Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee

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Richard Henry Lee was one of the leading lights of the Revolutionary generation and played important roles at almost every stage of America’s drive for independence. He was born at Stratford in Westmoreland County, Virginia and received his education at Wakefield in Yorkshire, England. As a young man at the beginning of the French and Indian War, he raised a militia unit, but — perhaps fortuitously for him — his services were rejected by Edward Braddock.

Lee entered public service as a justice of the peace in Virginia and was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1758. His maiden speech in the legislature called for an end to the slave trade, which marked him then as a member of the radical element in that body. Lee cemented his reputation for challenging the status quo during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Working with his brothers Arthur, Francis, and William, all of whom made significant political contributions, Lee gathered support for the Westmoreland Resolves. This was a statement from more than 100 prominent citizens who threatened action against anyone who decided to cooperate with the stamp tax. Lee worked closely with colleagues Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry in forming the Virginia committee of correspondence.

Lee was a tall and imposing figure with an aristocratic bearing. He was widely recognized as one of the outstanding orators of his day. He dramatically marked the cadence of his speeches with gestures of a hand wrapped in black silk that had been mangled in a hunting accident.

In 1774, Lee was named a delegate to the First Continental Congress, where he was a leader in the imposition of Nonimportation Agreements against British goods. He also played a pivotal role in the selection of George Washington as commander in chief, skillfully winning support for the Southerner from the prickly New England cousins John Adams and Samuel Adams.

Lee is probably best remembered for his resolution in the Second Continental Congress that, in part, proposed:

That these united Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance from the British crown, and that all political connection between America and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved....

This resolution was adopted by the Congress and crafted by Jefferson into the Declaration of Independence.

Lee was troubled by ill health, but managed several terms in the Virginia House of Delegates. He returned to Congress in 1784 following the end of the War of Independence. Lee was an outspoken advocate of Anti-Federalist opposition to ratification of the Constitution, fearing that the states were being asked to surrender too much power. He graciously accepted his defeat on that issue and agreed to served as one of Virginia’s first senators (1789-92) under the new government. He used that position to support ratification of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution (text), and worked with special dedication for the adoption of Amendment X.

See Constitution (narrative).

A Biography of Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794)

Richard Henry Lee had the advantage in life of living during one of the most crucial times in American History. Allowing him to take part in one of the greatest events the world has witnessed, the pregnancy, birth, and childhood of the United States of America. Striving against the British Crown with such men as Patrick Henry, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, his influence has a lasting effect on the outcome of American History.

Richard's career began, like most begin, by his birth into the famed, old family of Virginia, the Lee family. Richard was born on the 20th of January 1732, at his family's plantation, near Stratford, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was the oldest of four boys, Francis Lightfoot Lee, William Lee, and Arthur Lee. He was educated early on in life by private tutoring at his family home in Virginia. Having reached the latter years of his education, his family sent him off to England to complete his studies. Finally on completing his education he returned home, from England, in 1752.

The Lees' of Virginia had a fine tradition of public service. Richard, in 1758, following in the footsteps of his family, entered the Virginia House of Burgesses at the age of twenty-five, thus, he began seventeen years of continuous services for his colony. His stanch opposition of British measures, such as the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, centered him in the forefront of defenders of colonial rights. Openly calling the Townshed Acts, "arbitrary, unjust, and destructive of that mutual beneficial connection which every good subject would wish to see preserved." Richard was now planted firmly on the colonial side. Being more than a man of words in February of 1766 he drew the residence of his own county into the "Westmoreland Association," uniting themselves not to buy any British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed.

Richard was among the first persons to propose a system of inter-colonial committees of correspondence. These committees were set up to coordinate the efforts of the colonies against the British. The committees directly led to the forming of the First Continental Congress, with Virginia appointing Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, and George Washington. On September 5, 1774, these men with others such as John Jay and John Adams met in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia for the first meeting of the Continental Congress. Even more aggressive now than before, Richard was pushing for stronger action against the British. With the issue of independence stalling in congress for the better part of a year, it was noted that a shrewd political move was needed to push the dream of independence into a reality. Richard's openly advocating independence from the British Crown in the spring of 1776, led to his being chosen to move the issue of independence in congress. Finally, on June 7, 1776 he stood up in congress and uttered a resolution that would forever change the corse of American History.

Richard remained in congress until 1779 missing only a brief period to return home to Virginia to help form the new state government. Retiring from congress in 1779 due to ill health, Richard returned home to Virginia. On his return he was elected to the Virginia Legislature. Remaining there until he was once again sent to congress in 1784. This time he served his first year as that bodies president. Remaining two more years in congress, where he played an important role in the passage of the Northwest Ordinance. When the Constitutional Convention was held in 1787, to form a centralized government, Richard outright refused to attend, even going as far as to lead in Virginia's opposition to the new constitution. Richard's opposition to the constitution was based on the fact that it called for a strong central government, one thing he did not ever intend to have again. Also the fact that the constitution itself lacked a bill of rights gave him reason for concern. He felt the combination of these factors, giving a strong central government the power to do what it likes against individuals without any form of guaranteed rights to its citizens, would eventually put them back in the hands of a tyrant.

Having lost his battle over the new constitution, he accepted appointment in 1789 as one of the first senators from Virginia. As a senator he immediately proposed a number of new resolutions to correct the oversights in the constitution. Several of his proposals were adopted and many were used in the Bill of Rights. He had now become one of the strongest advocates of the Bill of Rights. It was a strong part of the new government that he felt they could not afford to leave out. Richard continued in the senate until ill health finally for the last time forced his resignation in 1792. Retiring to his Virginia estate Chantilly, near Stratford, in Westmoreland county Virginia he died on June 19, 1794 at the age of sixty-two.

Richard Henry Lee aided in lighting the torch of American Freedom and kept it burning for his nation. From a farmer, to a politician, to congressman, to a statesman, to a patriot, to a senator, Richard Henry Lee performed a very important role in American history.

Primary Documents in American History

[Richard Henry Lee, head-and-shoulders portrait, left profile]
Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827, artist
[published between 1890 and 1940]
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-92331 (b&w film copy neg.)

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed independence for the American colonies by introducing this resolution in the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776. On July 2, 1776, Congress passed the Lee Resolution, concerning which John Adams wrote, in a letter to his wife, Abigail, "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations. "

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed independence for the American colonies by introducing this resolution in the Second Continental Congress.

On June 11, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston were appointed to a committee to draft a declaration of independence.

On June 28, A fair copy of the committee draft of the Declaration of Independence was read in Congress.

On July 1-4, Congress debated and revised the Declaration of Independence.

On July 2, Congress declared independence by adopting the Lee Resolution.

Includes his General Orders for July 9, 1776 announcing the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Army in New York. Also contains Washington's printed copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Search this collection to find additional documents related to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

Contains Thomas Jefferson's notes on debates in the Continental Congress from 1776, including Jefferson's copy of the Declaration of Independence as amended by Congress.

Includes Jefferson's Notes on Debates and Proceedings on Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation, Continental Congress, June 7, 1776. A transcription of the Notes on Debates and Proceedings can be found in Jefferson's Autobiography Draft Fragment, January 6 through July 27.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Declaration of Independence

This online exhibition contains Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration, with emendations by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Also includes a fragment of an early draft of the document, a letter to Roger Weightman with Jefferson's reflections on the Declaration, Jefferson's draft of the Virginia Constitution, and an excerpt from Henry Home, Lord Kames' Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion regarding the pursuit of happiness.

George Mason, of Fairfax County, Virginia, wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, on which the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are partially modeled. Mason refused to support the original Constitution because it failed to protect essential liberties. This document was also used by the Marquis de Lafayette in drafting the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation&rsquos founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self&ndashgoverning country. The exhibition includes a section on creating the Declaration of Independence.

This exhibition includes a timeline of events related to the Declaration and a detailed essay on the drafting of the documents. Also contains images of the Dunlap Broadside and a number of prints portraying the debating and signing of the Declaration of Independence.

April 12, 1776

The Provincial Congress of North Carolina authorized its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence.

The Declaration of Independence was enacted on July 4, 1776.

Armitage, David. The Declaration of Independence: A Global History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. [Catalog Record]

Boyd, Julian P. The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text. Rev. ed. Charlottesville: International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello in association with the Library of Congress, 1999. [Catalog Record]

Burnett, Edward Cody. The Continental Congress. New York: Norton, 1941.[Catalog Record]

Chitwood, Oliver. Richard Henry Lee, Statesman of the Revolution. Morgantown: University Library, 1967. [Catalog Record]

Dupont, Christian Y., and Peter S. Onuf, eds. Declaring Independence: The Origin and Influence of America&rsquos Founding Document. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library, 2008. [Catalog Record]

Gerber, Scott Douglas, ed. The Declaration of Independence: Origins and Impact. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Hogeland, William. Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1-July 4, 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. [Catalog Record]

Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997. [Catalog Record]

The Letters of Richard Henry Lee. Edited by James Ballagh. 1911-1914. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970 [Catalog Record]

Freedman, Russell. Give Me Liberty!: The Story of the Declaration of Independence. New York: Holiday House, 2000. [Catalog Record]

Gragg, Rod. The Declaration of Independence: The Story Behind America&rsquos Founding Document and the Men Who Created It. Nashville, Tenn.: Rutledge Hill Press, 2005. [Catalog Record]

Graves, Kerry A. The Declaration of Independence: the story behind our founding document . Philadelphia: Chelsea Clubhouse, 2004. [Catalog Record]

Tag: Richard Henry Lee

The Lee family impact upon Virginia’s history is undeniable. Richard I, “The Immigrant” had a seemingly boundless energy attached to a shrewd business sense. He used that combination to establish the Lee Dynasty from which foundational descendants sprang. He and his wife Anne (aka Anna) Constable Lee bore 10 children, of whom 9 survived infancy. Those 9 children, perhaps not as boundless as their patriarch, ensured Richard’s legacy within the Commonwealth lived beyond one generation.

Richard purchased vast lands, and left them to his children to build upon. They built enduring monuments to the Lee name such as Statford Hall, created tight bonds with other leading families of the day, and shaped Virginia’s future, while also taking part in America’s founding. But the Lee name didn’t stop there.

When Virginia’s First Family dominance seemed lost a Lee stepped forward in the twilight to give one last performance. In the end, the sun set on the Lee family as well as the First Families of Virginia, which in profound manner also influenced Virginia’s future. No longer a leader, Virginia became simply another contributing member of the United States, and the Lees, ever faithful continued to play their part.

Today debates abound, but what is not debatable is the Lee impact as trailblazers, innovators, country-builders, heroes, and sometime villains. Without them Virginia and the United States’ story, both good and bad, would not be the same, and their story begins with that brilliant family founder in 1639.

Tune in to this episode where we introduce this important family’s founding, while highlighting just a few of the Lee’s who impacted history.

Senior Statesman

Lee served in the Virginia House of Delegates during the War for Independence but was frequently absent due to ill health. After the war&aposs end, in 1783, he served in Congress under the Articles of Confederation and was unanimously elected president of the Congress. Though he supported the 1787 Federal Convention in Philadelphia, he worried that the new Constitution had too much power over the states and lacked a bill of rights. These arguments were put forth in a series of "Letters of a Federal Farmer," which became a textbook for the opposition during the ratification process. Though the letters&apos author is unknown, scholars have long believed it was Lee. More recently, Melancton Smith of New York has been considered. It is also possible both men collaborated on the articles. 

Lee Family Legacy

Richard Henry Lee descended from the wealthiest families in Virginia. The Lee family influenced Virginia politics throughout its early days as a colony up until the Civil War.

