Robert E. Lee biography


Through all of the obstacles and vicissitudes that beset him in the Wilderness campaign, Lee patiently and valiantly held on, although poorly supported during much of the time by those for whose cause he fought. New Year's day of 1865 witnessed a sad and pitiful spectacle in the devoted army of General Lee. On every hand he was threatened with ruin, and with him the cause of the South. Food was scarce, the army was literally starving, and disease and death lurked everywhere. The last effort to rally the waning confidence of the people was the elevation of Lee to Commander-in-Chief of all the armies of the Confederacy. Lee was practically the only man in the South in whom the populace had not lost faith. But the time for both hope and faith was passing. Grant was daily drawing more and more closely the coils which he had cast about the South. The surrender of Richmond and Petersburg necessarily served as a prelude to the surrender of Lee. Retreating after the fall of Richmond, which was evacuated April 2d, after the desperate fighting and the great sacrifice of life that had been made to save it, Lee was pursued and assailed from every side; he was finally completely hemmed in at Farmville, April 7th, when Grant at once opened negotiations for the surrender of the Confederate army. It was effected April 9th, when Lee signed the final agreement at the village of Appomattox Court House. This was the end of the war. Peace was restored; Lee, the last mainstay of the Southern cause, had been vanquished, but he had fought valiantly, and in accordance with his conscience. He maintained to the last moment that he was still capable of resisting, but surrendered in the interest of peace.

After the surrender Lee remained quietly at his home in Richmond, where he was visited by thousands, who called to express their admiration of his abilities as a warrior. Federal officers passing North after the war called on him to shake his hand, and they were received with dignified kindness. On October 12, 1870, at Lexington, General Lee died after a brief illness, which came upon him suddenly in the form of nervous prostration. Not only the South, but the whole nation, mourned his death, for his ability and worth was everywhere recognized.

Wolseley, the English general, regarded Robert E. Lee as the greatest of American generals. Lee was neither an enthusiast nor a fanatic: he believed when he took up the sword in hostility against the Federal Government that he was doing his duty and he was willing to abide by the consequences, be what they might. He was a kind-hearted, dignified, and Christian gentleman. His bravery was unquestioned. From the very outset of his military career, which began under General Scott in the Mexican War, he displayed that zeal and intrepidity which won for him praise and promotion. His high character and self-sacrifice in the interest of the cause which he believed to be just, gained the sincere admiration of even his former foes, while the calm dignity with which he met adversity and submitted to the inevitable, aroused Northern sympathy and Southern pride. "In person," says McCabe, "General Lee was strikingly handsome. He was tall in stature and possessed one of the most perfectly proportioned figures the writer ever saw. He was so perfectly proportioned and so graceful in motion that walking seemed to be no exertion to him. His features were handsome and his expression commanding, yet kind and winning. In his manner he was quiet and modest, but thoroughly self-possessed. His whole bearing seemed to me to merit the expression of `antique heroism' applied to him by a foreign writer. He was courteous and kind to all, and at the height of his power the humblest private in the army approached him with an absolute certainty of a cordial reception. He was devotedly loved by his friends, and personally he had no enemies. He was strong in his friendships and slow to condemn any one. In the midst of the fierce passions of war his moderation was most remarkable. He was absolutely free from bitterness of feeling, and spoke of his adversaries with kindness and respect. He possessed the most perfect command over his temper, and it is said that he was never seen angry. An oath never passed his lips, and he used neither tobacco nor liquors." Lee made a long, desperate, and brilliant but unequal struggle, and, viewed as a master of defensive warfare, ranks second to no warrior in the world.

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