Robert E. Lee

The idol of the South to this day, Virginian Robert E. Lee
had some difficulty in adjusting to the new form of warfare
that unfolded with the Civil war, but this did not prevent
him from keeping the Union armies in Virginia at bay for
almost three years. The son of Revolutionary War hero
"Light Horse" Harry Lee-who fell into disrepute in his later
years attended West Point and graduated second in his
class. During his four years at the military academy he did
not earn a single demerit and served as the cadet corps'
adjutant. Upon his 1829 graduation he was posted to the
engineers. Before the Mexican War he served on
engineering projects in Georgia, Virginia, and New York.
During the war he served on the staffs of John Wool and
Winfield Scott. Particularly distinguishing himself scouting
for and guiding troops, he won three brevets and was
slightly wounded at Chapultepec.
Following a stint in Baltimore Harbor he became
superintendent of the military academy in 1852. When the
mounted arm was expanded in 1855, Lee accepted the
lieutenant colonelcy of the 2nd Cavalry in order to escape
from the painfully slow promotion in the engineers. Ordered
to western Texas, he served with his regiment until the
1857 death of his father-in-law forced him to ask for a
series of leaves to settle the estate.
In 1859 he was called upon to lead a force of marines, to
join with the militia on the scene, to put an end to John
Brown's Harper's Ferry Raid. Thereafter he served again in
Texas until summoned to Washington in 1861 by Winfield
Scott who tried to retain Lee in the U. S. service. But the
Virginian rejected the command of the Union's field forces
on the day after Virginia seceded. He then accepted an
invitation to visit Governor John Letcher in Virginia. His
resignation as colonel, 1st Cavalry-to which he had recently
been promoted-was accepted on April 25, 1861.
His Southern assignments included: major general,
Virginia's land and naval forces (April 23, 1861);
commanding Virginia forces (April 23 July 1861); brigadier
general, CSA (May 14, 186 1); general, CSA (from June
14, 186 1); commanding Department of Northwestern
Virginia (late July-October 1861); commanding
Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida
(November 8, 186 1-March 3, 1862); and commanding
Army of Northern Virginia June 1, 1862-April 9, 1865).
In charge of Virginia's fledgling military might, he was
mainly involved in organizational matters. As a Confederate
brigadier general, and later full general, he was in charge of
supervising all Southern forces in Virginia. In the first
summer of the war he was given his first field command in
western Virginia. His Cheat Mountain Campaign was a
disappointing fizzle largely due to the failings of his
superiors. His entire tenure in the region was unpleasant,
dealing with the bickering of his subordinates-William W.
Loring, John B. Floyd, and Henry A. Wise. After this he
became known throughout the South as "Granny Lee. " His
debut in field command had not been promising, but
Jefferson Davis appointed him to command along the
Southern Coast.
Early in 1862 he was recalled to Richmond and made an
advisor to the president. From this position he had some
influence over military operations, especially those of
Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. When
Joseph E. Johnston launched his attack at Seven Pines,
Davis and Lee were taken by surprise and rode out to the
field. In the confusion of the fight Johnston was badly
wounded, and that night Davis instructed Lee to take
command of what he renamed the Army of Northern
Virginia. He fought the second day of the battle but the
initiative had already been lost the previous day. Later in
the month, in a daring move, he left a small force in front of
Richmond and crossed the Chickahominy to strike the one
Union corps north of the river. In what was to be called the
Seven Days Battles the individual fights-Beaver Dam
Creek, Gaines' Mill, Savage Station, Glendale, White Oak
Swamp, and Malvern Hill-were all tactical defeats for the
Confederates. But Lee had achieved the strategic goal of
removing McClellan's army from the very gates of
This created a new opinion of Lee in the South. He
gradually became "Uncle Robert" and "Marse Robert."
With McClellan neutralized, a new threat developed under
John Pope in northern Virginia. At first Lee detached
Jackson and then followed with Longstreet's command.
Winning at 2nd Bull Run, he moved on into Maryland but
suffered the misfortune of having a copy of his orders
detailing the disposition of his divided forces fall into the
hands of the enemy. McClellan moved with unusual speed
and Lee was forced to