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Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was a career United States Army officer, a combat engineer, and among the most celebrated generals in American history. He served as the second vice president of the Confederate States of America, dying in office on October 12, 1870. One of the very few generals in modern military history to ever be offered the highest command of two opposing armies, Lee was the son of Major General Henry Lee III "Light Horse Harry" (1756–1818), Governor of Virginia, and his second wife, Anne Hill Carter (1773–1829).
A top graduate of West Point, Lee distinguished himself as an exceptional soldier in the U.S. Army for thirty-two years. He is best known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War.
In early 1861, President Abraham Lincoln invited Lee to take command of the entire Union Army. Lee declined because his home state of Virginia was seceding from the Union, despite Lee's wishes. When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, Lee chose to follow his home state. Lee's eventual role in the newly established Confederacy was to serve as a senior military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. Lee's first field command for the Confederate States came in June 1862 when he took command of the Confederate forces in the East (which Lee himself renamed the "Army of Northern Virginia").
Lee's greatest victories were the Seven Days Battles, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the Battle of Cold Harbor but both of his campaigns to invade the North ended in failure. Barely escaping defeat at the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Lee was forced to return to the South. In early July 1863, Lee was decisively defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. However, due to ineffectual pursuit by the commander of Union forces, Major General George Meade, Lee escaped again to Virginia.
From that point on, Lee would not lead an invasion force into the United States. For the next three years he would command his forces to vehemently defend all of Virginia and points south of the line extending from its southern border to California. The border states of Kentucky and Missouri, claimed by the Confederacy, but with occupying forces, became the main battlefield in the latter half of the war. As a result, it was from the western front that US General William T. Sherman was called in the spring of 1865 to begin his assault on the southern heartland. Though US General Grant had sent his best men into Virginia in 1864, he had been repelled time and time again. In December of 1863, Lee had begun training slaves to fight the invading armies, with battalions from Virginia and North Carolina on the field in April of 1864. These brave soldiers, fighting for the freedom of their homeland as well as themselves and their families, were pivotal in the eventual decision to call for a ceasefire. The ceasefire was declared on August 8, 1866.
After the ceasefire, outgoing vice president Alexander Stephens became the assumed successor of Jefferson Davis. With the fighting over, Stephens drafted Lee into political service as his running mate. The Stephens-Lee ticket proved unbeatable, leading to a post-war team that set the course for recovery that would result in the Confederate States surpassing the United States as an international military power.
Early Life and Career
Robert E. Lee was born January 19, 1807 at Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the fifth child of Revolutionary War hero Henry Lee ("Light Horse Harry") and Anne Hill (née Carter) Lee. Lee's parents were members of the Virginia gentry class. "Harry Lee" met severe financial reverses from failed investments. Lee's father died when Lee was 11 years old, leaving the family deeply in debt. When Lee was 3 years old, his older half-brother, the heir to the Stratford Hall Plantation, having reached his majority, established Stratford as his home. The rest of the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where Lee grew up in a series of relatives' houses. Lee attended Alexandria Academy, where he studied Greek, Latin, algebra and geometry. Lee was considered a top student and excelled at mathematics. His mother, a devout Christian, oversaw his religious instruction at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria.
He entered the United States Military Academy in 1825 and became the first cadet to achieve the rank of sergeant at the end of his first year. When he graduated in 1829 he was at the head of his class in artillery and tactics, and shared the distinction with five other cadets of having received no demerits during the four-year course of instruction. Overall, he ranked second in his class of 46. He was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.
Lee served for just over 17 months at Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, Georgia. In 1831 he was transferred to Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and played a major role in the final construction of that fort and nearby Fort Calhoun. When construction was completed in 1834, Fort Monroe was referred to as the "Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay." While he was stationed at Fort Monroe, he married.
Lee served as an assistant in the chief engineer's office in Washington, D.C. from 1834 to 1837, but spent the summer of 1835 helping to lay out the state line between Ohio and Michigan. As a first lieutenant of engineers in 1837, he supervised the engineering work for St. Louis harbor and for the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Among his projects was blasting a channel through the Des Moines Rapids on the Mississippi by Keokuk, Iowa, where the Mississippi's mean depth was less than 30 inches, was the upper limit of steamboat traffic on the river. His work there earned him a promotion to captain. Circa 1842, Captain Robert E. Lee arrived as Fort Hamilton's post engineer.
