Robert E. Lee Throughout history, there have been people whose names and faces have become synonymous with the time periods in which they lived. For example, Julius Caesar is synonymous with the late Roman Republic and George Washington is synonymous with the American Revolution. Just like these two men, the name Robert E. Lee has become synonymous with the American Civil War.
Not only did Lee rise to become the most important and recognizable person in the Southern Confederacy, but his honor and virtuous acts during and after the war made him a hero to modern-day Americans. Even though he fought for what many consider the morally erroneous side of the war, the virtues of his character have made him a figure in American history that should be honored and remembered. Robert Edward Lee was born at Stratford Westmoreland County, Virginia, on January 19, 1807. Lee was the fourth of five children (the third son) of Ann Hill Carter Lee and Henry (Light-Horse Harry) Lee. Two children of Henry Lees first marriage also lived with the family (Thomas 916). Henry Lee had been a hero during the Revolutionary War and served as the governor of Virginia and a member of Congress. By the time Robert was born, his fathers fortune and estates were in shambles.
Henry Lee was never very good at managing his estates and in 1809, was forced into prison due to the severity of his debts. Three years later, freed from jail, he was involved in a political brawl in Baltimore where he was beaten and disfigured for life. In an attempt to flee from debtors and reconsolidate his money, Henry Lee fled to Barbados. He died in 1818, never having seen his family again. Robert E.
Lees older half-brother Henry Lee Jr., further dishonored the family in 1820 when it was discovered that he had seduced and impregnated his wifes nine-teen year old sister. Despite the mistakes his father and brother made, Lee managed to grow learning the ways of a true Southern gentleman. The departure of his father and two older half-brothers made Lee the man of the house at an early age. His mother, Ann Carter, raised Lee in modest circumstances and helped him to learn standard of conduct. Lee grew up in modest conditions, and though he received the normal education for someone of his class, he had to earn his own living and didnt live the easy-going plantation life that most members of his family did.
Since his mother did not have sufficient cash to send Lee to go to college, he chose instead to enter West Point military and academy. He entered in 1825 at the age of 18. At West Point Lee excelled tremendously. He finished second in his class and didnt receive one demerit during his four years there (A feat that has yet to be repeated since then). Lee entered Engineer Corps after graduation where he was employed to build and maintain military installations and assist the Federal Government in the enormous work of providing internal improvements in order to settle border disputes on the frontier lands.
Lee married Mary Custis in July of 1831. Mary Custis was the daughter of Mary Fitzhugh Custis and George Washington Custis, who was the adopted son of George Washington. Lee became the heir to Washington although the marriage did not bring Lee any financial benefits until Marys father died in 1857. Until then, he had to support his wife and 7 children almost solely on his army officers salary. During this time his contemporaries almost always regarded Lee in a positive manner.
He was very handsome and made friends easily with both sexes. People often used the adjective noble to describe him. He never smoked, only drank an occasional glass of wine and always kept his temper. He was a good son to his mother, who he personally nursed through her final illness, a good husband to his, often selfish, wife and a good father to his children. He was quiet and dignified in manner, of cheerful disposition, always a gentleman (Earle 28).
Lee served on the staff of his West Point friend Winfield Scott during the Vera Cruz campaign to Mexico City during the war with Mexico in 1847. Lees ability and talent earned him notoriety with Scott who gave Lee the rank of Colonel. The time Lee spent in Scotts staff during the Mexican War was the only real combat experience Lee had before he entered into the civil war. When the first Southern States seceded in 1861, Lee was in command of a regiment in Texas. He was recalled to Washington where he was to make the most difficult decision of his life.
Although opposed to secession, Lee considered himself a Virginian before an American. If Virginia stayed in the Union then so would he, but if they seceded then he would follow his native state. Lee suffered for weeks waiting for people to make decisions that would ultimately force him to do his duty for Virginia. Then, at last, on April 12 1861, Confederate general Beauregard opened fire on a Union Fort in Charleston Harbor called Fort Sumter. Two days later, the Fort surrendered and Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebels.
The Civil War began. It is well documented that Lee was offered by Lincoln command of all the Union forces at the start of the Civil War. Although it was a tempting offer and would ensure Lee fame and power in the Union States after the war, Lee already had his mind made up. Though opposed to secession, he said, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern states (Earle 56). Lee left Washington and went to Richmond where he was offered command of the military and naval forces of his native state. Lee demonstrated remarkable abilities as an administrator and coordinator as he struggled to put the state in readiness to defend itself.
