ Freeman 1991, pp. 12–13
  23. ^ a b Davis 1999, p. 21
  24. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 48–54
  25. ^ Thomas 1995, p. 56
  26. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 57–58
  27. ^ a b Freeman 1997, pp. 25–26
  28. ^ Thomas 1995, p. 57
  29. ^ Fellman 2000, p. 33
  30. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 62
  31. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 64–65
  32. ^ Freeman 1997, p. 31
  33. ^ Fellman 2000, pp. 24–25
  34. ^ Thomas 1995, p. 72
  35. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 74–75
  36. ^ Freeman 1997, pp. 33–34
  37. ^ Thomas 1995, p. 81
  38. ^ Thomas 1995, pp. 83–84
  39. ^ "Welcome to Fort Hamilton". Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  40. ^ "William Fitzhugh". Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  41. ^ Dillon, John Forrest, ed. (1903) "Introduction" John Marshall; life, character and judicial services as portrayed in the centenary and memorial addresses and proceedings throughout the United States on Marshall day, 1901, and in the classic orations of Binney, Story, Phelps, Waite and Rawle I Chicago: Callaghan & Company pp. liv-lv 
  42. ^ "A Day Under a Log Contributes to Victory". University of Chicago.*.html#p248. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  43. ^ "Lee and Grant | Before the War | Virginia Historical Society". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  44. ^ Thomas, Robert E. Lee p. 148
  45. ^ Connelly, The Marble Man (1977) pp 176–82
  46. ^ Davis 1999, p. 111
  47. ^ Thomas, Robert E. Lee, pp 152–62
  48. ^ Blassingame, Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies, pp 467–468
  49. ^ Fellman, Making of Robert E. Lee pp 64–67
  50. ^ Thomas, Robert E. Lee, pp 173–79
  51. ^ Fellman, The Making of Robert E. Lee p. 67-68
  52. ^ Fellman, The Making of Robert E. Lee p. 69
  53. ^ Fellman, The Making of Robert E. Lee pp. 209–18
  54. ^ Rafuse, Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1864–1865 (2008) pp. 216–20
  55. ^ Hughes & Liddell 1997, pp. 192–193
  56. ^ Freeman 1934, p. 372
  57. ^ Freeman, R. E. Lee, A Biography, 1:372
  58. ^ Freeman 1934, pp. 394–395
  59. ^ "Col. Robert E. Lee's Report Concerning the Attack at Harper's Ferry". 1959-10-18. Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  60. ^ "Texas Forts Trails". Texas Monthly: 72. June 1991. 
  61. ^ a b c Pryor, Elizabeth Brown (2011-04-19). "The General in His Study". Disunion. The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  62. ^ Freeman, Douglas Southall (1934). "XXV". R. E. Lee: A Biography. New York and London: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 1931313369.*.html. 
  63. ^ Freeman 1934, p. 425
  64. ^ Davis 1999, p. 49
  65. ^ Fellman 2000, §6
  66. ^ Fort Pulaski’s masonry was impervious to round shot, but it was penetrated in 30 hours by Parrott rifle guns, much to the surprise of senior commanders of both sides. In the future, Confederate breast works defending coastal areas were successfully protected against rifle-fired explosive projectiles with banks of dirt and sand such as at Fort McAllister. Later, holding the City of Savannah would allow two additional attempts at breaking the Union blockade with ironclads CSS Atlanta (1862) and CSS Savannah (1863).
  67. ^ Foot Soldier: The Rebels. Prod. A&E Television Network. Karn, Richard. The History Channel. 1998. DVD. A&E Television Networks, 2008.
  68. ^ Freeman 1934, p. 602
  69. ^ McPherson, 2008, p. 99
  70. ^ McPherson, 2008, pp.106-107
  71. ^ McPherson, 2008, p. 108
  72. ^ McPherson, p. 129
  73. ^ McPherson, 2008, p. 104-105
  74. ^ Stephen W. Sears, "'We Should Assume the Aggressive': Origins of the Gettysburg Campaign," North and South: The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society, March 2002, Vol. 5#4 pp 58–66; Donald Stoker, The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (2010) p 295 says that "attacking Grant would have been the wiser choice" for Lee.
  75. ^ "Fremantle's Diary, p. 135". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  76. ^ Nolan 1991, pp. 21–22
  77. ^ Davis 1999, p. 61
  78. ^ Davis 1999, p. 233
  79. ^ Nolan 1991, p. 24
  80. ^ "Civil War Casualties Battle Statistics and Commanders". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  81. ^ "Battle of Cheat Mountain". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  82. ^ "Gettysburg Battle American Civil War July 1863". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  83. ^ McFeely (2002), Grant: A Biography, p. 169
  84. ^ "Appomattox Courthouse Robert E Lee Surrenders to Ulysses S Grant". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  85. ^
  86. ^ In December 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court returned the property to Lee's son because it had been confiscated without due process of law. In 1883, the government paid the Lee family $150,000."Historical Information". Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  87. ^ Thomas, Robert E. Lee pp 374–402
  88. ^ Professor Edward S. Joynes, chair of Modern Languages at Washington College under Lee, originally published in Richmond Dispatch, Jan 27. 1901.
  89. ^
  90. ^ a b c "General Robert E. Lee's Parole and Citizenship". 1975-08-05. Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  91. ^ a b "Pardon of Robert E. Lee". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  92. ^ Fellman 2000, p. 265
  93. ^ Fellman 2000, pp. 267–268
  94. ^ Robert E. Lee, Joint Committee on Reconstruction in Washington, D.C., February 17, 1866
  95. ^ "Richmond IMC: The Real Robert E. Lee". 2007-01-13. Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  96. ^ Freeman 1934, p. 301
  97. ^ Freeman 1934, pp. 375–377
  98. ^ Freeman 1934, pp. 375–376
  99. ^ Freeman 1934, p. 376
  100. ^ Fellman 2000, pp. 258–263
  101. ^ Pearson, Charles Chilton (1917). "The Readjuster Movement in Virginia". American Political Science Review (Yale University Press): 60. 
  102. ^ Fellman 2000, pp. 275–277
  103. ^ J. William Jones' Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee
  104. ^ The politically incorrect guide to the South and Why It Will Rise Again. 2007-01. ISBN 9781596985001.,+a+friend+without+treachery,+a+soldier+without+cruelty,+a+victor+without+oppression,+and+a+victim+without+murmuring.. Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  105. ^ Weigley, Russell F. (February 2000). "Lee, Robert E.". American National Biography. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  106. ^ Some sources add "but little studied" before the word "operations".
  107. ^ "General Lee letters sold at auction". US Auction Info. 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  108. ^ a b c "Citizenship For R. E. Lee". The Gettysburg Times. August 7, 1975. 
    NOTE: Ten objecting Congressmen argued the resolution should include amnesty for Vietham war draft dodgers, (subsequently granted in 1977.
  109. ^ a b "Bill Summary & Status - 94th Congress (1975 - 1976) - S.J.RES.23 - All Information - THOMAS (Library of Congress)". Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  110. ^ "Remarks Upon Signing a Bill Restoring Rights of Citizenship to General Robert E. Lee, August 5, 1975". Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  111. ^ "History of Confederate Memorial Hall". Confederate Memorial Hall. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  112. ^
  113. ^ "The 2007 Florida Statutes". Florida Legislature. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  114. ^ "Johnny Yuma at Appomattox". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 