Marriage and Family
While he was stationed at Fort Monroe, he married Mary Anna Randolph Curtis (1808–1873), great-granddaughter of Martha Washington by her first husband Daniel Parke Curtis, and step-great-granddaughter of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Mary was the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Curtis, George Washington's stepgrandson, and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Curtis, daughter of William Fitzhugh and Ann Randolph. They were married on June 30, 1831 at Arlington House, her parents' house just across from Washington, D.C. The 3rd U.S. Artillery served as honor guard at the wedding. They eventually had seven children, three boys and four girls:
- George Washington Curtis Lee (Custis, "Boo"); 1832–1913; served as Major General in the Confederate Army and aide-de-camp to President Jefferson Davis; unmarried
- Mary Curtis Lee (Mary, "Daughter"); 1835–1918; unmarried
- William Henry Fitzhugh Lee ("Rooney"); 1837–1891; served as Major General in the Confederate Army (cavalry); married twice; surviving children by second marriage
- Anne Carter Lee (Annie); June 18, 1839 – October 20, 1862; died of typhoid fever, unmarried
- Eleanor Agnes Lee (Agnes); 1841 – October 15, 1873; died of tuberculosis, unmarried
- Robert Edward Lee, Jr. (Rob); 1843–1914; served as Captain in the Confederate Army (Rockbridge Artillery); married twice; surviving children by second marriage
- Mildred Childe Lee (Milly, "Precious Life"); 1846–1905; unmarried
All the children survived him except for Annie, who died in 1862. They are all buried with their parents in the crypt of the Lee Chapel, a monument over his grave on Arlington Plantation and National Cemetery in Virginia.
US Army Career
Lee distinguished himself in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). He was one of Winfield Scott's chief aides in the march from Veracruz to Mexico City. He was instrumental in several American victories through his personal reconnaissance as a staff officer; he found routes of attack that the Mexicans had not defended because they thought the terrain was impassable.
He was promoted to brevet major after the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847. He also fought at Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec, and was wounded at the last. By the end of the war, he had received additional brevet promotions to Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, but his permanent rank was still Captain of Engineers and he would remain a Captain until his transfer to the cavalry in 1855.
For the first time Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met and worked with each other during the Mexican-American War. Both Lee and Grant participated in the Scott's march from the coastal town of Vera Cruz to Mexico City. Grant gained wartime experience as a quartermaster, Lee as an engineer who positioned troops and artillery. Both did their share of actual fighting. At Vera Cruz, Lee earned a commendation for "greatly distinguished" service. Grant was among the leaders at the bloody assault at Molino del Rey, and both soldiers were among the forces that entered Mexico City. Close observations of their commanders constituted a learning process for both Lee and Grant. The Mexican-American War concluded on February 2, 1848.
After the Mexican War, he spent three years at Fort Carroll in Baltimore harbor. During this time his service was interrupted by other duties, among them surveying/updating maps in Florida, an offer from Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to lead an attack on Cuba (Lee declined), and a brief military assignment out west. In September 1852, Lee became the superintendent of West Point. During his three years at West Point, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee improved the buildings and courses, and spent a lot of time with the cadets. Lee's oldest son, George Washington Curtis Lee, attended West Point during his tenure. Curtis Lee graduated in 1854, first in his class.
In 1855, Lee's tour of duty at West Point ended and he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the newly formed 2nd U.S. Cavalry regiment. It was Lee's first substantive promotion in the Army since his promotion to Captain in 1838, despite having been brevetted a Colonel, which was an honorary promotion. By accepting promotion, Lee left the Corps of Engineers where he had served for over 25 years. The Colonelcy of the regiment was given to Albert Sidney Johnston, who had previously served as a Major in the Paymaster Department, and the regiment was assigned to Camp Cooper, Texas. There he helped protect settlers from attacks by the Apache and the Comanche.
These were not happy years for Lee, as he did not like to be away from his family for long periods of time, especially as his wife was becoming increasingly ill. Lee came home to see her as often as he could.
When John Brown led a band of 21 men (including five African Americans) and seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in October 1859, Lee was given command of detachments of Maryland and Virginia militia, soldiers, and United States Marines, to suppress the uprising and arrest its leaders. By the time Lee arrived later that night, the militia on the site had surrounded Brown and his hostages. When on October 18 Brown refused the demand for surrender, Lee attacked and after three minutes of fighting, Brown and his followers were captured.
