October 23, 2006
Significant Achievements of Robert Edward Lee
By: Dr. Frank J. Collazo
Robert Edward Lee
Brilliant Confederate General whose military genius was probably the greatest single factor in keeping the Confederacy alive through the four years of the
American Civil War.
"With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword..." Lee in a letter to his sister, April 20, 1861
Lee was born on January 19, 1807, in Stratford, Virginia, the son of Lighthorse Harry Lee. He was educated at the U.S. Military Academy and graduated second in his class in 1829, receiving a commission as second lieutenant in the engineers. After becoming a first lieutenant in 1836, and captain in 1838, he distinguished himself in the battles of the Mexican War and was wounded in the storming of Chapultepec in 1847. For his meritorious service he received his third brevet promotion in rank. He became superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy and was later appointed colonel of the cavalry. He was in command of the Department of Texas in 1860, and, early the following year was summoned to Washington, D.C. when the War Between the States seemed imminent.
President Abraham Lincoln offered him the field command of the Union forces, but Lee declined. On April 20, three days after Virginia seceded from the Union, he submitted his resignation from the U.S. Army. On April 23 he became commander in chief of the military and naval forces of Virginia. For a year he was military adviser to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and was then placed in command of the army in northern Virginia. In February 1865 Lee was made commander in chief of all Confederate armies; two months later the war was virtually ended by his surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. His great battles included those of Antietam, Chancellors Ville, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. See Civil War, American; see also separate articles on the battles mentioned.
Only the superior resources and troop strength of the Union overcame the masterly strategy of Lee. His campaigns are almost universally studied in military schools as models of strategy and tactics. He had a capacity for anticipating the actions of his opponents and for comprehending their weaknesses. He made skillful use of interior lines of communication and kept a convex front toward the enemy, so that his reinforcements, transfers, and supplies could reach their destination over short, direct routes. His greatest contribution to military practice, however, was his use of field fortifications as aids to maneuvering. He recognized that a small body of soldiers, protected by entrenchments, can hold an enemy force of many times their number, while the main body outflanks the enemy or attacks a smaller force elsewhere. In his application of this principle Lee was years ahead of his time; the tactic was not fully understood or generally adopted until the 20th century.
Lee applied for but was never granted the official postwar amnesty. He accepted the presidency of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, in the fall of 1865; within a few years it had become an outstanding institution. He died there on October 12, 1870. All Americans have long revered Lee as an ideal by southerners and as a hero. His antebellum home is now known as Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, and is a national memorial. In 1975 Lee's citizenship was restored posthumously by an act of the U.S. Congress.
Robert E. Lee Boyhood Home
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President of Washington College
Robert Edward Lee
American soldier, Confederate General in the Civil War
Date Baptized: January 19, 1807
Death: October 12, 1870
Place of Birth: Stratford, Virginia
Known for battling Union forces in the Civil War, utilizing skill in anticipating enemy tactics even though his army was outnumbered.
Encouraging reconciliation and peaceful reunification after the Civil War.
1829 - Graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point
1829-1846 - Served as an engineer in the United States Army
1847 - Served as staff officer in the Mexican War and was involved in victories at Veracruz and Chapultepec Castle.
1852 - Returned to West Point, serving as superintendent until 1855
1859 - Suppressed John Brown's anti-slavery insurrection at Harper's Ferry
1861 - Rejected Lincoln's offer to command Union forces in the Civil War because he was unwilling to fight against his home state of Virginia.
1862 - Repulsed Union forces near Richmond as commander of Virginia forces. Defended Fredericksburg.
1863 - Forced to retreat at Gettysburg.
1865 - Named commander in chief of Confederate Armies. Surrendered at Appomattox Court House, leading to the end of the Civil War.
Lee's father was the Revolutionary War hero Henry Lee, and his wife Mary Custis Lee was a descendent of Martha Washington.
1865-1870 - Lee served as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University).
After the Civil War, Lee's request for amnesty was rejected and his citizenship was not restored until 1975.
Early Life and Career: Robert E. Lee was born at Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the fifth child of Revolutionary War hero Henry Lee ("Lighthorse Harry") and Anne Hill (née Carter) Lee. He entered the United States Military Academy in 1825. When he graduated in 1829, second in his class of 46, not only had he attained the top academic record, but he had no demerits. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.
