Robert Edward Lee 1807-1870 The strong healthy boy born to "Light
Horse Harry" and Ann Carter Lee on January 19, 1807 was the last lee born at
Stratford to survive to maturity. Though he spent fewer than four years there,
his later boyhood visits left an impression that he carried throughout his life.
As sometimes happens in distinguished families, one member seems to fall heir
to the best qualities of the previous generations and none of the flaws. So
it was with Robert Edward Lee. From both the Carters and the Lees he inherited
a handsome countenance. From his father came rare physical strength and endurance.
The sense of duty that Harry had learned from George Washington was vividly
imparted to his son Robert. Even "Light Horse Harry's" difficulties with money
seemed to have produced positive responses in Robert, who throughout his life
was meticulous and prudent in all financial matters. Ann Carter Lee's gentleness
was inherited by Robert, and his loving care of his ailing mother was the mainstay
of her life. With his father and elder brothers away, and his mother and sisters
in failing health, Robert had become, by age 12, head of the household. On cold
afternoons, when his mother was well enough, young Robert would stuff paper
in the cracks of the carriage to block the wind and take her driving. Years
later, when he left for West Point, Ann Lee wrote to a cousin, "How will I get
on without Robert? He is both a son and daughter to me." Robert Lee's choice
of a military career was dictated by financial necessity. There was no money
left to send him to Harvard, where his older brother Charles Carter studied.
Such circumstances led him to an appointment to West Point Military Academy.
Robert, who led the Cadet Corps in 1829, graduated second in his class. In four
years he received not a single demerit, and he became one of the most popular
cadets in his class. When he returned as the Academy's superintendent years
later, he won the same affectionate respect from he cadets for his compassion,
sense of fairness and strong moral leadership. On June 30, 1831, while serving
as Second Lieutenant of Engineers at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he married Mary
Ann Randolph Custis of Arlington. Mary was the only daughter of George Washington
Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted grandson of
George Washington. Robert E. Lee shared his father's reverence for the memory
of the General and that bond with the Father of our Country served as an inspiration
throughout Lee's life.
Two Pictures of Robert E. Lee In His Last Known
Photographs Compliments of Anne Bell
The couple moved into Arlington, the Custis house across the Potomac from Washington,
DC, which would later become Arlington National Cemetery. On the eve of the
Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, through Secretary Francis Blair, offered
him command of the Union Army. There was little doubt as to Lee's sentiments.
He was utterly opposed to secession and considered slavery evil. His views on
the United States were equally clear - "no north, no south, no east, no west,"
he wrote, "but the broad Union in all its might and strength past and present."
Blair's offer forced Lee to choose between his strong conviction to see the
country united in perpetuity and his responsibility to family, friends and his
native Virginia. A heart-wrenching decision had to be made. After a long night
at Arlington, searching for an answer to Blair's offer, he finally came downstairs
to Mary. "Well Mary," he said calmly, "the question is settled. Here is my letter
of resignation." He could not, he told her, lift his hand against his own people.
He had "endeavored to do what he thought was right," and replied to Blair that".....though
opposed to secession and a depreciating war, I could not take no part in the
invasion of the Southern States. "He resigned his commission and left his much
beloved Arlington to "go back in sorrow to my people and share the misery of
my native state." On June 1, 1862 Robert Edward Lee assumed command of the Army
of Northern Virginia in the Confederate capital of Richmond. Not until February
1865 was he named Commander in Chief of all Confederate forces, but the leadership
throughout the war was undeniably his. His brilliance as a commander is legendary,
and military colleges the world over study his campaign as models of the science
of war. That he held out against an army three times the size and a hundred
times better equipped was no miracle. It was the result of leadership by a man
of exceptional intelligence, daring, courage and integrity. His men all but
worshiped him. He shared their rations, slept in tents as they did, and , most
importantly, never asked more of them than he did of himself. On December 25,
1861, in the midst of war and with Arlington confiscated and occupied by Union
troops, the lonely Lee wrote to Mary: .....In the absence of a home I wish I
could purchase Stratford. That is the only place I could go to, now accessible
to us, that would inspire me with feelings of pleasure and local love. You and
the girls could remain there in quiet. It is a poor place, but we could make
enough cornbread and bacon for out support and the girls could weave us clothes.
I wonder if it is for sale and how much. Sadly, circumstances prevented him
from ever returning to Stratford. Lee's legendary command of the Confederate
forces came to an end at Appomattox, Virginia in April 1865. "There is nothing
left for me to do ," he said, "but go and see General Grant, and I would rather
die a thousand deaths." With the war now over, Lee set an example to all in
his refusal to express bitterness. "Abandon your animosities," he said, "and
make your sons Americans." he then set out to work for a permanent union of
the states. Though his application to regain his citizenship was misplaced and
not acted upon until 1975 - more than a century late - Lee worked tirelessly
for a strong peace. With some hesitation he accepted the presidency of Washington
College in Lexington, Virginia, and there he strove to equip his students with
the character and knowledge he knew would be necessary to restore the war-ravaged
South. Lexington became his home, and there he died of heart problems on October
12, 1870. After his death, his name was joined with that of his lifelong hero,
and Washington College became Washington and Lee University. ............taken
in part from a book Stratford Hall Plantation and the Lee's of Virginia by:
Paul C. Nagel.......... Photographs of Gen. Robert E. Lee Certification of Authenticity
of Photographs: Authentic original photographs of General Robert E. Lee This
print was made from the original negative before which General Lee sat for my
One of the Last Known Pictures of Lee
Compliments of Anne Bell
Pictures on this page were given to me by Anne Bell, an artist
living in Tuskawilla, Florida.