Robert E. Lee

Photo of Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Library of Congress

Quick Facts

Significance:
Confederate commander of the Army of Northern Virginia
Place of Birth:
Stratford Hall, VA
Date of Birth
January 19, 1807
Place of Death:
Lexington, VA
Date of Death
October 12, 1870
Place of Burial:
Lexington, VA
Cemetery Name
Lee Chapel, Washington & Lee University

Robert Edward Lee was born on January 19, 1807, at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Educated in Alexandria, he obtained an appointment to West Point in 1825 and graduated four years later, second in the class without a single demerit against his name. During the Mexican War, Lee was promoted to colonel due to his gallantry and distinguished conduct in performing vital scouting missions.

In 1852, he became Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy. In 1855 Lee was promoted to Lt. Colonel of the 2nd Cavalry and was sent to West Texas, where he served until February 1861 when General Winfield Scott recalled Lee following the secession of the lower South from the Union.

Robert E. Lee was attached strongly to the Union and to the Constitution. He entertained no special sympathy for slavery. However, when Virginia withdrew from the Union, Lee resigned his commission rather than assist in suppressing the insurrection. His resignation came two days after being offered of command of all U.S. forces under Scott.

Following assignments in western Virginia and coastal Carolina and Georgia during the first year of the war, Lee returned to Richmond in March of 1862 to become military advisor to President Jefferson Davis. However, a serious wound to General Joseph E. Johnston during the Battle of Seven Pines elevated Lee to command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862.

In the ensuing campaign, Lee stopped the Union threat to Richmond during the Seven Days Battle (June 26-July 1, 1861). At the Second Battle of Manassas, Lee defeated John Pope, opening the way for an invasion of the North. However, at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, Lee's Northern thrust was checked by McClellan. In May of 1863, Lee defeated Gen. Hooker at Chancellorsville and again seized the initiative to invade the North, but was turned back at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). In the spring of 1864, Lee clashed with Ulysses S. Grant in a series of battles known as the Overland Campaign, successfully protecting Richmond before being besieged at Petersburg. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House.

After the surrender, Lee 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 on the Washington and Lee campus at Lexington, Virginia.