Engineering Family: L ee served for just over seventeen months at Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, Georgia. In 1831, he was transferred to Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and played a major role in the final construction of Fort Monroe and its opposite, Fort Calhoun. Fort Monroe was completely surrounded by a moat. Fort Calhoun, later renamed Fort Wool, was built on a man-made island across the navigational channel from Old Point Comfort in the middle of the mouth of Hampton Roads. When construction was completed in 1834, Fort Monroe was referred to as the "Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay."
While he was stationed at Fort Monroe, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis (1808–1873), the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, at Arlington House, her parents' home just across from Washington, D.C. They eventually had seven children, three boys and four girls: George Washington Custis, William H. Fitzhugh, Robert Edward, Mary, Annie, Agnes, and Mildred. All the children survived him except for Annie, who died in 1862.
Lee served as an assistant in the chief engineer's office in Washington from 1834 to 1837, but spent the summer of 1835 helping to lay out the state line between Ohio and Michigan. In 1837, he got his first important command. As a first lieutenant of engineers, he supervised the engineering work for St. Louis harbor and for the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. His work there earned him a promotion to captain. In 1841, he was transferred to Fort Hamilton in New York Harbor, where he took charge of building fortifications. There he served as a vestryman at St. John's Episcopal Church, Fort Hamilton.
Lee as Slave Holder: As a member of the Virginia aristocracy, Lee lived in close contact with slavery before he joined the Army, but he never held more than about a half-dozen slaves under his own name. When Lee's father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, died in October 1857, Lee (as executor of the will) came into control over some 63 slaves on the Arlington plantation. Although the will provided for the slaves to be emancipated "in such a manner as to my executors may seem most expedient and proper", providing a maximum of five years for the legal and logistical details of manumission, Lee found himself in need of funds to pay his father-in-law's debts and repair the properties he had inherited. He decided to make money during the five years that the will had allowed him control of the slaves by working them on the plantation and hiring them out to neighboring plantations and to eastern Virginia.
Lee, with no experience as a large-scale slave driver, tried to hire an overseer to handle the plantation in his absence, writing to his cousin: "I wish to get an energetic honest farmer, who while he will be considerate and kind to the negroes, will be firm & make them do their duty." But Lee failed to find a man for the job and had to take a two-year leave of absence from the army in order to drive the slaves himself. He found the experience frustrating and difficult; the slaves were unhappy and demanded their freedom. Many of them had been given to understand that they were to be made free as soon as Custis died.
In May 1858, Lee wrote to his son Rooney that "I have had some trouble with some of the people. Reuben, Parks and Edward, in the beginning of the previous week, rebelled against my authority and refused to obey my orders. They said they were as free as I was, etc., etc. I succeeded in capturing them and lodging them in jail. They resisted till overpowered and called upon the other people to rescue them." Less than two months after they were sent to the Alexandria jail, Lee decided to remove these three men and three female house slaves from Arlington, and send them under lock and key to the slave-trader William Overton Winston in Richmond who was instructed to keep them in jail until he could find "good and responsible" slaveholders to work them until the end of the five year period.
In 1859, three of the Arlington slaves—Wesley Norris, his sister Mary, and a cousin of theirs—fled for the North but were captured a few miles from the Pennsylvania border and forced to return to Arlington. On June 24, 1859, the New York Daily Tribune published two anonymous letters (dated June 19, 1859 and June 21, 1859) each of which claimed to have heard that Lee had the Norrises whipped and went so far as to claim that Lee himself had whipped the woman when the officer refused to. Lee wrote to his son Custis that "The N. Y. Tribune has attacked me for my treatment of your grandfather's slaves, but I shall not reply. He has left me an unpleasant legacy."
