The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Lee, Robert Edward
LEE, Robert Edward, an American soldier, son of Col. Henry Lee, born at Stafford, Westmoreland co., Va., Jan. 19, 1807, died in Lexington, Va., Oct. 12, 1870. He entered West Point in 1825, and graduated second in his class in 1829. During his whole course he was never reprimanded or received a single mark of demerit. He was appointed lieutenant in the corps of engineers, and from 1829 to 1834 served as assistant engineer in the construction of Forts Monroe and Oalhoun at Hampton roads; from 1834 to 1837 as assistant to the chief engineer at Washington; and in 1835 as assistant astronomer for establishing the boundary between Ohio and Michigan. From 1837 to 1841 he was superintending engineer of the improvements of the harbor of St. Louis and of the Missouri and upper Mississippi rivers, having also during 1840 and 1841 the general charge of the improvements in the lower Mississippi and Ohio rivers, below Louisville, Ky. He was made captain in 1838. After 1841, among other services, he superintended the construction and repair of the fortresses at the entrance of the harbor of New York, was assistant to the chief engineer at Washington, and member of the board of the Atlantic coast defences. When the Mexican war broke out he was assigned to duty as chief engineer of the army under Gen. Scott, and served with great distinction during the whole war. He was successively brevetted as major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel, for gallant and meritorious conduct at Cerro Gordo, Contreras and Churubusco, and at Chapultepec, where he was wounded. He afterward served as engineer in various departments, and was superintendent of the military academy at West Point from 1852 to 1855. In 1855 two new regiments of cavalry were formed. Of the second regiment Albert Sidney Johnston was made colonel, Lee lieutenant colonel, Hardee and Thomas majors, Van Dorn and Kirby Smith captains; and among the lieutenants were Hood, Fields, Fitzhugh Lee, Palmer, and Stoneman. Lee served with this regiment in Texas till 1857, when he received leave of absence, and returned to his home in Virginia. Through his marriage in 1832 with Mary, daughter of G. W. P. Custis, the grandson of Martha Custis and adopted son of Washington, he came in 1857 into possession of the estates of Arlington House on the Potomac and the White House on the Pamunkey. In October, 1859, he was put in command of the forces to suppress the John Brown raid at Harper's Ferry. From February to December, 1860, he was in command of the department of Texas, and afterward received leave of absence. The Virginia convention having on April 17, 1861, passed an ordinance of secession, Lee on the 20th resigned his commission in a letter to Gen. Scott, in which he said: “Save in defence of my native state, I never desire again to draw my sword.” To his sister he wrote on the same day: “The whole south is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet 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 have 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 defence of my native state, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword.” Although Virginia had seceded from the Union, the state had not as yet acceded to the confederacy; and Lee, who at once repaired to Richmond, was appointed major general of the forces of the state. In formally accepting this office, he said: “Trusting in Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native state, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.” Early in May Virginia joined the confederacy, the capital of which was removed to Richmond, and the southern congress passed a law appointing five generals, their commissions to rank in the order in which these officers had ranked in the United States army. The commissions as made out by the government were in the following order: S. Cooper, A. S. Johnston, R. E. Lee, J. E. Johnston, and P. T. Beauregard. J. E. Johnston remonstrated against this, claiming that he should have stood first, because he had been a brigadier general in the United States army, while none of the others had ranked higher than colonel. Apparently in consequence of this, Lee was not for a while appointed to any separate command in the field, A. S. Johnston being assigned to the west, and J. E. Johnston to the command in Virginia. Cooper, manifestly unfit to lead an army, remained at Richmond as adjutant general. For more than a year Lee filled no important place in the war. He was nominally merely superintendent of fortifications at Richmond and elsewhere, and seems also to have acted as military adviser to President Davis, and to have performed many of the duties pertaining to the office of secretary of war. There are only occasional glimpses of him in the unsuccessful operations of the summer and autumn of 1861 in western Virginia. J. E. Johnston, who commanded the confederate forces in Virginia, was wounded at the battle of Seven Pines, May 31, 1862; A. S. Johnston had been killed at the battle of Shiloh, April 6; and the command of the confederate army of northern Virginia, having been held for three days by G. W. Smith, who was disabled by a paralytic stroke, was given to Lee, June 3. The confederate army at Richmond was soon augmented so as to be about equal in numbers to the Union army under McClellan, and on June 26 Lee commenced that series of operations known as the seven days' battles. The result was, that after the concluding battle at Malvern Hill, McClellan fell back to Harrison's Landing, and the siege of Richmond was virtually raised. (See Chickahominy.) Meanwhile the scattered Union forces in northern Virginia had been united under Gen. Pope, under the name of the army of Virginia; and to prevent these from aiding McClellan, Lee moved against them. The result of the operations was the second battle of Bull Run, Aug. 29 and 30, in which Pope was defeated. Lee thereupon entered upon the invasion of Maryland, which was brought to a close by the indecisive battle of Antietam, Sept. 16, 17. He then recrossed the Potomac into Virginia, and moved leisurely up the valley of the Shenandoah into that of the Rappahannock, finally taking up a strong