"Descended from a long line of illustrious warriors and statesmen,
Robert Edward Lee added new glory to the name he bore, and,
whether measured by a martial or an intellectual standard,
will compare favorably with those whose reputation
it devolved upon him to sustain and emulate."
Robert E. Lee, the great Civil War Confederate general, was born on January 19, 1807 in Stratford, Virginia. The son of the Revolutionary War hero "Light Horse" Harry Lee, he went to West Point and graduated second in his class in 1829. During his years there, he didn't earn any demerits and was highly regarded at the school. His work at the school led him to be hailed as an engineering genius and his bearing led him to rise through the ranks and then serve as adjutant of the Cadet Corps. He was afterward assigned to the engineer corps. He then worked on several engineering and military projects in Georgia, Virginia and New York.
Lee was working with General Wool at the beginning of the Mexican War but was then transferred to General Winfield Scott's staff at his special request. While he occupied this position, he demonstrated such brilliance that General Scott wrote that Lee was "the very best soldier I ever saw in the field." After the war, Lee was assigned to duty with the Corps of Engineers and headquartered in Baltimore. In 1852, he was named to serve as superintendent of the military academy at West Point which he held until 1855. He then became lieutenant-colonel and was assigned to the Second Cavalry. He served frontier duty in Texas from 1856 until early 1861.
Lee happened to be in Washington in October of 1859 when John Brown seized the arsenal at Harper's Ferry. He was assigned to command the detachment which went to supress the uprising. Jeb Stuart was also in Washington at the time and went with him. He arrived at the federal arsenal and ordered that it be taken by storm, which quickly resolved the situation.
Afterwards, he returned to Texas where he would remain until just prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War. He was summoned to Washington in 1861 where he rejected command of the forces which had begun to assemble shortly after Virginia's secession from the Union. However, he did accept command of Virginia's armed forces. As brigadier and later full general, he began to organize the resources of the state and help them transition into a more official Confederate service.
His early field commands in western Virginia were difficult for him; subordinate officers William W. Loring, John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise were dissenting and didn't help the campaigns. Combined with bad weather, it was very disappointing. Jefferson Davis then appointed him a command on the southern coast. In early 1862 he was called to Richmond as an advisor. Shortly after, when Joseph E. Johnston was severely wounded at Seven Pines, Davis told Lee to take command of what was then called the Army of Northern Virginia.
Almost immediately thereafter, Lee met the Army of the Potomac. He combined forces with Stonewall Jackson who met him from Shenandoah Valley and they overwhelmed one wing of McClellan's much larger army. Fighting at Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines' Mill, Savage Station, Glendale, White Oak Swamp and Malvern Hill, Lee drove the Federal forces from their positions which seriously threatened the Confederate capital.
This campaign earned Lee's status as a legend among southerners and led the Union forces to consider the Confederacy with more seriousness. His meeting with General John Pope at a second Bull Run was a brilliant exercise in maneuvering. He quickly followed this victory with an offensive campaign into Maryland. Unfortunately, a copy of his orders was lost and fell into northern hands and he then met McClellan's army at Antietam where the botched battle caused one of the bloodiest days in the war. Afterwards, Lee's forces were seriously reduced and he had to retreat into Virginia.
General Burnside, McClellan's successor, was defeated by Lee at Fredericksburg, Virginia at the end of the year. His troops were entrenched with good cover and were able to fight off the Union troops' fronal assaults, leading to another viciously bloody day.
In early May of 1863, Lee had one of his most notable successes in the war, at Chancellorsville. Though greatly outnumbered, he again utilized brilliant maneuvering to win. He left two divisions in front of the Union army while marching the rest of his troops around the federal flank. One of the greatest losses to Lee's effort, however, was the death of General Stonewall Jackson, mortally wounded in the battle.
Following the battle at Chancellorsville, Lee again launced an offensive in the North. He pushed north into Pennsylvania, and the federal troops swung west and then came about south to meet Lee at Gettysburg, where the Confederacy suffered defeat after three days of fighting. The last day of fighting, where the battle could have still gone either way, Lee ordered "Pickett's Charge," a frontal assault on the federal center which destroyed Pickett's entire division. Lee was devastated by this loss and retreated into Virginia. He tried to resign, but President Davis wouldn't allow it.
Ulysses S. Grant took over the Union army following Gettysburg, and this change would prove to set Lee on the defensive. He abandoned his earlier innovations in maneuvering tactics and tried employing entrenchments, but his army was on a steady decline. Grant pushed south of the James River in July of 1864 to attack Petersburg. Lee held both Richmond and Petersburg for almost 10 months before Grant drove him out. After this loss, Lee tried to gather the rest of the army in North Carolina, but Grant crushed him and Lee was then forced to surrender at the nearby Appomattox Courthouse.
After the war, Lee was offered a number of positions that would have granted him substantial wealth, but he did not see any honor in accepting them. He was nearly tried as a traitor, but instead had his civil rights suspended. His citizenship wasn't fully restored until 1975 by President Ford.* Instead of taking the positions he saw as dishonorable, he accepted presidency of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Lee worked hard as an educator, attempting to revitalize the school which had felt the devastating effects of war. He demonstrated a desire to rebuild it was well as his beloved home state as well as reunite the divided country. He died in 1870 at his home near the college of heart disease which he had suffered from since his campaigns in 1863. Robert E. Lee remains a hero to southerners in the United States; he is fondly remembered as a brilliant soldier as well as a kind gentleman.
*Thanks Jizz. =)
http://www.historyplace.com/civilwar/cwar-pix/lee-1.jpg picture of the general