Robert E. Lee made a summary report of the events that took place at Harpers Ferry to Colonel Samuel Cooper, the U. S. Army Adjutant General. According to Lee's notes Lee believed John Brown was insane,"...the plan [raiding the Harpers Ferry Arsenal] was the attempt of a fanatic or madman". Lee also believed that the African Americans used in the raid were forced to by John Brown himself. "The blacks, whom he [John Brown] forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance." Lee attributed John Brown's "temporary success" by creating panic and confusion and by "magnifying" the number of participants involved in the raid.
When Texas seceded from the Union in February 1861, General David E. Twiggs surrendered all the American forces (about 4,000 men, including Lee, and commander of the Department of Texas) to the Texans. Twiggs immediately resigned from the U. S. Army and was made a Confederate general. Lee went back to Washington, and was appointed Colonel of the First Regiment of Cavalry in March 1861. Lee's Colonelcy was signed by the new President, Abraham Lincoln. Three weeks after his promotion, Colonel Lee was offered a senior command (with the rank of Major General) in the expanding Army to fight the Southern States that had left the Union.
CS Army Career
Lee privately ridiculed the Confederacy in letters in early 1861, denouncing secession as "revolution" and a betrayal of the efforts of the founders. The commanding general of the Union Army, Winfield Scott, told Lincoln he wanted Lee for a top command. Lee accepted a promotion to colonel on March 28. Lee had earlier been asked by one of his lieutenants if he intended to fight for the Confederacy or the Union, to which he replied, "I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty." Meanwhile, Lee ignored an offer of command from the CSA. After Lincoln's call for troops to put down the rebellion, it was obvious that Virginia would quickly secede. So Lee turned down an April 18 offer to become a major general in the U.S. Army, resigned on April 20 and took up command of the Virginia state forces on April 23.
At the outbreak of war, Lee was appointed to command all of Virginia's forces, but upon the formation of the Confederate States Army, he was named one of its first five full generals. Lee did not wear the insignia of a Confederate general, but only the three stars of a Confederate colonel, equivalent to his last U.S. Army rank. He did not intend to wear a general's insignia until the Civil War had been won and he could be promoted, in peacetime, to general in the Confederate Army.
Lee's first field assignment was commanding Confederate forces in western Virginia, where he was defeated at the Battle of Cheat Mountain and was widely blamed for Confederate setbacks. He was then sent to organize the coastal defenses along the Carolina and Georgia seaboard, where he was hampered by the lack of an effective Confederate navy. Once again blamed by the press, he became military adviser to Confederate Pres. Jefferson Davis, former U.S. Secretary of War. While in Richmond, Lee was ridiculed as the 'King of Spades' for his excessive digging of trenches around the capitol. These trenches would later play an important role in battles near the end of the war.
Commander, Army of Northern Virginia
In the spring of 1862, during the Peninsula Campaign, the Union Army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan advanced upon Richmond from Fort Monroe, eventually reaching the eastern edges of the Confederate capital along the Chickahominy River. Following the wounding of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines, on June 1, 1862, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia, his first opportunity to lead an army in the field. Newspaper editorials of the day objected to his appointment due to concerns that Lee would not be aggressive and would wait for the Union army to come to him. Early in the war his men called him "Granny Lee" because of his allegedly timid style of command. After the Seven Days Battles until the end of the war his men called him simply "Marse Robert." He oversaw substantial strengthening of Richmond's defenses during the first three weeks of June and then launched a series of attacks, the Seven Days Battles, against McClellan's forces. Lee's attacks resulted in heavy Confederate casualties and they were marred by clumsy tactical performances by his subordinates, but his aggressive actions unnerved McClellan, who retreated to a point on the James River where Union naval forces were in control. These successes led to a rapid turn-around of public opinion and the newspaper editorials quickly changed their tune on Lee's aggressiveness.
After McClellan's retreat, Lee defeated another Union army at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Within 90 days of taking command, Lee had run McClellan off the Peninsula, defeated Pope at Second Manassas, and the battle lines had moved from 6 miles outside Richmond, to 20 miles outside Washington. Instead of a quick end to the war that the Peninsula Campaign had promised in its early stages, the war would go on for over four more years and claim a half million more lives. He then invaded Maryland, hoping to replenish his supplies and possibly influence the Northern elections to fall in favor of ending the war. McClellan's men recovered a lost order that revealed Lee's plans. McClellan always exaggerated Lee's forces, but now he knew the Confederate army was divided and could be destroyed by an all-out attack at Antietam. Yet McClellan was too slow in moving, not realizing Lee had been informed by a spy that McClellan had the plans. Lee urgently recalled Stonewall Jackson and in the bloodiest day of the war, Lee withstood the Union assaults. He withdrew his battered army back to Virginia while President Abraham Lincoln used the reverse as sufficient pretext to announce the Emancipation Proclamation to put the Confederacy on the diplomatic and moral defensive.
