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Rob Lee Essay, Research Paper

Robert E. = Lee

“They say you had to see him to believe that a man so fine = could exist.=20 He

was handsome. He was clever. He was brave. He was gentle. He = was=20 generous

and charming, noble and modest, admired and beloved. He had = never=20 failed at

anything in his upright soldier’s life. He was born a winner, = this=20 Robert

E. Lee. Except for once. In the greatest contest of his life, = in a=20 war

between the South and the North, Robert E. Lee lost” (Redmond). = Through=20 his

life, Robert E. Lee would prove to be always noble, always a = gentleman,=20 and

always capable of overcoming the challenge lying before him. =

Robert Edward Lee was born on January 19, 1807 (Compton’s). He = was=20 born

into one of Virginia’s most respected families. The Lee family = had=20 moved to

America during the mid 1600’s. Some genealogist can trace the = Lee’s=20 roots

back to William the Conqueror. Two members of the Lee family = had signed=20 the

Declaration of Independence, Richard Lee and Francis Lightfoot. = Charles=20 Lee

had served as attorney General under the Washington = administration=20 while

Richard Bland Lee, had become one of Virginia’s leading=20 Federalists.

Needless to say, the Lees were an American Political dynasty = (Nash=20 242).

Lee’s father was General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee. He had = been=20 a

heroic cavalry leader in the American Revolution. He married = his=20 cousin

Matilda. They had four children, but Matilda died in 1790. On = her death=20 bed

she added insult to injury upon Henry Lee by leaving her estate = to=20 her

children. She feared Henry would squander the family fortune. = He was=20 well

known for poor investments and schemes that had depleted his = own=20 family’s

fortune (Connelly 5).

Henry Lee solved his financial problems by marrying Robert’s = mother=20 Anne

Carter, daughter of one of Virginia’s wealthiest men (Nash = 242). Henry=20 Lee

eventually spent his family into debt. Their stately mansion,=20 Stratford

Hall, was turned over to Robert’s half brother. Anne Lee moved = with=20 her

children to a simple brick house in Alexandria. Light Horse = Harry=20 was

seldom around. Finally, in 1813 he moved to the West Indies. = His=20 self-exile

became permanent, and he was never seen again by his family=20 (Thomas).

Young Robert had other family problems. His mother became very = ill. At=20 the

age of twelve he had to shoulder the load of not only being the = family’s

provider, but also his mother’s nurse. When time came for = Robert to=20 attend

college, it was obvious his mother could not support him = financially.=20 She

was already supporting his older brother at Harvard and three = other

children in school. In 1824 he accepted an appointment to the = United=20 States

Military Academy. During his time at West Point Lee = distinguished=20 himself

as a soldier and a student. Lee graduated with honors in 1829 = (Nash=20 245).

His graduation was dampened by a call to the bedside of his = ailing=20 mother.

When he arrived home he found his fifty-four year old mother = close=20 to

death. A death caused by struggles and illnesses of her = difficult=20 life.

Robert was always close to his mother. He again attended to her = needs=20 until

her death. On July 10, 1829, Anne Lee died with Robert, her = closest=20 son, at

her side. Forty years later Robert would stand in the same room = and=20 say,

“It seems but yesterday” that his beloved mother died (Connelly = 6).

While awaiting his first assignment, Lee frequently visited = Arlington,=20 the

estate of George Washington Parke Custis. Custis was the = grandson of=20 Martha

Washington and the adopted son of George Washington. After = Martha’s=20 death

Custis left Mount Vernon and used his inheritance to build = Arlington=20 in

1778. Arlington was set on a hill over looking the Potomac = river=20 and

Washington D.C. (NPS Arlington House). Custis had only one = daughter,=20 Mary

Anna Randolph. Mary had been pampered and petted throughout her = life.=20 Lee’s

Courtship with Mary soon turned serious, before long they were = thinking=20 of

marriage. However, before Robert could propose he was assigned = to=20 Cockspur

Island, Georgia.

Robert returned to Arlington in 1830. He and Mary decided to = get=20 married.

The two were married on June 30, 1831(Nash 248). Shortly there = after=20 the

Lees went to Fort Monroe. Mary was never happy here. She soon = went back=20 to

Arlington. Mary hated army life. She would, for the most part, = stay=20 at

Arlington throughout the rest of Robert’s time in the United = States=20 Army.