Biographers of Lee have differed over the credibility of the Tribune letters. Douglas S. Freeman, in his 1934 biography of Lee, described the letters to the Tribune as "Lee's first experience with the extravagance of irresponsible antislavery agitators" and asserted that "There is no evidence, direct or indirect, that Lee ever had them or any other Negroes flogged. The usage at Arlington and elsewhere in Virginia among people of Lee's station forbade such a thing." Michael Fellman, in The Making of Robert E. Lee (2000), found the claims that Lee had personally whipped Mary Norris "extremely unlikely," but not at all unlikely that Lee had had the slaves whipped: "Corporal punishment (for which Lee substituted the euphemism 'firmness') was an intrinsic and necessary part of slave discipline. Although it was supposed to be applied only in a calm and rational manner, overtly physical domination of slaves, unchecked by law, was always brutal and potentially savage."
Wesley Norris himself discussed the incident after the war in an 1866 interview printed in the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Norris stated that after they had been captured, and forced to return to Arlington, Lee told them that "he would teach us a lesson we would not soon forget." According to Norris, Lee then had the three of them tied to posts and whipped by the county constable, with fifty lashes for the men and twenty for Mary Norris (he made no claim that Lee had personally whipped Mary Norris). Norris claimed that Lee then had the overseer rub their lacerated backs with brine.
After their capture, Lee sent the Norrises to work on the railroad in Richmond, Virginia, and Alabama. Wesley Norris gained his freedom in January 1863 by slipping through the Confederate lines near Richmond to Union-controlled territory. Lee freed all the other Custis slaves after the end of the five year period in the winter of 1862, filing the deed of manumission on December 29, 1862.
Robert Edward Lee as a U.S. Army Colonel before the Civil War
Lee distinguished himself in the Mexican War (1846–1848). He was one of Winfield Scott's chief aides in the march from Veracruz to Mexico City. He was instrumental in several American victories through his personal reconnaissance as a staff officer; he found routes of attack that the Mexicans had not defended because they thought the terrain was impassable.
He was promoted to major after the Battle of Cerro Gordo on 18 April 1847. He also fought at Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec, and was wounded at the latter. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel. After the Mexican War, he spent three years at Fort Carroll in Baltimore harbor, after which he became the superintendent of West Point in 1852. During his three years at West Point, he improved the buildings, the courses, and spent a lot of time with the cadets. Lee's oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, attended West Point during his tenure. Custis Lee graduated in 1854, first in his class.
In 1855, Lee became Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry (under the command of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston) and was sent to the Texas frontier. There he helped protect settlers from attacks by the Apache and the Comanche. These were not happy years for Lee, as he did not like to be away from his family for long periods of time, especially as his wife was becoming increasingly ill. Lee came home to see her as often as he could.
Harper's Ferry and John Brown, 1859: When John Brown seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in October 1859, Lee was given command of detachments of Maryland and Virginia militia, soldiers , and United States Marines, to suppress the uprising and arrest its leaders. By the time Lee arrived later that night, the militia on the site had surrounded Brown and his hostages. When on October 18 Brown refused the demand for surrender, Lee attacked and in three minutes of fighting Brown himself was captured.
When Texas seceded from the Union in February 1861, General David E. Twiggs surrendered all the American forces (about 4000 men, including Lee) to the Texans. Twiggs immediately resigned from the U. S. Army and was made a Confederate general. Lee went back to Washington, where he was offered a senior command of the U.S. Army.
After Ft. Sumter fell on April 14 it was obvious that Virginia would quickly secede and so Lee turned down the offer on April 18, resigned from the U.S. Army on April 20, and took up command of the Virginia state forces on April 23. At the outbreak of war, he was first appointed to command all of Virginia's forces and then as one of the first five full generals of Confederate forces. Lee, however, refused to wear the insignia of a Confederate General stating that, in honor to his rank of Colonel in the United States Army, he would only display the three stars of a Confederate Colonel until the Civil War had been won and Lee could be promoted, in peacetime, to a General in the Confederate Army.
After commanding Confederate forces in western Virginia, and then the coastal defenses along the Carolina seaboard, he became military adviser to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, whom he knew from West Point.
Commander, Army of Northern Virginia: In the spring of 1862, during the Peninsula Campaign, the Union Army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan advanced upon Richmond from Fort Monroe, eventually reaching the eastern edges of the Confederate capital along the Chickahominy River. Following the wounding of General Joseph E. Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines, on June 1, 1862, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia, his first opportunity to lead an army in the field. Newspaper editorials of the day objected to his appointment due to concerns that Lee would not be aggressive and would wait for the Union army to come to him.
