No finer example of a Southern gentleman and leader exists whose positive impact was so great during and after the War. His superb character as a Christian gentleman stood out in his life as a man, husband, father, citizen, soldier, and a leader. These qualities greatly impressed such notable men as Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt. Fortunately General Lee left a wealth of sayings and personal wisdom of which only a fraction is present here in this educational sheet.
LEE AS OTHERS SAW HIM:
President Theodore Roosevelt described General Robert E. Lee as "the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth."
Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote of Lee: "His noble presence and gentle, kindly manner were sustained by religious faith and an exalted character." Of his army, Churchill observed: "It was even said that their line of march could be traced by the bloodstained footprints of unshod men. But the Army of Northern Virginia 'carried the Confederacy on its bayonets' and made a struggle unsurpassed in history."
War-era Georgia Senator Ben Hill eloquently expressed a lasting Lee tribute: "He possessed every virtue of other great commanders without their vices. He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness, and Washington without his reward. He was obedient to authority as a servant, and loyal in authority as a true king. He was gentle as a woman in life; modest and pure as a virgin in thought; watchful as a Roman vital in duty; submissive to law as Socrates, and grand in battle as Achilles!"
Robert Edward Lee, general-in-chief of the Confederate States army, is placed by general fame as well as by the cordial suffrage of the South, first among all Southern military chieftains. By official rank he held that position in the Confederate States army, and his right to the primacy there is none to dispute. Considered as a true type of the American developed through the processes by which well-sustained free government proves and produces a high order of manly character, he fully and justly gained the distinguished esteem with which all America claims him as her own. Beyond the borders of this continent, which men of his caste long ago consecrated to freedom at altars that smoked with sacrifice, and extending over oceans east and west into the old world's realms, his name has gone to be honored, his character to be admired, and his military history to be studied alongside the work of the great masters of war. Happy, indeed, are the Southern people in knowing him to be their own, while they surrender his fame to become a part of their country's glory.
General Lee's lineage and collateral kindred constitute an array of illustrious characters, but certainly without dispraise of any, and without unduly exalting himself, it can be calmly written down that he was the greatest of all his race. Unaware he was of his own distinction. Unaware also of a common sentiment was each of his people who cherished an individual feeling in the years which followed his public service until the consensus came into open view, where all men saw that all true men honored his name and revered his memory.
Contrast of Lee with other men will not be instituted, because there were indeed others great like himself, and he more than others would deplore a contest for premiership in fame. The most that can be said in any mingling of his name with other illustrious characters has been uttered in the wonderfully felicitous and graphic sentences of Benjamin H. Hill, which may be repeated here, because of their brilliant and true characterization:
"When the future historian shall come to survey the character of Lee he will find it rising like a huge mountain above the undulating plane of humanity, and he must lift his eyes high toward heaven to catch its summit. He possessed every virtue of other great commanders without their vices. He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward. He was obedient to authority as a servant, and royal in authority as a true king. He was gentle as a woman in life; modest and pure as a virgin in thought; watchful as a Roman vestal in duty; submissive to law as Socrates; and grand in battle as Achilles."
It will be understood by all who read any biographical sketch of one so eminent as the Southern military leader thus portrayed in Mr. Hill's splendid words, that the facts of his life must sustain the eulogy. Fortunately this support appears even in the cold recital which is here attempted. General Lee was born at Stratford, Virginia, January 19, 1807, and was eleven years old on the death of his chivalric father, General Henry Lee, the "Light Horse Harry" of the American revolution. In boyhood he was taught in the schools of Alexandria, chiefly by Mr. William B. Leary, an Irishman, and prepared for West Point by Mr. Benjamin Hallowel1. He entered the National military academy in 1825, and was graduated in 1829, without a demerit and with second honors. During these youthful years he was remarkable in personal appearance, possessing a handsome face and superb figure, and a manner that charmed by cordiality and won respect by dignity. He was thoroughly moral, free from the vices, and while "full of life and fun, animated, bright and charming," as a contemporary describes him, he was more inclined to serious than to gay society.
