Archive for July, 2012

Robert E. Lee After The War

After the American Civil War, Robert E Lee wanted to live a quiet life away from battle and politics and the public eye but he was too popular a person to be allowed that.  A firm believer in Reconstruction, he took his Amnesty Oath the same day he was inaugurated as president at Washington College.  He stayed the beloved college president from late 1865 to late 1870 when he died.

While at the college he did what he could to meld the two countries the war had created back into one, both politically by supporting policies and people who worked toward the Reconstruction and at the college by recruiting students from the North and expelling white students who attacked black people in the community.  By instituting an honor code similar to the one at West Point and adjusting the courses taught at the college, he turned it into a leading Southern college and they changed the name to the Washington and Lee University after his death.

Although Robert E Lee didn’t believe that blacks had the ability to vote smart at that time, he helped create a number of state run schools for blacks and believed that in a few years they would be ready to help lead this country.

On September 28, 1870 Robert E Lee suffered a stroke and died two weeks later on October 12.  He is buried at the school he died at where he affected so many lives and his children were buried with him as they died.  I was interested to learn that most of his horses were buried with him as well.  To learn more about his horses, check out my Hub on them.

Robert E. Lee worked hard to influence Southerners into a peaceful relationship with the Northerners but he was never given his citizenship back while he was alive and therefore not able to vote.  He signed his Amnesty Oath and applied for citizenship when he became president of Washington College but the politician in Washington, DC gave the application to a friend for a souvenir and the Oath was lost in the archives.  As a result, Lee was the citizen of no country until the Oath was discovered by an archivist and President Ford reinstated Lee’s citizenship in 1975, over a hundred years after his death.  The beloved face of a era, who has memorials throughout the South as well as in the North was finally accepted fully and legally into the country that would always remember the integrity and loyalty of Robert E Lee.

Robert E. Lee During The War

The white haired general standing proud with his saber on his hip.General Robert Edward Lee joined the Confederate Army to protect Virginia on April 23, 1861 as colonel and was quickly promoted to be one of the first five full generals of the Confederate Army.  His first assignment were a few small battles before he was sent to strengthen the defenses along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  His defenses stopped the Union attack on Savannah, Georgia, which would have to be taken by land in order for it to fall into Union hands, which happened late in the war.  Although unpopular with the press, he was appointed military adviser to the Confederate president for a few months.

When General Joseph Johnston was wounded on June 1, 1862, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virgina, the first command where he had the opportunity to actually command on the battlefield.  It wasn’t long before General McClellan invaded the South in what was dubbed the Peninsula Campaign and Lee sent him back North.  Although the Seven Days Battle is considered to show clumsy planning by his commanders, Lee’s aggressive action was not part of McClellan’s plan and he returned to Washington to regroup.  Lincoln then sent Pope down to invade the South and Lee sent him North again at the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Confederate Army was within miles of Washington, DC.  Lee decided to invade Maryland to get supplies and ruin the Northern morale but McClellan found some of the orders and set out to stop Lee.  What resulted was the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in the American Civil War.  Although officially a draw, it was Lee who had to withdraw and return to friendlier territory.  Lee continued to lead the army successfully until mid-1863.  While Grant was heading for Vicksburg, Lee convinced President Davis to go against everyone else’s advice and let Lee invade the North again.  The plan was to go into Pennsylvania to get much needed supplies and to get the Northerners to push harder for peace.  The result was the Battle of Gettysburg, which the Confederate Army never recovered from.  With the western border of the Confederacy moved eastward with the fall of Vicksburg and the huge number of losses at Gettysburg, the men and supplies couldn’t be replaced.  Over the next year General Grant kept attacking.  He realized that while he had a lot of young men that could replace those dying in battle or of illness, as well as supplies from the states that had yet to be touched by battle, the Southern resources were running low and the men were deserting to protect their own families.

Robert E Lee was appointed General-in-Chief of the Confederate Army on January 31, 1865 and surrendered to the Union Army on April 9, 1865.  Many people called for the war to continue by small groups of soldiers disappearing into the hills and conducting guerrilla warfare until the Federal Government surrendered but Lee disagreed and the plan was scrapped.  Lee thought that the time for war was over, it was time to heal the country.

