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As battlefield generals go, he could be extremely fiery, and could go out of his way to be kind. But in even the most sympathetic versions of his life story he comes across as a bit of a stick—certainly compared with his scruffy nemesis, Ulysses S. For these men, the Civil War was just the ticket. Lee, however, has come down in history as too fine for the bloodbath of To efface the squalor and horror of the war, we have the image of Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, and we have the image of Robert E.

Henry, the scion who was to become known in the Revolutionary War as Light-Horse Harry, was born in Washington became his patron and close friend. With the war nearly over, however, Harry decided he was underappreciated, so he impulsively resigned from the army. In , he was elected to the Continental Congress, and in he was elected governor of Virginia. In Washington put him in command of the troops that bloodlessly put down the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. In he was elected to the U. He and his second wife, Ann Hill Carter Lee, and their children departed the Lee ancestral home, where Robert was born, for a smaller rented house in Alexandria.

Under the conditions of bankruptcy that obtained in those days, Harry was still liable for his debts. He jumped a personal appearance bail—to the dismay of his brother, Edmund, who had posted a sizable bond—and wangled passage, with pitying help from President James Monroe, to the West Indies. In , after five years away, Harry headed home to die, but got only as far as Cumberland Island, Georgia, where he was buried. Robert was Robert appears to have been too fine for his childhood, for his education, for his profession, for his marriage, and for the Confederacy.

Not according to him. According to him, he was not fine enough. When he was superintendent of the U. Military Academy, Lee acquiesced to Mrs. By what can we know of him?

Civil War Biography: General Robert E. Lee

The works of a general are battles, campaigns and usually memoirs. And he wrote no memoir. He wrote personal letters—a discordant mix of flirtation, joshing, lyrical touches, and stern religious adjuration—and he wrote official dispatches that are so impersonal and generally unselfserving as to seem above the fray. During the postbellum century, when Americans North and South decided to embrace R. Lee as a national as well as a Southern hero, he was generally described as antislavery. This assumption rests not on any public position he took but on a passage in an letter to his wife.

A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee

It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. He was not one to hide his looks under a bushel. His heart, on the other hand. Perhaps it broke many years before the war. He only wanted a Virginia farm—no end of cream and fresh butter—and fried chicken. Not one fried chicken or two—but unlimited fried chicken. One thing that clearly drove him was devotion to his home state. But if she secedes though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution , then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.

The North took secession as an act of aggression, to be countered accordingly. When Lincoln called on the loyal states for troops to invade the South, Southerners could see the issue as defense not of slavery but of homeland. A Virginia convention that had voted 2 to 1 against secession, now voted 2 to 1 in favor.

Army commission he had held for 32 years. The days of July , , still stand among the most horrific and formative in American history. Lincoln had given up on Joe Hooker, put Maj. George G. Lee had actually advanced farther north than the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when he learned that Meade was south of him, threatening his supply lines.

So Lee swung back in that direction.

Robert E. Lee

On June 30 a Confederate brigade, pursuing the report that there were shoes to be had in Gettysburg, ran into Federal cavalry west of town, and withdrew. It was almost a rout, until Maj. Howard, to whom Lee as West Point superintendent had been kind when Howard was an unpopular cadet, and Maj. Winfield Scott Hancock rallied the Federals and held the high ground. Excellent ground to defend from. That evening Lt. James Longstreet, who commanded the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, urged Lee not to attack, but to swing around to the south, get between Meade and Washington, and find a strategically even better defensive position, against which the Federals might feel obliged to mount one of those frontal assaults that virtually always lost in this war.

Still not having heard from Stuart, Lee felt he might have numerical superiority for once. The next morning, Lee set in motion a two-part offensive: Lt. Yet despite foiling several attempts to seize the Confederate capital, Lee recognized that the key to ultimate success was a victory on Northern soil. The masterful victory at Chancellorsville gave Lee great confidence in his army, and the Rebel chief was inspired once again to take the fight to enemy soil.

For three days Lee assailed the Federal army under George G. Meade in what would become the most famous battle of the entire war. George E. Grant assumed command of the Federal armies.

The Life of Robert E. Lee | American Experience | Official Site | PBS

Lee returned home on parole and eventually became the president of Washington College in Virginia now known as Washington and Lee University. He remained in this position until his death on October 12, in Lexington, Virginia. Show your pride in battlefield preservation by shopping in our store. Every purchase supports the mission.

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