The Life Of Robert E. Lee Essay, Research Paper
General Robert E. Lee was a brilliant military leader. He was one of the greatest factors that kept the confederacy alive through the four years of our Civil War. Through a rough childhood and many struggles, he rose to become one of the most respected leaders in history. He is revered as a hero, in his love for his men and for fighting for what he thought was right. He fought for his country and his heart, not for what awards or praise he might get out of victory. For this virtue he was adored by millions, and feared by his enemies. Never before in history had a general had such an unbreakable bond with an army. Even when death was certain, his men begged him to let them charge again. They loved Lee because he protected and loved all his men. His devotion to his country and to his army came before everything but God. Robert E. Lee is an icon of what a real leader should be.
One of the main reasons Lee grew to be so devoted and responsible was because of his father s influence. Light Horse Harry Lee, a great military leader in the Revolutionary War and close friend of Washington, was Lee s father. Light Horse Harry Lee lacked every trait of responsibility and self-control. He married his cousin Matilda, and invested much of her abundant tobacco fortune. This money along with money from his friends was used in rash real estate schemes. Henry Lee squandered so much money
in irrational investments that Matilda chose to pass on her inheritance to her children. Her sudden death in 1790 left most of her belongings to her children. Lee then married Robert s mother, Ann Carter. He lost a lot of her money as well, so by the time Robert Edward was born, January 19, 1807, the once magnificent Stratford Hall was in shambles. While Robert was young, his father was always avoiding his past. In one last attempt to gain back the lost money, Henry Lee bet everything that he had in a real estate scheme. He lost $40,000 and was sent to debtors prison.
Robert was only six when his dad left, this forced him to grow up in a hurry. While his brothers were busy with careers, Lee took care of his unhealthy mother and his sick sister Ann. When he was only thirteen he was doing all the shopping, housekeeping, keeping up the grounds, rationing out his mothers medicine, and helping her get around. Although he loved swimming and sports, these responsibilities left him little time to do so. His mother often drilled him on the importance of self-denial, patience, and responsibility, the qualities his father lacked so much. Robert was adored and respected by friends and neighbors, but especially his mother. He was rewarded with love and appreciation from all that knew him. Despite the harsh strains put on him, Robert remained cheerful.
Although the Lees had little money and no land, they were still Lees, and still considered to be very influential. Robert s mother s side, the Carters, had set up a boys and girls school for their children s instruction. Robert went to school there for two
years. He then enrolled at Alexandria Academy in 1820. He went to school there for three years, but when he was seventeen, lee decided to look to his future career.
Although Lee had excellent grades at school, he had very few options to turn to. He had no land to farm, and his family didn t have enough money to put him through college. Therefore, Lee decided to follow in his father s footsteps and pursue a military career. He competed for one of the 250 openings at the prestigious United States Military Academy, West Point. The government would pay for his tuition, and Lee could count on his family name, as well as he outstanding academic record, to get him in. Lee was accepted to West Point and entered the Academy in 1825.
At West Point, Lee continued to uphold a nearly perfect record. He was very devoted to his studies and was ranked near the top of his class throughout his time at West Point. He was a very moral man and didn t drink or swear. He was also neat, well mannered, and never violated any of the army s picky rules.
Lee was well liked by his classmates. He was not one to criticize others for their behavior. By his fourth year, Lee was named adjutant of the corps of cadets, which is the academy s highest-ranking student. However, the academy did not always suit Lee. One rule stated that no cadet could leave the academy for the first two years. This posed a problem due to the poor health of Lee s mother. Therefore, upon his graduation in 1829, Lee rushed home to be at his mother s side. He stayed with her constantly at her bedside. One month later, she died.
With no more family ties, Robert accepted his first military assignment at Cockspur Island near Savannah, Georgia. Despite his acceptance into the elite army corps of engineers, Lee s main task was the routine construction work of mostly storing run-down army forts. He often had to push through knee-high mud to supervise the construction work.
Although his family name had helped him in the past, it seemed to leave him with a bad reputation for marital problems. Those who knew Lee said that he should be one of society s most sought-after bachelors. Robert courted a cousin he had known from childhood, Mary Anna Randolph Custis. They were married in June of 1831. Sadly enough, Mary was far from being suited for military life when she joined Robert at his new post at fort Monroe. She stayed there bored, unsociable, and unhappy. After only a brief time, Mary talked Robert into letting her go home for a visit . This visit stretched into months and the first Lee was born at her family estate.
Lee s work was very unsatisfying in his early years of marriage. At Fort Monroe, he spent his time directing construction projects and stopping fights. He was so eager for a new task that he accepted a desk job at the Army s Chief of Engineers Office in Washington, D.C. The work was as tedious and mundane as he had suspected. However, he did escape west to help a little dispute. However, during this time Lee s wife had their second child and became very ill and bedridden for months. Although she recovered this time, her health was never quite the same. Eventually Robert was forced to care for his bedridden wife, just as he had for his mother.
Over time, Lee wondered if he was in the right profession. His work was unfulfilling and he was torn between the military and his family. He often expressed his desire to just go home. The once cheerful partygoer began to slip into depression. Lee went from job to job, taking his family with him. Forming a pattern, Lee would accept a new assignment, he and his family would move, Mary would become pregnant, and they would move back with her family.
The United States decision to go to war with Mexico did not please Lee at all. Lee felt that we had bullied Mexico, and he didn t like that at all. Although this heightened his dislike for politics, he was determined to carry out his orders to the best of his ability.