He married Mary Custis, daughter of Washington Parke Custis, and grand-daughter of Martha Washington, at Arlington, Va., June 30, 1831. Their children were G. W. Custis, Mary, W. H. Fitzhugh, Annie, Agnes, Robert and Mildred.
At his graduation he was appointed second-lieutenant of engineers and by assignment engaged in engineering at Old Point and on the coasts. In 1834 he was assistant to the chief engineer at Washington; in 1835 on the commission to mark the boundary line between Ohio and Michigan; in 1836 promoted first lieutenant, and in 1838, captain of engineers. In 1837 he was ordered to the Mississippi river, in association with Lieutenant Meigs (afterward general) to make special surveys and plans for improvements of navigation; in 1840 a military engineer; in 1842 stationed at Fort Hamilton, New York; and in 1844 one of the board of visitors at West Point. Captain Lee was with General Wool in the beginning of the Mexican war, and at the special request of General Scott was assigned to the personal staff of that commander. When Scott landed 12,000 men south of Vera Cruz, Captain Lee established the batteries which were so effective in compelling the surrender of the city. The advance which followed met with serious resistance from Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo. Here Captain Lee made the reconnaissances and in three days' time placed batteries in positions which Santa Anna had judged inaccessible, enabling Scott to carry the heights and rout the enemy. In his report Scott wrote: "I am compelled to make special mention of Captain R. E. Lee," and the brevet as major was accorded the skillful artilleryman. The valley of Mexico was the scene of the next military operations, and here Lee continued to serve with signal ability and personal bravery. One act of daring General Scott afterward referred to as" the greatest feat of physical and moral courage performed by any individual in my knowledge pending the campaign." Having participated in the daylight assault which carried the entrenchments of Contreras, Captain Lee was soon afterward engaged in the battles of Churubusco and Molino del Rey, gaining promotion to brevet lieutenant-colonel. In the storming at Chapultepec, one of the most brilliant affairs of the war, he was severely wounded, and won from General Scott, in his official report, appreciative mention as being "as distinguished for execution as for science and daring." After Chapultepec he was recommended for the rank of colonel. The City of Mexico was next taken and the war ended.
Among the officers with Lee in Mexico were Grant, Meade, McClellan, Hancock, Sedgwick, Hooker, Burnside, Thomas, McDowell, A. S. Johnston, Beauregard, T. J. Jackson, Longstreet, Loring, Hunt, Magruder, and Wilcox, all of whom seemed to have felt for him a strong attachment. Reverdy Johnson said he had heard General Scott more than once say that his "success in Mexico was largely due to the skill, valor and undaunted energy of Robert E. Lee." Jefferson Davis, in a public address at the Lee memorial meeting November 3, 1870, said: "He came from Mexico crowned with honors, covered with brevets, and recognized, young as he was, as one of the ablest of his country's soldiers." General Scott said with emphasis: "Lee is the greatest military genius in America." Every general officer with whom he personally served in Mexico made special mention of him in official reports. General Persifer Smith wrote: "I wish to record particularly my admiration of the conduct of Captain Lee, of the engineers--the soundness of his judgment and his personal daring being equally conspicuous." General Shields referred to him as one" in whose skill and judgment I had the utmost confidence." General Twiggs declared" his gallantry and good conduct deserve the highest praise," and Colonel Riley bore "testimony to the intrepid coolness and gallantry exhibited by Captain Lee when conducting the advance of my brigade under the heavy flank fire of the enemy.
