What most Americans today don’t know about Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress)

“I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.” — Robert E. Lee, regarding U.S. Congress

When several states seceded, Lee sided with the United States

 

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If civil war broke out in the United States, would you fight against your home state? Robert E. Lee loved and served his country faithfully, but when when several states of the Deep South seceded from the Union in 1860, Lee had to make a decision. He sided with the United States.

Later, a newly formed Southern Confederacy offered Lee the rank of brigadier general. Again, he declined and ignored their offer. But in April 12-14, 1861, U.S. troops began bombarding Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina, his beloved home state. This place him in a tough position.

Robert Edward Lee was the fifth child of Revolutionary War hero and governor of Virginia Henry, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee. Henry Lee, unfortunately, was fiscally irresponsible, which hurt the family financially, and he left for the West Indies when Robert was six, never to return. Robert’s mother, Ann Carter Lee, raised the boy with a strong sense of duty and responsibility.

A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others. — Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress)

Lee went to West Point in 1825 and graduated second in his class in 1829. He entered the Engineer Corps from Georgia to New York during the peace times of the 1830s and early 1840s. By 1831, as a captain, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, great-granddaughter of George Washington’s wife Martha and her first husband, Daniel P. Custis.

When the U.S. went to war with Mexico in 1846, Lee as an engineer for Major General Winfield Scott, secured ways around Mexican strongpoints to help American forces that invade Veracruz and capture Mexico City.

I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself. — Robert E. Lee

“On September 1, 1852, he became superintent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he oversaw changes to the curriculum and added a fifth year to the traditional four,” reports HistoryNet. “In 1855, Congress authorized the formation of four new regiments and Lee, leaving the engineers where promotion was slow, became a lieutenant colonel in charge of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. For the next six years, he was stationed with them in Texas, primarily overseeing operations against the Comanches and performing staff duties.”

“In October 1859, while Lee was on one of several trips east to settle the estate of his wife’s father, radical abolitionist John Brown and a band of followers seized the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The War Department ordered Lee to handle the situation and, leading a U.S. Marine detachment, he quickly recaptured the arsenal.”

Save for defense of my native state, I never desire again to draw my sword. — Robert E. Lee

When union troops attacked Fort Sumter at Charleston in April 1861, his respected former during the Mexican Wars, Winfield Scott, offered Lee command of the “army of volunteers being raised to suppress the rebellion; that same day, Virginia voted in favor of secession. Lee did not support secession, but he would not fight against his native state. He resigned his officer’s commission, wrote Scott a personal message of thanks and regret, and became a major general of Virginia troops, commanding all military forces of the state.”

“Today, he remains internationally respected as a daring, often brilliant tactician, a gentleman who never referred to Northern soldiers as “the enemy” but as “those people over there,” a man who opposed secession but felt honor-bound to serve his native state.”

 

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