The Lee family began in America with Richard Lee who emigrated from England to Virginia. Richard became a wealthy Virginia farmer with his tobacco crop. His wealth set the stage for a powerful political family. His grandson, Thomas Lee, would be elected as Governor of Virginia. His two sons, Richard and Francis would become signers of the Declaration of Independence and serve in the United States government. Richard Henry Lee is a descendant of the most famous person in the Lee family, Robert E. Lee.

Robert Lee

What was REL's full name?

The name given to Robert E. Lee at birth was Robert Edward Lee. When Lee and his wife Mary gave the same name to their sixth child (and youngest son) at his birth in 1843, Lee became a Senior, although he continued to sign his name "R. E. Lee" &mdash as he had done since his youth. Robert E. Lee, Jr., was called "Rob" by his family and friends.

When and where was REL Born?

Robert E. Lee was born on 19 January 1807 at Stratford Hall, the Lee Family estate on the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Robert was the last Lee born at Stratford Hall to survive infancy, as his family moved to Alexandria in 1810. Stratford Hall passed out of the Lee family in 1822 when Robert's half brother Henry Lee sold the estate to William C. Somerville of Maryland.

When did REL's ancestors come to Virginia?

On his father's side, Robert E. Lee's earliest ancestors were Richard Lee (c.1613â&euro&ldquo1664), a London merchant called the Immigrant, and his wife, Anne Constable, also of London. The young couple came to Virginia about 1639, and in 1640 Lee patented land at Tindal's Point in present-day Gloucester County, on the north side of the York River directly across from where Yorktown was later established. Two years later, in 1642, Lee patented a thousand-acre tract on Poropotank Creek, a tributary of the York about twenty miles above the river's mouth. Richard served as Secretary to Virginia Governor Sir William Berkeley.

On his mother's side, Robert descended from John Carter (d. 1669), an English immigrant who sailed to Jamestown in 1625 on board the Prosperous. Within a year of his arrival at James Fort, John Carter was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1642 he settled Corotoman on a 13,500-acre tract of land that he patented in the Northern Neck. His son Robert "King" Carter (1663&ndash1732), born to John and Sarah Ludlow (d. 1668), the fourth of his five wives, was during his lifetime the most weathly and powerful man in the American colonies. King Carter, who ultimately owned some 300,000 acres of land, was Robert E. Lee's great-great-grandfather.

What was REL's coat of arms?

When looking to have a seal cut in January 1839, Robert E. Lee discussed the subject of the Lee Family coat of arms in some depth and according to him the coat and crest had by then deviated quite erroneously from its original 1660 grant. The crest most used by the Lee Family today depicts a shield with four quarter shields, a squirrel above the shield, and the Latin motto, Non Incautus Futuri (Not unmindful of the future) below the shield.

How tall was REL and how much did he weigh?

According to Lee biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, Robert E. Lee at age 54 was five feet, eleven inches tall and weighed 170 pounds. Two years later, in March 1863, a physician recorded that Lee was at that time five feet, ten and one-half inches tall and weighed 165 pounds.

Who were REL's parents?

Robert E. Lee's mother was Ann Hill Carter (1773&ndash1829), a daughter of one of Virginia's most wealthy planters, Charles Carter of Shirley in Charles City County. Shirley had its orgin in Shirley Hundred, settled in 1613 as the earliest plantation outside Jamestown. Ann's grandmother Elizabeth Hill of Shirley had married John Carter III, the son and heir to most of the lands of Ann's great-grandfather, Robert "King" Carter (1663&ndash1732) of Corotoman.

By Charles Willson Peale, c.1782

Lee's father was Henry Lee III (1756&ndash1818), popularly known as Light-Horse Harry because of his prominent service as a cavalry officer in the American Revolutionary War. Light-Horse Harry was born at Leesylvania near Dumfries in Prince William County, Virginia. A 1773 graduate of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and first cousin to the famous Lee brothers of the Revolution, Richard Henry, William, and Arthur, Light-Horse Harry served in the Continental Congress (1785&ndash1788), as governor of Virginia (1791&ndash1794), as commander of the forces that put down the Whiskey Rebellion (1794), and a member of the U.S. Congress (1799&ndash1801). Light-Horse Harry was a great friend of George Washington, who after his retirement from the presidency called Lee the most capable military officer in America. When Washington died in 1799 Lee drafted for Congreess the famous tribute "First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of His Countrymen." While in prison for debt, Lee wrote a famous military history, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department (1812).

After their marriage at Shirley on 18 June 1793, Light-Horse Harry and Ann Hill Carter lived at Stratford Hall, which had come to Lee upon the death of his first wife, Matilda Lee (d. 1790). Robert was his parents' fifth child.

What did REL think of this father?

Robert E. Lee was 11 years old when his father Light-Horse Harry Lee died in 1818 and as a result he soon became his mother's confidante, and as a young adult Lee became a main source of support for his mother and his siblings. Robert was aware of his father's failures in business, his imprisonment for debt, and the resulting loss of the family estate Stratford Hall, and some have speculated that Robert's life-long attention to duty and avoidance of anything remotely scandalous were reactions to his perceptions of his father's weaknesses, or that he entered the military in an effort to emulate his father in the one role that Light-Horse Harry could be considered to have been a model.

Robert chose not to discuss is father's weaknesses and failures in writing, and this much is certain, that he respected and honored his father's memory. After the Civil War Robert prepared a new edition of his father's Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department (1869), introducing it with a biography of Light-Horse Harry that he wrote specially for the republication.

Robert twice visited his father's grave at the home of Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene on Cumberland Island, Georgia, the first time in January 1862 when Robert was strengthening the Confederate defenses of Savannah, and the final time in the spring of 1870 when he toured the south to visit the grave of his daughter.

Where did REL live as a child?

Robert E. Lee lived at three different homes as a child. He was born at Stratford Hall, a Lee Family estate in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and lived there until 1810, when the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia. In Alexandria the family lived first at 611 Cameron Street, in Old Town. About 1811 or 1812 the Lees moved to 607 Oronoco Street, a house now known as the Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee. The Boyhood Home had been purchased in 1799 by William Fitzhugh of Chatham, who was the grandfather of Robert's future wife, and in fact the wedding of Robert's future parents-in-law married took place in the home's parlor in 1804. (Fitzhugh was a prominent revolutionary and political ally of George Washington and in fact was the last person that Washington visited before his unexpected death in December 1799.) The Boyhood Home was across the street from a house built by Philip Richard Fendall, a cousin of Lee's father, known now as the Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden (614 Oronoco Street).

Where did REL go to school?

About 1819 or 1820 Robert E. Lee entered Alexandria Academy, a small school that had been established in 1785 with George Washington among its first trustees. (In fact, Washington when making out his will in 1799 made a bequest to the school.) Situated in a one-story brick building on Washington Street, between Duck and Wolf, Alexandria Academy was a public school for white boys led by an Irshman, William B. Leary. The curriculum was classical and young Robert learned Greek, Latin, algebra, and geometry. He excelled in all, especially mathematics, and completed his study in 1823. Leary testified to his student's abilities when recommending Lee for an appointment to West Point:

Although Lee may have thought about attending medical school or entering the clergy, he apparently did not consider those options seriously, setting his sights instead on a military career. For that he needed an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which was best won through the assistance of prominent persons. Accordingly, Lee sought and obtained letters of recommendation from not only his former teacher but from Congressman R. S. Garnett and one written by U.S. Representative Charles Fenton Mercer and signed by Mercer and other Congressmen: Virgina Representative George Tucker, Virginia Senator James Barbour (said to be John C. Calhoun's likely successor as Secretary of War), Kentucky Senator Richard H. Johnson (later Vice-President under Martin Van Buren), and Tenneesee Senators William Kelly and Henry Johnson (soon after governor of Louisiana). Additionally, Robert's brothers Charles Carter Lee and Henry Lee wrote letters testifying to Robert's personal character. Finally, Lee presented these letters of support in person to Secretary Calhoun, armed with a letter of introduction from William H. Fitzhugh of Ravensworth. As a result, Robert was appointed to West Point on 11 March 1824, with admission scheduled for 1 July 1825. Lee's acceptance of the appointment is the earliest surviving letter of his to survive. Lee graduated from West Point in 1829.

Was REL first in his class at West Point?

No, Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class at West Point. Graduating ahead of Lee was Charles Mason (1804&ndash1882), a New York native who resigned his commission in the engineers corp after two years and became a patent lawyer in Wisconsin. Watson served on the bench of the Iowa Territory Supreme Court until Iowa became a state in 1846. While an opponent of slavery, Mason was also a Copperhead (peace Democrat) who did not serve in the military during the Civil War.

Lee's son, George Washington Custis Lee, graduated first in his class in 1854, exactly twenty-five years after the graduation of his more famous father.

Did REL earn no demerits at West Point?

Robert E. Lee was a model cadet at West Point and attended the school for four years without earning any demerits or other infractions. He was not the only student in the school's history to do so, and in fact four others of Lee's class also went throught their four years without earning demerits, but it was nevertheless a notable accomplishment.

When did REL first have his picture painted?

The earliest known portrait of Robert E. Lee was painted by William E. West of Baltimore, who painted portraits of Lee and his wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis in 1838. At that time Lee was a 31-year-old captain serving in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at Washington, D.C., and he posed in military attaire. They portraits were considered wedding portraits although by that time the Lees had been married for several years. A portrait of Lee at the time he served as commander of Camp Cooper on the Clear Fork of the Brazos in Texas resemble the West pose.

Lee After the War, by Matthew Brady

When Lee became famous he was often photographed. Celebrated photographers Mathew Brady and Julian Vannerson (b. 1826), a Confederate Army officer, both made historic photographs of Lee, and Michael Miley (1841&ndash1918) of Rockbridge County, Virginia, became the "official" family photographer after Lee moved to Lexington. Miley photographed not only Lee and his family but family artifacts as well as Lee's funeral in Lexington in 1870. Numerous carte de visites (CDV) of General Lee, many of which were signed by him, have survived. Measuring approximately two and one-eight by three and one-half inches, such relics often fetch thousands of dollars.

Who was REL's wife?

Robert E. Lee's wife was Mary Anna Randolph Custis (1808&ndash1873), the great grandaughter of Martha Washington. Mary's father, George Washington Parke "Wash" Custis (1781&ndash1857), was a few months old when he went to live with his grandparents at Mount Vernon following the death of his father John Parke Custis during the seige of Yorktown. Mary's mother was Mary Lee Fitzhugh "Molly" Custis (1788&ndash1853), a daughter of William Fitzhugh (1741&ndash1809) of Chatham, the grandson of Robert "King" Carter of Corotoman. Mary Custis was born at a Clarke County estate owned by relatives of her mother but she was raised at Arlington House, the Custis mansion high on the bluff across the Potomac River from the Federal City. As the only surviving of the four children born to her parents, Mary was heir to the Arlington estate.

As was the custom for young girls of standing in the early nineteenth century, Mary Custis was tutored at home. She was given a classical education and became proficient in several languages, including French, Greek, and Latin, and throughout her life she was a great reader and an inveterate letter writer. She also was, like her father, a self-taught painter, and late in life she often hand-tinted cartes-de-visite of famous husband before giving them to friends.

As a young lady, Mary Custis was courted by many acceptable suitors, including Sam Houston, the hero of Texas who ironically was born in Virginia a few miles away from where Mary would spend the last years of her life. It is not known exactly when Mary and her future husband began their relationship&mdashthey knew one another as children&mdashbut by December 1828 Mary and Robert were serious about one another and by the summer of 1830 Lee had made a proposal of marriage. The couple's wedding ceremony took place on 30 June 1831 in the family parlour at Arlington House, and their marriage, despite the sorrows of separation, illness, death, and war, was a successful one. Mary gave birth to seven children, all of whom lived to adulthood, and six of whom outlived she and Robert.

