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Robert E. Lee

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Robert Edward Lee
Robert Edward Lee.jpg
Lee in 1863
Robert Edward Lee

January 19, 1807
Stratford Hall Plantation
Westmoreland County, Virginia
United States
Died October 12, 1870(1870-10-12) (aged 63)
Lexington, Virginia
Resting place Lee Chapel
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, Virginia
Occupation General, Confederate States of America
Spouse(s) Mary Custis
Children 7

Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was a Confederate States of America army general. He led the Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War, and is still considered one of America's greatest generals. He started out as an engineer but then moved up the ranks. Before the Civil War, Lee was an officer in the Mexican-American War. He was also head of West Point, and led the troops that caught John Brown.

Early years

Lee was born at Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on January 19, 1807. His parents were American Revolutionary War General and Governor of Virginia, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, and his second wife, Anne Hill Carter. In 1818, Lee's father died in the West Indies without ever seeing his son again. Robert was raised by his mother in Alexandria, Virginia.

Washington ancestry

Lee and George Washington were both descendants of Augustine Warner, Sr. and his wife, Mary Towneley Warner.[1] Lee was descended through their daughter, Sarah. Washington was descended through their son, Augustine, Jr. Lee and Washington were third cousins, twice removed.[1]


Lee attended Eastern View, a school in Fauquier County, Virginia. He may have attended schools in Shirley, Virginia, and in Alexandria, Virginia. His mother instructed him in the Episcopalian faith.[2] Lee attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, and graduated second in the class of 1829.[3]


Mary Custis Lee and Robert E. Lee, Jr. in 1845

On June 30, 1831, Lee married Mary Custis at Arlington House. She was the granddaughter of George Washington's stepson, John Parke Custis. They made their home at Arlington House. They had seven children.

Middle years

Lee fought in the Mexican–American War with Winfield Scott and became a captain. Scott praised Lee as a good officer. After the war, Lee helped the army build forts.

In 1855, Lee became a lieutenant colonel, and joined a cavalry regiment. He was at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 to capture abolitionist and slave rebellion leader, John Brown.

Civil War

Lee, not like many southern people, did not like secession or even slavery. He had freed the slaves he had inherited. Lee had hard problems trying to decide if he should stay by his state of Virginia and join the Confederacy, or if would he go with the Union. Even though Abraham Lincoln did give Lee the opportunity for the command of all the Union armies, Lee rejected it. He decided he couldn't fight against Virginia.

At first, Lee did not command any soldiers in battle. Instead, he helped Confederate president Jefferson Davis make military decisions. In 1862, he became the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. He would lead the army for the rest of the war. He would win many battles, even though the Union army in the battles had more men. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he tried to invade the Union in order to end the war. But his army was defeated and he had to retreat back into Virginia.

During 1864 and 1865, Lee fought Union general Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia. During the end of 1864 and the beginning of 1865, Lee and Grant fought near Richmond, Virginia in a series of battles called the Siege of Petersburg. In April 1865, Grant forced Lee to retreat from Richmond. After a series of battles, Grant surrounded Lee near Appomattox Courthouse and forced Lee to surrender. Before he surrendered, he said "I would rather die a thousand deaths than surrender".

After the war

In October 1865, Lee became president of Washington College in Virginia. He had a stroke on September 28, 1870 and died on October 12, 1870.

Washington College changed its name to Washington and Lee University in Lee's honor. Lee's birthday is celebrated in several southern states as a holiday.


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Papers of George Washington: Frequently Asked Questions, University of Virginia, 2011,, retrieved June 23 2013
  2. Thomas, p. 34
  3. Thomas, p. 52