Fitzhugh Lee

November 19, 1835 - April 28, 1905

A nephew of Robert E. Lee and a Confederate major general, Fitzhugh Lee served one term as governor of Virginia before commanding U.S. troops as a brigadier general during the Spanish-American War.

Fitzhugh Lee, Civil War General

On September 19, 1864, during the Battle of Opequon, Fitzhugh Lee had three horses shot from under him before receiving a severe bullet wound to the thigh that took him out of action for three months. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Who Was Fitzhugh Lee?

Fitzhugh Lee was an American soldier and politician who lived from 1835 to 1905. He is notable for his service in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, as well as his later career as a politician and diplomat. Lee was born in Virginia and attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served in the United States Army before resigning his commission to join the Confederate Army at the start of the Civil War. Eventually rising to the rank of major general, Lee fought in most of the major campaigns in the Eastern Theater. After the war, Lee returned to Virginia and became involved in politics. He served as the Governor of Virginia from 1886 to 1890. In April 1896, U.S. President Grover Cleveland appointed Lee as Consul-General to Havana, Cuba. When the Spanish-American War erupted, Lee joined the volunteer army, as a major general commanding the 7th Army Corps. Although his unit saw no combat, they were part of the occupation force that remained in Cuba to establish order and protect American interests after the war, and Lee served as military governor of Havana and Pinar del Río until April 1899. When Lee left Cuba, he mustered out of the volunteer army and the War Department commissioned him as a brigadier general in the regular army. After briefly commanding the Department of the Missouri, Lee retired from the U.S. Army in 1901.

Fitzhugh Lee Facts

  • Full Name: Fitzhugh Lee
  • Birth Date: November 19, 1835
  • Birth Location: His family’s plantation, “Clermont,” in Fairfax County, Virginia
  • Parents: Sydney Smith Lee and Anna Maria (Mason) Lee
  • Education: United States Military Academy
  • Occupation: Politician, Military officer
  • Career Summary: Major General (CSA), Governor of Virginia, Brigadier General (USA)
  • Spouse: Ellen Bernard Fowle
  • Nickname: Fitz
  • Place of Death: Washington, DC
  • Date of Death: April 28, 1905
  • Place of Burial: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Early Life

Fitzhugh Lee was born on his family’s plantation, “Clermont,” in Fairfax County, Virginia, on November 19, 1835. He was the fourth of seven children born to Captain Sydney Smith Lee and Anna Maria (Mason) Lee. Fitzhugh hailed from a distinguished lineage on both sides of his family tree.

Lee’s paternal grandfather, Harry “Lighthorse” Lee, was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolution, a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation, Governor of Virginia, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lee’s father, Sydney, was a U.S. naval officer who served in the Mexican-American War and who accompanied Commodore Matthew C. Perry during his expedition to Japan in the 1850s. During the American Civil War, Sydney Lee commanded the naval forces of the Confederate States.

Fitzhugh’s uncle, Robert E. Lee, commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, and later, all Confederate ground forces during the Civil War. Fitzhugh’s maternal great-grandfather, George Mason IV, authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights (which served as a template for the American Bill of Rights), and he served as a delegate to the U. S. Constitutional Convention.

U.S. Military Academy Cadet

Like his more famous uncle, Robert E. Lee, Fitzhugh Lee attended the United States Military Academy. A member of the class of 1856, he rubbed elbows with another future Confederate cavalry luminary who would impact his career, J. E. B. Stuart, who graduated two years before him. Lee graduated forty-fifth in his class of forty-nine cadets (but at the head of his class in horsemanship) on July 1, 1856.

U.S. Army Officer

Severely Injured in Texas

Upon leaving West Point, army officials brevetted to second lieutenant and assigned him to the Cavalry School for Practice, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he served until 1858. On January 1, 1858, Lee received a commission as a second lieutenant with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and deployed to Texas where he served under Albert Sidney Johnston, and alongside a who’s-who of future Civil War general officers including William J. Hardee, John Bell Hood, Edmund Kirby Smith, George H. Thomas, Earl Van Dorn, and his uncle, Robert E. Lee.

In Texas, Lee garrisoned at several posts while campaigning against American Indians. On May 12, 1859, a Comanche warrior inflicted a near-fatal arrow wound on Lee at Crooked Creek in the Kansas Territory. Despite considerable damage to one of his lungs, plus effusive internal hemorrhaging, Lee survived and was back on duty in Texas by January 1860 following an extended convalescence.