Mary Custis Lee was a devout Episcopalian, and her strong faith no doubt helped sustain her in her decades-long struggle with degenerative rheumatoid arthritis. She relied on crutches for as long as she could, but by the time war forced her to leave Arlington House in the spring of 1861 she was confined to a wheelchair. Arlington was confiscated by the federal government during the war and she returned only once, in the months before her death, for a brief visit. Unable to leave her carriage and go inside, she described the event in a letter to a friend:

She died five months later, having survived her husband by almost three years.

Mary Lee assembled her father's memoirs published them in 1859 as Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, by his Adopted Son, George Washington Parke Custis, with a Memoir of the Author by his Daughter. The book has been a mainstay for anyone interested in the family and personal life of George Washington.

Was REL and his wife related?

Yes, Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis shared the same great-great-grandfather&mdashRobert "King" Carter of Corotoman. Both Robert and Anna each descended from Carter through their mothers.

Where did REL and his wife live?

Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis always thought of Arlington, the home of Mary's parents, as their own home. However, because of Lee's military career as an engineer, they lived in many places over the course of their marriage, some for extended lengths of time. Beginning shortly after their wedding in June 1831 the young couple occupied a small house at Old Point Comfort, Virginia, where Lee had been ordered to assist in overseeing the construction of Fort Monroe. They lived at Old Point Comfort until 1834 when Lee was ordered to the Federal City, and they lived at Arlington.

After Robert E. Lee's stint in Washington, his pre-Civil War military destinations included Ohio, Michigan, St. Louis, Mexico, Texas, Baltimore, and New York, and his wife and children accompanied him when they could. During the Civil War, he was separated from his family as he saw service in South Carolina, Georgia, and in the field with the Army of Northern Virginia, and Mary lived mostly in Richmond. After the war, with Arlington confiscated by the federal government, Robert and Mary made their final home at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia.

What was REL's first military assignment?

Robert E. Lee's first assignment after graduating from West Point in 1829 was to report for duty at Cockspur Island, in the Savannah River, Georgia, to serve in the corps of engineers. Twelve miles down river from Savannah, the narrow mile-long island was little more than a flooded marsh but Congress had chosen to construct upon it a defensive coastal fortification, christened Fort Pulaski in 1833. Replacing Major Samuel Babcock (d. 1831) who was seriously ill, Lee's engineering duties centered on raising an embankment and digging a canal so that a one-hundred-and-fifty-acre site could be drained, and in the capacity he made surveys and drawings and determined the best location to build the fort. Additionally. Lee acted as assistant commissary of subsistence. Lee's assignment at Cockspur Island lasted until the spring of 1831, when he was ordered to report to Old Point Comfort, Virginia, much closer to home.

Robert E. Lee's Sketch of a Diamondback Terrapin, made at Cockspur Island, 1831

Lee traveled to Georgia by sea accompanied only by Nat, the elderly family coachman and house slave that Lee's recently deceased mother had willed to her grandaughter Mildred and who the family was sending south with hopes that the milder climate would restore his declining health. (Nat's health continued to decline and he died without returning to Virginia.)

Robert E. Lee's Sketch of Cockspur Island, 1830

Lee returned to Cockspur Island in 1861 as brigadier general of the Confederate Army in command of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. He arrived right at the moment that Federal forces were planting a foothold within sight of Fort Pulaski, having seized from the Confederates the nearby forts at Hilton Head and Bay Point. Lee inspected Fort Pulaski and redeployed its guns for better defense. It took several months, but the Federals eventually set up an effective blockade of Fort Pulaski, paving the way for a bombardment that led to Confederate surrender and Federal occupation in April 1862. When news of Lee's surrender at Appomattox reached Fort Pulaski in April 1865 the Federal commander ordered two hundred guns to be fired from the garrison's bulwarks, signaling the end not only of the war but of the military career that had its beginnings in Cockspur Island's muddy marsh some three and half decades earlier.

What did REL read?

Like many men of his day, Robert E. Lee catered his reading to works related to his business or career, in Lee's case the military. He also read newspapers regularly, and his frequent correspondence meant that he spent some time almost daily reading and answering correspondence. His biographer Douglas Southall Freeman made some interesting observations about Lee's reading habits while serving as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point:

On his own account, he got six works on geography (including maps), one on forestry, eight on architecture, five on military law, two on non-military geography, one on French and Spanish grammar, and fifteen on military biography, history, and the science of war. The books on architecture and on forestry doubtless were to help him in his work of selecting new buildings and setting out trees at the academy. The studies in military law were for use in connection with courts-martial. Most of the others much represented a review of military operations.

Of the fifteen books specifically related to war, seven concerned Napoleon. His principal study was of Gourgaud's and Montholon's Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire de France sous Napoléon, écrits à Sainte-Hélène, though he also used O'Meara and the Memoirs of the Duke of Rovigo. These are not now the most-esteemed books on Napoleon's campaigns, but they were, at the time, among the best that had been issued. The volumes Lee most frequently procured from the library dealt with Napoleon's Italian campaign of 1796 and with the Egyptian operations. There is every reason to assume that he read these volumes carefully and that he became reasonably conversant with Napoleon's military career through 1801. He seems also to have studied in detail the Russian campaign of the Corsican. In the editions he probably used, one of the volumes contained Napoleon's brief notes on Jomini's Traité des Grandes Opérations Militaires, and Napoleon's lengthy notes on Considérations sur l'Art de la Guerre, originally printed in Paris in 1816. These latter notes are almost a volume in themselves, and though dictated by Napoleon on the work of an officer he did not admire, they include many of the Emperor's most discerning observations on defensive war. Lee may have been particularly interested in this work because it was by an officer of engineers. . . . Analogies between his operation and those of Napoleon in 1796 readily suggest themselves. The probability that Lee studied carefully the Egyptian campaign might be explained by a natural curiosity to see how the Emperor met a situation similar in some superficial respects, at least, to that which Scott faced landing in Mexico.

Lee probably gave some study, also, to Hannibal's campaign, through Rollin, and to Caesar's battles as related in the pages of Jacob Abbott's biography, which was then a comparatively new book (1849). Lee's use of Russian and Turkish maps would indicate, further, that he followed at least some of the early movements of the Crimean War.

After his study of Napoleon, Lee's major military reading at West Point seems to have been of the American Revolution. He twice had from the library Sparks's life of Benedict Arnold, and he used, likewise, Spark's sketches of John Stark, Charles B. Brown, Richard Montgomery, and Ethan Allen, which together form the first volume of the Library of American Biography. He probably was interested in the third volume of the National Portrait Gallery because it contained a sketch and an engraving of his father. He twice drew from the library the second volume of the Field of Mars, a British encyclopaedia of battles, naval and military, "particularly of Great Britain and her allies from the ninth century to the present period." The volume contained brief, alphabetical accounts, with dispatches and reports, of many of the most famous battles of history from the letter M to the end of the alphabet. Most of the battles of the southern campaign in which Lee's father had a part were treated in this volume. Yorktown was not included, as the book seems to have been printed in 1781 before the final disaster of the Revolution reached Britain. The Field of Mars included, also, an essay on fortification, though this advanced no theories with which Lee was not already familiar.

Thus it will be seen that Lee's studies were not profound, in any instance, but that his reading of Napoleon probably was critical and detailed. His use of Kausler's Atlas would indicate that he studied the terrain of Napoleon's great movements as closely as he could.

The full list of Lee's withdrawals from the library at West Point during his superintendency, as given in the records, is as follows:

  • Field of Mars, vol. 2.
  • Kausler's Atlas and Text, 2 vols.
  • Brown's Domestic Architecture.
  • London's Architecture.
  • Montholon's Memoirs, vols. 1 and 2.
  • Gourgaud: Mémoires de Napoléon, vols. 1 and 2.
  • Mémoires du duc de Rovigo, vols. 1 and 2.
  • Montholon's Memoirs, vols. 3 and 4.
  • Montholon's Memoirs, vols. 1 and 2.
  • Pickwick Papers.
  • Gourgaud: Mémoires de Napoléon, vol. 2.
  • Hood's Up the Rhine, 2 vols.
  • Hood's Poems.
  • Ranlett's Architecture, vol. 2.
  • Putnam's Monthly for February, April, and June, 1853.
  • Putnam's Monthly for September, 1853.
  • Hood's Up the Rhine, vol. 1.
  • Putnam's Monthly for November, 1853.
  • Hood's Prose and Verse.
  • Holmes: Poems.
  • Sobrino: Grammaire Espagnole et Française.
  • Rollin's Ancient History, vol. 1.
  • Noble Deeds of American Women.
  • Lowell's Poems, 2 vols.
  • Atlas of New York.
  • Sparks's American Biography, vol. 3.
  • National Portrait Gallery, vol. 3.
  • Sparks's American Biography, vol. 1.
  • [A. W. Kinglake's] Eothen.
  • Irving's Bracebridge Hall.
  • Abbott's History of Caesar.
  • Mitchell's Atlas.
  • Map of Orange County.
  • Kiebert's Map of Turkey, 4 sheets.
  • Cross's Military Laws.
  • Field of Mars, vol. 2.
  • Raulett's Cottage Architecture, vol. 2.
  • Raulett's Cottage Architecture, vol. 1.
  • Sparks's American Biography, vol. 3.
  • Carte de la Russie Européenne, nos. 10 and 11.
  • Putnam's Monthly for August, 1854.
  • Downing's Country Houses.
  • Memoirs of the Duchesse d'Abrantes.
  • O'Meara's Napoleon at St. Helena, 2 vols.
  • [F. A. Michaux:] North American Sylva, vols. 1 to 3.
  • Cross's Military Laws.
  • Hood's Prose and Verse.
  • London's Cottage Architecture.
  • Gwilt's Encyclopaedia of Architecture.
  • Kennedy on Courts Martial.
  • O'Brien's Military Laws.
  • DeHart on Courts Martial.

In addition to reading from the shelves at West Point, Lee was building up a small military library of his own. It is not possible to say when he bought the various items of his collection, except as the time of publication sets the dates, but prior to the war he possessed, among others, these works:

  • Biot: Traité Elémentaire d'Astronomie Physique . . . 1841.
  • Carrion-Nisas: Essai sur l'Histoire Générale de l'Art Militaire, . . . 2 vols., 1824.
  • Cormontaingne: Mémorial pour la Défense des Places . . . 1822.
  • Cormontaingne: Mémorial pour l'Attaque des Places . . . 1815.
  • Emy: Cours Elémentaire de Fortification . . . 1834.
  • Fallot: Cours d'art Militaire ou Leçons sur l'art Militaire et les Fortifications, editions of 1839, 1841, 1844, and 1846.
  • Fonscolombe: Résumé Historique des Progrès de l'Art Militaire . . . 1854
  • Jomini: Précis de l'Art de la Guerre . . . 1838.
  • Laisne: Aide-Mémoire Portatif à l'Usage des Officiers du Génie . . . 1840.
  • Merkes: Résumé Général concernant les Différentes Formes et les Diverses Applications des Redoubtes Casematées . . . 1845.
  • Noizet-de-Saint-Paul: Traité Complet de Fortification.
  • Perrot: Le Livre de Guerre . . . 1, 1832.
  • de Pupdt: Mémorial de l'Officier du Génie, 7 vols.

Most of these, it will be noted, are technical treatises for the engineer, and probably were acquired while Lee was serving with the board of engineers. None of them, however, contains any notes or marked passages in the handwriting of their owner.

Source: R. E. Lee: A Biography, volume 1, by Douglas Southall Freeman (New York and London, 1934).

What did REL do in the Mexican War?

