Lee, Robert E(dward)

Lee, Robert E(dward)

biographical name


Robert E. Lee, 1865.—Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

(born Jan. 19, 1807, Stratford, Westmoreland county, Va., U.S.—died Oct. 12, 1870, Lexington, Va.) U.S. and Confederate military leader. He was the son of Henry Lee. After graduating from West Point, he served in the engineering corps and in the Mexican War under Winfield Scott. He transferred to the cavalry in 1855 and commanded frontier forces in Texas (1856–57). In 1859 he led U.S. troops against the slave insurrection attempted by John Brown at Harpers Ferry. In 1861 he was offered command of a new army being formed to force the seceded Southern states back into the Union. Though opposed to secession, he refused. After his home state of Virginia seceded, he became commander of Virginia's forces in the American Civil War and adviser to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. Taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia (1862) after Joseph Johnston was wounded, Lee repulsed the Union forces in the Seven Days' Battles. He won victories at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. His attempts to draw Union forces out of Virginia by invading the North resulted in failures at Antietam and Gettysburg. In 1864–65 he conducted defensive campaigns against Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant that caused heavy Union casualties. Lee ended his retreat behind fortifications built at Petersburg and Richmond (see Petersburg Campaign). By April 1865 dwindling forces and supplies forced Lee, now general of all Confederate armies, to surrender at Appomattox Court House. After several months of recuperation, he accepted the post of president of Washington College (later Washington and Lee University), where he served until his death.

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