In the subsequent years of peace Lee was assigned first to important duties in the corps of military engineers with headquarters at Baltimore, from 1849 to 1852, and then served as superintendent of the military academy at West Point until 1855, when he was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel and assigned to the Second cavalry, commanded by Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston This remarkably fine regiment included among its officers besides Johnston and Lee, Hardee, Thomas, VanDorn, Fitz Lee, Kirby Smith, and Stoneman, later distinguished in the Confederate war. With this regiment Lee shared the hardships of frontier duty, defending the western frontier of Texas against hostile Indians from 1856 until the spring of 1861. In October, 1859, he was at Washington in obedience to command, and fortunately so, as during his visit occurred the John Brown raid. President Buchanan selected him to suppress the movement, which he did with prompt vigor, after giving the proper summons to Brown to surrender. Returning to Texas, he was in command of the department in 1860 and early in 1861, while the Southern States were passing ordinances of secession, and with sincere pain observed the progress of dissolution. Writing January 23, 1861, he said that the South had been aggrieved by the acts of the North, and that he felt the aggression and was willing to take every proper step for redress. But he anticipated no greater calamity than a dissolution of the Union and would sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. He termed secession a revolution, but said that a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets had no charms for him. "If the Union is dissolved and the government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people; and save in defense will draw my sword on none."
About a month later Lee was summoned to Washington to report to General Scott and reached the capital on the 1st of March, only a few days before the inauguration of Lincoln. He was then just fifty-four years of age, and dating from his cadetship at West Point had been in the military service of the government about thirty-six years. He had reached the exact prime of maturity; in form, features, and general bearing the type of magnificent manhood; educated to thoroughness; cultivated by extensive reading, wide experience, and contact with the great men of the period; with a dauntless bravery tested and improved by military perils in many battles; his skill in war recognized as of the highest order by comrades and commanders; and withal a patriot in whom there was no guile and a man without reproach. Bearing this record and character, Lee appeared at the capital of the country he loved, hoping that wisdom in its counsels would avert coercion and that this policy would lead to reunion. Above all others he was the choice of General Scott for the command of the United States army; and the aged hero seems to have earnestly urged the supreme command upon him. Francis P. Blair also invited him to a conference and said, "I come to you on the part of President Lincoln to ask whether any inducement that he can offer will prevail on you to take command of the Union army." To this alluring offer Lee at once replied courteously but candidly that though "opposed to secession and deprecating war he would take no part in the invasion of the Southern States." His resignation followed at once, and repairing to Virginia, he placed his stainless sword at the service of his imperiled State and accepted the command of her military forces. The commission was presented to him in the presence of the Virginia convention on April 23, 1861, by Mr. Janney, the president of that body, with ceremonies of great impressiveness, and General Lee entered at once upon duties which absorbed his thought and engaged his heart. The position thus assigned confined him at first to a narrowed area, but he diligently organized the military strength of Virginia and surveyed the field over which he foresaw the battles for the Confederacy would be fought. As late as April 25 he wrote, "No earthly act would give me so much pleasure as to restore peace to my country, but I fear it is now out of the power of man, and in God alone must be our trust. I think our policy should be purely on the defensive, to resist aggression and allow time to allay the passions and permit reason to resume her sway."
The Confederate government in May, 1861, employed his splendid talent for organization, an advantageous employment, indeed, but one that kept him from that command in the field for which he was eminently qualified. Subsequently the expeditions in the West Virginia campaign were attended with such peculiar disadvantages that General Lee had the mortification of observing a sudden and unjust waning of his reputation. Thus his service in the field for which he was best fitted was still further postponed, and he spent the winter of 1861 in command of the department of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, to which he was assigned by President Davis, giving his talents as an engineer to organization of a system of coast defense. From these duties he was called in March, 1862, to become the military adviser of the President, a position in which he gave constant attention to the movements of the enemy as well as to the Confederate means of defense, and was in readiness to assume any duty that might be assigned.
The severe wounding of General J. E. Johnston, at the battle of Seven Pines, and the illness of General G. W. Smith, next in rank, brought to him the command of the army of Northern Virginia, which he immediately led to successive victories over the great armies of McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker, attaining for him. self, in a few months, a fame for generalship which spread over the world.
His subsequent career throughout the Confederate struggle was distinguished by his regard for the humane usages of war; his exhibition of great military skill; a spirited personal courage, as well as that nerve of leader. ship that impelled him to give battle whenever he saw an opportunity to strike an effective blow; a courteous bearing toward his officers and a tender concern for the welfare of the men in line; an untiring attention to details and an unexcelled devotion to duty. All these characteristics and much more were made apparent as the war wore on to its disastrous end.
