Few episodes in history are more painful to Americans than the Civil
War, fought between the North and the South. This biography, Great
American Generals – Robert E. Lee, by Ian Hogg, takes the reader through
the life of one of the greatest heroes of that war, Robert E. Lee. It is a
thorough, in depth record of the life of Lee and begins with a detailed account
of his family history and his birth, through his college years, military
experience and his work in later life to his death on October 12, 1870. The
first few pages set the scene by listing a substantial amount of facts about the
names and backgrounds of his parents Harry and Ann and Lee’s wife, Mary
Custis, with some reference to his father’s army career and political life.
After Lee’s early years, the reader will learn of his schooling at the Military
Academy, West Point, followed by his life in the Army before and after the
Civil War. The biography ends in the latter pages with an account of his
work after his military career came to an end, and finally, with his death after
a prolonged period of ill-health, thought to be stress induced.

Author Ian Hogg is a prolific writer in the field of defense and military
technology. He is a weapons expert, having written many books on all types
of rifles, shotguns and small arms, such as Modern Rifles, Shotguns and
Pistols, and Modern Small Arms. He is an acknowledged expert on infantry
weapons and is thought to be the world’s leading expert on this and artillery
strategies. He is a well known author of military history, and works as a
weapons evaluator in addition to his writing.

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Robert E. Lee was born in Stratford, Virginia on January 19, 1807.
His father, Henry Lee, had achieved fame with Washington’s army as
“Lighthorse Harry,”and it was a fame that rested not only on his cavalry
exploits but upon sound strategic and tactical ability. A significant portion of
his fame was credited to him for beating off a surprise British attack at Spread
Eagle Tavern in January, 1778. Unfortunately Harry was egotistical
and had a high opinion of his own abilities. Although he achieved the rank of
lieutenant-colonel, he felt that he deserved more. When the war ended and he
had not advanced in rank he resigned from the army to pursue a career in
politics. Henry decided to run for the position of governor. He was elected
Governor of Virginia for three terms. Retiring, as was then customary in
Virginia, on the expiration of his third term, Henry Lee was enough in the
public eye to be considered as a possible successor to Washington. He was,
however, a poor manager of his affairs, and was constantly dodging his
creditors, providing very little of substance for his family. He was a waster,
with no thought for their welfare. A man with no sense of responsibility to
his affairs, Henry Lee eventually ended up in jail for a year for non-payment
of his debts. Upon his release, he spent every waking moment writing his
memoirs, with no regard for his family at all.

Lee’s mother was Ann Carter Lee, daughter of Charles Carter. She was
an invalid, but possessed a strong and beautiful character, and Robert grew
up with a keen sense of honor and responsibility. Robert was named after his
mother’s brothers, Edward and Robert Carter.

Lee’s father, Henry, was separated from the family when Robert was
only four years old. Lee’s mother left Henry due to his lack of provision for
them, and Lee assumed the responsibility of the household at a very early age.
Henry subsequently died when Lee was only eleven, but Lee’s struggle to
maintain the household without the presence of a father, and with little
money, taught him valuable lessons in self-discipline, lessons which
supported him well in his military career.

Since there was no money for college, Robert entered the U.S. Military
Academy in 1825 to pursue a career in the military. He was fortunate in
becoming a Cadet at the Institution at a time when the Superintendent was
Major Sylvanus Thayer, the man who started West Point on its way to fame
as a military training school. He was the second to graduate in a class of 46.
Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the
Engineering Corps, a division of the Army which at that time received only
the best Cadets. Unfortunately his pleasure and success diminished when he
returned home to Arlington to find his mother in the last stages of her illness,
and he diligently nursed her there until she died in July of 1829.

Soon after Lee received orders saying that he was to report to
Cockspur Island to help with the construction of Fort Pulaski. While there he
corresponded with Mary Custis, the daughter of Martha Washington’s
grandson. She was also daughter of the wealthy George Washington Parke
Custus, who upon his death left her two beautiful Virginia estates, Arlington
and Whitehouse. In 1831, although against Mr. Custis’s wishes, he married
Mary Custus.
The first place the Lees went after their marriage was Fort Monroe.
Mary Custis despised Fort Monroe. During a Christmas visit back to
Arlington, she made the decision to remain there. In the Spring, Robert rode
back to ask her to return, which she did. By this time she was pregnant and
gave birth to their first child, George Washington Parke Custis Lee. The Lees
had four daughters and three sons. All three of their sons served in the
Confederate Army. Lee’s wife never adjusted to the rigors of army posts and
she and the children lived at Arlington until the war between the states, when
their home fell into the hands of federal forces. Arlington was taken by the
U.S. Government and was never restored to the Lee family, although one time
the family had sued to get it back and was granted an indemnity.

