Robert E. Lee was a brilliant
general and military strategist for the Confederate
Army during the American Civil War. He was also one
of the most distinguished and respected generals in
the United States.
Robert was born on January 19,
1807, at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
His father was General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee.
Light Horse Harry was an American Revolutionary War
hero. He was with General George Washington when the
British surrendered in Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.
States Military Academy at West Point
In 1825, Robert received an appointment to the United
States Military Academy at West Point. He was 18 years
old. Jefferson Davis was also a cadet. Davis would become
the President of the Confederate States of America during
the American Civil War.
The life of a cadet
at West Point was difficult. Cadets awoke at 5:00 a.m.,
attended classes, marched, drilled, and studied. West
Point's motto is "Duty, Honor, Country."
Robert was a good
student in his studies and in his conduct. West Point
had strict rules cadets had to follow. Cadets received
demerits every time they broke a rule; this included
being late or not having a straight uniform. Most cadets
received at least one demerit at some point in their
four years at West Point. Robert, however, did not receive
In his final year
at West Point, Robert was the highest officer in his
class. It was the highest honor a cadet could receive.
Robert graduated second in his class in 1829. He was
22 years old and a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
It was peacetime
in the United States. Therefore, army officers were
assigned to peacetime activities. Robert was appointed
to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This was the most
prestigious assignment in the army.
On May 13, 1846, the Mexican War began between the United
States and Mexico over a border dispute between Texas
and Mexico. James Polk was the U.S. President at the
time. Robert had been in the army for seventeen years,
but he had never been in combat.
On September 21,
1846, Robert reported for duty in San Antonio, Texas.
Robert's assignment was to scout the enemy's position.
Being a scout for the U.S. Army was a dangerous assignment
because he often came in close contact with enemy troops
while scouting their location. Robert also helped build
bridges to allow the army and its heavy guns to cross
In January, 1847,
Robert joined General Winfield Scott's army on the Gulf
Coast. Scott was the Commander of all the U.S. forces
during the Mexican War. Scott would later describe Robert
as "the very best soldier in the field" and "the greatest
military genius in America." Scott's army attacked Veracruz,
and the city surrendered on March 27, 1847.
In April, 1847,
the U.S. army marched toward Mexico City. Robert scouted
the terrain for the army. Several months later, in September,
1847, the U.S. army invaded and captured Mexico City.
This victory brought the war to an end. The United States
had defeated Mexico.
In 1848, the Treaty
of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (gwahd-uhl-OOP hih-DAHL-goh) was
signed between the United States and Mexico which ended
the Mexican War. The Treaty stated Mexico would surrender
Texas and land that later became the states known as
California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona,
New Mexico, and Wyoming.
Robert served with
distinction and won three brevets for gallantry during
the Mexican War. A brevet is a honorary rank. Robert
also emerged with a reputation as a brilliant military
soldier. He was promoted to Colonel.
During Robert's life, the issue of slavery was tearing
the United States apart. The North wanted to end slavery,
and the South wanted to protect it.
In 1859, John Brown took matters
into his own hands. Brown was an abolitionist. He believed
if he provided guns to slaves, the slaves would rebel
against the slave owners. Brown raided the U.S. arsenal
at Harpers Ferry looking for guns. Robert led a unit
of U.S. Marines to capture Brown. Robert was successful,
and John Brown was arrested.
American Civil War
The American Civil War began in 1861. The Northern and
the Southern states were fighting against each other.
Robert was asked by President
Abraham Lincoln to command the Union troops. Robert
was from Virginia. He felt loyalty to his home state
of Virginia. If Virginia left the Union, Robert would
also leave the Union. In April 1861, Virginia seceded.
Robert declined the position to lead the Union forces
and resigned from the U.S. Army.
Robert commanded the Confederate
Army in Virginia. He was an intelligent and courageous
military leader. He faced better equipped and larger
Union Armies. Sometimes the enemy outnumbered Robert's
army by twice as many soldiers. Despite these odds,
Robert found creative ways to maneuver his men in the
face of the enemy.
Robert won great victories at
Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
With the help of his generals, Robert defeated the Union
Army for four years.
Robert's skills as general were
not enough to win the war. In the end, the South surrendered
and rejoined the Union.
and Lee University
After the Civil War, Robert became the President of
Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. He served
as its president from 1865 until his death in 1870.
Robert E. Lee died on October
12, 1870, in Lexington, Virginia. He was 63 years old.
His last words were, "Strike the tent." This is a military
term meaning to take down the tent.
In 1871, Washington College was
renamed in honor of Robert. Today, it is called Washington
and Lee University. Robert is buried in the school chapel,
called Lee Chapel. Robert's horse, Traveller, is buried
outside Lee Chapel.
Robert was a legend in his own lifetime. He is known
as the Hero of the South and respected by both the North
and the South. When Civil War Generals are analyzed,
Robert is always at the top of the list.
Today, Robert's home is called
the Arlington House. It is a memorial to Robert and
is part of the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Robert is also remembered in
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California.
These parks are home to the giant sequoias which are
the largest living things on earth. There are two sequoias
named after Robert. One is called the Robert E. Lee
Tree, and the other is called the General Lee Tree.
Robert was a brilliant military
commander and strategist, and he is a hero in our hearts.