On May 31, 1862, Confederate General for all of the Southern Armies, Joseph E. Johnston committed his army to the Battle of Seven Pines, and was seriously wounded toward the end of the battle. On June 1, Confederate President Jefferson Davis gave Lee command of Johnstons army and placed Lee in charge of the Confederacys fortunes. Lee withdrew the army and prepared the men for field fortifications. The public saw Lee in those early days as being over-cautious, and earned him nicknames such as Granny Lee or the King of Spades.
Lee knew better, he realized that there was no hope of the Confederate ever having a successful of the North, his plan was to hold out, and make decisive victories in the South that would force the North to give up and accept the Confederacy. Although he withdrew, Lee quickly fought back in what was known as the Seven Days Battles. Sending J.E.B. Stuart to go around McClellans army and attack its flanks, while Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jacksons Shenandoah Valley army struck the rear, Lee was able to successfully drive out McClellans army.
Lee was suddenly a hero and the Confederacy seemed saved, although Lee was frustrated because he wanted to destroy McClellans army, not drive it out. The Seven Days Battles began a year of success for the Confederacy. The Campaigns of 1862 in Virginia concluded on the Rappahannock River at Fredricksburg on December 13. Union general Ambrose E. Burnside attacked Lees army entrenched south of the city.
The result was a massacre of Federal troops, who never breached Lees lines. After the Confederacys initial year of Success, the Union army began a slow yet steady advance on the South. The Confederate army, under supplied and starving, could not hold out against the vastly larger and well-supplied North, now lead by Ulysses S. Grant. The final showdown occurred in Richmond where Lee was trapped in a war of attrition. Eventually, on April 1 1865, Lees lines became too thin and too short; he had to evacuate his troops and the city of Richmond on April 2.
On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee and the shattered remnants of his army waited in a column strung along four miles of road near the village of Appomattox Court House. Lee waited for the return of his Lieutenant to give him the message that would tell him whether further fighting would be useless. He pondered the consequences of the choice must soon make. If he surrendered these men now, the other armies of the Confederacy would soon follow and it would mean the end of the war. Lees Lieutenant returned with news that Lee had feared.
He could not receive any more reinforcements or men. There is nothing more left me but to go and see General Grant, said Lee, and I would rather die a thousand deaths (Flood 4). Lee met with Grant at the Appomattox Court house on April 9, to discuss terms for the surrender of his army. Grants terms were very generous. All soldiers would be allowed to return from to their homes and be fully pardoned as long as they agreed to give up their weapons in surrender.
Lee could do nothing but agree and sign the terms. It was irony enough that Lee could on this day have been the victor instead of the vanquished (Flood 7). Like Lee, Grant had been at West Point but was forced to resign due to habitual drunkenness. The war had given Grant the opportunity to re-enter his profession and the demonstrate a courage and resolve that strengthened with every crisis. Like Lee, he never lost sight of his objectives; unlike Lee, he had the resources to attain them (Flood 7).
When Lee returned to his troops, he was flooded by a mass of soldiers with fear and terrible thoughts in them. General, they said, General? General, are we surrendered? Lee took off his hat and looked down into the hungry sleepless faces that surrounded him as he sat astride his horse. Men, we have fought the war together, and I have done the best I could for you. You will all be paroled and go to your homes Tears flooded his eyes. He tried to continue, but all he could manage was Good bye. (Flood 16).
In the years following the war, Lee helped to support reconciliation between the North and the South. He accepted the presidency of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, and attempted to educate a new generation of Southerners. He established a balanced cirriculum between the traditional classical education and the more modern sciences and engineering. Cardiovascular troubles plagued Lee at his years in Lexington, and on October 13, 1870 he died from a massive stroke. Even as Lee lived, he became a legend. He became somewhat of a Christ Figure to the defeated southerners and he provided an excellent example that good people can loose and still retain their dignity.
Robert E. Lee, the perfect southern gentleman, has grown in American legend to become both a figure of interest and inspiration. His achievements before, during and after the war propelled him to win the hearts of both Northerners and Southerners throughout Americas history. History Essays.