Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee was commander of Virginia’s armed forces during the Civil War and became general-in-chief of the Confederate army towards the end of the war.

Lee was born on January 19, 1807 in Stratford, Virginia. He studied at West Point Military Academy, where he was an outstanding student. After graduating from West Point, Lee married Mary Custis, the great-granddaughter of George and Martha Washington.

Lee fought in the U.S.-Mexican War in 1846, and he proved himself a brave commander and skilled officer. He was declared a hero. In 1859 Lee led the attack to put an end to a slave insurrection led by John Brown at Harper's Ferry.

At the start of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln asked Lee to command the Union forces. Lee, however, was loyal to his home state of Virginia. He resigned from the U.S. military and returned home. Lee did not support slavery, but when Virginia voted to secede from the United States, Lee agreed to help lead the Confederate forces.

Over the next year, Lee again proved himself on the battlefield. In May 1862, he took control of the Army of Northern Virginia and drove back the Union Army in Richmond. He had other victories for the Confederate Army.

However, he barely escaped at the Battle of Antietam. Nearly 14,000 of his men were captured, wounded, or killed. Lee's forces suffered another big loss in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The three-day battle almost destroyed his army, ending Lee's invasion of the North and helping to turn the war in favor of the Union.

By spring 1865 Lee was forced to abandon the city of Richmond, Virginia. A week later, Lee surrendered to U.S. General Grant. “I suppose there is nothing for me to do but go and see General Grant,” he told an aide. “And I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant pardoned Lee for his role in the Civil War, which saved him from being hanged as a traitor. He became president of a small college in western Virginia, and he stayed out of politics following the war. Lee died at his home in 1870.

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