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Robert Lee

.. ng the very liberty, freedom and legal principles for which Washington had fought. He was willing to leave the union, as Washington had left the British Empire, to fight what the South called a second war of independence. Lee had great difficulty in deciding whether to stand by his native state or remain with the Union, even though Lincoln offered him the field command of the United States Army. He wrote to his sister,”..in my own person I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native state.

With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I had not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the army, and, save in defense of my native state- with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed- I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.” Lee grieved at parting from the friends whom he had served with in other wars. He served in Richmond, Virginia, as military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and in May, 1861 was appointed a full general. In the fall, he succeeded in halting a threatened invasion from western Virginia. Later, he took charge of protecting the coast of South Carolina against invasion.

When Lee returned to Richmond in 1862, he helped draw up plans for the Confederate forces in Virginia, then under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston was wounded on May 31, 1862, in the Battle of Fair Oaks (Thomas 225). The next day, Lee took command of Johnston’s army, which he called the Army of Northern Virginia. From his first day of command, Lee faced what looked like an impossible task. Union General George B. McClellan had approached within 7 miles of Richmond with 100,000 men.

Three forces were closing in on the Confederate troops of General Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A fourth Union force was camped on the Rappahannock River, ready to aid McClellan. In the series of engagements, known as the Battle of the Seven Days, Lee forced McClellan to retreat. This campaign taught Lee the need for simpler methods and organization. Jackson had earlier conducted a brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, and became Lee’s most trusted subordinate.

Jackson was so devoted to Lee that he said he would follow him into a battle blindfolded. With Jackson’s help, Lee won a major victory over General John Pope in the second Battle of Bull Run, in August, 1862 (Nolan 89). He was then free to invade Maryland. Unfortunately, McClellan intercepted a battle order which a Confederate staff officer had carelessly lost. Knowing Lee’s plan in advance, McClellan halted him in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg). Lee returned to Virginia to reorganize his army, General Ambrose E.

Burnside then led an attack against Lee in December, 1862, at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Fog covered the battlefield early in the morning before the battle began. As it lifted and the Confederate command saw thousands of troops, Lee remarked, “It is well that war is so terrible- we would grow too fond of it.” Lee’s troops defeated the Union forces, but Lee could not take advantage of his victory because the Northern troops had been too cleverly placed and could fall back without breaking any of their lines of communication. Lee felt that his army could not win the war by fighting defensively, and that it was too costly simply to hold the enemy without destroying it, but first he had to fight yet another defensive battle(Nagel 179). General Joseph Hooker, who had taken over from Burnside, attacked Lee at Chancellorsville in the Spring of 1863.

The Confederate forces won a great victory, but they paid a horrible price for it. Stonewall Jackson unfortunately died there. He was accidentally shot by his own men when he went ahead of his line of battle to scout the Union troops. Determined to take the offense, Lee moved into Pennsylvania and encountered the Northern army which was now under General George G. Meade, at Gettysburg.

Hard fighting continued for three days, from July 1-3, 1863. The Confederates met their defeat in what proved to be a turning point of the war. Always generous to those under him, Lee insisted on taking the blame for the failure of the campaign in which the United States suffered 55,000 casualties, making it the bloodiest battle in the history of the United States. In the Spring of 1864, Lee first faced General Ulysses S. Grant.

In a series of fierce and very bloody battles called the Wilderness Campaign, Grant pounded the army of northern Virginia to pieces with this larger army cannons and guns. Lee held out for nine months in the siege of Petersburg, but his tired hungry men finally had to retreat. Early in 1865, Lee was made General in Chief of all the Confederate armies. Richmond fell in April, 1865, and Lee’s ragged army retreated westward. Northern forces cut off and surrounded Lee’s troops at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, where Lee surrendered to Grant, on April 9, 1865.

“There is nothing left to do, but to go see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths”. Grant tried to make the surrender as easy as possible, and allowed the Confederate troops to take their horses home for Spring plowing. As Lee made his last ride down the lines on his famous horse Traveler, he told his army, “Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done my best for you; my heart is too full to say more.” Lee’s defeat at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, marked the end of his brilliant military career (Nolan 121) At the end of the Civil War Lee set an example for all of the Ex-Confederate soldiers and officers, by his refusal not to show bitterness to the Union. “Abandon your animosities, and make your sons Americans”. He than set out to form a permanent and stable union of the states(www.stratfordhall.org/rel.htm 2).

On June 13, 1865, Robert E. Lee applied for a pardon from the United States government. When Robert returned to his home in Arlington, he found it had been turned into a national cemetery as punishment to him for abandoning the Union and fighting against them. Robert E. Lee than applied for citizenship to the United States.

His citizenship papers were misplaced and in 1975, a century later, Robert E. Lee was awarded citizenship in the United States. Lee had worked tirelessly for a strong peace in the United States. On August 4, 1865, Robert was elected to President of Washington College, Lexington, Virginia. He hesitantly accepted, and strove to equip students with the character and knowledge necessary to restore the war ravaged south. On February 4, 1867, Robert E. Lee declined to be a candidate for governor of Virginia (www.microd.com/~aetic/theman.htm 3).

Then in 1870, Robert E. Lee went to Georgia in search of good health. Sadly on October 12 Robert E. Lee died of heart problems in Lexington. After his death, his name was joined with that of his lifelong hero, and Washington College became Washington and Lee University.

Bibliography Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995.

Nagel, Paul C. The Lees of Virginia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Nolan, Alan T. Lee Considered. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Saundra N. “Robert E. Lee” http://darter.ocps.k12.fl.us/classroom/who/darter2 /relee.html (23 March 1999) Robert E. Lee Memorial Association. “Robert Edward Lee” http://www.stratfordhall.org/rel.htm (23 March 1999) “Robert E.

Lee, Beloved General of the South” www.microd.com/~aeric/theman.htm (23 March 1999).