Lee at the time of his Mexican service

13 May 1846 the United States declared war on Mexico. In August Robert E. Lee received orders to proceed to San Antonio de Bexar, Texas, for service in Mexico. Once there, Lee put his engineering skills to work, building roads and bridges, mapping the territory, selecting sites for redoubts. Eventually he found himself among a six-thousand-man division some three hundred and sixty-five miles deep into Mexico, leading reconnaissance missions and laying out camps, and volunteering for scouting missions. Lee's zeal and successes did not go unnoticed and within a few months he was called to the headquarters staff of General, Winfield Scott, who was preparing an expedition to Vera Cruz, as an aide-de-camp. At Vera Cruz Lee went on more scouting missions and erected defensive works, and, importantly, he tasted combat for the first time, directing artillery counterfire against Mexican guns firing on American sailors. (Ironically, Lee's older brother Smith Lee was among the artillerists that he commanded.) His service in the seige of Vera Cruz won for Lee a commendation in orders, his first.

Next, General Scott joined U.S. forces pressing Mexican General Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo. At great personal peril, Lee reconnoitered Santa Anna's west flank to determine exactly whether American troops might be able to maneuver around the Mexican troops. Lee's answer was yes, and off marched an entire division, with Lee as its guide and trail cutter, to within seven hundred yards of the enemy. Once the division reached its destination Lee fixed a battery for the impending battle then left to guide a different brigade around Santa Anna's north flank, to cut off retreat. The American rout of Santa Anna's army was ensured, and when it had ended no individual emerged with more accolades from his superiors than Lee. In General Scott's words,

Months later, Lee was brevetted major, effective the day of the battle, for "gallant and meritorious conduct" at the battle of Cerro Gordo.

Lee, as it turned out, was only beginning to earn a reputation. His exploits were to be repeated, or surpassed, in the performance of his duties as Scott, setting his sights on Mexico City, made assaults at Padierna and Churubusco. Lee produced accurate maps where none had before existed, and he found or made roads for the infantry and artillery when no one else could. And most important, he hand delivered critical messages between commanding generals when the officers themselves were unaware of to make contact with one another. Staying in the saddle for thirty-six hours straight, Lee emerged a hero worthy of comparison to his legendary father, Light-Horse Harry Lee. Again, no one earned more praise for their performance in the offensive. General Scott wrote of Lee that his service exhibited "the greatest feat of physical and moral courage performed by any individual, in my knowledge, pending the campaign." A navy auditor, Lieutenant Raphael Semmes, observed Lee at a council of war before the battle:

Chapultepec, the fortified height at Mexico City, followed. Lee again led reconnaissance, erected batteries aimed at the reduction of Chapultepec, and offered advice on strategy and tactics to General Scott. Before it was over, Lee was forty-eight hours without sleep, wounded in the saddle, and finally fainted from sheer exhaustion. After Santa Anna fled and the Americans waltzed into Mexico City, Lee spent his time surveying and making maps. He was ordered back to Vera Cruz and then to home, twenty months since he had left Virginia. Back home and across the country the public little knew of Lee's contributions to the American success in Mexico, but his fellow officers knew, and General Scott later referred to Lee as "the very best soldier that I ever saw in the field."

What lessons did REL learn in the Mexican War?

According to Robert E. Lee's biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee learned some valuable lessons while in Mexico, lessons that would serve him well as commander of an army in the field during the Civil War:

He carried home with him the highest admiration of his former commander and the good opinion of his brother officers. . . . Lee's Mexican experiences gave him, secondly, close observation of an army in nearly all the conditions, except those of retreat, that were apt to arise in the field. He had acquired his experience under an excellent, practical master, and in an army that, though small, was efficient and well-trained. All this helped him and made it easy for him in 1855 to transfer from the staff to the line. It so happened that while Lee was with Scott he had few dealings with the cavalry, which was little used during most of the battles in the valley of Mexico. This fact may account for the awkwardness that some critics have thought they observed in Lee's handling of that arm in 1862.

Even more valuable, in the third place, was Lee's training in strategy while in Mexico. As a member of Scott's "little cabinet," he sat in council when the most difficult of Scott's strategical problems were being considered by the General. His views, which were usually based on a better knowledge of the ground than his superiors possessed, were expressed fully and were received by Scott with real respect. More than once he had a part in planning operations that were executed where he could see the correctness or the errors of his reasoning&mdasha very different matter from the blackboard studies of West Point.

Seven great lessons Lee learned from Cerro Gordo to Mexico City in strategy and in the handling of an army, seven lessons that were the basis of virtually all he attempted to do in Virginia fifteen years later:

1. Lee was inspired to audacity. This was, perhaps, his greatest strategical lesson in Mexico, for all the circumstances favored a daring course on the part of his teacher. The nucleus of Scott's army was professional the forces that opposed them were ill-trained and poorly led. Scott could attempt and could achieve in Mexico what even he, bold as he was, would not have undertaken against an army as well disciplined as his own. Some of his actions were little more than sham battles with ball cartridges, and were, in one sense, about as good schooling as could be devised for a beginner in the practice of strategy. When it is remembered that the son of "Light-Horse Harry" received his practical instruction, in that particular campaign, under as daring a soldier as Scott, and followed that by a study of Napoleon, it will not be surprising that audacity, even to the verge of seeming overconfidence, was the guiding principle of the strategy he employed as the leader of a desperate cause.

2. Lee concluded, from Scott's example, that the function of the commanding general is to plan the general operation, to acquaint his corps commanders with that plan, and to see that their troops are brought to the scene of action at the proper time but that it is not the function of the commanding general to fight the battle in detail. Lee's later methods in this respect are simply those of Scott. Whether he was right in this conclusion is one of the moot questions of his career.

3. Working with a trained staff, Lee saw its value in the development of a strategical plan. Scott was very careful on this score. Although he could not keep the administration from naming politicians to command some of his divisions, he could surround himself with men who had been well grounded in discipline, promptness, and accurate observation. He did not exaggerate when he said publicly in Mexico City that he could not have succeeded in his campaign had it not been for West Point. Scott relied on the young men who had been trained at the Military Academy, and they did not fail him. Lee kept this ideal of a trained staff and sought at a later time to build up such an organization but he had become so accustomed to efficient staff work in the regular army that when he first took command in Virginia, in the great national tragedy, he did not realize how vast was the difference between trained and untrained staff officers.

4. The relation of careful reconnaissance to sound strategy was impressed on Lee by every one of the battles he saw in Mexico. Reconnaissance made possible the victories at Cerro Gordo and at Padierna, and it simplified the storming of Chapultepec. Failure to reconnoitre adequately was in part responsible for the heavy losses at Molino del Rey. Lee had shown special aptitude for this work and he left Mexico convinced for all time that when battle is imminent a thorough study of the ground is the first duty of the commanding officer. Reconnaissance became second nature to him.

5. Lee saw in Mexico the strategic possibilities of flank movements. Cerro Gordo had been passed and San Antonio had been turned by flanking the enemy. At little cost of life, positions of much strength had been rendered untenable. These, too, were lessons that Lee never forgot. Second Manassas was Cerro Gordo on a larger terrain the march across the pedregal to San Antonio and the San Angel road found a more famous counterpart in Jackson's movement to the rear of Hooker's army at Chancellorsville.

6. Lee acquired a confident view of the relation of communications to strategy. He saw Scott at Puebla boldly abandon his line of supply from the sea and live off the country. Within thirty-seven days Scott had battered his way into Mexico City. It is quite possible that this experience was one reason why Lee was emboldened to expose his communications in the Maryland campaign of 1862 and in the Pennsylvania campaign of 1863.

7. Lee acquired in Mexico an appreciation of the value of fortification. The proper location of the batteries at Vera Cruz and at Chapultepec had contributed to the American victory. Lee had a hand in placing them and had every opportunity of observing the effect of their fire. At Cerro Gordo and at Padierna, he had examined fortifications that had been poorly defended but had been well laid out by Mexican engineers who were much more capable, as a rule, than the generals under whom they served. On both these fields and at Mexico City, immediately preceding the attack on Chapultepec, Lee may well have told himself that a competent defending force could have added much to Scott's difficulties by intelligent use of the light earthworks the Mexicans had constructed.

Along with these seven lessons in strategy, Lee had abundant opportunity during his months with General Scott to study human nature. The quarrels in the army, while distasteful and discreditable, were so much laboratory experience to Lee. He saw how dependent a commanding general was upon the good-will of his subordinates, and in Scott's failure to elicit that co-operation he read a warning that may have led him in the War between the States to go too far in the other direction. In addition, he had the most monitory of object lessons in the "political generals" whom Scott had to endure. Perhaps Scott's difficulties with Pillow gave Lee the clue to the handling of Wise and of Floyd in the campaign of 1861 in West Virginia, but his observation of Pillow's performances doubtless explains why Lee was so careful to keep politicians from holding important command in the Army of Northern Virginia. It is quite possible, indeed, that Pillow was in large measure responsible for the distrust of politicians that Lee exhibited later. From what he had seen of Pillow in Mexico and of Congress in Washington, he formed a poor opinion of the whole breed of politicians.

Source: R. E. Lee: A Biography, volume 1, by Douglas Southall Freeman (New York and London, 1934).

What was REL's role in John Brown's Raid?

When John Brown (1800&ndash1859) and his followers took the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (present-day West Virginia), in October 1859, U.S. Secretary of War John B. Floyd ordered Robert E. Lee to travel there and take command of the assembling force of armed citizens, Maryland militia, and U.S. marines. Lee and Floyd went to the White House, accompanied by Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart who was at the War Department on business, to discuss the situation with President James Buchanan and his military adviser. Armed with a proclamation from Buchanan, Lee and Stuart at once set out for Harpers Ferry, where upon arrival they found the band of insurgents confined to the armory's fire-engine house. After learning that the numbers of insurrectionists had been greatly exaggerated, Lee decided that the situation did not warrant issuing the president's proclamation, and he sent a telegraph to Baltimore calling off reinforcements who were already on the way.

After gathering information about the layout of the fire-engine house and the number of hostages being held by Brown, Lee drafted a firm course of action. He decided to surrounded the building with militia as a show of force and to offer safety to Brown and his men in exchange for their unconditional surrender, and if Brown declined the terms to immediately storm the engine-house. Out of courtesy, Lee offered the Maryland and Virginia militia the priviledge of storming the building in the event Brown did not surrender voluntarily. After both declined, he turned to the marines, who put forth two dozen men for the task, half to enter the building and half to be held in reserve. In the event of an assault, Lee ordered, the marines were not to fire their guns but to use bayonets only, and they were to consider the slaves in the building as hostages, unless they resisted. J.E.B. Stuart volunteered to approach the engine house under a flag of truce to read Lee's offer to the insurgents and to give a signal if it was declined. After a conference between Stuart and Brown, with hostages yelling in the background, Stuart gave the signal and the marines stormed the building. The assault lasted under three minutes the marines suffered two casualites(one mortal) but no hostages were injured. After interrogation Lee sent Brown and the other prisoners under escort to the county jail at Charlestown. Lee then dismissed the marines and returned to Washington to make his report. The insurrection was over and Brown was tried and convicted of treason and murder and a date (2 December) was set for execution.

The Engine-House at Harpers Ferry and the Prison at Charlestown

For Lee, however, the drama had one more, albeit anticlimatic, scene. Two weeks later, admist rumors that radical abolitionists in the north were threatening to rescue Brown or revenge his execution, Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise asked President Buchanan to send Federal troops to Harpers Ferry. The president ordered four companies of marines to Harpers Ferry, under Lee's command. While at Harpers Ferry Lee met with Brown's wife, Mary Ann Day Brown (1817&ndash1884), who against her husband's advice had come to see her husband one last time before his execution Lee referred her to the commander of the Virginia forces overseeing the jail. Brown's execution came and went without incident, and Lee and the troops were dismissed ten days later.

The Engine-House in 1862 and "Fort Brown" in the 1880s
Click images for larger view (opens new windows)

What were REL's military ranks?

