Robert E. Lee was the most successful general of the Confederate armed forces during the American Civil War. Through his novel military tactics, smaller units and subordinates to leave more freedom of action and their own decisions, he managed to achieve significant victories with his personnel and material subordinate army anyway.
Origin and teenage years:
Robert Edward Lee was born on January 19, 1807, on the Stratford Hall plantation in Virginia, the son of a long-established and highly respected family. His father Henry Lee had already fought in the American Revolutionary War and acquired there a certain amount of rum and recognition.
Since the family did not have sufficient funds, only Robert's brother was sent to Havard University. Robert, on the other hand, was educated at the private school in Alexandria, Virginia, and prepared for the military academy.
Entry into the US military:
In 1825, at the age of 18, Robert entered the Military Academy in West Point, New York. During his studies, he met there, the later Confederate generals Albert S. Johnston and Joseph E. Johnston know, and the future Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
In 1829 he finished his education as 2nd Best of his year, then he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the Pioneer Corps. He spent 17 months in Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island before being transferred to Fort Monroe, Virginia.
From 1834 to 1837 he was in Washington D.C. In the staff of the Inspector of Pioneers until 1837 he received his first own command as a lieutenant. With this rank he supervised the work in the port of St. Louis, after which Robert was promoted to captain and in 1841 took over the work of fortifications in Fort Hamilton, New York.
In the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848 Robert distinguished himself by his tactical skill in the reconnaissance work in the staff of General Winfield Scott. So he used the US artillery in militarily tactically meaningful places and surprised so often the advancing Mexican troops. He fought during the war, inter alia, in the battles of Chapultepec, Contreras, Cerro Gordo and Churubusco.
After the war with Mexico Robert supervised until 1851 the construction of Fort Carroll in the port of Baltimore in Maryland. In 1852, he took over the position of director of the US Military Academy in West Point, New York until he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1855 and became deputy commander of the 2nd US Cavalry Regiment. With this unit, he was stationed at the Texas border to protect the civilian population from attacks by the Indian tribes.
When, as a result of the secession, some states broke away from the Union and joined the Confederacy, after Texas split, Robert was recalled back to Washington, promoted to colonel and placed under the command of the 1st US Cavalry Regiment.
The American Civil War:
Four days after Confederate troops fired at Sumter Fort and civil war began, Robert was offered command of the Northern Army. Robert declined the offer because his roots were in the now Confederate Virginia and he had decided to return there. He returned his officer's patent on April 23, 1861 and traveled south.
When he arrived in Virginia, he was given command of the Virginia Army and promoted to Brigadier General. After the Confederacy's first victory, Robert was promoted again, this time to a 4-star general.
In the fall of 1861, he led his first command to the Battle of Cheat Mountain. Here he used his novel tactic for the first time to give his subordinates more freedom of action and decision-making. However, since this tactic was new, some of his subordinates were overwhelmed and no victory could be won. Robert just managed to hold the front.
It was not until mid-1862 that his tactics prevailed. After taking command of the Northern Virginia Army from injured General Joseph E. Johnston, he succeeded in driving the Union troops out of the Virginia Peninsula during the 7-day battle. Also in the 2nd Battle of the Bull Run, he was able to assert himself against Major General John Pope of the Northern States. With the battles on South Mountain and at Harpers Ferry Robert then took the fight to the northern states, but had to pull back because of his high losses.
Only at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863 Robert had to take a defeat.
In early 1864, Ulysses S. Grant took command of the Northern Army and made with his perpetual attacks that Robert could no longer take the initiative and was from then on only on the defensive. Grant's goal was to use his attacks to bleed Robert's army, forcing the South to make peace.
From June 1864 to April 1865, the attacks of Grant ended in the siege of Petersburg, in which the troops entrenched by Lee. In the course of the siege, Grant was able to expand the front line on account of his personal superiority. Lee then had to expand his troops also further and further, but at the same time thinned out his front sections. When he realized that he could no longer hold Petersburg with his soldiers, he left the city on March 25, 1865 and also renounced the defense of the Confederate capital Richmond.
