Who was Robert E. Lee?
When the Secession Crisis escalated after Abraham Lincoln’s election to the U.S. Presidency in 1860, Robert E. Lee struggled with performing his sworn duty as a U.S. army officer and preserving his allegiance to his home state of Virginia. On April 17, 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union. The next day, Lee declined a promotion to major general in the army being assembled to suppress the Southern insurrection. On April 20, he resigned from his commission in the U.S. Army. Three days later, he accepted the command of Virginia’s forces. Following an inauspicious beginning as a Confederate officer, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia after General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines on June 1, 1862.
Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the remainder of the Civil War and twice invaded the North during the Maryland Campaign and the Gettysburg Campaign. On February 6, 1865, the Confederate War Department announced that Lee replaced Jefferson Davis as commander-in-chief of all Confederate forces. Two months later, on April 9, Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
Following the Civil War, Lee returned to Richmond. On October 2, 1865, he was named president of Washington University in Lexington, Virginia. On the same day, Lee signed an amnesty oath, swearing his allegiance to the Constitution and to the United States. On December 25, 1868, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation that unconditionally pardoned those who “directly or indirectly” rebelled against the United States. Johnson’s pardon ensured that Lee would not face charges of treason. Still, the federal government did not restore Lee’s citizenship during his lifetime. On August 5, 1975, over 100 years after Lee’s death, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation restoring Lee’s citizenship.
Lee served as president of Washington College for five years. During that time, he supported President Johnson’s Reconstruction plan and opposed the policies of so-called Radicals in Congress. He counseled compliance with federal authority but remained opposed to extending voting and civil rights to freed blacks.
On September 28, 1870, Lee suffered a stroke at his home in Lexington, Virginia. He died two weeks later on October 12. Lee’s remains were buried beneath the Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington University (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington.
Robert E. Lee Facts for APUSH
Birth and Early Life
- Full Name: Robert Edward Lee
- Date of Birth: January 19, 1807
- Place of Birth: Stratford, a family plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia
- Parents: “Lighthorse” Harry Lee and Ann Hill Carter Lee
Education and Career
- Education: United States Military Academy (1829).
- Occupation: Military officer.
- Career Summary: Colonel (USA), General (CSA), General-in-Chief (CSA), Army of Northern Virginia commander.
- Nicknames: He was called Granny Lee and Bobby Lee.
- Spouse: He married Mary Custis in 1831.
Death and Burial
- Place of Death: Lexington Virginia
- Date of Death: October 12, 1870
- Place of Burial: Campus of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia
Robert E. Lee — Timeline and Accomplishments for APUSH
Early Life, Education, and Family
- Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807, at Stratford, a family plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
- Lee was the son of Revolutionary War hero “Lighthorse” Harry Lee and Ann Hill Carter.
- He attended the United States Military Academy and graduated number two in his class in 1829.
- He married Mary Custis on June 30, 1831. She was the daughter of the grandson of Martha Washington.
Military Career Prior to the Civil War
- Robert E. Lee served in the engineering corps during the Mexican-American War.
- Lee served as superintendent at West Point from 1852 to 1855.
- He was appointed lieutenant colonel of the United States 2nd Cavalry in 1855.
- He led U.S. forces against John Brown’s attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859.
- He was appointed colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry in March 1861.
Military Career During the Civil War
- Due to his loyalty to his home state of Virginia, Robert E. Lee rejected an offer from General Winfield Scott to serve as field commander of the United States Army in 1861.
- Lee became commander of Virginia’s forces in the Civil War when Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861.
- He succeeded Joseph E. Johnston as commander of the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia in 1862.
- In 1862, he was appointed as a military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
- He was appointed general‐in‐chief of Confederate forces in February 1865.
- He commanded victorious Confederate forces at the battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
- He commanded Confederate forces at the Battle of Gettysburg and ordered Pickett’s Charge, which ended in disaster for the Confederacy.
- On April 9, 1865, he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.
Interesting Facts About Robert E. Lee
- Robert E. Lee was a slave owner, reputed to have been complicit in instances of harsh treatment of slaves he deemed to be troublesome, despite his assertions that he found slavery to be “a moral & political evil.”
- Lee served as president of Washington College, in Lexington, Virginia, from September 1865 until his death in 1870.