On the outbreak of the Mexican War, in 1846, Lee was appointed to
General Winfield Scott’s personal staff. He proceeded to Brazos on January
16, 1847. The General was deep in preparations for the battle at Vera Cruz.
This was to be Lee’s first experience under actual fire. Because of his
brilliant leadership and skill in strategy, he won the praise of General Scott.
Scott called Lee “the greatest military genius in America”, and “the best
soldier I ever saw in the field.” Lee was there to see the surrender of the
Mexicans on March 29th. He survived many more encounters with the
enemy in the war with Mexico. He arrived back in Washington on June 29,
1848, having been away for one year and ten months.

When Lee entered the war, he was a captain. He emerged with the
rank of Colonel. His next duty was in Baltimore where he supervised the
construction of Fort Carroll. This was to be his last engineering project
because his next stop, in August 1852, was The United States Military
Academy. He became Superintendent at West Point in 1852. In his three
years of service there, Lee established some highly successful procedures
which contributed to the reputation of the Academy.

On April 12, 1855, Lee was sent to Louisville, Kentucky to take
command of the 2nd. Cavalry. As Colonel of Cavalry, Lee spent most of the
next six years in Texas. In 1859, while visiting Arlington, he received a note
from Colonel Drinkard ordering him to report to the Secretary of War
immediately. At Harper’s Ferry trains had been stopped; firing had been
heard; rumor had it that many strangers had arrived and were inciting slaves
to rioting. It was reported to Lee that the leader of the gang was called John
Brown, a notorious antislavery fanatic from Kansas, who had been unable to
rally the slaves to rebellion and was finally besieged in a fire-house. Lee was
to lead the United States Marines, to suppress John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s
Ferry. He asked Brown for his surrender, anticipating that this would not
happen. When Brown refused to surrender, Lee ordered the door of the
firehouse, in which Brown’s band had taken refuge, to be battered down. The
troops had strict orders to attack only with bayonets, not to fire a single shot,
in case any of the hostages would be wounded. The whole operation was
over in three minutes.

In the beginning of the war between the states, Lee found himself
facing the most difficult decision of his life. He believed in the abolition of
slavery, but not by force. He believed in a united nation, but not one that
could be maintained only by swords and bayonets. When President Lincoln
asked him to take command of the Federal troops in the field, Lee replied that
he could not take part in an invasion of his native state. He offered his
resignation and within a few days, he was commissioned to General in the
Confederate Army. He served as military advisor to Jefferson Davis, as
Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and then as General-in-chief of
all Confederate Armies.

The history of Lee’s conduct in the Confederate campaign is a story of
a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds. In the first two years of the
war, the South made considerable headway, successfully resisting General
McClellan’s attempt to take Richmond. But there were never enough men,
food, or guns. The transportation problem became progressively worse, and
the Armies were continually at the mercy of political plunderers. Against the
superior forces of the Union, Lee pitted all the strategy of a master soldier
and he was able to deliver shattering blows at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and
Chancellorville. All of this was to come to an end with the arrival of the
battle at Gettysburg. This was to be the turning point of the whole war. On
July 1st, Lee rode towards Gettysburg, hearing the sound of gunfire in the
distance. A few days later, having sustained tremendous casualties, Lee was
planning his retreat.

With the defeat of Lee’s army at Gettysburg, however, in July, 1863,
the tide turned against the south. That was the last time Lee was able to gain
an offensive position. On April 9, 1865, realizing that further resistance was
a waste of time, he surrendered his near starving, depleted army to General
Ulysses S. Grant, the Union commander in chief, at Appomattox Court
House, Virginia. He penned a farewell address to his men and set off the next
day to Richmond, where his family had been living since they had abandoned
Arlington.