Robert E. Lee's rise in the officer ranks was very slow, as the U.S. Army was small and career officers seldom relinquished their commissions except for reasons of retirement, severe illness, or death. When a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Lee was honored with the appointment of staff sergeant at the end of his first year because of his high standing in the class. After his third year he was named corps adjutant, according to his biographer Douglas Southall Freeman "the most coveted of West Point honors." When Lee was sent to Georgia to work as an engineer at Cockspur Island in August 1829 he went with the rank of brevet second lieutentant. It was July 1832 before he was named regular second lieutenant, backdated to the date of his first commission, 1 July 1829. It was November 1836 before Lee would be promoted to first lieutenant, and August 1838 before he received his captain's commission. Not until 1856 would he receive another regular rank promotion, to major, although his distinguished service in the Mexican War won him brevets of major after the Battle of Cerro Gordo (August 1847, backdated to the previous April), lieutenant-colonel following the taking of Padierna and Churubusco (August 1847) and colonel for his role at Chapultepec (August 1848). Thus as the superintendent of West Point, 1852 to 1855, Lee's regular rank was captain although he was drawing pay based on his colonelcy by brevet.

Lee's next regular promotion came in March 1855, when he was named lieutenant colonel of one of the two new cavalry regiments created by Congress to guard the American frontier against hostile Indians. When he was finally promoted to colonel, in March 1861, it was because secession in the deep south had made vacancies in the U.S. Cavalry. Although he had already made up his mind to stay with Virginia, however she might choose regarding secession, Lee accepted the colonel's commission, which incidentally was signed by Abraham Lincoln. Shortly afterward, U.S. officials made overtures to Lee that he might succeed General Winfield Scott himself as commander of the U.S. Army, while Confederate Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker offered Lee a brigadier general's commission in the new southern army, the highest rank then concieved. As expected, Lee resigned his commission on 20 April, upon learning that Virgina had seceded from the Union. The same day the Alexandria Gazette printed an editorial asking Virginia to rally around Lee if he should resign from the U.S. Army. The next day Governor John Letcher sent a messenger to Lee offering him supreme command of the Virginia military and naval forces, with the rank of major-general. Lee accepted, and his appointment was confirmed unanimously by the Virginia Convention. When Virginia formally allied with the Confederate government in May Lee was given command of Confederate troops within the state, on 14 May, and days later he was authorized to act as a Confederate brigadier-general. By June the Confederate government had moved to Richmond and begun to take over the Virginia forces, leaving Lee without rank or authority. On 31 August 1861 the Confederate Congress commissioned Lee major-general, to date from 16 May.

Lee's Letter of Resignation
Addressed to U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron, 20 April 1861
Click image to read letter (opens new window)

How much was REL's army pay?

After thirty-one years in the army, at age 53, Robert E. Lee's pay was $1,205 per year when food, lodging, and traveling expenses were included, it amounted to $4,060. On this salary Lee was supporting himself, an invalid wife, four unmarried daughters, and the education of his sons.

Did REL favor secession?

No, Robert E. Lee opposed secession. "Secession is nothing but revolution," Lee wrote to a son, echoing the words of President James Buchanan.

As the threat of disunion began to heat up after the election of Lincoln, Lee wrote from Texas his observation that the "Southern states seem to be in a convulsion." Nevertheless, although he also believed strongly that the Union should be preserved, Lee thought individual states held the right to self-determination. His loyalty was to Virginia&mdashand to the Union so long as Virginia remained in the Union. How strongly Lee opposed disunion is apparent in a letter that he wrote home in late January 1861:

To another relative he wrote,

Lee was on assignment in Texas when that state seceded, and he half expected to be held prisoner after he refused a Texas Convention delegation's strong urging that he resign his U.S. Army commission and join the Confederacy. Although Lee feared that Virginia too might pull out of the Union if some means could not be found to avert war, he insisted that his first allegiance was due to his mother state and that as long as she stood with the Union, so would he. The delegation did not attempt to detain Lee or prevent his traveling to the coast to sail for Washington, where he had been ordered, but it did prohibit him from transportating his personal effects out of Texas. Lee stored his belongings with a staunch Federalist friend, Charles Anderson, who later recalled that Lee was quite angry at the Texans. Lee described his thinking on the subject to Anderson:

Lee had declared many times that he could never lift his sword against his native state, but if forced would lift it in her defense. In the end Virginia seceded, and with her went Lee. It was his duty and he was bound by honor to do his duty. As his biographer Douglas Southall Freeman observed, when the time came, for Lee,

As with many of his countrymen, Lee's heart lay with Virginia.

Did Lincoln offer REL command of the Army?

According to John Nicolay and John Hay, two of Lincoln's presidential secretaries, Lincoln only asked Francis Preston Blair, Sr., co-publisher of the Washington Globe, to sound out Robert E. Lee on the subject. But Blair recalled, ten years after the fact, that Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron had "expressed themselves as anxious to give the command of our army to Robert E. Lee. I considered myself as authorized to inform Lee of that fact." Blair, who had served in Andrew Jackson's Kitchen Cabinet, not only thought himself empowered by both Lincoln and Cameron to actually offer the command to Lee, if he found Lee receptive to the idea, but he told Lee as much. Lee, at the time still a Federal officer, heard Blair out at length but made it clear that the proposal was unacceptable if meant that he would take command of an army that would be placed in the field against Virginians. "Lee said he was devoted to the Union," recalled Blair. "He said, among other things, that he would do everything in his power to save it, and that if he owned all the negroes in the South, he would be willing to give them up and make the sacrifices of the value of every one of them to save the Union. We talked several hours on the political question in that vein. Lee said he did not know how he could draw his sword upon his native state."

Lee, according to his own recollections in 1868, declined the offer, "stating, as candidly and courteously as I could, that, though opposed to secession, and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern states." Although the testimonies of the two men largely agreed, Blair seems to have gone away from their meeting thinking that Lee had not outright rejected the proposal and wanted to discuss it with General Winfield Scott. Whatever the misunderstandings, the offer of command of the U.S. Army had been, in the name of the commander in chief, and rejected.

What were REL's major battles?

Seven Days Battles, 25 June&ndash1 July 1862,

The series of battles that took place outside of Richmond, Virginia, over seven days, was actually the culmination of Federal Major General George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign, which began when Union forces began to move up the Virginia Peninsula in March, 1862. It was the first time that Robert E. Lee commanded the army in the field and although his army suffered heavier causualities and failed to cut off McClellan's retreating army, it was Lee's first display of the battlefield audacity that would make him famous. Lee's willingness to go on the offensive unnerved McClellan and saved Richmond, and not until 1864 did Federal forces again come so near the Confederate capital. The battles and skirmishes of the Seven Days included:

Second Manassas (Bull Run), 29&ndash30 August 1862

This battle was the culmination of the Northern Virginia Campaign, a series of battles in which General Lee attempted to follow up on his success of forcing General McClellan to withdraw the Federal forces from the Virginia Peninsula. In it Lee showed himself even more bold than he had in the Seven Days Battles, by splitting the Army of Northern Virginia and maneuvering it into a surprise attack on Major General John Pope's larger Federal force. The result was one of Lee's most decisive victories of the war the Federal army retreated all the way back to Washington and Pope, humilated, was immediately dismissed by Lincoln. The overwhelming Confederate success gave Lee the confidence to take the war into the north.

Antietam (Sharpsburg), 17 September 1862

Captain John Hope, Artillery Hell

The Advance of the 9th New York Infantry, by Edwin Forbes

Fredericksburg, 13 December 1862

General Ambrose Burnside
Click image for larger view (opens new window)

Another decisive victory for General Lee, his first against a more aggressive Federal officer, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, Lincoln's replacement of McClellan. Burnside's suicidal sacrifice of his men while trying to take the well-protected Confederates on Marye's Heights earned his quick dismissal, too, by Lincoln.

General "Fighting Joe" Hooker

This is considered by many to be Lee's greatest victory. The Federal army, under "Fighting Joe" Hooker, Burnside's replacement, outnumbered the Confederates by more than two to one, 130,000 to 60,000. Lee again split his army, suprising and defeating Hooker. Unfortunately for Lee, the Confederate victory was tempered by the accidental fatal shooting of General Stonewall Jackson. Hooker, like his predecessors, was dismissed after the battle.

Gettysburg 1&ndash3 July 1863

Lee's decision to carry the war into the north for a second time culminated at the Battle of Gettsburg. Commanding the Federal troops was Major General George C. Meade, who had taken command of the Federal Army the day before battle. On the first day of battle the lines were drawn, the Confederate stretching for five miles, and the Union occupying a two-mile defensive "fishhook" formation. The fighting at Little Round Top took place on the second day and Picket's Charge on the final day. Altogether, the battle was the bloodiest of the war, and a costly defeat for the Confederate Army.

Four and a half months after the battle President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate the cemetery at the battlefeild, making his famous address there on 19 November 1863:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Wilderness, 5&ndash7 May 1864

This was the opening battle of Federal Army General U. S. Grant's Overland Campaign. Lee's army, greatly outnumbered, fought to a draw, but afterwards Grant did what no other Union general had done before: instead of retreating he pressed Lee by moving closer to Richmond, forcing Lee into a defensive posture.

Spotsylvania Court House, 8&ndash21 May 1864

Recognizing that Spotsylvania Courthouse would become Grant's objective after the fighting at the Wildeness stopped, Lee set up trench works in the area, known as the Mule Shoe because of its shape. What ensued was two weeks of probing, skirmishing, and fighting that culminated in a stalemate which Grant broke by sending his army toward Richmond. The fighting at the Mule Shoe included the Bloody Angle, twenty hours of the longest hand-to-hand combat of the war, on 12 May. At Spotsylvania the casualties amounted to 28,000&mdash18,000 Federal and 10,000 Confederate.

Cold Harbor 31 May&ndash12 June 1864

After leaving Spotsylvania, General Grant entered upon what turned out to be the second phase of his Overland Campaign. The Federals occupied Old Cold Harbor on 31 May, driving out the Confederates. Lee attempted to retake Old Cold Harbor on the following day, but was repulsed. Federal counterattacks culminated on 3 June without disloding Lee's firmly entrenched army. An ensuing week-long standoff ended with Grant shifting his army south of the James River toward Petersburg.

Petersburg, 9&ndash17 June 1864

The initial Federal attempts to capture Petersburg resulted in the loss of 10,000 men and forced General Grant to lay siege to the city, which lasted until the spring of 1865.

The Crater, 30 July 1864

After weeks of tunneling more than 500 feet underneath the Confederate earthworks the Federals exploded 8,000 pounds of black powder, blasting a hole in the Confederate battery some 170 feet long, 60 to 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. The blast caused 278 immediate Confederate casualties. Federal troops rushed into the hole but became trapped when the Confederates mounted a quick counterattack. The result was a massive slaughter of Federal troops and a complete Confederate victory. Grant characterized the Crater as "the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war." Union General Ambrose E. Burnside was relieved of his command as a result.

The Crater in 1865

Beefsteak Raid, 14&ndash17 September 1864

With Lee's army near starvation, a Confederate cavalry force of 4,500 led by Major General Wade Hampton captured a heard of 2,500 beef cattle from the Federals at Coggins Point, about five miles down the James River from City Point and not far from Petersburg. The majority of Confederate cavalry were from the cavalry division of Lee's son, William Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee.

Five Forks, 1 April 1865

The Federal victory at Five Forks (in Dinwiddie County) cut off Lee's final line of supply, the South Side Railroad, and led to the Confederate evacuation of both Petersburg and Richmond. Led by Major General George Pickett, Confederate casualties amounted to 5,200.

Union Major General Philip H. Sheridan

Petersburg, 2 April 1865

After several Federal attacks weakened Lee's army considerably in March 1865, General Grant's final assault on Petersburg was made as Lee was evacuating the city. Even then victory did not come easy the Federals suffered 3,500 casualties. Confederate casualties amounted to 4,250, with some 3,000 captured.

