Born to a prominent Virginia family and the son of Revolutionary War officer Lighthorse Harry Lee, Robert Edward Lee was educated at West Point and was trained as an engineer. He married the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, whom he had known as a child. Lee distinguished himself in the Mexican-American war, but spent much time on leave, straightening out the affairs of his father-in-law’s estate. A staunch Virginian, Lee came to view slavery as immoral. When Virginia seceded from the Union, he was offered, but declined, the Union command. As adviser to Confederacy President Jefferson Davis, Lee proved to be an excellent strategist, serving Virginia and the Confederacy well.
We are very fortunate in this country that the two gentlemen who sat down in Wilbur McLain’s parlor on April 9, 1865 were Robert E. Lee, General-in-Chief of Confederate forces and Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of the Union Army of the Potomac. Had Lee not been around, the Civil War might not have ended as quickly or as peacefully. And the Reconstruction period transitioning the nation in the period after the Civil War would have been far worse if Robert E. Lee had not set the example for the defeated south to become citizens of our nation once again.