The fact that he was separated from his family, and that he was = slow=20 to

move up in rank, left Lee feeling quite depressed a great deal = of the=20 time.

Over the next decade Robert became very frustrated by his = career and=20 life.

Lee’s life had become a mosaic of dull post assignments, long = absences=20 from

family, and slow promotion. Lee began to regard himself as a = failure=20 (Nash

248). Lee was on the verge of resigning from the army all = together,=20 when on

May 13, 1946, word came that the United States had declared war = on=20 Mexico.

The outbreak of war with Mexico provided Lee his first real = chance at=20 field

service. In January of 1847 he was selected by General Winfield = Scott=20 to

serve with other young promising officers. These officers = included:=20 P.G.T.

Beauregard and George McClellan on his personal staff (Connelly = 8).=20 During

the Mexican War Lee won the praise and respect of Scott as well = as=20 many

other young officers that he would serve with and against = later.

As the years passed Mary Lee was left at Arlington. She was = left to=20 manage

her fathers grand estate, plantation really, by herself. Time = had taken=20 its

toll on Mary Lee. She had become an ageing woman, crippled with = arthritis,

and left alone by her career Army officer’s duty assignments=20 elsewhere

(Kelly 39). At the news of his father-in-laws death, Lee was = able to=20 take

official leave and hurry home. Upon his arrival he was shocked = by the=20 state

of his wife’s health. As she herself had written to a friend, = “I=20 almost

dread his seeing my crippled state”(Kelly 39). Lee was able to = extend=20 his

leave indefinitely. He became, in essence, a farmer. He was = still able=20 to

some duties in the army. These usually involved dull service = such as a=20 seat

on a court-martial. However, there was one such duty that = proved to be=20 much

more important. In October of 1859 he was sent to quell John = Brown’s=20 bloody

raid at Harpers Ferry (Grimsley). In the nations capital, = setting=20 just

below Arlington, there were heated debates over states’ rights = union=20 verses

disunion, and slavery. All the salons of Congress and in the = salons=20 and

saloons of the politically charged capital city, there was = debate=20 (Kelly 40).

After three years at home, Lee finally had to return to full = time=20 Army

duty. He was posted in Texas. While Lee was in Texas the = controversy=20 over

states’ rights grew worse. On January 21, 1861 five Southern = Senate=20 members

announced before a packed audience in the Senate galleries that = their

respective states had seceded. With that, each gathered their = things=20 and

departed. Soon Texas seceded too, and Lee was ordered home to=20 Washington,

to report to the Army’s ranking officer, General Winfield = Scott.=20 Lee

arrived at Arlington on March 1st. He now faced a very = momentous=20 personal

decision. After the firing on of Fort Sumpter, the first shots = of the=20 Civil

War, Lee was offered command of the Federal Army by Abraham = Lincoln.=20 Lee

was offered command of an army that was charged with the duty = of=20 invading

the South. A south that included Virginia, a Virginia that Lee = truly=20 loved.

On the morning of April 19th, Lee returned from nearby = Alexandria with=20 news

that Virginia to had seceded. The Lees had their supper = together. Lee=20 then

went, alone, to his upstairs bedroom. Below, Mary listened as = he paced=20 the

floor above, then heard a mild thump as he fell to his knees in = prayer.

Below, she also prayed (Kelly 41).

Hours later he showed her two letters he had written. In one he = resigned

his commission in the United States Army. In the other, he=20 expressed

personal thoughts to General Scott. Later, his wife would = write:=20 “My

husband has wept tears of blood over this terrible war, but as = a man=20 of

honor and a Virginian, he must follow the destiny of his State” = (Kelley=20 41).

Only two days after his resignation from the United States = Army,=20 Lee

travelled to Richmond to accept his commission as a General in = the

Confederate army J. Davis-Papers). Lee’s impact was felt = immediately on=20 the

confederacy. As a seasoned military strategist, he brought the = most

comprehensive, technologically advanced knowledge of warfare to = bear

against his own former army (Nash 257).

General Lee’s first campaign in what was to become West = Virginia was=20 not a

great success. Command of the Eastern Army was divided between = the hero=20 of

Fort Sumpter, P.G.T. Beauragard, and Joseph Johnston who = together won=20 the

first big battle of the East, Bull Run. Thus Joseph Johnston = was in=20 command

when George B. McClellan started his march on Richmond. When = Johnston=20 went

down with wounds it was easy for Davis to replace him with = General Lee.=20 Lee

immediately took charge and attacked, trying to make up for his = numbers

with audacity. He drove the Union army back about 25 miles, but = was=20 unable

to destroy it in a series of continuous battles known as the = Seven=20 Days


In September of 1862, McClellan attacked Lee at the Battle of=20 Antietam.