During the Mexico conflict, Lee had several tasks. His first assignment was to construct roads and bridges in Texas and in New Mexico. Then he was chosen by General Winfield Scott to join his personal staff for the Mexican invasion. Lee was found to be very skilled at scouting out terrain, finding enemy weaknesses, and strategically placing artillery at its most beneficial spots. This was dangerous work and Lee was once almost shot by his own men. More than once, Lee placed the army in the right spot at the right time. Because of this, Scott’s army captured the Mexican capital, and the U.S. won large quantities of land in the southwest.
Lee s actions in the war with Mexico impressed many people. Scott stated that never before had he seen one soldier do so much. Such praise should have sent Lee soaring through the ranks, but the army had set to the tedious task of rebuilding forts. Thus, many officers, like Lee, were carelessly overlooked.
Though Lee was a wonderful man, when it came to battle, responsibility, and schooling, he wasn t as perfect as history books make him out to be. Some of colleagues described him as being immune from all sins and shortcomings, which was far from true. He sometimes had furious outbursts from his temper, which caused many that had to deal with him on a daily basis to live in fear of him.
After the Mexican War, Lee was assigned to more mundane tasks of routine fortification assignments. However, as a reward he was offered the position of the U.S. Military Academy. Although Lee protested the re-assignment, the army ignored his protests.
Lee s move turned out o be very beneficial. For the first time in his military career, the living quarters were suitable for his family, and they moved with him to West Point. He learned how to deal with young soldiers, and he made friendships that would help him in later years.
Despite his wish to stay with his family, Lee was offered advancement and was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was made second in command of a newly forming Calvary unit formed in Texas. However, Lee s tasks here were mostly long rides to sit in judgement of court martial cases. It wasn t long until he became lonely and depressed again. It seemed as though there was a rising storm in the United States. There was a heated issue of slavery and a session was about to tear the country in half. Southern politicians felt a growing sense to form their own union. Lee was, strangely, against this, stating that he had no desire to live under any other government, and he was ready to sacrifice to preserve the union. However, at the same time, Lee remained loyal to Virginia. Thinking that states had the right to govern themselves, and that slavery should and would be phased out.
Lee was sent back to his assignment in Texas, but at the same time, Lincoln was put into office and South Carolina seceded. War was inevitable. Increasingly, states left the union and when it was Texas s turn Lee found himself in enemy territory. He escaped though by being called to Washington D.C. But from there, it got worse. Federal officers expected Lee to remain loyal to the union. He was offered a promotion to full colonel, which he accepted. He was also asked to take the place of the aging General Winfield Scott as the commanding force on the battlefield. For Lee it was like a dream come true, but he wavered and his loyalty came to be a factor. He could not be persuaded and resigned from the Union army to join the Confederates cause.
The new confederate president held high regard for Lee, and wanted to have him as an advisor at all times. Thus, Lee was far from the battlefield when the first major campaign of the war occurred. The Battle of Bull Run was a stunning Union victory, and Lee, who was a great factor in this, was ignored.
Then lee was sent out to Virginia to regroup three beaten confederate army regiments, and lead an attack to stop the advancing union army. This was obviously near impossible, and the confederates gave up the land with out firing a single shot.
Lee was sent back to more menial tasks that proved to be easier. However, he grew restless for another assignment. He was chosen to take the place of General Johnston, who was wounded in battle, and command his army.
Lee was now in control of the Army of Northern Virginia. Now in command Lee launched viscous attacks on the union army. Driving back the Union Army General, General McClellan from Richmond. He used brilliant strategies and cunning maneuvers, showing how accomplished he really was. The man that was once mocked was now being called a military genius. Fighting one successful campaign after another until three devastating days in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The turning point in the war, the battle of Gettysburg, began on July 1, 1863. Union corps held their line while backup arrived. While at the same time the confederate forces were heavily reinforced. By the end of the day, the Union had been pushed back to Cemetery Hill, and the town of Gettysburg belonged to the southerners.
Early in the morning on June 2, the armies established their positions while awaiting reinforcements. There was no fighting until late afternoon when the Confederates attacked the Unions left flank. This fighting took place at Little Round Top, Devil s Den, the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard, and Emmitsburg Road. The Union was defeated every time except at Little Round Top. However, the Union also held the right flank at Culp s Hill and Cemetery Hill.
On July 3, Lee took a major gamble on an extreme frontal assault against the Union, along the center of Cemetery Hill. Known as Pickett s Charge, this disaster ended in a devastating Confederate loss. The Confederate soldiers attempted to run right into canon fire with no protection. The South suffered tremendous loss, from which it would never recover.
Despite the defeat and humiliation they faced, Lee s men adored him. As he rode into camp to announce the retreat, they screamed for him to give them one more chance, and to hit the Union again. This would mean almost certain death. Lee s men loved him so much that they were willing to die for his cause and for him as well. That says more about his character than anything from any battle he could have fought does.
To fight an enemy superior in numbers at such terrible disadvantage of position in the heart of his own territory, when the freedom movement gave him the advantage of selecting his own time and place for accepting battle, seems to have been the greatest military blunder and the result was the worst disaster which has fallen into our arms, (Gary W Gallagher pages 2-3). This statement sums up how people viewed Lee after Gettysburg. Though still held as a figure of respect, Lee was also blamed for the loss of the war. An odd combination he would have to live with.
After the war, much of the South laid in ruins. Lee, knowing that the South looked to him for hope, attempted to be an example of how southerners should act. He took over a tiny failing college, and even threatened to resign if he heard a word of disrespect against his former adversary, President Ulysses S Grant.
Lee always felt that the southern cause was hopeless, but always remained loyal. The glory of duty done, the honor of the integrity of principle, (Nathan Aaseng page 107). Lee was always faithful, no matter how he felt. What would people be like if they possessed this child like faith? Lee died on October 12, 1870. He left a legacy of brilliance and absolute catastrophe bringing both sorrow and hope to a rebuilding nation.