Robert E. Lee Before The War

A close-up ofGeneral Robert E. Lee's faceRobert E Lee, possibly the most well-known name for the Confederacy side of the American Civil War.  I’ve heard or studied the war on and off for most of my life but I often forget who the Confederate President was.  The names that come to mind when I hear about the southern side of the War Between the States are Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  I know that there are a lot of people who lead the soldiers and a lot of soldiers that deserve to be remembered, but those are the two names I always think of and I think that’s how it works for a lot of Northerners.  In researching Robert E. Lee, I was surprised to know that he wasn’t the General-in-chief for the Confederacy until very late in the war.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Robert Edward Lee is thought to have been born on January 19, 1807 in Virginia to one of the first families to establish itself in that state after coming from England in the early 1600s.  However, Robert’s childhood was not that of a prominent son of a wealthy family but that of genteel poverty.  His father went to debtor’s prison because of failed investments and they moved to a small house near Robert’s mother’s still wealthy extended family when his father was released a few months later.  In 1812, when Robert was 5 years old, his father was injured in a political rally and, since the father was a Revolutionary War officer, the Secretary of State arranged for him to be sent to the West Indies.  The father never returned, dying there when Robert was 11 years old.  Meanwhile Robert’s mother tried to raise six children to be gentlemen and ladies as befitting their family, not their income.  As a result she visited relatives a lot.  Robert was educated among others living in genteel poverty and a family relative got him accepted into West Point by dwelling on Robert’s family connections more than his education, including his aptitude for math.  He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point the summer of 1825 and graduated second in his class four years later.  Since the leadership of the college at that time were from the Corp of Engineers, most of the cadets were commissioned into the Corps until they were assigned elsewhere.  Robert E Lee was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers June 1829 and remained there until he went back to West Point as its Superintendent in 1852.  In that time he married the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, by her first marriage.

Through her he would inherit the Custis Mansion which would be confiscated by the Union and its lands would become what is now Arlington Cemetery.  He also helped reinforce many forts, map the line between Ohio and Michigan, and map out parts of Florida.  He served under General Scott during the Mexican-American War and worked beside Ulysses S Grant during that war.  He gained commendations during the war and in 1852 he was ordered to West Point, a position he took reluctantly due to the politics involved.  In 1855 he was relieved to be promoted and transferred out of the Corps of Engineers into a Calvary regiment in Texas.  It was his first combat command, the others had all been engineering commands which focused on math and building or finding routes to travel.  His job was to protect the settlers from the attacking natives, but the death of his father-in-law meant he had to take a number of leaves of absences to deal with the debt and poor conditions the lands were in.

A sketch of the three minute attack that Lee used to capture John Brown and his gangIt was during one of these leaves when he was home at the Custis Mansion, which was very close to Washington, DC, that he was commanded to put down John Brown and his gang at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, which he did.  Two years later Lee was part of the Texas command that was surrendered to the Confederacy when Texas seceded.  The general who surrendered the command quickly resigned from the Union Army to become a general in the Confederate Army while Robert E Lee went back to Washington to await further orders.

He was offered a promotion in the Union Army as Washington prepared for war.  However, he feared that command would force him to invade the Southern states, specifically his home state of Virginia.  On April 20, 1861 Robert E Lee resigned from the United States Army, much to the shock of those who knew him.  Most of his immediate family, especially his wife, were strongly Unionist and Lee himself thought that seceding was an insult to the Revolutionary War that his father had fought in, but he would not fight to destroy his home state.  On April 23 Robert E Lee took over command of Virginia’s forces as one of the first five full generals of the Confederacy.  However, he intended to wear only the rank he had possessed when he left the Union Army, not any he gained while in the Confederate Army until it was a legal government.

Robert E Lee was a fascinating man who managed to raise from the son of the family embarrassment to one of the greatest names in the United States of America.  He may not have loved most of his early assignments but in each one he demonstrated his belief that it was the mark of a gentleman to follow the orders of his superiors to the best of his ability.

The First Battle Of Fort Sumter

Confederates in a nearby battery firing on Fort Sumter, image from Wikipedia    The ten inch mortar round came from Fort Johnson.  Major Anderson, the commanding officer at Fort Sumter in South Carolina had been warned an hour earlier that the shot would come.  At 4:30 on the morning of April 12, 1861 the shot that officially started the American Civil War, as history would remember it, was fired.

