Robert E Lee Essay Research Paper The

Robert E. Lee Essay, Research Paper

The idol of the South to this day, Virginian Robert E. Lee

had some difficulty in adjusting to the new form of warfare

that unfolded with the Civil war, but this did not prevent

him from keeping the Union armies in Virginia at bay for

almost three years. The son of Revolutionary War hero

"Light Horse" Harry Lee-who fell into disrepute in his later

years attended West Point and graduated second in his

class. During his four years at the military academy he did

not earn a single demerit and served as the cadet corps’

adjutant. Upon his 1829 graduation he was posted to the

engineers. Before the Mexican War he served on

engineering projects in Georgia, Virginia, and New York.

During the war he served on the staffs of John Wool and

Winfield Scott. Particularly distinguishing himself scouting

for and guiding troops, he won three brevets and was

slightly wounded at Chapultepec.

Following a stint in Baltimore Harbor he became

superintendent of the military academy in 1852. When the

mounted arm was expanded in 1855, Lee accepted the

lieutenant colonelcy of the 2nd Cavalry in order to escape

from the painfully slow promotion in the engineers. Ordered

to western Texas, he served with his regiment until the

1857 death of his father-in-law forced him to ask for a

series of leaves to settle the estate.

In 1859 he was called upon to lead a force of marines, to

join with the militia on the scene, to put an end to John

Brown’s Harper’s Ferry Raid. Thereafter he served again in

Texas until summoned to Washington in 1861 by Winfield

Scott who tried to retain Lee in the U. S. service. But the

Virginian rejected the command of the Union’s field forces

on the day after Virginia seceded. He then accepted an

invitation to visit Governor John Letcher in Virginia. His

resignation as colonel, 1st Cavalry-to which he had recently

been promoted-was accepted on April 25, 1861.

His Southern assignments included: major general,

Virginia’s land and naval forces (April 23, 1861);

commanding Virginia forces (April 23 July 1861); brigadier

general, CSA (May 14, 186 1); general, CSA (from June

14, 186 1); commanding Department of Northwestern

Virginia (late July-October 1861); commanding

Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida

(November 8, 186 1-March 3, 1862); and commanding

Army of Northern Virginia June 1, 1862-April 9, 1865).

In charge of Virginia’s fledgling military might, he was

mainly involved in organizational matters. As a Confederate

brigadier general, and later full general, he was in charge of

supervising all Southern forces in Virginia. In the first

summer of the war he was given his first field command in

western Virginia. His Cheat Mountain Campaign was a

disappointing fizzle largely due to the failings of his

superiors. His entire tenure in the region was unpleasant,

dealing with the bickering of his subordinates-William W.

Loring, John B. Floyd, and Henry A. Wise. After this he

became known throughout the South as "Granny Lee. " His

debut in field command had not been promising, but

Jefferson Davis appointed him to command along the

Southern Coast.

Early in 1862 he was recalled to Richmond and made an

advisor to the president. From this position he had some

influence over military operations, especially those of

Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. When

Joseph E. Johnston launched his attack at Seven Pines,

Davis and Lee were taken by surprise and rode out to the

field. In the confusion of the fight Johnston was badly

wounded, and that night Davis instructed Lee to take

command of what he renamed the Army of Northern

Virginia. He fought the second day of the battle but the

initiative had already been lost the previous day. Later in

the month, in a daring move, he left a small force in front of

Richmond and crossed the Chickahominy to strike the one

Union corps north of the river. In what was to be called the

Seven Days Battles the individual fights-Beaver Dam

Creek, Gaines’ Mill, Savage Station, Glendale, White Oak

Swamp, and Malvern Hill-were all tactical defeats for the

Confederates. But Lee had achieved the strategic goal of

removing McClellan’s army from the very gates of


This created a new opinion of Lee in the South. He

gradually became "Uncle Robert" and "Marse Robert."

With McClellan neutralized, a new threat developed under

John Pope in northern Virginia. At first Lee detached

Jackson and then followed with Longstreet’s command.

Winning at 2nd Bull Run, he moved on into Maryland but

suffered the misfortune of having a copy of his orders

detailing the disposition of his divided forces fall into the

hands of the enemy. McClellan moved with unusual speed

and Lee was forced to fight a delaying action along South

Mountain while waiting for Jackson to complete the

capture of Harpers Ferry and rejoin him. He masterfully

fought McClellan to a stand still at Antietam and two days

later recrossed the Potomac.

Near the end of the year he won an easy victory over

Burnside at Fredericksburg and then trounced Hooker in

his most creditable victory at Chancellorsville, where he

had detached Jackson with most of the army on a lengthy

flank march while he remained with only two divisions in

the immediate front of the Union army. Launching his

second invasion of the North, he lost at Gettysburg. On the

third day of the battle he displayed one of his major faults

when at Malvern Hill and on other fields-he ordered a

massed infantry assault across a wide plain, not recognizing

that the rifle, which had come into use since the Mexican

War, put the charging troops under fire for too long a

period. Another problem was his issuance of general

orders to be executed by his subordinates.

Returning to Virginia he commanded in the inconclusive

Bristoe and Mine Run campaigns. From the Wilderness to

Petersburg he fought a retiring campaign against Grant in

which he made full use of entrenchments, becoming known

as "Ace of Spades" Lee. Finally forced into a siege, he held

on to Richmond and Petersburg for nearly 10 months

before beginning his retreat to Appomattox, where he was

forced to surrender. On January 23, 1865, he had been

named as commander in chief of the Confederate armies

but he found himself too burdened in Virginia to give more

than general directives to the other theaters.

Lee returned to Richmond as a paroled prisoner of war,

and submitted with the utmost composure of an altered

destiny. He devoted the rest of his life to setting an example

of conduct for other thousands of ex-Confederates. He

refused a number of offers, which would have secured

substantial means for his family. Instead, he assumed the

presidency of Washington College (now Washington and

Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and his reputation

revitalized the school after the war. Lee’s enormous

wartime prestige, both in the North and South, and the

devotion inspired by his unconscious symbolism of the

"Lost Cause" made his a legendary figure even before his

death. He died on October 12 1870, of heart disease

which had plagued him since the spring of 1863, at

Lexington, Virginia and is buried there. Somehow, his

application for restoration of citizenship was mislaid, and it

was not until the 1970’s that it was found and granted.



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