Robert E. Lee
1807 - 1870
Lee, brilliant Confederate general, whose military genius was probably the
greatest single factor in keeping the Confederacy alive through the four years
of the War for Southern Independence.
Lee was born on January 19, 1807, in Stratford, Virginia, the son of Lighthorse Harry Lee, and was educated at the U.S. Military Academy. He graduated second in his class in 1829, receiving a commission as second lieutenant in the engineers. He became first lieutenant in 1836, and captain in 1838. He distinguished himself in the battles of the Mexican War and was wounded in the storming of Chapultepec in 1847; for his meritorious service he received his third brevet promotion in rank. He became superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy and later was appointed colonel of cavalry. He was in command of the Department of Texas in 1860, and, early the following year, was summoned to Washington, D.C., when war between the states seemed imminent. President Abraham Lincoln offered him the field command of the Union forces, but Lee declined. On April 20, three days after Virginia seceded from the Union, he submitted his resignation from the U.S. Army. On April 23 he became commander in chief of the military and naval forces of Virginia. For a year he was military adviser to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and was then placed in command of the army in northern Virginia. In February 1865 Lee was made commander in chief of all Confederate armies; two months later the war was virtually ended by his surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. His great battles included those of Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg.
strategy of Lee was overcome only by the superior resources and troop strength
of the Union. His campaigns are almost universally studied in military schools
as models of strategy and tactics. He had a capacity for anticipating the
actions of his opponents and for comprehending their weaknesses. He made
skillful use of interior lines of communication and kept a convex front toward
the enemy, so that his reinforcements, transfers, and supplies could reach their
destination over short, direct routes. His greatest contribution to military
practice, however, was his use of field fortifications as aids to maneuvering.
He recognized that a small body of soldiers, protected by entrenchments, can
hold an enemy force of many times their number, while the main body outflanks
the enemy or attacks a smaller force elsewhere. In his application of this
principle Lee was years ahead of his time; the tactic was not fully understood
or generally adopted until the 20th century.
Lee applied for but was never granted the official postwar amnesty. He accepted the presidency of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, in the fall of 1865; within a few years it had become an outstanding institution. He died there on October 12, 1870. Lee has long been revered as an ideal by southerners and as a hero by all Americans. His antebellum home is now known as Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, and is a national memorial. In 1975 Lee's citizenship was restored posthumously by an act of the U.S. Congress.