Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee

Who was the best general in the Civil War? Many historians believe it was the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Lee was born in Stratford, Virginia, on January 19, 1807. He came from a well-known Virginia family. His father, Henry Lee, had signed the Declaration of Independence and had been a military officer in the American Revolution. Lee attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated second in his class in 1829.


After graduation, Lee became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. In 1846, war broke out with Mexico. Lee was promoted to colonel at the end of the war. In 1859, Lee led a squad of U.S. Marines who captured John Brown, a man who worked to end slavery by force. Brown had tried to start a slave rebellion by attacking a government armory where weapons were stored at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.


After Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, southern states began to secede from (leave) the Union. They feared that Lincoln would end slavery. War between the North and South seemed certain. The Civil War began in April 1861, after South Carolina troops fired on Fort Sumter.

Lincoln asked Lee to become one of the top generals in the Union army. Lee declined. After Virginia seceded, Lee resigned from the Union army. He became a general in the new Confederate army.

Lee led his troops in several of the biggest Civil War battles. They include Petersburg in Virginia, Antietam in Maryland, and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Lee was a master of military strategy. He knew his enemy’s weaknesses and where to attack next. But his brilliance could not make up for the shortage of soldiers and supplies in the Confederate army.

After four years of the bloodiest war in America’s history, Lee had to give up. He surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The Civil War had ended.

After the war, Lee became president of Washington College in Virginia. Today, it’s called Washington and Lee University. Lee urged the North and South to come together in peace. He died in 1870.


Robert E. Lee

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