Civil War

Confederate Cavalry Officer

In December 1860, Lee returned to West Point as an assistant instructor of tactics. Promoted to first lieutenant on March 31, 1861, he resigned from the army just two months later, on May 21, 1861, to accept a commission as a lieutenant in the Confederate cavalry. He first served as a staff officer under General Richard S. Ewell in the Confederate Army of the Potomac. After taking part in the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), Lee joined the 1st Virginia Cavalry serving under fellow West Point graduate Colonel J. E. B. Stuart. When Confederate officials promoted Stuart to brigadier general (September 24, 1861), the members of the regiment elected Lee as their lieutenant colonel on September 30, 1861. After officials regimented the brigade in 1862, the men elected him as the regimental colonel on April 23.

Eastern Theater Service

During the Peninsula Campaign (March 17 – August 14, 1862), Lee commanded the 1st Virginia Cavalry and took part in Stuart’s “Ride around McClellan” (June 12 – 15, 1862), which provided strategic information that helped Robert E. Lee launch a counteroffensive that drove the Army of the Potomac away from Richmond. Six weeks later, on July 24, 1862, Confederate officials promoted Lee to brigadier general and placed him in command of a brigade in Stuart’s Cavalry Division of the Army of Northern Virginia.

During the next two years, Lee served under Stuart in nearly all the major campaigns in the Eastern Theater. Commanding Lee’s Brigade of Stuart’s Cavalry Division, Lee took part in the Northern Virginia Campaign (July 19 – September 1, 1862), the Maryland Campaign (September 4 – September 20, 1862), the Fredericksburg Campaign (November – December 1862), the Chancellorsville Campaign (April – May 1863) and the Gettysburg Campaign (June 3- July 23, 1863).

Battle of Gettysburg, Union Advance
Battle of Gettysburg. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Major General and Corps Commander

Because Stuart singled out Lee for his leadership during the Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate officials promoted him to major general on August 3, 1863. Five weeks later, Robert E. Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia, elevating the cavalry to corps status under Stuart’s command. He selected his nephew and Major General Wade Hampton to lead the new corps’ two divisions (Special Orders, No. 226, headquarters Army of Northern Virginia). Fitzhugh Lee served as one of Stuart’s divisional commanders during the Bristoe Campaign (October 13 – November 7, 1863), the Mine Run Campaign (November 26 – December 2, 1863), and during the first week of the Overland Campaign (May 5 – June 24, 1864).

On May 11, 1864, during the Battle of Yellow Tavern, Union Private John A. Huff mortally wounded Stuart. Following Stuart’s death, Robert E. Lee initially did not name a replacement. Instead, he partitioned the cavalry corps into independent divisions commanded by Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and Rooney Lee.

Wounded during the Battle of Opequon

Later that summer, after Union officials dispatched Major General Philip H. Sheridan‘s newly created Army of the Shenandoah to the Shenandoah Valley, Robert E. Lee again merged the army’s horse soldiers into a single corps commanded by Hampton, on August 11, 1864. The Confederate leader then detached Fitzhugh Lee’s Division from Hampton’s Corps and ordered them to ride to the aid of Lieutenant General Jubal Early‘s beleaguered Army of the Valley District as it braced for a showdown with Sheridan. On September 19, 1864, when Sheridan and Early engaged at the Battle of Opequon, Yankee soldiers shot three horses from under Fitzhugh Lee before he received a severe bullet wound to the thigh that took him out of action for three months.

Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps

Following an extended convalescence, Lee returned to duty during the Petersburg Campaign. On January 19, 1865, Robert E. Lee ordered Hampton to South Carolina to bolster Confederate defenses against Major General William T. Sherman‘s impending incursion into the Carolinas. With Hampton gone, Lee appointed his nephew as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps on February 11, 1865.

William Tecumseh Sherman, Seated, Portrait, Brady
William T. Sherman. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Surrender at Appomattox Court House

Fitzhugh Lee’s tenure as a corps commander was short-lived. On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered most of his army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. The cavalry corps was still attempting to cut its way through the Union forces around Appomattox when Fitzhugh Lee learned that his uncle’s capitulation included his troopers. Consequently, Fitzhugh Lee returned to Appomattox Court House in time to stack arms for the formal ceremony on April 12.

Post-war Life

Following the Civil War, Fitzhugh Lee returned to farming on his estate in Stafford County, Virginia. As with other Confederate officers, the federal government eventually pardoned him for taking part in the rebellion.

Marriage

On April 19, 1871, Lee, who was thirty-six years old, married eighteen-year-old Ellen Bernard Fowle of Alexandria, Virginia. Their marriage produced two daughters and three sons. Upon reaching adulthood, each of the sons enlisted in the United States Army and rode with the 7th Cavalry.

Virginia Governor

As Lee grew older, he became active in politics as a member of the Democratic Party. In 1885, Virginia voters elected him as the state’s governor. Serving from January 1, 1886, to January 1, 1890, Lee encouraged and supported legislative initiatives to improve Virginia’s public programs, especially education.

