January 19, 1807 - Robert E. Lee is born at Stratford Hall Plantation in Virginia. A stellar student at West Point, Lee proved himself an able engineer and saw extensive service during the Mexican-American War. Serving as superintendent of West Point, he later oversaw the capture of John Brown. With the beginning of the Civil War, Lee elected to resign and serve his native Virginia. After early defeats in the western part of the state, he rose to lead the Army of Northern Virginia when Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at Seven Pines in May 1862. Striking at Union forces outside of Richmond, Lee won the Seven Days Battles and went on to win triumphs at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The South's greatest battlefield leader, Lee was not defeated until Gettysburg in 1863. In 1864, he squared off against Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Unable to halt Grant's grinding Overland Campaign, Lee was ultimately besieged at Petersburg. After nine months of trench warfare, Grant shattered Lee's lines in April 1865, forcing him to retreat west where he finally surrendered at Appomattox Court House. A superb battlefield leader and a Southern icon, some modern historians have criticized Lee for lacking strategic vision and being unable to see beyond his own theater. Offer your thoughts on Lee.
Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration