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Robert E. 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

Island, Georgia.



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