He attended West Point and graduated second in his class as a corps adjutant the highest rank a cadet could receive without a single demerit. He was commissioned an officer of engineers—the branch of the service that attracted the most talented cadets—and until the age of forty that was the career to which he applied himself. But when Congress declared war on Mexico in , Lee put aside his work in the engineering department—building forts, diverting rivers, and constructing dams—and reported to Texas and then onwards to Mexico.
Engineers—aside from their other skills, such as laying roads and erecting bridges—were thought to be particularly well suited to reconnaissance duties. Lee joined General John E. Wool in San Antonio for the march into Mexico. He collected tools for laying roads and building bridges, but the greatest service he performed was scouting out enemy positions, sometimes covering up to sixty miles a day on horseback.
For himself, Robert E.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee () - History
Lee took the stress of campaigning and combat easily. But he was always troubled by the effect of war on others, especially civilians.
Lee was on reconnaissance with a scout who fled when Mexican voices came near. Lee dove under a log and there he was stuck most of the day— silent, motionless, impervious to dirt, bugs, and discomfort—while Mexican soldiers sat on his hiding place. His revenge came when he resumed his scouting and blazed a path for the American army to flank the enemy and smash him into flight at Cerro Gordo. Lee, engineers. This officer, greatly distinguished in the siege of Vera Cruz, was again indefatigable, during these operations, in reconnaissance as daring as laborious, and of the greatest value.
Nor was he less conspicuous in planting batteries, and in conducting columns to their stations under the heavy fire of the enemy. Lee was eager for the clash of combat. Lee himself. Still, however hot-blooded Lee could be in the chase and in a fight, he remained a Christian soldier.
What Do We Do With Robert E. Lee?
Roads ran along either side of it, but these were easily and heavily defended. The battles punctuated nearly forty consecutive hours of wakeful action by Lee. In the assault on Chapultepec, before the occupation of Mexico City, Scott had Lee directing artillery, scouting enemy positions, and bringing him battlefield reports to the point that Robert E. Lee was in action for nearly sixty straight hours before a flesh wound and sheer exhaustion forced him from his saddle. But after a brief rest, he was well enough the next morning to ride into Mexico City with the conquering heroes of the American army.
The war was over, and Robert E. He was soon back to administrative and engineering duties, which were trifling enough compared to war. They had the benefit, however, of freeing him to live at home with his family for long periods of time—a freedom he relished, though adventure lurked if he wanted it.
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In , Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis met with a group of Cuban rebels and recommended that they consider Robert E. Lee as a possible commander for their army. Lee politely declined the offer. Lee tried to decline his appointment as Superintendent of West Point in as well he had, in , turned down a teaching appointment at the military academy thinking himself unsuited to the task. Construction, he understood; military tactics, certainly; but shaping young officers—well, that seemed a daunting challenge, especially when one of the young cadets was his own son Custis Lee.
As it was, he acquitted himself dutifully and well as might be expected , and renewed his own military education by making frequent use of the West Point library, studying the campaigns of Napoleon. Lee to serve as lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Cavalry. But my happiness can never be advanced by my separation from my wife, children and friends. His father-in-law put him to work.
George Washington Parke Custis was an inattentive and lackadaisical landowner. His estate had run to seed, and confronted with debts he could not pay he turned to Lee, a paragon of responsibility, to set his financial affairs in order. Lee began untangling the paperwork of bills, but then was recalled to military duties in Texas. Indeed, he spent more of his time traveling to sit on distant courts-martial than he did fighting Indians or pursuing Mexican bandits. It was a huge task, which required Lee to request that his leave be extended it was through the fall of After the election of Lincoln and the secession of the states of the lower South, Robert E.
Lee remained in favor of the Union, but a voluntary union, not one held together by swords and bayonets against the will of the Southern states. Though offered command of the Federal armies, he refused to wage war against the South. He believed the American way of resolving political disputes was through discussion, persuasion, and compromise, not through war—a stance that made him an enemy of the Lincoln administration.
For Lee the soldier, paradoxically, the key principle at issue was avoiding the use of force. Lee believed the people of the South should be allowed full liberty of conscience and free will—that was their right as Americans. To that end, he would take up arms only in defense of his native land and its right to determine its own destiny. It should always be remembered that a civil war , a war of brother against brother, of neighbor against neighbor, is not what the South wanted; it was the Federals who required it in order to bend the South to accept a Union of which it no longer wished to be a part.
However painful it was to resign from his service to the United States, Lee believed his ultimate duty was to Virginia and to his people.
He had to raise, train, and equip an army. It was an extraordinary achievement that he did so—and in short order. He found talented officers for command, used cadets from the Virginia Military Institute to train civilians, and in a matter of about two months had 40, troops readied for the defense of Virginia.
Life behind a desk was not what Robert E. Lee sought, but Jefferson Davis kept him there as his chief military adviser. The few brief forays when he was allowed into the field at the beginning of the war were certainly inglorious.
In western Virginia there was a damp squib of a campaign, distinguished more by the bickering of his subordinate or insubordinate generals than by any effective action against the enemy. In the Carolinas, he was returned to his training as an engineer, supervising the construction of coastal defenses. Others knew him better. Lee was worth 50, men to the Confederacy. He also identified the genius of Stonewall Jackson and guided his star through the Shenandoah Valley. Then, on 1 June , came the summons: with Joseph E. Johnston wounded at the battle of Seven Pines, Lee, by order of Jefferson Davis, rode onto the battlefield as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia the new name Lee gave his army.
He remained a battlefield commander until the end of the war. The one word that best captures Robert E. It was his trust in Providence that left him calm in the most perilous circumstances. Lee was a Christian gentleman who practiced a strict self-control and devotion to duty, who did everything he could to avoid or soothe personal conflicts, but when war was upon him, he was as daring a commander as could be found, repeatedly dividing his already outnumbered and ill-supplied forces and striking with an aggressiveness that chased Federal soldiers from the field.
The Life of Robert E. Lee
In a succession of stunning blows, he drove the Federals from Richmond during the Seven Days, forced a second Federal skedaddle from Manassas, eviscerated the Federal Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg, and routed the Union forces at Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg, Robert E.
Lee came closer to smashing the Union army than is generally supposed.
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