by Steve Lancaster 1/18/16
January 19th is Robert E. Lee’s birthday. He was born in Virginia in 1807. The son of a Revolutionary War hero, Light Horse Henry Lee, Robert grew up in tenuous circumstances and in order to obtain an education his mother sent him to West Point. He graduated with a degree in engineering, which was the most common in those days. It was not until after the war that a degree in military science became common. He met and married his third cousin, Mary Custis, at Arlington house in 1831. If you know any early Virginia history then you will recognize Randolph, Rolfes, Gerard, Fitzhugh and George Washington Park Custis as kin.
During the 1830s, Lee obtained the rank of 1st Lieutenant and supervised engineering work throughout the Midwest and by 1842 was promoted to captain. Captain Lee accompanied General Scott to Mexico during the Mexican War and was Bervet to Major and later to Colonel by the end of the war. In 1852 he was appointed supernatant of the Military Academy at West Point. Three years later he was assigned to a Calvary unit in Texas.
We all know his history during the War. His strategy and tactics are still studied at West Point and various War Colleges. It was an age when being an officer and a gentleman meant something and Lee was an example of how to be both. Over the weekend, members of Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, have met to celebrate not only Lee’s birthday but also the birthday of Stonewall Jackson, Jan. 21, 1824 — honors due to men who were true officers and gentlemen and being the latter made them better at the former.
In late 1865 Lee was in church and a black man went to the rail to receive communion. The church was silent. It was Lee who stood up and joined the man for communion. A seemingly small thing but symbolizing the war was over and it was time for healing.