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General R. E. Lee, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Confederate Southern States

The Illustrated London News, vol. 44, no. 1262, p. 534.

June 4, 1864

GENERAL R. E. LEE, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE
Army Of The Confederate Southern States.

The Engraving on our front page is a faithful likeness of one of the greatest soldiers of this age. Three years' campaigns, in defence of his native State of Virginia--undertaken, doubtless, from motives of patriotism--have shown his consummate mastery of the art of war, which he had learned as an officer in the service of the formerly United States. General Lee has proved himself to possess, in high perfection, that peculiar combination of moral and intellectual qualities which fits a man for military command. Since the fighting days of Wellington and Napoleon there has been no more signal example of ability for the direction and control of a large army, whether scattered over a wide extent of territory or massed together with a view to bear upon a single point. Even his opponents, who would not have deemed it creditable to themselves to underrate the genius which has so long held them in check on the road from Washington to Richmond, have owned his superiority to all the successive generals of the Federal army. The biography of this eminent man will be written when his figure shall have emerged from the bewildering conflict of the civil war. His personal and professional merits will then be justly appreciated. In the meantime, we have only to note a few of the dates in his career.

Robert Edmund [i.e., Edward] Lee was born, in 1808, of am old English family which had been settled in Virginia for many generations before the American colonies separated themselves from their allegiance to Great Britain. He is a gentleman by birth, breeding, and social position. He is a large landed proprietor; being the owner of Whitehouses, an estate formerly belonging to Washington, which is situated upon Arlington Heights, on the Virginia shore of the Potomac, overlooking the city of Washington, which takes its name from that hero. Lee was regularly educated for the profession of arms in the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served with the Engineer Corps in the Mexican campaign. At the battle of Chapultepec he was severely wounded, and was twice promoted for conspicuous gallantry during that war; though it was considered that neither Lee nor Beauregard, who also behaved with great distinction in Mexico, obtained as much notice as they deserved in the despatches of General Scott. In 1852 Major Lee was appointed Superintendent of the Military Academy; but three years afterwards he was sent to Europe in company with M'Clellan, then a Captain, as American military commissioners to study the proceedings of the French and English armies in the siege of Sebastopol. On that occasion Lee was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Cavalry, and this was his position at the beginning of 1861, when the war of secession broke out. He was at San Antonio, in Texas, commanding his own regiment, when he heard that the State of Virginia, which he regards as his proper country, had withdrawn from the Federal Union, and that the Northern States were going to make war upon the South, to force them to return to their allegiance. Colonel Lee felt it was his duty, under these circumstances, to be a soldier of Virginia, and no longer a servant of the Federal Government, in which Virginia had now no part. He raised a small body of militia in his own neighbourhood to occupy Arlington Heights, but was ordered by the Confederate Government to fall back on Fairfax Courthouse, while Beauregard was preparing to meet the first onset of the enemy at Manassas and Bull Run.

