Born: January 19, 1807 in Stratford Hall, Virginia
Died: October 12, 1870 in Lexington, Virginia
Best known for: Commanding the Confederate Army of Virginia during the Civil War
Where did Robert E. Lee grow up?
Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 in Stratford Hall, Virginia. His father, Henry, was a hero during the American Revolutionary War where he earned the nickname "Light Horse Harry". His mother, Ann Carter, came from a wealthy family.
Despite his family's pedigree, they were not rich. Robert's father had made some bad business deals and lost all of the family's money. When Robert was two years old, his dad went to debtor's prison. A few years later his dad went to the West Indies and never returned.
Becoming a Soldier
Since Robert's family didn't have any money, he saw the military as a great way to get a free education and to have a career. He entered the West Point Military Academy at the age of 18 and graduated in 1829 near the top of his class. After graduating, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers where he would help build forts and bridges for the army.
In 1831 Robert married Mary Custis. Mary came from a famous family and was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Mary and Robert would have 7 children over the years, including three boys and four girls.
Lee's first encounter with combat and war took place during the Mexican-American War. He reported to General Winfield Scott who would later say that Lee was one of the best soldiers he had ever seen in battle. Lee was promoted to colonel for his efforts during the war and had made a name for himself as a military leader.
In 1859, John Brown led his raid at Harpers Ferry. He was protesting slavery in the South and was hoping to start up a revolt among the slaves. Lee was in charge of a group of marines sent in to stop the raid. Once Lee arrived, the marines quickly subdued John Brown and his men. Once again, Lee had made a name for himself.
The Civil War Begins
When the Civil War began in 1861, Lee was offered command of the Union army by President Lincoln. Lee, however, was also loyal to his home state of Virginia. Although he didn't agree with slavery, Lee felt he could not fight against his home state. He left the United States Army and became General of the Confederate Army of Virginia.
Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia
Lee took command of one of the most important armies during the Civil War. The Virginia army fought many of the key battles of the eastern front. Lee chose talented officers such as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Jeb Stuart. Although the Confederate armies were constantly outnumbered by the Union armies, Lee and his men managed to win many battles through their brilliance and courage.
Lee earned the nickname the Grey Fox. The "grey" was because he wore the grey uniform of the Confederate soldier and rode a grey horse. The "fox" was because he was smart and cunning as a military leader.
Civil War Battles where Lee commanded
Lee commanded during many famous Civil War battles including the Seven Days Battle, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of Cold Harbor, and the Battle of Appomattox.
Lee fought brilliantly, but eventually the overwhelming numbers of the Union forces had him surrounded. On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General Ulysses S. Grant at the courthouse in Appomattox, Virginia. He received good terms for his soldiers, who were given food and allowed to return home.
After the War
Although Lee could have been tried and hung as a traitor to the United States, he was forgiven by President Lincoln. Lee became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. He worked there until he died from a stroke in 1870. Lee only wanted peace and healing for the United States after the Civil War.
Interesting Facts About Robert E. Lee
The "E" stands for Edward.
Lee's ancestors were some of the first Europeans to settle in Virginia. He also had two relatives who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Robert and his wife Mary lived on her estate Arlington House up until the Civil War. Their land would later become the Arlington National Cemetery.
At the start of the war, Lee's nickname was "Granny Lee" because people thought he commanded like an old woman. Soon, however, he would be known for his leadership and military brilliance.
His horse, Traveller, became famous and is shown in many pictures and paintings of Robert E. Lee.
After the war Lee was no longer a United States citizen. President Gerald Ford restored his citizenship in 1975 after documents were found that showed Lee had taken an oath to remain loyal to the United States.