Robert Lee

Robert Lee Robert Edward Lee is considered one of the greatest generals in the history of the United States. Lee was opposed to many views of the south, including succession and slavery, yet his loyalty to his native state of Virginia forced him to fight for the south and refuse command of the Union armies during the Civil War. Because of this, he was respected by every man in America including Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Robert Edward Lee was born to parents, Henry Lee of Leesylvania, and mother Ann Hill Carter of Shirley, in Stratford Hall near Montross, Virginia, on January 19, 1807. He grew up with a great love for country living and his state, which would be instilled in him for the rest of his life.

He was a very serious boy and spent many hours in his father’s library reading as many books as he could get his hands on. He loved to play with his friends, swim and hunt. Lee looked up to his father and always wanted to know what he was doing. George Washington and his father, “Light-Horse Harry Lee,” were his two heroes and he wanted to be just like them when he grew up. In 1811 the Lee family moved to a larger home in Alexandria, Virginia.

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The next year his father received injuries in a Baltimore riot from which he never fully recovered and that also caused his leaving of Alexandria for a warmer climate. He died six years later at Cumberland Island, Georgia when Robert was only 12. Robert was forced to become the man of the family and cared for his mother and sisters because his father and elder brothers had left. Robert would stuff papers to block cracks in the carriage and go driving to help his mother get out during her failing health. Years later, when Robert left for West Point, Ann Lee wrote to a cousin, “How will I ever get on with out Robert, he is both a son and a daughter” ( 1). In 1825, at the age of 18, Lee entered the United States Military Academy at West Point where his classmates admired him for his brilliance, leadership, and love for his work.

West Point was not his first choice for a school, but there was no money left to send him to Harvard because his older brother, Charles Carter, had used it for his own studies at Harvard. He graduated from the academy with high honors in 1829 and was ranked as Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers at the age of 21. He headed for home at the age of 22 with $103.58 (Thomas 54). Lee served for seventeen months at Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, Georgia. In 1831 the army transferred Lee to Fort Monroe, Virginia, as assistant engineer.

While he was stationed there, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter. They lived in her family home in Arlington on a hill overlooking Washington D. C. They had seven children, three sons and four daughters. On September 16, 1832, Mary gave birth to George Washington Custis Lee. Later in 1835 they had their second child, Mary Curtis.

They had five more children, William Henry Fitzgerald, Annie, Agnes, Robert and Mildred. Lee served as an assistant in the chief engineer’s office in Washington from 1834 to 1837 and spent the summer of 1835 helping to lay out the boundary line between Ohio and Michigan. In 1837 he got his first important job as a First Lieutenant of engineers. He supervised the engineering work for St. Louis harbor and for the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

His work there earned him a promotion to Captain. In 1841 he was transferred to Fort Hamilton in New York harbor, where he took charge of building fortifications. When war broke out between the United States and Mexico in 1846, the army sent Lee to Texas to serve as assistant engineer under General John E. Wool. All his superior officers, including General Winfield Scott, were impressed with Lee.

Early in the war, Lee supervised the construction of bridges for Wool’s march toward the Mexican border. He then did excellent work on scouting trips. Lee later was helping General Winfield Scott plan a great battle. The Army was about to attack Vera Cruz, a large Mexican town on the sea. Soldiers fired huge guns at the walls of Vera Cruz.

One of the men at the guns happened to be Robert’s brother, Smith Lee. When he could, Lee went to stand by his brother’s gun. “I could see his white teeth through all the smoke of the fire” Lee said, in a letter to Mary. The Mexicans soon gave up Vera Cruz. General Scott thanked Lee for his work.

Now the Army could move on to the Mexican capital. The march to Mexico City would be hard for the army. General Scott asked Lee to find the best way to go and asked him to see what Santa Anna, the Mexican general, was doing. To get news for Scott, Lee went behind the lines of enemy soldiers. This was dangerous work. Once when Lee was behind enemy lines he heard voices.

Mexican soldiers were coming to drink at a spring. Lee jumped under a log while more Mexicans came. They sat on the log and talked, so Lee had to hide there until dark (Thomas 125). At Cerro Gordo he led the first line of men into battle. The Americans won.

Lee then wrote to his son, Custis, “You have no idea what a horrible sight a field of battle is.” Then came the biggest battle of the war. The Americans attacked a fort outside Mexico City. Lee planned the attack and for days he worked without sleep. He found out where the Mexican soldiers were. He knew where to put the big guns which made it easier for the Army to take the fort. The American Army marched right into Mexico City.

The war was now officially over. Lee’s engineering skill made it possible for American troops to cross the difficult mountain passes on the way to the capital. During the march to Mexico City, Lee was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel. Scott said that his “success in Mexico was largely due to the skill, valor, and undaunted courage of Robert E. Lee..the greatest military genius in America”(Thomas 125-128). After three years at Fort Carrol in Baltimore harbor, Lee became the superintendent of West Point in 1852.

He would have preferred duty in the field instead of at a desk, but he worked at his post without complaint. During his three years at West Point, he improved the buildings, courses, and spent a lot of time with the cadets. There was one cadet, Jeb Stuart, who later served as one of Lee’s best cavalry officers. Lee earned a very good reputation during his service there as a fair and kind superintendent. In 1855, Lee became a Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry and was assigned to duty on the Texas frontier. There he helped protect settlers from attacks by the Apache and Comanche Indians. Once again he proved to be an excellent soldier and organizer.

But these were not happy years for Lee. He did not like to be away from his family for long periods of time, mostly because of his wife who was becoming weaker and weaker every minute. Lee came home to see her as often as possible. He happened to be in Washington at the time of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, and was sent there to arrest Brown and restore order. He did this very quickly and returned to his regiment in Texas.

When Texas seceded from the Union in1861, Lee was called to Washington D.C. to wait for further orders ( 2/relee.html 1) Unlike many Southerners, Lee did not believe in slavery and did not favor secession. He felt that slavery had an evil effect on masters as well as slaves. Long before the war he had freed the few slaves whom he had inherited. Lee greatly admired George Washington and hated the thought of a divided nation. But he came to feel that his state was protecti …