He oversaw substantial strengthening of Richmond's defenses during the first three weeks of June and then launched a series of attacks, the Seven Days Battles, against McClellan's forces. Lee's attacks resulted in heavy Confederate casualties, and they were marred by clumsy tactical performances by his subordinates, but his aggressive actions unnerved McClellan, who retreated to a point on the James River where Union naval forces were in control. These successes led to a rapid turn-around of public opinion and the newspaper editorials quickly changed their tune on Lee's aggressiveness.
After McClellan's retreat, Lee defeated another Union army at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He then invaded Maryland, hoping to replenish his supplies and possibly influence the Northern elections that fall in favor of ending the war. McClellan's men recovered a lost order that revealed Lee's plans. McClellan always exaggerated Lee's forces, but now he knew the Confederate army was divided and could be destroyed by an all-out attack at Antietam. Yet McClellan was too slow in moving, not realizing Lee had been informed by a spy that McClellan had the plans. Lee urgently recalled Jackson and in the bloodiest day of the war, Lee withstood the Union assaults. He withdrew his battered army back to Virginia.
McClellan's Failure to Destroy Lee's Army: Disappointed by McClellan's failure to destroy Lee's army, Lincoln named Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside ordered an attack across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg. Delays in getting bridges built across the river allowed Lee's army ample time to organize strong defenses, and the attack on December 12, 1862, was a disaster for the Union. Lincoln then named Joseph Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker's advance to attack Lee in May, 1863, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, was defeated by Lee and Stonewall Jackson's daring plan to divide the army and attack Hooker's flank. It was an enormous victory over a larger force, but it came at a great cost, as Jackson, Lee's best subordinate, was fatally wounded by his own troops.
Battle of Gettysburg: The battle fought July 1 through July 3, 1863 is considered by most military historians to be the turning point in the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg was a decisive engagement in that it arrested the Confederates' second and last major invasion of the North, destroyed their offensive strategy, and forced them to fight a defensive war in which the inadequacies of their manufacturing capacity and transportation facilities doomed them to defeat.
The Army of the Potomac, under the Union general George Gordon Meade, numbered about 85,000; the Confederate army, under General Robert E. Lee, numbered about 75,000. After the Battle of Chancellors Ville on May 2 to 4, an important victory for the Confederates, Lee divided his army into three corps, commanded by three lieutenant generals: James Long street, Richard Stoddert Ewell, and Ambrose Powell Hill. Lee then formulated a plan for invading Pennsylvania, hoping to avert another federal offensive in Virginia and planning to fight if he could get the federal army into a vulnerable position. He also hoped that the invasion might increase Northern war-weariness and lead the North to recognize the independence of the Confederate States of America. In pursuit of this plan, Lee crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains, proceeded up the Shenandoah Valley, and, crossing Maryland, entered Pennsylvania. Upon learning federal troops were north of the Potomac, Lee decided to concentrate his whole army at Gettysburg.
On June 30, confederate troops from General Hill's corps, on their way to Gettysburg, noted federal troops that Meade had moved down to intercept the Confederate army. The battle began on July 1 outside of Gettysburg with an encounter between Hill's advance brigades and the federal cavalry division commanded by Major General John Buford, supported by infantry under Major General John Fulton Reynolds. Hill encountered stubborn resistance, and the fighting was inconclusive until Ewell arrived from the north in the afternoon. The Confederates pushed against General Oliver Howard's corps and forced the federal troops to retire from their forward positions to Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge, southeast of Gettysburg. The fighting had been heavy on both sides, but the Union troops suffered more losses. The Confederates took prisoner more than 4000 men, and Federal General John Reynolds was killed in battle.
The federals did manage to capture Confederate General Archer, the first Confederate officer to be taken prisoner after Lee assumed command of the Confederate Army. The corps led by Ewell did not move in to attack the Union troops but waited for General Long street to bring in his corps to reinforce the outnumbered Confederate troops.
On the following day, July 2, Meade formed his forces in the shape of a horseshoe, extending westward from Culp's Hill and southward along Cemetery Ridge to the hills of Little Round Top and Round Top. The Confederates, on the other hand, were deployed in a long, thin, concave line, with Long street and Ewell on the flanks and Hill in the center.
