Talk with Robert Edward Lee

Robert Edward Lee was a Confederate general during the American Civil War.


Who is Robert Edward Lee?

Robert Edward Lee was an American Confederate general during the American Civil War. He served as a military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and was known for his tactical brilliance. Lee was considered one of the leading military figures of his time, and though he fought against the Union, he is often praised for his skill and valor. He opposed secession, but refused to bear arms against his native state, Virginia, and joined the Confederacy. After the war, he was the President of Washington College, which is now known as Washington and Lee University. He died in 1870.

What was the condition of Robert Edward Lee's estate after the war?

Robert Edward Lee's estate, known as Arlington House, was in a state of severe disrepair immediately after the Civil War. The property, which was located in Virginia, was originally built by George Washington Parke Custis, Lee's father-in-law. Lee himself lived there until 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War.

When Lee left to join the Confederate forces, the estate was unattended and was taken over by the Union Army, who used it initially as a supply depot, then a cemetery, now known as Arlington National Cemetery. Union Army General Montgomery Meigs proposed the establishment of the cemetery in 1864, intending to make the land uninhabitable for the Lee family.

Lee's family attempted to regain control of the property after the war, but it wasn't returned to them. In 1864, the U.S. government seized the property for non-payment of taxes. After a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court, in a 1882 decision, ruled that the property had been taken illegally. However, instead of reclaiming the estate, the Lee family sold the property back to the government.

As a result, the mansion and its surrounding property are now preserved as a memorial to Lee, known as Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial. The extensive damage done to the estate during the war and post-war period has been repaired over the years, and it has been restored to a state similar to how it looked during Lee's residency.

Did Robert Edward Lee attempt to negotiate peace during the Civil War?

Robert E. Lee, as a military commander, did not officially engage in political negotiations for peace during the civil war. His duty was to lead the Confederate Army, and the role of peace negotiations typically rested with diplomats and politicians. However, Lee always hoped for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and expressed that in his personal writing and communications. He did believe in the Confederate cause, but as the war dragged on, Lee feared that the cost of the conflict was becoming too great. Despite this, he continued to fight resolutely until the very end, surrendering only when he believed further fighting would bring needless destruction and loss of life. After the war, Lee counseled southerners to reconcile with the North and work towards a reunited country.

Who were Robert Edward Lee's most trusted generals and why?

Robert E. Lee counted on the strategic acumen, tactical skills, and leadership abilities of several key generals to carry out his campaigns during the Civil War.

  1. James Longstreet: Known as "Lee's Old War Horse," James Longstreet was one of Lee's most trusted and dependable subordinates. He fought in nearly all the major battles of the Confederacy, and his defensive skills played a critical role in victories like the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Fredericksburg. While Lee often gave him command of the right wing of his army, their relationship was tested during the Gettysburg Campaign when Longstreet disagreed with Lee's offensive strategy.

  2. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson: Lee's trust in Jackson was based not only on their personal friendship but also on Jackson's military prowess. Jackson was known for his fearless aggression, tactical acuity, and rigorous discipline, attributes that helped secure significant victories at battles such as Chancellorsville. Sadly, he was accidentally shot by his own troops in 1863 and died from complications, a significant loss for Lee and the Confederate Army.

  3. J.E.B. Stuart: Lee relied heavily on Stuart for reconnaissance and cavalry operations. Lee often referred to Stuart as his "eyes," and his use of cavalry as a potent offensive weapon was critical in several battles. However, Stuart's absence during the early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign due to a long, circular raid around Union forces earned Lee's disappointment.

  4. A.P. Hill: Known for his robust physical constitution and tenacity, Hill often found his forces in crucial positions in many battles. His division's arrival often provided critical reinforcements such as during the Battle of Sharpsburg and at the Battle of Gettysburg. His relationship with Lee was not as personal as with some other generals, and there were sometimes disagreements, but Lee valued Hill's ability to fight.

  5. Richard S. Ewell: Known for his eccentric behavior and bald head, Ewell was another of Lee's veteran commanders. Lee saw potential in Ewell and his performance at the Battle of Second Bull Run led to his promotion. However, Ewell's hesitations during the Gettysburg Campaign were seen as critical failures, somewhat tarnishing his reputation in Lee's eyes.

Lee's high regard for these generals was based on their executive abilities, willingness to take initiative, hardiness under difficult conditions, and estimable battlefield performances. However, none of them were infallible, and their relationships with Lee were occasionally strained by disagreements over strategy and battlefield mistakes.

Was Robert Edward Lee supportive of Abraham Lincoln's assassination?

No, Robert Edward Lee was not supportive of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. After learning about the assassination, Lee expressed deep regret and sadness about the loss of the President. He viewed Lincoln's death as detrimental to the South, as he believed that Lincoln would have been more lenient towards the South during the post-war Reconstruction period than his successor, Andrew Johnson. Lee was committed to peaceful reconciliation and the restoration of the Union after the Civil War, and he saw Lincoln's assassination as a harmful event that could only exacerbate animosity between the North and the South.

How did Robert E. Lee plan his strategy for the Battle of Fredericksburg?

In planning the strategy for the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, Robert E. Lee opted for a defensive approach. Recognizing the strategic advantage offered by the terrain around the town of Fredericksburg in Virginia, he intended to use it for a protective countermeasure against the Union Army commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside.

Upon learning of Burnside's movements toward Fredericksburg, Lee quickly moved his Army of Northern Virginia into defensive positions along a ridge of hills west of town known as Marye's Heights. This ridge was optimal for defense as it was high ground overseeing Fredericksburg and the adjacent plains.

The natural barrier of the Rappahannock River and urban Fredericksburg added obstacles to the Union Army's advance. Lee also had his engineers and soldiers dig trenches and set up well-defended artillery positions along the ridge. This allowed the Confederates to take shelter and decrease their chances of getting hit, while increasing the potency of their own firepower.

When Burnside ordered waves of attacks on December 13, the Confederates repulsed them one by one with concentrated artillery and musket fire. The Union Army suffered heavy losses. Despite Burnside's overwhelming numerical superiority, Lee's strategic placement of his resources led to a Confederate victory.

It's worth noting that Lee didn't limit his plans to a purely static defense. His subordinate General Stonewall Jackson's corps was stationed to the south along the prospect hill and held the line. When an opening was created by the Union forces, Jackson's forces were ready for a potential counter-attack, showing Lee's comprehensive strategy.

Was Robert Edward Lee a grave American icon?

Yes, Robert Edward Lee is considered an important figure in American history. He is best known for his service as a general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, where he led the troops of the South in their fight against Union forces. Although the Confederacy was ultimately defeated, Lee's military expertise, leadership, and personal character have earned him a place of respect among many historians and Americans. However, his legacy is also a subject of controversy due to his defense of slavery and role in the Confederacy's rebellion against the United States. Some people view him more critically due to these aspects of his life and actions. Whether seen as an icon or a figure of controversy, there's no doubt that he holds a significant position in the fabric of American history.

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