Lee and his soldiers headed west to unite with the Confederate Tennessee Army of General Joseph E. Johnstons. On the way there his troops were surrounded by those of the Union. Since Lee could win neither an escape from the cauldron nor a victory, he capitulated on April 9, 1865 in the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
At the capitulation, Lee volunteered to General Grant for himself and his soldiers to stop fighting against the North. In return, he received from General Grant the guarantee that he would not be brought to justice by the northern authorities. Lee then returned home.
The End of Life by Robert E. Lee:
Following the surrender of the Northern Virginia Army, the soldiers were able to return home to General Grant following General Lee's word of honor. On April 29, 1865, President Johnson allowed them to regain their civil rights through a pledge of allegiance to the United States. Most former Confederate Army soldiers then submitted amnesty, as did Robert Lee. His own motion, however, was not processed by US Secretary of State William H. Seward, but filed, as it assumed that Lee's motion would be processed. Thus, Robert Lee was denied until his death the amnesty. Only in 1970, when an employee of the National Archives found the request again, President Gerald Ford was able to grant this retrospectively in 1975.
Robert Lee himself took office on October 2, 1865 as President of the Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. Under his leadership, the school was the first in the US to offer business, journalism and Spanish courses.
Robert Edward Lee died of heart disease in Lexington on October 12, 1870, and was buried in the Lee Family Crypt on the Washington and Lee University campus. In 1873 his wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee followed him.
During a home leave, Robert met in 1830 Mary Anna Randolph Custis, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Contrary to the objections of his father George Washington Parke Custis, who disapproved of Robert's small financial income, the wedding took place on June 30, 1831. The marriage produced 4 daughters and 3 sons.
His sons later also served in the military of the US Army and the Confederate Army:
- George Washington Custis Lee and William Henry Fitzhugh Lee as Major General of the Cavalry
- Robert Edward Lee Junior as artillery captain
You can find the right literature here:
Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee
New York Times bestselling author Michael Korda's fresh, contemporary single volume historical biography of General Robert E. Lee—perhaps the most famous and least understood legend in American history and one of our most admired heroes.
Michael Korda, author of Ulysses S. Grant and the bestsellers Ike and Hero, paints a vivid and admiring portrait of Lee as a brilliant general, a devoted family man, and principled gentleman who disliked slavery and disagreed with secession, yet who refused command of the Union Army in 1861 because he could not "draw his sword" against his beloved Virginia.
Well-rounded and realistic, Clouds of Glory analyzes Lee's command during the Civil War and explores his responsibility for the fatal stalemate at Antietam, his defeat at Gettysburg (as well the many troubling controversies still surrounding it) and ultimately, his failed strategy for winning the war. As Korda shows, Lee's dignity, courage, leadership, and modesty made him a hero on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line and a revered American icon who is recognized today as the nation's preeminent military leader.
Clouds of Glory features dozens of stunning illustrations, some never before seen, including twelve pages of color, twenty-four pages of black-and-white, and nearly fifty in-text battle maps.
Douglas Southall Freeman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Robert E. Lee was greeted with critical acclaim when it was first published in 1935. This reissue chronicles all the major aspects and highlights of the general’s military career, from his stunning accomplishments in the Mexican War to the humbling surrender at Appomattox.
More than just a military leader, Lee embodied all the conflicts of his time. The son of a Revolutionary War hero and related by marriage to George Washington, he was the product of young America’s elite. When Abraham Lincoln offered him command of the United States Army, however, he choose to lead the confederate ranks, convinced that his first loyalty lay with his native Virginia. Although a member of the planter class, he felt that slavery was “a moral and political evil.” Aloof and somber, he nevertheless continually inspired his men by his deep concern for their personal welfare.
Freeman’s biography is the full portrait of a great American—a distinguished, scholarly, yet eminently readable classic that has linked Freeman to Lee as irrevocably as Boswell to Dr. Johnson.
Robert E. Lee: A Biography
The life of Robert E. Lee is a story not of defeat but of triumph―triumph in clearing his family name, triumph in marrying properly, triumph over the mighty Mississippi in his work as an engineer, and triumph over all other military men to become the towering figure who commanded the Confederate army in the American Civil War. But late in life Lee confessed that he "was always wanting something."
In this probing and personal biography, Emory Thomas reveals more than the man himself did. Robert E. Lee has been, and continues to be, a symbol and hero in the American story. But in life, Thomas writes, Lee was both more and less than his legend. Here is the man behind the legend. Photographs, drawings