Robert E. Lee is a decorated Confederate General. He led the army of the south with much gallantry, however, his troops eventually succumbed to the powers of the Union. Despite this defeat, he is deemed a hero by many people from the American south.
Robert E. Lee Facts
1. Robert E. Lee came from an aristocratic family.
Born on January 19, 1807, Lee was the son of Anne Hill Carter and Colonel Henry Lee, with the latter coming from a long line of illustrious Virginians.
Col. Henry, also known as “Light-Horse Harry,” was then Governor of Virginia. He is popularly known as a cavalry leader during the Revolutionary War. As one of the heroes of the war, he even drew praise from George Washington.
Lee’s great-grandfather, on the other hand, was a renowned Virginian colonist. His ancestor, Richard Lee Esq., belonged to one of the first families of Virginia.
2. Lee graduated from the prestigious West Point Academy.
Lee decided to follow his father’s military footsteps. His relative William Henry Fitzhugh wanted to assist him, so he sent a recommendation letter to then-Secretary of War John Calhoun. Expectedly, he gained admittance to West Point Academy by the year 1824.
Due to the sheer number of enrollees, he only started schooling a year after. He excelled in school, eventually graduating as the second-highest student in the class, an interesting Robert E. Lee fact. He was then granted the title of brevet second lieutenant by the Army Corps of Engineers.
3. He married a descendant of George Washington.
Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, is the step great-granddaughter of George Washington. They married on June 30, 1831, at Arlington House. Also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion and the Robert E. Lee Memorial, the former plantation was later designated as the site Arlington National Cemetery. According to historical accounts, this was done to prevent Lee from ever returning to his home.
4. Robert E. Lee fought in the Mexican-American war.
In 1846, Lee, together with the rest of the US Army, went to war against Mexico. An interesting fact about Robert E. Lee is that he served under General Winfield Scott, who praised him for his skills as a tactician and a military commander. As a staff officer, he found attack routes that the Mexicans left open due to terrain design.
Lee also fought in Churubusco and Contreras and was wounded during the battle in Chapultepec. For his bravery, he was promoted as a brevet major after the Battle of Cerro Gordo. He scaled to higher ranks after being promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel and later on, brevet colonel.
5. Lee was offered to lead the Union Army.
While Robert E. Lee is known as a loyal confederate, he was asked to lead the Union Army by then-President Abraham Lincoln. The latter was impressed with Lee’s military abilities, which included finishing a slave insurrection in under an hour.
While Lee was committed to the US army, his allegiance to Virginia mattered more. He ended up resigning from his US Army post – one that he held for 36 years – to support his home state. When Virginia seceded from the country in 1861, he set his sights on leading the Confederate Army.
6. He won a handful of battles.
With all his military wisdom, Robert E. Lee saw several triumphs as a Confederate general. He led the Army of Northern Virginia in the Seven Days Battle, wherein they managed to push the Union Army back from the front lines. He was also instrumental in winning the battle at Second Manasas.
His other victory took place in Chancellorsville in the first week of May 1863. Despite being outnumbered, they defeated the Union Army by encircling them. An interesting fact about Robert E. Lee is that this tactic is considered as one of the boldest moves in Civil War history. With all these victories, Lee gained acclaim as a hero.
7. Lee, however, encountered several military defeats as well.
With his long list of successes came some defeats as well. On September 17, 1862, during the Battle of Antietam, Lee suffered a great loss. As much as 22,000 soldiers died that day, making it the bloodiest event in the history of the Civil War.
Lee’s army also lost during the Battle of Gettysburg. Apart from suffering from thousands of casualties, this battle gave the Union Army quite an advantage.
The Confederacy cause started going downhill from there.
Union General Ulysses Grant obliterated Richmond and Petersburg, forcing Lee and what is left of his army to leave the Confederate capital. In April 1865 in Appomattox, Virginia, a disheartened Lee surrendered to a forgiving Grant.
8. Robert E. Lee’s engineering know-how helped the Confederates out for some time.
With diminished supplies and a dwindling number of able soldiers, it was only a matter of time before the Confederacy crashed and burned to the ground. Despite such shortcomings, Lee made up for it with his engineering expertise.
Robert E. Lee built fortifications with designs that were considered advanced for that time. He extended other structures to create a condition that is similar to modern trench warfare. These designs managed to hold off the Union Army from June 1864 to April 1865, but there was nothing much he could do once his soldiers dropped down due to hunger and disease.
9. He was almost hanged.
His role in the Civil War was enough to make him a traitor – the punishment of which is hanging. Lincoln and Grant, however, were lenient. Both decided to pardon Lee for his role as a Confederate general.
10. A university is partially named after Lee.
After being absolved for his wartime activities, Lee returned to his family in Virginia. They were devoid of income as his wife’s plantation (now the Robert E. Lee memorial) was confiscated by the Union Army. To make ends meet – and to set an example for his fellow Confederates – he took the helm of Washington College, the United States’ ninth-oldest institution of higher learning.
During his stint, Lee improved the school’s enrollment. A progressive educator, he managed to boost financial support for the college as well. An interesting fact about Robert E. Lee is that the institution was then renamed to Washington and Lee University to honor him and the school’s first namesake, George Washington.
Despite leading the Confederate Army against the Union, Lee rejected war as a means of resolving political problems. He was actually against secession and slavery all along. He might be forever known as “The Rebel General,” but in his heart, he was just fighting for the Republic that his ancestors established centuries ago.
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