position near Culpeper Court House. McClellan followed after considerable delay, and early in November the two armies were close together. McClellan seems to have been preparing to attack, when on Nov. 7 he was superseded by Burnside, who proposed a new plan of operations, by which the Union army was to move up the Rappahannock to Fredericksburg, cross the river there, and thence move directly toward Richmond. But when Burnside reached Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg, he found that the bridges had been destroyed, and before pontoons could be brought up Lee had arrived and taken up a position on the opposite bank. Burnside at length crossed the Rappahannock, attacked Lee in his positions, Dec. 13, and was signally defeated. Hooker, Burnside's successor, instead of assailing Lee in front, turned his left flank, and gained his rear. Then ensued the battle of Chancellorsville, May 2-4, 1863, in which Hooker was worsted. After this battle Lee gathered all the available forces in the Carolinas and Virginia, and moving northward entered upon what proved an invasion of Pennsylvania. The Union army was now commanded by Meade, and the positions and strength of the two armies were such that a conflict soon became inevitable. By mere accident the encounter took place at Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. On the first day, when only parts of each army were present, the confederates gained decided advantages. On the second day they appeared to have the best of it, although their advantages were apparent rather than real. On the third day they met a signal repulse, but were not routed; and Lee retreated in good order to the Potomac, intending to cross at once into Virginia. But the river had been swollen by rains so that it was now unfordable, and he intrenched himself upon the northern bank, where Meade after a circuitous march came upon him. On the 12th Meade was inclined to make an attack at once, but yielding to the opinion of a council of war postponed it until the next day. During the night Lee, who had succeeded in building a bridge, crossed the river, which had in the mean while become fordable in places, and was again safe in Virginia. He fell back to the Rapidan, followed closely and occasionally annoyed by Meade, and the two armies took up positions confronting each other. During the autumn and winter of 1863 there were no important operations in Virginia, and considerable portions of both armies were sent to the west. In October Lee undertook a movement apparently threatening Washington, and to counteract this Meade fell back as far as Centreville, a few miles from the twice-fought battle field of Bull Run, where he made a stand. Lee saw that his force was too small to carry out his design, and he returned to his old position, followed by Meade. Late in November Meade undertook an offensive operation, directed against Lee's right, which lay near a little stream called Mine run, almost within the borders of the region known as the Wilderness. This proved unsuccessful, and closed the active operations in Virginia during the winter of 1863 and the early spring of 1864. Gen. Grant, having been made commander-in-chief, as lieutenant general, decided to conduct in person the campaign in Virginia. Lee's army had lain in winter quarters on the south bank of the Rapidan, their lines, strongly intrenched, covering a space of about 20 m. When the spring campaign opened Lee had about 60,000 men; to oppose these Grant had about 140,000. Grant, while perceiving that the confederate army, rather than any geographical point, was the main object of the campaign, thought it advisable not to assail it in front, but to turn it by the right. The movement commenced on May 4. The Rapidan was crossed without opposition, and the army headed southward. The line of march lay through the western verge of the Wilderness. Grant seems to have assumed that Lee, finding his flank fairly turned by a greatly superior force, would fall back toward Richmond. But Lee resolved to attack the enemy while moving through this wooded region, in which the superiority of the federal force would be in a great measure neutralized by the character of the country. The attack was skilfully conceived and boldly executed. The result was the bloody but indecisive battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 6. (See Wilderness, Battle of the.) The armies were now in an apparent deadlock. Each threw up intrenchments in its front, which, though apparently slight, were sufficient to give a great advantage to the one receiving the attack, which neither commander was inclined to venture. To remove this deadlock Grant undertook to outflank Lee by marching upon Spottsylvania Court House. Lee perceived the movement, and, though mistaking Grant's objective point, reached that place first, where his forces intrenched themselves, and severe fighting ensued, culminating in a bloody but indecisive battle on May 12. On the 18th Grant moved southward from Spottsylvania, proposing to outflank Lee's right, thus compelling him to fall back toward Richmond, and the campaign took the form which it maintained as long as operations were carried on in the open field. The two commanders were so constituted that either was able to divine the intent of the other, and to take the best measures to thwart it. Grant, having a great preponderance of force, undertook to strike wherever there was any likelihood that the blow would be effective; and, whenever he found the enemy posted too strongly to be directly dislodged, to manœuvre him out of his position by turning it. Lee stood more directly upon the defensive, but was always upon the alert for an opportunity to strike an offensive blow. The general result was that each commander failed in every directly offensive effort; but Lee was gradually forced back toward Richmond until the close of May, when the confederates stood at bay on the Chickahominy, occupying essentially the ground which the Union army had held two years before, but strongly intrenched. If the confederate army could be defeated here, its ruin was certain, for the Chickahominy interposed an insuperable barrier to further retreat. Grant made an attack on June 3, which was signally