Lee, against the advice of Long Street and despite the fact that he had no cavalry, resolved to attack the federal positions. Long Street was unable to advance until late afternoon, thus allowing the federal troops to make preparations for the expected assault. General Abner Doubleday of the Federal Army strengthened his hold on Cemetery Hill. The federals held Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top, but Long street moved Confederate troops along Peach Orchard, driving the federals from their positions there. Although Ewell won part of Culp's Hill, he was unable to break the federal line there or on the eastern part of Cemetery Ridge.
On the night of July 2, Meade held a council of war in which the decision was made not to retreat. On the third day of battle, the federals were secure in their positions and the Confederates had lost their offensive stance. General Lee decided to mount an attack despite opposition from other Confederate generals. The offensive did not begin until after noon. Groups from three Confederate divisions, including the division led by Major General George E. Pickett, totaling fewer than 15,000 men, took part in a memorable charge on Cemetery Ridge against a withering barrage of federal artillery and musket fire. The attack is known as Pickett's Charge. Although the Confederate troops breached Meade's first line of defense, the strain on the Confederates proved too great, and they fell back, having lost over three-fourths of their force.
With the repulse of Pickett's Charge, the Battle of Gettysburg was virtually over. On the night of July 4, Lee began his retreat to Virginia, expecting a counterattack from the federal army. Meade, however, did not attack, due perhaps to heavy rains, which hampered pursuit of the retreating Confederates. During the three days of battle, the Union Army had about 23,000 casualties, and the Confederates had at least 25,000.
Seven Day Battles and other Combat Operations: Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was a career U.S. Army officer and the most successful general of the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Lee at first opposed the Confederacy and nearly accepted a major Union command, but when his home state of Virginia seceded he chose to join with his family and neighbors and fight for Virginia. His first major command came in June 1862 when he took over the Confederacy's premier combat force, the Army of Northern Virginia, with responsibility for defending Richmond.
Lee's greatest victories were in the Seven Days Battles and at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, but he suffered reverses in his two invasions of the North. Narrowly escaping defeat at the Antietam in 1862, Lee was forced to return to Virginia. At the Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in 1863, he was decisively defeated and nearly captured. During the war of attrition against Ulysses S. Grant in the Overland Campaign of 1864 and the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65, Lee inflicted massive casualties on a foe superior in terms of men and matériel but was unable to replace his losses and his army crumbled away.
Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April 1865 marks the end of the war. His victories against numerically superior forces won him enduring fame as an astute and audacious battlefield tactician, but his strategic decisions--such as invading the North and neglecting the Mississippi Valley, have generally been criticized by military historians.
In 1865, as manpower reserves drained away, Lee promoted a plan to arm slaves to fight for the Confederacy (and free them); the first black Confederate combat units were in training as the war ended, though one unit is known to have fought during the retreat from Richmond in April 1865. He blocked dissenters from starting a guerrilla campaign to continue the war after his surrender at Appomattox.
After the war, as a college president, Lee supported President Andrew Johnson's program of Reconstruction and inter-sectional friendship, while opposing the Radical Republican proposals to give newly freed slaves the vote and take the vote away from ex-Confederates. He urged reconciliation between the North and South, and the reintegration of former Confederates into the nation's political life. Lee became the great Southern hero of the war, and his popularity grew in the North as well after 1880. He remains an iconic figure of American history to this day.
Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Offensive: In 1864, the new Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant sought to destroy Lee's army by attrition, pinning Lee against his capital of Richmond. Lee stopped each attack, but Grant had superior reinforcements and kept pushing each time a bit farther to the southeast. These battles in the Overland Campaign included the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor. Grant eventually fooled Lee by stealthily moving his army across the James River. After stopping a Union attempt to capture Petersburg, Virginia, a vital railroad link supplying Richmond, Lee's men built elaborate trenches and were besieged in Petersburg. He attempted to break the stalemate by sending Jubal A. Early on a raid through the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C., but Early was defeated by the superior forces of Philip Sheridan.
The Siege of Petersburg lasted from June 1864 until April 1865, with Lee's heavily outnumbered army shrinking daily because of desertions by disheartened Confederates.