Author

Following his term as governor, Lee made an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1893. Out of public office, he spent the next year completing a biography of Robert E. Lee that he published in 1894.

Consul-General to Havana, Cuba

After Lee briefly served as a federal tax collector, U.S. President (and fellow Democratic Party member) Grover Cleveland offered him an appointment as Consul-General to Havana, Cuba on April 10, 1896. Lee accepted the position, and apparently performed well because Republican President William McKinley retained him after succeeding Cleveland in 1897. During Lee’s tenure, he protected American interests on the island as Cuban separatists pressed for independence from Spain.

Spanish-American War

When the Spanish-American War erupted, Lee returned to the U.S. and joined the volunteer army, receiving a commission as a major general on May 4, 1898. During the war, Lee commanded the 7th Army Corps. His unit saw no combat, but they were part of the occupation force that remained in Cuba to establish order and protect American interests after the war. Along with his peace-keeping duties, Lee served as military governor of Havana and Pinar del Río from December 30, 1898, through April 17, 1899.

Return to the Regular U.S. Army

Just prior to leaving Havana, Lee mustered out of the volunteer army on April 12, 1899. The War Department commissioned him as a brigadier general in the regular army on the same day. Afterward, Lee commanded the Department of the Missouri in the U.S. Two years later, he reached mandatory retirement age and left the U.S. Army on March 1, 1901.

Death

Four years after his retirement, Lee suffered a stroke in Washington, D.C., and died on April 28, 1905. His remains are buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

Fitzhugh Lee Significance

Fitzhugh Lee was significant because of his notable military career as a Confederate cavalry general during the American Civil War, as well as his later service as a politician and diplomat. During the Civil War, Lee distinguished himself as a skilled commander of Confederate cavalry units. He displayed his bravery and leadership in many of the war’s major campaigns. After the war, Lee became involved in politics and served as Governor of Virginia from 1886 to 1890. In April 1896, U.S. President Grover Cleveland appointed Lee as Consul-General to Havana, Cuba. When the Spanish-American War erupted, Lee commanded the 7th Army Corps, as a major general in the volunteer army. Although his unit saw no combat, Lee remained in Cuba after the war serving as military governor of Havana and Pinar del Río until April 1899. When Lee left Cuba, he mustered out of the volunteer army and the War Department commissioned him as a brigadier general in the regular army. After briefly commanding the Department of the Missouri, Lee retired from the U.S. Army in 1901. Overall, Lee’s military, political, and diplomatic career shows his important contributions to American history.

