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Robert Lee Essay, Research Paper

Robert Edward Lee is considered one of the greatest generals in the history of

the United States. Lee was opposed to many views of the south, including

succession and slavery, yet his loyalty to his native state of Virginia forced

him to fight for the south and refuse command of the Union armies during the

Civil War. Because of this, he was respected by every man in America including

Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Robert Edward Lee was born to parents,

Henry Lee of Leesylvania, and mother Ann Hill Carter of Shirley, in Stratford

Hall near Montross, Virginia, on January 19, 1807. He grew up with a great love

for country living and his state, which would be instilled in him for the rest

of his life. He was a very serious boy and spent many hours in his father’s

library reading as many books as he could get his hands on. He loved to play

with his friends, swim and hunt. Lee looked up to his father and always wanted

to know what he was doing. George Washington and his father, "Light-Horse

Harry Lee," were his two heroes and he wanted to be just like them when he

grew up. In 1811 the Lee family moved to a larger home in Alexandria, Virginia.

The next year his father received injuries in a Baltimore riot from which he

never fully recovered and that also caused his leaving of Alexandria for a

warmer climate. He died six years later at Cumberland Island, Georgia when

Robert was only 12. Robert was forced to become the man of the family and cared

for his mother and sisters because his father and elder brothers had left.

Robert would stuff papers to block cracks in the carriage and go driving to help

his mother get out during her failing health. Years later, when Robert left for

West Point, Ann Lee wrote to a cousin, "How will I ever get on with out

Robert, he is both a son and a daughter" ( www.stratfordhall.org/rel.htm

1). In 1825, at the age of 18, Lee entered the United States Military Academy at

West Point where his classmates admired him for his brilliance, leadership, and

love for his work. West Point was not his first choice for a school, but there

was no money left to send him to Harvard because his older brother, Charles

Carter, had used it for his own studies at Harvard. He graduated from the

academy with high honors in 1829 and was ranked as Second Lieutenant in the

Corps of Engineers at the age of 21. He headed for home at the age of 22 with

$103.58 (Thomas 54). Lee served for seventeen months at Fort Pulaski on Cockspur

Island, Georgia. In 1831 the army transferred Lee to Fort Monroe, Virginia, as

assistant engineer. While he was stationed there, he married Mary Anna Randolph

Custis, Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter. They lived in her family home

in Arlington on a hill overlooking Washington D. C.. They had seven children,

three sons and four daughters. On September 16, 1832, Mary gave birth to George

Washington Custis Lee. Later in 1835 they had their second child, Mary Curtis.

They had five more children, William Henry Fitzgerald, Annie, Agnes, Robert and

Mildred. Lee served as an assistant in the chief engineer’s office in Washington

from 1834 to 1837 and spent the summer of 1835 helping to lay out the boundary

line between Ohio and Michigan. In 1837 he got his first important job as a

First Lieutenant of engineers. He supervised the engineering work for St. Louis

harbor and for the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. His work there earned

him a promotion to Captain. In 1841 he was transferred to Fort Hamilton in New

York harbor, where he took charge of building fortifications. When war broke out

between the United States and Mexico in 1846, the army sent Lee to Texas to

serve as assistant engineer under General John E. Wool. All his superior

officers, including General Winfield Scott, were impressed with Lee. Early in

the war, Lee supervised the construction of bridges for Wool’s march toward the

Mexican border. He then did excellent work on scouting trips. Lee later was

helping General Winfield Scott plan a great battle. The Army was about to attack

Vera Cruz, a large Mexican town on the sea. Soldiers fired huge guns at the

walls of Vera Cruz. One of the men at the guns happened to be Robert’s brother,

Smith Lee. When he could, Lee went to stand by his brother’s gun. "I could

see his white teeth through all the smoke of the fire" Lee said, in a

letter to Mary. The Mexicans soon gave up Vera Cruz. General Scott thanked Lee

for his work. Now the Army could move on to the Mexican capital. The march to

Mexico City would be hard for the army. General Scott asked Lee to find the best

way to go and asked him to see what Santa Anna, the Mexican general, was doing.