Lee with son Custis (left) and Walter H. Taylor (right).
As the South ran out of manpower the issue of arming the slaves became paramount. By late 1864 the Army so dominated the Confederacy that civilian leaders were unable to block the military's proposal, strongly endorsed by Lee, to arm and train slaves in Confederate uniform for combat. Everyone understood that those slave soldiers and their families would be emancipated. Lee explained, "We should employ them without delay....[along with] gradual and general emancipation."
The first units were in training as the war ended. As the Confederate army was decimated by casualties, disease and desertion, the Union attack on Petersburg succeeded on April 2, 1865. Lee abandoned Richmond and retreated west. His forces were surrounded, and he surrendered them to Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Other Confederate armies followed suit and the war ended.
Lee resisted calls by some officers to reject surrender and allow small units to melt away into the mountains, setting up a lengthy guerrilla war. He insisted the war was over and energetically campaigned for inter-sectional reconciliation. "So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South."
Honor and National Reconciliation: Some of the evidence cited in favor of the claim that Lee opposed slavery are the manumission of Custis's slaves, as discussed above, and his support towards the end of the war for enrolling slaves in the Confederate States Army with manumission offered as an eventual reward for good service. Lee gave his public support to this idea two weeks before Appomattox, too late for it to do any good for the Confederacy.
Another source is Lee's 1856 letter to his wife, which can be interpreted in multiple ways:
Freeman's analysis puts Lee's attitude toward slavery and abolition in historical context:
General Lee's Surrender: Before parting, Lee asked Grant to notify Meade of the surrender, fearing that fighting might break out on that front and lives be uselessly lost. This request was complied with, and two Union officers were sent through the enemy's lines as the shortest route to Meade. Some of Lee's officers accompanied them to prevent their being interfered with. A little before four o'clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step, and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond, where his army lay—now an army of prisoners.
Lee was six feet and one inch in height, and erect for one of his age, for he was Grant's senior by sixteen years.
Personal Greetings: Grant began the conversation by saying: "I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico when you came over from General Scott's headquarters to visit Garland's brigade, to which I then belonged. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere." "Yes" replied General Lee, "I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature." After some further mention of Mexico, General Lee said: "I suppose, General Grant, that the object of our present meeting is fully understood. I asked to see you to ascertain upon what terms you would receive the surrender of my army." General Grant replied: "The terms I propose are those stated substantially in my letter of yesterday; that is, the officers and men surrendered to be paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition, and supplies to be delivered up as captured property." Lee nodded an assent, and said: "Those are about the conditions which I expected would be proposed." General Grant then continued: "Yes; I think our correspondence indicated pretty clearly the action that would be taken at our meeting, and I hope it may lead to a general suspension of hostilities, and be the means of preventing any further loss of life."
Conversation Between General Grant and General Lee: Lee inclined his head as indicating his accord with this wish, and General Grant then went on to talk at some length in a very pleasant vein about the prospects of peace. Lee was evidently anxious to proceed to the formal work of the surrender, and he brought the subject up again by saying: "I presume, General Grant, we have both carefully considered the proper steps to be taken, and I would suggest that you commit to writing the terms you have proposed, so that they may be formally acted upon."
"Very well," replied Grant; "I will write them out." And calling for his manifold order book, he opened it, laid it on a small oval wooden table, which Colonel Parker brought to him from the rear of the room, and proceeded to write the terms. The leaves had been so prepared that three impressions of the writing were made. He wrote very rapidly, and did not pause until he had finished the sentence ending with "officers appointed by me to receive them." Then he looked toward Lee, and his eyes seemed to be resting on the handsome sword that hung at that officer's side.
He said afterward that this set him to thinking that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to require the officers to surrender their swords, and a great hardship to deprive them of their personal baggage and horses; and after a short pause he wrote the sentence: "This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage."
General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. His incisive, readable account of the events of that day was included in a memoir entitled Campaigning with Grant, published in 1897.
The following is a summary of the Surrender:
Appomattox Court-house, Va., April 9, 1865.
General R. E. Lee, Commanding C. S. A.
“ In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly [exchanged], and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside”.
