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Robert E. Lee 1
Robert E. Lee
1807 - 1870

(Page One of Six)

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt

FDR Remarks about Lee
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Remarks About Robert E. Lee
(For a more readable text, click Here.)

  Robert Edward Lee was born on January 19, 1807, at "Stratford" in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was the fifth child born to Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee and his second wife, Ann Hill (Carter) Lee. He grew up in an area where George Washington was still a living memory. Robert had many ties to Revolutionary War heroes.

Stratford - 2001

Educated in the Alexandria, Virginia, schools, he obtained appointment to West Point in 1825. In 1829, Robert E. Lee graduated second in the class without a single demerit against his name. He was commissioned a brevet 2nd Lieutenant of Engineers.

On June 30, 1831, Lee married Mary Ann Randolph Custis.
They had seven children.

All three of their sons served in the Confederate army . George Washington Custis and William Henry Fitzhugh ("Rooney") attained the rank of Major General and Robert E. Lee, Jr., that of Captain. The latter served as a private in the Rockbridge Artillery at the Battle of Antietam.

During the Mexican War, Robert E. Lee, for his gallantry and distinguished conduct in performing vital scouting missions, was promoted to; Brevet Major for his actions at Cerro Gordo; Brevet Lieutenant Colonel for Contreras-Churubusco; and Brevet Colonel for Chapultepec. The Army designated officers by the highest brevet rank attained, and so, Lee, although not receiving Colonel's pay, carried the title "Colonel" after the Mexican war. (For more information on Lee's actions in the Mexican War, refer to the book "Lee" by Douglas Southall Freeman.)

In 1852, Lee became Superintendent of the Military Academy and began receiving Army pay equivalent to his Brevet rank, Colonel. In 1855, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis transferred Lee from staff to line and Lee was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel 2nd Cavalry. This did not give him any additional compensation, since he was already receiving Brevet Colonel pay. However, it did make his actual rank closer to his highest Brevet rank. He was then sent to West Texas, where he served from 1857-1861, during which time he received an extended leave due to the death of his Father-in-Law.

The destruction of slavery in the United States was the driving ambition of abolitionist John Brown. He came to believe that it would take bloodshed to root out the evil of slavery, and by the mid-1850s he dedicated himself to an all-out war for slave liberation. On October 16, 1859, he and his "army" of some 20 men seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). By the morning of October 18, marines under the command of Bvt. Col. Robert E. Lee, stormed the building and captured Brown and the survivors of his party. The operation that Brown envisioned as the first blow in a war against slavery was over in 36 hours.
(Source: National Archives and Records Administration)

It was during this leave, in October 1859 that Lee was ordered to take a detachment of U.S. Marines and four companies of Maryland Militia to Harpers Ferry in order to suppress an attempted insurrection caused by the radical abolionist John Brown. Brown and his men, with hostages, had taken refuge in the Fire Engine house within the armory enclosure. Lee sent Lt. J.E.B. Stuart, under a white flag, to deliver a message from him demanding that Brown and his men surrender.

Lee's Letter at Harpers Ferry
Lee's Letter Demanding John Brown's Surrender at Harpers Ferry
Source: National Archives
Click Here to read the text.


When Brown refused to surrender, Lee's Marines overran Brown's people in the Fire Engine house, leaving four men dead, and Brown with a bayonet wound. All thirteen hostages were safe.

In February of 1861, General Winfield Scott recalled Lee from assignment in West Texas (See above) when the lower South seceded from the Union. On March 18th, Lee was promoted to Colonel by an order signed by Abraham Lincoln

Politically, Robert E. Lee was a Whig. Ironically, he was attached strongly to the Union and to the Constitution. He entertained no special sympathy for slavery.
(For Lee's opinion on slavery read his letter dated December 27, 1856)

When Virginia withdrew from the Union, Lee resigned his commission rather than assist in suppressing the insurrection.

Lee's Resignation Letter
Lee's Letter of Resignation from the U.S. Army.
Source: National Archives
Click Here to read the text.

His resignation was two days following the offer of Chief of Command of U.S. forces under Scott. He then proceeded to Richmond to become Commander-in-Chief of the military and naval forces of Virginia. When these forces joined Confederate services, he was appointed Brigadier General in the Regular Confederate Army.

In March of 1862 Lee became military advisor to President Davis in Richmond. On May 31, when General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded during the battle of Fair Oaks, Davis appointed Lee, Johnston's replacement. Lee took over the Confederate Army of the Potomac, which he renamed the Army of Northern Virgina, and stopped McClellan's threat to Richmond during the "Seven Days" Battle (June 26-July 2, 1861). At the Battle of Second Manassas, Lee defeated Pope. At the Battle of Antietam, his Northern thrust was checked by McClellan; however, he repulsed Burnside at Fredericksburg in December of 1862. In May of 1863, Gen. Lee defeated Gen. Hooker at Chancellorsville, but was forced onto the strategic defensive after Gettysburg in July. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House.

After the surrender, Lee returned to Richmond. He assumed the presidency of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). His example of conduct for thousands of ex-Confederates made him a legend even before his death on October 12, 1870. General Robert E. Lee is buried at Lexington, Virginia. (Source: U.S. Gov't, National Park Service and Others.)

Editor's Note: Robert E. Lee was involved, either directly or indirectly, with most of the Civil War events described on this website. To show all of the photographs from the events or battles involving Lee would require the inclusion of most of the approximately 700 photographs on this site. Instead, I shall present, in this section, only the photographs directly involving Lee. These photographs also appear on the pages in which they are appropriately part of a battle or event.


Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe - Outer Wall and Moat.

Lee's House at Fort Monroe     Sign
Lee's House (currently being renovated) at Fort Monroe. The sign tells the story.


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