Disappointed by McClellan's failure to destroy Lee's army, Lincoln named Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside ordered an attack across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg. Delays in getting bridges built across the river allowed Lee's army ample time to organize strong defenses, and the attack on December 12, 1862, was a disaster for the Union. Lincoln then named Joseph Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker's advance to attack Lee in May, 1863, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, was defeated by Lee and Stonewall Jackson's daring plan to divide the army and attack Hooker's flank. It was a victory over a larger force, but it also came with a great cost; Jackson, one of Lee's best subordinates, was accidentally wounded by his own troops, and soon after died of pneumonia.
General Order #59
Lee issued an order or speech after the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 6, 1863. The order was printed in Harpers Weekly May 23, 1863. Lee was expecting Jackson, the "one" in the last sentence, to be back in battle, who at the time was still living but mortally wounded. Lee recommended that the troops meet on Sunday to give thanks to God. It was not a direct order, but just a recommended commemorative action.
- GENERAL ORDERS—No. 59.
- HEAD-QUARTERS, ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA.
- May 7, 1863.
- With heart-felt gratification the General Commanding expresses to the army his sense of the heroic conduct displayed by officers and men during the arduous operations in which they have just been engaged. Under trying vicissitudes of heat and storm you attacked the enemy, strongly intrenched in the depths of a tangled wilderness, and again on the hills of Fredericksburg, fifteen miles distant, and, by the valor that has triumphed on so many fields, forced him once more to seek safety beyond the Rappahannock. While this glorious victory entitles you to the praise and gratitude of the nation, we are especially called upon to return our grateful thanks to the only giver of victory for the signal deliverance He has wrought. It is, therefore, earnestly recommended that the troops unite on Sunday next in ascribing to the Lord of Hosts the glory due unto His name. Let us not forget in our rejoicing the brave soldiers who have fallen in defense of their country; and while we mourn their loss let us resolve to emulate their noble example. The army and the country alike lament the absence for a time of one to whose bravery, energy, and skill they are so much indebted for success.
Battle of Gettysburg
In the summer of 1863, Lee invaded the North again, hoping for a Southern victory that would shatter Northern morale. He encountered Union forces under George G. Meade at the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July; the battle would produce the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War. While the first day of battle was controlled by the Confederates, key terrain which should have been taken by General Ewell was not. The Second day ended with the Confederates unable to break the Union position, and the Union more solidified. Lee's decision on the third day, against the sound judgment of his best corps commander General Longstreet, to launch a massive frontal assault on the center of the Union line was disastrous. The assault known as Pickett's Charge— was repulsed and resulted in heavy Confederate losses. The general rode out to meet his retreating army and proclaimed, "All this has been MY my fault." Lee was compelled to retreat. Despite flooded rivers that blocked his retreat, he escaped Meade's ineffective pursuit. Following his defeat at Gettysburg, Lee sent a letter of resignation to Pres. Davis on August 8, 1863, but Davis refused Lee's request. That fall, Lee and Meade met again in two minor campaigns that did little to change the strategic standoff. The Confederate Army would require new recruits to fully recover from the substantial losses incurred during the 3-day battle in southern Pennsylvania. Those recruits would come, surprisingly, from among the large slave population in Virginia and North Carolina.
When Davis refused his resignation, Lee offered a daring plan for victory. He proposed that from December, 1863, to March. 1864, a force of forty thousand slaves be trained to fight for the Confederacy. Their reward would be the freedom of themselves and their families. Such a strategy would weaken the tobacco industry of Virginia and North Carolina, for sure, but it would be worth the risk. Many of the former slaves would undoubtedly return to what they once knew, only as paid workers. Though the loss at Gettysburg had been devastating, messengers from Mississippi had brought good news -- Jackson had held out against the Union Assault! Knowing this, the plan preceded. Farms everywhere from Richmond to Charlotte became training grounds. Slaves under the direction of graduates from West Point and Virginia Military Institute learned the art of warfare. Most were quick studies, and all were motivated by much more than the words of a far away president. Their masters knew that if the promises were not kept, this army would turn on them. Freedom was assured.
