Today in American history…Robert Edward Lee was born at Stratford Hall plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia on January 19,1807.
His had a great pedigree: his father was Major General Henry Lee III aka “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Governor of Virginia, and his mother was Anne Hill Carter Lee of the prestigious Carter family who resided at Shirley Plantation in Tidewater, Virginia.
I have always been fascinated by Robert E. Lee. It could have been the many school trips that I went on as a child to his Arlington home, known as Arlington House or the Custis-Lee Mansion that sits on a steep hill overlooking Arlington Cemetery. Or maybe it was his connection to George Washington that intrigued me (Robert E. Lee married the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis who was George Washington’s step-grandson and eventual adopted son).
Today his name brings controversy because he was, after all, a Confederate General. He fought against the United States of America and was considered a traitor to his country. He went against all that he believed in, as a career Army officer, to fight for a cause that he felt that he needed to fight for: the protection of his homeland: the Commonwealth of Virginia. You can almost feel his angst when he wrote his resignation letter to General Winfield Scott:
Arlington, Washington City, P.O
20 Apr 1861
Lt. Genl Winfield Scott
Commd U.S. Army
Since my interview with you on the 18th Inst: I have felt that I ought not longer to retain any Commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has Cost me to separate myself from a Service to which I have divoted all the best years of my life, & all the ability I possessed. During the whole of that time, more than a quarter of a century, I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors & the most Cordial friendships from any Comrades. To no one Genl have I been as much indebted as to yourself for kindness & Consideration & it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry with me, to the grave the most grateful recollections
of your kind Consideration, & your name & fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native state shall I ever again draw my sword. Be pleased to accept any more [illegible] wishes for “the Continuance of your happiness & prosperity & believe me
Most truly yours
R E Lee
Robert E. Lee was not only a famous Civil War General. He was also the President of Washington College (later renamed Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia from 1865 until his death on October 12, 1870.