Robert Edward Lee
They say you had to see him to believe that a man so fine could exist. He
was handsome. He was clever. He was brave. He was gentle. He was generous
and charming, noble and modest, admired and beloved. He had never failed at
anything in his upright soldier's life. He was born a winner, this Robert
E. Lee. Except for once. In the greatest contest of his life, in a war
between the South and the North, Robert E. Lee lost (Redmond). Through his
life, Robert E. Lee would prove to be always noble, always a gentleman, and
always capable of overcoming the challenge lying before him.
Robert Edward Lee was born on January 19, 1807 (Compton's). He was born
into one of Virginia's most respected families. The Lee family had moved to
America during the mid 1600's. Some genealogist can trace the Lee's roots
back to William the Conqueror. Two members of the Lee family had signed the
Declaration of Independence, Richard Lee and Francis Lightfoot. Charles Lee
had served as attorney General under the Washington administration while
Richard Bland Lee, had become one of Virginia's leading Federalists.
Needless to say, the Lees were an American Political dynasty (Nash 242).
Lee's father was General Henry Light-Horse Harry Lee. He had been a
heroic cavalry leader in the American Revolution. He married his cousin
Matilda. They had four children, but Matilda died in 1790. On her death bed
she added insult to injury upon Henry Lee by leaving her estate to her
children. She feared Henry would squander the family fortune. He was well
known for poor investments and schemes that had depleted his own family's
fortune (Connelly 5).
Henry Lee solved his financial problems by marrying Robert's mother Anne
Carter, daughter of one of Virginia's wealthiest men (Nash 242). Henry Lee
eventually spent his family into debt. Their stately mansion, Stratford
Hall, was turned over to Robert's half brother. Anne Lee moved with her
children to a simple brick house in Alexandria. Light Horse Harry was
seldom around. Finally, in 1813 he moved to the West Indies. His self-exile
became permanent, and he was never seen again by his family (Thomas).
Young Robert had other family problems. His mother became very ill. At the
age of twelve he had to shoulder the load of not only being the family's
provider, but also his mother's nurse. When time came for Robert to attend
college, it was obvious his mother could not support him financially. She
was already supporting his older brother at Harvard and three other
children in school. In 1824 he accepted an appointment to the United States
Military Academy. During his time at West Point Lee distinguished himself
as a soldier and a student. Lee graduated with honors in 1829 (Nash 245).
His graduation was dampened by a call to the bedside of his ailing mother.
When he arrived home he found his fifty-four year old mother close to
death. A death caused by struggles and illnesses of her difficult life.
Robert was always close to his mother. He again attended to her needs until
her death. On July 10, 1829, Anne Lee died with Robert, her closest son, at
her side. Forty years later Robert would stand in the same room and say,
It seems but yesterday that his beloved mother died (Connelly 6).
While awaiting his first assignment, Lee frequently visited Arlington, the
estate of George Washington Parke Custis. Custis was the grandson of Martha
Washington and the adopted son of George Washington. After Martha's death
Custis left Mount Vernon and used his inheritance to build Arlington in
1778. Arlington was set on a hill over looking the Potomac river and
Washington D.C. (NPS Arlington House). Custis had only one daughter, Mary
Anna Randolph. Mary had been pampered and petted throughout her life. Lee's
Courtship with Mary soon turned serious, before long they were thinking of
marriage. However, before Robert could propose he was assigned to Cockspur
Robert returned to Arlington in 1830. He and Mary decided to get married.
The two were married on June 30, 1831(Nash 248). Shortly there after the
Lees went to Fort Monroe. Mary was never happy here. She soon went back to
Arlington. Mary hated army life. She would, for the most part, stay at
Arlington throughout the rest of Robert's time in the United States Army.
The fact that he was separated from his family, and that he was slow to
move up in rank, left Lee feeling quite depressed a great deal of