201. The Great General of the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia in 1807, with the best blood of the Cavaliers in his veins. His father was "Light Horse Harry" Lee, the famous cavalryman of the Revolution.
As young Lee grew up, he followed in the footsteps of his great father. He went to school at Alexandria, George Washington's old town, and prepared for West Point. He was a cadet officer at West Point, and during his last year held the rank of honor in the corps.
While yet a boy he visited Arlington, across the Potomac from Washington, the home of George Washington Parke Custis. Here p381 he played with Mary Custis. The playmate of his childhood became his wife two years after Lee left West Point. In the course of time, Arlington, a beautiful home, became his own.
When he left West Point, Lee was a second lieutenant. Later he was made a first lieutenant, and then promoted to be captain, and given charge of a company.
In the war with Mexico, he earned honor and fame. He was rapidly promoted from captain to major, from major to lieutenant-colonel, and from lieutenant-colonel to colonel.
When the Mexican War was over, and peace had come, Lee was given charge of the academy at West Point. While there he made improvements in the discipline and in the course of study of that famous military school.
After three years, Lee resigned his position at West Point and went to fight the Indians on the frontier. During this time the agitation over slavery began to enter even the army. Colonel Lee believed in the Union, and was opposed to secession.
But when Virginia followed other slave states out of the Union and into the Confederacy, Lee went with his native state. Before he took this step, President Lincoln sent a friend to offer him a promotion in the army, if he would fight for the Union. Lee replied: "How could I take part against my native state, or raise my hand against my relatives, my children, and my home?"
Virginia put him at the head of her troops, and when she joined the Confederacy, he was made one of her generals. Early in 1862 p382 he was made military adviser to the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, but when General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at the battle of Fair Oaks, General Lee was given charge of the army defending Richmond.
202. Lee Wins Victory After Victory. The change was quickly seen. Although McClellan, the Union general, had a much larger army, Lee immediately attacked it in a seven days' battle, compelling McClellan to retreat. The attack upon Richmond had failed.
Lee turned, and hurled his army with great fury against another Northern general, Pope, defeated him, and threatened Washington. The excitement in the capital was great.
Flushed with victory, General Lee decided to lead his army into Maryland. Supplies for the army were abundant. But the people of Maryland did not join his army as he had expected. The bloody battle of Antietam was the result of this invasion. General Lee slowly withdrew his troops across the Potomac into Virginia.
In December, he fought and defeated the Union army at Fredericksburg. Early in the year 1863 Lee again defeated the Union forces, with great slaughter, at Chancellorsville. Here Lee lost his most brilliant and dashing general, "Stonewall" Jackson, who was killed accidentally by his own troops.
p383 After resting his troops and gathering reënforcements, Lee made a dash through Maryland into Pennsylvania. Washington and the North were full of excitement, but a great Union army was now hurrying to meet him.
203. The Battle of Gettysburg. The two armies met at Gettysburg, and there for three days was fought the greatest battle of the Civil War. On the last day occurred Pickett's famous charge. Fifteen thousand Southern veterans, led by General George E. Pickett, with bayonets gleaming, charged across the valley — more than a mile in width — right up to the muzzle of the Union guns. The slaughter was fearful. Finally the Confederates retreated. Lee's army was defeated. More than fifty thousand men, on both sides, were killed, wounded, and missing at Gettysburg.
p384 204. Facing a Powerful Army. General Lee crossed the Potomac, and never again invaded the North. Little was done until General Grant, in 1864, took command of all the Union forces, which now numbered nearly one hundred twenty thousand soldiers. Against this powerful army General Lee could oppose not more than seventy thousand.
In May, 1864, the Union troops crossed the Rapidan near Chancellorsville, and entered the "Wilderness." Here in this thicket of underbrush the armies fought a terrible two days' battle. Lee was a match for Grant under these conditions, for the number of soldiers did not count much in such a place.
Lee faced the Union troops at Spottsylvania, and another two days' fight occurred. Thirty-six thousand were dead, wounded, and missing. As a result of this battle, General Lee again faced Grant's troops at Cold Harbor, where McClellan had been defeated two years before.