The details which establish his reputation as a military genius are to be found in all the books which have been written on the Confederate war. Referring to them for special information we pass on to see him at Appomattox, nobly yielding himself and his army when resistance was no longer possible, and then departing for his home, to refuse offers of place that would bring profit and high civil position, and finally turning his glorious life into channels of beneficent influence.
With clear insight into all the merits of the cause for which he drew his sword in 1861, he wrote on January 5, 1866: "All that the South has ever desired was that the Union as established by our fathers should be preserved, and that the government as originally organized should be administered in purity and truth." Six months later he wrote: "I had no other guide, nor had I any other object than the defense of those principles of American liberty upon which the constitutions of the several States were originally founded, and unless they are strictly observed I fear there will be an end of Republican government in this country."
He lived only a few years after the fall of the Confederacy, and those years were nearly all spent in service as president of the Washington-Lee college. The anxieties of his military life had changed his hair to gray, but he was still in vigorous health. His nearest friends alone saw that his sympathy for the misfortunes of his people became a malady which physicians could not remove. With sincere purpose to observe his parole, and, after all military operations had ceased, to lend his influence fully to peace, he carefully avoided all things which would irritate the people in power. Rigidly preserving his convictions, as he felt he must do, he nevertheless promoted the restoration of harmony among the people of the whole country. Thus his life passed until he was suddenly seized with sickness on the 28th of September, 1870, at his home in Lexington, and on Wednesday morning, October 12th, he died in the Christian's faith, which he had all his life confessed. Demonstrations of sorrow as sincere as they were imposing manifested the great love of his own people in the South, but these exhibitions also extended into the North, and from the European press America learned how highly the eminent Confederate was esteemed abroad. "The grave of this noble hero is bedewed with the most tender and sacred tears ever shed upon a human tomb. A whole nation has risen up in the spontaneity of its grief to render the tribute of its love." His name will lure his countrymen to revere truth and pay devotion to duty, and until the nation ceases to be free the glory of his character will be cherished as priceless national treasure.
"With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword....." Lee in a letter to his sister, April 20, 1861
Lee returned to Richmond as a paroled prisoner of war, and submitted with the utmost composure to an altered destiny. He devoted the rest of his life to setting an example of conduct for other thousands of ex-Confederates. He refused a number of offers which would have secured substantial means for his family. Instead, he assumed the presidency of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and his reputation revitalized the school after the war. Lee's enormous wartime prestige, both in the North and South, and the devotion inspired by his unconscious symbolism of the "Lost Cause" made his a legendary figure even before his death. He died on October 12 1870, of heart disease which had plagued him since the spring of 1863, at Lexington, Va. and is buried there. Somehow, his application for restoration of citizenship was mislaid, and it was not until the 1970's that it was found and granted.
Following the war Lee returned as a paroled prisoner at Richmond. Lee was almost tried as a traitor following the hysteria and anti-southern hatred resulting from the assassination of Lincoln. No substantial charges could be brought against Lee, but he was left with his citizenship revoked and in effect with his civil rights being suspended for the rest of his life.
Lee devoted the remainder of his life to setting an excellent example of conduct for the southerners. He refused a number of offers and promotional schemes which would have given substantial financial rewards for himself and his family. Instead he took the post of President of Washington University at Lexington, VA, where he served until his death in 1870. The school was later renamed Washington and Lee.
Upon the surrender of the Southern army at Appomattox, the conditions of the terms for that surrender allowed the Confederate soldier to return home after taking an oath not to take up arms against the United States. Many general officers and high-ranking officials were stripped of their citizenship, requiring them to sign an amnesty oath before a notary public.
