Join us as we commemorate Robert E. Lee’s birthday on Thursday, January 19, 2017. There will be free gate admission and free visits to the Great House where Robert E. Lee was born. There will be live music, refreshments, and a scavenger hunt for the kids. Lunch will be available for purchase in the Stratford Hall Dining Room. This program is made possible thanks to the ongoing support of the Lee-Jackson Educational Foundation.
Thursday, January 19, 2017 Robert E. Lee’s Birthday Schedule:
Robert E. Lee was a commander of the Confederate army during the American Civil War (1861–1865). He was born in Stratford, Virginia, on January 19, 1807. His father was known as “Light Horse Harry Lee”, a Revolutionary War hero. Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class at West Point, earning no demerits for discipline infractions during his years there.
Robert E. Lee’s first military action after graduation from West Point was in 1845, in the war with Mexico. He met and worked with later key players in the Civil War, including James Longstreet, Ulysses S. Grant, George Pickett and Thomas J. Jackson. Lee worked as an army engineer prior to the Civil War. He helped build the waterfront in St Louis and coastal forts in Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia. He was appointed superintendent of West Point in 1852 and is considered one of the best superintendents in the institution’s history.
Abraham Lincoln, who later became president of the United States, offered Robert E. Lee command of the Union Army in 1861 but Lee refused. He would not raise arms against his native state. Lee resigned his commission and headed home to Virginia. Lee served as adviser to Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, and then commanded the Army of Northern Virginia. After four years of civil war, Robert E. Lee met Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, where both generals ended their battles. Lee told his comrades, “Go home and be good Americans.”
Lee was appointed as president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, in 1865. The school was later renamed to include his name in his honor. He died at Washington College on October 12, 1870, and is buried with his family in a chapel on the school grounds.
An article on Gen. Robert E. Lee written by James Robertson and used with his permission:
“Lee the hero through time”
by James Robertson
Americans used to crave heroes. Our country used to thrive on them. Not anymore. Today it is open season on the great figures–largely, one suspects, because we have no truly outstanding figures in our society. Robert E. Lee offers a strong example of the decline.
Once upon a time, when one considered Lee, eyes naturally lifted. So did the mind. That reverence is now under attack largely because a mountain is a mystery when one looks only at the low lands. Our generations tend to have eyes fixed on the ground; we appear incapable of viewing the heights. As a result, too many Americans have grown deaf to the silence of Robert E. Lee. That is sad, not for Lee, but for us.
The very words that Lee used–gentleman, honor, duty, and valor–have a quaint sound these days because they are unfamiliar terms. Cynics sneer that no one like Lee could have existed. They say this because no one like Lee exists now. Winston Churchill observed that there was about Lee “a quality of selflessness which raises him to the very highest rank of men … who have been concerned with the fortunes of nations.”
Here was a man who did not exult in victory or rationalize in defeat. At Chancellorsville, his greatest triumph, Lee stood among the cheers of his soldiers but his thoughts were of his wounded lieutenant, “Stonewall” Jackson. At Fredericksburg, he watched a Confederate victory that was close to a massacre and sighed: “It is well that war is so terrible; else we should grow too fond of it.” After the failure of the Pickett-Pettigrew assault at Gettysburg, Lee rode among the survivors and sought to reassure them by saying: “All this is my fault.” At Appomattox, he was most intent not about personal redemption but about what terms of surrender he could secure for his starved and exhausted army.
It was because of Lee that the Confederacy lived as long as it did. It is because of Lee that modern America lives at all. Trapped at Appomattox, Lee could have ordered his army to disperse, take to the hills, and wage guerrilla warfare. Such a strategy would have obliterated the American dream, and Lee would have none of it. The South had waged war honorably, he said. Just as honorably must the South accept defeat? Thus, in the last, indomitable act of his military career, Lee ordered the Army of Northern Virginia into history.
Lee was the one man, the only man, who could exercise decisive influence over a defeated Southern people; and from the day he affixed his signature to surrender documents, to that cold October morning five and a half years later when death came in Lexington, Lee’s course was as consistent as it was commendable.
Just weeks after the Civil War ended, Lee announced that the duty of all countrymen should be to “unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war, and to restore the blessings of peace.” Lee became the model of that conciliatory spirit. The general never wrote his memoirs: he felt no need to justify the course he had taken on behalf of his native state or his conduct as a commander in the field.
Nor would he re-fight the war to any measurable extent. He silently endured hateful attacks from those who thought him a traitor; he made no response to the vengefulness of a federal congress that refused to restore his citizenship. Lee accepted the verdict of arms as conclusive and would have no truck with those Southerners who assumed an irreconcilable attitude. To a mother complaining that her offspring wished to go north to college, Lee responded quietly: “Madame, forget your animosities, and make your sons Americans.”
He was–without a doubt–the icon of the Confederacy, the personification of all that had been good and courageous and noble about the Southern quest for independence. More importantly, Lee achieved victory in defeat by pointing the way for his own and subsequent ages toward a better, united country.
At his death in 1870, hundreds of tributes expectantly came from Southern states. However, expressions of admiration flowed as well from the North. None was as moving as the lines composed by Julia Ward Howe, the poet who had inspired Union soldiers with the stirring lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Mrs. Howe said of Lee: “A gallant foeman in the fight / A brother when the fight was done / And so, thy soldier grave beside / we honor thee, Virginia’s son.”•