Lieutenant Robert E. Lee , age 31 in 1838
The Baltimore Sun, Monday, January 20, 1908, Page Four, Courtesy of Genealogy Bank
Robert E. Lee
Today the South and Southern people generally are celebrating the birthday of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Yesterday, the 19th of January, was the anniversary, but because it occurred on Sunday most of the celebrations were deferred until today.
Lee’s birthplace, Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia
Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia January 19, 1807. He was a man of vigorous constitution and great physical strength. But the hardships and exposure in the years of the Civil War destroyed his health, and he died at the age of 63 years and 9 months. His death occurred on October 12, 1870. He had entered the great war a man in the full vigor of health and with the promise of many years of life. During the exposures and hardships of the continuous campaigns, which he shared with his ill fed, ill clothed and almost shelterless men, he contracted rheumatism, which gave him a great pain in the region of the heart. In the war his hair turned white, and when surrender came he was an old man. The quiet of Lexington which succeeded the storm of battle lasted but five years. On September 28, 1870, after the day’s work was done, he stood at the head of his table to ask a blessing on the evening meal, as was his custom, but he could not utter a word and sank speechless into his chair.
Two weeks later -
He gave his honors to the world again.
His blessed part to Heaven and slept in peace.
Lee’s Death Mask
It is singular that in his last words, as he sank to rest, he mentioned Hill (Confederate General Ambrose Powell Hill, Jr.), just as his great lieutenant, Jackson, did in his delirium. Lee’s last words were: “Tell Hill he must come up” “Thus died.” wrote Dr. R.M. Johnston, lecturer of history at Harvard University, “this great soldier and great man, one of the greatest produced by his race, an honor to Virginia, an honor to the United States of which he was born and of which he died a citizen, and an honor to the Anglo-Saxon people.”
Robert E. Lee around age 43, when he was a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineers, Circa 1850
Lee had distinguished himself in Mexico, where he held the rank of captain in the regular army and the discerning eye of his commander in chief had discovered his military genius. After that General Scott predicted that if opportunity should offer Lee would prove himself one of the great captains of history. When the Civil War began the command of the armies of the United States was offered to him, but he could not wage war on Virginia, his mother State and his own people. He did not delude himself. He knew what he was refusing. He knew that in a war with the vast resources and the overwhelming strength of the North the cause of the South was well-nigh hopeless. But that did not cause him to hesitate. What did make it difficult for him to resign his commission in the United States Army was his love of the Union and the old flag under which he had fought. But he left all reward, all hope of victory and went where he believed honor and duty called him.
Before Lee was placed in command of the Confederate Army he had gone into Western Virginia and had failed to do the spectacular things that the Southern people expected and he had returned to face the criticisms of the newspapers and the idea arose that he would not be an aggressive commander. Apparently the people had forgotten his career in Mexico. But President Davis was educated as a soldier and was not deceived as to Lee’s capacity or quality.
General Edward Porter Alexander, between 1862-1864
Gen. E.P. Alexander, Lee’s chief of artillery at Gettysburg, in his “Military Memoirs of a Confederate,” says that about the time Lee took command Col. Joseph C. Ives, of President Davis’ staff, a native of New York and a graduate of West Point in the class of 1852, referring to the newspaper attacks on Lee, asked if he thought they would impair the confidence of the army in their new commander. “I had seen no such effect.” General Alexander replied, “and told him so, and then went on to say: ‘Ives, tell me this. We are here fortifying our lines, but apparently leaving the enemy all the time he needs to accumulate his superior forces and then to move on us in the way he things best. Has General Lee the audacity that is going to be required for our inferior force to meet the enemy’s superior force – to take the aggressive, and to run risks and to stand chances?’ Ives’ reply was so impressive both in manner and matter, that it has always been remembered as vividly as if today. He reined up his horse, stopped in the road and, turning to me, said, ‘Alexander, if there is one man in either army, Confederate or Federal, head and shoulders above every other in audacity, it is General Lee. His name might be Audacity. He will take more desperate chances and take them quicker than any other general in this country, North or South, and you will live to see it too.’ It is needless to say,” General Alexander added, “that I did live to see it many times over.”
The name of Lee is always associated with that of Washington in the minds and hearts of the people. The two men were much alike in many respects. Both were men of high ideals, exalted character and disinterested patriotism. Washington commanded the gratitude and the reverence of the people. Lee was both revered and loved by his people. If the cause which Washington led had failed as that which Lee led failed, would Washington as an unsuccessful general hold as high a place in history as Lee now occupies?
Dr. Johnston, in the sentence quoted above, declares that Lee was an honor to the United States. Washington was a Virginian as Lee was, but he belongs to the United States. There has never been any feeling of bitterness against Lee in the North, and the time may come when the suggestion of Charles Francis Adams will be adopted and the United States erect a monument to Lee at the national capital looking across the river to Arlington.
General Robert E. Lee & Traveller, his famous war horse in September 1866
Interesting facts about Robert E. Lee:
* His middle name was Edward
* Lee’s father was Revolutionary War officer & Virginia Governor, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee.
* In the summer of 1825, Lee entered West Point Military Academy and graduated second in his class in 1829. During his four years at college, he never received any demerits.
* Lee was commissioned a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers in June 1829. He served in the United States Army for 32 years.
* Lee married his third cousin, Mary Anna Custis at her parents’ home, Arlington House, on June 30, 1831. Mary was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington by her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis and the step-great granddaughter of President George Washington.
Mary Custis Lee & son, Robert E. Lee, Jr. in 1845 (I thought Jr. was a girl until I read the description!)
* The Lees’ had seven children, three boys and four girls: George Washington Custis Lee (1832-1913), Mary Custis Lee (1835-1918), William Henry Fitzhugh Lee (1837-1891), Anne Carter Lee (1839-1862), Eleanor Agnes Lee (1841-1873), Robert Edward Lee, Jr. (1843-1914) and Mildred Childe Lee (1846-1905).
*Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met and worked together for the first time during the Mexican-American war (1846-1848).
* From 1852-1855, Lee was the Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point.
* In March & April of 1861, Lee refused initial offers from both Union & CSA to serve in command positions. When Virginia seceeded from the Union in April of 1861, Lee resigned from the Army to defend his home state. Previously Lee had been asked by one of his lieutenants if he would fight for the Confederacy or the Union and this was his response: “I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty.”
*After the war, Lee lost his citizenship and the right to vote as well as some property. President Andrew Johnson issued a Proclamation of Amnesty & Pardon on May 29, 1865. Lee sent his application to Grant and wrote to the President in June 1865. He signed the Amnesty Oath in October 1865. However, Lee’s U.S. citizenship wasn’t restored and he wasn’t pardoned. His application was given away as a souvenir and the oath misplaced at the State Department. In 1970, more than one hundred years later Lee’s oath was found at the National Archives with State Department records. President Gerald Ford posthumously officially reinstated Lee as a U.S. citizen in 1975.
* Lee served as President of Washington College (now Washington & Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia from October 2, 1865 until his death on October 12, 1870.
Until recently, I have only seen photos of General Lee from the Civil War era. It was a surprise to find the painting of him from 1838; he was a handsome young man.