U. S. Grant,
General Grant's Staff Officers Known by General Lee at West Point: While the letters were being copied, General Grant introduced the general officers who had entered, and each member of the staff, to General Lee. The general shook hands with General Seth Williams, who had been his adjutant when Lee was superintendent at West Point some years before the war, and gave his hand to some of the other officers who had extended theirs; but to most of those who were introduced he merely bowed in a dignified and formal manner. He did not exhibit the slightest change of features during this ceremony until Colonel Parker of our staff was presented to him. Parker being a full-blooded Indian, when Lee saw his swarthy features he looked at him with evident surprise, and his eyes rested on him for several seconds. What was passing in his mind no one knew, but the natural surmise was that he at first mistook Parker for a Negro, and was struck with astonishment to find that the commander of the Union armies had one of that race on his personal staff.
General Grant Releasing Confederate Prisoners: "I have a thousand or more of your men as prisoners, General Grant, a number of them officers, whom we have required to march along with us for several days. I shall be glad to send them into your lines as soon as it can be arranged, for I have no provisions for them. I have, indeed, nothing for my own men. They have been living for the last few days principally upon parched corn, and we are badly in need of both rations and forage. I telegraphed to Lynchburg, directing several train-loads of rations to be sent on by rail from there, and when they arrive I should be glad to have the present wants of my men supplied from them."
Departure: Before parting Lee asked Grant to notify Meade of the surrender, fearing that fighting might break out on that front, and lives are uselessly lost. This request was complied with, and two Union officers were sent through the enemy's lines as the shortest route to Meade, some of Lee's officers accompanying them to prevent their being interfered with. A little before four o'clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step, and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond, where his army lay—now an army of prisoners.
One of the last known images of Lee, post-Civil War.
Courts Ruled on the Arlington Estate: Before the Civil War, Lee and his wife had lived at his wife's family home, the Custis-Lee Mansion on Arlington Plantation. The plantation had been seized by Union forces during the war, and became part of Arlington National Cemetery. Immediately following the war, Lee spent two months in a rented house in Richmond, and then escaped the unwelcome city life by moving into the overseer's house of a friend's plantation near Cartersville. (After Lee's death, courts ruled that the Arlington estate had been illegally seized, and that it should be returned to Lee's son.)
While living in the country, Lee wrote his son that he hoped to retire to a farm of his own, but a few weeks later he received an offer to serve as the president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia. Lee accepted and remained president of the College from October 2, 1865 until his death. Over five years, he transformed Washington College from a small, undistinguished school into one of the first American colleges to offer courses in business, journalism, and Spanish.
He also imposed a sweeping and breathtakingly simple concept of honor — "We have but one rule, and it is that every student is a gentleman" — that endures today at Washington and Lee and at a few other schools that continue to maintain "honor systems." Importantly, Lee focused the college on attracting male students from the North as well as the South. It was during this time that the Kappa Alpha Order, a national collegiate fraternity, was started at Washington College. Years later, Kappa Alpha Order would designate Lee as their "Spiritual Founder" providing a model of character for all members to model themselves after. The college, like most in the United States at the time, remained racially segregated. After John Chavis, admitted in 1795, Washington (or Washington and Lee) would not admit a second black student until 1966.
Postwar Politics: Lee, who had opposed secession and remained mostly indifferent to politics before the Civil War, supported President Andrew Johnson's plan of Presidential Reconstruction that took effect in 1865-66. However he opposed the Radical Republican program that took effect in 1867. In February 1866, he was called to testify before the Joint Congressional Committee on Reconstruction in Washington, where he expressed support for President Andrew Johnson's plans for quick restoration of the former Confederate states, and argued that restoration should return, as far as possible, the status quo ante in the Southern states' governments (with the exception of slavery).
Lee said, "every one with whom I associate expresses kind feelings towards the freedmen. They wish to see them get on in the world, and particularly to take up some occupation for a living, and to turn their hands to some work." Lee also expressed his "willingness that blacks should be educated, and ... that it would be better for the blacks and for the whites." At a time in early 1866 when most northerners opposed black suffrage, Lee warned that granting suffrage would be unpopular. "My own opinion is that, at this time, they [black Southerners] cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the [vote] would lead to a great deal of demagogism, and lead to embarrassments in various ways."