President Jefferson Davis, however, soon discerned in Lee the man whom this emergency required, and called him to a higher post. He was appointed General and Commander of the Forces in Virginia; and, taking up the remnant of Garnett's corps, which had been shattered by M'Clellan at Rich Mountain, he soon cleared the north-west counties of the enemy's presence. After performing this service he took charge of the Ministry of War at Richmond, and applied himself to the immense preparations that were necessary for the campaign of 1862. In planning that campaign it was General Lee's opinion, contrary to the judgment of Beauregard, that the best lines for the defences of Richmond were--firstly, that of the Rappahannock; and, secondly, that of the Rapidan; whereas Beauregard would have drawn them farther north, at Manassas Gap and Bull Run. That General Lee was in the right has been proved by the campaigns of 1863 and 1864. The strip of country between the Rapidan and Richmond, being hilly and thickly wooded, gave him peculiar facilities for constructing those fortified positions on which his skill as a military engineer, in the intervals of active campaigning, has been constantly employed. It will be remembered that General M'Clellan, his worthy antagonist in 1862, was so convinced of the impregnability of these lines, guarding the direct road by Fredericksburg to the Confederate capital, that he sought to turn them by transporting his army down Chesapeake Bay to the peninsula below Richmond, and landing on the banks of the James River. But the Federal army, wasted by a series of fiercely-fought battles and by the diseases of an unhealthy climate at midsummer, was compelled to abandon the prize which then seemed almost within its grasp. It was at that period, when General Joseph Johnston was disabled in the battle of Seven Pines, that General Lee succeeded to the supreme command of the Confederate armies in the field. Promptly taking advantage of the weak position of M'Clellan, who lay too loosely on both banks of the Chickahominy, separated from M'Dowell and his other supports, Lee sallied out of Richmond and attacked him with such pertinacious energy that, in seven days' continuous fighting, the Federals were driven to their ships. The subsequent movements in the Upper Potomac and the whole campaign of 1863 were conducted on a very different principle. So long as General Lee stood on the defensive in the neighbourhood of Fredericksburg he could secure his chosen line of the Rappahannock against all the attempts of Burnside and Hooker to make their way south. But when, having defeated Hooker at Chancellorsville, he ventured beyond the defences of Virginia, and invaded the territory of Maryland, necessarily losing much time by a circuitous road to the west, General Lee was not so successful. The checks which General M'Clellan at Antietam Creek, and General Meade at Gettysburg, administered to the Confederate army had more effect, probably, than any other incidents of this war in defining the relative capabilities of the two hostile forces. It seemed to be as difficult for the South to approach Baltimore and Washington as for the North to conquer Richmond. The remainder of last year was chiefly employed by General Lee in controlling and succouring the army of Tennessee; while taking measures, no doubt, for a renewal of the contest in Virginia, which we have just seen recommenced with so much greater fury.

The stirring news of this day will afford the best commentary upon the plans and exploits of General Lee in the service of the Confederate States, of which he is the ablest and most accomplished defender; though Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet, and Joseph Johnston may have equalled, or even excelled, him in some particular qualities of the soldier. General Lee is still in the prime and vigour of manhood. He is six feet in height, erect, well formed, and of imposing appearance, has clear, bright, benignant black eyes, dark grey hair, and a heavy grey beard. He is exceedingly plain in his dress, and you look at his costume in vain for the insignia of rank. He wears an unassuming black felt hat, with a narrow strip of gold lace around it, and a plain Brigadier's coat with three stars on the collar, but without the usual braiding on the sleeves. He travels and sleeps in an ambulance when the army is in motion, and occupies a tent when it is stationary, and not the largest and best house in the neighbourhood, as is the custom of some officers. He cares but little for appearances, and is content to take the same fare his soldiers receive. In character and personal deportment he is ardent, grave, and dignified, yet modest and even distrustful of his own abilities. The descendant of a gallant officer of the elder revolution, the husband of the grand-daughter (by adoption) of General Washington, the inheritor of a large estate, and the trusted leader of a great and victorious army, he is nevertheless accessible to the humblest and most rugged soldier in the ranks, courteous to his officers, just and kind to all. During the time the army was in Maryland, an officer of high position suggested a number of reasons to General Lee in support of a grave measure then under discussion. Among others, he remarked to him that he was trusted by his Government, had the hearts of his soldiers, and possessed the entire confidence of his country, and that they relied implicitly upon his patriotism and genius. Tears rushed to his eyes, and be exclaimed, "Do not say that--do not say that, I am sensible of my weakness, and such a responsibility as your remark implies would crush me to the earth." He said, in the same conversation, that there was nothing he so much desired as peace and independence. All he had, and all he hoped for--all that ambition could suggest or glory give--he would freely surrender to stop the flow of blood and secure freedom to the country. He did not doubt that these blessings would come in due season; but he wanted them now, and would readily sacrifice every thought of personal aggrandisement to save the life of even one soldier.

The admirable photograph from which our Engraving has been made is one taken by Messrs. Minnis and Cowell, of Richmond, which bears the stamp of its legal registration in 1863, "in the District Court of the Confederate States for the Eastern District of Virginia."

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