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Robert Edward Lee

Lee, Robert Edward (1807–70), U.S. general and commander of the Confederate Army in the Civil War. His father, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, was a noted cavalry leader during the Revolutionary War, and 2 other Lees were among the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

During the Mexican War (1846–48), Lee served brilliantly on the headquarters staff. After the war he was appointed superintendent of West Point (1852–55). In 1859 Lee was sent to arrest John Brown and restore order after the raid on Harper's Ferry.

When in 1861 civil war appeared imminent, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the post of field commander of the Union forces. Although opposed to slavery and secession, Lee declined out of loyalty to his native state. He accepted a post in the Confederate Army and for a year served as military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In May 1861 he was made a full general and in June 1862 was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee's first great success was the defense of Richmond in the Battles of the Seven Days (June 26-July 2, 1862), in which he neutralized superior Union numbers and forced retreat. After the Confederate victory at the second Battle of Bull Run, Lee invaded Maryland but was halted at Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles of the war, and withdrew to Virginia. At Chancellorsville (May 1863) Lee overcame a 2-to-1 troop disadvantage by dividing his forces and forcing the Union army to retreat. Lee again invaded the North and met the Union forces at Gettysburg, Pa. (July 1863).

During the Wilderness campaign (May-June 1864) and the siege of Petersburg (July 1864), superior Northern numbers and resources battered the exhausted Confederate Army. On Apr. 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va. Lee's mastery of maneuver, his skills in communication, and his ability to inspire devotion in his men had delayed but could not prevent the Union victory. After the war, Lee became president of Washington College (later renamed Washington and Lee University), a post he held until his death.

See also: Civil War, U.S.

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