To get news for Scott, Lee went behind the lines of enemy soldiers. This was

dangerous work. Once when Lee was behind enemy lines he heard voices. Mexican

soldiers were coming to drink at a spring. Lee jumped under a log while more

Mexicans came. They sat on the log and talked, so Lee had to hide there until

dark (Thomas 125). At Cerro Gordo he led the first line of men into battle. The

Americans won. Lee then wrote to his son, Custis, "You have no idea what a

horrible sight a field of battle is." Then came the biggest battle of the

war. The Americans attacked a fort outside Mexico City. Lee planned the attack

and for days he worked without sleep. He found out where the Mexican soldiers

were. He knew where to put the big guns which made it easier for the Army to

take the fort. The American Army marched right into Mexico City. The war was now

officially over. Lee’s engineering skill made it possible for American troops to

cross the difficult mountain passes on the way to the capital. During the march

to Mexico City, Lee was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel. Scott said that

his "success in Mexico was largely due to the skill, valor, and undaunted

courage of Robert E. Lee…the greatest military genius in America"(Thomas

125-128). After three years at Fort Carrol in Baltimore harbor, Lee became the

superintendent of West Point in 1852. He would have preferred duty in the field

instead of at a desk, but he worked at his post without complaint. During his

three years at West Point, he improved the buildings, courses, and spent a lot

of time with the cadets. There was one cadet, Jeb Stuart, who later served as

one of Lee’s best cavalry officers. Lee earned a very good reputation during his

service there as a fair and kind superintendent. In 1855, Lee became a

Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry and was assigned to duty on the Texas frontier.

There he helped protect settlers from attacks by the Apache and Comanche

Indians. Once again he proved to be an excellent soldier and organizer. But

these were not happy years for Lee. He did not like to be away from his family

for long periods of time, mostly because of his wife who was becoming weaker and

weaker every minute. Lee came home to see her as often as possible. He happened

to be in Washington at the time of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859,

and was sent there to arrest Brown and restore order. He did this very quickly

and returned to his regiment in Texas. When Texas seceded from the Union in1861,

Lee was called to Washington D.C. to wait for further orders

(http://darter.ocps.k12.fl.us/classroom/who/darter2/relee.html 1) Unlike many

Southerners, Lee did not believe in slavery and did not favor secession. He felt

that slavery had an evil effect on masters as well as slaves. Long before the

war he had freed the few slaves whom he had inherited. Lee greatly admired

George Washington and hated the thought of a divided nation. But he came to feel

that his state was protecting the very liberty, freedom and legal principles for

which Washington had fought. He was willing to leave the union, as Washington

had left the British Empire, to fight what the South called a second war of

independence. Lee had great difficulty in deciding whether to stand by his

native state or remain with the Union, even though Lincoln offered him the field

command of the United States Army. He wrote to his sister,"…in my own

person I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native

state. With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of

an American citizen, I had not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand

against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my

commission in the army, and, save in defense of my native state- with the

sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed- I hope I may never be

called upon to draw my sword." Lee grieved at parting from the friends whom

he had served with in other wars. He served in Richmond, Virginia, as military

adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and in May, 1861 was appointed

a full general. In the fall, he succeeded in halting a threatened invasion from

western Virginia. Later, he took charge of protecting the coast of South

Carolina against invasion. When Lee returned to Richmond in 1862, he helped draw

up plans for the Confederate forces in Virginia, then under the command of

General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston was wounded on May 31, 1862, in the Battle

of Fair Oaks (Thomas 225). The next day, Lee took command of Johnston’s army,

which he called the Army of Northern Virginia. From his first day of command,

Lee faced what looked like an impossible task. Union General George B. McClellan

had approached within 7 miles of Richmond with 100,000 men. Three forces were

closing in on the Confederate troops of General Stonewall Jackson in the

Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A fourth Union force was camped on the

Rappahannock River, ready to aid McClellan. In the series of engagements, known

as the Battle of the Seven Days, Lee forced McClellan to retreat. This campaign

taught Lee the need for simpler methods and organization. Jackson had earlier

conducted a brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, and became Lee’s most

trusted subordinate. Jackson was so devoted to Lee that he said he would follow

him into a battle blindfolded. With Jackson’s help, Lee won a major victory over

General John Pope in the second Battle of Bull Run, in August, 1862 (Nolan 89).