repulsed. (See Chickahominy.) For ten days more the two armies confronted each other, both being strongly intrenched, and neither venturing any attack in force. At length, on June 12, Grant broke from his position, marched down the Chickahominy to the James, which he crossed, and took up a position near Petersburg, from which Richmond could be assailed on the south. Lee crossed the Chickahominy and the James, and undertook the defence of the confederate capital. Richmond itself was so strongly fortified that no direct attack upon it was feasible; but Petersburg, 22 m. S. of Richmond, commanded the railroads by which supplies must be mainly brought to the army at the capital, and the capture of Petersburg would involve the necessity of the abandonment of Richmond. The subsequent operations in Virginia thereupon resolved themselves mainly into the siege and defence of Petersburg. This lasted until April, 1865, when, Grant having fairly passed around the extreme right of the confederate defences, and having broken through the lines, Lee abandoned Petersburg and Richmond, April 2. He had suffered heavy losses within the last few days; but he still had, if all could be concentrated, about 40,000 men, with which he hoped to be able to reach the mountainous region of the valley of Virginia, where the contest might be prolonged indefinitely; or perhaps to effect a junction with J. E. Johnston in North Carolina, and thence transfer the seat of war to the gulf states. But a series of disasters marked the retreat. The confederate army moved almost without provisions, and the supplies which Lee had ordered to await him at Amelia Court House were by some accident carried on to Richmond, which had been given up to the enemy. Grant in the mean while took up a vigorous pursuit. The confederates were obliged to scatter through the poor country in quest of food, a great portion of the men throwing away their arms. When on the 8th the small part which still retained a military organization had reached the neighborhood of Appomattox Court House, they found their way barred by a superior federal force, which had outstripped them. Grant had on the previous day sent a message to Lee to the effect that the result of the operations of the last week evinced that there was no hope of any further successful resistance on the part of the army of northern Virginia, and demanded its surrender, in order to avoid any further shedding of blood. Lee replied that he was far from being convinced that resistance was useless, but asked to know the terms upon which a surrender would be received. Grant named as the sole condition that “the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the government of the United States until properly discharged.” Lee hesitated until the 9th, hoping for some favorable turn; but none occurring, and yielding to the opinion of his best officers, he on that day met Grant, and the terms of surrender were formally agreed upon, the substance being that the officers and the men under their command “shall not hereafter serve in the armies of the Confederate States or in any military capacity against the United States of America, or render aid to the enemies of the latter, until properly exchanged in such manner as shall be mutually approved by the respective authorities;” and that they “will not be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they reside.” The list of paroled prisoners contained 27,805 names, but of these hardly a third had arms in their hands. Although Lee had in February been appointed general-in-chief, with the command of all the forces of the confederacy, the capitulation only applied to the army in Virginia; but the surrender of this army virtually brought the war to a close. After the war Lee retired into private life, refusing even to attend public gatherings of any description. His own fortune had been almost entirely swept away during the war, and in October, 1865, he accepted the presidency of Washington college at Lexington, Va., where in a short time the students numbered nearly 500. In March, 1866, he appeared as a witness before the reconstruction committee of congress. His testimony was to the effect that, as far as he knew, the people of the south did not contemplate any resistance or opposition to the government of the United States, and were in favor of the reconstruction policy of President Johnson; that they expected to pay their portion of the national debt, and would probably, if able, be willing also to pay their share of the confederate debt; and that the people of Virginia looked upon the action of the state in withdrawing itself from the government of the United States as carrying the individuals of the state along with it; that the state, not individuals, was responsible, and that the state was merely using a lawful reserved right. On the evening of Sept. 28, 1870, while apparently in his usual health, he was struck with paralysis, and never fully recovered, although he lived a fortnight longer. His wife, Mary Custis, great-granddaughter of Martha Custis (afterward the wife of Washington), born at Arlington House in 1806, died at Lexington, Nov. 6, 1873.—Gen. Lee had three sons and four daughters. One of the daughters died during the war. His sons all served in the confederate army. G. W. Custis Lee, born about 1833, graduated at West Point in 1854, resigned his commission as lieutenant of engineers in May, 1861, entered the confederate service, became aide-de-camp to President Davis, and subsequently a general of infantry, and succeeded his father as president of Washington college, now called Washington and Lee university. The second son, W. H. F. Lee, became a general of cavalry; and the third, Robert E. Lee, served as a member of the cavalry staff. A nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, born about 1835, graduated at West Point in 1856, served as lieutenant of cavalry, mainly in Texas, till 1861, when he resigned his commission, entered the confederate service, and rose to be a general of cavalry.—See “Life of Robert E. Lee,” by John Esten Cooke (New York, 1872); Le général Lee, by Edward Lee Childe (Paris, 1874); and “Personal Reminiscences of Gen. Robert E. Lee,” by Rev. J. W. Jones (New York, 1874).