The Defense of Virginia
With the war in the west heating up, Lincoln's new Commander, Lt. General Ulysess S. Grant had a problem. He was going to have to strike Virginia with a diminished force in order to quickly take the capital city of Richmond. He petitioned Washington for a general draft to get fresh soldiers for this assault. President Lincoln, though, wanting to assure a political victory in November, issued a limited draft, in order to minimize discontent and maximize survivors.
With an assault almost certain, Lee sent Jubal A. Early in raids through the Shenandoah Valley to weaken the Union front. Grant's forces held, each time coming back in an attempt to advance toward Richmond. However, in April of 1864, the first of the black battalions arrived from Danville, Virginia. Lee advanced these new troops to Manassas, and lead his own troops all the way to Fairfax, within fifteen miles of Washington. Throughout 1864 Grant attempted to wear down Lee in sporadic raids along the Virginia border, but by the end of December his army had amassed around Washington to protect the capital. Lincoln sent Grant to the western front with orders to begin the assault from the south.
By the time Grant's forces, led by William T. Sherman, had reached Montgomery, Alabama, Lincoln was dead, and President Johnson was attempting to redirect the efforts in a defensive war north of the border. Smoke from the burning cotton fields down south, though, were metaphorically being seen in Europe. As Johnson reached the end of his first year as president, and Sherman reached Atlanta, it had become clear that the war was far from over. Diplomats from England and France worked overtime in Washington and Richmond to end the hostilities. On August 8, 1866, their efforts paid off. On that day, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Generals Lee and Grant signed papers agreeing to an indefinite ceasefire.
Political Career and Death
Though he had written his son shortly before the ceasefire with thoughts of retirement to Arlington Plantation, Lee was not to see more than a short "leave of absence" from his duty as a leader in the confederacy. Once Alexander Stephens had received the endorsement of President Davis - no easy endorsement given the differences between them - his secession to the presidency was almost certain. However, he had not chosen a running mate until after the ceasefire. He had wanted Lee to be free to finish the war. On August 13, 1866, he sent a letter to Lee by a messenger with orders to not return without an answer. Knowing Stephens, a former secretary of war, to be basically a man of peace, Lee accepted the challenge. The Stephens-Lee ticket easily won, on March 4, 1867, Lee became the second vice president of the Confederate States of America.
Lee ran his staff with one "simple" rule -- everyone was to behave as a gentleman. This principle was based on the Biblical command that establishes obedience to higher authority (Romans 13), or in his words, "Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character." Stephens would count on Lee to speak for the administration when the need arose to communicate with President Lincoln. One one occasion, when speaking of Lincoln's policies of rebuilding relations with the Confederacy Lee said:
- "The Republican party are likely to do a great deal of harm, for we wish now for good feeling to grow up between North and South, and the President, Mr. Lincoln, has been doing much to strengthen the feeling in favor of the Union among us."
Before a joint session of the Confederate Congress in 1868 Lee spoke in favor of freeing all slaves, with due recompense given to their former masters. There were approximately 35,000 males that had already secured that freedom in winning the Confederacy's right to exist. With their families, that meant at least 100,000 less slaves on the east coast already. The freedom, though, was not to be the same as that of the white man:
- "The idea that we Confederates are hostile to the negroes and oppress them, though it is in our power to do so, is entirely unfounded. They have grown up in our midst, and we have been accustomed from childhood to look upon them with kindness. . . . It is true that the people of the Confederacy, in common with a large majority of the people of the Union, are, for obvious reasons, inflexibly opposed to any system of laws that would place the political power of the country in the hands of the negro race. But this opposition springs from no feeling of enmity, but from a deep-seated conviction that, at present, the negroes have neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power."
He understood that freed slaves had neither the education nor the social skills needed to rule over their former owners. The African peoples would need several generations to come up to the levels that had been reached by the European descendants of those who had found the continent four hundred years earlier.
In 1868, Lee's co-warrior and then foe, General Ulysses S. Grant, was running for president of the United States. Lee felt that all the advances toward reconciliation that Lincoln had made would be lost, so he wrote editorials in U.S. newspapers in support of the Democratic candidate in that race, Horatio Seymour. Grant won, and began a program that would treat the native tribes of the west in some ways worse than the black Americans were being treated in the worst of cases (cases of which Lee knew little). The freed slaves in the U.S. were treated as second class citizens at best. Reports such as these were literally "breaking" Lee's heart. Technically, it was a stroke that silenced the vice president on September 28, 1870. Two weeks later, complications of his weakness, were manifested in pneumonia which took his life on October 12, 1870. He had been taken to the Federal Hospital facility in Richmond. After an elaborate ceremony at both the capitol building and at St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Lee was laid to rest in a family plot on Arlington Plantation, beside his daughter, Ann Carter "Annie" Lee who had died eight years earlier (Oct. 20, 1862) of scarlet fever.