After months of failed negotiations, the Confederate government knew it needed to act before the ships bearing supplies and possible reinforcements for the only Union fort still in Charleston Harbor could arrive at the fort.  Fort Sumter had been waiting for supplies for months, even the food bought at the local market had been stopped for weeks, and the supplies would completely run out on the 15 of April.  The supply ships were in sight but couldn’t get to shore due to the storm nearby.  The Confederates were out of time and they decided to act.
At 4:30 am on April 12, 1861 the first shot was fired and another shot was fired every two minutes from the Confederate owned forts and batteries in the harbor.  Between Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the floating battery, and the iron battery at Cummings Point, there were forty-three guns and mortars which could keep up the same rate of fire for forty-eight hours.  Major Anderson knew he didn’t have nearly that much ammunition.  Although he had sixty guns in the fort, he could only fire twenty-one of the guns without unnecessary risk to his small detachment of soldiers and workmen.  Those guns were in stone casements near the bottom of the fort where external threats were less than the guns at the top that were completely open to shots falling down from above but the stone made it hard to aim the guns with any real accuracy.  Due to the shortage of ammunition and soldiers inside the fort, Major Anderson decided to limit his guns to six guns aimed where he thought they would do the most damage.  He started firing the guns at Fort Sumter at 7:00 in the morning.  It wasn’t long before the Confederates realized that Fort Sumter was mainly a stone fort but it still had wooden buildings.  They decided to fire “hot shot”, which were cannonballs heated in an oven, at the wooden buildings, hoping the fires would distract the men and the smoke would make the fort surrender quicker.  By 7 pm that night some of the buildings were burning but a rain shower that started put out the flames and Major Anderson ordered his men to stop firing and get some sleep.  General Beauregard ordered the Confederates to slow their fire down to four shots an hour during the night so the Union men slept fitfully, getting very little rest.
The next morning the men at Fort Sumter woke up tired and with little more than salted pork to eat, they resumed their fire.  By noon the barracks and officer’s quarters were on fire and the flames were nearing the main ammunition magazine where three hundred barrels of gunpowder were held.  Major Anderson tried to move the barrels to safety but over half the barrels were still in the magazine when he ordered the doors shut against the flames.  Most of the barrels that had been moved were rolled into the water to prevent them from exploding but the tide kept sending them back toward the fort and the hot shot ignited quite a few of the barrels.
The Confederate soldiers couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Union men they knew to be nearly out of rations, had little sleep the night before, and were breathing in the smoke from the flames they could see from every fort in the harbor.  A cheer went up with every shot from the Union-held fort indicating that the Union men would still fight, even in those conditions.  When the main flag pole was shot down, Colonel Louis Wigfall, a Confederate observer at Morris Island, commandeered a small vessel and approached Fort Sumter under a white flag.  Wigfall respected the courage of the  Major and his men and suggested an “evacuation” of the fort rather than a “surrender”. After some debate, and agreeing to a hundred gun salute to the Union flag, Anderson agreed and raised the white flag on the makeshift flagpole in the fort.
A delegation of officers went out from Charleston expecting a surrender.  When they arrived to find out that Wigfall had agreed to an evacuation but hadn’t talked to anyone in Charleston for two days, they demanded a new agreement and Major Anderson threatened to resume firing.  Before anything could be decided, General Beauregard noticed the white flag and sent a delegation to Fort Sumter.  This delegation offered nearly the same terms Colonel Wigfall had and the peace was maintained.

The tattered from Fort SumterAt 2:30 in the afternoon of April 14, Anderson agreed to evacuate the fort, leaving it to the Confederates, after a hundred gun salute to the Union flag.  The salute was stopped at fifty rounds after a pile of gunpowder cartridges caught fire, killing one man instantly, mortally wounding another man (who died a few days later), and injuring the rest of the gun crew.  After a thirty-six hour bombardment with no fatalities, two men were killed during the ending ceremonies, the first of thousands in the war that had begun there.  Major Anderson took the Fort Sumter flag with him when he and his men were taken by boat to the Union ships sent to resupply them that instead took them to New York.
The war that both sides had hoped to avoid had begun and President Lincoln requested thousands of men to enlist for nine months.  It would be four years before the flag of the United States of American would fly over Fort Sumter again.