McClellan attacked Lee but failed to break his lines. Lee, = realising=20 that

he was in a dangerous position and far from his supplies, = retreated=20 and

took up a defensive position behind the Rappangonnock River in=20 northern

Virginia. Here General Ambrose E. Burnside, who succeeded=20 McClellan,

attacked Lee in December at the Battle of Fredricksburg and met = a=20 bloody

repulse. As the year of 1862 closed, Lee had given the = Confederacy=20 its

greatest victories and had become an idol of the Southern = people=20 (Comptons).

Lee’s Greatest victory was the Battle of Chancelorsville in May = of=20 1863.

Lee was faced with a larger army led by fighting Joe Hooker. = Lee and=20 his

most trusted lieutenant, General “Stonewall” Jackson, divided = their=20 forces

and through a forced march around General Hooker fell on his = exposed=20 flank,

rolling it up, and defeating the Union forces yet again = (Brinkley=20 404).

After Chancellorsville, Lee started an offensive movement he = hoped=20 would

win the war, an invasion of Pennsylvania. This led to the = greatest=20 land

battle in the Western Hemisphere, Gettysburg. The Army of = Northern=20 Virginia

led by Lee, and the Army of the Potomac led by General George=20 Meade,

hammered each other for three days. On the 3rd day of battle = General=20 Lee

hoping to end the war ordered the great frontal assault = popularly known=20 as

Pickett’s Charge. The attack was a huge failure (Brinkley 405). = Lee=20 blamed

only himself.

For the next two years, Lee commanded an Army that was poorly = supplied=20 and

getting increasingly smaller. Lee had to go on the defensive. = He=20 inflicted

heavy losses on Grant at the battles of The Wilderness, = Spotsylvania,=20 and

Cold Harbor (Brasington).

By April 9th 1865 Lee had no choice but to surrender to Grant. = Lee=20 met

Grant at Appomatox Courthouse. As Grant walked in the meeting = room,=20 wearing

a dusty privates uniform, he must have been humbled by the man = who rose=20 to

greet him. Lee was wearing a noble grey uniform with a polished = sword=20 at

his side. Grant and Lee then decided on the terms of the = surrender.=20 Lee

asked Grant if his soldiers could keep their horses. Grant = answered,=20 “I

insist upon it.” As Lee rode back to his camp, Confederate = troops

surrounded him saying, “General are we surrendered? They vowed = to go=20 on

fighting (Nash).

After the war many men came to Lee and said: “Let’s not accept = this=20 result

as final. Let’s keep the anger alive.” Lee answered by saying, = “Make=20 your

sons Americans.” When the war was lost Robert E. Lee took a job = as

president of Washington College, a College of forty students = and=20 four

professors. Over his time he had trained thousands of men to be = soldiers,

and had seen many of those thousands killed in battle. Now he = wanted=20 to

prepare forty of them for the duties of peace (Redmond).


Works Citied

Brasington, Larry, The American Revolution-an HTML project.

Http://odur.let.rug.nl~usa/B/relee/htm, 11/23/97.

Brinkley, Alan, American History. New York: McGraw-Hill, = 1995.

Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. Computer Software. = Compton’s=20 NewMedia,


Connelly, Thomas L. The Marble Man. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Davis, Jefffers, The Papers.http://www.ruf = .edu/~pjdavis/lee/htm,=20 11/6/97.

Grimsley, Wayne. “The Differences Deepen.” Starkville, MS, 11 = Nov.=20 1997.

(Class lecture delivered at Mississippi State University.)

Kelly, Brian. Best Little Stories From The Civil War. = Charlottesville,=20 VA:

Montpelier Publishing, 1996.

Nash, Roderick, and Graves, Gregory. From These Beginnings. New = York:

HarperCollins, 1995.

National Park Service. Http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/arl_hse.html.,=20 11/6/97.

Redmond, Louis. He Lost a War and Won Immortality.

Http://www-scf.usc.edu/~herron nva.html, 11/6/97.

Thomas, Emory. Robert E. Lee.

Http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/LEE.lifle.html, = 11/17/97.

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