Sailor's Creek, 6 April 1865

This Federal victory destroyed nearly one-fourth of Lee's retreating amry. Lee lost 7,700 men, including eight generals (one of whom was Lee's son, Rooney Lee, captured), and signaled the death knell of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Appomattox, 9 April 1865

With the Army of Northern Virginia severely weakened, surrounded, and cut off from supplies, Lee decided that it was useless to fight another battle and formally surrendered to U. S. Grant.

Where did REL surrender?

Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on 9 April 1865. Originally a stop on the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road and the county seat by the 1850s, the small town of Appomattox Court House was three miles east of the South Side Railroad, the 132-mile line running from City Point to Lynchburg and the main supply route for Lee's army. When Grant's forces broke the supply route at the Battle of Five Forks (in Dinwiddie County) on 1 April, the fate of Lee's army was sealed and the Confederates were forced to evacuate both Petersburg and Richmond. By the time Lee's army reach Appomattox, continued fighting was pointless and Lee began formal negotiations to surrender.

The surrender signing took place at Appomattox Court House, at the house of Wilmer McLean, the man who owned the house at the battlefield of First Manassas, where the war in Virginia started.

The McLean House at Appomattox, 1865

Did REL have children?

Yes, Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Custis had seven children, all of whom lived to adulthood.

George Washington Custis Lee (Custis, "Boo" 1832&ndash1913)
Mary Custis Lee (Mary, "Daughter" 1835&ndash1918)
William Henry Fitzhugh Lee ("Rooney" 1837&ndash1891)
Anne Carter Lee (Annie 1839&ndash1862)
Eleanor Agnes Lee (Agnes 1841&ndash1873)
Robert Edward Lee, Jr. (Rob 1843&ndash1914)
Mildred Childe Lee (Milly, "Precious Life" 1846&ndash1905)

All of the Lee daugters died unmarried and Custis Lee married but had no children. Robert and Mary Lee had four grandchildren that survived to adulthood, however, all children of Rooney and Rob by each's second marriage, and as a result more than twenty direct descendants of Robert E. Lee are living today. All of the Lee children are buried with their parents in the crypt of the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

Lee's three sons served as officers in the Confederate Army, Rob as a captain in the Rockbridge Artillery, Rooney as a major general in the cavalry, and Custis as a brigadier general and aide-de-camp to President Jefferson Davis.

Was REL pardoned?

Yes, Robert E. Lee was pardoned, but posthumously. When Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on 9 April 1865 he was with the soldiers in his army placed on parole by General U. S. Grant. On 29 May, after Lincoln's assassination, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation of amnesty and pardon to any former Confederate who would take an oath to support the Constitution and uphold the laws of the United States, excepting some fourteen classes of persons, of which Lee fell into several. The proclamation provided that any person belonging to any of the excepted classes could apply to the president directly, however, and that "such clemency will be liberally extended as may be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace and dignity of the United States." Although he was protected by the terms of his parole as a prisoner of war, Lee was heartened by how the president's proclamation could positively affect the south and made the decision to apply for pardon as an example to former Confederate officers.

The Pardon of Robert E. Lee
by Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly, 1865
The caption reads "Pardon, shall we trust these men?"
Click image for large view (opens new window)

Before Lee could discern how to make application, however, he learned that a Federal grand jury might indict him and some other Confederate leaders for treason. Not wanting it to appear that by applying for pardon he was attempting to escape a possible trial, Lee decided to submit the application contingent on the non-prosecution of the charges against him if he was indicted and brought to trial he would face the charges. He also determined to submit his application through General Grant, to whom he was paroled, and whom, Lee learned, endorsed Lee's application and held that paroled prisoners could not be prosecuted as long as they did not violate their parole. The government failed to act on Lee's application, even with Grant's support, however. Lee took the oath of allegiance on 2 October 1865 and sent it to Washington but it apparently was set aside, only to resurface in the National Archives in 1970. A resolution introduced in Congress to restore Lee's full rights of citizenship was signed into law by President Gerald Ford at a ceremony at Arlington House on 5 August 1975.

Did REL own slaves?

Yes, Robert E. Lee owned slaves, mostly house servants that he inherited from his mother. In the 1830s and 1840s, he owned a slave named Gardner that he rented to his mother's relatives at Shirley Plantation. In 1846, when making his last will and testament before heading west on military orders, Lee still owned a slave woman named Nancy and her children, who were at the White House plantation in New Kent County. The schedule of property attached to the will directed that upon his death they be "liberated as soon as it can be done to their advantage and that of others." No evidence has surfaced that Lee ever purchased or sold any slaves although while in Texas he did contemplate buying a body servant when he had trouble hiring one. By the time of the Civil War Lee had liberated his slaves, some of whom he reputedly sent to Liberia, or, depending on the sources, all of whom remained at Arlington until after the war.

Lee did not inherit slaves from his father-in-law George Washington Parke Custis, Martha and George Washington's grandson and adopted son. Lee, in fact, was left nothing other than one lot in Washington and the burden of managing Custis's sprawling legacy (tracts of land in a dozen Virginia counties)&mdasha burden made even heavier after Lee became the only one of the four executors to qualify to serve. Custis left to his only child Mary, Robert's wife, the lifetime use and benefit of the Arlington House estate and the mill on Four-Mile Run, which after her death would pass to a grandson. The rest of his plantations and lands Custis divided between his seven grandchildren, along with cash payments of $10,000 each to four grandaughters. After payment of the cash legacies, "and my estates that are required to pay the said legacies, being clear of debts, then I give freedom to my slaves, the said slaves to be emancipated by my executors in such manner as to my executors may seem most expedient and proper, the said emancipation to be accomplished in not exceeding five years from the time of my decease." Here was the rub, for Custis died so deep in debt that there was no money with which to either pay the cash legacies or free the slaves. Under Lee's management the Custis estate became financially viable and the slaves were freed during the winter of 1862&ndash1863. The deed of manumission was made in late December 1862 and recorded in Richmond on 2 January 1863. Sixty-three names were on the list, some of whom were rumored to have been fathered by Custis and thus, if so, were half-siblings of Lee's wife Mary. When northern newspapers ran stories of Lee's supposedly having runaways soundly flogged at the Arlington House plantation on the eve of the war it made him unhappy but there was nothing he could do, save complain to his son, Custis. "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."

Lee's stated views on slavery are well-known, having been set out in correspondence and post-war interviews. Reflecting the prevailing aristocratic and Christian values of his class, the following passage, written to his wife in December 1856, reveals his attitude:

Although many in the country held views similiar to Lee, others did not, and the states plunged into civil war. Late in the war Lee attempted to pursuade his compatriots to allow slaves to enlist in the Confederate Army. If admitting slaves into the Confederate Army subverted the institution of slavery, said Lee, then it would be done by southerners themselves and any ill effects of the measure would be less than the contrary, as the Federal Army already was employing both northern and southern slaves in its ranks.

For Lee and the Confederacy, and for the slaves, his proposal came too late.

When interviewed after the war by a visiting Englishman, Herbert C. Saunders, Lee freely discussed his feelings about slavery and emancipation:

The same sentiment was indicated to another interviewer, John Leyburn, who visited Lee in Lexington in 1869. Lee was adamament that the war was not fought on the southern side with a view to perpetuate slavery.

In 1918 the Reverend Mack Lee (b. 1835), a former slave once owned by Lee who served as his body servant and cook, published a pamphlet, History of the Life of Rev. Wm. Mack Lee Body Servant of General Robert E. Lee Through the Civil War, Cook from 1861 to 1865, to raise money to build black churches. Characterizing his former master as "one of the greatest men in the world," Mack Lee claimed that all of Lee's slaves were freed ten years before the war but remained at the Arlington House plantation until after the surrender&mdashMack himself returned to Arlington after the war and lived there for eighteen years&mdashand that Lee at his death had left him $360 for the purpose of earning an education, which he did, entering the ministry.

Did REL take communion with a Black man?

Probably, but recent scholarship on the subject questions traditional interpretations of the event. As related by Thomas L. Broun, an ex-Confederate who had played a role in Lee's purchase of Traveller from Broun's brother, the incident supposedly took place at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, in June 1865. When an unnamed black man approached the commmunion table before or among the white communicants, it caused a stir in the congregation. Lee ignored the man's actions and went to the alter, thereby paving the way for others. For a discussion of Broun's account and what it may have meant, see General Lee and Visibility, by Professor Philip J. Schwarz.

Did REL have nicknames?

Yes, Robert E. Lee had many nicknames. The more popularly known ones are:

Marble Model, earned at West Point from fellow cadets who noticed his exemplary attention to his studies and obeying the rules.

Granny Lee, bestowed upon him by the Richmond Examiner in the fall of 1861 because of the perception that Lee was an aged paper-pushing general after he withdrew his troops in the face of the arrival of Federal reinforcements at Cheat Mountain in western Virginia.

King of Spades (and Prince of Spades), given because of his strategy of digging entrenchments, first at Charleston, South Carolina, and later at Richmond.

Evacuating Lee (and Retreating Lee), bestowed upon him by the Richmond Examiner announcing Lee's appointment to command the Army of Northern Virginia in June 1862: "Evacuating Lee, who has never yet risked a single battle with the invader, is commanding general."

Audacity, given by Colonel Joseph Ives, a member of the staff of President Jefferson Davis, shortly after Davis had named Lee commander of the Army of Northern Virginia: "He will take more desperate chances and take them quicker than any other general in this country, North or South. . . . His name might be Audacity."

Great Tycoon, affectionately so-called by Walter H. Taylor, who was only 23 years old when he joined Lee's staff as an adjutant in 1861, because of Lee's tendency to overburden him with work.

Uncle Robert, used affectionately by the public and his troops after the Seven Days Battles, as later at Sailor's Creek: "It's General Lee! Where's the man who won't follow Uncle Robert?"

Marse Robert, slang for Master, used affectionately, as in Armond Carroll's Invocation on the Dedication of the Mountain (Gutzon Borglum's Stone Mountain in Georgia), in May 1916, whose first line reads "Come on, Marse Robert, throw yourself into the saddle."

Old Grand Pa, affectionately called so by his men.

Old Man, respectfully spoken by those who fought under him&mdashwith tears streaming down his cheeks Leonard Gee, staff courier to Texas Brigadier General John Gregg, said it best, if not first, at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864: "I would charge hell itself for that old man."

Bobby Lee, endearingly used by his troops and by Federals as well, as when General McClellan proclaimed upon the discovery of Special Orders No. 191 (Lee's battle plans) before the Battle of Antietam: "Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobby Lee I will be willing to go home."

Marble Man, 20th-century appellation signifying Lee the icon, based largely on Lost Cause veneration of Lee and his character and dignity, reflected in Edward Valentine's recumbent statue of Lee at the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, exemplified in Douglas Southall Freeman wrote in the last paragraphs of his monumental biography of Lee: "There he lies, now that they have shrouded him, with his massive features so white against the lining of the casket that he seems already a marble statue for the veneration of the South."

What was REL's favorite song?

Reputedly, Robert E. Lee's favorite song was a Christian hymn of assurance, "How Firm A Foundation," written about 1787 and variously attributed to John Keene, Kirkham, and John Keith. The hymn was song following the concluding prayer at Lee's funeral.

Lee also is said to have been partial to a piano waltz, "Come Dearest, The Daylight Is Gone," written in 1852 by Welsh composer Brinley Richards (1819&ndash1885), most famous for "God Bless the Prince of Wales" (1862), honoring the future King Edward VII of Great Britain.

Was REL very religious?

