Born at Stratford in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807-October 12, 1870) was the fifth child of Henry ‘‘Light-Horse Harry’’ Lee of Revolutionary War fame. Entering West Point in 1825, Lee graduated second in his class in 1829 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1831, he married Mary Custis, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington and heiress of several estates. By 1838, Lee had risen to the rank of captain, and during the Mexican War he was assigned to the staff of Gen. Winfield Scott. From 1852 to 1855, he served as superintendent of West Point, where he revitalized the curriculum.
In 1859, Lee was called upon to lead a force of marines to put an end to John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and was given the rank of general in the Confederate forces. Placed in command of the Department of Northwestern Virginia, General Lee attempted to retain military control of West Virginia for the Confederacy. Unprecedented rainfall, bickering subordinates, inexperienced officers, and rampant disease all contributed to failed campaigns at Cheat Mountain, Randolph County, and Sewell Mountain, Fayette County. On October 29, 1861, General Lee departed West Virginia en route to Richmond. By the time of his surrender on April 9, 1865, Lee had overcome his West Virginia defeats and placed himself firmly in the ranks of the greatest field commanders in world history. He died at Lexington, Virginia.
This Article was written by Tim McKinney
Last Revised on October 07, 2010
Warner, Ezra. Generals in Gray. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959.
McKinney, Tim. Robert E. Lee at Sewell Mountain: The West Virginia Campaign. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1990.