LEE, ROBERT E.
Without doubt, Lee is one of the best known and loved figures in American history. His fame rests on his achievements as Confederate commander in the face of overwhelming odds, and on his exemplary personal character. In contrast to Lincoln, who was a self-made man, Lee came from one of Virginia's leading families, and one of the most distinguished in the United States. A Lee ancestor had served as royal governor of the colony; Lee was related to the distinguished Revolutionary statesmen and soldiers Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee, and his own father, Henry ("Light-Horse Harry"), was a brilliant Revolutionary cavalry commander. Trained as an engineer at West Point, he provided valuable service to American forces during the Mexican War as evidenced by General Winfield Scott's assertion in official reports that his "success in Mexico was largely due to the skill, valor, and undaunted courage of Robert E. Lee .. the greatest military genius in America." After the Mexican War, Lee had a variety of assignments, among them: superintendent of West Point (1852-55). When the Civil War broke out, Lee was offered command of the Union armies, but declined, choosing instead to follow his state out of the Union. He was appointed full general in May 1861 and, in the Fall, sent to take charge of fortifying the coast of South Carolina. Back in Virginia by early 1862, he helped draw up plans for Confederate forces in that state. When General Joseph Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks in May 1862, Lee was appointed commander of Johnston's army, the Army of Northern Virginia, a position he held for the remainder of the War. He defeated McClellan in the Seven Days' Battle (June/July 1862), Pope at second Manassas (August 1862), Burnside at Fredericksburg (Dec. 1862), Hooker at Chancellorsville (May 1863). His first campaign northward was checked at the battle of Antietam, MD (September 1862), as was his second campaign northward, at the disastrous battle at Gettysburg (July 1863). Beginning in Spring 1864, Lee's tired and hungry troops were badly bloodied and defeated by Grant in a long series of fierce battles called the Wilderness, and many of Lee's troops were tied down defending Richmond and its immediate surroundings (May 1864-April 1865). Lee was appointed general-in-chief of the Confederate forces in February 1865, just two months before his surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House in April 1865 ended the War. After the War, Lee spent his last years as president of the tiny Washington College in Lexington, VA, and was singularly responsible for raising the quality of instruction and scholarship at the school.