Fitzhugh Lee — Facts About His Life and Accomplishments

  • Fitzhugh Lee’s paternal grandfather, Harry “Lighthorse” Lee, was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolution, a delegate to the Confederation Congress, Governor of Virginia, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Fitzhugh Lee’s father, Sydney, was a U.S. naval officer who served in the Mexican-American War and who accompanied Commodore Matthew C. Perry during his expedition to Japan in the 1850s.
  • During the American Civil War, Sydney Lee commanded the naval forces of the Confederate States.
  • Fitzhugh Lee’s uncle, Robert E. Lee, commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, and later, all Confederate ground forces during the Civil War.
  • Fitzhugh’s maternal great-grandfather, George Mason IV, authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights (which served as a template for the American Bill of Rights), and he served as a delegate to the U. S. Constitutional Convention.
  • Fitzhugh Lee attended the United States Military Academy from July 1, 1852, to July 1, 1856.
  • Fitzhugh Lee graduated forty-fifth in his class of forty-nine cadets (but at the head of his class in horsemanship) at the U.S. Military Academy on July 1, 1856.
  • Upon leaving West Point, Fitzhugh Lee was brevetted to second lieutenant and assigned to the Cavalry School for Practice, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he served until 1858.
  • On January 1, 1858, Fitzhugh Lee was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and deployed to Texas.
  • On May 12, 1859, a Comanche brave inflicted a near-fatal arrow wound on Fitzhugh Lee at Crooked Creek in the Kansas Territory. Despite considerable damage to one of his lungs, plus effusive internal hemorrhaging, Lee survived and was back on duty in Texas by January 1860.
  • In December 1860, Fitzhugh Lee returned to West Point as an assistant instructor of tactics.
  • Fitzhugh Lee was promoted to first lieutenant on March 31, 1861.
  • Fitzhugh Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army on May 21, 1861, to accept a commission as a lieutenant in the Confederate cavalry.
  • Fitzhugh Lee served as a staff officer under General Richard S. Ewell during the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).
  • Fitzhugh Lee joined the 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment in August or September 1861.
  • On September 30, 1861, the men of the 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment elected Fitzhugh Lee as their regimental lieutenant colonel.
  • On April 23, 1862, the men of the 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment elected Fitzhugh Lee as their regimental colonel.
  • During the Peninsula Campaign (March 17 – August 14, 1862), Fitzhugh Lee commanded the 1st Virginia Cavalry, and he took part in Stuart’s “Ride around McClellan” (June 12 – 15, 1862).
  • On July 24, 1862, Confederate officials promoted Fitzhugh Lee to brigadier general and placed him in command of a brigade in Stuart’s Cavalry Division of the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • Fitzhugh Lee served in nearly all the major campaigns of the Civil War in the Eastern Theater.
  • Commanding Lee’s Brigade of Stuart’s Cavalry Division of the Army of Northern Virginia, Fitzhugh Lee took part in the Northern Virginia Campaign (July 19 – September 1, 1862), the Maryland Campaign (September 4 – September 20, 1862), the Fredericksburg Campaign (November – December 1862), the Chancellorsville Campaign (April – May 1863) and the Gettysburg Campaign (June 3 – July 23, 1863).
  • On August 3, 1863, Confederate officials promoted Fitzhugh Lee to major general.
  • In August 1863, General Robert E. Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia, elevating his cavalry to corps status, and named Fitzhugh Lee as a divisional commander of J. E. B. Stuart’s Cavalry Corps.
  • Fitzhugh Lee served as one of J. E. B. Stuart’s divisional cavalry commanders during the Bristoe Campaign (October 13 – November 7, 1863), the Mine Run Campaign (November 26 – December 2, 1863), and during the first week of the Overland Campaign (May 5 – June 24, 1864).
  • Following J. E. B. Stuart’s death on May 12, 1864, General Robert E. Lee partitioned Stuart’s Cavalry Corps into independent divisions commanded by Major General Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee.
  • On August 11, 1864, General Robert E. Lee merged the independent cavalry divisions of Major General Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee and placed Hampton in charge of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee remained a divisional commander.
  • On September 19, 1864, during the Battle of Opequon, Fitzhugh Lee had three horses shot from under him before receiving a severe bullet wound to the thigh that took him out of action for three months.
  • On February 11, 1865, General Robert E. Lee appointed Fitzhugh Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps.
  • On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered most of his army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry corps was still attempting to cut its way through the Union forces when he learned that his troopers were included in his uncle’s capitulation. Consequently, he returned to Appomattox Court House in time to stack arms for the formal ceremony on April 12.
  • Following the Civil War, Fitzhugh Lee returned to farming on his estate in Stafford County, Virginia.
  • As was the case with other Confederate officers, the federal government eventually pardoned Fitzhugh Lee for participating in the rebellion.
  • On April 19, 1871, thirty-six-year-old Fitzhugh Lee married eighteen-year-old Ellen Bernard Fowle of Alexandria, Virginia. Their marriage produced two daughters and three sons.
  • Upon reaching adulthood, each of Fitzhugh Lee’s sons enlisted in the United States Army and rode with the 7th Cavalry.
  • In 1885, Virginia voters elected Fitzhugh Lee as the state’s governor.
  • Serving as Virginia’s governor from January 1, 1886, to January 1, 1890, Fitzhugh Lee encouraged and supported legislative initiatives to improve Virginia’s public programs, especially education.
  • Following his term as governor, Fitzhugh Lee made an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1893.
  • In 1894, Fitzhugh Lee published a biography of his uncle, Robert E. Lee.
  • On April 10, 1896, U.S. President (and fellow Democratic Party member) Grover Cleveland appointed Fitzhugh Lee as Consul-General to Havana, Cuba.
  • In 1897, President William McKinley reappointed Fitzhugh Lee as Consul-General to Havana, Cuba.
  • When the Spanish-American War erupted, Fitzhugh Lee returned to the U.S. and joined the volunteer army, receiving a commission as a major general on May 4, 1898.
  • During the Spanish-American War, Fitzhugh Lee commanded the 7th Army Corps. His unit saw no combat, but they were part of the occupation force that remained in Cuba to establish order and protect American interests after the war.
  • Fitzhugh Lee served as military governor of Havana and Pinar del Río from December 30, 1898, through April 17, 1899.
  • Fitzhugh Lee mustered out of the volunteer army on April 12, 1899.
  • Fitzhugh Lee was commissioned as a brigadier general in the regular army on April 12, 1899, and subsequently commanded the Department of the Missouri in the U.S.
  • Fitzhugh Lee retired from the U.S. Army on March 1, 1901.
  • Fitzhugh Lee suffered a stroke in Washington, D.C., and died on April 28, 1905.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Fitzhugh Lee
  • Date November 19, 1835 - April 28, 1905
  • Author
  • Keywords Fitzhugh Lee
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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