Robert E. Lee, had to wait five months before he could
apply for his citizenship. Now serving as president of the
Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, Lee would sign the
amnesty oath on October 2, 1865. But Lee would die a man without
a country, still awaiting word from Washington about his
One hundred years after Lee's oath was sent to Washington, a clerk came across it while sorting through papers at the National Archives. By an act of Congress and with the endorsement of President Gerald Ford, Lee's citizenship was restored on July 22, 1975. It is believed an employee may have purposely misplaced it in 1865, thinking Lee did not deserve to be an American
Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 at Stratford, Virginia. Robert was the fourth child of a Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee and Ann Hill Carter Lee. Young Robert, the son, was raised mostly by his mother. From her he learned patience, control, and discipline. As a young man he was exposed to Christianity and accepted its faith. In contrast to the strong example of his mother Robert saw his father go from failed enterprise to failed enterprise. In part the young Robert was led to try harder and succeed.
Robert was accepted to the United States Military Academy and graduated 2nd in his class. But perhaps greater than his academic success was his record of no demerits while being a cadet which today has still not been equaled. Following his graduation Lee, like most top classmen, was given a commission as an engineer. Lt. Lee helped build the St. Louis waterfront and worked on coastal forts in Brunswick and Savannah. It was during this time he married Mary Custis the granddaughter of George Washington and Martha Custis Washington.
In 1845 the War between U.S. and Mexico erupted. General Winfield Scott, overall U.S. Army commander, attached Captain Robert E. Lee to his staff. Lee was entrusted with the vital duties of mapping out the terrain ahead, dividing the line of advance for the U.S. troops, and in one case leading troops into battle. Lee was learning skills he would need 16 years later. There in Mexico Lee also met, worked with, and got a chance to evaluate many of those he would later serve with and against; James Longstreet, Thomas J. Jackson, George Pickett, and U.S. Grant.
Following the Mexican War Lee returned to service as
an army engineer. He spent most of this time near Washington
D.C. and moved into Custis mansion (now overlooking the
Arlington Cemetery). Thus was Colonel Lee was available for duty
to put down a believed rebellion at Harper Ferry, Virginia the
site of a United States Arsenal. Colonel Lee, and a young aide
Lt. JEB Stuart, and a detachment of U.S. marines, were rushed by
train to Harper's Ferry where they were able to capture radical
abolitionist John Brown and his followers.
Following the Mexican War Lee returned to service as an army engineer. He spent most of this time near Washington D.C. and moved into Custis mansion (now overlooking the Arlington Cemetery). Thus was Colonel Lee was available for duty to put down a believed rebellion at Harper Ferry, Virginia the site of a United States Arsenal. Colonel Lee, and a young aide Lt. JEB Stuart, and a detachment of U.S. marines, were rushed by train to Harper's Ferry where they were able to capture radical abolitionist John Brown and his followers.
Brown's attempt seemed to confirm all the worst fears of
the south and when Abraham Lincoln was elected President South
Carolina seceded and was quickly followed by 6 more deep
southern states: Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The old warrior General
Winfield Scott asked Colonel Robert E. Lee to take command of
the United States Army to put down "the rebellion". Lee,
however, offered his services to the newly elected President of
the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. Mr. Davis
accepted them and Lee was made a general in CSA service. At
first General Lee was more or less advisor to President Davis
and the Secretary of War. Lee went on to serve the Confederate
States of America until the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse
April 9, 1865. He was one of the most beloved leaders of the
Want to learn more about Southern History told by Southerners? Visit "The Other Side of the Coin" A history series of bringing out many facts that have been lost, stolen, or hidden. From the introduction
It is said that the first casualty of war is truth and that the victors write and perpetuate the history. There are two sides to every story, two sides to a conflict, and while it would seem simple to record and report history it has always been open to different interpretations. Somewhere along the line the Southern perspective has been obscured. We provide a Southern perspective on the events leading up to formation of the independent nation of the Confederate States of America, the history during is short existence and the history that followed that tragic war.. Some may argue that this is not a balanced treatment. In response we say that the current history taught in most classrooms is not only NOT balanced, but in fact is biased and flawed. The only one viewpoint presented for decades to students is the Northern perspective. Do not let others do your thinking for you. You have heard their (Northern) side, now hear the from the Southern historians: "The Other Side of the Coin"