Illustration of Robert E. Lee

Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870) was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia to Revolutionary War officer and Virginia governor Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III. Robert E. Lee chose a military career and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1829. He was an engineer by training, and fought in the Mexican-American War. He married Mary Anna Randolph Custis (1808–1873), great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, in 1831. Lee went on to command the troops who captured abolitionist John Brown at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859. He opposed secession, but after the Virginia Secession Convention voted in favor of withdrawing from the Union, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army. On April 22, 1861, he traveled to Richmond to accept Governor John Letcher’s offer to command Virginia’s Provisional Army. Despite being given the rank of full general in the Confederate States Army on June 14, 1861, Lee continued to wear the rank of colonel for the remainder of the war. He went on to command the Army of Northern Virginia and is perhaps the best-known Civil War general besides Ulysses S. Grant.

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