For some the man Robert E.
Lee is an almost god like figure. For others he is a paradox. Robert E. Lee was
born on January 19, 1807 at Stratford, Virginia. Robert was the fourth child of
a Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee and Ann Hill
Carter Lee. His father (Henry) had
been a cavalry officer during the American Revolution, and had been a close
friend of George Washington. Young Robert, the son, was raised mostly by his mother. From her he
learned patience, control, and discipline. As a young man he was exposed to
Christianity and accepted its faith. In contrast to the strong example of his
mother Robert saw his father go from failed enterprise to failed enterprise. In
part the young Robert was led to try harder and succeed.
|Robert was accepted to the
United States Military Academy and graduated 2nd in his class. But perhaps
greater than his academic success was his record of no demerits while being a
cadet which today has still not been equaled. Following his graduation Lee, like
most top classmen, was given a commission as an engineer. Lt. Lee helped build
the St. Louis waterfront and worked on coastal forts in Brunswick and Savannah.
It was during this time he married Mary Custis the granddaughter of George
Washington and Martha Custis Washington.
|In 1845 the War between U.S.
and Mexico erupted. General Winfield Scott, overall U.S. Army commander,
attached Captain Robert E. Lee to his staff. Lee was intrusted with the vital
duties of mapping out the terrain ahead, dividing the line of advance for the
U.S. troops, and in one case leading troops into battle. Lee was learning skills
he would need 16 years later.
||In Mexico Lee also met, worked with, and got
a chance to evaluate many of those he would later serve with and against; James
Longstreet, Thomas J. Jackson, George Pickett, and U.S. Grant.
Following the Mexican War
Lee returned to service as an army engineer. He spent most of this time near
Washington D.C. and moved into Custis mansion (now overlooking the Arlington
Cemetery). Thus was Colonel Lee was available for duty to put down a believed
rebellion at Harper Ferry, Virginia the site of a United States Arsenal. Colonel
Lee, and a young aide Lt. JEB Stuart, and a detachment of U.S. marines, were
rushed by train to Harper's Ferry where they were able to capture radical
abolitionist John Brown and his followers.
|Brown's attempt seemed to
confirm all the worst fears of the deep south and when Abraham Lincoln was
elected President South Carolina seceded and was quickly followed by 6 more deep
southern states: Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi,
Louisiana, and Texas. The old warrior General Winfield Scott asked Colonel
Robert E. Lee to take command of the United States Army to put down the
Lee, however, offered his
services to the newly elected President of the Confederate States of America,
Jefferson Davis. Mr. Davis accepted them and Lee was made a general in CSA
service. At first General Lee was more or less advisor to President Davis and
the Secretary of War.
|General Lee's first campaign
in what was to become West Virginia was less than a success. Command of the
Eastern Army was divided between the hero of Fort Sumpter, P.G.T. Beauregard,
and Joe Johnston who together won the first big battle of the East -- Bull Run
(Manassas). Thus Joe Johnston was in command when George B. McClellan started
his march on Richmond. When Johnston went down with wounds it was easy for Davis
to replace him with General R.E. Lee who immediately took charge and attacked,
trying to make up for his numbers with his audacity. In a series of continuous
battles known as the 7 Days Battle Lee forced McClellan to retreat.
|Thus began the career of the
Army of Northern Virginia which rose and fell with Lee's star. His boldness and
grasp of strategy made him more than a match for every General President Lincoln
sent against him until U.S. Grant defeated him through the Battle of Attrition.
||Lee's greatest victory was
the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. Lee was faced with a larger army
led by fighting Joe Hooker. Lee and his most trusted lieutenant, Gen. Stonewall
Jackson, divided their forces and through a forced march around General Hooker
fell on his exposed flank, rolling it up, and defeating the union forces yet
This victory led Lee and
Davis to consider a second invasion of the North. Lee's army would hopefully
bring the Federal forces to bay and destroy them.
|They would then march on
Washington to hand Lincoln a letter asking for recognition of the Confederate
States of America. So with
desperate hopes, and while still mourning the loss of Stonewall Jackson, Lee and
Davis crossed the river and invaded Pennsylvania.
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