  • Blount, Roy, Jr. Robert E. Lee Penguin Putnam, 2003. 210 pp., short popular biography, ISBN 0670032204.
  • Carmichael, Peter S., ed. Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee Louisiana State University Press, 2004, ISBN 0807129291.
  • Connelly, Thomas L., "Robert E. Lee and the Western Confederacy: A Criticism of Lee's Strategic Ability." Civil War History 15 (June 1969): 116–32
  • Cooke, John E., "A Life of General Robert E. Lee" Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
  • Dowdey, Clifford. Lee 1965.
  • Fellman, Michael (2000), The Making of Robert E. Lee. New York: Random House (ISBN 0-679-45650-3).
  • Fishwick, Marshall W. Lee after the War 1963.
  • Flood, Charles Bracelen. Lee — The Last Years 1981.
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee, (4 vol. 1935); abridged one-volume edition, edited by Richard Harwell (1961); the standard biography
  • Gallagher, Gary W. Lee the Soldier. (University of Nebraska Press, 1996)
  • Nolan, Alan T. Lee Considered, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC (1991)
  • Pryor, Elizabeth Brown; Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters. New York: Viking, 2007.
  • Smith, Eugene O. Lee and Grant: a Dual Biography, McGraw-Hill, New York (1991)
  • Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton & Co., 1995 (ISBN 0-393-03730-4) full-scale scholarly biography

