General Robert E.
General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States
Robert E. Lee was a brilliant and daring military commander. His leadership of the Army of Northern Virginia was a major factor in holding off the invasion of the numerically superior Union Army of the Potomac for three years.
Robert Edward Lee was born in Stratford, Virginia on January 19, 1807. He was the fourth child of Revolutionary War hero General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee and Ann Hill Carter Lee. He was primarily raised by his mother. She taught him patience, control, discipline, and Christianity. As a young man, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. His southern gentleman character came from this background. Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1829. He had the unique distinction of receiving no demerits as a cadet. He was commissioned as a Corps of Engineers officer. He married Mary Custis who was the granddaughter of Martha Washington. They had seven children. Arlington House was their home for thirty years when they were not at a U. S. Army duty station.
He served on General Winfield Scott's staff during the Mexican War. He was wounded in the storming of Chapultepec. An excellent military reputation was established during this period. From 1852 through 1855, he was the Superintendent of West Point. He lead the forces that suppressed John Brown's raid on the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859. When the Civil War seemed imminent, he was offered the field command of the Union forces, but he declined. He resigned from the U. S. Army after Virginia seceded from the Union. He was immediately made commander in chief of the military forces of Virginia. He was also appointed to be a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. His forces failed to repel an invasion force in western Virginia, and he was reassigned to prepare Atlantic coastal defenses. In March 1862, he became a military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. When General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at the indecisive Battle of Seven Pines, General Robert E. Lee was made the commander of the main Confederate Army in Virginia on June 1, 1862.
The Confederate capital at Richmond was in grave danger of capture when General Lee took command of the Confederate Army in Northern Virginia. In the fighting around Richmond from June 25, 1862 to July 1, 1862, known as the Seven Days, General Lee's army forced Union Major General George B. McClellan's larger and better equipped army to retreat. This ended McClellan's Peninsular Campaign. Next General Lee's army routed the larger Federal Army of Virginia under Major General John Pope at the battle know as Second Bull Run or Second Manassas. This occurred from August 29, 1862 to August 30, 1862. Encouraged by victories and approved by President Jefferson Davis, General Lee carried the war to Union soil. The Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862 turned back the Confederate Army's invasion, but it did not give Union General McClellan the decisive victory needed for him to retain command. The battle did produce the bloodiest single day in American military history with about 24,000 total casualties. The next Union commander, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, sent his troops in the direction of Richmond, and they were soundly defeated at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. Union Major General Joseph Hooker was the next commander of the Army of the Potomac. He had a good plan for a spring offensive, but his superior army was defeated by General Lee's brilliant strategy at the Battle of Chancellorsville. This occurred from May 1, 1863 to May 4, 1863.
General Lee's second invasion of the North culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1, 1863 to July 3, 1863. The Union Army under Major General George G. Mead stopped the Confederate invasion in Southern Pennsylvania in the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. The Confederacy suffered 28,000 casualties to their 77,000 man army. The Union suffered 25,000 casualties to their 93,500 man army.
The Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Lee fought many major defensive battles over the next two years. Although the results of many of the battles were inconclusive or Confederate victories, attrition gave the final victory to the Union Army under the command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. The Battle of The Wilderness from May 5, 1864 to May 7, 1864 had an inconclusive result. The casualties were 11,400 for the Confederacy and 18,400 for the Union. The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House from May 8, 1864 to May 21, 1864 also had an inconclusive result. The casualties were 12,000 for the Confederacy and 18,000 for the Union. The Battle of Cold Harbor from May 31 to June 12, 1864 was a Confederate victory. The casualties were 2,500 for the Confederacy and 13,000 for the Union. The Battle of Petersburg from June 15, 1864 to June 18, 1864 was a Confederate victory. The casualties were 3,236 for the Confederacy and 8,150 for the Union. Then came the long Siege of Petersburg. The final Petersburg Campaign including the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865 was a Union victory. This led to General Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
Robert E. Lee served as the President of Washington College after the war. The college's name was later changed to Washington and Lee. He died of a heart ailment on October 12, 1870. The United States Congress passed a bill in 1975 to posthumously restore his United States citizenship, and President Gerald Ford's signature on the bill made it law.
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