Yes, Robert E. Lee was a devoted Christian, and increasingly so as he aged. His mother, Ann Hill Carter Lee, was responsible for the religious training of young Robert and his siblings. Her less pious husband, Light-Horse Harry Lee, deferred to his wife on the subject. To Light-Horse, his wife's piety arose from "love to Almighty God and love of virtue, which are synonymous not from fear of hell&mdasha base, low influence." Lee's biographer Douglas Southall Freeman wrote of Ann's labors over her children, that "physically it overtaxed her, but spiritually she was equal to it." Not only did Ann attend to prayers and religious instruction at home, once the family moved to Alexandria she carried her children to the Episcopal Church (Christ Church, Alexandria) not far from her home, where George Washington himself had worshipped. The minister of the church during Lee's youth was William Meade (1789&ndash1862), son of one of Washington's Revolutionary War aides-de-camp and later bishop of Virginia and president of Virginia Thheological Seminary. Meade's presence impacted everyone who came into his sphere, and Robert Lee was no exception. Many years later, when Meade was dead and Lee himself had lost the great war, Lee wrote his appraisal of Meade: "Of all the men I have ever known, I consider him the purest."

At West Point Lee with the other cadets attended morning chapel five days a week. During Lee's first year at the academy a young new chaplain came to the school, Charles P. McIlvaine, also professor of ethics, history, and geography. Whether his age, his charisma, his zeal, or his eloquence, or a combination of them all, McIlvaine proved an likable and effective minister and role model to the impressionable young men, many of whom, like Robert, would become the country's leading military figures.

When his military service took Lee to New York in the 1840s, he was sufficiently serious about church life to serve as a vestryman at the garrison church at Fort Hamilton, but not terribly interested in a religious squabble that developed among the parisoners over the high-church theology of Oxford's Edward Bouverie Pusey. Lee leaned toward the low-church view but confided his beliefs to only a few trusted friends. Likewise, Lee was no bigot regarding the freedom of worship, and attended Catholic Church services in Mexico as part of the U.S. delegation of officers.

Lee's religious life took on more serious overtones on 17 July 1853, the day he was confirmed, along with daughters Annie and Mary, at Christ Church, Alexandria. According to Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee up to that time had led a moral and pious life and had felt and verbalized his dependence on God, and he had not gone through any period of questioning or testing or experienced any "sudden spiritual upheaval" although he believed in Christian conversion experiences. "Rather," said Freeman, "his decision reflected a progression of religious experiences." Perhaps those experiences included his escape from almost certain capture while on a reconnoitering mission during the Mexican War, after which Lee took time, he wrote his wife, to "give thanks to our Heavely Father for all his mercies to me, for his preservation of me through all the dangers I have passed, and all the blessings which he has bestowed upon me, for I know I fall far short of my obligations." Perhaps he recognized the example that he was setting for the cadets at West Point, now that he was their superintendent and responsible for their well-being. Or maybe the upcoming confirmation of his daughters signaled to him weaknesses in his personal example. His wife's unhalted physical decline, which eventually made her an invalid, and the death of his mother-in-law, with whom he had been particularly close, could not but have given him pause. In any event, Lee had decided, at age 46, to make a formal public profession of belief and allegiance to Christ. The vows he made, he kept.

While on the Indian frontier, as a cavalry captain, after the expiration of his term at West Point, Lee's religious life was apparent to all, so much so that one of his men asked him to perform the funeral rites over his dead child.

Many such examples of Lee's religiosity could be cited from his letters.

While on the frontier, in San Antonio, Texas, Lee found time to assist in bringing to fruition the construction of an Episcopal church building. He also learned, and was overjoyed, that his youngest son, Rob, had begun to prepare for confirmation. Like his countrymen, he also began to express concerns for the sectional crisis that was heating up, although he believed God would not let the United States be rent asunder after so blessing the country with its formation. "May God rescue us from the folly of our own acts," was his plea, "save us from selfishness and teach us to love our neighbors as ourselves." Alas, it was not be so, but Lee trusted all to the heavenly mercy. "I am not concerned with results. God's will ought to be our aim, and I am quite contented that his designs should be accomplished and not mine."

Lee's wartime prayer that "the Great Ruler of the Universe will continue to aid and prosper us, and crown at last our feeble efforts with success," was not answered in the affirmative. Despite the Confederate loss, however, it left no ill effects on Lee's religious faith. As president of Washington College, Lee preferred to has his office in the chapel that the school constructed, and remained active in church affairs until his death. In fact, his last deed before suffering the stroke that led to his death was to attend a meeting of the vestry.

As usual, Douglas Southall Freeman made some keen observations about Lee's religiosity:

Prayerbook of Robert E. Lee

Did REL drink alcohol?

Yes, Robert E. Lee occasionally drank wine. Lee considered it his duty to live a life of moderation and restraint, and that included personal habits of eating, drinking, language, dress, etc. As a cadet at West Point Leee studiously avoided the revelries indulged in by some of the other students, although he managed to do so without coming across as a prude. As an officer and as a father he thought it incumbent to set an example for those looking to him. Nevertheless, the wine cellar at Arlington House was fully stocked, as evidenced by his wife's relaying to him of its contents being removed with other family valuables to Ravensworth in the spring of 1861, in anticipation of the Federal occupation of their home. During the Civil War Lee sometimes shared wine at his table when it was sent to him as a gift&mdashto have not done so would have given the appearance, at least in his eyes, of scorning a sacrifice made by impoverished supporters of the Confederate war effort. After the war, in 1869, when Lee was conscious of his example to his students at Washington College, Lee wrote of his thoughts about the use of hard liquor: "My experience through life has convinced me that, while moderation and temperance in all things are commendable and beneficial, abstinence from spirituous liquors is the best safeguard of morals and health." To a son he wrote, "I think it better to avoid it altogether, as you do, as its temperate use is so difficult." Another statement attributed to him is completely in character: "Whiskey &mdash I like it, I always did, and that is the reason I never use it." Those statements seem to sum up Lee's attitude toward intemperance.

Ironically, the National Anti-Saloon League in 1912 renamed its pledge movement the Lincoln-Lee Legion in honor of two men considered to have best set an example of temperance. The LLL's pledge read:

How was REL related to George Washington?

Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee was the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, George and Martha Washington's grandson and adopted son. Robert's grandfather, Henry Lee II, had married a cousin, Lucy Grymes, with whom the youthful Washington had been enfatuated. Their son and Robert's father, Henry Lee III, as a child knew Martha and George Washington as "Aunt Martha" and "Uncle George." Henry came of age on the eve of the Revolutionary War, secured a commission as a cavalry officer, and won fame and a new name&mdashLight-Horse Harry&mdashas one of the great heroes of the war. Washington even invited Harry, twenty-four years his junior, to serve in his military family, but Lee declined. After the war, however, Light-Horse Harry became one of Washington's closest political allies and a vocal proponent of the Constitution, which Washington also strongly supported. In that matter Light-Horse Harry broke with another famous cousin, Richard Henry Lee, with whom Washington was also closely allied, along with Richard Henry's brothers Francis Lightfoot, William, and Arthur. Later, when President John Adams asked Washington to help arrange the Provisional Army in preparation for a possible war with France in 1798, Washington made an annotated list of officers, their strengths and weaknesses, and named Light-Horse Harry as the best among the all. When Washington died, it was Light-Horse Harry who penned the famous words about his former commander-in-chief, "First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of his Countrymen." It was a tribute reflecting his own feelings, and one that Lee reiterated in stories and letters to Robert's older brother Charles, who was instructed to pass them on his younger siblings. In addition to all this, Washington was namesake and godfather to a son of Light-Horse Harry, who died in infancy, Robert's half brother. What was more, Washington's heir, nephew Bushrod Washington, to whom the Mount Vernon estate passed, raised the grandchildren of Richard Henry Lee, who intermarried with the Washington family. In the end, the final Washington owners of Mount Vernon were also Lee descendents. Ironically, George Washington himself had first leased the estate from his half brother's widow Ann Fairfax Washington (d. 1761) and her second husband, George Lee, (1714&ndash1761), first cousins to Robert's father and Lee uncles. Lee's biographer Douglas Southall Freeman very aptly summed up Lee's reverence for the Father of His Country: "In the home where Robert was trained, God came first and then Washington."

If a wealth of family lore and connections and and a childhood in Alexandria where ghosts of Washington appeared on every street corner were not enough to endear Robert E. Lee to George Washington, Lee's own temperament was. He had an innate sense of duty and honor and a rigid self-control. Even his religion was the same&ndashEpiscopalian&ndashalthough Lee, reflecting the times in which he lived, tended less toward the high church than Washington. And Lee loved horses, as did the great man whom Jefferson described as the "best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback." (Lee's famous horse, Traveller, bore the name of one of Washington's stud horses.) Most obvious, of course, was the similar bent for the military, especially their deep respect for civil authority and the audacious manner in which they attempted to wage war, albeit to different ends.

What were the names of REL's horses?

Robert E. Lee rode many horses. The most famous of all, of course, was Traveller, the iron gray made famous by photographers during and after the Civil War. Lee purchased Traveller for $200 from Captain Joseph M. Broun (b. 1835), quartermaster of the 60th Virginia Infantry, which in December 1861 accompanied Lee to South Carolina to shore up the Confederate defensive works. Traveller was sired by Grey Eagle, a famous Kentucky race horse that also produced many fine thoroughbred saddle horses. Traveller's mother was Flora, a grade mare apparently sent to Maysville, Kentucky, for the purpose. Born in the spring of 1857 near Blue Sulphur Springs in Greenrier County, Virginia (present-day West Virginia), Traveller had one owner before Broun, Captain James W. "Dick" Johnson who had raised him, calling him Jeff Davis. As a colt, Jeff Davis took first prize in the horse shows at the Lewisburg fairs in 1859 and 1860. According to Broun, who paid $175 for the horse in September 1861, Traveller was greatly admired in the Confederate camp for "his rapid, springy walk, his high spirit, bold carriage, and muscular strength."

Lee took a fancy to Traveller the first time he saw him and inquired about him from time to time and when he saw Broun's brother riding the horse in South Carolina he offered to buy him. After trying him out for a week, in February 1862, a deal was struck, and Traveller had its third owner.

Lee renamed Jeff Davis Traveller, after a stud horse belonging to Lee's role model and great-grandfather-in-law, George Washington. Traveller weighed 1,100 pounds and stood sixteen hands high. Lee gave a lengthy description of Traveller to his wife's cousin Markie Williams, who had requested it in preparation of making a painting of the horse, set forth in his Recollections and Letters of General Lee, by Lee's son Rob:

According to Rob Lee, Traveller was "never known to tire, and, though quiet and sensible in general and afraid of nothing, yet if not regularly exercised, he fretted a good deal, especially in a crowd of horses." During the Maryland Campaign Traveller was the cause of a somewhat serious injury to his owner. After dismounting, Lee was "sitting on a fallen log, with the bridle reins hung over his arm. Traveller, becoming frightened at something, suddenly dashed away, threw him violently to the ground, spraining both hands and breaking a small bone in one of them." The result was that Lee could not get in the saddle for part of the campaign. Rob Lee also related his own experience riding Traveller, which took place when he first joined the Confedrate cavalry:

Traveller died of lockjaw in June 1871 and was buried by Lee's son Custis along Wood's Creek behindWashington and Lee University. In 1907 his skeleton was disinterred and put on public display, and in 1971 Traveller was re-buried outside the Lee Chapel

Although Lee's affection and respect was greater for Traveller than for his other horses, because of his nervousnes Lee did not think Traveller his best horse under fire during battle. After Lee was injured by Traveller during the Maryland Campaign, cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart discoverd a "low, easy moving, and quiet sorrel mare" owned by Stephen Dandridge of the Bower, a country estate in Jefferson County where Stuart and his staff sometimes quartered. Thinking the mare might be better suited than Traveller to bear the general in battle, Stuart purchased the 5-year-old horse and presented her as a gift to Lee. When Lee returned to the saddle it was not upon Traveller but upon the back of the new mare, christened Lucy Long. Lee rode Lucy Long until she got in foal two years later, during the siege of Petersburg. Lee sent Lucy Long to the rear of the lines and took to riding Traveller again. Before the war ended Lucy Long disappeared, stolen, but was returned to its owner as a Christmas present in 1867 when Rob Lee discovered her in the eastern part of Virginia. Lucy Long lived in Lexington until leg injuries in the late 1870s forced Custis Lee to send her to the country. Lucy Long was still living in 1891, in her thirty-fourth year, described as being "thin in flesh, though her eye has not lost its wonted brightness and her health apparently is good. She eats dry food with difficulty, hence her present condition. During the grazing season she fattens on the soft grasses of the pasture."