Military campaigns

  • Bonekemper, III, Edward H. How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War. Sergeant Kirkland's Press, Fredericksburg, Virginia. 1997. ISBN 1-887901-15-9
  • Bowden, Scott and Ward, Bill. Last Chance For Victory: Robert E. Lee And The Gettysburg Campaign. DaCapo Press, 2003.
  • Brown, Kent Masterson. Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign. University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
  • Cagney, James. "Animations of the Campaigns of Robert E. Lee" Click Here for the Animations (2008)
  • Cavanaugh, Michael A., and William Marvel, The Petersburg Campaign: The Battle of the Crater: "The Horrid Pit", June 25 – August 6, 1864 (1989)
  • Davis, William C. Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (1986).
  • Dowdey, Clifford. The Seven Days 1964.
  • Dugard, Martin. The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Davis in the Mexican War, 1846–1848 (2009) and text search
  • Freeman, Douglas S., Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command (3 volumes), Scribners, 1946, ISBN 0-684-85979-3.
  • Fuller, Maj. Gen. J. F. C., Grant and Lee, A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, 1957, ISBN 0-253-13400-5.
  • Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Grimsley, Mark, And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May–June 1864 University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
  • Harmon, Troy D. Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg Stackpole Books, 2001
  • Harsh, Joseph L. Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 (Kent State University Press, 1999)
  • Johnson, R. U., and Buel, C. C., eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. 4 vols. New York, 1887–88; essays by leading generals of both sides; online edition
  • McWhiney, Grady, Battle in the Wilderness: Grant Meets Lee (1995)
  • Maney, R. Wayne, Marching to Cold Harbor. Victory and Failure, 1864 (1994).
  • Marvel, William. Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox. University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
  • Matter, William D. If It Takes All Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania (1988)
  • Miller, J. Michael. The North Anna Campaign: "Even to Hell Itself", May 21–26, 1864 (1989).
  • Rafuse, Ethan S. Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1863–1865 (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Rhea, Gordon C. and Chris E. Heisey. In the Footsteps of Grant and Lee: The Wilderness Through Cold Harbor (2007)
  • Rhea, Gordon C. The Battle of the Wilderness May 5–6, 1864, Louisiana State University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8071-1873-7.
  • Rhea, Gordon C. The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern May 7–12, 1864, Louisiana State University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8071-2136-3.
  • Rhea, Gordon C. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–25, 1864, Louisiana State University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8071-2535-0.
  • Rhea, Gordon C. Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26 – June 3, 1864, Louisiana State University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8071-2803-1.

Historiography and legacy

  • Adams, Michael C. C. "Robert E. Lee and Perspective over Time," Civil War History v. 49#1 (2003) pp 64–70
  • Connelly, Thomas L., "The Image and the General: Robert E. Lee in American Historiography." Civil War History 19 (March 1973): 50–64.
  • Connelly, Thomas L., The Marble Man. Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.
  • Fulmer, Hal W. "Southern Clerics and the Passing of Lee: Mythic Rhetoric and the Construction of a Sacred Symbol," Southern Communication Journa l55 (1990): 355-71
  • Gallagher, Gary W. Lee and His Army in Confederate History. University of North Carolina Press, 2001
  • Gallagher, Gary W. Lee and His Generals in War and Memory (1998).
  • McCaslin, Richard B. Lee in the Shadow of Washington. Louisiana State University Press, 2001.
  • McPherson, James M., and William J. Cooper, Jr., eds. Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand (University of South Carolina Press, 1998)
  • Reid, Brian Holden. Robert E. Lee: Icon for a Nation, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005.
  • Ross, Michael A. "The Commemoration of Robert E. Lee's Death and the Obstruction of Reconstruction in New Orleans," Civil War History, Volume 51#2 June 2005, pp. 135–150 DOI: 10.1353/cwh.2005.0032

Primary sources

  • Dowdey, Clifford. and Louis H. Manarin, eds. The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee. (1961).
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall. ed. Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A. to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of the Confederate States of America, 1862–65. Rev. ed. with foreword by Grady McWhiney. (1957).
  • Lee, Robert E. Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (2008 edition) excerpt and text search
  • Johnson, R. U. and Buel, C. C. eds. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (4 vols. 1887–88; essays by leading generals of both sides; online edition
  • Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters ed. by Elizabeth Brown Pryor (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Taylor, Walter H. Four Years with General Lee (1877). full text online
  • Taylor, Walter H. General Lee — His Campaigns in Virginia, 1861–1865. (1906) online complete edition

External links

Primary sources

Monuments and memorials

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

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