One of the greatest military leaders and gentlemen in the history of the United States is General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870). Today, in 1862, he took command of the main Confederate force in Virginia, which he would name the Army of Northern Virginia. He would command this force until its surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865.
His father a leader in the American Revolution, "Light Horse" Harry Lee, and his mother a member of the distinguished Carter family of Virginia, Lee certainly had notable bloodlines.
More than this, however, was his own talent and character. Lee's remarkable military career is well known, with his great victories, such as that at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville. He was loved by his men, feared and respected by his foes, gracious in victory and humble in defeat.
This speaks to his character. Lee was a devout Episcopalian, who took his faith, and, in particular, his duties, very seriously. Indeed, just as duty might be said to partly define what a gentleman is, so it defined Robert E. Lee. There are any number of stories that attest to his great sense of duty and honor.
It was this sense of duty that caused him to remain loyal to his home state of Virginia with the coming of the war, despite the fact that he was no zealot for secession. When offered command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia, his speech to the Convention at Richmond on 23 April 1861 was brief, but very much in character:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the occasion on which I appear before
you, and profoundly grateful for the honour conferred upon
me, I accept the position your partiality has assigned me,
though I would greatly have preferred your choice should
have fallen on one more capable. Trusting to Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the
aid of my fellow citizens, I will devote myself to the
defense and service of my native State, in whose behalf
alone would I have ever drawn my sword."
After the war, he would serve as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he is buried.
Here is a short biography of Lee:
On this anniversary of his taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia, you might be interested in "virtually" visiting a few of the sites associated with General Lee.
He was born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia:
He lived for many years with his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, (great-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington by the first lady's first husband) at the Arlington House, in the county now named for it. This home is on a magnificent bluff overlooking Washington, DC, and was, of course, seized by the federal government to be used as a cemetery, now Arlington National Cemetery. The Lee family was later reimbursed for what was determined to be wrongful seizure. The house itself is now designated as the Robert E. Lee Memorial:
Finally, Robert E. Lee is buried in the chapel of Washington & Lee University:
So much for the "Virginia Gentleman" and one of the most talented and honorable men ever produced by the Commonwealth of Virginia.