Share this article

print logo


On April 20, 1861, Robert Edward Lee resigns his commission in the U.S. Army and soon heads to Richmond, Va., emerging capital of the Confederacy, where he will be offered a military command. For Lee, a native son of Virginia who graduated from West Point in 1829 near the top of his class, the war would shape his destiny.

In 1859, Lee as an Army officer had been sent from Washington with troops under his command to Harper's Ferry, now in West Virginia, to capture abolitionist John Brown and his followers after their surprise raid on a U.S. arsenal.

As a U.S. Army officer, Lee never considered the idea of rebellion against the government, but with Virginia's secession, his hand would be forced. Offered a command in the Union Army, he declines because of ties to Virginia. Lee left his home in Arlington, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington, never to return.

Lee would later become a key military adviser to the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and enter history as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.