Robert E. Lee was born January 19, 1807 at "Stratford" in Westmoreland County. Continuing in the military tradition of his father, Lee entered West Point in 1825 and graduated second in his class in 1829. Serving various military duties in Georgia, Virginia, New York, Texas, and Mexico over the next 23 years, Lee's reputation increased in recognition and respectability, and in 1852 he was named superintendant of West Point. From February of 1860 until February of 1861, Lee commanded the Department of Texas -- the largest number of troops he had ever commanded. It was during this time that the secession movment began, and Lee had to evaluate his position as a Whig devoted to the Union and as a Virginian. At this point, he did not agree with the political and economic arguments for Southern independence. Though, unfortunate as the choice was, if pressed to choose between fighting for Virginia or for the Union, Lee realized the decision would be simple. Lee's loyalities proved to be on the side of the South because of his family tradition in and association with the state of Virginia.
On April 18, 1861 Lee was offered field command of the United States Army. On the following day, he received word that Virginia had seceeded from the Union; he submitted his letter of resignation from the United States Army on April 20. Three days later, Lee accepted the position of commander of Virginia forces. From this point onward, Lee's identity became intrinsically linked to the Confederate cause. At the age of 55, on May 31, 1862, Robert E. Lee was assigned to command the troops which he named "The Army of Northern Virginia". During the Civil War he worked closely with Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart. He is best known for his victories in the Battle of second Manassas (second Bull Run), and the Battle of Chancellorsville. Named General-In-Chief of all Confederate Armies on February 6, 1865, his tenure in this position was cut short by his surrender to General Grant at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, thus ending the Civil War.
After the war, Lee returned to Richmond. During the last five years of his life, he served as President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, and he was indicted for treason though never brought to trial. Lee was stricken on September 28, 1870 in Lexington and died a few weeks later on October 12. Robert E. Lee was buried in Lexington and remembered as an educator, a soldier, and a Christian gentleman who lived his life with dignity. Lee has been compared to General George Washington in terms of the respect which he earned from his soldiers, his region, and the nation.
source: Dictionary of American Biography. Dumas Malone, ed. Vols. III, V, VI, IX. New York: Scribner, 1961.
By: Brooke Ramsey and Sarah Dobson, University of Virginia
This document was originaly a part of Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA
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