After the War: The Lees

This entry is part of 4 in the series After the War: Military Leaders

Custis LeeRobert E. Lee had three sons and a nephew serve in the Confederate Army. Three of them attained the rank of major general and all of them had interesting postbellum lives.

George Washington Custis Lee was born in 1832 at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was familiarly known as Custis to his family and friends. Custis entered West Point at the age of seventeen and attended the national military academy from 1850 until his graduation in 1854.

During his first year, Lee excelled both academically and militarily. Toward the end of his first year he was almost expelled, when alcohol was found in his room. He claimed that he did not put it there, and got away with only minor punishments. He did well his second year also. At the beginning of his third year, his father became the Superintendent of West Point. He graduated first in his class of forty-six, in 1854.

Lee was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers as a brevet Second Lieutenant. He served primarily in California, Georgia, and Florida during his time in the U.S. Army. In 1855, he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Regular Army. In 1859, Lee was commissioned a full First Lieutenant. Lee was stationed in Washington D. C., during the period of secession and the firing on Fort Sumter.

He then resigned from the U.S. Army, in the spring of 1861 after Virginia seceded from the Union. He resigned about two weeks after his father had done the same. Lee then offered his services to the Virginia state forces.

Lee served in the Virginia state forces, until July 1861. At that time he was given a commission as a Captain in the Confederate Army. During the next few months, Lee worked in the Confederate engineers corps. He spent his time constructing fortifications for the new capital city, Richmond.

At the end of August 1861, Lee was offered and accepted the position of aide-de-camp to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He was then promoted to the rank of Colonel. Lee served in his position for the next three years of the war. He was often sent on missions to assess the military, and would then return to report to Davis.

By 1864 he had commanded troops in the defenses of the capital city and was promoted to Major General. After the fall of Petersburg he commanded troops in the retreat. He was captured at Sayler’s Creek three days before his father’s surrender at Appomattox.

In late 1865, Lee was hired as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. Lee held this position until the death of his father. Between 1871 and 1897, Lee served as the ninth president of Washington and Lee University. In 1897, Lee resigned as president of Washington and Lee University. He then moved to the home of his late brother, Major General William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, Ravensworth Mansion. Lee died on February 18, 1913 in Alexandria, Virginia, and is buried in the Lee Chapel, near his family members.

William Henry Fitzhugh Lee was born in 1837 at Arlington House in Arlington, Virginia. He attended Harvard University Rooney Leeand in 1857 entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. He participated in the Utah War against the Mormons while serving in the 6th U.S. Infantry. In 1859, he resigned from the U.S. Army to operate his White House Plantation, on the south shore of the Pamunkey River, in New Kent County, Virginia.

Lee, known as Rooney to his family and friends, spent the entire war in the Calvary. He primarily served in the command of J.E.B. Stuart. He was wounded at Brandy Station and captured by Union forces.

He was shipped to New York State, where he was held as a prisoner of war until returned to the Confederate Army on February 25, 1864, in exchange for Union Brig. Gen. Neal S. Dow. In April, Lee was promoted to major general and commanded a division in the Cavalry Corps during the breakout from Petersburg and the retreat of his father’s army in the Appomattox Campaign.

By the end of the war, Rooney Lee had risen to second-in-command of the Confederate cavalry. He surrendered along with his father at Appomattox Court House.

After the surrender he returned to White House Plantation. After their mother died in 1873, Rooney inherited Ravensworth Plantation, the old Fitzhugh family property in Fairfax County. He moved there with his family from White House.

In 1875 Rooney was elected to the Virginia Senate, serving until 1878. He was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives in 1887. He served in the House until his death at Ravensworth in 1891. He is interred in the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, with his parents and siblings.

Rob LeeRobert Edward “Rob” Lee, Jr., known as Rob, was born in 1843. Rob never envisioned a military career and in 1860 enrolled at the University of Virginia. To his mother’s dismay he joined the Rockbridge Artillery as a private.

After the Battle of Sharpsburg, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned as aide to his older brother Custis. The latter was a major general and aide-de-camp to the Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and involved in defending Richmond, Virginia.

After the war, Rob lived and farmed Romancoke Plantation on the north bank of the Pamunkey River in King William County, which he inherited from his maternal grandfather George Washington Parke Custis.

Rob also became a writer, gathering his memories of his family and life in Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (1904). The first-hand account provides a valuable source of information on day-to-day life at Arlington House during his youth, and includes many items of interest regarding his father’s entire life. However, some are now offended by racial views expressed therein.

Robert E. Lee, Jr. died in 1914. He was interred with his parents and siblings in the Lee Chapel in Lexington, Virginia, where his father and brother Custis each had served as a president of the college now known as Washington and Lee University.

Finally, there is their cousin Fitzhugh Lee who was born in 1835. He was the son of Sydney Smith Lee who had a distinguished career in the United States Navy. Fitz Lee graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1856 and was Fitzhugh Leecommissioned as a cavalry officer in the regiment that was commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston with his uncle Robert E. Lee as second-in-command.

Lee resigned his position at West Point when Virginia seceded. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the cavalry and as a staff officer. However, he rose rapidly and by July 1862 was a brigadier general. He served primarily under the command of J.E.B. Stuart. After the Battle of Gettysburg Stuart singled him out as “one of the finest cavalry leaders on the continent, and richly [entitled] to promotion”. He was soon promoted to major general.

After Stuart’s death at Yellow Tavern Wade Hampton was promoted to command the Confederate cavalry. Lee remained in command of his division. When Hampton was sent to North Carolina to assist General Joseph E. Johnston Fitz Lee succeeded to command. He personally led the last cavalry charge on April 9th at Farmville, Virginia.

After the war, Lee devoted himself to farming in Stafford County, Virginia, and was conspicuous in his efforts to reconcile the Southern people to the issue of the war, which he regarded as a final settlement of the questions at issue. In 1885, he was a member of the board of visitors of West Point. From 1886 to 1890 he was governor of Virginia having defeated Republican John Sergeant Wise with 52.77% of the vote.

In April 1896, Lee was appointed consul-general at Havana by President Cleveland, with duties of a diplomatic and military character added to the usual consular business. In this post (in which he was retained by President William McKinley until 1898) he was from the first called upon to deal with a situation of great difficulty, which culminated with the destruction of the warship USS Maine. Upon the declaration of war between Spain and the United States, he re-entered the army.

He was one of three ex-Confederate general officers who were made major generals of United States Volunteers (the others being Joseph Wheeler and Thomas L. Rosser). Fitzhugh Lee commanded the 7th Army Corps, but took no part in the actual operations in Cuba. He was military governor of Havana and Pinar del Río in 1899, subsequently commanded the Department of the Missouri, and retired in 1901 as a brigadier general, U.S. Army, having come full circle.

Lee died in Washington, D.C., and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

The Lee family with five members in the Confederate Army distinguished themselves as true sons of Virginia and defenders of their state. They served Virginia in a variety of positions both in war and peace.

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