Lee's correspondence is full of references to other horses. Some of the ones known by name include Grace Darling, Santa Anna, Richmond, Brown Roan, Ajax, and Grace Darling. Grace Darling was a chestnut mare "of fine size and great power" that Lee had bought in Texas after her owner died on the march to Mexico. Named after the heroine of Northumberland who rowed out in a storm to save survivors of the steamer Forfarshire in 1838, Grace Darling bore Lee throughout the campaign, despited being shot seven times, and was his favorite mare. She was sent to the White House on the Pamunkey River for safekeeping during the war but confiscated by a Federal quartermaster McClellan occupied the plantation during the Penisula Campaign. Santa Anna was a pure white 5-year-old mustang that Lee acquired in Vera Cruz and sent to Baltimore as a gift for his son Rob. Rob described him as "a very miserable, sad-looking object" because of his long sea voyage. Over time Santa Anna's worth became apparent to Rob and the pony remained with the family until one morning in the winter of 1860&mdash1861, when he was "found lying cold and dead in the park at Arlington." In 1862, with Rob now in the Confederate service, Lee gave to him another horse, a daughter of Grace Darling, "though not so handsome as her mother, she inherited many of her good qualities, and carried me well until the end of the war and for thirteen years afterward. She was four years old, a solid bay, and never failed me a single day during three years' hard work."

Richmond, a bay stallion, was aptly named, for he was presented to Lee as a gift when he went to Richmond in the spring of 1861 and he bore Lee as he rode through the camps and defensive works around the capital city. "He is a troublesome fellow and dislikes to associate with strange horses," wrote Lee of Richmond. "He expresses it more in words than acts, and if firmly treated becomes quiet at last." Richmond died in 1862 after the battle of Malvern Hill. BrownRoan (or simply, the Roan) was purchased by Lee in western Virginia when he was ordered there in the 1861. Brown Roan accompanied Lee to South Carolina in 1862 but went to pasture with a farmer after going blind. Ajax was a fine chestnut gelding sent to Lee by friends in southwest Virginia. Lee like the horse but seldom mounted him because of his size. Ajax went with Traveller to Lexington after the war but was killed when he accidently ran into an iron gate-latch prong in the mid-1860s.

How did REL die?

Robert E. Lee most likely died of complications following a stroke. For some years he had complained about chest pain and numbness in his right arm&mdashprobably angina pectoris&mdashand may have even suffered a heart attack during the war, in March 1863. To all who knew him the signs of physical decline were readily apparent from that time on. For more than a year before his death Lee had been in almost constant pain, and had even made a trip in the spring of 1870 to the southern climes of Carolinas and Georgia upon the advice of his physicans. He came home even more tired than before he left, and despite treatment, rest, and visits to the springs, his condition did not improve materially.

On the evening of 28 September 1870, when his final decline suddenly came upon him, Lee had been going about his work routinely when he went in to dine with his family. He sat down to table and attempted to say grace as was his habit, but this time words failed and although he wanted to answer remarks made to him by his wife, he could not. Physicians were sent for, Doctors H. T. Barton and R. L. Madison, who had a few minutes before been with Lee at a church vestry meeting. Upon examination the doctors diagnosed "venous congestion" and prescribed medicine and rest. Over the next few days Lee seemed to drift in and out of consciouness and paralysis, and was mostly speechless except for occasional monosyllabic answers to questions put to him. In this state he remained, with periods of seeming improvement until 10 October when he began to slip away. He refused medicine, drifted in and out of consciousness, and made references to hard-fought battles and soldiers. His final utterance, whether conscious of the words or not, was "Strike the tent." Lee's physicans said at the time that his cause of death was "mental and physical fatigue, inducing venous congestion of the brain, which, however, never proceeded so far as apoplexy or paralysis, but gradually caused cerebral exhaustion and death."

Where is REL buried?

Edward Valentine's Recumbent Lee

Robert E. Lee is buried in the family vault beneath the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. The Virginia General Assembly desired of the family to consider burial in Richmond's famed Hollywood Cemetery, but the family settled on Lexington as the final resting place. Lee's parents, wife, and seven children are also interred in the burial vault, along with a number of other relatives. The funeral took place on 15 October 1870, and memorial meetings were held across the south and in New York.

The Funeral of Robert E. Lee

Richard Henry Lee Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Richard Henry Lee passes away in 1794.

Richard Henry Lee was an American statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Lee was born on January 20th, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virgina. Until the age of 16 he lived in the family home in Virgina. He was educated in the home in a variety of skills. As part of his education his father sent him around to the planters in the area so that he could meet and become associated with men of prominence in the area. At 16 he left Virginia for Yorkshire, England where he completed his formal education at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School which was chartered in 1591. While in England, both of Lee's parents passed away in 1750. He did not return to Virgina until 1753, when he helped his brothers settle their parents estate.

In 1757, Lee was appointed Justice of the Peace for Westmoreland county. The following year he was elected to the House of Burgesses, which was the first body of elected representatives in the Americas. In was in the House of Burgesses that Lee met soon to be fellow patriot Patrick Henry.

Lee was an early advocate of independence from England. He was one of the first to create one of the Committees of Correspondence. The Committees were essentially communication hubs between the colonies. Information about plans that each colony had regarding independence and timing of correspondence to England were all handled through the Committees. In 1766, Lee, almost 10 years before the Declaration of Independence, created the Westmoreland Resolution which was signed by prominent landowners in the area. The resolution was signed by four of George Washington's brothers.

In 1774, Lee was chosen as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. He was returned as a delegate in the second. He made the motion, in part, "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." This led to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Lee ended up having to return home to Virginia before the Declaration was voted on and adopted. He returned though to sign the Declaration.

Under the Articles of Confederation, Lee was elected the sixth President of Congress, he served form January 1785 until November of 1785. The Congress under Lee was very busy. Lee was concerned about the costs of the war for Independence and the fact that the newly formed United States was deeply in debt. To that end he wanted to see the land in the Northwest Territory be made available for sale to settlers. He saw this as a quick and efficient way for the country to make money to pay it's debts. At the time Congress had no authority to levy a tax of any kind. The sale of the land would require that the states relinquish any claims to the territory. The Land Ordinance of 1785 was passed, although it was a short lived victory. Squatters had already made their way west and Native American tribes laid claim to much of the land. With no money to buy the land from the Native Americans and no resources for troops to evict the Native Americans and the Squatters from the land there was little for the Congress to do. Once positive that came from the Land Ordnance Act of 1785, was the land survey system that was adopted is still in use today.

From 1789 to 1792 Lee was the first Senator from Virginia. During his time in the United States Senate he was elected the 2nd President pro tempore, serving just under 1 year.


    Northumberland County Court Order Book, First Series, No. 7(1729-1737), folio 186 Northumberland County Court Order Book, First Series, No. 8(1737-1743), folio 143. Source: #S2 Page: Ancestry Family Tree Data: Text: of Wilkinson County, p. 571, retrieved 2014-07-26, amb
  • History of Wilkinson County [Georgia]. Authors Meyer Davidson, M. D., Victor Davidson. Edition reprint. Publisher Genealogical Publishing Com, 2009.
  • Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of the Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee, Heritage classic, Editor Edmund Jennings Lee, Edition reprint, Publisher Heritage Books, 2008, retrieved 2014-06-26, amb
  • Source: S2 Title: Ancestry Family Trees Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Original data: Family Tree files submitted by Ancestry members. Repository: #R1
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Whatever Your Thoughts About Robert E. Lee, You're Bound to Admire His Ancestor, Richard Henry Lee

Historian and presidential biographer Harlow Giles Unger is author of First Founding Father: Richard Henry Lee and the Call for American Independence (Da Capo Press, November 2017), one of more than twenty books he has written about the Founding Fathers and the early American republic.

The furor that the Charlottesville, Virginia, riots engendered have cast a black mark on the name “Lee” and all but expunged from the national memory the huge contributions of the great Lee Family to the birth and survival of our nation. Long before Robert E. Lee—indeed, before Washington, Jefferson, Franklin or John Adams—there was Richard Henry Lee, our nation’s First Founding Father.

First of the Founding Fathers to call for independence, first to call for union, and first to call for a bill of rights, Richard Henry Lee was as much a Father of Our Country as George Washington. For it was Lee who masterminded the political and diplomatic victories that ensured Washington’s military victory in the Revolutionary War. And after the nation took shape, it was Lee—not James Madison—who conceived of the Bill of Rights our nation enjoys today.

Richard Henry Lee was a scion of one of Virginia’s—indeed, one of North America’s—wealthiest and most powerful families, a fabled dynasty akin to Europe’s Medici, Habsburgs, or Rothschilds. Needing nothing to fill his needs as a young adult, Richard Henry Lee chose public service—an avocation that became a lifelong commitment and turned him against his own class as he ran into government corruption and widespread deprivation of individual rights.

Richard Henry Lee’s conflicts with corrupt officials and petty tyrants metamorphosed into demands for individual liberties, human rights, and, eventually, American independence from Britain. As a fledgling member of Virginia’s legislature, he shocked the South by declaring blacks “entitled to liberty and freedom by the great law of nature” and planting the first seeds of emancipation in Virginia.

Twelve years before Britain’s colonies declared independence, Lee was first to threaten King George III with rebellion. Later, Lee worked with Boston’s firebrand activist Samuel Adams to organize the independence movement and bring colony leaders to Philadelphia for North America’s First Continental Congress. In 1775, Richard Henry Lee stood with Patrick Henry demanding war with Britain to obtain redress of American grievances against Parliament’s governing ministry. A year later, he invited his own execution on the gallows with a treasonous resolve before Congress “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.”

Three weeks later, on July 2, Congress approved Lee’s resolution declaring independence from Britain—before Thomas Jefferson had even dipped his pen into his ink well. Newspapers sent the news streaming across the nation and the world, with banner headlines proclaiming America and her people free of British rule and hailing Richard Henry Lee as Father of American Independence.

A year later, when British troops seized the capital at Philadelphia, Lee rallied a band of twenty congressmen, led them westward to Lancaster, then York, Pennsylvania, and, while Washington held the remnants of his army together at Valley Forge, kept the remnants of Congress together and reestablished the fledgling American government. Assuming leadership as de facto chief executive, Richard Henry Lee ensured the new government’s survival, supervising military affairs, foreign affairs, and financial affairs and ensuring the needs of Washington’s army. John Adams called Lee the Cicero of the Revolution, in contrast to George Washington, the unquestioned Cincinnatus.

Other great Lees supported Richard Henry Lee in the struggle for American independence: Richard Henry’s three brothers Arthur, William, and Francis Lightfoot Lee—heroes all—and his nephew General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, a great battlefield hero in the Revolution, later governor of Virginia.

It remains the most ironic warp of the national memory, however, that the great Lee family name most Americans remember today is not Richard Henry Lee, but Robert E. Lee, who fought to divide the American people and shatter the union of American states that Richard Henry Lee, our First Founding Father, helped create.

Watch the video: 1776 1972 film The Lees of Old Virginia w. Reprise 1080p