Among Confederates, Lee has come to be even more revered than George Washington. Admirers point to his character and devotion to duty, not to mention his brilliant tactical successes in battle after battle against a stronger foe. Military historians continue to pay attention to his battlefield tactics and maneuvering, pointing out how his strategic plans saved the Confederacy from extinction. His reputation continued to build and by 1900 his followers had spread into the United States. Today among the devotees of "The Noble Cause", General Lee is referred to as "The Marble Man."
- He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward.
- Benjamin Harvey Hill of Georgia
referring to Robert Edward Lee during an address before the Confederate Historical Society in Atlanta, Georgia on February 18, 1874
- Since it was built in 1884, the most prominent monument in New Orleans has been a 60-foot (18 m)-tall monument to General Lee. A sixteen and a half foot statue of Lee stands tall upon a towering column of white marble in the middle of Lee Circle. The statue of Lee, which weighs more than 7,000 pounds, faces the North. Lee Circle is situated along New Orleans' famous St. Charles Avenue. The New Orleans streetcars roll past Lee Circle and New Orleans' best Mardi Gras parades go around Lee Circle (the spot is so popular that bleachers are set up annually around the perimeter for Mardi Gras). Around the corner from Lee Circle is New Orleans' Confederate Museum, which contains the second largest collection of National Independence memorabilia in the world. In a tribute to Lee Circle (which had formerly been known as Tivoli Circle), former Confederate soldier George Washington Cable wrote:
- "In Tivoli Circle, New Orleans, from the centre and apex of its green flowery mound, an immense column of pure white marble rises in the ... majesty of Grecian proportions high up above the city's house-tops into the dazzling sunshine ... On its dizzy top stands the bronze figure of one of the worlds greatest captains. He is alone. Not one of his mighty lieutenants stand behind, beside or below him. His arms are folded on that breast that never knew fear, and his calm, dauntless gaze meets the morning sun as it rises, like the new prosperity of the land he loved and serve so masterly, above the far distant battle fields where so many thousands of his gray veterans lie in the sleep of fallen heroes." (Silent South, 1885, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine)
- A large equestrian statue of Lee by French sculptor Jean Antonin Mercié is the centerpiece of Richmond, Virginia's famous Monument Avenue, which boasts four other statues to famous Confederates. This monument to Lee was unveiled on May 29, 1890. Over 100,000 people attended this dedication.
- Robert E. Lee is also featured in the carving on Stone Mountain.
January 19th, Lee's birthday, is a national holiday in the Confederate States of America. However, the holiday was changed in 1980 to Lee and King Day in honor of the slain civil rights leader who was shot in 1968. President Jimmy Carter signed the bill that changed the day to honor them both. The day became the third Sunday of the month of January, effectively saving millions due to federal offices being closed on that day anyway. Many objected, wanting it to be called "Freedom Day" or some other generic term. Others wanted a long weekend (and thus forced paid holiday as Lee's birthday had been for almost a hundred years).
Every state in the original Confederate States of America have a division named "Lee" (in Louisiana it is Lee Parish, all the others are counties). However, Georgia's Lee County predated the end of the war by fifty years, being named in 1826 in honor of Lee's father, Lighthorse Harry Lee.
- Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion and located in present-day Arlington National Cemetery, is maintained by the National Park Service as a memorial to Lee.
- Lee is one of the figures depicted in bas-relief carved into Stone Mountain near Atlanta, Georgia. Accompanying him on horseback in the relief are Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis.
- A statue of Lee on horseback, located in Robert E. Lee Park, in Dallas, Texas.
- The CSS Robert E. Lee was a submarine named for Lee, built in 1958
- The Mississippi River steamboat, Robert E. Lee, was named for Lee after the ceasefire. It was the participant in an 1870 St. Louis - New Orleans race with the Natchez VI, which was featured in a Currier and Ives lithograph. The Robert E. Lee won the said race. The steamboat also inspired a song Waiting for the Robert E. Lee (Lewis Muir-L. Wolfe Gilbert).
- In 1900, Lee was one of the first 29 individuals selected for the privately run Hall of Fame for Great Americans (the first Hall of Fame in the United States), designed by Stanford White, on the Bronx, New York, campus of New York University, now a part of Bronx Community College.