In an interview in May 1866, Lee said, "The Radical party is likely to do a great deal of harm, for we wish now for good feeling to grow up between North and South, and the President, Mr. Johnson, has been doing much to strengthen the feeling in favor of the Union among us. The relations between the Negroes and the whites were friendly formerly, and would remain so if legislation be not passed in favor of the blacks, in a way that will only do them harm."
In 1868, Lee's ally Alexander H. H. Stuart drafted a public letter of endorsement for the Democratic Party's presidential campaign, in which Horatio Seymour ran against Lee's old foe Republican Ulysses S. Grant. Lee signed it along with thirty-one other ex-Confederates. The Democratic campaign, eager to publicize the endorsement, published the statement widely in newspapers. Their letter claimed paternalistic concern for the welfare of freed Southern blacks, stating that "The idea that the Southern people are hostile to the negroes and would oppress them, if it were in their power to do so, is entirely unfounded. They have grown up in our midst, and we have been accustomed from childhood to look upon them with kindness."
However, it also called for the restoration of white political rule, arguing that "It is true that the people of the South, in common with a large majority of the people of the North and West, are, for obvious reasons, inflexibly opposed to any system of laws that would place the political power of the country in the hands of the negro race. But this opposition springs from no feeling of enmity but from a deep-seated conviction that, at present, the negroes have neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power."
In his public statements and private correspondence, however, Lee argued that a tone of reconciliation and patience would further the interests of white Southerners better than hotheaded antagonism to federal authority or the use of violence. He repeatedly expelled white students from Washington College for violent attacks on local black men, and publicly urged obedience to the authorities and respect for law and order. In 1869-70 he was a leader in successful efforts to establish state-funded schools for blacks.
He privately chastised fellow ex-Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and Jubal Early for their frequent, angry responses to perceived Northern insults, writing in private to them as he had written to a magazine editor in 1865, that "It should be the object of all to avoid controversy, to allay passion, give full scope to reason and to every kindly feeling. By doing this and encouraging our citizens to engage in the duties of life with all their heart and mind, with a determination not to be turned aside by thoughts of the past and fears of the future, our country will not only be restored in material prosperity, but will be advanced in science, in virtue and in religion."
Lee’s Amnesty: Lee applied for, but was never granted, the postwar amnesty offered to former Confederates who swore to renew their allegiance to the United States. After filling out the application form, it was delivered to the desk of Secretary of State William H. Seward, who, assuming that the matter had been dealt with by someone else and that this was just a personal copy, filed it away until it was found decades later in his desk drawer. Lee took the lack of response to mean that the government wished to retain the right to prosecute him in the future.
Lee's example of applying for amnesty encouraged many other former members of the Confederacy's armed forces to accept restored U.S. citizenship. In 1975, President Gerald Ford granted a posthumous pardon and the U.S. Congress restored his citizenship following the discovery of his oath of allegiance by an employee of the National Archives in 1970.
Burial Monument of Robert E. Lee in Lee Chapel in Lexington, Va., Edward Valentine, sculptor.
Lee’s Cause of Death: On Wednesday, September 28, 1870, Lee suffered a stroke that made speech impossible. Lee died from the effects of pneumonia a little after 9 a.m. on October 12, 1870, two weeks after the stroke in Lexington, Virginia. He was buried underneath Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University, where his body remains today. According to J. William Jones' Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee, his last words on the day of his death were "Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent."
Legacy: Among white Southerners, Lee came to be even more revered after his surrender than he had been during the war when Stonewall Jackson had been the great Confederate hero. Admirers pointed to his character and devotion to duty, not to mention his brilliant tactical successes in battle after battle against a stronger foe. Military historians continue to pay attention to his battlefield maneuvering, though many think he could have proposed better strategic plans for the Confederacy. His reputation continued to build, and by 1900 his cult had spread into the North, signaling a national apotheosis.
Praise by Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill: Theodore Roosevelt characterized Lee this way: "The very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth." Lee is also venerated in Europe as evidenced by this tribute by Winston Churchill: "One of the noblest Americans who ever lived."
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