His home confiscated, his family impoverished, and his heart heavy,
with the burden of defeated South, Lee turned to the task of reconciliation.
He applied immediately for pardon and restoration to citizenship, feeling that
this example might lead other Confederates to do the same. He tried every
way to heal the breach between the North and the South.

Positions of great honor and remuneration were offered to Lee, both in
his own country and abroad, but he had no desire to enter into politically
controversial activities. In the Summer of 1865 he was offered the
Presidency of Washington College (renamed Washington & Lee University
after his death), in Lexington, VA. The college was virtually in ruins, but Lee
accepted the position after he was ensured his connection with the college
would not injure it in any way. Lee’s friends and relatives were shocked at
the idea that Lee would accept a position at such a small school. He had
received offers from many bigger and wealthier places.Lee, on the other
hand, saw far beyond the title and looked on this as an opportunity to help
rebuild the South by educating it’s youth.Lee truly felt his great purpose in
life was to help make a united country and to this end he set about to educate
Southern youth into a renewed spirit of loyalty. Lee accepted the post and
headed for the college campus in Lexington. Once there, Lee found that as
well as being President of the college, he was also Dean, Bursar, Registrar,
Head Gardener, and general factotum. His salary was $125 per month, and
he had one secretary to assist him. Nonetheless, Lee set to his task and began
writing to other institutions begging for money.
Once the President’s house was ready, Lee’s wife and daughters joined
him there. Lee’s sons were busy attempting to salvage the family estates,
although Arlington was gone forever, forfeited for nonpayment of taxes
during the war, when Union authorities insisted that delinquent taxpayers
had to make payment in person, and it was by this time surrounded by a
military cemetery – as it still is (pg. 75).
Under Lee’s guidance, Washington College prospered. The student
body increased to four-hundred. The curriculum was widened, new buildings
were gradually added, and as the fame of the college spread, students came
from all over the United States.

As the months went by, Lee’s health began to fail. He was treated fro
rheumatism, lumbago, and other complaints, but the plain fact was his heart
was wearing out. In the Spring of 1869, Lee visited Baltimore in an effort to
raise money for a railroad project. From there he went on to Washington,
where he visited his old friend, General Grant, who was now President of the
United States.
When Lee returned from Washington, he began to doubt his ability to
continue as President of the college. He stated that the job needed a fitter
man than he. His talk of resignation was dismissed, and the faculty, early in
1870, suggested that he should go south for a vacation to help regain his
health. In the Summer of 1870, it was unusually hot, and Lee tired easily. He
was no longer able to ride horse. On September 28, it rained and Lee had to
attend a church vestryman’s meeting, where he sat in his wet clothes and
listened to the minister complain about his wages. When Lee finally returned
home, he entered his house, stood silent, and then collapsed in a chair. His
wife promptly sent for a doctor.

The doctors conferred and sent Lee to bed. For the next two days Lee
slept most of the time. After that, he seemed to improve and began to eat.
But when he was offered medicine, he refused saying “it was no use”. For the
next two weeks he stayed in bed. On October 10, Lee’s pulse and breathing
sped up and he suffered shivering spells. On the following day, Lee became
delirious, and his mind wandered to the past. He occasionally called out some
long forgotten names. “Tell Hill he must come up,” he cried. His wife sat
holding his hand the whole night, until just after 9:00 am of October 12, 1870,
Lee sat up, cried out “strike the tent”, fell back in bed and died. He was
buried beneath the college chapel, and the entire nation mourned his passing.
By his courage in war and dignity in defeat, he had won the admiration and
esteem of Northerners and Southerners alike.
Summary
Robert E. Lee was born in Stratford, Virginia on January 19, 1807.
His father, Henry Lee, had achieved fame with Washington’s army as
“Lighthorse Harry.”
Lee’s mother was Ann Carter Lee, daughter of Charles Carter. She left
Henry when Robert was only four years old, and Lee assumed the
responsibility of the household at a very early age. Lee’s struggle to maintain
the household without the presence of a father, and with little money, taught
him valuable lessons in self-discipline, lessons which supported him well in
his military career.