He was then free to invade Maryland. Unfortunately, McClellan intercepted a

battle order which a Confederate staff officer had carelessly lost. Knowing

Lee’s plan in advance, McClellan halted him in the Battle of Antietam

(Sharpsburg). Lee returned to Virginia to reorganize his army, General Ambrose

E. Burnside then led an attack against Lee in December, 1862, at Fredericksburg,

Virginia. Fog covered the battlefield early in the morning before the battle

began. As it lifted and the Confederate command saw thousands of troops, Lee

remarked, "It is well that war is so terrible- we would grow too fond of

it." Lee’s troops defeated the Union forces, but Lee could not take

advantage of his victory because the Northern troops had been too cleverly

placed and could fall back without breaking any of their lines of communication.

Lee felt that his army could not win the war by fighting defensively, and that

it was too costly simply to hold the enemy without destroying it, but first he

had to fight yet another defensive battle(Nagel 179). General Joseph Hooker, who

had taken over from Burnside, attacked Lee at Chancellorsville in the Spring of

1863. The Confederate forces won a great victory, but they paid a horrible price

for it. Stonewall Jackson unfortunately died there. He was accidentally shot by

his own men when he went ahead of his line of battle to scout the Union troops.

Determined to take the offense, Lee moved into Pennsylvania and encountered the

Northern army which was now under General George G. Meade, at Gettysburg. Hard

fighting continued for three days, from July 1-3, 1863. The Confederates met

their defeat in what proved to be a turning point of the war. Always generous to

those under him, Lee insisted on taking the blame for the failure of the

campaign in which the United States suffered 55,000 casualties, making it the

bloodiest battle in the history of the United States. In the Spring of 1864, Lee

first faced General Ulysses S. Grant. In a series of fierce and very bloody

battles called the Wilderness Campaign, Grant pounded the army of northern

Virginia to pieces with this larger army cannons and guns. Lee held out for nine

months in the siege of Petersburg, but his tired hungry men finally had to

retreat. Early in 1865, Lee was made General in Chief of all the Confederate

armies. Richmond fell in April, 1865, and Lee’s ragged army retreated westward.

Northern forces cut off and surrounded Lee’s troops at Appomattox Court House,

Virginia, where Lee surrendered to Grant, on April 9, 1865. "There is

nothing left to do, but to go see General Grant, and I would rather die a

thousand deaths". Grant tried to make the surrender as easy as possible,

and allowed the Confederate troops to take their horses home for Spring plowing.

As Lee made his last ride down the lines on his famous horse Traveler, he told

his army, "Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done my

best for you; my heart is too full to say more." Lee’s defeat at Appomattox

Court House, Virginia, marked the end of his brilliant military career (Nolan

121) At the end of the Civil War Lee set an example for all of the

Ex-Confederate soldiers and officers, by his refusal not to show bitterness to

the Union. "Abandon your animosities, and make your sons Americans".

He than set out to form a permanent and stable union of the

states(www.stratfordhall.org/rel.htm 2). On June 13, 1865, Robert E. Lee applied

for a pardon from the United States government. When Robert returned to his home

in Arlington, he found it had been turned into a national cemetery as punishment

to him for abandoning the Union and fighting against them. Robert E. Lee than

applied for citizenship to the United States. His citizenship papers were

misplaced and in 1975, a century later, Robert E. Lee was awarded citizenship in

the United States. Lee had worked tirelessly for a strong peace in the United

States. On August 4, 1865, Robert was elected to President of Washington

College, Lexington, Virginia. He hesitantly accepted, and strove to equip

students with the character and knowledge necessary to restore the war ravaged

south. On February 4, 1867, Robert E. Lee declined to be a candidate for

governor of Virginia (www.microd.com/~aetic/theman.htm 3). Then in 1870, Robert

E. Lee went to Georgia in search of good health. Sadly on October 12 Robert E.

Lee died of heart problems in Lexington. After his death, his name was joined

with that of his lifelong hero, and Washington College became Washington and Lee



Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton &

Company, 1995. Nagel, Paul C. The Lees of Virginia. New York: Oxford University

Press, 1990. Nolan, Alan T. Lee Considered. Chapel Hill: The University of North

Carolina Press, 1991. Saundra N. "Robert E. Lee"

http://darter.ocps.k12.fl.us/classroom/who/darter2/relee.html (23 March 1999)

Robert E. Lee Memorial Association. "Robert Edward Lee" http://www.stratfordhall.org/rel.htm

(23 March 1999) "Robert E. Lee, Beloved General of the South"

www.microd.com/~aeric/theman.htm (23 March 1999)

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