After the struggle was over, twelve thousand Union men lay dead and wounded upon the field of battle. Lee was fighting behind breastworks, and Grant's men in the open field.
p385 Suddenly Lee received dispatches to move his troops to Petersburg. Soon Grant was there thundering at the gates. Lee, with his army behind fortifications, held him at bay until the spring of 1865.
204. The Waning of the Confederacy. General Lee's troops were wearing out. There were no more to take their places. Food and clothing became scarce. So many of the Confederate states had been overrun by the Union troops that supplies of all kinds were hard to get. Before this, Southern women had been busy knitting socks and supplies for the army, but now it was hard to find material for supplies.
In the spring, Lee told Jefferson Davis that Richmond would have to fall, and that all the papers and documents would have to be removed. General Lee was planning to take his army to Danville, Virginia, where he could unite with the army of General Joseph E. Johnston. With the two armies, it was planned to strike General Sherman before Grant's army could come to his aid.
Davis and his cabinet left Richmond at night, and got safely away. General Lee could not move so quickly. He was able to reach Appomattox Court House, and there he found his way blocked by General Sheridan and his cavalry. There was now no reason for shedding any more blood. The Confederacy was doomed.
In the spring of 1865 General Lee received a letter from General Grant, asking that further fighting cease, and that arrangements be made for surrender. The two generals met at a farmhouse, p386 and agreed upon terms. General Grant permitted the officers and men to take their horses home "to do their spring plowing."
It was a trying time for General Lee. He went back "to break the sad news to the brave troops he had so long commanded . . . They pressed up to him, anxious to touch his person or even his horse." With a voiced filled with emotion, he said to his soldiers: "We have fought through the war together; I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more!" And then, in silence, he rode on to his headquarters near by and passed alone into his tent.
Morning brought the final parting with his loyal army. Surrounded by a throng of sorrowing soldiers, General Lee mounted his faithful iron gray horse, "Traveler," then, the last sad farewells said, rode slowly away to his home in Richmond.
In a short time, General Lee was elected president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, at Lexington, Virginia. Many offers of help came to him at this time, but he declined them all. Other offers came to him and engage in business and make a fortune, but he refused them all, preferring his quiet duties as a college president.
General died in Lexington in 1870. A monument to the memory of this great man has been erected in Richmond, and likewise one in Lexington. Since the close of the Civil War General Lee's fame as a noble man and a great soldier has grown steadily.
The Leading Facts. 1. Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia; went to school at Alexandria. 2. Went to West Point, won honors, and was made second lieutenant. 3. Lee was in the Mexican War, and won praise from General Scott; took charge of West Point. 4. Followed Virginia into secession and was given command of her troops. 5. Given charge of the army defending Richmond, and began the seven days' fighting. 6. Defeated General Pope, invaded Maryland, and fought the battle of Antietam. 7. General Lee won the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, but failed at Gettysburg. 8. Defended Richmond against Grant for nearly a year. 9. Lee accepted Grant's terms at Appomattox. 10. Accepted the Presidency of Washington College at Lexington, Virginia. Died 1870.
Study Questions. 1. What do you know of "Light Horse Harry"? 2. Tell the story of young Lee until he entered West Point. 3. Tell of his promotion after leaving West Point. 4. What did Lee do for West Point? 5. Why did Lincoln think Lee would accept a promotion in the Union Army? 6. What was Lee's reply? 7. What positions had he held when he became head at Fair Oaks? 8. What two victories led Lee to invade Maryland and what great battle was fought? Have you heard of this battle before? 9. What two victories led Lee to invade Pennsylvania? 10. Tell the story of Gettysburg. 111. What was the effect on Lee's army? 12. How could 70,000 men hold 120,000 at bay? 13. Tell the story of Lee's fighting in the Wilderness. 14. Picture the condition of Lee's army in the spring of 1865. 15. What was Lee's plan after Richmond fell? 16. Why did he not carry out this plan? 17. Why did Lee's men need their horses? 18. Picture General Lee's farewell to his soldiers. 19. Tell the story of Lee after the war ceased.
Suggested Readings. Robert E. Lee: Hale, Stories of War, 61‑73, 119‑149; Mabie, Heroes Every Child Should Know, 289‑308; Magill, Stories from Virginia History, 162‑172.
Stonewall Jackson: Addey, Stonewall Jackson, 13‑30, 31‑93, 94‑153, 154‑240.
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Robert E. Lee
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