Robert entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1825 to pursue a career
in the military. He was the second to graduate in a class of 46. Upon
graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Engineering
Corps.
In 1831, he married Mary Custus, Martha Washington’s
great-grandaughter. The first place the Lees went after their marriage was
Fort Monroe. They were there for three years, moving on to Arlington in
1834. The Lees had four daughters and three sons. Lee’s wife never adjusted
to the rigors of army posts and she and the children lived at Arlington until
the war between the states, when their home fell into the hands of federal
forces.
On the outbreak of the Mexican War, in 1846, Lee was appointed to
General Winfield Scott’s personal staff. Because of his brilliant leadership
and skill in strategy, he won the praise of General Scott. He survived many
more encounters with the enemy in the war with Mexico. He arrived back in
Washington on June 29, 1848, having been away for one year and ten
months.

When Lee entered the war, he was a captain. He emerged with the
rank of Colonel. His next duty was in Baltimore where he supervised the
construction of Fort Carroll. He became Superintendent at West Point in
1852. In his three years of service there, Lee established some highly
successful procedures which contributed to the reputation of the Academy.

On April 12, 1855, Lee was sent to Louisville, Kentucky to take
command of the 2nd. Cavalry. As Colonel of Cavalry, Lee spent most of the
next six years in Texas.Lee was then sent to lead the United States Marines
to suppress John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry. When Lee arrived at
Harper’s Ferry, he ordered the door of the firehouse, in which Brown’s band
had taken refuge, to be battered down. The whole operation was over in
three minutes.

In the beginning of the war between the states, Lee found himself
facing the most difficult decision of his life. He believed in the abolition of
slavery, but not by force. He believed in a united nation, but not one that
could be maintained only by swords and bayonets. When President Lincoln
asked him to take command of the Federal troops in the field, Lee refused.
Lee resigned from the Army a few days later. He was commissioned to
General in the Confederate Army. He served as military advisor to Jefferson
Davis, as Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and then as
General-in-chief of all Confederate Armies.

In the first two years of the war, the South made considerable
headway, successfully resisting General McClellan’s attempt to take
Richmond. But there were never enough men, food, or guns. The
transportation problem became progressively worse, and the Armies were
continually at the mercy of political plunderers. Against the superior forces of
the Union, Lee pitted all the strategy of a master soldier and he was able to
deliver shattering blows at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorville. All
of this was to come to an end with the arrival of the battle at Gettysburg.
This was to be the turning point of the whole war.
With the defeat of Lee’s army at Gettysburg, however, in July, 1863,
the tide turned against the south. That was the last time Lee was able to gain
an offensive position. On April 9, 1865, he surrendered his near starving,
depleted army to General Ulysses S. Grant, the Union commander in chief, at
Appomattox Court House, Virginia. He set off the next day to Richmond,
where his family had been living since they had abandoned Arlington. After
the war he applied immediately for pardon and restoration to citizenship,
feeling that this example might lead other Confederates to do the same. He
tried every way to heal the breach between the North and the South.

In the Summer of 1865 he was offered the Presidency of Washington
College in Lexington, VA. The college was virtually in ruins, but Lee
accepted the position after he was ensured his connection with the college
would not injure it in any way. Lee accepted the post and headed for the
college campus in Lexington. The strain of putting the poverty stricken
college back on its feet and the problems of reconstruction took its toll, and
Lee’s health began to fail. He died on October 12, 1870, and was buried
beneath the college chapel.


Analysis
Great American Generals – Robert E. Lee, by Ian Hogg, is an in-depth
recounting of the life and death of Robert E. Lee, one of America’s great
heroes. It begins with an account of Lee’s family history, that of his parents,
and the circumstances into which he was born on January 19, 1807, and ends
with his death on October 12, 1870.
Hogg relates the intervening years in an extremely interesting fashion,
providing many fascinating and detailed pieces of information. The story is
presented in a way that keeps the interest of the reader, and is not boring,
even when giving statistics of the various campaigns that Lee undertook. The
book appeals not just to Lee fans, but to all history students.
The pages are filled with numerous detailed maps, and colorful pictures
that enhance the view of Lee and his life. Military students will delight in the
descriptions of the war, while students of Lee’s character are rewarded by
fascinating facts of his and his parent’s lives.

Hogg presents this painful episode in America’s history in a balanced,
non-judgemental way. He portrays Lee as a man of great integrity and honor,
a true Southern gentleman, and casts no slurs concerning the fact that Lee
was on the losing side of a war in which there were no winners.

This is an exciting and informative book and is one of the more
enjoyable books which are required reading for this course.
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