Robert E. Lee

Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870) was born on January 19, 1807 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 with the rank of major general. He became a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army on May 14. Despite being promoted to full general one month later, Lee continued to wear the rank of colonel for the remainder of the war.

Lee went on to command the Army of Northern Virginia and is perhaps the best-known Civil War general besides Ulysses S. Grant. He surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. After the war, he became president of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and died on October 12, 1870 at the age of 63. He is interred beneath University Chapel at Washington and Lee University. His American citizenship, stripped as a result of engaging in rebellion against the United States, was formally restored on August 5, 1975.

  • April 20, 1861 – Lee resigns his commission as colonel in the United States Army after turning down an offer to command President Lincoln’s 75,000 volunteers.

  • April 22, 1861 – Lee accepts command of Virginia’s Provisional Army and Navy with the rank of major general.

  • May 14, 1861 – Commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army.

  • June 14, 1861 – Promoted to the rank of general in the Confederate States Army.